Say you were a legislator concerned about the lootbox/lockbox gambling issues in gaming. How would you actually go about drafting a law that targets predatory monetization without, as some people fear, sliding down a slippery slope into unfettered regulation so that suddenly all video games are illegal but Pong?
Hawaii State Representative Chris Lee, whom you’ll remember from his Reddit post and video on the subject a few weeks ago, has a new video out explaining just that, as his goal and that of other representatives in other states is to craft language that is tailored specifically to blocking the sale of gambleboxes to people under 21 (the legal age for gambling in the US). It’s clear from the video that Lee and the attorneys working on the potential bill actually understand the gacha mechanics and nastier algorithmic targeting tactics that some game studios employ.
Not everyone in the video game industry is shying away from lockboxes or denouncing them outright. Take-Two Interactive President Karl Slatoff took the side of the ESA by saying that he doesn’t consider lockboxes gambling and that the Red Dead Redemption 2 studio will continue using microtransactions going forward.
“The whole gambling regulator thing, we don’t view that sort of thing as gambling. Our view of it is the same as the ESA statement for the most part,” Slatoff said during a recent confererence. “That’s going to play its course, but in terms of the consumer and the noise you hear in the market right now, it’s all about content […] You can’t force the consumer to do anything. You try to do your best to create the best experience you possibly can to drive engagement. And driving engagement creates value in entertainment. That’s just how it’s always been and always will be.”
As the conversation over lockboxes continues to ramp up, a story of one teen who got caught up in online gambling and spent over $10,000 on video game microtransactions is drawing the attention of many — as is this scathing piece at Polygon taking EA’s poor apologies over Star Wars Battlefront 2 to task.
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?
Capping off the Great Star Wars Battlefront II Fiasco of November, Belgium’s Gambling Commission and the Dutch Gaming Authority both began investigating lootboxes/lockboxes to determine whether they constitute gambling and necessitate appropriate regulation. Now, the former has issued its ruling, and unlike the gaming-industry bodies ESRB and PEGI, it didn’t add to the BS smokescreen.
Indeed, the Belgian Kanspel Committee has indeed ruled that the practice is a serious problem. “The mixing of money and addiction is gambling,” it declares. Belgian Minister of Justice Koen Greens told VTM that he aims to have gambling mechanics stricken from games entirely, banned outright, throughout Europe. “But that takes time.”
The US state of Hawaii has joined in the fray too, as state representatives have lambasted EA’s “predatory behavior,” calling the game a “Star Wars-themed online casino, designed to lure kids into spending money.” Is it just one state? Maybe not.
Earlier this week, we reported on a move by the Belgian Gaming Commission to investigate lockboxes/lootboxes in games like Star Wars Battlefront 2 to determine whether they constitute games of chance to the degree that they require regulation meant for gambling. Now it appears the Dutch have joined them.
According to NU.nl, the Dutch Gaming Authority is also investigating whether this particular game mechanic falls under the banner of online gambling, which according to the news outlet is currently banned in the Netherlands, while games of chance on the whole are subject to special licensing rules. According to the regulatory group, it is “still in a research phase.”
EA has insisted that Star Wars Battlefront 2’s lootcrates “are not gambling” for all the usual reasons online gaming studios trot out to confuse people about what games of chance are: that players win something, even if it’s lint, and that players can earn crates via play. Last night, the company announced it was disabling all microtransactions while it sorted out the continuing uproar.
In case you ever wanted to sniff the distinct scent of internet dumpster fire, you probably should’ve gone to the Star Wars Battlefront II DICE developer AMA on Reddit yesterday and watched that EA world burn. Almost 30,000 comments later, EA’s handpicked community masseuses didn’t walk back any of the specific business model shenanigans or the “sense of pride and accomplishment” blither, and players are actually madder now than they were when they downvoted EA’s comments 677,000 times on Monday.
- Wall Street is freaking out over the potential stock hit to EA should the game launch poorly thanks to angry gamers.
- Belgian authorities are reportedly investigating SWBF2 (via GIbiz) to determine whether its design amounts to a money-fueled game of chance, in which case it would be subject to gambling laws and potentially be fined or censored.
- Players have assessed that it’d take over 4500 hours of play or $2100 to unlock everything in Star Wars: Battlefront 2 as the game’s monetization is currently set.
- Finally, that “EA dev” who claimed he’d received death threats? It’s no longer clear he’s an EA dev, let alone that he received death threats, and he disappeared from social media after Kotaku went digging. Astroturfer? Hmm.
. With thanks to Sorenthaz and Miol.
Last week we broke the story that EVE Online
developer CCP Games is backing out of the virtual reality games market
, closing its Altanta office and selling its VR-focused Newcastle studio. The long-held Atlanta office was acquired in the merger with White Wolf in 2006 and has been hit with several rounds of layoffs over the years, with a major hit in 2011
after the Monoclegate disaster and another 2014 when the World of Darkness MMO was cancelled
. The Newcastle studio was the development house responsible for CCP’s VR dogfighter EVE: Valkyrie
, and both Valkyrie
and CCP’s new VR game Sparc
will now be maintained by the London office.
