Gambling mechanics in games.

This discussion was touched upon a few weeks ago in the Shadow of War thread and it sort of derailed the topic so maybe this can be it's own thing.

Curious to see what others think and where they draw the line. For those that don't know Shadow of War is the most recent game to include randomized loot boxes, while not the first single player game to include this, it is pretty egregious example of this growing trend.

The loot boxes in general work by containing randomized items inside, often times on a rarity table presented to the player ranging from rare-legendary drops. The player purchases a key with real currency and opens the chest in hopes that they get the item they want. It doesn't seem to far off of gambling to me (a pull at the slot machine), the main difference being there are no regulations around this. Loot table odds of winning are not presented, and though parental controls are available they often go unused and can be subverted.

I realize there are a lot of people (myself included) that feel no temptation by these purchases and find them largely ignorable. Overwatch is an example of a game that on surface level seems pretty great about this stuff, they offer only cosmetic items and the boxes are earned in game. Hell they even offer all new characters and maps for free. It's almost easy to defend the key purchases as a tip of sorts. I think it can be argued though that it's far more profitable to offer the gambling mechanics then sell characters and maps. I also believe that the free content offered has a much larger benefit to the developer in keeping people engaged in the gambling mechanic. By offering free content you keep the community alive and keep people in your ecosystem (and on the hamster wheel) this is far more profitable it seems then just selling said content. Which I think is proven true by the fact that character skins can't be out right purchased in overwatch without earning currency (which is also randomly given out by duplicates or in small chunks from crates) which even at an unreasonable high cost would atleast give people the option at subverting that mechanic.

Even the argument of earning the currency in the course of regular play starts to fall flat for me when viewed in that respect. It's an insidious way to get people to get a taste for the gambling, kind of like a drug dealer offering the first hit for free. Once involved in the ecosystem and people see how fun the winning pay out can be they are more likely to pay.

I have never been tempted by these transactions and generally avoid all these purchases. I did grow up with someone with gambling problems which ended in a profoundly negative way for my family. I am growing more and more bothered by this appearing in a hobby I love. And the fact that it takes advantage of people that could be prone to this destructive behavior or worse minors that don't fully understand. It's far to easy to subvert the systems for a minor even when parental controls are in place. Short of parents placing a 0$ limit on accounts there is nothing to stop a teen from buying overwatch (which is rated T) and spending an allowance (if some spending week limit is active) on gambling rather then content

I think we often use the term "whale" to describe a person with expendable income that we imagine is using these systems the most. I think there are probably less "whales" out there then there are people who are being taken advantage of by an unregulated system.

If developers are going to incorporate these systems should they not be subject to the same laws as casinos or lotteries? Should they be slapped with an AO rating just like ultra violent or pornographic games are? Why is this trend often given a pass? I'm curious to see what other people think. My perspective might be a bit skewed as someone who has been negatively effected by gambling in the past. Should the gaming press be more responsible for reporting and sheding a negative light on it? Are we as people who view games as more then just a pass time responsible to hold developers accountable and let them know we won't tolerate this?

Or maybe people are ok with it, Im super interested in how it could be defended since as I've said I'm a bit of a hypocrite as I have purchased these games and probably will again.

Sorry for how long this post became, hopefully it's more then just me rambling.

There are real ways of controlling minors from making purchases on Xbox and PSN stores through Parental controls. You should probably correct that in your post.

Didn't mean to quote sorry for double post. Edited my initial post with changes.

I still think parental controls don't go far enough personally. As I've now mentioned in my overwatch example it's to easy to subvert games that have this mechanic should not be sold as T games at the very least.

This is what I was expecting to see in this thread, based on the title alone.

IMAGE(http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/suikoden/suikoden-4.png)

What you're describing is the despicable side of the Free-To-Play game type (buying gems to play more now without having to wait an hour for the timer to refill), applied to non-FTP games in a manner that is defensible as being not exploitative, as the loot boxes are for pure cosmetic items -- not necessary to play the game whatsoever.

I guess I don't see loot boxes really as gambling, since the reward from a loot box would not be monetary (Steam Marketplace notwithstanding). It would be like calling the crane machine at the local arcade a gambling device, and requiring arcade operators to check ID of everyone playing.

