English lawmakers may classify lockboxes as straight-up gambling

Won't somebody please think of the children?

    
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This is someone else's problem.

Video game studios that feature lockboxes in their titles are sitting very uncomfortably this week as England decides whether or not to make their lives a whole lot more difficult. According to The Guardian, UK lawmakers may classify lockboxes and their virtual ilk as gambling in order to protect the nation’s children from what some see as gateways to addictive behavior.

“[Lockboxes] are a virtually speculative commodity that only help to normalise and encourage young people to take a chance,” said Labour MP Carolyn Harris. “All too often this will lead to youngsters developing an addiction to gambling.”

If such restrictions do become law, then studios are going to have to scramble to figure out what to do with their games in the country. A University of York study noted that last year, 71% of the most popular Steam titles contained lockboxes.

Back in April, the European-based PEGI started adding lockbox notices to warning labels on video games.

Source: The Guardian. Thanks, The Dead Secret World Game. (No really, that was the tipster’s name.)
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Anton Mochalin

OMG lockboxes are all over the place in almost any RPG. In fact even when you open a chest in a singleplayer RPG and the contents of the chest are predetermined by the devs (i.e. not random) they are still in most cases unknown to the player i.e. for the player it has the same psychological effect. Yes we don’t pay for that particular chest in real money but we pay for the whole game with the chests with unknown contents i.e. we pay for the experience of opening the chests with unknown contents just like with lockboxes.

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memitim

I’ve seen some ‘grasping at straws’ arguments defending lockboxes but this one is really a stretch…

>insert obligatory do you work for EA? quote here<

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Anton Mochalin

Could you please explain what’s so “grasping at straws” about my opinion? (and no I don’t work for EA and I also have never bought a lockbox in my life)

I’ve got a degree in psychology and I can tell you the psychological mechanisms at work with a chest you open after killing a dungeon boss and with opening a lockbox you just bought with real money are more or less the same. Yes the excitement about the dungeon boss fight is different from the experience of entering you credit card number and a lot of players aren’t playing for the loot at the end of a dungeon – but if one’s got any interest in loot the excitement about that loot is just the same as with lockboxes – and as we all know a lot of people do all sorts of MMORPG content for loot.

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memitim

It’s pretty simple, one is a standard game mechanic that has existed since pnp, in a single player game there are usually a fixed number of chests in the game and even if they respawn and the contents are random ie Skyrim at some point you’re going to stop caring about what’s in them or finish the game and move on to something else and the other COSTS REAL MONEY and is designed to keep you buying them forever through never ending power creep and pay to win mechanics.

The fact you pay for a single player game is neither here nor there, you pay for the full game and not just the chests in it and at most 50£/$, some people drop thousands on lootboxes, sometimes to keep up with the jones’ and sometimes just for a single item….it isn’t even close to the same thing.

I don’t know about you but most of the fun I had with Skyrim didn’t come from opening the chests and I’m pretty sure I could finish the game without ever opening one aside from the quest required ones.

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Robert Mann

Government, despite the obstinate and monotonous droning of “We know best, listen to us” and the hand in the cookie jar of anyone with wealth in turn for favors… eventually acknowledges things when people refuse to let them go, much like a petulant child finally admitting that it does indeed hurt to step on the 400000 lego pieces spread across the floor.

At this point, they try to placate, attempt to deflect alongside inaction, and if those are unsuccessful write a confusing and self contradictory law that will be unenforced in most cases.

In short, this might be something, but most likely it’s a bit of P.R. nothing.

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FormlessOne

Sounds like a positive step.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

We see making laws to limit exploitation as Quite Ethical and the fines levied for violation as surprise mechanics–some British lawmaker misquoting EA.

There’s a reason why for most of humankind’s existence greed has been considered a sin and most of our laws are attempts to limit it. And why charity and generosity are valued as virtues.

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Utakata

…and like with symbols of greed and oppression, I’d like see lootbox mechanics tossed into the River Avon along with Edward Colston’s statue.

Techno Wizard
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Techno Wizard

I don’t view lockboxes as gambling. I see blackjack, poker and national lotteries and similar as gambling, but not lockboxes.

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dreamer

I’m curious to know how/where you draw a distinction.

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Richard de Leon III

I smell a gaming executive/developer…

Random chance= gambling. When it involves real money for each instance then it crosses the line because it can ruin real lives. The only acceptable random chance/gamble is when it doesnt involve real money in any form.

