This Dumb Industry: Loot Boxes Are Not Gambling?

By Shamus
on Oct 17, 2017
Filed under:
Column

Last week the ESRB decided that Loot Boxes are not gambling. We’re talking about “loot boxes” in the sense of in-game rewards, not “loot crates“, the physical merch you can subscribe to. Also remember that the ESRB is a non-government, non-profit, self-regulatory organization. They’re the equivalent to the MPAA in the realm of Hollywood films.

I haven’t played a lot of games that use loot boxes. I played Counter-Strike, but that was in decades past, long before loot boxes. I played Team Fortress 2, but I was losing interest in the game just as the loot-based economy was taking off. (And there the boxes are free, but the keys to open them cost money.) I played the original Titanfall in online multiplayer, but I only spent a few evenings with it and I certainly never bought any microtransaction stuff. The point I’m getting at is that I have basically zero experience with boxes of the lootish variety. I can’t speak with any authority on how the the process works or how exploitative it might be. I’m not really here to convince you in-game loot packages are a good thing or a bad thing, only that I think this debate over “gambling” is an interesting one.

For reference, here is how I understand the system: The game will have some sort of reward-over-time mechanic where you slowly earn “boxes” of in-game items. The contents of the boxes are random. In the games we’re talking about in regards to this particular ESRB rating, these games will also offer you a choice to outright buy these boxes for real money. The trick is that not all boxes are created equal. Some boxes contain things that are so common they’re basically worthless, and some boxes contain exotic in-game goods that can only be obtained through boxes. Again, every game is a little different. Sometimes there’s a meta-currency somewhere along the process and sometimes the boxes are given randomly instead of over time, but this is the idea in broad strokes.

When the ruling was announced, the overwhelming response was, “DUH! OBVIOUSLY THIS IS GAMBLING HOW CAN YOU BE SO BLIND?!”

My response was, “How interesting. What do you mean by ‘gambling’?”

It turns out this is one of those insidious discussions where everyone has a slightly different ad-hoc definition that they assume is universal to all.

What’s At Stake

You can`t win if you don`t play! You can, however, keep your money.

You can`t win if you don`t play! You can, however, keep your money.

In the ESRB system, there’s “simulated gambling” and “real gambling”. If a game is categorized as “real gambling” then it gets slapped with the dreaded Adults Only rating. This is a more serious category than “Mature”, which is where stuff like Grand Theft Auto winds up. Adults Only is usually given to stuff like pornographic games. Stores won’t carry AO titles, which means that it’s basically the kiss of death for a game. If a certain system is considered real gambling then developers will stop using it, because nobody in the AAA space can afford to take that kind of risk.

Lots of people hate this loot box business, and so they really want to see it categorized as gambling so developers will be forced to stop putting it in their games. They figure if the game meets any possible definition of gambling then it should be classified as gambling. While I sympathize with the desire to see this business practice die, this sort of regulatory sledgehammer is probably a bad way to go about solving that particular problem.

Imagine you hate modern military shooters, so you get them classified as “pornography” on the basis of them containing “gun porn” in the form of modern real-world weapons. You pat yourself on the back, thinking the industry won’t be dominated by the likes of Call of Duty or Battlefield anymore. But using this trick means that many other games will get caught in your regulatory net. Suddenly a bunch of turn-based strategy games you love are pulled from the shelves because they also feature real-world firearms, and it was already hard enough to get your hands on that kind of thing. Meanwhile, Call of Duty just replaces their machine guns with pew-pew lasers and the industry continues on as before.

I know this sounds far fetched, but consider this: If loot boxes are gambling, then what about Hearthstone and other collectible card games? Random packs of goods are a much larger part of those games than the shooters we’re talking about. You could end up causing a lot of collateral damage and creating problems for other fanbases. Meanwhile, there’s no guarantee these publishers won’t replace their loot boxes with something even more obnoxious.

For example, if you rule that loot boxes are “real gambling” then the publishers could easily replace them with (say) pay-to-fight bosses. Pay some money, fight the (completely pushover) boss, and the boss drops what would have originally been inside of the box. To the publisher, it’s the same deal: Randomized loot for money. They can always keep adding different steps to the process until they’ve effectively routed around your definition of gambling. If you’re trying to get rid of loot boxes by having them classified as gambling, then you’ll end up in a never-ending game of rules-lawyering. And you really don’t want to play that game against companies who have a staff of real-world lawyers, because they literally do this for a living.

“For Every Complex Problem, There Is an Answer That Is Clear, Simple, and Wrong.”

H.L. Mencken never actually said this but it’s still a fun quote.

Defining Gambling is Obvious, Right?

Lifehack: If you don`t have kids to give the toy to, just eat it.

Lifehack: If you don`t have kids to give the toy to, just eat it.

We can agree that slot machines are gambling, right? You put in moneyFor the purposes of this discussion, “money” is also anything that can be directly converted to money at a fixed rate, such as tokens or poker chips. A Beanie-Baby that can maybe sell for around $1,000 on Ebay is NOT money, while a poker chip worth exactly $20 is money., and sometimes you get money out. Gambling, right?

And I think most of us can agree that breakfast cereal is not gambling, even if the box might contain a prize and even if that prize can vary significantly in value based on random chance. You pay money for cereal and you might get something of unpredictable value. Despite this, it’s usually considered not gambling.

What I hope you’ve noticed by now is that it’s hard to draw a clear line between these two. You can push breakfast cereal into the realm of gambling by increasing the potential value of the prize. If the box might contain a ticket for a million dollars or the keys for a new car then people might treat the cereal like lottery tickets: Buy the box and throw away the food because all you care about is the prize. I think that would count as gambling to most people. Likewise, you could change a slot machine to dispense goods rather than money and end up with a machine that isn’t considered “gambling”, even thought it clearly is. In fact, that’s what a prize grabber is. It’s a game of chance masquerading as a game of skill where you pay money for a chance at a non-cash prize.

In the United States, there are laws against certain kinds of gambling. The thinking is that lotteries exploit the poor and desperate, so if you try to run one you will go to jail. (Unless, of course, you’re a state government, 89% of which make an exception only for themselves.) Obviously there are still prizes offered by companies as part of various promotions. McDonald’s ran their McMillions program for years. Other companies give away cars and trips and piles of money.

No matter how good the drops are, you lose because at the end of the day you`re still playing Diablo 3.

No matter how good the drops are, you lose because at the end of the day you`re still playing Diablo 3.

The trick here is that it’s only a lottery in the legal senseAgain, talking about the USA here. if people must to pay to enter. If you can get a chance to win for free, then it’s not technically “gambling”. So in order to comply with the law, companies must offer some way to get a chance to win for free. They tend to make this method really inconvenient, like asking you to mail them an already-stamped envelope, thus making you pay for postage both ways. You get one entry per envelope, so if you want to enter ten times then you’re going to spend a lot of money on stamps and a lot of time filling out envelopes. This is inconvenient enough to make spamming for free entries unattractive, thus encouraging people to just BUY THE STUPID PRODUCT YOU CHEAP BASTARD.

When we’re talking about the definition of “gambling” we’re usually doing so because we’re trying to regulate or control it. Usually this is in the context of governments, but with the ESRB we’re talking about a non-profit organization with voluntary compliance. In order to nail down the definition, I think you need to consider these questions:

  1. Is it a game of chance? (As opposed to a carnival game where you throw balls or shoot targets.)
  2. Do you have to pay real money – either directly or by buying a given product – in order to play it?
  3. Does the game pay out in cash, or in goods and services?
  4. Is the opportunity itself the product (lottery) or is it simply a marketing tool for an unrelated product (breakfast cereal prizes) that would still be viable without the prize?

Depending on how you answer these, you might conclude that only slot machines and roulette wheels are actually gambling, or you might conclude that playing a Diablo clone is gambling. Heck, you could argue that pre-ordering games is more like real gambling than loot boxes. It’s easy to come up with a definition that seems reasonable and then realize you’ve accidentally included or excluded something obviously inappropriate.

What I’m getting at is that I understand this sort of thing is tough and I think reasonable people can have very different definitions of what gambling is.

The Rationale

Are we having fun yet?

Are we having fun yet?