The crane game is an interesting example, while I see your point i also think that it is an unrealistic comparison. I can't see a kid/teen sitting in an arcade all day every day unsupervised shoveling dollar after dollar into the machine, maybe it happens but it seems unlikely. These games allow uncapped, daily spending in the privacy of your own home. Odds of winning are not presented, value of items are based usually on rarity which would encourage low drop rates for the rarest of items. And these methods are proving very profitable more so then regular dlc in some cases.

I don't want to get to wrapped up in the under age gambling aspect either, I think this is predatory behavior even towards adults that suffer from compulsion issues.

The free to play model of pay to play now or wait for a timer is also a lot different. Atleast there you are paying for what you get. You can assess the value of the timer and decide if it's worth it to you. You are paying a for a good or service, once bought the transaction is completed as expected. I am merely talking about randomized loot boxes as seen in destiny 2, shadows of war, overwatch, rocket league etc... whether the game is free or full priced is not my issue.

It's funny you should mention crane machines. The Japanese term for this free-to-play business model is "gashapon", which is an onomatopoeia derived from arcade machines that dispense random toys. "Gasha" is the sound of pulling the lever; "pon" is the sound of the toy hitting the tray.

Rave wrote:

Didn't mean to quote sorry for double post. Edited my initial post with changes.

I still think parental controls don't go far enough personally. As I've now mentioned in my overwatch example it's to easy to subvert games that have this mechanic should not be sold as T games at the very least.

I'm still confused by your post. As a parent I can force the Xbox or PlayStation to only allow free purchases. No option to buy anything even if they have gift cards they redeemed

It's more then an all or nothing system, you can set a limit of $0 but I am sure there are cases of parents allowing their child a spend limit. PS4 for example allows you to set monthly spend limits of $10, $25 or $50 dollars. These games are rated teen and the gambling mechanics can be used since they are rated T and won't necessarily be flagged as 18 and over.

This is assuming parents are even using the system. I know you mentioned in the other thread that you don't know any parents that don't, I on the other hand don't know any parents that do.

Hope that clarifys my position a bit. I realize there is no substitute for good parenting and obviously this doesn't effect parents that are educated about this. I think a lot of parents still remain unaware unfortunately, that's why I think these games should maybe get a new rating, be regulated and maybe not be allowed to slide under the mainstream radar like they do.

Again I don't think these games should just be regulated for minors I think they should be regulated because they prey on people the same way casinos do. If the publishers and developers want to take advantage of the profits made this way they should be forced to abide by the laws those areas are subjected to.

So would a solution be to include a Surgeon General type warning that there is a game of chance included and to make it M for mature? And also include the odds of winning at each level of rarity?

Wouldnt you need to make virtually every FTP game on the Apple Store M rated also then?

Docjoe wrote:

So would a solution be to include a Surgeon General type warning that there is a game of chance included and to make it M for mature? And also include the odds of winning at each level of rarity?

Wouldnt you need to make virtually every FTP game on the Apple Store M rated also then?

Its an idea I suppose, not really sure what the answer is. If developers dont want the stigma of getting an M rating then they will have to find more creative ways to make the games profitable. I still think M is a bit light, something more akin to AO which as far as I know has never been allowed on a Nintendo system and has rarely ever been approved for any other home console.

I know that this would hurt profit margins of alot of these companies, and perhaps ruin or stop these free to play games (not necessarily a bad thing IMO). I think the morality with these mechanics is highly questionable, and having to figure out ways of making profits without resorting to this may not be such a bad thing.

I question the science behind the addiction in terms of pure gambling. Gambling in its purest sense is about risk and reward. Without a monetary payout like at a casino or lottery I'm concerned you are painting this situation to similar to a casino rather than just a typical video game addiction.

I don't think the stats back up your concern. We owned a mobile gaming company for 5 years and developed several F2P games. The conversion rate is very small and even smaller are those that pay anything remotely resembling a whale.

Sure the massively popular F2P games will have people dropping $thousands but guess what so did all those people buying space ships for Star Citizen a game that likely will never see the light of day in a completed form.

Yeah, I deeply hate gambling and I don't see what passes for it in games being remotely similar.

