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.”
As GeekWire points out, the chips are considered tantamount to the “something of value” clause in Washington state’s gambling laws, as they’re both the prize (which you can cash out) and the de facto currency to keep winning more prizes.
I know we have actual rocket scientists and lawyers among our commenters, but you’re not going to need to be either to see how what’s begun as a lawsuit about gambling games can be extrapolated to other games where the lockbox goodies you’re paying to gamble for could be considered essential to “the privilege of playing the game.” In fact, the same site reports four more related lawsuits lodged in the state in April.