I wanted to trace this story back to the source, but the ESRB doesn’t issue press releases or post official statements on their site. So if you want something official you have to email them and then post their reply, which means we can’t have a definitive link that can be cited for reference and the whole thing turns into a game of telephone.

Since we’re playing telephone, the best I can do is quote Kotaku’s email from the ESRB where they explain why loot boxes aren’t gambling.

While there’s an element of chance in these mechanics, the player is always guaranteed to receive in-game content (even if the player unfortunately receives something they don’t want) We think of it as a similar principle to collectible card games: Sometimes you’ll open a pack and get a brand new holographic card you’ve had your eye on for a while. But other times you’ll end up with a pack of cards you already have.

While I wouldn’t personally rule that loot boxes are “real gambling”, I think this particular justification is an odd one. I’d lean towards ruling that it’s not gambling because the things you “win” are non-liquid and non-transferable. People don’t buy these things to gain wealth, which is the danger we often associate with gambling. But instead the ESRB based their decision on the fact that you always “get something”. I’m bettingThis is rhetorical betting, and thus not gambling. this rationale exists to protect titles like Hearthstone. Still, if you use their definition that it’s not gambling if you always “get something” then even the lottery isn’t gambling because if you lose you still “get” something. (A worthless bit of paper.)

So I agree with the ESRB’s conclusion, even if I disagree on how they got there. In any case, I doubt we’ll get rid of loot boxes by classifying them as gambling. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going back to my single-player games. Those don’t have loot boxes.

Yet.

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Footnotes:

[1] For the purposes of this discussion, “money” is also anything that can be directly converted to money at a fixed rate, such as tokens or poker chips. A Beanie-Baby that can maybe sell for around $1,000 on Ebay is NOT money, while a poker chip worth exactly $20 is money.

[2] Again, talking about the USA here.

[3] This is rhetorical betting, and thus not gambling.


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A Hundred!A Hundred!A Hundred!20202020There are now 380 comments. My website weeps for mercy.

From the Archives:

  1. Asdasd says:

    Now if you don’t mind, I’m <going back to my single-player games. Those don’t have loot boxes.

    Yet.

    Hope you weren’t planning on playing Shadow of War…

    Or Forza 7. Or Asssassin’s Creed: Origins. Of course, that game only lets you purchase loot crates with in-game currency, not real-life stuff. But I’d bet my lunch that access to in-game currency bundles will only be a swipe of the old credit card away.

    I think the trend for 2018 will be such that AAA single player games without loot boxes will be the exception. Doom mongery, I know, but we have plenty of precedents that once these monetisation fads prove effective, they spread like wildfire. Strong though the temptation is just to ignore these icky trends while they don’t directly affect us, not paying attention was how the gacha system migrated from predatory East Asian MMOs into mainstream multiplayer games in the first place.

    • SPCTRE says:

      Hope you weren’t planning on playing Shadow of War…

      beat me to it :D

    • PPX14 says:

      Exactly my thought :D

    • NoneCallMeTim says:

      What about Borderlands?

      The amount of time you spend grinding for guns with each gun being a random drop?

      Or opening chests for loot?

      • Josh says:

        And don’t get me started on the, err… slot machines?

      • Dreadjaws says:

        That’s not even close to the same thing. Random loot has been a staple of games for ages.

        • Abion47 says:

          It’s probably a lot closer in concept than most people realize (or want to admit). In Overwatch, for instance, you play a bunch, level up, and get a loot box as a reward that contains, hey, random loot. There really isn’t that much conceptually separating a reward-based loot box and a chest at the end of a dungeon. The only real difference is that you can choose to circumvent the effort and just buy the loot box instead.

          Also saying something has been around for ages isn’t the same as saying it’s different or any more okay. It just means that we’ve gotten used to it so are less likely to criticize it in the same way.

          “Killing people is wrong.”

          “What about human sacrifices?”

          “Oh, that’s completely different. We’ve been doing that for ages.”

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        If they charged real money for those boxes on top of the money spent for buying the game then it would be gambling.Without that its not.

      • FelBlood says:

        Okay, but surely you concede that there’s a difference between, “Clear this dungeon and there are three chests of loot at the end,” and “give me twenty bucks and you’ll get three chests of loot.”

        Even if you define the word “gambling” to include both of those, they aren’t exactly the same thing, and a lot of people will find the latter more objectionable.

        • Francis-Olivier says:

          To be fair now that I think about it Borderlands 2 and Pre-Sequel did have keys you could buy for a loot box in the main town. Still you’re right. Because you don’t put and waste any money on random drops normaly it’s pretty pedantic to call those gambling.

          • Felblood says:

            I don’t know that I’d go that far.

            “Random loot tables,” and “paying real money to roll on those loot tables” are both good ideas to discuss, and it would be nice if we have less clunky, but universally understood words for those.

        • Abion47 says:

          I doubt that the crux of the issue surrounding loot boxes has anything to do with “gambling”. It has the same root problem with microtransactions in general, that is the ability to forgo effort by paying money. This practice has been disliked for about as long as it’s been used. Loot boxes are just to random drops what item shops are to guaranteed drops.

          Frankly, as long as it’s been balanced well, or if the stuff you get out of the loot boxes is purely cosmetic, I don’t see what the problem is. As long as people exist that are willing to pay for microtransactions, it’s a perfectly legitimate business tactic to offer them. As long as the game doesn’t become blatantly pay-to-win, there isn’t really any harm in doing it. Players who want it get the option to pay for their stuff using money instead of time and the company gets a source of income to use in producing more (potentially free) content. It’s a win-win.

          As for single-player games, the difference is even more cut-and-dry. If they break the balance of the game, then they are evil, and if they don’t, then they’re not. Though I do have to wonder about the people who buy microtransactions in single-player games – they’re basically paying full price to get a game experience, then paying even more to not experience it. Personally, I feel like those kinds of people deserve to have their money taken from them.

    • Preciousgollum says:

      1. ‘LOOT BOXES’

      I think we are doing the work of company advertising when we call it by this name, because it sounds appealing.

      The main issue is having Micro-Payments built into artificially inflating the value of in-game items (which is not the same as ‘paying for the content of a game’), and that the trend is escalating into absurdity. The issues that are happening now are those which people feared when DLC became a thing. The whole think reeks of putting a coin in a shopping trolley, and never getting that coin back. To be fair, Germany expects people to pay per-use of public toilets, but I don’t think people would be suggesting that EA or Ubisoft are interested in any great social or cultural revolution towards European rent-style economies.

      In the end, the market will decide. Instead of calling it a hideous moral issue, I consider these micro-payments to be ‘catering to excess’. The services laid on for people in games is like putting on a whole Sunday roast when somebody only wanted a sandwich, and then wafting around the cooked Sunday Roast, and complaining about the budget development costs of cooking the Sunday Roast, even though I just ordered the sandwich. Micro-payments in game is like eating at a Restaurant with a SUPER AGRESSIVE ADVERTISING POLICY THAT TRIES TO SELL YOU FOOD WHILE YOU EAT.

      2. CHEATS
      When games ignore debug modes and cheat codes in order to milk customers for extra money, this is borderline extortionate/sabotage (or whatever the word is for an a $$hole that is deliberately inefficient (as in a Cowboy builder that puts a flaw in their work so they can come back later, at your expense).

      3. VALVE
      I cannot immediately blame valve for the trend, simply because any pioneer of an experiment doesn’t immediately know what they have wrought, however, it is telling of other companies that they are willing to go to market before the experiment is conclusive. In other words, we don’t condemn Manhatten Project & Oppenhemier for developing the Nuclear Bomb, but we do blame North Korea and Iran for wanting to posess Nukes.

      • Abion47 says:

        RE 1: Restaurants do this already. When you order a meal, you are also offered other things like a side, specialty drink, appetizer or dessert. None of those things are necessary to the primary meal, but if you’re hungry for more, the options are there for an extra fee. The same is true with DLC and microtransactions (provided they are implemented responsibly) – you pay for the main game, and are then offered additional optional content for an extra fee. If you want it, it’s there. If you don’t want it, don’t get it. Simple as that.

        I do agree though that there are plenty of games (most of which originate from China) that shove microtransactions in your face constantly and/or make the game next to impossible to play without buying some artificial boost or paywall-locked weapon. Those games are garbage.

        RE 2: …What?

