gambling

UK lockbox gambling regulation petition receives baffling government response

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.

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Activision secures patent for software to trick you into buying cash shop stuff, seriously

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.”

Source: Kotaku, Rolling Stone; thanks to OneEyeRed and Leiloni for the tip!

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UK lawmakers examine lockboxes, PEGI leaves definitions to gambling commissions

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.

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But seriously, lockboxes suck, even if the ESRB doesn’t think they’re gambling. Stop buying lockboxes.

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.

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This is how MMO lockboxes manipulate your mind

It is not going to shock you to hear that lockboxes are kind of evil. We here at Massively OP have been beating on that drum for years now. But studios keep selling them and players keep buying them, so on the drum beat goes.

If you’ve brushed off the insidious nature of lockboxes so far, it might behoove you to read this piece from PC Gamer that takes an unflinching look at how game designers use specific, targeted elements to prey upon players’ psychology and brain chemistry — and that many of these techniques are the same ones employed by gambling establishments.

Why do lockboxes work so well? Something called “variable rate reinforcement” factors into it, says Dr. Luke Clark of the Center for Gambling Research: “The player is basically working for reward by making a series of responses, but the rewards are delivered unpredictably. We know that the dopamine system, which is targeted by drugs of abuse, is also very interested in unpredictable rewards. Dopamine cells are most active when there is maximum uncertainty, and the dopamine system responds more to an uncertain reward than the same reward delivered on a predictable basis.”

Source: PC Gamer. Thanks Agemyth and Pierre!

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RuneScape players accuse new lockbox promo of promoting gambling to children

RuneScape announced yesterday a new promo that works in conjunction with its existing Treasure Hunter system. It’s a bit of a lockbox system, with the caveat that you can claim one to two keys to open said lockboxes for free every day just for logging in, depending on your sub status in the hybrid MMO. If you want more, then you have to buy them with cash.

The promotion, however, changes things up. “With every Key you use, you have a chance to earn a bonus prize on the Prize Pool interface at the top of the screen,” says Jagex. “Claim that extra prize immediately, or use more Keys to get a chance at more, rarer, prizes. Every Key you use will apply one of two actions: add an extra prize to your pool, or remove all prizes gathered so far from it. The longer you hold out without claiming, the more extra prizes you can claim and the rarer your prize pool collection will get. But be careful – you could lose it all!”

That’s prompted players who normally don’t find the treasure hunter lockboxes particularly problematic to flock to Reddit with a multitude of complaints ranging from accusations that the promo is rigged to concerns that the game is shamelessly promoting gambling to a game chiefly aimed at kids.

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No, exploitative gacha mechanics are not a good idea for western devs

We’ve been talking about exploitative gacha games and related business models on Massively OP for a long time, most recently and notably in depth earlier this year when we covered how Japan, Korea, China, and Singapore have all passed laws to take the model down a peg. In fact, China’s newest anti-gacha laws have since been used to target MMOs, card games, and even Overwatch’s skins. So given all the crackdowns, you’d think that the trend would be to avoid it, right? That industry analysts and watchers on this side of the pond would be wary?

But no. Bizarrely, there’s a new GamesIndustry.biz article this week in which AppLovin Managing Director Johannes Heinze advocates that western developers start including gachapon mechanics, even citing Pokemon Go as a good example of how well it works. He argues that gacha requires:

  • A large, varied set of content
  • A strong desire from the player to collect as many items as possible
  • A game where gacha content is necessary for players to progress
  • An effective mechanic for duplicate content (to prevent player churn from pulling too many duplicates)

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Pokemon Go: The Milwaukee lawsuit, rare Pikachu, and the gym reporting problem

It’s been almost a year now since non-expat Americans were able to play Niantic’s Pokemon Go. While we’re naturally seeing birthday rumors, the game’s unique position in gaming has led to continued lawsuit issues over AR and Niantic’s struggle with moderating its content.

Rumors of a shiny Pikachu are being linked with both a brief “one-year anniversary” line of code that was recently datamined and news that Niantic will release a “rare Pikachu” at ACM Siggraph.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit between Candy LAB AR and Milwaukee County that we previously reported has led to the two sides exchanging words, none more damning than those of the county:

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Hearthstone nerfs bothersome Quest Rogue deck, skirts around Chinese lockbox regulations

Following Hearthstone’s most recent expansion, Journey to Un’Goro, one deck has come to dominate pretty much all others — and Blizzard now says that it is high time it left the meta.

The studio announced that it would be nerfing the key card behind the “Quest Rogue” deck to stop this runaway train: “The Caverns Below is uniquely powerful versus several slower, control-oriented decks and played often enough that it’s pushing those decks out of play. This change should help expand the deck options available to players both now and after the release of the next expansion.”

Meanwhile, over in China Blizzard has had to employ a… creative solution to get around a law that forces video game companies to state the odds obtaining desired items in lockboxes (of which Hearthstone’s card packs are considered). Instead of allowing players to purchase packs directly, Blizzard now encourages players to buy quantities of arcane dust, after which they will be gifted “free” packs that require no such revelations.

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Wild West Online asks players what sort of gambling they want to see

It’s just not right to think of the stereotypical wild west without including some gambling. Based on movies on the subject, cheating at poker and the penalties for cheating at poker make up the majority of most people’s pastimes. So Wild West Online knows players want some form of gambling in the game, and it’s going to be in there. The question posed to the audience is what sort of gambling you want.

Obviously, there are some options with a higher degree of historical accuracy, but the goal here is to pick games that are fun to play rather than necessarily adhering to the “right” sorts of games. It’s not a formal poll, so you can feel free to sound off on Twitter with the sort of card game you want to be playing. Although you can probably be confident that poker is going to be in there no matter what.

Source: Twitter

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City of Titans on endgame, alting, PvP, business models, lockboxes, and whales

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.

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Overwatch: Hero leaks, lockbox probabilities, and Korean political humor

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.

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Here’s what’s in Neverwinter’s Cloaked Ascendancy lockboxes

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 dog-eared playbook.

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.

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