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.”
Over the last couple of years, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has been petitioning for changes to the DMCA to help preserve old video games – to eliminate server-based DRM and legalize emulators for games that had been abandoned. As of 2015, the Library of Congress granted the request, but the exemption very specifically didn’t cover closed-down MMORPGs.
Then, in October of 2017, the US Copyright Office effectively renewed the exception and reopened the argument, in part because of a Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment (MADE) proposal to consider even massively-multiplayer games on the table for archival purposes. Even if you have no interest in playing on an emulator for an ancient MMORPG, surely you can see the value in allowing future historians the opportunity to see these worlds first-hand instead of through blurry YouTube videos. The code still exists, after all; outdated laws simply keep them closed to all of us.
Not so fast, says the good ol’ Entertainment Software Association.
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.
Who says subscriptions are dead? Not Star Citizen. The alpha MMORPG has long taken a page out of the Pathfinder Online playbook by offering a subscription service for backers.
But PTU players were apparently sent an email blast this week with the “special announcement” that by “popular request, first-wave PTU access for all Subscribers is now a permanent perk for 2018,” meaning that if you want to be sure you get in to the early test server and get in early, you’ll have to pay for the privilege on a monthly basis, and the thousand bucks you’ve put in on ships doesn’t count.
It does not mean, note, that you can’t play the alpha without a sub; you’ll just get in during subsequent waves – and of course, you can still play the current stable release. Nevertheless, the word “paywall” has been kicked around as people express annoyance with the new status quo.
More details about the fatal Call of Duty swatting incident that took place in Kansas at the tail end of 2017 are coming to light.
You’ll recall that in December, California resident Tyler Barriss allegedly called Wichita, Kansas, police to report a supposed murder/hostage/arson in progress, using what he presumably believed to be the address of a Call of Duty player intended as the focus of the ensuing police harassment. 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. The officer who shot Finch was on paid administrative pending investigation as of two weeks ago, when Barriss was formally charged with involuntary manslaughter and extradited to Kansas.
If you were confused over how Barriss became involved, the newly released information has a bit more backstory, as investigators have released an affidavit identifying the the other people involved to some degree in the swatting incident. Kansas resident Shane Gaskill and Ohio resident Casey Viner were involved in a dispute over an online game, believed from early reports to be Call of Duty; following the death of Viner’s character at Gaskill’s character’s hand in a match with a monetary bet on the line, Viner threatened to swat Gaskill on Twitter, who then posted an address in Wichita that was not his and dared Viner to “try some shit.”
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.
Stretch your brain allllll the way back to 2016, when Australian courts fined Valve $2.16 million US at the behest of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). That regulatory body had accused Valve of essentially insufficiently advertising and refunding Australian Steam customers for purchases on the platform, which ran afoul of the country’s consumer laws.
In agreeing with the ACCC’s complaint, the federal court found that Valve had not only broken consumer law but failed to properly conduct business in the country and therefore was subject to the maximum fine; the court also ordered Valve to set up special refund notices for Aussie customers and school its employees under a special “Australian Law Compliance Program.”
Valve has apparently spent the last year and change appealing the decision – and hey, they’ve been fighting this since 2014, so why stop now, right? And now, as Gamasutra reports, Valve has applied for “special leave” from the Australian High Court. As in the US, petitioners aren’t necessarily entitled to a hearing before the highest court in the land; members of that court decide whether or not to hear your final appeal once you’ve worked through all the other layers of the court system.
Has the pace of news moved so quickly that we’ve already forgotten about Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene’s statement that video games lack any IP copyright protection? Because that was really ridiculous. Especially since what he was referring to was not actually even remotely related to copyright, but covered something that would be handled via patent. And even that wouldn’t have worked!
Of course, you can’t really blame him. By which I mean you can totally blame him, but it’s a common misconception that turns up time and again. People talk about copyright, trademark, and patent issues in the same general melange of “this company owns this,” and the thing is that they’re related terms and concepts that nevertheless mean very, very different things.
The MOP comment crew was understandably creeped out by last week’s news that Tencent was going after PlayerUnknown’s Battleground cheaters by working with the Chinese police, leading to the arrest of 120 people in 30 cases. But Tencent isn’t alone; Blizzard is also getting in on the law enforcement fun, most recently in Korea, where its Korean wing has referred 13 people to Seoul’s National Policy Agency cyber crime unit for arrest in Overwatch hacking and cheating crimes.
As Dot Esports and Blizzard Watch report, this isn’t a first for South Korea; at least one teen has already been charged under the so-called “Game Industry Promotion Law,” which permits two years of prison time and up to $18,000 in fines for those convicted.
Here’s Blizzard Korea’s message to its players, as translated by Unikrn:
If you thought Epic Games was being too rough on cheaters in Fortnite by smacking kids with personal lawsuits, wait until you hear what Tencent is up to. The Chinese gaming giant is preparing to (officially) launch PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds there (yes, it’s already playable there via Steam, but in early access). And ahead of that, it’s going after cheaters, specifically the cheat vendors – hard.
Bloomberg reports that the company has worked with Chinese police to arrest 120 people as part of 30 different cases involving cheat programs for the game. According to the publication, the company is trying to crack down on the hacking that pervades its games, specifically PUBG; those convicted under Chinese law could be sentenced to several years in prison, in addition to fines (and yeah, it’s happened before). So maybe don’t be a hacker targeting a megacorp’s video game in China.
Just before the new year, the gaming community was mortified to learn that an innocent Kansas man had been shot by police following a fake crime report targeting the victim’s residence over a video game – i.e., a swatting incident that actually came to its intended deadly end. Now, the caller, 25-year-old Tyler Barriss, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, as well as with giving false alarm and interfering with a police officer.
According to original reports, Barriss was intending to target a Call of Duty player over a bet. His doxxing attempt went awry when he was given the wrong address for his victim, and so when he phoned police with his long and drawn out story about a murder/hostage/arson in progress, he sent them to the house of a completely unrelated father of two, Andrew Finch, who was subsequently shot and killed by police after opening his door.