ArenaNet confirms Belgian Guild Wars 2 gem-purchasing blockade

    
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Remember how players raised the alarm in Guild Wars 2 that Belgian players were being blocked from purchases in Guild Wars 2? Like most of you, we assumed it was a proactive attempt to comply with Belgian gambling laws, but the company hadn’t given players any sort of heads-up. When reached for comment, ArenaNet pointed us to its official statement made last night.

“In order to conform to changes in Belgian law, purchases of gems, the Ultimate Edition, and the Ultimate Edition upgrade have been disabled for residents of Belgium. We are continuing to investigate more flexible solutions. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause our players.”

It remains unclear why the company waited so long to alert Belgian players that they’d be affected by the changes. 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, including Valve and Blizzard, which made changes to their games to make lockboxes unbuyable in the affected regions. ArenaNet was not among the list of companies threatened.

Until those “more flexible solutions” arrive, Belgian players will want to take a look at the original Reddit threads for workarounds of their own, assuming they aren’t among the lucky folks claiming they are able to redeem their codes once again.

Source: Official site. With thanks to Miol for the awesome pic! :)
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miol

Sure, devs will come up with worse ways to double/triple… dip customers to circumvent new laws, but if they’re worse, they’re even less likely to be put up with by now aware customers!

Without lockboxes, it will also take serious time for studios to consolidate to one popular method again, where customers have no altetnative to avoid it on any ather big game, so any studio, which dare to make the first move, will drive away customers to its competitors, who are still afraid to do anything as brazen!

Not to mention the bad image, that lockboxes now have and the outrage it’s linked to, can easily infect new popularized forms, with headlines like: “Xxxx are the new lockboxes!”

Dead on arrival! ;P

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Arktouros

I think BDO is kinda the working example of why you’re wrong. For example while, certainly, people have gotten fed up with BDO’s business model and quit it’s far from a failure and continues to measure each quarter not only as profitable but rather by how much more profitable they are year over year. This in spite of the fact the game has had perpetual outrage pretty much since launch lurching from one crisis/outrage to the next.

This isn’t due to a lack of alternatives (There’s WOW, ESO, FFIVIVMVIDCIMVI, etc etc etc) or is it? Surely they could just go back to their old business models they preferred, right? As you say if a studio “dares to make the first move” people would simply go back to the business models they prefer, right?

There in lies the issue. There really aren’t alternatives that people consider viable. Gone are the days where multiple MMOs launch every year and people can hop from new game to new game. A lot of people who aren’t playing those games and are playing a title like BDO have moved on from those older games and thus aren’t considered as an alternative. A business model doesn’t make the game.

Saying something is the new loot boxes doesn’t really matter when you get down to it. The reason why Loot Boxes are even remotely flawed is because they’re using RNG to cost sink the items they want to sell which makes them close enough to gambling that people compare them as such. Every major legislation doesn’t go after deceptive or shady or underhanded business practices but rather whether or not they are gambling. You can say something like loot buff scrolls are the new lockboxes cause they turn in game mobs into lock boxes but legally speaking you’re not making a wager so it becomes harder to legally restrict.

miol
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miol

So many conflations…

You just can’t make up alternatives on the fly in a world still ruled by lockboxes!

Only when lockboxes are forced out by law from popular games in a majority of countries (and not only in one single country, that is only at the very beginning of even persecuting), only then there is a new beginning for less exploitive business models!

Stating BDO is florishing amids other popular lockbox-games, is a nothingburger!
I would even say theirs is less exploitative, compared to lockboxes!

As it’s really hard to spend thousands of dollars on using loot buff scrolls all day, even if you multibox (far greater hurdle), you can’t kill thousands of mobs at once from one single compulsion, when it’s not perpetually fed by itself! It’s way more laborius to stay in that vicious cicle, and far less likely to exploit as many players as long and as much!

It’s like sports bets are far less harmful than carefully designed gaming/gambling machines, (when both have the same betting cap, like it is the known experience in many regulated countries), because it has a way slower and less manupulative pacing!

It’s already progress!

But as I said before, if they come up with worse exploitative mechanics, (again: at the time when lockboxes are finally ruled out), they will be immediatly exposed and it will take quite some time for a new one to get as popular and as profitable as lockboxes again!

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Arktouros

What you call conflations is what I call opinion backed up by observable facts in the MMO game field.