I worked at a casino, I've seen the harm it causes, especially to the poor and desperate and gashapon mechanics are nowhere close.

You don't have to like them, they are pretty skeevy and manipulative, and I don't like that they are used in full price game releases, but to equate them to real gambling is... misguided.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

Yeah, I deeply hate gambling and I don't see what passes for it in games being remotely similar.

I worked at a casino, I've seen the harm it causes, especially to the poor and desperate and gashapon mechanics are nowhere close.

You don't have to like them, they are pretty skeevy and manipulative, and I don't like that they are used in full price game releases, but to equate them to real gambling is... misguided.

Ever had a spouse spend $200 of your rent money behind your back on energy mechanic-based mobile games? Because their city (or whatever) kept getting raided during the night? Hypothetically, of course?

It may not be as bad as casino gambling, but it is set up with the exact same intent in mind. Maybe it doesn't deserve the full-on criminal treatment, but the people that set these things up know exactly what they are doing, and they are scum.

I do believe we should have better labeling on these types of games so parents and people in general know exactly where their money is going on how good the odds are for "loot box" type games.

How about games like Hearthstone and Magic. There is a randomness to packs that you pay for trying to get that one specific card you still need.

I've only really participated in loot boxes once. When Star Trek Online went FTP, I got really into it. I was really enjoying it, and putting a ton of time into it. In STO, you can buy keys to unlock boxes you find, or scrap the boxes for a bit of scratch. I had been playing for a couple months at that point, so I bought $30 in keys (I had just given up WoW, so roughly two months of subscription for that).

Wouldn't you know it, I got one of the ultra-rare (at the time) ships that dropped from the boxes. I didn't redeem it, because I was thinking of selling it. Eventually that's the route I went. If I remember correctly, I put the ship on the market for 1,000,000 CR. It sold within a day or so. I retrieved the credits, to find my account capped at 10,000 CR. I immediately spent real cash to unlock my bank amount, and put in a support ticket. The support rep pretty much told me tough sh*t, that I should have unlocked the bank before accepting the money, and they weren't going to help me.

I quit STO, and haven't given another dime to a company that does this type of transaction. At the time I didn't mind spending what I would spend on a normal subscription. I can see that it is a bit of a gamble, but I figured I was enjoying the game, so I might as well support it with what I felt was an acceptable amount. But that whole situation left me severely jaded towards the whole setup.

ChipRMonk wrote:

Ever had a spouse spend $200 of your rent money behind your back on energy mechanic-based mobile games? Because their city (or whatever) kept getting raided during the night? Hypothetically, of course?

I don't see how energy mechanics are gambling? Isn't it just something you buy?

That looks more like poor impulse control, and we can't get into that on a forum that has a thread of apocalyptically bad impulse control twice a year whenever there's a big Steam sale.

China is actually a bit further ahead in regulation.

Blizzard decided to sell boxes rather then display the odds, why?

Definition of gamble
gambled; gamblingplay \ˈgam-b(ə-)liŋ\
intransitive verb
1
a : to play a game for money or property
b : to bet on an uncertain outcome
2
: to stake something on a contingency : take a chance (see contingency 2)

Random loot boxes seem to check both of these boxes.

An artical about overwatch/gambling.

It's actually surprisingly hard to find many articals written this year on this subject despite its use in a lot of AAA games being released this year.

This lines up pretty well with my thoughts.

MrDeVil909 wrote:
ChipRMonk wrote:

Ever had a spouse spend $200 of your rent money behind your back on energy mechanic-based mobile games? Because their city (or whatever) kept getting raided during the night? Hypothetically, of course?

I don't see how energy mechanics are gambling? Isn't it just something you buy?

That looks more like poor impulse control, and we can't get into that on a forum that has a thread of apocalyptically bad impulse control twice a year whenever there's a big Steam sale. :)

I suppose it comes under exploitive/abusive micro-transactions rather than gambling, now that you mention it. It is all the same to me, however. The games are designed to have that effect on people. The people that publish them are still scum, like all scammers. *shrug*

I'm wondering what are good examples of ethical F2P models? I don't play these games so I'm not sure how they work but aren't MOBAs really good in their approach? I believe they only seek cosmetic items and you see what you are paying for?

