Gambling and gaming are two sides of the same coin. You guys wouldn’t believe how many gambling companies request to put ads on MOP every month (unsuccessfully!), so clearly advertisers believe there’s plenty of overlap in the groups. And the debate over gambling in video games – whether we’re talking about lockbox monetization schemes or watching bureaucrats home in on skin gambling – isn’t going away. In fact, it’s about to get much bigger as gamblers are walloped from still another direction.
This week the Supreme Court effectively overturned PASPA – the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act – in deciding Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association. The ruling hinged on the section of PASPA that basically barred local governments from licensing betting on sports games, reserving that power for the federal government. The act had been interpreted to include e-sports once e-sports became a thing as well. The state of New Jersey and the NCAA went to war over the statue, battling in court over the last seven years, and now, New Jersey, or at least the gambling institutions of New Jersey, has won.
MMOs and politics once again collide this week as last night CNN broke the news that Robert Mueller’s FBI team has zeroed in on Russian oligarch and Renova Group chairman Viktor Vekselberg as part of the Special Counsel investigation into Russian election interference, questioning Vekselberg about money Renova’s US “affiliate” transferred to US President Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen. (Tangentially, those allegations were brought to light by Stormy Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti.)
And the name of that US affiliate under investigation? Yeah, it’s Columbus Nova, the firm that claimed it acquired MMORPG studio Daybreak back in 2015. Here we go again.
“FBI agents asked Vekselberg about payments his company’s American affiliate, Columbus Nova, made to Cohen, according to one source,” CNN reports. “The Russian was questioned as well about $300,000 in political donations by Andrew Intrater, Vekselberg’s American cousin who is the head of Columbus Nova, sources said.” Columbus Nova claimed to CNN that it is “owned and controlled by Americans”; it further denies any use of “Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments” to Cohen.
Blizzard is not messing around with DDOS attacks. The BBC has a piece out on a World of Warcraft player from Romania, Calin Mateias, who was apparently extradited to California, charged with conducting a denial of service attack on WoW’s servers back in 2010. He pleaded guilty to “causing damage to a protected computer,” will sit for a year in prison, and was fined around $30,000 to boot. The saddest part is that he was DDOSing servers to get back at guildies over raid loot and participation.
In other WoW news, production director John Hight spoke to PCGamesN about the march toward Battle for Azeroth; he not only teases the story arc but philosophizes about the on-again, off-again war between the factions.
“We thought it would be appropriate and very interesting to say that the biggest threat now in Azeroth is each other. Can we, without that uniting threat of the Burning Legion, come together – or are we going to battle each other? And as you can see in Battle for Azeroth, we’re going to fight it out.”
It’s no exaggeration to say that last year’s Pokemon Go Fest was a complete and total disaster. It made a ton of money – almost $6M on the second day alone – but the PR fallout was epic, as thousands of people who paid to attend couldn’t actually get into the event park and thousands more couldn’t connect to the game once inside thanks to overloaded cell networks. On top of the logistical nightmare, the event turned out to be a pay-to-win debacle too. When Niantic CEO John Hanke took the stage to calm everyone and apologize, he was met with boos from his own die-hard fans. A spokesperson later said the studio was “horrified” with the way the event turned out and refunded all players for their tickets (and then some). That didn’t stop players who’d paid to travel long distances to Chicago for the event from forging ahead with a class-action lawsuit, which Niantic quite recently settled to the tune of $1.5M.
Since then, Niantic has run several successful events of a similar magnitude to last year’s Chicago event, including a massive festival in Yokohama, and they’ve all gone well, which must surely give the company courage for announcing a series of summer events dubbed Pokemon Go Summer Tour 2018.
Bluehole and PUBG Corp are apparently continuing their government-backed crackdown on PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds cheaters.
Last week, PUBG Corp told Steam players that it takes cheating seriously and has upgraded its security measures. “In the meantime, we’ve also been continuously gathering information on hack developers (and sellers) and have been working extensively with multiple partners and judicial authorities to bring these people to justice,” the studio writes. “Earlier this month, on April 25th, 15 suspects were arrested for developing and selling hacking/cheating programs that affect PUBG. It was confirmed that malicious code, including Trojan horse software, was included in some of these programs and was used to steal user information.”
The studio indicates the suspects, all in China and being dealt with by Chinese authorities, have been fined the rough equivalent of $5.1M USD for their infractions. Prison time is historically a potential factor in cases like these in China as well, but the report doesn’t mention it.
Epic Games is still doggedly pursuing supposed Fortnite cheaters. As we reported back in November, one of the defendants in Epic’s many lawsuits is a 14-year-old boy who stands accused of streaming and promoting cheats on his YouTube channel. At the time, his mother sent an informal letter to the court, arguing that her son didn’t actually develop cheats, that Epic had unlawfully released his name (as a minor), and that Epic was unfairly scapegoating him.
As TorrentFreak (via GIbiz) noted, the court took that letter as a motion to dismiss (the family hadn’t responded officially otherwise). Epic has since refiled its complaint as a reply to that motion, claiming that it didn’t know the kid was a minor and that he had agreed to the EULA.
Update: This story was a miscommunication in the media. It turns out that while the servers are staying up, Ragnarok Online’s North American servers are blocking IP addresses from Europe due to these regulations. The European servers will be unaffected. Thanks, Kelekelio!