        RE 3: I’m pretty sure plenty of people blame the Manhatten Project and Oppenheimer for inventing the nuclear bomb, but really I think your comparison provides a very apt point. There are plenty of responsible ways to implement nuclear technology, many of which we tolerate or even applaud. Then there are ways in which to implement it irresponsibly or even dangerously, and people who go down that avenue are people we condemn. This is true for DLC and microtransactions as well. It can either be done responsibly (like Overwatch or League of Legends) or it can be done poorly (like Combat Arms or APB Reloaded). There’s no sense in torching the entire practice, though, just because it can be used poorly.

  2. Daimbert says:

    I actually agree with their reasoning here, because it means that loot boxes are like when I bought a pack of randomized comics from a mail order comic place when I was younger, or like a mystery box: what I’m doing is buying a product, but what it is and precisely what it’s worth and if I want or can use it is variable. This would be true even if one of the possible prizes was a check for $10,000 dollars. I’m not really buying a chance to win something, but am instead buying something. That I don’t know what I’m going to get in advance and that there are some things that I’d rather receive than others doesn’t change the fact that in all cases I really do purchase a product here.

    • Echo Tango says:

      A cheque for $10, 000 isn’t a product, though; It’s currency. (i.e. the most liquid, transferable thing we’ve got) A mail-order system that had that as a prize would be regulated as gambling.

      Furthermore, your example of a mail-order randomized comics only works if the thing you’re using that service for, is novelty. Namely, you might get some new comics that you’ve never heard of. If it’s for rarity or re-sell value, then it’s (at least in the grey area of) gambling, because the product is useful to make a profit in the chance that you win it.

      • Daimbert says:

        I don’t think either they or I are really buying the distinction between receiving currency or an actual product. In the case of the mystery box, they can be seen as buying a box that contains something of value in it, which might include currency. They always get something out of it, which is not the case for gambling. If you want to restrict the harmful impacts of gambling — ie losing money on it — you can also say that you are guaranteed to get something that is worth at least as much as what you spent, making it a transaction.

        For the comics, you’d need to look at the intent of the seller, not the buyer. If the seller is selling a product that gives a random assortment of things that have value — even if the buyer might not really want it — even if some are rare and valuable and even if some buyers are really trying for that so that they can sell it or make a profit at the end of the day they’re still selling that product, and can, in my view, even advertise that some things will be rare to encourage people to buy as long as having that rare thing might be desirable to most of their intended audience beyond the strict monetary value. But, again, I don’t really buy the reasoning that if the purpose is to get money then it is necessarily gambling, and that what critically makes gambling gambling is that you can lose on the deal, either getting nothing out of it or at least less than you put into it.

        • So, if I’m understanding you correctly, you’d consider it gambling if the vast majority of crates contained nothing (like with lottery tickets and slot machine pulls), because then you wouldn’t be buying a product of potentially variable value?

          • Daimbert says:

            Well, that doesn’t quite sound right, but essentially that’s correct. The idea is that if you always get something that has some value — even if it’s something you might not want — then it’s not gambling. It’s only if you can lose on the deal that it counts as gambling.

            • A great many people consider getting something they don’t want (such as cards they already have) to be “losing on the deal”. So there has to be clarity that getting SOMETHING–even if it has little value to you–still counts as not gambling.

              How does it have to be priced before you’re “losing on the deal”? If you can get all commons, does the price have to match the “all commons” box even though you have a chance at rares? Is it okay for it to cost more? How much more?

              • Cybron says:

                The lazy, mathy, naive answer is to price it according to EV. So maybe-rare box price = all-common box price * % chance all-commons + value of the rare * % chance of pulling the rare.

                Of course there’s practical and business reasons why that’s not the case. Practical being that there’s not really a defined value for a prize usually and business being that people will pay more than that.

              • Daimbert says:

                This will depend on the product, but in most cases you can use the retail price of the potential products without taking into account their collectible or other value. So, for comics, you can use the cover price, even if there is or might be a rare one in there that has a secondary market value higher than that. For cards from card games, you can use the retail price of common cards or a common set even though there might be or is a rare in there. As long as the person buying is guaranteed to get something that has a sticker price at least equal to what they spent, then they aren’t losing on the deal and so it’s not gambling, whether they want it or not.

                In fact, I recall that GOG did this precise thing once: they gathered up a bunch of games and offered people the chance to “buy” one of them without knowing what it would be. They guaranteed that the game would at least be worth — based on their internal prices — what you paid for the chance, and that you’d never get a game that you already had. So you could end up with a great deal on a game you really liked, or a game you liked for what it would cost you to actually buy it, or a game that you didn’t really want to play. Is that gambling?

  3. galacticplumber says:

    Not all forms of gambling involve expected possible monetary gain. Sometimes it’s as simple as replicating the ludic language so common to gambling that some people literally get addicted to, then charging money to meaningfully participate.

    As for collectable card games, hearthstone is entirely digitally distributed to the best of my knowledge, physical magic the gathering is popular enough and entrenched enough that no store currently selling them would be stupid enough to stop without being legally forced, and so on. The point I’m making is that collectable card games aren’t a compelling example of a reasonably expected possible casualty.

    • Abnaxis says:

      Physical card games are not regulated by the ESRB, video games are. If the ESRB chose to categorize booster packs as gambling, it would not affect the larger market presence of MTG et. al. in physical box stores, it would make it impossible to sell a MTG video game in Best Buy because Best Buy won’t carry AO titles.

      So yeah, categorizing booster packs as gambling could have a large effect on products that’s aren’t monolithic like Magic is.

      • trevel says:

        I would argue that CCGs are essentially indistinguishable from baseball cards, which (AFAIK) have gone to trial multiple times and have not been banned* — so there exists legal precedence that random packs of collectables are not gambling.

        * I have found a number of references to them going to trial, but nothing on the results of said trials. I also don’t care enough to check if baseball cards are still sold.

        • Idonteveknow says:

          Except in most digital CCGs you, pretty much by their own definition, cannot trade or sell the items you’re collecting. That means no swappng cards amongst friends, no secondary market, and (often) no way to just purchase that one card you need to complete a collection/deck/etc.

    • Collin says:

      So you’re saying that there’s enough commerce and political power that CCGs would be exempt from any changes?

      • galacticplumber says:

        The only CCGs I know that fall under videogame status are ALSO almost entirely digitally distributed and thus would render this pretty much irrelevant.

  4. Bubble181 says:

    I tend to understand the reasoning of the ESRB. You’re right that a worthless piece of paper is “something”, but it’s not what you’re buying. You’re paying for a chance to win X.
    In a cereal box, you’re buying cereal, and the chance to win is a by-product. In a case like Magic, you’re definitely getting cards, you just don’t know which ones.

    I’m not a fan of loot boxes – certainly not in (mostly) single player games. But yes, it’s a sliding scale. I can beat DIII events all day long hoping for a drop, if there was an option to buy Horadric Caches for gold I’m sure plenty of people would do it, and if there was an option to buy them for USD, I’m sure plenty of people would still do it. Nevertheless, it’s that sort of thinking that brought about the Real Money Auction House, which almost completely destroyed Diablo III.

    • Matt Downie says:

      I can’t tell if when the ERSB say “the player is always guaranteed to receive in-game content” they mean “it’s not gambling because a prize is guaranteed” (as Shamus suggests) or “it’s not gambling because the prizes are always in-game content, which has no ‘real’ value”.

      • SharpeRifle says:

        Its a legal definition thing….if you always receive something of value nominally of the price of the box you never lose your original “stake”. You might not get something you want….but you do always get “something”. Yes if you are trying for specific things its still gambling….but not in a legal sense.(Not a lawyer.)

      • Cybron says:

        The ERSB says the first. The EU, amusingly, says the second, which is the opposite.

    • MilesDryden says:

      The gold auction house is what almost destroyed D3. The RMAH was a separate issue entirely.

      • Bubble181 says:

        I’ll have to agree to disagree…But both played into the problem that drop tables and so on were adjusted to induce trading, which meant normal single player gamers usually didn’t find anything of note in 50 hours of play.

        • MilesDryden says:

          Well, yes. My point was that having auction houses in general in a loot-focused game was the issue, for the reason you just stated. Being able to buy/sell with real money as opposed to gold was an extra can of worms on top of that core problem.