Case in point you put forward that only after lock boxes are removed we would see a new beginning for less exploitative business models. However the observable facts from existing business models and games shows there are a large number of predatory and deceptive business models in practice today not lockbox related. I even gave a handy list of 6 of them below in reply to Zora.|

Saying BDO is less exploitative than lockbox system shows a clear ignorance of BDO’s systems that are in place. Especially because, periodically, BDO itself has lockboxes added to their game. However deeper than that it such a statement ignores the huge number of randomized systems involved with it’s game mechanics and the cash shop’s involvement in those mechanics.

While it is impossible to spend $1000 /day on loot scrolls in BDO (albeit someone who grinded full time would go through about $1300/mo on loot scrolls) it is 100% possible to spend thousands of dollars melting costumes for Cron Stones while making RNG attempts at upgrading your gear. So you see you’re not RNG gambling with your money. Oh no. You’re buying costumes with your money that you’re then melting and then making RNG attempts at upgrading your gear. Which at around $250 per attempt and roughly a 5% chance of success (we guess, they don’t actually tell you the odds) means move aside lockboxes we got a new Sheriff in town.

Such is the ingenuity of such new systems. They bypass the gambling legal aspect entirely by making the wager part of the normal game and then in turn use the cash shop to sell you ways to manage the impact of your RNG losses. Oh is your item 100% wrecked from too many RNG failures? Not enough repair materials? Well here’s this handy item in the cash shop for only 50 cents that will quadruple the repairs…

…Man you got no idea what deceptively shady systems are out there and waiting to be implemented. BDO is basically a money printing machine for Pearl Abyss. What you going to do? Hey yea sure maybe go play WOW again for the 100th time, I’m sure this expansion will be different. I mean Star Citizen is just around the corner, any day now too, right? If you think removing lock boxes is going to make things better the only person you’re fooling is yourself.

miol
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miol

I’m still reading here the conflation of the still existing world of lockboxes, as the enabler of BDO’s standing, while stating non-alternatives in the same lockbox enviroment!

Ignoring the very different situation, when lockboxes are thoroughly outlawed, where suddenly BDO has to compete in a lockbox-free world and with popular >>former<< lockbox games, that will need quite some time and investment to implement new mechanics, if even as effective!

Lockboxes aren't gated at the very endgame! They're directly accessible at any time by anyone, craved/promoted at any point of progress, IF any progress even needed!

It's like thinking, that constantly keeping in mind every year when to get a ticket for the Kentucky Derby in a timely fashion and driving for 2 days to finally be able to bet is exactly the same as living your whole life at the Las Vegas Boulevard or Fremont St. with gambling/gaming machines at every corner, open 24/7!

In gambling accessability is key!

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Sally Bowls

I guess I don’t see the “aware customers” and the outrage. Without any new laws, lockboxes would be gone in very short order if customers quit buying them. I still see lockboxes in games so I feel safe in assuming people are still buying them. Reddit/YT complaints about lockboxes are surely increasing, but IDK if lockbox sales are decreasing.

miol
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miol

o.O That.. that… that’s my screenshot up there! :O

I feel honoured! /bow

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Sally Bowls

Today, as I was running around the Boralus docks looking for Franklin the Drunk to give him his favorite Brennadam Apple Brandy. I was questioning why amongst all the protection of minors, we haven’t even heard rumblings about games with alcohol that pre-teens play. Three million people a year don’t die from gambling (if you exclude unprotected sex) but they do alcohol. I am certainly not advocating it, but if you are attacking gaming over gaming addiction and gambling addiction why not throw in alcohol?

Our favorite WHO (emphasis mine)
https://science.slashdot.org/story/18/09/23/0330216/alcohol-causes-one-in-20-deaths-worldwide-says-who

Alcohol is responsible for more than 5% of all deaths worldwide, or around 3 million a year, new figures have revealed. The data, part of a report from the World Health Organization, shows that about 2.3 million of those deaths in 2016 were of men, and that almost 29% of all alcohol-caused deaths were down to injuries — including traffic accidents and suicide. The report, which comes out every four years, reveals the continued impact of alcohol on public health around the world, and
highlights that the young bear the brunt
: 13.5% of deaths among people in their 20s are linked to booze, with alcohol responsible for 7.2% of premature deaths overall. It also stresses that harm from drinking is greater among poorer consumers than wealthier ones. While the proportion of deaths worldwide that have been linked to alcohol has fallen to 5.3% since 2012, when the figure was at 5.9%, experts say the findings make for sobering reading.