One of the MMO industry’s long-time institutions is finally calling it a day in Europe.
Ragnarok Online announced this week that it is shutting down all of its servers on the continent as of May 25th. The odd part about this story is that this sunset is happening not because of declining population or revenue but because of a new law that the game’s operator was not able to circumvent. Operation in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States will not be affected.
The move comes because of the rollout of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation on May 25th, a law which addresses exporting personal data outside of the EU. WarpPortal apparently decided that it wasn’t worth the cost to upgrade storage security to meet the new regulations and chose to shut down the game instead.
Back in 2017, at the height of mainstream outrage over lockbox shenanigans, Belgium became one of the very first countries to take the problem seriously (instead of just passing the buck). The Belgian committee assigned to investigate concluded in November that “the mixing of money and addiction is gambling” and pledged to ban them.
Now, the country has effectively done just that. Its Gaming Commission spent several months investigating multiple games, ultimately finding that Overwatch, FIFA 18, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive are operating in violation of its laws specifically because of their lockbox mechanics.
So here’s an interesting case that could impact online game development in the US. Apparently, a few weeks ago the Ninth Circuit of U.S. Court of Appeals determined that a casual game, Big Fish Games’ Big Fish Casino, includes illegal gambling. You might be thinking, duh, it’s got casino in the name, of course it’s gambling, but that had nothing to do with the appeals decision, which returns the case to the lower district to reconsider. The ruling instead hinged on the fact that users have to keep buying chips (if they fail to come out ahead in their winnings of said chips, which they probably do because that’s how casinos work) to keep playing.
“Without virtual chips, a user is unable to play Big Fish Casino’s various games. […] Thus, if a user runs out of virtual chips and wants to continue playing Big Fish Casino, she must buy more chips to have ‘the privilege of playing the game.’ Likewise, if a user wins chips, the user wins the privilege of playing Big Fish Casino without charge. In sum, these virtual chips extend the privilege of playing Big Fish Casino.”
Looks like Valve is really going to have to pony up in that four-year Australia consumer protection case, which finally drew to a close today when the courts denied the gaming platform company’s final appeal.
Back in 2014, The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission took Valve to court in the country over Steam’s refund policy. Two years later, the Aussie courts found that Valve had insufficiently advertised and provided refunds to Australian Steam customers such that it violated consumer law in the country, though it did not believe Valve intended to deceive or mislead consumers. It fined Valve the $3M AUD, roughly $2.16M USD (then), which Valve appealed. Then in January of this year, Valve petitioned the Australian High Court for “special leave” for what’s basically a final appeal to set aside the ruling and fine.
Now, that court has denied Valve’s right to be heard, meaning the federal ruling against Valve will stand.
If you had expected the Netherlands to be leading the fight against lootboxes, you may be more clairvoyant than the rest of the population. After investigating 10 games, the Dutch Gaming Authority has found that four of the games tested feature lootboxes that violate the Better Gaming Act. That may not sound too serious until you consider that the offending games have eight weeks to make changes to the lootboxes to comply with the law.
Failure to do so can result in fines or just straight-up forbidding the games from being sold in the Netherlands. That’s a pretty big deal.
While the DGA did not specifically name games, the Dutch paper reporting on the situation cites FIFA ’18, Dota 2, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and Rocket League as the offending titles. The remaining six titles are not in violation of the law but were still sharply criticized for the lootbox implementation, which is said to target younger players and encourage gambling. It’s also worth noting that each of these violations specifically pertains to tradeable items for real money, which just squeaks in as a gambling option.
Are you surprised to be hearing about Bossland again? We’re surprised to be reporting on it. The German-based botmaker made headlines for the last few years thanks to ongoing litigation provoked by its sale of cheat, bot, and hack programs for multiple Blizzard games. Blizzard had pursued Bossland across multiple continents in an attempt to shut down the cheat programs, which Blizz argued violated its copyrights and cost it significant amounts of money to fight – money it was therefore not spending on its own games and customers. The drama finally culminated in 2017 with victories for Blizzard in a German Supreme Court ruling and a California federal court case that awarded Blizzard $8.5M in damages.
Though the German courts recently ruled not to enforce the US court’s decision (on the grounds that it considered the minimum statutory damages awarded to be excessive and punitive), Bossland ended sales for almost all of its hacks at the end of last year; as of today, the only ones remaining are for non-Blizzard games, specifically Final Fantasy XIV and Path of Exile, though according to the group’s latest newsletter, there’s a PUBG one tucked on the forums too.
At the tail end of 2017, a Call of Duty swatting incident in Kansas took the life of a completely innocent man after police killed him following a fake tip to the wrong address.
As we’ve previously chronicled, California resident Tyler Barriss reportedly called Wichita police to detail a supposed murder/hostage/arson in progress, using the address of what he apparently believed was one Call of Duty player intended as the focus of the ensuing police harassment, as provided by another player and played out live on Twitter. The address used, however, was apparently for a completely unrelated person, father of two Andrew Finch, who was subsequently shot and killed by police after opening his door. Barriss was charged with involuntary manslaughter and extradited to Kansas, having tweeted an admission of guilt and being suspected of multiple other incidents, including a bomb threat.