A formal UK petition requesting that video game gambling laws be adjusted to include language covering lockboxes passed 10,000 signatures earlier this week, ensuring that the petition would receive a response from the government, which it now has, although no one concerned about the issue will be impressed at the reply.
Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Tracey Crouch is a bit of a dodge, like PEGI’s statement earlier this week. As Eurogamer points out, Crouch’s reply – repeated verbatim for each question asked – refers to the UK Gambling commission’s paper on third-party gambling websites, which as you’ll recall since we covered it has nothing to do with in-game lockboxes.
The ESRB may not be interested in protecting gamers against predatory business model practices like lockboxes, but European regulators may be joining their Chinese counterparts in at least taking a look before casually dismissing concerns.
As Polygon reports, a member of the UK parliament, Daniel Zeichner, submitted formal questions to the UK’s secretary of state on topic, requesting information on her plan to “to protect vulnerable adults and children from illegal gambling, in-game gambling and loot boxes within computer games,” specifically on the Isle of Man, whose legal code refers by name to “in-game gambling and loot boxes.”
Meanwhile, the European PEGI – akin to the ESRB on this side of the pond – has said that it can’t rule on the issue for game studios because it “cannot define what constitutes gambling” because it’s not a national gambling commission – contrary to the ESRB’s statement.
So, MMO players. Are you tired of hearing about lockboxes and gambleboxes? It feels like we’ve been complaining about them for like six or seven years now, probably because we have. It wasn’t cute back when City of Heroes was trying it, nope. Heck, it wasn’t cute back when Star Wars Galaxies was trying it with card packs. Now it’s every damn game, and it’s gone way beyond MMOs. I’m not sick of hearing about it myself. I’m just sick of dealing with it like a pestilence making me hate the games and developers who exploit them.
Maybe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel: As more AAA online gaming studios figure out that lockbox gambling garbage is a fast ticket to easy money, more mainstream gamers are catching wind of the scam and raising objections, so it’s not just MMO players all by our lonesomes anymore. Indeed, this week multiple game critics, YouTubers, and review services have come out against lockboxes, from Boogie to TotalBiscuit, the latter of whom has called for ESRB intervention. Reviews aggregator OpenCritic has further said it’s “going to take a stand against loot boxes” by taking crappy business practices into account. The ESRB doesn’t care, by the way, and as blogger Isarii has pointed, the self-regulatory body has conveniently twisted the meaning of gambling to avoid dealing with the problem, thereby failing to protect us from it, but that’s just making people angrier.
So hey, you know what, studios? Keep screwing up with lootboxes. Keep attracting mainstream anger, keep disrespecting us, until it all boils over, one way or another, and you can’t exploit us anymore. And in the meantime, people? Stop. Buying. Lockboxes.
MMO blogger Ethan “Isarii” Macfie made an interesting point in one of his recent Critical Writ videos that I think deserves some amplification and debate. He argues that lockboxes are fairly compared to gambling — but in fact, they’re far worse.
In a traditional gambling setup, he notes, you might have 99 losers in a group of 100. The payment provided by the losers literally pays the winners (as well as pays for the infrastructure behind the casino). Without the losers’ cash, the casinos would have nothing to give to the winners – the risk is the only thing the casinos have to trade on.
In video gaming, however, that’s not how it works. A video game company is capable of selling gameplay as a product. There’s no fundamental scarcity of pixels in a digital game, and the profits from lockboxes aren’t going back to the winners in any sort of tangible way. Lockboxes merely allow the studio to create losers from pure greed. As he puts it, “They choose to introduce these goods in a way that creates losers out of their customers who don’t get what they want and have to take more chances possibly still not getting what they want to really purchase what they’re trying to purchase.”
Do you agree with Isarii? Is he right that MMO lockboxes are even worse than gambling?
Warframe’s Digital Extremes
is joining the very small list of online game developers being transparent about just what’s in their lockboxes, lootboxes, gambleboxes, lootcrates
, or whatever you want to call them. In fact, the data dump
it’s produced actually covers all loot drops rates in the game, something researchers have been calling for
“Warframe is free! Which means our drop system is designed to maintain a balance,” DE writes. “Our free players can earn the game’s content, and our paying players who support us with purchases usually get first dibs on the content by using Platinum (which can be traded to free players)! As far as we can tell… we are the first developers to post something quite like this – correct us if we’re wrong! Let’s hope it works out for us and we may start a trend.”
The first and most-backed City of Heroes successor City of Titans has a couple of dev pieces out this month answering questions posed to Missing Worlds Media this past spring. The Q&A itself is relatively brief, letting players know that powerset interactive effects (like team combos) are not on the table, minions will be customizable, the team is working on ways to thwart gold spammers and bots, PvP has a Rock Paper Scissors design goal, and the game is alt-centric but “won’t be ignoring endgame content.”
“Not only will there be content released for the entire level range throughout its lifetime, but we’ve designed several systems, both content centric and others, to enhance the experience of alting,” says the studio.
Last week, MWM told fans that City of Titans model will be a hybrid of a sub and free-to-play system, with an up-front cost that comes with complete access to the game and VIP status for a three months. It’ll also come with an optional subscription and a stipend of currency, dubbed Stars, for spending in the cash shop.
