Last year, Netmarble came under fire from South Korean authorities following the death of a game developer under its banner. Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service noted at the time that the game studio employee “died from a work-related cause” brought on by “irregular night-time work and excess duty in the 12 weeks” when he passed away from heart disease – in his 20s. Excess duty was described in this case as 89 hours a week for almost two months. And he was apparently not the only Netmarble employee to drop dead that year; compensation filings noted two more deaths in 2016.
By summer of last year, additional South Korean agencies, including the jusice department and labor divisions, began pressuring Netmarble to clean up how it handles overtime and overtime pay. And most recently, according to MMO Culture, the company has devised a plan of its own to limit overworking.
Just for the record, we are not the only ones engaged in the discussion and controversy surrounding lockboxes and lootboxes as of late. YouTube channel Extra Credits put together an entertaining and informative video that brings everyone up to speed on what’s happening with all of this, even if you’ve been out of the loop.
The video does raise some concerns about what might happen if and when governments get involved in legislating lootboxes under gambling laws. Some of these concerns have to do with states that consider gambling illegal, access to games with “gambling” if you are under 21 years of age, varying forms of lootboxes, and studios worrying about lawsuits from players over bans if that person has digital property with monetary value. Regular readers will recall a few months back when our SWTOR columnist considered the direct implications for his own game too.
“There are a whole bunch of effects this legislation could have on gaming beyond simply restricting lootboxes as a model,” the video argues. “So we have to be incredibly careful about how we approach this legislation.”
The Entertainment Software Rating Board claims it’s taking steps to solve the lockbox crisis, in part in response to bills before multiple state governments as well as discussions in (and ultimata from) the US senate’s commerce, science, and transporation committee. ESRB President Patricia Vance told journalists today that the non-government body will mandate special labels applied to video game boxes notifying consumers that in-app purchases and cash-shop transactions are part of those games. It won’t be explicit to lootboxes, she argues, because “a large majority of parents don’t know what a lootbox is.” It’s set up a new website to explain parental controls to parents as well, though we don’t recall anyone asking for that.
But maybe don’t get too excited. Polygon argues that the proposal “feels like a plot to get legislators off the back of the industry, not a serious attempt to fix anything,” since pretty much every video game would have this relatively generic label and there’s an overt attempt to deflect all real responsibility to parents. Moreover, the ESRB still isn’t requiring publishers to disclose odds for their gambleboxes.
Up until now, the political grumblings about video game gambleboxes has been mostly limited to state governments, specifically Hawaii’s Chris Lee, who submitted four regulatory bills this week, and Washington state’s Kevin Ranker, whose January provisional bill would require an investigation of whether the mechanic constitutes gambling under state laws.
But they’re getting a higher-ranking ally today. As Rolling Stone reports, New Hampshire Senator – that’s the US senate, not the state senate – Maggie Hassan has apparently joined the fray. She sits on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and used a recent committee hearing to ask FTC nominees their opinion on gaming addiction and lockboxes. (All four apparently said the issue is something they will address.)
Hassan also penned a letter to the ESRB asking it to “review the completeness of the board’s ratings process and policies as they relate to loot boxes, and to take into account the potential harm these types of micro-transactions may have on children.”
Hawaii State Representative Chris Lee has made good on his plan to write and submit bills to the state legislature regulating the sale of video games with predatory lockboxes. The four bills are straightforward: Two seek to block the sale of video games with random-reward gambleboxes to people under the age of 21 (gambling age in Hawaii as well as many other US states), while the other pair requires proper labeling of the gambling mechanics on game boxes as well as disclosure of probability rates of items inside the boxes.
As GIbiz points out, up to now the only active bill on the topic in the US was a demand for more research by Washington representatives.
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.
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.
With the rhetoric and discussion around video game lockboxes at a fever pitch, it has drawn the attention of at least one US congressperson who has issued a somewhat dire warning to the games industry: Police yourself or get ready for us to do it for you.
Hawaii State Representative Sean Quinlan is the latest in a string of politicians and governments taking the games industry to task over the design and mechanics of pay-for-loot lockboxes. He said that while he doesn’t want to see the government step in to regulate, he also doesn’t believe that game publishers are going to get their act together on this.
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.
With a strong focus on player government and politics, Ashes of Creation is giving careful consideration with how it will structure the leadership of each city. It won’t be hard to figure out where to go if you want to vie for power and position, as the city hall is being designed for such hobnobbing and meetings.
“Our government system is really all about letting players take control of the world they make,” the team wrote in this week’s dev diary. “The first step here is deciding how the city should feel, what laws should be in place and how it’s run.”
At the city hall, player leaders can meet together to make key decisions for the local town. Possible rulings include making people of a certain node “enemies of the state,” what to build, what to tear down, declaring war, forming alliances, activate festivals, and even create quests for other players.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail forever gave us the perfect test for whether or not someone is the king: see if he’s got fecal matter all over him. Presumably, the kings behind the official kingdoms of Chronicles of Elyria will themselves be free of such refuse, allowing them to focus more upon tasks like keeping down the poor, executing those who do not kneel in deference, and arranging peasant houses in the shape of naughty words.
But why speculate? You can jump into the recruitment channels and threads for the various launch kingdoms to sign up as a loyal vassal well ahead of the game’s launch. It’s perfect for nobles who enjoy politicking, aspiring nobles who enjoy politicking (or backstabbing) until they’re no longer simply aspiring, and peasants who wish to protest that lobbing around very large Kickstarter donations is no basis for a system of governance. (Let us know how that last one works out for you.)
You may not have heard of Honour of Kings, but that’s probably because you don’t live in China. It’s one of the most popular mobile MOBAs in the country, racking up an astounding 200 million players (50M of whom are monthly active users) since its launch in 2015. And it’s that popularity that has the government worried, with a state-owned newspaper calling the game a “drug” and “poison.”
In particular, the Chinese government is concerned that kids might be getting addicted to Tencent’s MOBA, hinting that regulations on the title should be imposed. Perhaps to get out in front of government interference, Tencent went ahead and slapped the game with a child lock. Now, kids under the age of 12 can play only an hour a day, and youth ages 12 through 18 are limited to two hours daily.
Tencent’s stock took a sizable hit from the government’s statements, falling 4% initially. The company also runs League of Legends in China and made $3.9 billion from gaming in Q1 2017. Honour of Kings will be coming to the west in September of this year.
. Thanks CistaCista and Mysecretid!
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.”