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Arktouros

Because concern for gambling and minors is simply a strawman that people hoist up as an unassailable argument. I mean no one is going to defend gambling addiction or argue that companies should be allowed to exploit minors, right?

The truth is that it has nothing to do with any of that. The core of the issue is that businesses use deceptive business strategies and psychological tactics to make money. Instead of selling you an outfit for $100 where you will get stickershock they’ll sell you parts of that costume in a box for $3 unaware that on average you’re going to buy 30-40 of those boxes to get all the pieces of that costume.

But none of that is illegal. None of that is something people are going to rally against. If you wanna have a go at the deceptive and psychological tactics that companies use on consumers you’re going to be taking on pretty much every industry ever and probably aren’t going to accomplish much.

But if you can get them classified as gambling and if you can rattle the sabers about the dangers to children then there’s a chance someone might do something about this singular business tactic while ignoring the dozens of others that companies have at their disposal. This all while opening the door to investigation at the harmful nature of video games because if people are arguing that a video game can offer addictive gambling elements what other problems can it present? This is sadly very common I’ve found as people generally want the shortest most immediate solution to their problem without thinking of the long term costs or potential impacts such a solution will have on them.

miol
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miol

Because nothing would get done, if we all would wait for world hunger to end first!

/whataboutism

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Brother Maynard

I imagine this is mostly their ongoing evaluation how to set gem / gold conversion rate for Belgium, whether this change would have any impact on it – essentially whether or not to introduce any kind of modifier in case this change will lower / raise the price of gems to unreasonable values.

If, for example, the number of people buying gems for cash drops drastically, their market price in gold would sky rocket and direct purchases for gold would be impossible for most players.

Otherwise there should be no issue, it really is only about the gamble boxes, so all the rest of the stuff which is sold directly shouldn’t be affected.

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Arktouros

The more people who are buying gems with in game gold makes selling gems for gold that much stronger and appealing. Back when I played GW2 heavily I used to always drop down $50-100 on the game and convert to gems during their anniversary because there are huge spikes in the gold value of gems during those times. Really the gem/gold prices have stagnated pretty hard over the last few years by compared to their initial rise (a 100 gems in ’13 would you get 3.73g where in ’15 that same 100 gems yielded 13.64g per which is a huge 365% increase compared to a scant 110% increase from ’16 and ’18). So something that forces people to buy gems with gold and in turn makes those who can buy gems to sell for gold more appealing isn’t exactly a bad thing for them as a company.

Again, the companies will always win in these situations.

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Brother Maynard

So something that forces people to buy gems with gold and in turn makes those who can buy gems to sell for gold more appealing isn’t exactly a bad thing for them as a company.

True, but if the price gets too high, people will simply stop buying. If I’m a casual and my daily income is, let’s say, 2g and the gem price jumps up from 100g/400gems to 1000g, with an average outfit costing 700 gems and mount skins 2000g, I wouldn’t bother with any of it.

It is in Anet’s interest to keep it at a level acceptable to a sufficient part of the community, otherwise their in-game store might implode, as people will just not be interested.

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Sally Bowls

” their in-game store might implode,” – it depends on how Machiavellian you think the company is. If it is an insignificant part of their worldwide revenue, then it might be in their best interest for it to implode. I can’t see many people being upset at the company since it was their government that caused this and people in other countries are still doing fine. Now more financially significant countries might look at it this and be reluctant to destroy the game for their citizens as well.

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Brother Maynard

If it is an insignificant part of their worldwide revenue, then it might be in their best interest for it to implode.

I think it is a safe guess to say that it’s not insignificant to Anet, otherwise they wouldn’t have bothered with these changes at all, would they?

I can’t see many people being upset at the company since it was their government that caused

Their government caused what? 1) Technically, the Gaming Commission would be closer to law enforcement / justice institution than to a government body; 2) The idea that government is to blame for illegal behaviour of gaming companies or any fallout caused by it is completely absurd; 3) Very few people will get upset about this at all, since gaming does not matter the tiniest bit in politics.

Farmers piling heaps of dung in front of government offices and yelling about starvation – that will get a political reaction. Car factories threatening to lay off thousands of staff – that will keep politicians awake. A handful of raging nerds screaming about virtual “gems” – that will maybe get noticed by the nearby street sweeper, if they’re lucky. It never ceases to amaze me how much importance gamers love to assign to themselves…

Now more financially significant countries might look at it this and be reluctant to destroy the game for their citizens as well.

