Canadian class action lawsuit argues EA’s lootboxes constitute illegal gambling

    
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Canadian class action lawsuit argues EA’s lootboxes constitute illegal gambling

Ah, it’s a good thing for the companies relying on lockboxes that people have completely forgotten about those this year, isn’t it? Turns out not so much. People have definitely not forgotten, as evidenced by a new class action lawsuit against EA in Canada in which the plaintiffs argue that the lockboxes found in the company’s Madden series as well as the NHL series are illegal gambling mechanisms.

The suit is far-ranging, covering more than 60 EA titles containing lockboxes including Mass Effect, Battlefield, and Plants vs. Zombies. It also notes that there may be other titles in question that the plaintiffs are not aware of, just to cover all their bases. While it remains to be seen how far this particular lawsuit will go, it serves as yet another highlight of how this particular business model has been subject to increased scrutiny over time and may have significant impact if it moves forward.

Check out our roundup of lockbox stories from the last year or so:

Source: GamesIndustry.biz. Cheers, Pepperzine!

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Mark Jacobs

I wish the whole concept would go away. Randomized drops, great. DLC/Season Pass/etc. great, especially for F2P games. Crossing the streams leads to bad things other than to the developer/publisher.

None of my games have done that, none will ever do that.

rafael12104
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rafael12104

Tip of the hat to you mark. And your games are always on my radar because of that attitude.

Unfortunately AAAs are not so enlightened. There is no way EA will give up the FIFA and other sports gravy train without government intervention.

And although, eventually, I believe that will happen, it takes years. Big tobacco was knowingly selling cancer for nearly 30 years before something was done.

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Mark Jacobs

Thanks Rafael, that interest is much appreciated.

Yeah, I’m not a big fan of any mechanic like that. Ark, below, talks about how randomized drops are used by developers as a crutch. While that is true sometimes, the use of randomized loot being monetized was even an issue in good, old days online. A number of developers definitely used that kind of technique to keep people playing longer when gamers were being charged by minute/hour to play games. I did the exact opposite with my games like Galaxy and Dragon’s Gate so I can say I’ve been pretty consistent in my approach to such stuff.

And with Camelot Unchained and Ragnarok, we are following the same approach. It would be incredibly easy to add paid gambleboxes to Ragnarok but that’s not happening, even if we disclosed the odds, went overboard on making them fair, etc. I just hate the mechanic, even if you put a fresh new coat of paint on it.

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Arktouros

Where I was aiming with my thought process was really with the “Items as an End Game” game design model that started in EQ and became cemented with WOW where you hit level cap then you start running dungeons/raids for equipment with higher stats that effectively acts as new character progression (IE: Tier 1 gear, Tier 2 gear, etc).

It doesn’t have to be a direct 1:1 correlation of money = rewards and I find such thinking obtuse. Randomized reward structures keeps people playing the game longer which has numerous benefits as you know beyond just merely getting more money out of them. This goes well beyond MMOs as well into games like ARPGs which shotgun randomized rewards at you in high volumes (“lootsplosion“) and those aren’t always directly monetized either. The principle remains of using randomized rewards to keep players invested and playing the game longer. I can’t count the number of hours I’ve spent in a game like Destiny 2 farming out “God Roll” items for example.

So my argument below was largely that it’s a rather intuitive leap here to see some businesses looking to capitalize on what is arguably a successful, if not predatory, randomized reward structure model. I’ve just always found it incredibly ironic people are all too happen to demonize the absolutely predatory business practice of loot boxes meanwhile pouring their sixth cup of coffee for the day cause they were up till 3am last night running the same dungeon over and over for those darned boots that won’t drop which is perfectly fine, normal and healthy.

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Bruno Brito

Let me make you a question, Ark:

Do you think GW2 would be played more consistently if they added systems like Housing, and support to WvW or other systems, or adding randomized drops?

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Arktouros

That’s a really hard question to answer because GW2 suffers a lot of problems as a whole over the years. There’s certainly an element of chase in GW2 with items like Legendaries or even just base game cosmetics (transmog) but the flat gear progression eliminates the chase for power. Even then a majority of those things can simply be purchased directly off the AH making whatever activity rewards the most amount of gold the most efficient path at chasing them.

