Guild Wars 2: Belgian players report gem-buying block, plus more on the bubble tea bans

    
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If you’re a Belgian gamer, you should probably take a peek at your Guild Wars 2 account. Multiple Redditors and forumgoers from the country have been reporting that they are no longer able to buy gems, the game’s cash shop currency; in fact, several are suggesting they aren’t able to buy the game at all right now. Here’s Redditor TheSidFlare (via PCGN) laying out the problem:

“Me and many others (all from Belgium) have been experiencing difficulty with the Gem Store. This has been discovered since September 19th. The top blue button ‘Buy Gems’ shows a red error message, saying ‘Unfortunately an error has occurred. Please try again later!’. Being annoyed with not being able to buy any gems, I’ve been searching on what could have caused this. It seems Belgium has been removed from the billing country list. Using a VPN and making it look like you’re connected from another country, will give you the normal payment options. (Given that the billing country is changed as well) Belgium being my autofill country, the billing country refers only to ‘BEL’. But when another country has been chosen, it shows the country’s full name.”

MMO players will recall that Belgium is one of the countries cracking down on lockboxes, threatening multiple AAA game studios with legal action if they do not comply with their gambling laws. Valve and Blizzard made changes to their games to make lockboxes unbuyable in the affected regions; EA is apparently planning to fight (and lose) in court. While ArenaNet was not among the list of companies threatened, it’d be reasonable to assume the studio is protecting itself all the same, though it’s certainly odd that ArenaNet has made no announcements to that effect.

We’ve reached out to ArenaNet for a statement and will update with it when we have one.

Meanwhile, remember that the bubble tea incident? The promotion with Kung Fu Tea that was supposed to inject a special Guild Wars 2 drink in the real-world store and shower players with codes for in-game goodies? The promo that capsized during its first week, reportedly because of bots, and only then began excluding EU players? At the time, it was a situation ArenaNet declined to comment on (ouch), but now it sort of has. The studio’s Chris Cleary hopped on Reddit specifically to address player complaints that they’re being banned for using the codes. In short, it’s a relatively small number of banned accounts.

“As far as the accounts being blocked (since the promo resumed), there have been 26 total (out of the tens of thousands that have been redeemed since the 20th). None of them were created before 9/20. 22 of them will stand as they are good blocks against accounts being created to abuse the promo. 4 of the blocks I have just overturned because during their investigation the GMs mistakenly bundled accounts being created during the original KFT promo run (earlier this month) and ones created since the 20th. They shouldn’t have been blocked, so they are reinstated and I’ve also sent 4K gems their way. Our bad.”

Source: Reddit via PCGN, Reddit
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kgptzac

Is ANet’s PR persons on vacation or something? Blocking Belgium from cash shop is a big deal, as people wanting to pay them but can’t is always a big deal to any company.

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Robert Mann

The end result of things, I think, will be that politicians and game development/publishing groups will have to work out what they believe will work on both ends. Where that will fall for each nation is up to debate, of course.

Ideally, I would like to see them aim the laws at ‘predatory practices’ instead of gambling. It could apply to all business. For example, the roofing companies that abuse senior citizen communities all over the U.S.

We have laws against predatory lending and pricing. Why not against predatory sales tactics? That’s one of the biggest things in business culture, and it drives people crazy. Instead of continuing that practice, having people who can assist those who can never make up their mind (it is amazing, but an astounding number of people really do need some sort of forced mind-making process, or at least a fire under their bum) without the built in interest of making a sale… seems like a no brainer.

Of course businesses will scream, but they are long overdue for the wake-up call that they cannot continue to abuse people as has gone on in most of the world without consequences. Historically, they should be grateful if those consequences involve no blood being spilt.

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Schmidt.Capela

This seems like a stopgap answer to Belgium’s actions; it’s faster to just geo-block payment options from Belgium than to roll out a Belgium-specific version of the cash store without any random items. Belgium opening a criminal investigation against EA must have really scared ANet (or, perhaps, NCSoft; Korean companies seem to dread being at the wrong side of a criminal investigation far more than their US-based counterparts).

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Sally Bowls

I have no idea if it influences them, but Korean CEOs can go to jail for gambling.

E.g., the CEO of Kakao. So if you can go to jail for legal-in-Vegas casino gambling, perhaps – IDK – there is more stigma of being accused of gambling.

South Koreans face up to three years in prison for gambling while overseas

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Arktouros

Yes but SK still doesn’t consider lockboxes as gambling just quite yet.

Really I see it as a fantastic example of what kinds of legislation will happen in major countries with heavy game development. Some regulations will get added (can’t have deceptive odds, etc like Nexon got fined for earlier this year) but more or less they’re still free to exploit their customer base which in turn delivers more profits and the government’s cut of those profits in taxes.

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Schmidt.Capela

If it’s anything like the other laws I know about that prohibit specific professions from gambling (judges, attorneys, accountants, etc), it’s as much about making sure gambling-related leverage on professions and positions seen as common targets for corruption don’t exist as it’s about anti-gambling societal bias.

