Loot boxes might not be as welcome in Sweden come next year. A Public Administration minister told a news station that in-game lockboxes could be classified as gambling by 2019 as the government moves to “regain control” of the gambling sector.
“I don’t want to rule out the possibility [of classifying loot boxes as gambling],” said Minister Ardalan Shekarabi. “It is obvious that there are many people suffering from gambling addiction, who also get stuck in this type of gambling and lose money because of it.”
Currently, loot boxes — as in many countries — are not covered by gambling laws and do not have governmental oversight. With the increase in exposure over the business model practices recently, some politicians in various countries have proposed legislation and regulation.
Hawaiian politicians are getting some company on the lockbox front from a compatriot in Washington state.
State Senator Kevin Ranker has introduced legislation there that forces the gaming industry and state gambling officials to determine whether lootboxes/lockboxes in video games constitute gambling under state law – and whether they target minors. According to the Tacoma-based News Tribune, Ranker is pushing specifically for regulation that results in the publication of odds for lockbox mechanics in video games.
“If (parents) realized how predatory these game are then they wouldn’t want them under their Christmas tree, they wouldn’t want them going to their kids,” he reportedly said.
Should the provisional bill pass, the determination must be made by December of this year.
“It’s as easy as one, two, insert your credit card number here!” So begins the parody at the beginning of the first of two recent Game Theory videos all about 2017’s favorite-and-least-favorite topic, lootboxes. Rather than overtly picking a side, the vloggers attempt to sort out how lockboxes work – whether they’re just annoying business model glitches or deliberately manipulative end-runs around gambling laws, all by examine the science.
Now, contrary to the first video’s claim, lots of people are indeed talking about the science of lockboxes, but it nevertheless contributes a funny and clear-headed angle on the psychology of lockboxes from skinner boxes and dopamine to loss aversion, the sunk cost fallacy, and the illusion of control. The chilling idea is that we actually get our dopamine blast from opening the box – not from getting what we wanted. Lockboxes, like casinos, exploit the crap out of that, adding deadlines and exclusive loot to ramp up the pressure.
You know the lockbox thing is reaching saturation when there are so many things to cover we have to resort to a roundup. Nevertheless, for those of you who want to stay on top of developments and arguments, here we go.
Polygon has an explainer piece up on Destiny 2’s Eververse fallout and why everyone is still rioting over the game’s monetization. Of note for this discussion is the publication’s note that if Destiny 2 is hell-bent on having lootboxes, it ought to adopt Overwatch’s lootboxes, as they’re relatively tame and haven’t produced a Reddit in full meltdown.
Gamasutra has a roundup of MMO developer quotes from studios that believe they’re doing lockboxes “elegantly,” including Trion (for Defiance), PWE (for Star Trek Online), Wargaming (for World of Warships). In this particularly case, that means either being easily accessible through in-game play (not just in the cash shop), making lockbox drops tradeable to other players, creating systems of accruing lockbox rewards, or offering a choice of lootbox type.
We here at Massively OP can’t get rid of lockboxes, but by gum, we’re not going to roll over and give up on fighting them. At the very least, we can help to educate the gaming public about the insidious nature of these gambleboxes.
In that spirit, we want to share this post on the psychology of lockboxes and gambling and how both casinos and video game studios use the same techniques to manipulate players into spending far more than they ever should. There are five tricks listed: the gambler’s falacy, the sunk costs effect, the availability heuristic, the illusion of control, and the near-miss illusion.
“Casinos long ago discovered that if they let a player make some kind of meaningless choice or tap a button to potentially ‘nudge’ a slot machine reel into a winning position, they would love it and gamble more,” author Jamie Madigan notes. “Even when the odds of winning are held constant. You could totally do this with loot boxes, too. Instead of clicking on a loot box to open it, let them choose between three boxes, all of which in reality have the same contents.”
No matter what type of mobile device you run as your daily driver, you’re probably going to be surprised to hear that Apple is the one getting out in front of the whole lockbox gambling thing. Turns out the company has updated its app guidelines to demand odds disclosures from games with lockboxes and lootboxes.
“Apps offering ‘loot boxes’ or other mechanisms that provide randomized virtual items for purchase must disclose the odds of receiving each type of item to customers prior to purchase.”
Given how many mobile games use these tactics – Hearthstone is coming immediately to mind – that’s going to make for some interesting spreadsheet crunching in the coming months.
As multiple people have pointed out, Apple rather likes doing business in China, and China is well-known for strictly regulating odds disclosure on gacha games and those similar. Companies like Blizzard and Grinding Gear Games have previously done the same.
Don’t agree that lockboxes, lootboxes, and gambleboxes were the biggest story of the year? We’ve collected so many news tidbits just on that over the last few days that we’re resorting to rounding them up rather than spamming. To wit:
First, Merrill Lynch analysts have now lowered their expectations and profit estimates for EA thanks to the performance of Star Wars Battlefront 2, which the analysts believe will fall short of the 14M sales estimate by 2.5M. At least in big box stores, the game also performed relatively poorly on Black Friday.
On point: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gambling is under $1 on Steam. “Do you love opening loot crates, but hate the tedious gameplay sessions in between? Our marketing department has the game for you! Unbox random items! Get stuff, but not what you really want! Skate legal and ethical lines! Remember kids, it’s only a video game, so grab your parents’ credit card!”
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.