Aren’t you overdoing it a bit? “Destroying” games? Should Al Capone complain about the US government destroying his business and livelihoods of hundreds of good chaps working for him? Well, technically, he could, but what reaction would that get?

If a government gives up its responsibility to shape and enforce its own legal framework for the sake of a few companies’ profits (and illegal ones, at that), it has ceased to be a government.

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Sally Bowls

I thought they made changes, independent of revenue, as a requirement to continue doing business in the country.

As an American, I think of government as the combination of the legislature, executive, and judicial so, to me, law enforcement, gaming commissions, regulators, etc are all government agencies.

I certainly agree with you how irrelevant gamers are. I also agree the government has the right to decide what happens there. So you are probably correct that when the next country looks at this issue, the negative impact on the gamers & games in question will be of little to no import.

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Brother Maynard

I thought they made changes, independent of revenue, as a requirement to continue doing business in the country.

Well, yes, but they still have the option of blocking Belgian players from GW2 altogether. So if Anet’s revenues were insignificant, they could simply decide it’s not worth the bother and implement some kind of IP block. The fact that Anet are working on these changes suggests they consider them worth their effort, i.e. it would not be an insignificant part of their revenue.

I think of government as the combination of the legislature, executive, and judicial

My view of it was the classical Montesquieu separation of powers. While this kind of semi-autonomous regulatory bodies are usually set up by the executive branch (i.e. government), they serve to enforce the legal requirements in their assigned sectors (i.e. judiciary).

Although the government establishes and finances them (in some cases – I’m not sure if it’s the case of the Belgian Gaming Commission – in other instances they may be set up directly by the legislature and have their own budget chapters, which would distance them even more from government control), formally they are independent and do not take orders or instructions from the government (how much this corresponds to the reality is for debate, as there will always be government pressure).

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Ironwu

Don’t understand why if they can disable Gem purchase/use, why can they not just disable Lockbox interactions? That way they could at least keep the Gem Store revenue coming in for other stuff.

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Zora

Nobody wants gambleboxes, apart from all those who actually want them :P

Companies sure won’t give up on the extra profit, with a hint of dystopia in my morning coffee I can only wonder how much more abusive and deceitful could it get get if lootboxes were to get replaced… oh the possibilities, we need an article with all the MOP crew chiming in on their favourite doom scenario!

Just raise the game base price 20 bucks so I know upfront I am being screwed, okay?

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Arktouros

I honestly can’t think of a single person who likes or wants RNG gamble boxes.

This is the thing that’s always ignored in almost every single survey (I’d say study but there hasn’t been one) where people try to correlate gambling addiction to lockbox purchases. People like me who purchase a large amount of gamble boxes don’t do so because we’re addicted to gambling. If I took a questionnaire based on the PGSI I’d rate nothing because I hate gambling.

However I know if I throw enough money at a lockbox I’ll probably get what I’m looking for. Would I prefer to just directly purchase whatever? Of course. That’s the point. It’s a deceptive business practice designed to get you to pay more for an item without the sticker shock of a $100 price tag. That isn’t gambling or gambling addiction it’s simply a really shitty business practice that people dislike.

Also if you wanna know how bad things can get I can certainly tell you all the wonderful methods game companies like Pearl Abyss use. They’re unimaginably sinister and subtle and that’s before you get to their overt p2w methods.

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Zora

I honestly can’t think of a single person who likes or wants RNG gamble boxes.

Me neither but as long as we hit the purchase button, I can’t think of a single company giving a damn about customers’ satisfaction other than the likelihood for us to hit that button again sometime soon :P

My doom scenario of the day?

Hmmm…. advertising plugins, you have to react to product placements within the game to earn boxes of goodies free of charge.

If you use a mic you need to yell slogans aloud when required… thank you customer, this boss fight was offered to you by Protosta– I mean by Mountain Dew!

Next step? Your webcam is on while you play and an automated program is watching… and rewarding you if they like what they see……

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Arktouros

What about the Eletronic Arts Game Card brought to you by MasterCard? All purchases you make on in game purchases come with additional bonus points you can redeem for virtual items in supported games/products with the low, low APR of 25%! Actually loaning you the money to make purchases from them!