          • Bubble181 says:

            I can agree to agree with that :P

            Still, it’s the RMAH that gave Blizzard the incentive to tweak the loot drops the way they were. Compare and contrast to WoW, where, sure, there’s trading, and you aren’t exactly guaranteed to get what you want, but it’s far less of a balance issue than it was in DIII original.

    • Jamey Johnston says:

      Actually (and yes, I realize that I’m in the minority on this one) I had much more fun playing D3 when the real money AH was present, and completely stopped playing for a year or two before finally getting back into it when they improved seasons and made getting loot so easy that you’re practically tripping over the good stuff.

      I work full time (and make pretty decent money), and fill most of my evenings with pen-and-paper gaming. I have a little time on the side for some computer games, and I have several friend groups that play D3, STO, SW:TOR, among a few others. I enjoy playing with them, but I don’t have the time to keep up with them. So I mostly focus on games where I can spend $50 or $100 bucks and be mostly caught up with my friends and play with them. STO and SW:TOR both support this well (with purchasable ships, and loot box systems that allow for easy conversion of USD to in game credits), and D3 is also great in the sense that it supports this play style now because I can roll a new season character with my friends, and they can power-level me to 70 and I can literally be geared to run a GR in the 50-60 range in a single 4 hour play session (honestly I feel that’s almost too generous).

      But that’s just me.

  5. Gordon says:

    Some slot machines pay out on very nearly every spin, just usually less than what the cost of the spin was.
    This for example pays out nearly all the time (I actually worked on the software for these, worst year of my life) http://www.casinoexe.com/reel-power-xtra-reel-power-super-reel-power-by-aristocrat/
    It wouldn’t be hard to come up with a slot machine that definitely pays out on every spin.

    • Decius says:

      It would be downright easy to make a slot machine that paid out on literally every spin. Just make it pay out a consolation prize instead of nothing.

      Not hard would be coming up with reels, stops and rules such that every combination of stops paid off and the average payoff was still less than the wager.

  6. BlueHorus says:

    I like the point about a clumsy solution to a complex problem that does more harm than good. That rings very true.
    If you banned Gun Porn, then not only would you simply replace Call of Duty: Shoot the Foreigners with Call of Lasers: Shoot the Aliens and not solve the problem – but you’d also lose Spec-Ops: The Line, Call of Duty 4 (The good one) or maybe even the beloved Shoot Guy series.

    Microtransactions are just too profitable. If you ban loot boxes, games companies will just hire lawyers to come up with a new form of them, and your well-meaning legislators are stuck fighting endless, legally-distinct reiterations Like an expensive, time-consuming form of Whack-A-Mole (Legal Loopholes Edition).

    • Asdasd says:

      Why not try to confront the problem that’s in front of us now, and deal with future problems as and when they emerge? This sort of defeatist attitude just hands the publishers carte blanche to be as money-grubbing and predatory as they like from the get-go.

      Don’t forget that real people are hurt by these practices, no matter how much the companies try to dehumanise them by referring to them as ‘whales’. At least calling for regulation has the potential to place a few barriers in their path, while also generating a huge cloud of bad publicity for the worst offenders – often an effective deterrent indeed.

      • Shamus says:

        Let’s say things happen exactly as you like and these “money-grubbing and predatory” practices are stopped. The thing is, those people will still be susceptible to these tricks. Other people will still want to exploit them. So other games will crop up. China and Russia are the usual boogeymen here, but of course they can be based in any non-western country. Picture some sort of Evony / Clash of Clans type game with microtransactions mixed with random loot on top of a pay-to-win system. If you want to win, you need to buy more and more loot boxes.

        These games will be in places where the owners are beyond the reach of normal laws. They’ll be free to be even MORE exploitative. They can lie about the odds of winning, manipulate the outcomes of gameplay to push you into gambling more, and even vanish overnight and open up under a new name a few days later, taking all your money with them.

        You started out trying to save people (from themselves, basically) and you wound up with them in an overall more dangerous position where they’re typing their credit card into into sketch foreign sites.

        I’m not saying you shouldn’t do anything about the problem. I’m just trying to get people to understand that the problem is fiendishly complex, there can be unintended side-effects, and the actors involved will adapt to your changes. People seem to think you can just drop in this new rule and the problem will go away. But a careless, uninformed rule could be more damaging than what we have now, and inertia can make it hard to reverse truly destructive decisions.

        I don’t have a problem with someone saying that something should be done. But I have a huge problem with people who think they can just slap an AO rating on stuff they don’t like and it will go away. Any solution would require a deep understanding of the market, the gameplay, and the economics involved.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Other people will still want to exploit them. So other games will crop up.

          Asdasd’s point is that not doing something about people who are currently exploiting is worse than preemptively worrying about what might pop up later down the line.Imagine if we had the same attitude towards encription:Sure we all knew that AT SOME POINT IN THE FUTURE md5 would be defeated,but we still implemented it as a security feature to deal with the problem we had AT THE MOMENT,and only then started developing a better solution for the future problem.

          • Bloodsquirrel says:

            Actually, stopping to think “Is the existing problem really worse than the consequences of poorly-thought out solution” should be a requirement for any attempt to fix it.

            Some people are being exploited… but people are always being expolited. From drug habits to email scams people find was to be exploited, often because they’re stubborn and have an easily manipulated psychological issue. Policing that kind of thing and saving people from themselves has turned to be incredibly hard, expensive, and intrusive.

            This one is, frankly, a low priority. It doesn’t rely on using deception or people’s lack of education to fleece those who aren’t choosing to be exploited, and the damage it does is much more bounded.

            “We must do something” is, itself, a form of exploitation. We can get people to do destructive, ineffective things by training them to ignore the very valid option of doing nothing. A basic cost-benefit analysis is, almost always, completely forgotten about.

            • Kathryn says:

              >>Actually, stopping to think “Is the existing problem really worse than the consequences of poorly-thought out solution” should be a requirement for any attempt to fix it.

              That’s Chesterton’s fence. It goes something like this: a reformer will say, “I don’t see why this fence is here. We should tear it down.” But the more intelligent type of reformer will say, “It is precisely because you do not know why that fence is there that I will not allow you to tear it down. Go away and think about it for a while, and when you can tell me why the fence is there, then I may allow you to remove it.” (Except written much better bc it’s Chesterton)

              • The Rocketeer says:

                I’ve already said this below, but the top of my skull has blown off in shock that I’m finding H.L. Mencken and G.K. Chesterton quoted on Twenty Sided, of all places.

              • Asdasd says:

                I like Chesterton, but that’s a strawman so embarrassingly obvious I’m struggling to believe he could have written it, and certainly not in good faith.

                • BlueHorus says:

                  What’s the obvious strawman?

                  You have to think about the fence and why it’s there before you try and change it, as well as where the posts can plausibly go, who’s got opinions on the fence, what putting the fence might mean for futher fence-related developments…this was a large part of Shamus’ point.
                  The fence is almost certainly part of a messy compromise placed over some kind of grey/disputed area, with a vast amount of context to its original placement that needs considering before the fence is torn up.
                  It’s certainly not helpful for someone to run in and try to move or tear down the fence without thinking about that.
                  Also, taking time to think about it is probably time for the emotions to settle down, meaning the eventual fence decision will be better.

                  Situational complexity neatly expressed in a parable about a fence. It’s a strawman because…

                  • Syal says:

                    It’s not a strawman, but I don’t think it applies here. This gambling argument is about putting a fence where there isn’t one, and while a fence is always put in with a purpose, a lack of a fence could mean anything.

                    • djw says:

                      Yeah, there could be a knee high hedge, or an invisible wall, or a glitch in the graphics engine. No fence could mean anything really.

            • Escargot says:

              This one is frankly, a low priority

              To the ESRB, it shouldn’t be. I get that customer rights aren’t as strong in every part of the world, but when people can simply trust that the companies they do business with aren’t trying to screw them over because regulatory agencies have their backs, things generally go a lot better for everyone.

              It doesn’t rely on using deception…

              Yes, it does. It obfuscates the true price of the desired item, and exploits the same psychological mechanisms that makes other forms of gambling so appealing.

