Predictably, the ESA rebuffs UK call to ban lockboxes, citing nebulous transparent lockbox plan

    
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Yesterday, we covered the UK government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee panel report on addictive technologies: Readers will recall that the lengthy paper was generated after nearly a year of investigation and calls on the government to regulate lockboxes under the country’s Gambling Act as well as ban the sale of lockboxes to kids. Among other adorable British digs, it accuses the broader games industry of being “wilfully obtuse” about the subject and finds that game reps had “demonstrated a lack of honesty and transparency” during panel hearings.

At the time, only EA had issued a statement about the report. But now we have the Entertainment Software Association’s comment too. Unlike EA, the video games industry lobby blasted it, predictably declaring that it “strongly disagree[s] with [the panel’s] findings.”

The lobby prepped this statement for GamesIndustry.biz: “As demonstrated by the recent announcement of policies regarding the disclosure of the relative rarity or probability of obtaining virtual items in paid loot boxes as well as the robust parental controls that empower parents to control in-game purchases, the video game industry is a leader in partnering with parents and players to create enjoyable video game experiences. In addition, numerous regulatory bodies around the world, including those in Australia, France, Ireland, Germany, and the UK, have come to a conclusion starkly different than that of this committee.”

Of course, still others, like Belgium and the Netherlands, didn’t go so easily, and multiple international regulators have pledged to investigate the lockbox industry. I mean games industry.

GIbiz reminds us that the ESA here is referring to its August 7th announcement seemingly intended to offset or upstage the FTC’s game monetization workshop here in the US. At the time, the lobby claimed that the major gaming platforms (Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft) as well as some member companies (Blizzard, EA, Bungie, Bethesda, among others) had all agreed to require disclosure of odds for lootboxes and other monetized gambling in new and updated games on their platforms. However, the transparent lockbox plan appears to be an entirely voluntary policy with no teeth, and there’s no hard date on when any of the mentioned companies will be complying or what will happen to them if they don’t, making the ESA’s statement here a bit premature.

Source: GIbiz

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Techno Wizard
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Techno Wizard

I think it should be up to the parents to decide what their offspring play online regardless of if there are lockboxes in a game, not the nanny state using them as an excuse to regulate adults as a side effect who also play the game.

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Grave Knight

Lockboxes don’t add anything to video games. They are gambling. They shouldn’t be in games marketed towards kids. A game like NBA 2K20 shouldn’t exist.

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Robert Mann

That feeling when a group that is nominally supposed to keep something you care about from becoming bad… just so happens to be less trustworthy than the politicians. 0.o

Seriously, that’s impressive. Not just anyone can make extremely sleazy, lying, manipulative dirtbags look relatively good. XD

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Grave Knight

This is what happens when capitalism is being self regulated.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

The funny thing is all these big companies that are involved and cited are not the ones who made crazy profits off of lockboxes. They are the companies that would like to, that came in late.

The most horrible lockbox and pay to win offenders on mobile are companies you never hear brought up in these things. Many of these games were making over a billion a year on this crap for half-baked mobile games where almost no money went back into the game. Some of the more popular mobile games were making 4 million *a day* selling random draws. They silently just take their money and don’t get involved, while the big companies that desperately want to be in on it try to fight to be able to do so.

People who aren’t really into the numbers from mobile don’t really understand just how bad it had got. I’m glad that people are turning on it finally, but especially on mobile the companies are desperately trying to hang on to making their millions on their games they put minimal effort into. If you just had seen some of the games and how little development went into them that were making millions a day.

Sorry big guys, you caught on too late, and are too watched, so you won’t ever get in on that boom. Not that you should, *nobody* should. Your greedy eyes just saw money you wished you were making and you couldn’t help yourselves, but even mobile players are standing up to this a lot more now. It isn’t as accepted anymore.

Too many games tried to get in on it and get a share. We’ve been flooded with minimally developed games on mobile that try to get the most money out of lockboxes and pay to win, it was bound to crash eventually.

I’m not completely against lockboxes, but the stuff really got out of hand. They’re not gone yet, but I’m seeing so many more people standing up to it on mobile than I used to so it’s definitely not getting the free ride that it used to (though it still happens and is still too much, I do believe we are at the turning point).

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rafael12104

Well, I’m loving this. Loving it.

The reaction is just as expected. And that response from an agency bought and paid for by the video game lobby continues to diminish the credibility of AAAs around the world.

I hope they continue to speak up for the industry. Every word hastens the end of AAAs profiteering with gambling mechanics.

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bobfish

This is strange:

“regulatory bodies around the world, including… the UK, have come to a conclusion starkly different than that of this committee.”

Lootboxes and gambling mechanics in video games (where you can’t cash out) are unregulated in the UK, which is why the DCMS Committee has spent a year investigating them. So they can gather the necessary information to make a recommendation to the government on what to do about them.

As someone that works in the industry, I have to say, absolutely hate the ESA, they remind of criminal defence lawyers, like the kind that protected the mafia back in the days.

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Arktouros

They’re talking about the UK Gambling Commission, which has repeatedly ruled that loot boxes aren’t gambling. From the report:

Purchasing loot boxes does not meet the regulatory definition of licensable gambling under the Gambling Act 2005 because the in-game items have no real-world monetary value outside the games

To which their suggestion is to change the law to encompass loot boxes as well as a game of chance, which the ESA obviously disagrees with.