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Sally Bowls

Ooh, doomiest of doom scenarios? Can I play?

Instead of spending money to get a lootbox, acquiring one requires you have to post a like on facebook to get a code that allows you to watch an in-game video ad while your system mines bitcoins.

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Arktouros

I wanna play some more too:

1. Charging for game updates. Relabel your game updates as “DLCs” that you instead sell to your game population. Include access as part of an “optional” subscription service so looks like it has added value despite the fact they’re probably paying $15/mo for an update once every 3 months+ (or $45+ per update). See: Elder Scrolls Online.

2. Instead of selling RNG in the store directly offer in game RNG mechanics and then sell your players methods to deal with the negative effects of RNG mechanics in the cash shop. See: BDO.

3. Take basic game features from past games out of your game and then resell those basic features back to your players as unlocks, one time purchases or subscription bonuses. See: Too many to fucking list.

4. Sell buffs that give special drops while you have the buff running. This can enhance in game RNG elements such as loot drops while bypassing pesky loot box laws that specify a wager being placed. Turn your own game mobs into lockboxes that aren’t legally lockboxes! See: BDO.

5. Design frustrating base systems that are functional but only feel normal once a person has bought an enhancement (such as a costume) via the cash shop. See: BDO (and others).

6. Make it so people who pay get first access to queue systems and the like in games (IE: Dungeons, PvP, full maps, etc). See: Planetside 2.

And that’s just the stuff already in games that we can observably see. If we really wanted to make some tinfoil hats we could really get into all the stuff game devs could don the back end to encourage purchasing and purchases :D

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Sally Bowls

“Nobody wants gambleboxes” does not change the fact that they are effective. For half a century, since Skinner, we know – or at least most scientists believe – that random rewards are more effective in changing behavior. It’s not just humans but rats, birds, etc. I am not sure if the experimenters cared about what the rat wanted; they just observed that you could get them to press the button more with random rewards than fixed. So my layperson understanding is that if you want your customer/victim to raid more, then random rewards will be more effective than fixed. And if you want your customer/victim to buy more boxes, then, again, random rewards will be more effective than fixed. My understanding is that the statistics from games bear this out. Some of the participants complaining about RNG or gambling on Reddit does not change the effectiveness.
P.S.: I regret that I was not able to resist saying that “while a lot of this used rats, it is applicable to lesser life forms like PvPers.” :-(

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Scarlet_Shocker

Sounds like a case for Poirot

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Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

ArenaNet at times has been at the forefront of change when it comes to MMOs. Would have been nice to see them lead the charge and be out in front of this. Sadly, they aren’t the same company that came out with GW1 and “box price is all you’ll pay” anymore.

I’m done with RNG in the cash shops of MMOs.

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hardy83

My experience with them as a company and GW2 is that they are no different than EA or Activision, just much smaller. They get away with what they feel they can, and take advantage of fans of the IP to get away with things.

I’m glad this is happening and I REALLY hope loot box bans start happening in more coutnries.

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Arktouros

GW2 and it’s gem system presents a large number of issues with these laws.

The biggest and foremost issue is that gems can be earned multiple ways in game from a flat amount from in game achievement rewards to converting gold into gems and of course directly purchasing gems. While blocking things like the Black Lion keys or Mount Boxes would satisfy the law (since you couldn’t place a wager paid for with money by purchasing the boxes/keys) it would simultaneously block the ability for these players to convert gold earned through in game and then purchase the same boxes/keys. Since Belgium defines wager as RL$ spent and not time spent this is still legal.

The real test though is going to come with the Netherlands. Since Netherlands only defines lockboxes as illegal if the contents can be traded for how would that work with Black Lion chests where only some of the contents can be traded away? Because they can only be traded away for in game currency would that still be illegal as opposed to CS:GO skins which are traded for RL$?

One thing is for sure is that banning lock boxes won’t have the rosy sunshine and rainbows, happily ever after outcome people think it will. Companies will just find other deceptive and underhanded methods to extract as much cash as possible out of it’s customers. You people think we’ve hit rock bottom but you’re wrong. There are worse business models out there.

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Roger Melly

I think much of Europe will follow Belgium’s example in the next few years so gaming companies will have to soon find a way of allowing people access to an in game store to buy cosmetic items while blocking them for buying loot crates in countries which have banned them .

Personally I am all for the banning of loot crates . The sooner it comes the better .