BTW, Belgium does have that kind of law. Which, ironically, means that if the Belgium Gambling Authority wins against EA and lootboxes become officially recognized as gambling by the courts, it will as a side effect make it illegal for “magistrates, notaries, bailiffs and members of the police” to play games with lootboxes; as a further effect, this would make any publisher who sells lootboxes to any of those people liable to legal penalties.

Edit: After reading the full article, it seems like the Koreans really do see gambling as a stigma. One more reason for the hasty retreat, then, as if ANet/NCSoft was prosecuted overseas for illegally running a gambling operation it would likely result in a huge PR hit at home, even if what they were prosecuted for didn’t qualify as gambling at home.

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Robert Mann

It probably is.

A slew of companies blocked the entire EU when they put in the GDPR. It makes sense, when you could be charged millions for a tiny mistake. Where the money there is tempting… there’s still a lot of “Nope, EU not allowed” around that. There’s still more and more stories about companies closing down (in the EU) or withdrawing from the EU for business on a regular basis.

Where I think that we do need more laws and rules around things, and I would like to see that happen, it needs to be something that has a worldwide standard and which isn’t so poorly written and burdensome for even something so ridiculous as tracking which IP address to respond to…

Same thing will have to come about with the whole monetization thing, and it will continue to be painful with the ignorance around technology in place in government.

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Armsbend

My ego is feeling a surge of exactly 0.00% outrage at this development.

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Arktouros

As I’ve repeatedly said previously the only people who are going to lose in this scenarios are the people of these countries, not the game developers.

It’s simply far easier to write off some country like Belgium and block them entirely from making purchases than it is to change your working business model. Customers are going to complain, and the companies are just going to be /shrug talk to your country’s policy makers (or, hehe, use a VPN we won’t check!). Meanwhile the risk of harming larger game developers located in larger countries potentially means less revenue for that country or even the risk of that developer moving locations. It’s always going to be easy for a small country or small state (In the US) to ban or try to limit something that has little to no negative impact for them for doing so.

Even then if someone waves a magical wand and creates some magical new lockbox free utopia you’re fooling yourselves if you don’t think major game companies are coming up with 10 new ways to side step those laws. Cases like BDO discussed below already show systems rife with RNG mechanics that still indirectly involve the cash shop. Can you call ESO lockboxes gamble boxes if you can sell their contents for a second currency and buy whatever you want from them?

This is voting with your wallets all over again. People disliked what the game developers were doing and voted away thinking the developers would change for the better without even considering the idea that they would change for the worse. There are business models worse than lock boxes, you haven’t hit bottom yet.

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J

It is easier to smaller countries to put bans like this into effect. Larger nations are bound to take notice and follow a similar path. Once they do, it will cause companies to pause and rethink how they do business. It is just a matter of time.

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Arktouros

Yea because they have literally zero skin the game.

Companies pay taxes and provide income to their respective states/countries. So a country like Belgium talking about introducing legislation to ban lockboxes which hurts income for game development businesses means absolutely nothing to them. The only semi major game to ever come out of Belgium was the Divinity series and that isn’t exactly a game type that would see lock boxes in it.

However you look at a larger country like the US where businesses can do no wrong and there’s nothing more holy than the almighty job creators good luck trying to get anything to actually move past a clever sound byte.

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Peregrine Falcon

“However you look at a larger country like the US where people have freedom to do what they want and the government actually respects freedom and the almighty job creators, good luck trying to get anything to actually move past a clever sound bite.”

Hey Arktouros, I fixed that sentence for you.

Look, I know that it’s fashionable to pick on the ‘EVIL CORPORATIONS’ and all, but since those same corporations supply 97% of the jobs on planet Earth, and they are directly responsible for things like affordable food, healthcare, and the internet, you may want to consider cutting them just a little bit of a break.

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Tizmah

Good, it’s time games get back to having quality game design, instead of restricting it to make money.

fallwind
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fallwind

Games are a business, they’ve always been. You’re deluding yourself if you think they were ever not concerned with making money.

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Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

Imagine how awesome it would be if every country adopted this policy and we didn’t have to deal with RNG Cash Shop items in our lives…

I’D BE ABLE TO JUST GET HORSE SKILL CHANGE COUPONS IN BDO AND CHANGE THE SKILLS I DON’T WANT INTO SKILLS I WANT WITHOUT THE RNG!

I hope every country follows Belgium’s lead on this.

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Arktouros

BDO is actually a very interesting case scenario for these laws.

For those unaware, BDO’s upgrade system is relatively random. So lets say you’re trying to enhance your gear from +18 to +19. If you fail you lose 10 max durability on your item, it goes down one level to +17, and you gain 5 failstacks. Now you have to try to enhance it back to +18 again to try for +19 which it that fails you lose another 10 durability, it goes down to +16, and you gain 4 failstacks. Failstacks are character based, so there’s various strategies for managing those. Failstacks increase your chances of success next time up until a maximum amount.