I work in vegas, so ive seen all the forms of random chance costs ruin lives. Slots, table games, lotteries, raffles, even church bingos.

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Bruno Brito

Do explain your thought process, please.

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ichi sakari

clearly there is a distinction, gambling is where one can wager money on a future random outcome, while lockboxes provide an individual with the ability to pay to ‘take a chance’ on …

ok, I’m stuck, help me out here please

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Arktouros

Sure, happy to help.

The main source of confusion is people seem to heavily associate the idea of gambling with the concept of randomized outcomes. However gambling specifically is defined as wagering something of value with a chance at something else of value. However the crux of that issue is that virtual goods often times only have value within the context of a particular game world making them valueless everywhere else.

So to your question, lockboxes provide an individual with the ability to pay to take a chance on getting worthless digital pixels.

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ichi sakari

except those pixels have value, not only has the market established prices that people pay for those (and similar) pixelated goods, and if those pixels provide any benefit in-game there’s value there also

they’re not worthless, for evidence look at the cost of similar items

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Arktouros

The fundamental difference here is that it’s a one way transaction.

Since people like the gambling analogy think of it like a casino except you can’t cash out your chips. You exchanged RL$ for those chips, but since you can’t cash out nothing you get there has value because it can’t be converted back to RL$.

So your argument that you paid $25 for a virtual shiny coat so therefore the virtual shiny coat is worth $25 is faulty because you can’t resell your coat for any dollars.

Now there are systems, such as the skinconomy for CSGO, where you can do this and those are the ones most likely to run afoul of legislation because you can effectively sell your goods and cash out. However the number of those is extremely limited in the games market. You may also be tempted to point out things like Player Auctions giving users a method of cashing out, however those run afoul of the rules and if any game found out about it they would ban that person and delete the account so not exactly allowed either.

EmberStar
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EmberStar

Except that if a game developer is asking me to trade something of value (real money) for a lockbox, then the lockbox itself already has an inherent value – everything in it is worth *at least* the price of the key. Of course the reason to *open* the lockbox is almost always some rare, desirable, exclusive item. In Star Trek Online, this would be fairly powerful starships from factions / races that aren’t normally playable. Based on the odds of getting it, and the amount that it costs to buy said prizes directly from another player, those starships have an effective value of several hundred dollars. A value pretty much confirmed by the fact that Cryptic now directly sells a handful of the older lockbox prize ships as direct purcase items for between $150 to nearly $300 apiece.

The fact that I can’t “cash out” a starship for real money to pay my rent is irrelevant. They are taking real money, for the (incredibly low and *entirely* hidden) chance at an item that costs a considerable amount of money to buy. Saying that isn’t gambling feels, to me, like claiming that buying tickets to win a chance at a free car isn’t gambling because you can only drive the car on roads and not use it as an airplane.

In my opinion lockboxes are worse than gambling because gambling is regulated. There are fairly strict laws about what odds against a player are, and that prohibit changing those odds on the fly. (Which I believe is sometimes referred to as “rigging the table,” yes?) Those laws don’t exist for lockboxes. It is currently completely acceptable for them to charge real money for “less than 1% chance” at winning. How much less? However much they want. “Less than 1%” could mean o.9%, or 0.00000009%, and the company selling it can even put in algorithms that will *change the odds* depending on if they think they can use that to leverage more spending.

Then there’s the fact fact that most lockbox systems are design to hook into a lot of the same mental hooks as slot machines and other games of chance. Rotating wheels, appealing noises, flashing lights, big sparkles and fanfare if you win something! The detail that I can’t use the prize to pay my rent is a technicality. If it looks like a slot machine, and sounds like a slot machine, and costs money like a slot machine, but you get Pokemon Cards instead of cash it’s not a slot machine? Yeah, right.

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Arktouros

This all shows a severe misunderstanding of what it is you’re actually purchasing. You don’t actually own anything you purchase. I suggest reading this article so you understand how games and purchases actually work.

Under much current international law virtual items in video games are not property but part of a license. The MMO publisher grants you a temporary service that includes your possession of the virtual items on your character’s person. The Terms of Service you accept when you join the video game spell out that you’re accessing their service and that they can pull the rug out from under you at any time for any reason.