But had they implemented some form of chase in their content like Tooth of Frostfang only drops from Honor the Waves you certainly would have seen that kind of content be run more. Could have been a fantastic way to see dungeon diversity, especially by putting highly desired precursors in dungeons that aren’t run very often. Remember that very early on at game release in 2012-2013 a big criticism out of the WOW crowd was essentially “I’m level 80, I have exotic gear, now there’s nothing to do, game dead.” And try as we might to explain “No no no…this is how GW1 did it…” that model still wasn’t exactly popular.

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Bruno Brito

Remember that very early on at game release in 2012-2013 a big criticism out of the WOW crowd was essentially “I’m level 80, I have exotic gear, now there’s nothing to do, game dead.”

I feel that this criticism was brought more by people who didn’t want to play GW2 anyway without changing what it was at it’s core. GW2 issues for me, come from the fact that idealistically, you wanted to play it like Ragnarok: You get your toon ready for war. Except the War mode wasn’t well developed and was repetitive. It was fun and all , but that’s it.

A bigger criticism for me was that GW2 dungeons were garbage because they were exploitable and the elimination of the trinity wasn’t well thought out, creating really weird metas where everything you brought was a modicum of utility and a LOT of damage. So, the problem really was that the content wasn’t enjoyable and other than that and a bad PvP experience and a okish WvW experience ( that soon, we would all learn that it wouldn’t be supported ), the game lacked things to do.

I think GW2 shoulda have invested into the “currency” model, where getting exotics would be bought with a relatively easy, albeit time consuming, currency grind. That could be in the form of PvP or WvW or dungeoneering or open world. We didn’t need RNG. That would also help making Rare gear more than just salvage fuel, which is a weird problem GW2 has, where most of everything you get is just dust powder.

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Arktouros

Well everything in the dungeon scene for GW2 was about speed. If you weren’t full Berserker maximum DPS mode you would literally get kicked from groups. I used to argue with other Elementalists about this regularly on the ANet forums because it was absolutely ridiculous to say you needed full Berserker (especially because I had a plenty fine mix of gear from WvW that offered better survivability and still great DPS).

But from maximum DPS gear sets to maximum DPS team comps (4 warriors and a Mesmer anyone?) it was all about that maximum gold/hr you could make with the right setup. That mattered in GW2 as I established it’s far more effective to just farm gold/hr than go after items in GW2. I can’t be like “Well let me run X dungeon to get Y item” because it just didn’t work that way. That also ties into the exploitability issue as people wanted to exploit whatever they could to get more money/hr.

They already did a currency model in GW2 and it worked atrociously. Remember the primary reward for dungeons was money and tokens, and people could use those tokens to buy whatever items off that dungeon (IE: specific armor pieces, weapons, runes, etc) but all that meant was once you were “done” with getting what you wanted you never had to run it again.

We, as players, obviously want deterministic or static routes to chase after things because they’re clearer and easier to acquire. Even if I have to run X dungeon 1000 times to get Y then I have a finite count to go through meanwhile a 0.1% drop could mean endless runs. However equally as players once we get our items we tend to be less engaged and fall off as we’re “done” with the game which is bad for a business model built on sustained game play and player retention/stickiness.

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Bruno Brito

I’ll break it down for ease of discussion:

Well everything in the dungeon scene for GW2 was about speed. If you weren’t full Berserker maximum DPS mode you would literally get kicked from groups. I used to argue with other Elementalists about this regularly on the ANet forums because it was absolutely ridiculous to say you needed full Berserker (especially because I had a plenty fine mix of gear from WvW that offered better survivability and still great DPS).

You’re not wrong, and that’s a issue on Anet’s part. I’m a notorious Anet-design hater. They have several problems steeming from bad game design ( oversimplifying things which is the same approach Blizzard has been taking for ages and it’s heavily polarized ), and the dungeon meta was one of them. It was 4 warriors and one mesmer, and the speedrunners were going insane trying to metric the rest of the classes so they would have some sort of change. There was also the issue that only CoF Path 3 and Arah Path 2 would be ran. The rest of the dungeons was forgotten from the meta because exploiting them for the meta comps was just awful, took too long and didn’t work correctly. The entirety of GW2 PvE endgame at that period was exploiting, and it was a dark spot for the game.