              … or people’s lack of education to fleece those who aren’t choosing to be exploited…

              We’re not talking about those who willingly throw money out the window though, are we? This is what you sound like: “We shouldn’t do anything about burglaries because some people like to burn their belongings.”

              and the damage it does is much more bounded.

              Oh I see, anything goes as long as we don’t go overboard according to your “standards”. Mind sharing your address? I’ll bet there are a lot of people who would love to do some “bounded” appropriation of your stuff.

              Your last paragraph misses the point completely: Doing nothing in this case would mean that the companies get to continue exploiting their customerbase, and so is invalid as an option. But then you don’t share that view, because anyone falling victim to these schemes are “choosing to be exploited”.

        • Blake says:

          “The thing is, those people will still be susceptible to these tricks. Other people will still want to exploit them. So other games will crop up. China and Russia are the usual boogeymen here, but of course they can be based in any non-western country. ”

          In this case you’d still be vastly reducing the visibility of these products which could prevent a lot of people from ever falling into their traps.

          It’s analogous to a recovering alcoholic being able to avoid walking into the pub every day, but then having their favourite video game pop up messages all the time offering to give them booze immediately in exchange for some money.

          Like I’m all for adults being able to go out of their way to make poor decisions, but pushing addictive products in the middle of their entertainment (especially all the games being sold to younger children like NBA2K18) kinda stinks.

        • dumas el champo says:

          Refusing legislation on the basis that others can still do the thing and get away with it kind of makes all legislation fatalistic and pointless. But I do agree with your point that it is complex and can lead to many unintended consequences, such as those. Those people that you are worried about are already free to be as exploitative as they like – yet people are more concerned about what exists in center – rather than periphery actors.

          Mainstream games are mainstream for reasons not related to lootboxes is the assumption I make here. So, just because other companies may get away with exploitative practice – it doesn’t necessarily mean we shouldn’t legislate the heavily used products. You’re saying we shouldn’t regulate smoking because people will chew tobacco instead.

          • BlueHorus says:

            You’re saying we shouldn’t regulate smoking because people will chew tobacco instead.

            He is not. This is a simplification; he did say something should be done.

            If you ban smoking, you might well ban chewing tobacco as well because you saw that loophole. And maybe those companies will change their business model for the better. OR, they will just start marketing cigarettes to young people in other countries. Or start selling other drugs that aren’t covered by law yet. Nicotine-rich e-cigarette cartridges – hey, it’s not a cigarette!
            You can guarantee that they’ll fight long, hard and dirty (oh they did) to stop laws regulating smoking being enacted. There will be a dozen lobby groups fighting over the wording of your law, distorting your intentions, and eventually the only version you’ll be able to pass is a messy compromise no-one is really happy with.

            And, people who were addicted to tobacco could well be cut of with no recourse. Does cutting them off cure their addiction problems? Will they try something new? I bet you criminal organisations will step in to supply tobacco now no-one else is doing so.

            Yes, smoking is bad and the companies that sell cigarettes are bad. Banning smoking is a good idea and should be done.
            It’s also not at all a simple thing to do.

          • Shamus says:

            You should have read my entire comment. Like I said in the last paragraph, I am not saying you should do nothing. I did not advocate for action or inaction. I simply pointed out the complexity of approaching problems like this.

        • Rax says:

          China and Russia are the usual boogeymen here, but of course they can be based in any non-western country.

          China is one of few countries with laws regulating lootboxes in games which also shows how easy they can be to circumvent:

          In June 2017, Blizzard Entertainment announced that, “in line with the new laws and regulations”, loot boxes in their game Overwatch would no longer be available for purchase in China. Players would instead buy in-game currency and receive loot boxes as a “gift” for making the purchase.

        • Felblood says:

          You guys, we are literally arguing Liberal Government (regulate all the things/ try new solutions and observe the effect) versus Conservative Government (Keep regulatory interference minimal/carefully consider the consequences before abandoning the current strategy).

          It’s been a few hundred years, and this is a particularly polarized time for this particular argument. Maybe we aren’t going to solve this one here?

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Probably because the solution is in the middle.Neither extreme is good,and it should be discussed on a case by case basis.Thats why we are here trying to focus on just a single case:Microtransactions for randomized obfuscated loot in video games.

      • Syal says:

        Why not try to confront the problem that’s in front of us now, and deal with future problems as and when they emerge?

        Because they will emerge instantly, and have the weight of bureaucracy behind them, and the people putting off solving them will have already declared everything solved and left to pat themselves on the back.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          You mean how implementing the esrb rating immediately spawned a bunch of games even gorier than mortal kombat being sold to minors with ease,and no one couldve done anything about it due to bureaucracy behind the system,and everyone who wanted something to be done about video games being sold to minors without parental supervision stopped worrying about it forever?

          • Syal says:

            I’m not sure what you’re arguing here, so I’ll link Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association and see if that counters it.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              That link is broken.But I know what you are referring to.And that actually brushes on my point:No one involved has stopped debating the issue when esrb was established,games didnt circumvent the esrb rating immediately,and the bureaucratic shenanigans behind esrb do not wok in favor of violent games being sold to minors.Furthermore,with regards to the current issue,esrb did not make violent games illegal,even when some usa states banned selling mature games to minors.The only thing that happened was that some parents were more informed as to what they were buying for their kids.

              • Syal says:

                The question is whether people calling for the establishment of the ESRB thought its existence would be used as grounds to prohibit state regulation of the industry. If they didn’t, it’s an example of a solution reaching farther than its proponents intended.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Thats a completely separate issue from what you mentioned initially.

                  To that,I have different thoughts.I doubt that people who were pushing for esrb did not think that it would be used to pass federal laws,since their intent was to regulate all games,regardless of where they were sold.But even if they didnt,having the esrb label and making it mandatory are only loosely connected,in that both are offering solutions to the same problem,but one is not a prerequisite for the other.

      • Bloodsquirrel says:

        Because not thinking about the problems that our “solution” might cause is how we wind up with the kinds of bigger, more deeply entrenched, more costly problems that topple empires.

        Hey, we got rid of loot boxes! Oops, now that guy is hooked on actual slot machines and just lost his house. Well, let’s just illegalize all gambling. Oops, now we’ve got a black market and that guy wound up going for a swim with broken legs. Well, we just need to give the authorities more power to crack down on this stuff. Oops, now we live in a police state, because policing black markets with enormous demand is nearly impossible, leading to a never-ending extension of police overreach.

        But, hey we got rid of loot boxes, right? Oops, no we didn’t because the game companies just found a loophole and we were too busy breaking down people’s doors and shutting down low-stakes poker games amoung friends to pay attention to that anymore.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Actual slot machines already are regulated.Doing the same for loot boxes wont get anyone hooked on slot machines,but will prevent at least some from getting hooked on on line gambling.So yes,the solution has already been thought of and implemented.Its not perfect,no solution is,but it is demonstrably better than doing nothing.

          • Bloodsquirrel says:

            Actual slot machines already are regulated.

            Not in any way which prevents people from dumping their life savings into them.

            but it is demonstrably better than doing nothing.

            Being “demonstrably” better means that you can point out quantifiable results with an unambiguous cause. I see no such evidence that slot machine regulations have eliminated problem gambling.

            This is the exact psychological trap that needs to be avoided- assuming that your solution “did something” when no such evidence is present, and dismissing the negative effects as “better than doing nothing” with no analysis.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Again,you are saying that just because a solution does not eliminate a problem completely it is ineffectual,which is wrong.But the current solution to gambling does lessen the problem.You cant just walk into any building and bet your house,you arent being tricked into doing something unrelated and then gamble your money away,you have to purposefully go to a place dedicated to gambling and consciously invest your money into doing it.And you have to invest money,you cant just drop in your ring,or clothes,or a deed to your house.

              • Blake says:

                Very much this.

                There is a huge difference between going somewhere and deciding to do something potentially addictive, and have it pushed on you all the time in the middle of your drunken couch-gaming session.

                A huge part of it too is trying to hook children/teenagers, so that even if they don’t have access to credentials to buy things straight away, they’ll be ready and primed to spend all their credit card money the moment they’re old enough to get one.

                I don’t know what the ‘best’ solution is, but I’m certain it’s not ‘just shrug and let them perfect their already addictive systems’.

              • Bloodsquirrel says:

                But the current solution to gambling does lessen the problem.