Your car example is wrong as a result. A better analogy would be like you paid and won the right to use a car that you can only drive at this particular racetrack, that can never be removed from that race track, nor are you allowed to sell your use of that item to other fellow drivers for RL$. Now here you are arguing that because you paid $X and won the chance to use that car you don’t actually own, the car is worth $X.

I find paid lockboxes easily avoidable and should a game reach a point where I feel compelled to purchase them to keep playing I usually lose interest in that title. What worries more than lockboxes is modern business models such as those employed by Black Desert. Black Desert puts the RNG/Gambling into the game itself and instead sells you ways to cope with the negative consequences of that RNG/Gambling. When you ban paid lockboxes, this is what games will adopt and mechanics previously avoidable will become unavoidable. Thanks.

Literally everything is designed to mentally hook you into things. It’s been ongoing in our society via marketing, business practices and you name it. How do you think companies like Google or Facebook got so rich? The data they collect and sell on how people operate and the best way to market to them and manipulate them into consuming and buying is absurd. I’m not defending it, but you’re talking about a systemic issue that is not at all exclusive to RNG/Gambling mechanics. It’s literally how every business operates today.

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Arktouros

As we’ve seen with the differed rulings in Belgium and Netherlands it really all comes down to the details of what they find.

Belgium classified paid lockboxes as gambling because they said the items inside the paid lockboxes were desireable and as such had value. Because they had value, they could be classified as gambling (wagering something of value for a chance of something of value).

Netherlands on the other hand said paid lockboxes were only gambling if you could then resell the items from said lockboxes for currency of real value. This is a direct hit to things like the Skinconomy of CSGO where you can pay for a lootbox and then sell the content for RL$.

As we saw each country differ so has the response of game developers. For example while loot boxes are gone entirely from Belgium for CSGO, you can still buy them but not resell their goods in the Netherlands. Other games have responded similarly tailoring their business to comply exactingly with the laws. So how England responds to lockboxes and what they specifically determine will determine the way companies respond.

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Armsman

If the EU was doing this across the board, I could see game companies that employ Lock Boxes getting worried. That it’s just England, I’m sure they’ll just institute an IP block and move on.

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rosieposie

Nonsense. This isn’t a market game companies will just be happy to ignore.

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losludvig

While I think putting paid rng boxes in the same bucket as casino games is silly, more good will come of this than status quo, and it’s not like the industry has been that enthusiastic about cleaning up the act

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Zora

They -are- gambling, plain and simple. So were and are stickers and worse yet TCGs entire generations of youngsters wasted their allowances onto.

It may be exceedingly simple for companies to appeal any decision by lawmakers to the highest court if the entire issue isn’t tackled from the bottom up, but in the meanwhile parents might start watching who has access to that credit card of theirs… just in case nanny-state fails again to make up their mind, you never know!

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Bhagpuss Bhagpuss

Can we start referring to them as “Paid lockboxes” as Gamesindustry.biz does? Without that clarification it sounds as though the entire rng-based mechanic that underpins the genre is going to be re-classified as gambling. Every time a mob dies and you loot its corpse its effectively a “lockbox” to anyone who doesn’t play these kind of games. The UK government is only interested if real money changes hands but there may be other entities and individuals who see the entire concept of uncertainty as threatening.

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Flying Buddha

This brings up an interesting question – If a player has purchased a subscription or other item that enhances the frequency at which these loot drop “lox boxes”are acquired, wouldn’t the money spent increase the chances of the player gaining more valuable items? Therefore, gambling?

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Arktouros

To use a real world example of what you’re talking about for example in Bless on Xbox being a subscriber gives you an extra dungeon key each day. Dungeon keys are used to open Dungeon Boxes that give RNG game rewards.

There is literally endless ways to juice RNG mechanics in games and monetize them. If countries go far enough and lets say you could wave a wand and magically get every country to outright ban paid lockboxes companies are just going to shift business tactics and monetize RNG in another fashion.

If people want a meaningful solution they’re going to have to look harder than crying out for the government to save them.

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Ozzie

Sure, I mean you’re talking about lockboxes with extra steps. But I think the “extra steps” part makes a whole lot of difference when it comes to impulsive spending. In your example, the player actually has to go and kill that mob, or kill that boss. Whereas in a cash shop, people can just dump their paycheck on a bazillion lockboxes instantly out of an addiction to gambling. Of course people will still spend, but I think adding extra steps to gambling is huge and allows spenders time to cool their jets.