I remember a Ranger, Ganglai or something, who kept preaching for Sword autos for rangers doing better dps than 4 warriors. She finally proved it after an Arah video where she was in a 3 Warriors/1 Mesmer/1 Ranger group and was dealing 4k autos with berserker gear. It was insane.

But from maximum DPS gear sets to maximum DPS team comps (4 warriors and a Mesmer anyone?) it was all about that maximum gold/hr you could make with the right setup. That mattered in GW2 as I established it’s far more effective to just farm gold/hr than go after items in GW2. I can’t be like “Well let me run X dungeon to get Y item” because it just didn’t work that way. That also ties into the exploitability issue as people wanted to exploit whatever they could to get more money/hr.

They already did a currency model in GW2 and it worked atrociously. Remember the primary reward for dungeons was money and tokens, and people could use those tokens to buy whatever items off that dungeon (IE: specific armor pieces, weapons, runes, etc) but all that meant was once you were “done” with getting what you wanted you never had to run it again.

I think that stems from the inherent value of Gold in GW2, not the currency model in itself. The currency model worked for WoW because it was how you geared. In GW2, gold is the most important currency because of how it affects your experience: You buy the best gear with gold ( Legendaries ), you buy all your consumables with gold, you literally can buy gems with gold. Even the “Fashion Wars” is a gold sink.

As for the dungeons being obsolete, you’re right but that’s a issue with their content. Dungeons in GW2 are garbage. They are completely dogshit. Fractals are way better and a way of fixing Dungeons would be to just set them as Fractals, and using the currency system from fractals for everything dungeon-related.

We, as players, obviously want deterministic or static routes to chase after things because they’re clearer and easier to acquire. Even if I have to run X dungeon 1000 times to get Y then I have a finite count to go through meanwhile a 0.1% drop could mean endless runs. However equally as players once we get our items we tend to be less engaged and fall off as we’re “done” with the game which is bad for a business model built on sustained game play and player retention/stickiness.

Honestly, it depends on the kind of player and the kind of game. While i agree with you that it wouldn’t work on WoW, for instance, it’s not really news that GW2 aims to be a game you play for some time and then drop it and just log in to get your stuff and travel and progress a bit. It’s not a game you want to spend time in, like SWG ( to my chagrin, which is why i want them to stop this crap and just focus on systems that make you want to LIVE on Tyria ). I do think the majority of GW2’s playerbase, the casual, fashion wars crowd, don’t mind being BiS and doing all the content casually, and all i see missing is giving them a reason to keep logged in, so, things like Housing, more forms of minigames and such. I mean, look at GW2’s holiday events. They’re largely loved by the playerbase, and the game always get a boost of populace on those seasons.

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Arktouros

The currency model really didn’t work in WOW (no idea what they’re doing today) though because once they started swapping over towards tokens it was much easier to quickly max out loot and then simply take a break/quit till the next content drop. You also saw the same thing in SWTOR where right at release they had dungeons, they had heroic dungeons, they had harder heroic dungeons, they had raid gear and even heroic raids. People were able to skip a lot of that content and slide directly into T2 rendering all that content effectively useless because people could max out without it. Once they did, the population plummeted cause there was nothing left to do.

Again very simple principle, if you make it easy for players to feel “done” with the game then they stop playing because they’re “done.”

There’s always going to be exceptions to rules given the variable nature of people but on the whole my arguments tend to hold up. GW2 in particular as discussed above is an odd duck because they made so many other blunders in game decision it’s hard to really criticize one particular aspect as the bullet that got the kill.

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Schmidt.Capela

Randomized drops, great.

I’m not really on board with this, or at least not unless there is some anti-bad-luck mechanic also involved. For me, at least, not getting the item I want due to pure RNG, where I can’t do anything about it, is one of the worst feelings I can have from a game, bad enough that it nullifies all the elation I could have felt when the blasted item I was after finally drops.

But then, I’m kinda like the opposite of a gambling addict; not only I always consider that RNG will never favor me, I tend to also remember much more strongly all the times I didn’t get what I wanted instead of the few instances where I did get my reward.

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imayb1

Agreed. I have had some truly, astoundingly bad luck with random drops. I hate doing something a thousand times with no reward, however, if I can collect 1,000 fail-tokens to buy the random drop, I’m okay with that.