Around 100 staff were laid off in the restructuring, roughly 30 of whom worked in CCP’s headquarters in Reykjavik, Iceland. Though we were informed at the time that these changes would not impact the development of EVE Online, it since became apparent that more than a few non-development staff were cut. In addition to the EVE PR staff and others that were stationed in Atlanta, all but two members of the EVE community team in Reykjavik have also been let go. There are reports that several GMs and the localisation manager for EVE have departed too, and the mood on twitter from staff in Reykjavik recently is best described as sombre and a little shaken.
In this extra edition of EVE Evolved, I dig into CCP Games’s history of taking risks with staff’s jobs, look at some of those affected by the layoffs, and ask whether there is more fallout to come.
If you’ve been following the lockbox/lootbox controversy over the last couple of weeks (or last multiple years, ahem), then you know that opponents of the practice in online games seldom actually argue “for the children” since let’s face it, the MMORPG playerbase skews well into adulthood. Adults are the ones being affected.
Academic Ramin Shokrizade – well-known for his scholarly economic articles and recent treatise on how MMOs are dying because of poor design rather than insufficient demand – has nevertheless jumped into the fray with a similar argument, suggesting that in declaring lootboxes not gambling and refusing to intervene, the ESRB is effectively “promoting children’s gambling.”
In his new article on Gamasutra, Shokrizade says that the ESRB’s statement about lootboxes not being gambling connotes a misunderstanding about what an “element of chance” actually is.
GIbiz posted an article earlier this week peppered with quotes from Mat Piscatella, an NPD US games market analyst who suggests that the recent lootbox/lockbox grumbling hasn’t had any effect on sales: “The loot box or microtransactions controversy has not yet resulted in clear noticeable limitations of the sales potential of the games with [those mechanics].”
The assessment should surprise absolutely no one at all, since while MMORPG players have been fighting back against the rise of the lockbox for at least six years by our count, mainstream PC gamers are only now coming to terms with the more pleasantly named “lootbox” phenomenon. It’s, uh, probably going to take more than two weeks of mainstream complaining before markets and governments show any signs whatsoever of reaction.
This, incidentally, is basically the same argument that popular vlogger Jim Sterling makes in a satisfyingly profanity-laced video, which I’ve tucked down below because his rants make me happy.
MMO blogger Serrenity, whom many of you will recognize from his clever comments here on MOP too, has a compelling blog post on his personal site today diving deep into the lockbox debate. But far from merely offering another exhortation to stop buying lockboxes, he’s doing some complicated napkin math (and by napkin math, I mean python scripting) to try to understand why publishers are so fixated on selling them.
Since studios are generally not in the business of handing out detailed sales figures and drop rates, Serrenity is forced to calculate potential revenue based on publicly gathered data, which he admits upfront result in rough estimates. “This information is purely extrapolated and used for demonstrative purposes,” he warns.
Using Guild Wars 2’s wiki data on drop rates for the bank access token, he finds that the revenue from selling lockboxes vs. selling that item directly increases 14-fold – almost 1500% higher. And that’s just a minor, relatively undesirable item with a relatively high drop rate; admittedly, nobody’s going to go ham buying lockboxes just for that (we hope, anyway). Plugging rarer, desirable drops that would cost much more upfront (like weapon skins) into his formula sees the estimated revenue soar as high as 12500%. That is not a typo.
A week or two ago, Massively OP reader Sally Bowls proposed a Leaderboard too intriguing to pass up. “How about a poll on your lockbox purity?” she suggested, rattling off eight possible answers to a question about how “pure” you are when it comes to lockboxes and MMOs – in other words, it breaks down how far you’re willing to go to avoid them. In fact, I have a few options I want to add to in the interest of seeing whether folks who support lockboxes are really only supporting them because they want whales to pay our way. Plus, elf butts.
Let’s do it. To the pollmobile!
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.
Hey, gang, this is absolutely wonderful. Activision has filed and been granted a patent for software designed to push you into buying cash shop crappies through the most insidious means possible. The breakdown is fairly straightforward: Once you buy something, the game’s matchmaking software will push you to a match where that something would be very effective or where another player’s purchases would influence your purchases, thus creating positive feedback and inspiring you to buy more! Isn’t that grand?
For those keeping track at home, this is starting to cross the line from gambling over to extortion, which is not a pleasant road to be walking. If you thought microtransactions amounted to a cash shop wholly separate from gameplay and you never had to worry about it influencing anything else, you were wrong.
Activision’s official statement is that this was simply a patent filed for exploratory software and it has not been implemented in any games. Said statement does not include phrases like “will not,” of course, so draw your own conclusions about when and whether it will show up. You can also draw your own conclusions about how shady it is, but the answer is pretty decidedly “super shady.”