Are lootboxes gambling? It seems like such a simple question, but it really isn’t simple from a legal or ethical standpoint, and the answer has a pretty big impact. According to the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs, following reviews, lootboxes do not meet the legal requirements of gambling, thus freeing them from the scrutiny of agencies designed to look more closely into gambling-related issues.
In short, the argument hinges upon the fact that lootbox items cannot be exchanged for cash and thus do not qualify as gambling under the law. That having been said, it’s not an ironclad ruling which cannot be changed; indeed, it’s something likely to be debated extensively as more and more lawmakers turn a critical eye toward the practice. For the moment, though, New Zealand considers them perfectly acceptable and has picked a side in the ongoing battle.
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.
If you’d forgotten, Fortnite wound up bringing a lawsuit against two people for cheating software being used in the game. One such suit hit a wrinkle when it turned out that the defendant was a minor, which has yet to be resolved. The other suit is all done and over with, though, as the developer has reportedly agreed to an out-of-court settlement regarding the lawsuit against Charles Vraspir.
The terms of the settlement forbid Vraspir from taking any actions similar to his prior ones, with a $5,000 penalty if he is found in breach of the agreement. The bright side for him is that he won’t have to pay a fine at all so long as he sticks to the terms of his agreement, so we can only hope for his own sake that he does so. It’s a somewhat anticlimactic ending to that particular matter, but probably the best one for all concerned parties.
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.
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)
It’s not very interesting to see a big company take knockoff companies to court to argue that the knockoff companies are violating intellectual property. It is, however, quite interesting when the argument of the knockoff companies is that the big company doesn’t actually own said intellectual property at all… and that claim has some actual basis. There’s no question whether or not Valve owns Dota 2 itself, but there’s some actual legal ambiguity over whether or not the intellectual property of the characters is owned by Valve or not, which is the case being brought to federal court as Valve sues mobile developers Lilith Games and uCool.
The fundamental argument is that the original Dota map made for Warcraft 3 could legally be considered to be abandoned by its creator, which would render the intellectual property public domain. There’s also some basis to argue that as a Warcraft 3 map, everything in the map was already owned by Blizzard and couldn’t be bought and sold in the first place. In other words, it’s a quagmire of specific definitions and legal edge cases, which is sure to delight the more law-minded members of our audience as the case moves forward.
The 22-year-old Russian vlogger convicted of playing Pokemon Go inside a church has been hit with a 3.5-year suspended sentence.
Ruslan Sokolovsky was found “guilty of inciting hatred, violating religious feelings and illegal possession of special technical means – a pen with a video camera” for recording himself playing Pokemon Go on his phone in the Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg last summer while carrying a piece of crap pencam from whatever the Russian equivalent of SharperImage is. He was detained and charged by authorities when the video of his mundane prank went viral.
“I believe that there is no reason to exempt the defendant from liability,” the Russian prosecutor said last month. “There is also no reason to sentence him to a fine … I request that the court sentence him to three-and-a-half years in a penal colony.” The judge apparently agreed to the max sentence, but ordered it suspended. Sokolovsky has already been sitting in prison for seven months.
A 22-year-old Russian vlogger is facing prison time for playing Pokemon Go inside a church.
Last summer, Ruslan Sokolovsky recorded himself playing Pokemon Go on his phone in the Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg, noting on the recording that he couldn’t see how his actions could offend anyone. When the video went viral, Russian authorities detained Sokolovsky and charged him with inciting religious hatred. His trial began in March; he now faces a potential 3.5 year sentence. The verdict will be determined on May 11th.
“I believe that there is no reason to exempt the defendant from liability,” a Russian state prosecutor said, according to Sky News, one of many publications reporting on the surreal nature of the trial. “There is also no reason to sentence him to a fine … I request that the court sentence him to three-and-a-half years in a penal colony.”
As Sky News points out, this is the same blasphemy law used to prosecute Russian punk band Pussy Riot, three members of which were convicted — amidst considerable international outrage — of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and imprisoned for several years following an anti-Putin performance in an Orthodox cathedral.
Remember back in February when Milwaukee County in Wisconsin tried to handle the whole “Pokemon Go players are destroying parks and costing municipalities cash money to repair them” ordeal by requiring game developers, including Niantic, to acquire permits before implementing games within the park?