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Giggilybits

Which Canadian? Not me. Couldn’t care less about Lootboxes. Don’t participate in them they go away.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

If that were true, the fact that I’ve never paid a dime means they shouldn’t have proliferated in multiple games, but instead they appeared in more…

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Utakata

Not me either. But this Canadian hopes the fellow plaintiffs win. /shrug

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Marks fight back.

The lucrative marriage of gambling and video games was inevitable, I suppose. It would be nice if someday, somewhere, some government agency or journalist punctured the LLP veil and followed the money of who has invested in many of these now enormously profitable companies. Color me unsurprised if it turns out to be organized crime syndicates of every nationality.

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Arktouros

Randomized mechanics has been part of gaming since gaming existed. I don’t remember a time when it wasn’t one more dungeon clear or one more boss spawn timer rotation to see what loot I’ll get to drop. From randomized rewards to randomized content game devs have always relied on randomization as a crutch to keep players hooked and playing what would otherwise be a very short and ultimately boring game without the endless chase.

What was inevitable is that it would be monetized. It doesn’t take a mobster or crime syndicate to make the intuitive leap of “Hey I can get people to spend an egregious amount of time on these randomized rewards, I wonder if we can get them to spend an egregious amount of money on them as well?”

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rafael12104

So you are equating random drops to loot boxes? Lol! Come on bruv. I don’t believe you really believe that.

A predatory practice where the purchase of a box based in no small part on the idea that a cycle of purchases will continue because the odds of winning are so small is not the same as a mob dropping loot in normal game play.

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cursedseishi

Personally I blame Dungeons & Dragons. You had those shady ‘Dungeon Masters’ hiding behind their screens, tossing dice. Players do all the work killing stuff then they have to hope that when he rolls that die it’ll come up with something like the ‘Hand of Vecna’, and not ‘100g worth of miscellaneous gems’.

I mean, between gambling on the toss of dice for loot and that there ‘Deck of Many things’? We got every sort of gambling going on! Dice, cards, coins… I tell you what, it’s horrible. Horrible I tells ya. Horrible!

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Arktouros

What I am equating is using the concept of randomized rewards to elongate investment. Where you seem to be hung up on is the price you pay and think your time and ability has no value.

Lets take a really basic example of World of Warcraft. You decide to go do a dungeon in World of Warcraft. You choose the one that drops the piece of gear you want. You have to clear all the trash mobs and kill all the other side bosses in the dungeon as you progress along. Finally you kill the boss and he doesn’t drop what you want. Now you gotta keep trying the boss until he eventually drops the item you want.

The principle here is you’re not repeatedly doing the content because it’s enjoyable; you’re doing it because you want a specific reward at the end. The reward that is purposely randomized so you have to keep coming back and repeating the content. Doing so keeps you invested and playing the game longer where as if you got all the rewards you want then most people in that scenario feel “done” with the game and just quit.

There are tons of examples of chase items as well. How many rare raid only mounts are there in a game like WOW? How many chase rare style items have a sub 1% chance to drop? This practice is incredibly common in gaming to use randomized rewards to elongate the time investment of it’s players and keep them chasing and thus playing the game.

Lock boxes utilize the exact same concept except the upfront cost isn’t time, it’s money. However ignoring both as inherently predatory tactics to keep you going is just willful ignorance.

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Vincent Clark

Good Lord, the mental gymnastics in your post…

There is nothing predatory about a developer creating an engaging dungeon or raid and placing a reward system (gear, etc.) at the end of completing that content. Varying the drop rates is based on content cycle and a variety of other factors designed to keep the person playing the game–but the point is, the developer is still creating content for the person to play and enjoy (solo or with other people). That doesn’t apply to lockboxes.

Using your logic we can apply the word predatory to just about anything. But we’ve been here before and it looks like once again you are being contrary just for the sake of it.

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Arktouros

Let me simplify things even further for you: Why do players repeatedly do dungeon/raid content?

My answer is, obviously there’s going to be a range of answers to that question, the vast majority of the answers are going to be “the rewards.” You can dispute that but we can see from a variety of past game titles such as GW2 and SWTOR which saw sharp content participation drop off when there were little to no rewards, rewards are a primary motivation factor for a lot of people. People who are “experiential focused” (IE: It’s fun!) aren’t going to chain run a dungeon for 6+ hours straight typically.

That brings us to our second simple question: Why are dungeon/raid rewards randomized?