I think one of the most insidious loot box mechanics is CCGs like MTG and Hearthstone. The compulsion to keep buying card packs trying to get those rare cards is very seductive. At least in non-digital games you can always purchase the cards you need straight up. I don't think that's an option in Hearthstone.

Come to think of it, Blizzard is leading the way in exploitation with Hearthstone and Overwatch. Yet they are praised as a model gaming company.

If they would just sell the cards and cosmetic upgrades straight up on a market it would be much more ethical. But probably less profitable so will never happen. Unless they were required to make both games AO which would take a big bite out of their profit.

Ive been playing a bit of warframe lately and honestly so far it seemed pretty great about the way it was handling F2P. There is a grind for sure to earn gear, but everything is purchasable with currency and earnable in game.

It seemed great until I unlocked Void Relics, which seem to be randomized loot boxes. I havent looked at the system but I am guessing the currency to unlock them is purchasable, so there goes my example I guess. Im hoping maybe its not, and these things just open during missions and there is no way to buy the currency but Im doubtful.

How are loot boxes different from booster packs of Magic: The Gathering cards? Is that gambling? Should physical CCGs have an AO (or equivalent) rating slapped on them?

Booster packs are the original loot box!

Docjoe wrote:

I'm wondering what are good examples of ethical F2P models?

Kingdom of Loathing has a good one which is more akin to an optional subscription. There's a powerful limited-time in-game item that's only available for the current month. Give the developer $10 and you get a single alternate currency that can be traded for the limited time item. (You can also trade/sell the currency between players so non-paying players have a decent chance at making enough regular in-game currency to get the item). Each month a different item is available with no repeats.

Dandy Dungeon also does a good F2P implementation where you can pay one-time fees to remove the energy limit, unlock additional content, etc.

Card games (virtual card or otherwise) and blind box toys have been around for ages it's an interesting argument to compare them to the practices we see in these games. I'm not 100% sure where I stand on that stuff, I do know it feels morally dubious to me. Especially games like hearthstone and other CCGs even though I don't feel the same about the real life version of said games.

The prevalence this has in online store fronts is also starting to bother me, GMG has loot boxes, GOG had pinatas and I won't be surprised when Steam starts implementing them. It really bothered me with GOG because they are usually such a consumer friendly company, it's pretty gross that even they did it.

After reading through this thread i notice many arguments are about the definition of gambling. Remembering that the law is very slow to catch up with new tech and ideas. I will try to take that into account for my opinions.

Loot boxes I have taken paid for:
Rocket League: gave them $20.00 for keys as I played the crap out of that game. and they have released so much free stuff. That said it did feel like a form of slot machine as it spun around.

Path of Exile: No idea how much money as I tend to throw them some amount from $20-$40 every major expansion. Feels less like a slot machine and more like a mystery box.

Magic the Gathering the card game: No idea as i played for probably two years and i would say it felt like a disappointing loot box.

Now looking at these examples (I will exclude Magic as its own thing as it is physical) can see arguments for gambling and not gambling. So under the current law I would make this a a subcategory of gambling. I think it needs clear explanation of odds, explanation if duplicates are a thing or if you get one and it is removed from the pool, and perhaps some form of built in limit either daily or overall. It seems very bad for the consumers if you can buy a game and pay $100.00 extra to not get all the content. So this is starting to move towards the consumer advocacy side as some games may be gambling but other may be right on the line.

Stores selling mystery boxes would not be gambling in general in my mind. I say this as there is usually a known level of quality. In Magic you know you will get x number of commons and so on. For the monthly food box you know you will get decent quality food from a random country. You may not always get what you want but when you came into this knowing that you were going to pay for an unknown with a promise of some level of quality. Obviously for physical items stores have built side shops where you can just buy the cards you want and skip the mystery BS all together. So for physical objects it is harder for me to classify as anti-consumer but i still think it can be sketchy.

