Nexon isn’t the only Korean studio that has been targeted by the government and fined for dishonest practices with its online games and lockboxes. The South Korean Fair Trade Commission has handed out $950,000 in fines to the country’s studios for deceiving players and failing to provide accurate odds for winning any particular prize.
The three studios punished for their transgressions are Nexon ($875,000), Netmarble ($55,000), and NextFloor ($4,600). The Korea Herald notes, “The [South Korean] FTC’s actions have signaled alarm across the Korean game sector, as it could hurt the sales of in-game items — particularly randomized items, which users tend to continuously buy until they get a desired result — that contribute immensely to profits.”
Is this enough of a penalty to make the eastern market be more responsible with its lockbox policies, or are these fines merely a slap on the wrist? We will see.
Just for the record, we are not the only ones engaged in the discussion and controversy surrounding lockboxes and lootboxes as of late. YouTube channel Extra Credits put together an entertaining and informative video that brings everyone up to speed on what’s happening with all of this, even if you’ve been out of the loop.
The video does raise some concerns about what might happen if and when governments get involved in legislating lootboxes under gambling laws. Some of these concerns have to do with states that consider gambling illegal, access to games with “gambling” if you are under 21 years of age, varying forms of lootboxes, and studios worrying about lawsuits from players over bans if that person has digital property with monetary value. Regular readers will recall a few months back when our SWTOR columnist considered the direct implications for his own game too.
“There are a whole bunch of effects this legislation could have on gaming beyond simply restricting lootboxes as a model,” the video argues. “So we have to be incredibly careful about how we approach this legislation.”
Loot boxes might not be as welcome in Sweden come next year. A Public Administration minister told a news station that in-game lockboxes could be classified as gambling by 2019 as the government moves to “regain control” of the gambling sector.
“I don’t want to rule out the possibility [of classifying loot boxes as gambling],” said Minister Ardalan Shekarabi. “It is obvious that there are many people suffering from gambling addiction, who also get stuck in this type of gambling and lose money because of it.”
Currently, loot boxes — as in many countries — are not covered by gambling laws and do not have governmental oversight. With the increase in exposure over the business model practices recently, some politicians in various countries have proposed legislation and regulation.
Even with all of the discussion going on about lockboxes these days, it doesn’t seem to be slowing down the release of such packs in some MMOs. EverQuest, for example, is preparing a new Iksar Heritage Crate on the marketplace for January 17th.
This lockbox retails for 799 DBC and contains a chance at several different lizard-themed items, including Iksar armor, familiars, teleport items, a mount, and even a music box. Keep buying and buying and buying these lockboxes, because if you can get all of the teleport items or familiars, you’ll also net a (drum roll) NEW TITLE. Can you feel the goosebumps?
Daybreak is giving subscribers the option to grab a lockbox instead of their normal monthly stipend of 500 DBC. There’s an expiration period on this box, as it’ll disappear from the marketplace on April 17th.
A couple of weeks after the PC version launched, Path of Exile: War for the Atlas
has finally arrived on Xbox One. The MMOARPG expansion adds 32 maps, four new skill gems, and the Abyss challenge league.
On both platforms is a new lockbox that Grinding Gear introduced — and the studio revealed an interesting surprise about it. The Fire and Ice Mystery Box includes 38 items, and some of these can be combined to create entirely new items and effects.
“While the primary motivation of this system is that it offers some extra value for players who buy boxes,” the team said, “it also has the helpful side effect of mopping up some duplicate microtransactions. While the existence of duplicates is priced into the model we use for boxes, we’re open to carefully adding some fun methods like this to remove some.”
Among the controversy of EA’s pay-to-win lockboxes in Star Wars Battlefront II emerges a rather reasonable question: Why didn’t the studio create and use cosmetic rewards in these lockboxes rather than selling progression through them?
An EA spokesperson claimed that the company was concerned about “violating the canon of Star Wars” with pink-skinned Darth Vaders and the like, but it turns out that such cosmetic customization was in the works all along. Fans have found a hidden customization menu for characters tucked away in the game’s coding that wasn’t activated for release, hinting that the team had originally envisioned allowing players to adopt and use all sorts of cosmetic skins.
Meanwhile, another one of EA’s upcoming titles is falling under increased scrutiny with its microtransactions model. UFC 3 recently went into beta testing, during which players discovered that “the more a player invests into their account the better their performance will be in game.” Yes, it’s loot crates all over again becoming the gatekeeper to progression, holding access to “every single technique, fighter, and stat roll.”
The controversy over lockboxes and their legal status continues to draw more attention from governments, with Australia now weighing in on the issue. Not the whole country, mind you, but the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR), which wrote a letter stating that lockboxes were considered gambling under the country’s laws.
While the VCGLR doesn’t typically oversee video games, its opinion does carry weight in the government and could prompt action on the proliferation of lockboxes in online games. The problem? The government body says that it’s very hard to regulate and that “there are a lot of variables at play.”
“What occurs with ‘loot boxes’ does constitute gambling by the definition of the Victorian Legislation,” wrote VCGLR Strategic Analyst Jarrod Wolfe. “Unfortunately where the complexity arises is in jurisdiction and our powers to investigate. Legislation has not moved as quick as the technology; at both State and Federal level we are not necessarily equipped to determine the legality of these practices in lieu of the fact the entities responsible are overseas.”
Yes, it’s apparently the Month of the Lockbox across the internet, as the level of discussion and controversy over how these items manipulate your mind and whether or not they constitute as gambling by ratings boards is ramping up.
The public might have a mixed view on lockboxes, but have you ever wondered what developers think? While some might well be quietly humiliated that these items sully their game by marketing degree, others have publicly justified their inclusion. GIbiz recently found that most studios won’t comment on loot boxes, but a handful of devs did step forward to speak about them. The common thread? Cost of making games is going up while box pricing is remaining static… and something has to give.
“Some big games are just not selling enough copies to make the development and marketing costs viable,” commented Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley. “Loot boxes mean more revenue from those who are interested.”
There’s a law on the books in China that states you can’t sell random loot boxes in an online game without disclosing the odds of each reward from said boxes. It seems that Blizzard has found a workaround to that law for Overwatch just the same, as the company is still functionally selling lockboxes without disclosing the odds of receiving a given item. How does that work? Well, the lockboxes aren’t technically being sold; the in-game currency of credits is being sold, with 120 credits in-game costing roughly $35!
Oh, and you get 50 free lockboxes as a gift when you make that purchase. And it’s important to note here that rarer and more desirable skins in the game will cost upward of 750 credits, thus making it quite clear that what you’re really purchasing are the 50 lockboxes as a “gift” rather than the 120 credits.
The hope appears to be that future lockboxes can continue to be sold with this roundabout method without actually disclosing the odds and item lists for these boxes. Readers are free to speculate on how long this will take to be seen as an exploitation, if ever; it’s certainly an interesting workaround to the law.