There’s lots of ways to do a reward system in games. For example GW2/SWTOR both used token systems where you get a token then you can exchange those tokens for rewards. Even WOW eventually adopted some version of this model at some point (Heroic tokens or whatever).

However most games just rely on straight up dump luck for drops. Why? Is it “more engaging” to get a staff as loot when there’s no staff users in the group? Is it “more fun” to have to run a dungeon 100 times before you even see the item drops only to lose it to another member of your party? My answer is no. They implemented randomized rewards because it keeps you chasing. The longer you’re chasing those items you’re playing which gives them runway to develop the next content dump (new dungeon/raid) for you to chase after those new items.

You see this in all of these games even WOW where you see massive numbers at an expansion launch then as people go through the content, collect all the rewards, they drop off the game and wait for the next content drop. Games like SWTOR or GW2 couldn’t even make it to an expansion because their token reward system meant like in SWTOR I could be in full T2 armor a month after release with tons of content but no reason to run it.

Randomized content keeps players engaged in the same way that randomized cash shop rewards keeps players paying more money. There’s literally zero mental gymnastics going on here, it’s a direct 1:1 comparison using the same randomization technique to increase prolonged engagement with the customer.

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Vincent Clark

Your argument was that both examples were “predatory”.

So either you don’t know the definition of that word or you are, per usual, arguing for the sake of it.

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Arktouros

Yes, using randomization in your reward structure is inherently predatory because it preys upon your desire for a specific reward while it buries that reward under a chance for other items.

Like if you’re running a dungeon for the God knows how many times because stupid fucking bullshit boss won’t drop your boots. That’s literally preying upon your desire for an item while gating it behind a randomized selection of garbage to keep you coming back and playing their game.

Just like when you get a loot box and you really want that sick ass pair of wings that are in there but 20 boxes in you’re still getting garbage potion consumables and XP scrolls despite being level capped and you’ve paid $60 why won’t this bullshit box just give you your wings already?

Again, basically the same thing with the primary difference being the entry fee of Time vs Money. They both are preying upon your desire for a particular item while burying it under layers of RNG with other results.

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Schmidt.Capela

What you described is why, when playing games, I treat RNG rewards as if they don’t even exist, and choose which games to play — and which content to engage inside those games —based on that.

It’s also one of the reasons I resort so heavily on mods and cheats in many games; removing all the predatory use of Skinner Box mechanics makes the game far more enjoyable for me. Heck, I often play Unity games with the assembly-csharp.dll file open in DNSpy so I can remove most, if not all, the reward RNG some misguided developer added to the game.

Gnoos
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Gnoos

Yes but preying on time is far less predatory than money. I can max my CC’s/run through my life savings in minutes with lootboxes/micro-transactions. For people with serious gambling issues this is not a far-fetched scenario.

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Schmidt.Capela

For people with serious gambling issues

Many of which don’t actually know they are particularly vulnerable to this and/or aren’t aware that games with lootboxes can trigger the same issues since those games aren’t labeled gambling.

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Arktouros

For people with serious gambling issues this is not a far-fetched scenario.

I think it’s inherently dangerous to play the “what’s more predatory” game when it comes to these kinds of predatory methods. While you can’t “run through your life savings in seconds” you absolutely can play longer than you should and miss work/school and other responsibilities. There are plenty of anecdotal stories of people who took gaming too far and ended up having negative impacts on their lives.

Gnoos
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Gnoos

Why is it dangerous to say certain game mechanics are more predatory than others? I don’t see anything dangerous about it.

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Arktouros

It’s dangerous because it implies one is automatically more impactful than others and thus should be treated differently. Someone losing their life savings in seconds sounds very dramatic and impactful but equally in turn one could respond with equally dramatic and impactful stories about people who wouldn’t pull themselves away from gaming and killed themselves as a result.

Such extreme examples serve no one, nor does saying one is inherently more or less dangerous than the other. Both are fundamentally predatory tactics designed to keep you engaged with the content (either paying or playing). Racing to the bottom about which is worse is simply unneeded.

Gnoos
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Gnoos

These extreme examples very obviously serve the people who suffer such tragedies and those who may suffer then in the future. My point still stands. The speed at which you can ruin your life is why preying on money is more predatory.

Put “gambling suicide” into your search engine of choice… We need to keep this crap out of games if it’s at all possible.