Belgium seeks to ban lockboxes as gambling, plus Hawaii and France weigh in

    
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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.

“While we are stepping up to act in Hawaii, we have also been in discussions with our counterparts in a number of other states who are also considering how to address this issue. Change is difficult at the federal level, but states can and are taking action,” Hawaii’s Chris Lee posted to Reddit. “These kinds of lootboxes and microtransactions are explicitly designed to prey upon and exploit human psychology in the same way casino games are so designed. This is especially true for young adults who child psychologists and other experts explain are particularly vulnerable. These exploitive mechanisms and the deceptive marketing promoting them have no place in games being marketed to minors, and perhaps no place in games at all.”

MOP commenter Miol further points out that French Senator Jérôme Durain tweeted out his missive to ARJEL (France’s Regulatory Administration for Online Games, which regulates online gambling in the country) and says he is further communicating with various gaming commissions, including the videogame consumer body and e-sports associations in the region.

Maybe EA should shy away from these types of business models come its next Star Wars game, yeah?

Source: VTMReddit, PC Gamer, Kotaku, Twitter. Thanks to Sray, Amma, Miol, Sally, Cheese, Fabio, Jorge, Darthbawl, and Sorenthaz for filling up our inbox about this overnight! Much appreciated! Happy Thanksgiving!
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Wesley Herremans

It’s Koen Geens and not Greens. but hey details :-)

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George

It seems that EA ruined to toy for everyone else… I’m so glad of it :D

oldandgrumpy
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oldandgrumpy

Wonder who the EA Vice President for taking one for the team is this year.

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Teala Te'Jir

Lockboxes are gambling.

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Mick the Barbarian

Great news. Lockboxes normalise gambling. They train the next generation of problem gamblers who lack the wisdom and understanding. They insidiously replace grind with cash for a random result. They are a blight on gaming.

I’m almost glad EA pushed the envelope as it precipitated the discussion beyond the gaming community.

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Armsbend

And the fact they chose Star Wars to do it in. Any other IP and you might not have a case for it being directly marketed to children. You couldn’t say COD was for kids for example. It might be – but it isn’t clear cut like a franchise everyone started as a kid on.

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Sally Bowls

Water Cooler: What does whale mean for MMOs?

If the average customer spends $0.10 a year and you spend $5, then you are a whale for that game. I know there are some $20k mobile players and star citizen customers. But I don’t think that spending $15 a year when everyone is spending $5 is that pernicious. Nor would I call the $15/year a whale even though (s)he is for that game.

I get there are a few people who buy a $40 SWTOR crate every month. A subset of that might buy two. But is a significant percentage of GW2 or SWTOR sales from people spending thousands of dollars? My guess is it is far more revenue from people buying some BL Chests here and there and some mount lottery tickets than whales spending thousands.

Or is it just that some define someone who buys $50 of Black Lion chest a year in a F2P game a whale? Or does GW2 make a significant amount of money from the spenders of thouands? I just see whales as more of a mobile/FB issue than MMOs outside of SC & EVE.

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Sally Bowls

Poll and water cooler suggestion (free advice is fairly priced):

When you think that the last 2017 style lockbox will be sold in any of GW2, SWTOR, SWBFx or OverWatch?

N.B.: this is not could; not should; but will.

This could be because it is still legal but repugnant enough to consumers that companies stop, or EU, or US or China could make it illegal. Or, TBH, they find something more profitable/evil?

I could see a snowball effect and they are gone by summer (I bet China can move much faster than US or EU to start the ball rolling.) I could see lots of delays, studies, commissions, and circumvention/workaround could have essentially the same thing still available a decade from now. IDK, I guess my over/under would be four years.

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Armsbend

In my opinion China is interested in becoming the new de facto international moral authority. So I agree that they may move quicker than the others.

I personally do not think they are going to go away. I believe EA, Activision will hire lobbyists to protect their profits. Gamers being gamers it will go completely unopposed. Gaming gets their lockboxes, government gets their corruption money.

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Golconde

[img]http://www.swtorstrategies.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Will-Somebody-Make-a-Star-Wars-Slot-Machine-Please.jpg[/img]

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rafael12104

Perfect. LOL!

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Sorenthaz

Disney has actually been working on removing all slot machines IIRC that feature the Star Wars and Marvel brands.

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Michael18

lol. this press conference is pure gold.

“This game is a Star-Wars-themed online casino. … It’s a trap.”

Also “The Gamer” at the end is terrific.

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Sally Bowls

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, politician or European but thankfully knowledge is not a requirement to have an internet opinion.

On one hand, it does feel like we may have hit a tipping point; that something will be done.

On the other hand, look at reselling games. In July of 2012, the European Court of Justice ruled that reselling software was a fundamental right of Europeans. This was not some Belguim agency; this was the highest court, no place to appeal and covered all of Europe. Yet over five years later, I still do not believe you can resell your Steam game in Europe. If something this clear this has taken over five years, how long will it take to get lockboxes settled?

IMO, nothing is certain but my best guess is that lockboxes will be gone or fundamentally different at some point. IMO, the more open question is whether I, you and your favorite MMO will still be around when it happens.

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rafael12104

Heh. You might be right, but mere discussion of it, is already having an effect. And we don’t really need the EU to take action. Just the threat of government of intervention might be enough to force EA and others to pull them back.

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Sally Bowls

It absolutely might be. OTOH, five years hasn’t gotten Steam to change so perhaps not.

Certainly, the next time a company decides to spend $100M to develop a new game, it seems wise to not design it assuming current lockbox monetization. So next decade it will have an impact regardless.

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Schmidt.Capela

If the courts in Europe are based on the same principles as those here, they can’t do anything to enforce that ruling over Steam unless someone sues Steam for the right to resell his or her games. Steam was not a party in the judgement where it was decided software could be resold, and the judiciary branch can’t advance any causes by itself, it needs someone to sue first.

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Brother Maynard

Exactly this.

It can mean that Valve processes re-sale requests normally, it’s just not publicly visible – why would it if all goes as it should? Perhaps it simply can’t be done through the Steam client and has to be handled with the customer service…

In case Valve refuses such requests, it means none of the affected players has filed a formal complaint. If they did, then based on the ruling it would be a very straightforward matter.

The ruling is there and now the national authorities can make use of it if / when they receive a complaint against Steam.

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Sally Bowls

IDK but a google of “steam Europe resell lawsuit” shows 429,000 entries and mentions French and German lawsuits on the front page. I have no idea what all this means but I tend to think people are usually not too reticent to sue.