Hyperspace Beacon: What potential lockbox gambling laws could mean for SWTOR

Late yesterday I read these words Google-translated from Belgian news site VTM: “The Minister of Justice wants to prohibit purchases in video games if you don’t know exactly what you’re purchasing.” Yes, he means lootboxes, or what MMO players usually call lockboxes. These words stem from the growing controversy of lockboxes in video games. Gamers might argue that pay-to-win boxes are the real problem, but to an outsider, there really isn’t a way to distinguish pay-to-win from other lootboxes, and so here we are.

Because Star Wars: Battlefront II was the target of the latest lockbox controversy, I wondered what it would mean for EA’s Star Wars: The Old Republic, which has long been criticized for it’s handling of lockboxes and cash shop. The simple answer is that it probably will not affect the game much at all because as I understand it, SWTOR follows most of the existing gambling regulations for Belgium. BioWare or Electronic Arts would just have to file for an online gambling license.

Is this just the beginning, though? What if other European countries follow suit and started calling lockboxes and lootboxes gambling?

The sticking point with Belgium

According to Thomson Reuters, under Belgian law, EA would have to reveal “its policy for the accessibility of games of chance for socially vulnerable groups,” which would include underage groups that might be playing the game. As much as I hate to advocate on behalf of gambling, I do need to mention that SWTOR is already rated PEGI 16 in the EU, which means that the target audience isn’t small children. But I suspect that EA would still have to employ some sort of failsafe in SWTOR to prevent young children from gaining access to the lockbox mechanics.

On a larger scale, the PEGI rating for SWTOR might have to change. Currently, the only strikes against the game are Online Gaming (meaning that it can’t regulate online chatter) and violence. However, if SWTOR were forced to add gambling to its PEGI strikes, it might be forced into a PEGI 18 rating. It’s possible that the game could survive with that rating, but it does narrow its target market.

If this gambling stipulation stays with Belgium, then it’s doable. EA might have to reevaluate whether SWTOR is worth it because it would not only have to pay the Disney license to carry the Star Wars name but have to pay to have a gambling license in Belgium. Most likely, EA would buy a blanket license for all its games, which could cost 250,000 EUR (~300,000 USD) at most or 75,000 EUR (~90,000 USD) at minimum.

Spreading to the rest of the EU

EA and SWTOR will start to run into trouble if the rest of the EU states adopt the same policies. For instance, Poland has officially banned gambling except for sports gambling. And to operate legitimately in that country, EA would have to have a totally different gaming system. Many sites bypass Poland’s strict laws by operating within other countries, but that’s far from legitimate.

Poland wouldn’t be the only issue, as according to GamblingSites.org, other countries like France as Germany have complicated and rigorous licensing processes. EA would have to make sure that they abide by all the different regulations for each country. Unfortunately for EA, there is no blanket European Union policy regarding gaming. Some countries like Poland allow sports gambling but not cards or slots. Other countries have government-sanctioned monopolies on gambling. It might start to become too much of a chore for global gaming congloms.

What about the US?

The US is the largest market for SWTOR by far. And fortunately for EA, the only state speaking out so far is Hawaii. However, State Representative Chris Lee took a very hard stance against loot boxes in his Reddit post yesterday.

“These kinds of lootboxes and microtransactions are explicitly designed to prey upon and exploit human psychology in the same way casino games are so designed. This is especially true for young adults who child psychologists and other experts explain are particularly vulnerable. These exploitative mechanisms and the deceptive marketing promoting them have no place in games being marketed to minors, and perhaps no place in games at all.”

And all the lockbox critics cheered. If the US – on a federal or even state level – starts to recognize lootboxes as gambling, it could mean the literal end of many games that have too boldly staked their entire business model on these mechanics. SWTOR might be one of them.

What will SWTOR do?

Personally, I don’t want to see games like SWTOR shut down, so what could SWTOR do to adapt if this definition of gambling becomes legal? I think SWTOR‘s already gearing that direction.

There have already been huge pushbacks from SWTOR players about the way EA is handling Cartel Packs, and BioWare has been offering more and more direct sales. In fact, in a recent update to the Cartel Market, BioWare expanded the items that it sold as direct sales, and it’s also started pushing limited-time direct sale items that have been popular in the past to help boost the overall market viability. Many brand-new armor sets, as well as popular weapons, have popped in direct sales.

I like to think that SWTOR could make it through a switch from lockbox to direct sales. But we would definitely see an increase in limited-time items, and we might see an increase in the cost of Cartel Coins or the price of items themselves.

What do you think of the impending regulation? Do you think it will spread? I think there will ultimately be major changes in US law because of these statements from officials. Do you think your country’s laws will have to be rewritten? But I guess the most important question is: Are for or against this definition of lootboxes and lockboxes? What do you think will happen? Let me know in the comments, and I will continue this conversation in the comments.