The big part of that, however, is each failure costs you 10 max durability. The only way to repair durability is to use memory fragments (essentially) that restore 1 max durability each. However you can purchase Artisan Memories in the cash shop which increase the amount of durability you repair to 4 instead of 1.

Even the Horse Skill change coupons you brought up are interesting as well. For example you’re not buying a RNG gamble box, you’re paying to randomly reroll a trait on a horse that you get at random. You’re not receiving a new item, you’re paying to randomly change an existing item you already own.

So where would this system fall in the gambling laws being discussed/created? You’re taking a RNG chance through in game mechanics to upgrade your gear but then using the cash shop only to help manage the negative impacts of those attempts. Equally you’re not hoping to get a new item, but rather hoping to change an existing item in a particular way at random.

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Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

Fantastically well put! The thing about horse skill change coupons that is interesting as well is I don’t think there is a way to earn them in game. I think they are cash shop only.

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Arktouros

Oh yea, 100% cash shop item. Having made three T8 coursers I couldn’t imagine doing it without buying the skill change coupons.

And that, really brings up another scenario. The Premium Horse Appearance change tickets. Here’s an item that lets you change your horse appearance to a custom look but also randomly adds a new skill or XP to the horse itself. This lets you essentially pay to add additional skills to the horse at random. Is that a cosmetic item or is that a RNG lock box style mechanic since it’s random which you get with it and then random again if you get a skill?

There’s just so many ways to dance around these laws and they’re just all way worse than gamble boxes.

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McGuffn

I forgot just how bad BDO was. Thank you for the reminder.

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Arktouros

Honestly they’re on a whole other level of sinister business tactics and game design that people haven’t even anticipated yet. It’s the most brilliantly devious system I’ve ever seen designed to date.

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Sally Bowls

The edge case I wonder about is what if $1 bought you an additional chance at the boss/mob loot. It is RL$ for loot RNG. But it is the same loot and same RNG that non-spenders get, just more of it.

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Arktouros

BDO got’s you covered on that, friend!

See what they sell are things called “Blessing of Kamasylve” which in addition to giving +2 energy/tick (so you get 3 energy/3 mins instead of 1 energy/3 mins) but you also get 20% increase to loot gained for 15 days for $11.

There’s also another item called the “Item Collection Increase Scroll” which for 60 minutes that gives a massive increase in items gained and as it says on the scroll itself “not only increases the drop rate of ordinary items, but that of rare items as well.” You get 10 of these if you buy a 90 day Value Pack for $45 which if you’re willing means you can pay $4.5/hr for permanent loot increases (and yes there are people who do this).

These increases significantly increase the item drops which at certain locations can be huge jackpot drops worth tons of silver in game. So they’re skirting the whole RNG Gamble box method by instead boosting the RNG in normal in game mechanics that you see in most games (item drops) then selling you improved odds while utilizing those mechanics (more/better item drops).

I’m really not exaggerating when I say they’re the most brilliantly devious company I’ve seen to date.

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Sally Bowls

TYVM for the info!

I agree, that is quite impressive.

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Schmidt.Capela

For Belgium, at least, I believe that would be classified as gambling. As per the current interpretation by the Gambling Commission, the fact a lootbox can be earned by playing the game doesn’t make selling them any less gambling; see, for example, Overwatch. Meanwhile, unapologetic lootboxes are not considered gambling as long as there is no way, at all, to get them, directly with real money or indirectly by using any intermediary currency that can be obtained with real money; see the post-controversy SWBF2.

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Arktouros

For Belgium, at least, I believe that would be classified as gambling.

I don’t think you understand the complexity of the issue at hand.

There’s no loot box being sold. There’s no key being purchased. It’s a monster in a video game you’re killing and getting a random loot result. There’s no way to directly purchase the monsters you’re killing directly or indirectly from the cash shop. They exist in the game world not for sale.

However what you can do is buy buff scrolls that boost the loot amount you get off monsters you kill. This in turn boosts the amount of rare items you get from monsters that you want.

If you classify this as gambling you essentially end up classifying all randomized loot rewards from in game activities as gambling. This is something beyond the scope of their laws and they would need to be amended to reflect such. For example Belgium defined games like CS:GO , Overwatch, etc lockboxes as a “game of chance” because “there is a game element where a bet can lead to profit or loss and chance has a role in the game.” However there’s no wager of money being put down here. Your wager is killing the monster and you’re paying to modify the loot it drops.

It’s like I’ve been saying article after article. The rate in which technology adapts and innovates vastly outpaces the rate in which laws are changed or upheld.

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Sally Bowls

It’s like I’ve been saying article after article. The rate in which technology adapts and innovates vastly outpaces the rate in which laws are changed or upheld.

And these subtleties of virtual items will ultimately be decided by eighty-year-olds who still use paper instead of email.

The Supreme Court Is Stubbornly Analog — By Design