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bobfish

The gambling commission stated they aren’t covered by the law, they did not say they should or shouldn’t be. They were completely impartial on it, though they did say they were ready to regulate it if the law did change.

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Arktouros

Correct, they were impartial on it.

By comparison this new report takes a different stance that is different from that impartiality.

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sophiskiai

the robust parental controls that empower parents to control in-game purchases

If the parents aren’t gamers, and they buy their kid a sports game advertised as suitable for ages 3 and over, how many will even know those controls exist and are needed let alone be able to easily access them?

And for a lot of people, desire for an item and the game’s psychological manipulation tactics will make the “transparency” (“less than 1%” is vague, not transparent) of knowing the odds irrelevant.

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Arktouros

Actually studies have been done where they educate potential gamblers on how the odds are stacked against them as well as educated them on things like the common gambler fallacies that people make to justify their decisions. It had no impact on people’s gambling habits. So the “transparent” lootboxes will likely have zero impact on people’s spending habits, especially because a good chunk of buyers are probably similar to me and are stubborn and will keep purchasing until we get what we want.

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Robert Mann

You… could work on that stubborn issue. I’m guessing you don’t really feel satisfied overall, by the wording of your statement. And rewarding that manipulation is really not a good thing.

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Arktouros

Oh I absolutely hate loot boxes, I always have. My bone to pick has always been with the way people want to solve the loot box problem. Regulation is bad for numerous reasons.

If you don’t want to reward manipulation then you’re basically going have a very boring life pretty quickly. Almost all forms of digital media is manipulative in one form or another. People say things like “think of the children” when even basic things like Saturday Morning Cartoons are basically 30 minute toy advertisements. Going after games for manipulative tactics seems oddly focused given literally everything else.

The key is to educate yourself and recognize you’re being manipulated and ask if you’re okay with that. I quit ArcheAge for example because I wasn’t Ok with feeling manipulated into buying loot boxes to do gear upgrades. On the other hand I’m perfectly willing to drop some cash on loot boxes in ESO until I get that Storm Antronarch Bear mount.

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Nathan Aldana

…You realize you;re making Parliament’s argument for them by admitting you have a problem you cannot control on your own, right?

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Arktouros

No what’s going on here is you want to make a point so you’re stretching the meaning of what I say to fit the scenario you want it to.

There’s no lack of control going on in the scenario I described. There’s something I want. I recognize they put that something behind a price sink to make the cost looks smaller than it’s going to be. If I’m willing to pay said price to get it, I am going to do so. That doesn’t mean I’m going to remortgage my house or sell my car or dip into my savings or any other signs of a lack of control. I’m going to take my expendable income and spend it getting something I want in my hobby.

They key part of that statement is willing, as there are many games I am unwilling. For example during ArcheAge they had locked most of the Sun/Moon Points for gear upgrades behind lock boxes with extremely low upgrade % chances while also selling crystals to enhance the chances etc. Another example would be Defiance where they sold gear and gear upgrades out of loot boxes which undermined the entire point of playing the game (getting loot). There are other examples as well.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

If a game for children needs parental controls, it isn’t a game for children.

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Stormwaltz

I wish the lobbying group that claims to represent me would stop embarrassing me.

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Coolit

If the ESA genuinely wanted to protect gamers, they would be calling for more independent research to be done and not simply echoing their unethical paymasters.

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rosieposie

ESA: You DARE call us willfully obtuse? Here, have a statement that proves it.

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Arktouros

Yea the ESA is going to be trotting out those “transparent” lootboxes non-solution for quite a while. Personally if I were with the ESA I’d want to push more of the lack of science angle. The report was particularly damning on the lack of science showing a causal link between lootboxes and problem gambling.

Really a interesting situation when you get down to it. The only people with access to the kind of data and information to make fact based claims are the ones that have the greatest interest in not giving away said information. Without that information panels like this can only guess and make assumptions at the potential for harm with no real way to prove one way or another. Really puts the “willfully obtuse” commentary into perspective :)

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Schmidt.Capela

The report takes a different approach: given all the similarities between lootboxes and gambling, it’s asking for lootboxes to be regulated like gambling unless, or until, the industry can provide solid unbiased research proving lootboxes don’t have any of the issues associated with gambling, even when marketed at children and other vulnerable people.

In other words, it’s shifting the responsibility to the industry to prove their product isn’t harmful.

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Arktouros

That’s all problematic for a number of reasons.

No one is going to take any research that’s funded by gaming companies as unbiased. There have been too many past examples of companies producing studies and research that conveniently turned out the way the companies wanted it to. There’s a bias against it at this point where if an article would come out tomorrow that a company did research on any topic most people would be fairly skeptical of the results.

That argument also inherently admits the fact they don’t know if they are harmful or not (so they should ban them just in case). There are multiple parts to that report where Doctors wrote in said there is just no causal link between loot boxes and problem gambling and that research should be done. That provides an astounding platform for gaming lobbyist arguments to claim this is all just fear mongering over something no one has actually proven.

What should have been done is they should have pushed for actual research to be done by an unbiased 3rd party group, then take action based on that. That would have removed any potential for doubt or wiggle room on the topic. It also would have served as a great foundation for other countries who can point to that science and either replicate it’s results or use it as the foundation for their own changes.

Instead it’s just room for endless debate about one group who wants to ban something because it might be harmful and another who doesn’t want to ban the thing because no one has proved it harmful.