                This is pure assumption. You don’t need to walk into any building to gamble your house. People with gambling problems know which buildings they need to walk into.

                Again, just assuming that your “solution” is working is not only confirmation bias, but it’s confirmation bias that isn’t even bounded by needing an excuse to confirm your bias. You can justify anything that way.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  No,its not pure assumption.You cannot legally bet your house on a poker hand.But before gambling was this regulated,you could.Thats what lessening the problem means.

                  • Decius says:

                    Sure you can. You put the deed in the pot, and everyone at the table agrees that the deed is worth the amount of the bet you made.

                    Same goes for vehicle titles, rings, watches, and cash.

                    Casinos won’t allow it at their table because they have to pretend that they won’t enforce it, and it’s hard for them to take a cut.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Again,Im talking just about legality here.Yes you technically CAN gamble anywhere you want.But you are doing it illegally then.Its not a big distinction,but it is an important one.

        • Falcon02 says:

          I see an allegory for American Prohibition here…

          Alcohol abuse ruins peoples lives

          Solution : Ban Alcohol (1919) and and use recent Income tax introduction(1913) to offset Alcohol tax losses. (Alcohol taxes represented a major portion of Federal tax revenues approx. $121mil out of $443m spent in 1895)*

          People still want alcohol creating opportunity for organized crime to thrive leading to an increase in violent crime (e.g. Valentine’s Day Massacre) and government corruption.

          American Prohibition took about 13 years to go full circle and get repealed.

          That said.. I’m not in favor of some sort of Adults only, effective Ban… but I hate how they’ve become so insidious of late and do so much to extract as much money as possible out of people…

          * – Tried to post this with 2 URL citations of my sources for my numbers, but I think the spam filter didn’t like it. I got the Alcohol tax info from wikipedia and the spending from a random US Budget site(www.usgovernmentspending.com). I’m not sure the accuracy, but mainly using it to illustrate how important Alcohol tax was prior to income tax. Income tax wasn’t introduced explicitly for Prohibition, but was supported greatly by the prohibitionists to reduce the importance of Alcohol taxation.

      • ehlijen says:

        There is absolutely virtue in being proactive as opposed to inactive. But there is also a big difference between being proactive and not thinking your actions through.

        You need to understand the full effect of your actions to be able to assess their efficacy. Otherwise you are, ironically, gambling on a mere chance of getting the outcome you want.

        • Asdasd says:

          Obviously. But to float spectres of some cruel inversion of intent, monkey’s paw style, ready not only to thwart every attempt at intervention but also worsen the situation and cancel Christmas to boot, is a very convenient rhetorical position for anyone seeking to maintain the status quo.

          Viz: the suggestion that using the ESRB to warn consumers (and sometimes their legal guardians) about the potentially harmful effects of lootbox mechanics will lead us directly into a police state.

          As is the idea, as Daemian points out, that regulation that improves outcomes for some people but not everyone is regulation not worth pursuing. People still die in car accidents from time to time, but that doesn’t mean that speed limits have been a failure. (Or that we’re yoked under a totalitarian regime because well-meaning bureaucrats over-funded their police departments in a bid to catch rogue speeders.)

          • The Rocketeer says:

            Viz: the suggestion that using the ESRB to warn consumers (and sometimes their legal guardians) about the potentially harmful effects of lootbox mechanics will lead us directly into a police state.

            And you accuse Gilbert Kieth frickin’ Chesterton of a bad-faith strawman?

          • Syal says:

            The speed limit equivalent of dealing with loot boxes would be restricting the number of sales. Declaring them gambling and thus illegal is like dealing with car accidents by permanently closing roads that have them.

            • Ivellius says:

              These games wouldn’t be illegal, though. “AO” as a rating is the industry self-policing.

              • Syal says:

                If the videogame industry says it’s gambling, why would the states say otherwise?

                • Ivellius says:

                  Oh, I see.

                  But yeah, states could totally define them differently. Fantasy football, for instance, isn’t regulated in the same way, if I recall correctly.

                  • djw says:

                    I suspect that is because the NFL lobbies to keep it that way, on the theory that people playing fantasy football watch more real football on TV.

                    If your regulation strategy boils down to who has the biggest lobby you probably are not going to get good results.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Gambling is not illegal,its regulated,so banning all roads is not the car equivalent of whats being discussed here.

              I really dont get this.Why do people equate regulation with banning?Alcohol,car driving,medical drugs,tobacco,all of those are regulated,none of those are illegal.So why do people think that regulating gambling in video games would somehow make them illegal?Not to mention that the issue isnt even ALL video games,or even SOME video games,but a single practice in video games that can easily be removed from 99% of the games its in already with no detrimental effect to the players.The only loss would be easy profits for the publishers.

          • Bloodsquirrel says:

            Obviously. But to float spectres of some cruel inversion of intent, monkey’s paw style, ready not only to thwart every attempt at intervention but also worsen the situation and cancel Christmas to boot, is a very convenient rhetorical position for anyone seeking to maintain the status quo.

            The most convenient part about it is how often history has proven it to be correct. Case in point:

            Viz: the suggestion that using the ESRB to warn consumers (and sometimes their legal guardians) about the potentially harmful effects of lootbox mechanics will lead us directly into a police state.

            I hate to break this to you, but that wasn’t a hypothetical. It’s a simplified version of the US Government’s history of trying to deal with banned substances.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Um,what?How is “this label INFORMS consumers of a product before they buy it” in any way similar to “this substance is OUTRIGHT BANNED”?

              • dumas el champo says:

                Well if it accurately is an effective ban you can see the similarities even if it is a mental exercise. I totally disagree though. If these products are desired, then in this day & age the AO rating should not mean an effective ban. I know I don’t not purchase a game because of the rating – I don’t even check ratings when considering a purchase for myself.

                However, it would be very helpful if these had an AO (or some other specific) rating when considering the influence they might have on my children or other people. I would definitely find it useful to have transparency around the mechanics and systems that exist in a product. So it does not necessarily have to be ‘AO’ for me to think the ESRB was doing a good job, perhaps a separate classification entirely would be useful. But judging from their decision they may have stakeholders with a bit too much power that might stop them from being as adaptable as they should be.

                I get we’re all not a fan of them for various reasons, but I do think there is a continuum at work here; of worst offenders to least. I think it is important that we recognise what attributes contribute to the worst offenders and work off that and try to push the market more toward practices we do like.

                Rather than having strict rules, it might be more useful to have principals based standards in the game industry. So, rather than trying to classify them as gambling and open them up to regulations that way, I’d love to see if we could implement policies and practices that actively encouraged companies to do the right thing. For instance create value through these cosmetics. Similar to Valve has done, by opening creation up to the community (would be great if we could ensure the equity of the split somehow, but that is probably dreaming and may not be necessary if the practices are adopted widely enough). The sale of these items can have some randomness in their acquirement as long as no real money is spent in the process. Alternatively a storefront can sell the skins directly (both of these systems could also be in place simultaneously).

                Principals:
                1. Micro transactions should seek to minimize randomness and promote transparency where practicable.

                2. Where possible, developers and publishers of products should ensure that any randomness inherent in the game but not inherent to the games otherwise “essential characteristics” is unable to be controlled through financial means.

                We open up a bit of a wormhole here. We have to make sure that games like Magic can still be made (although I’d argue in the context of modern gaming, we don’t really need these sorts of games because other options exist and can generally be way better, you don’t pay to level up your Mass Effect character after all). So Magic would meet 1 by disclosing the odds of getting a thing and by having scarcity of more valuable resources be a core mechanic. And 2 I guess by way of the purchases being an inherent part of the experience? At least that’s what we currently understand it to be, right? Again, I’d argue that might change or possibly *should* change.

                What about GTA:V? Well they meet condition 1. However, condition 2 is a bit tricky, because you can control the randomness inherent in the games mechanics through financial means. You can control your income that might otherwise be sporadic. Do we think GTA:V is acceptable? Some people have questioned it, I kinda side with it being OK but certainly there are questions about that model.

                Well that was a lot of irrelevant garbage unlikely to be realistic or useful to anyone. But I enjoyed thinking about this stuff. Thanks Shamus.