As Asian countries are cracking down on online games with lockbox gambling, gaming companies are complying with transparency. To wit: Blizzard’s Chinese Overwatch website has published lockbox probability parameters. Here’s the paraphrase of the translation:
“Each lootbox will contain 4 items, including cosmetics or game currency for direct unlocking cosmetics. Each lootbox will contain at least one item of excellent or higher quality. An epic quality item will be availabe every 5.5 lootboxes on average. A legendary quality item will be availabe every 13.5 lootboxes on average.”
Since it’s leak week, here’s an Overwatch one for you, unconfirmed:
Click to reveal spoiler/leak
According to SegmentNext
, a 4chan user who claims to be a Blizzard artist says that Doomfist will roll out much sooner than anticipated and that the studio is working on two other heroes: Bria (a tiny character who locks off map chunks, now in testing) and Ivon (an older gentleman, defense-based, but not coming soon). Still other gamers are digging into game files for evidence of an event on the way soon
“Pay-to-win” is old news now — game designers’ new plan for hoovering all the cash out of our wallets is “pay-to-loot.”
According to IGN’s Nathan Lawrence, who dives into the topic today, that’s the term game psychologists are using to describe what online gamers have been derisively referring to as gambleboxes and lockboxes for years: You’re essentially buying chances at a thing, paying to roll the dice and let the RNG gods determine your reward, padding the game’s coffers all the while.
The gambling references aren’t accidental; one expert calls lootboxes a “poker machine-like experience,” while another points to the phenomenon as an exploitation of human nature:
One of the many content chunks and upgrades landing in Neverwinter
when Cloaked Ascendancy
launches next week is… lockboxes. In fact, PWE put out a new dev blog
today on the Many-Starred Lockbox landing on February 21st, taking a page
out of Star Wars: The Old Republic’s
Potentially in the lockbox for those who buy keys? The Arcane Whirlwinds legendary mount, the multi-spell Tome of Ascendance, and a number of packs tailored to mounts, artifact equipment, artifacts, companions, enchantments, and costumes, some of which are shown in the gallery below.
But whom are we kidding — you’re never gonna get these.
Further reading: Andrew’s piece on gambling vs. gaming, Larry’s ideas for making lockboxes suck less, and this article telling us to get over them.
Lockboxes have become a hot topic over the last couple of years. Last month, both our writers and readers crowned SWTOR worst business model of the year in part over its lockbox shenanigans. And several business model and lockbox-related articles made it into our list of most-commented-on articles of the year, including the Daily Grind on lockboxes and gambling.
So where do we draw the line between gambling and hobby gaming? Why are lockboxes acceptable? Are they really something MMO developers should continue to use in order to monetize their games?
I’ve done some research and even gotten some expert legal opinions about this based on American law (and some international), and I can’t say I’m entirely happy about my results.
Massively Overpowered’s end-of-the-year 2016 awards continue today with our award for Best MMORPG Trend of 2016, which was awarded to the staggering resurgence of MMORPG expansions last year. This year, all trends were back on the table. All of our writers were invited to cast a vote, but not all of them chose to do so for this category. Don’t forget to cast your own vote in the just-for-fun reader poll at the very end!
The Massively OP staff pick for Best MMORPG Trend of 2016 is…
Violently authoritarian government regulates nasty video gaming monetization exploit, and gamers are cheering? Yep, China is cracking down on lockboxes. A notice from the creepy Ministry of Cultural Information announces that online game operators are required to, in a nutshell, stick to true randomness in lockboxes, communicate what’s in them, publish stats, and provide alternate routes of acquiring what’s in them, as well as protect minors from them.
“The online game operation enterprise shall provide the virtual props and value-added services by means of random sampling, and shall not require the users to participate in the way of directly investing in the legal currency or online game virtual currency. The online game operator shall promptly announce the name, performance, content, quantity, and the probability of extraction or composition of all virtual props and value-added services that may be extracted or synthesized on the official website of the game or the randomly selected pages. Publicity of the random extraction of relevant information should be true and effective.”
I’m sure you’re as tired of hearing about lockboxes as we are of writing about them, but here we are and it’s still happening. Remember the lockboxes The Elder Scrolls Online started testing back in September? The first season arrives tomorrow. Yeah, lockboxes get a season.
“Crown Crates are purchased through the Crown Store, and contain a randomized selection of useful consumables and collectibles that are valued more than the price of a single crate. In addition, they also offer a chance to obtain unique cosmetic items, pets, or mounts. Crown Crates include new and exclusive items, as well as some items you might have missed in previous limited time offers. Whenever you purchase a Crown Crate, you will always be awarded four items, with the chance to get a fifth item. In the event you receive a mount, pet, costume or personality that you already own from your Crown Crate, you’ll be awarded a new resource – Crown Gems – in its place. You will also have the option to convert several items obtained from Crown Crates to Crown Gems any time you want. Items that can be manually converted include potions, poisons, riding lessons, experience scrolls, and other utility-type items. Any Crown Gems you earn can then be used to purchase the collectible items of your choosing from the current Crown Crate season.”
These gambleboxes are going to run 400 crowns apiece (or four for 1500 or 15 for 5000), and this first season’s major rewards are pretty sweet storm-themed mounts, auras, and emotes.