Every other week, Larry Everett jumps into his T-16 back home, rides through the hypergates of BioWare‘s Star Wars: The Old Republic, and posts his adventures in the Hyperspace Beacon. Drop him a holocom on Twitter @Shaddoe or send him a transmission at larry@massivelyop.com. Now strap yourself in, kid — we gotta make the jump to hyperspace!
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52 Comments on "Hyperspace Beacon: What potential lockbox gambling laws could mean for SWTOR"

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Castagere Shaikura

SWTORS big problem is its owned by Disney which is mostly a company that deals with children. For them gambling boxes and children don’t mix.

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Mush V. Peets

Not too worried about SW:TOR, but what about Perfect World and their business model with STO (and their other games? IDK)… It will be funny to see them suddenly unable to shovel in Master Key money hand over fist every few months with a new lockbox.

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Danny Smith

Honestly if Final Fantasy can just straight up sell outfits and mounts on the mogstation is probably a safe bet Star Wars can as well. Lockboxes were just a way to get more money by randomising the results. It might make less money but its not like the whales will stop buying RMT items.

amkosh
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amkosh

Unless they somehow squeezed more money out of its playerbase, which seems as likely as the Cleveland Browns winning the super bowl this year, it will close down.

So be careful what you wish for.

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Witches

SWTOR had “not completely horrible” lockboxes, and people were happy and buying, they got too greedy and the game went from being one of EA’s top earners to not even being mentioned in their quarterly reports.

EA should at the very least stop their suits from bragging about their exploitative business practices.

At this point SWTOR isn’t even competing with other MMOs, when you can’t even go back to doing something you used to do better than you are doing right now, there’s not much hope for you.

amkosh
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amkosh

I dunno, SWTOR’s lockboxes aren’t much worse than they were. I stopped buying them because I stopped wanting to support a company that has basically been fuck you to my play style over the past year.

To me I don’t buy lockboxes to gamble, I buy them to support a property I like. I think that scares peeps more than the whole gambling thing, because being able to spend a ton more money than everyone else gives those people more power. Also hard core gamers are usually the cheapest of all gamers, so in that situation, they end up with a lot less power.

possum440 .
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possum440 .

No decision has been made. One of the Belgium officials was talking to a media flunky and was taken out of context, irresponsible media. I would however like to see all loot boxes get shoved down devs throats and force them to go back to monthly subs.

A nice side effect would be a boatload of people wouldn’t be able to play the games because they cant afford a monthly sub, which are the F2P people that are usually toxic as history has shown, botters, multi boxers, farmers and crumb snatchers.

So it wouldn’t be all bad and a lot of these pure crap games would shut down which is also good.

If they do ban loot boxes I might start playing an MMO or two. As for the argument some are using that the loot table is a form of gambling and the devs would fight, well, that is simply one sinkhole the devs do not want to jump into. They may find that spiteful judges being told what they can and cant do usually end up ruling against the parties pushing them around.

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Schmidt.Capela

One of the Belgium officials

Not just a mere official. It was the Minister of Justice, who is the Belgian counterpart to the US’s Attorney General.

noberght
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noberght

There will be push back, not totally publicly of course, from game developers over this. You don’t just roll over and give up a multi Billion dollar income stream without some type of fight.
This issue can be pushed even deeper into Game mechanics if this gets messy though. What is to say that the drop rates from all in game actions could not be defined as gambling? Each Boss you kill has a drop rate for loot, is that not gambling?
This is not an open and shut case. it’s more of an open Pandora’s box.

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Kickstarter Donor
Scratches

When you have to pay real money for a drop and it’s an instant transaction with zero skill involved (e.g., having to actually beat/kill a boss or mob), then that argument might actually hold water….

Until then, drop rates are not gambling; they’re just random. It’s not opening pandora’s box. Stop trying to muddy the water with nonsense.

noberght
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noberght

Not trying to muddy the waters at all. I Am trying to say that this could be the tip of the iceberg.
You might want to read what I actually typed, not just what you think you read.

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Alex Hyer

Wipe them out.

All of them.

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traja

It would be sad to see games like SWTOR shut down because of this. But if I am being honest, it is a small price to pay. The quality of gaming has been taking a massive nosedive lately because of the mobile business models infecting traditional platforms. Losing some games, while sad, can be very much worth it in the long run for gamers.

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Mortalware

I’ve been following the news on this as well and I do think it’s time the government makes a decision, one way or the other on this issue. It was bound to be EA that pushed it too far but even if they didn’t some other company would have eventually. The decision will affect most of the mobile gaming market since the majority of those games are F2P with loot boxes.
I would like to see them labeled as a form of gambling personally since it is a temptation to hand over money based on chance and without knowing exactly what you are going to get.

But by far the biggest issue I have with loot boxes is that they inhibit, or at worse influence, game development as we have seen in BF2. What could have been an epic single player campaign got riddled with set pieces that merely show of what having cool unlocks from the loot boxes could get you. The time spent developing the economical system based around the loot boxes detracts from time they could have just spent fleshing out the game. Not to mention how game play can be dictated by how fast or slow they want you to earn you way to getting your next loot box. They can be detrimental in creating a good game.