Agumented reality developer Candy Lab AR (of Texas Rope’ Em fame) plans to fight that ordinance. The studio has filed a lawsuit against the county in the US district court for Eastern Wisconsin, alleging that the ordinance violates and restricts the company’s “right to free speech” via regulation, is “unconstitutionally vague,” and holds companies legally and financially responsible for the actions of players on park lands, the last of which Candy Lab says would be “financially prohibitive.”
The county created the ordinance following destruction to the park by Pokemon Go players last year; it appears to require ARG devs to follow the same rules as geocachers when developing game nodes within the park. That boils down to purchasing a permit and carrying $1,000,000 in liability insurance for damages resulting from its players’ park use.
Last night’s update saw the end of the Battle.net branding on the Blizzard launcher. You probably shed your tears back in September, when the company first announced it was retiring the Battle.net name and replacing it with terms like Blizzard Streaming and Blizzard Voice. Now the platform for World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and the rest just says… Blizzard.
Speaking of Overwatch: Kotaku has a look at the shooter’s new system for dealing with toxicity, currently getting a workout on the PTR. The current version has far more specific options for reporting other players, which may or may not lead to better reports and less abuse — but Blizzard is making an effort.
And finally, Polygon has broken down Blizzard’s history with modding and reverse engineering lawsuits, presumably for younger gamers or folks who aren’t aware of World of Warcraft’s diverse modding offerings. Anyone who’s ever wondered why Blizzard cracks down on Bossland, who’s wondered why the DMCA is so powerful, or who’s curious about the legal precedent of the old-school bnetd case should take a look before armchair lawyering down in the comments.
It’s all fun and games… until you start selling software to help players cheat, then it’s all lawsuits and court dates.
Blizzard is asking the California district court to pronounce a judgment upon Bossland, the maker of cheat software for World of Warcraft and Overwatch. The game company filed a lawsuit last year against the cheat maker for copyright infringement and unfair competition. Bossland stopped responding to the court, and Blizzard is now asking the court to make a default judgment.
Blizzard claims that Bossland sold over 42,000 hacks in North America, which the studio considers to be worth $8.5 million in damages. “In this case, Blizzard is only seeking the minimum statutory damages of $200 per infringement, for a total of $8,563,600.00,” the studio posted. “While Blizzard would surely be entitled to seek a larger amount, Blizzard seeks only minimum statutory damages. Blizzard does not seek such damages as a ‘punitive’ measure against Bossland or to obtain an unjustified windfall.”
One round of the Oculus lawsuit may be over, but the saga isn’t going away.
Oculus CTO John Carmack is now suing ZeniMax Media for breaching his asset purchase agreement. He claims that in February, he notified ZeniMax that he sought to covert the $22 million balance still owed by the company to him into common stock shares, which he planned to sell back to ZeniMax to fully cash out. He alleges that ZeniMax has subsequently
“made it clear that the company would not voluntarily comply on a timely basis with the conversion notice. The content and tone of the letter also made it clear that ZeniMax was unlikely to comply with its obligations under the shareholders’ agreement by either buying the offered shares or notifying the other shareholders of their right to purchase them.”
Back in January, we reported on the tragic case of Jiansheng Chen, a 60-year-old Virginia resident who was playing Pokemon Go in his family’s Chesapeake neighborhood when he was shot and killed by what was supposed to be an unarmed security guard.
More details have since come to light, as reported by local news. The shooter, a 21-year-old man named Johnathan Cromwell, has been charged with second degree murder and use of a firearm and was denied bond by the judge this week. State attorneys allege that Cromwell “confronted” Chen while Chen was seated in his car parked at the neighborhood clubhouse, a known Pokemon Go gym. Cromwell allegedly positioned his vehicle in front of Chen’s, exited his car, yelled stop, fired one bullet into the car at Chen, then moved to the other side of the vehicle and fired seven more, hitting the elderly man, who was of Chinese descent and spoke little English, a total of five times.
Cromwell’s lawyers assert that their client acted in self-defense and that Chen had previously been asked to stay away from the neighborhood clubhouse after dark.