Moving to electronic goods on electronic stores gets interesting. For the GOG pinatas or G2A loot boxes we have a few immediate issues. I want to know what my percentage options are for winning all games. Can I get duplicates? What is my quality assurance? For GOG I would say there is some quality assurance for their games but I have no idea for G2A. The last thing I want to win is an indie asset flip. The final distinction i saw was GOG charges real money and G2A charges fake money you buy with real. The only reason I can think for this is to hide how much loot boxes actually cost. This buy a a fake currency with real money always struck me a an exploitable way to conceal how much is being spent in a game as the game money is fake money.

As a consumer I understand that these are here to stay but i would like them to be consumer friendly. Several mobile games have updated their games to show percentage changes for each tier of reward. This is likely due to the China crackdown. This is a good first step but it looks like we will not get a course correction from the big companies until a government steps in or there is legal action. I suppose significant threat of either of these could also initiate some change.

Every time I see a full priced game with in game loot boxes I stop and ask myself how badly did you increase the grind to make me want to buy your digital toy that will go away once the servers do?

So gambling or not the current iteration is not consumer friendly.

I was just thinking of good f2p models not that this has a lot to do with the gambling aspects, but I believe Nintendo has done a good job handling this in the past. They had a Pokémon puzzle game that if I remember correctly had microtransactions, but if you spent either $30 or $50 on them over the course of playing the entire game would unlock.

Not sure if they ever went back to the model and I know they have fully embraced the gambling with the fire emblem mobile game, but that seemed pretty forward thinking at the time.

I'm actually bit sad that Rocket League has turned more towards loot boxes then actual dlc packs, there is no way of actually getting the items inside the loot boxes outside someone giving them to you. It would be nice to actually see the odds of getting the rare item, I think since the release of these loot boxes I probably put over 60 bucks towards the game and yet actually got any of the super rare items. Personally I'm done spending money on it, but I can see someone getting addicted to them.

This is an interesting topic. Before I chip in my two pen'orth, I should say that - in a previous professional incarnation - I was involved in developing regulatory policy for a European gambling regulator. As a result, I've maintained an interest in issues like this (though I'm not anywhere near an expert).

To take your questions one-by-one:

Are loot box mechanics a form of gambling?

Until there is some case law established, I don't think anyone knows for sure. However, any final determination is likely to turn on the question of the real-world value of in-game items.

In the UK at least, gambling is defined as "betting, gaming or participating in a lottery", but implicit in this definition is the notion that the items of tangible value are being played for. As a result, the Gambling Commission's view is that If the item has no real-world value, then it is unlikely to be gambling.

Should loot box 'gambling' be regulated?

The answer in the UK is 'No' and 'Yes'.

No, for game developers and publishers who attempt to ensure that the items obtained from loot boxes and the like are 'locked' into their games.

Yes, for 3rd parties who provide a means of extracting items from games, and wagering with them (thereby giving them real-world value).

This seems to me to be a reasonable regulatory position.

Of course, none of this addresses Rave's other point about whether in-game mechanics like this represent a gateway in to other forms of gambling (for adults and minors). I think we need to wait until there is evidence one way or the other. However, my instincts are that this is unlikely. We are surrounded by gambling triggers that are far more accessible than video game loot boxes. A mobile phone button press. A click of the mouse. A walk to the scratchcard displays at the local news agent.

detroit20 thanks for your thoughts really interesting to hear from someone who has worked in that side of the industry.

I feel like most things related to the internet the judicial system is severely behind the times. To say now days that a digital good has no tangible value is odd to me. If I purchase a digital game, movie or music surely it is the same as owning it physically. I'd be subject to the same ownership rights I'd imagine.

From your description I imagine valve and similar company's are able to circumvent the extraction of in games items for cash by only allowing you to "cash out" into a form of credit used in their store front.

Also I wonder how different Canadian laws differ compared to other countries. I know we are often excluded from contests because of our stricter gambling laws.

https://kotaku.com/esrb-says-it-does...

ESRB weighs in on loot boxes. My stance is known so for me this further solidifys for me that the industry isn't going to self regulate.

Interesting article.

Where the analogy to CCGs falls down is that you know what the odds of getting a rare or uncommon are when you buy a pack of MTG cards. I don't think that's true of loot boxes (maybe it is and I don't know).

I wonder if there is enough building momentum that this could draw federal regulation? I'm not crazy about that idea but maybe a bit more fed oversight of gaming content wouldn't be terrible.