                • Felblood says:

                  If these products are desired, then in this day & age the AO rating should not mean an effective ban. I know I don’t not purchase a game because of the rating – I don’t even check ratings when considering a purchase for myself.

                  Look at it this way:

                  Say you’re a developer, working a mobile game for an Adult audience.

                  If you get an M rating, you can sell your game on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.

                  If you get an AO rating, you’ll need to sell your game on a 3rd party market, like Mikandi, or just have people download it from your Patreon page.

                  If you can approximate your vision and still come in withing the M guidelines, you’re going to find the way to do that.

                  It’s not quite as bad selling for PC, especially now that so many online retailers have started stocking AO titles, but the loss of potential customers is still pretty huge.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Your definition of loot boxes is flawed from the get go because the loot boxes everyone is talking about arent the random rewards you get awarded for playing the game for X hours,but the ones you have to buy with real money ON TOP OF PAYING FOR THE GAME ITSELF.Thats why its considered gambling by so many people.Because you have to pay real money in order to get a chance of winning the thing you like.

    I know this sounds far fetched, but consider this: If loot boxes are gambling, then what about Hearthstone and other collectible card games?

    Yes,those are gambling too.Im frankly surprised that they managed to remain unregulated like this for so long.

    I mean imagine if a casino owner went to school and told the kids “Hey kids.If you buy these chips from me Ill allow you to spin the wheel and youll win a plush toy depending on the number you get.And if you land on this special rare number,youll get a special toy that my friend here is willing to buy for $1000.”,that would be considered gambling.Yet we dont think of it as gambling with ccgs because you always win “something”.Even if said something is basically worthless.And if you think that my example is far fetched,just go to ebay and check out all the rare ccg cards,or look at the csgo lotto situation that sparked this whole debate.

    • Demo says:

      It’s sort of funny that you bring this up as an example of something which would never happen, given that almost exactly this scheme exists in Japan for pachinko parlours to get around anti-gambling laws. The parlour will exchange chips (balls in this case) for worthless trinkets which can then be sold to a store nearby for approximately the price of the balls.

      • Steve C says:

        That’s not a good thing. That is a good example precisely because it doesn’t work. The whole pachinko parlours phenomenon is something to be avoided by all countries. It’s a perfect example of a bad unintended consequence.

        It is possible to avoid unintended consequences of things like pachinko parlours. If it wasn’t, they would be in all in countries.

    • Liessa says:

      I agree – I think both Shamus’ and the ESRB’s justifications are seriously flawed here. For one thing, they contradict each other – by pointing out that anything the player receives is non-liquid and non-transferable, you’re effectively acknowledging that ending up with something they don’t want is objectively worthless to them. At least trading cards etc. can be sold or swapped for something else. To me the ‘non-transferable’ aspect makes it more of a gamble, not less.

      As for the ESRB’s ‘at least you always get something’ argument, I find that ridiculous. To quote one of the commenters on that PC Gamer article, “Does handing out a piece of candy to anyone who bets on a horse mean it’s no longer gambling?” It doesn’t matter that you receive something in return if that ‘something’ is essentially worthless compared with what you’re hoping to win. The ‘cereal box’ case is different; what happens there is that you’re paying for the cereal itself, and getting a randomised object as a free bonus.

      IMO, a simple, perfectly workable definition of ‘gambling’ as regards video games would be ‘any transaction involving real money for which the outcome is randomised or uncertain’. Yes, it would cover games like Hearthstone – so what? I’m not saying they should be totally banned for under-18s or anything, but at the very least you could do things like forcing the devs to display the true odds of winning, as China is apparently doing.

      • Shamus says:

        “To me the ‘non-transferable’ aspect makes it more of a gamble, not less.”

        It’s more of a RISK, but it’s not something you do if you’re looking to make money. For some people, this is the concern with gambling: Foolish people losing everything trying to turn a profit. People hoping they’ll get lucky and have extra spending money.

        “Yes, it would cover games like Hearthstone – so what?”

        Those games would literally stop existing. No reputable AAA studio is going to put money into something that can’t be sold at Wal-Mart. These games have millions of fans. How many of these games are you willing to destroy in your quest to stop loot boxes? (Which, as I said, could live on as “pay-to-fight bosses” or somesuch.)

        • Asdasd says:

          Living Card Games are a thing. Nothing would be stopping Blizzard from moving to this model, or any other less-gross one they could come up with. It’s rare that a game’s business model is inextricably entwined with the game itself.

          And in the rare cases that a game truly, madly, deeply couldn’t be funded by any other means than one as unpleasant and grubby as the “blind buy purchase model”? Yeah. I wouldn’t have any trouble seeing it go away.

          • etheric42 says:

            I could be wrong, I never really got into Duelyst, but from what I’ve read from people like CoolGhosts is that the game suffered a big hit when it offered the LCG model where you could just buy the entire set. This seems at least slightly corroborated by it needing to sell itself to Bandai Namco.

            Randomness is part of the fun for some people. LCGs are great, but a lot of people still love Magic. There should be room in the world for CCG-style video games as well as LCG-style video games.

          • Echo Tango says:

            I too, wouldn’t mind blind-buy purchases going away, at least in the games industry. It’s a way to obfuscate the true cost of the items you’re purchasing, and an annoyance for people like me who just want to buy something. A service that gives me novel magazines, or wines to taste each month – that’s a service I could live with. Paying money to get randomized cards, when there’s clearly better ones and garbage ones that I need to sort through – that business model is what stopped me playing Hearthstone completely.

        • Liessa says:

          “It’s more of a RISK, but it’s not something you do if you’re looking to make money.”
          But this is the thing: I don’t agree that it only counts as ‘gambling’ if the prize is ready money (or the equivalent such as tokens). Are you saying that entering a lottery for the chance to win $10,000 is gambling, but entering one to win a car worth (roughly) $10,000 would not be? I don’t know exactly what US law says about this, but if that’s the case, it seems like a massive oversight to me.

          “Those games would literally stop existing.”
          I find that very hard to believe – they’d simply have to make changes to fit in with the rules, e.g. by introducing an age-verification system for the random transactions while still allowing you to win random cards/items through normal gameplay. Yes, it would make ‘lootbox’-style transactions a lot less profitable and more difficult to implement. I do not see this as a bad thing.

          • EwgB says:

            A car IS still equivalent to money for this purpose. A car (unlike for example contents of loot boxes) is easily sold on the free market for a very significant portion of the listed price. You also have to pay taxes on winning a car, at least in some jurisdictions. I don’t think you have to pay taxes on MTG cards.

            This tangentially reminds me of a court case in Germany a couple of years back. A beer company was having a prize give-away (not gambling by the definition mentioned above as an aside). You had to find a bottle cap with a specific marking on the inside, and you got a car, that simple. A couple of friends (five altogether) bought a beer crate, one of them found the winning cap, got the car, used it for a while and then sold it. One of the other friends later demanded a fifth of the listed price of the car (not of the later sale value, which was the compromise suggested by the judge, but not accepted), over 5500€; the “lucky winner” only wanted to pay a 1000€. The judge agreed mostly with the plaintiff and ordered the defendant to pay over 4000€ to her.

            • Dev Null says:

              A car IS still equivalent to money for this purpose. A car (unlike for example contents of loot boxes) is easily sold on the free market for a very significant portion of the listed price.

              Like, say, the digital assets of any game with a real-world auction house? Or even an unsanctioned market in in-game currency, like WoW gold farmers?

            • Blackbird71 says:

              I’ll just point out that if you convert MTG cards to money (by selling them), then technically you are required to report that money to the IRS and pay taxes accordingly (at least in the U.S.).

              Essentially, any money you make is taxable.

              • dumas el champo says:

                I’m not familiar with American taxation but I am about a month from being a graduate accountant. Does the American system not seperate between hobbies and businesses? In Australia those sales would be as part of a hobby unless there were some other factors and thus wouldn’t be taxable.

                Winnings from lotteries generally aren’t taxable either in our system. Windfall gains and gifts are not “income”.

                • Syal says:

                  US Federal taxes cover nearly all income; wages, property sales, interest from savings accounts, basically anything not coming from the government. Prizes get taxed as their monetary equivalent. Once you’re past your deductions Magic card sales would count.

                  Hobbies and businesses are separated, but not necessarily in hobbies’ favor; self-employment has a higher tax rate on profits I think, but businesses can deduct losses while hobbies can’t. If you spend $300 on cards you sell for $250, the business has a $50 loss while the hobby has a $250 gain.

                  • dumas el champo says:

                    oh wow. I had to go look it up!

                    To me it’s American exceptionalism personified in tax policy (which is an obvious source of social engineering). You get punished for not taking your hobby to the extreme and making it a business.

          • Decius says:

            Getting an AO from the ESRB kills a mass market game. The exceptions are the fringe games that are about real gambling and/or pornography, that don’t use the mall distribution system.

            • Liessa says:

              The idea is that the devs would have to change their business model to avoid the AO rating, by reducing/removing the randomness element in player purchases. There are various ways they could do this (see Asdasd’s comment above for an example), and considering the popularity of these games, I find it hard to believe they wouldn’t still make money hand over fist. Yes, it would probably hit the devs’ profitability a bit – but the whole point is that the current system is hugely exploitative and massively favours the devs at the expense of players. And it definitely does encourage people to spend more than they can afford, which is exactly the reason why gambling is regulated in the first place.

              Someone else suggested that perhaps the ESRB needs a new label other than ‘gambling’ to describe this type of transaction – one which would allow them to regulate it without automatically slapping on an AO rating. If there’s a genuine risk of Hearthstone-type games getting shut down completely, that might be the way to go.

          • Gethsemani says:

            The thing is that I think the ESRB makes a distinction between lotteries and gambling, where the prize can vary a lot in value and you can lose your bet, and loot boxes, CCGs etc., where you know roughly what you’ll get, not just the specific content.

            It is the difference, if you allow a flawed analogy, between buying a bag of assorted candy, maybe you’ll get a lot of liqorice one time and a bunch of mint the next, and betting on getting anywhere between no and a dozen bags of candy. When you buy a M:tG booster you know you are getting 16 cards, of which 3 are uncommons and 1 is rare or legendary (and one is a token or promo card). You aren’t getting a variable amount of cards, you aren’t running the risk of not getting any rare cards. You are paying for the product of 15 semi-randomized Magic cards (and a token/promo). When you gamble, you are betting your money on the possibility of maybe getting something.

            A discussion can absolutely be had about whether CCGs and loot boxes are moral business models, but if we classify them as gambling, then we are also classifying every mystery box or “unsorted bag of X”-sales as gambling, which would mean that the toy cars my local charity sells in bags of 10 are gambling since you might technically find a rare Dinky Toy in good condition among the many cheap chinese plastic cars.

        • PPX14 says:

          Yes, it would cover games like Hearthstone – so what? I’m not saying they should be totally banned for under-18s or anything

          Those games would literally stop existing. No reputable AAA studio is going to put money into something that can’t be sold at Wal-Mart.

          I think the idea here is that it should be highlighted that CCGs and such are similarly potentially exploitative, but not that they should then therefore be banned from Wallmart. At that point the question becomes how severely do they apply the ratings case by case, and how shops should respond to these optional consumer advice ratings. As you say, it’s not like say the BBFC (and now PEGI alas) where it’s actually a legal requirement.

          • PPX14 says:

            I’m not sure protecting games we like is any more valid than trying to remove practices we don’t, when considering this labelling. Though I appreciate that ESRB or anyone else in a position of power, legislated or not, would need to look at the effect of what they do, and assess whether in doing something they cause more damage than good.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Those games would literally stop existing.

          No,they wouldnt.CCGs existed for computers even before mictotransactions were a thing.You just couldnt buy a booster pack every other week,but had to either get a sequel or a big expansion.Heartstone and the like would only change,but they sure would not stop existing.

        • Warclam says:

          Those games aren’t sold at Walmart, or anywhere else. The game itself is free, and can be played free. The microtransactions are the only transactions.

        • Blake says:

          “It’s more of a RISK, but it’s not something you do if you’re looking to make money. For some people, this is the concern with gambling: Foolish people losing everything trying to turn a profit. People hoping they’ll get lucky and have extra spending money.”

          I REALLY don’t think they money aspect is required for something to create a gambling addiction. Very few people go to the pokies thinking they can make money, but the random rewards keep causing those reward centers of the brain to fire as it tries to work out how to make the good result keep happening. It doesn’t matter if it’s money or hats they’re winning, the brain chemistry is the same.

          “Those games would literally stop existing. No reputable AAA studio is going to put money into something that can’t be sold at Wal-Mart.”
          A) I don’t think that’s at all true. It would have to change it’s monetisation from ‘F2P+random packs’, to either ads or paid expansions (either whole sets or fixed card packs or individual card purchases), but Hearthstone would go on I’m sure.
          B) If the only way a game is cost-effective is by hooking whales and ruining their lives, then I’d rather see those games die and be replaced by cheaper things that can be paid for more ethically.

          • Felblood says:

            I used to live in Nevada.

            Lots and lots of company laptops, phones and PDAs in the pawn shops there. Guy loses more than he can afford and pawns more things he can afford to lose, trying to win it back.

            I met a guy in a mental hospital.

            His brother was supposed to be driving the cash he needed to pay off his supplier, up from California, but the brother stopped for the night in Vegas. I don’t think he was crazy; he just wanted to be surrounded by steel security doors and burly orderlies for a few days.

            I used to work in credit cards.

            If you call me up from the Green Room asking for a limit increase because you just took your maximum daily allowance of cash advances, I’m not actually sorry that the approval won’t take effect until the next day.

            The house always wins.

        • dumas el champo says:

          Transferability and liquidity depends on the design of the loot boxes to be fair. Shamus has assumed they are not liquid or transferable, but in reality even if against the ToS/ToU they are often transferable (while not particularly liquid except in games that use steams market place).

          You can generally still sell these things – either by selling the entire account or through an existing trading mechanic.

          Also his argument uses a slippery slope fallacy. While some companies will explore alternative sources of funding in this form; the non-existence of one does not determine the other or even necessarily make the existing order of things worse as is assumed by Shamus.

          Whether or not it is gambling is definitely a grey area, and there’s arguments for and against the definition.

      • evilmrhenry says:

        IMO, a simple, perfectly workable definition of ‘gambling’ as regards video games would be ‘any transaction involving real money for which the outcome is randomised or uncertain’.

        Before: Pay $1 for a loot crate.
        After: Pay $1 for 1000 diamonds, which drop in-game but are extremely rare. Loot crates cost 1000 diamonds.

        • Liessa says:

          Are there other (non-random) things purchasable with the diamonds, which reflect their rarity? If so, that seems fair enough to me. If not, it clearly falls foul of the rule anyway – if the only thing you can buy with the diamonds is lootboxes, the devs are just adding an intermediate step to what’s essentially the same transaction.

          If all else fails, you could just make any kind of randomised in-game purchase off-limits to players under 18. Once again, this would make lootboxes etc. much more difficult and costly for devs to implement. Once again, I personally see this as a very good thing.

      • Blake says:

        “but at the very least you could do things like forcing the devs to display the true odds of winning, as China is apparently doing.”

        I don’t often praise China for good consumer practices, but I think this is super great.
        If something on the screen tells you it will cost on average $100+ dollars to get that rare drop you want, a lot of people might reconsider. They still can go into it and hope, but at least the consumer is informed.
        It’s one of the reasons I feel ok with something like Magic: The Gathering but not loot crates, the odds of getting a given card in a given pack is very well defined, and can’t magically change day-to-day.

    • Russ says:

      Agreed, that isn’t farfetched at all. Especially when you can design your digital CCG almost exactly like a slot machine *cough*Hearthstone*cough*. Put your pack in the slot, click the button. FIREWORKS! EXPLOSIONS! YOU GOT A RARE CARD! Try again maybe you’ll get a legendary!

      And for physical CCGs, you don’t even have to go to eBay. Just walk into any friendly local gaming store and check out their buy list for CCGs. Guarantee they are offering good money for individual cards that come out of the packs they sell.

    • Decius says:

      You might be able to make money selling a card from a pack. You won’t make money selling cards from a case. If you could, people would buy cases instead of single cards.

      • Blackbird71 says:

        Actually, they do. Out of print cases sell for significant markups from their original retail price; a quick perusal of eBay will show this. I’ve known people who bought cases of MtG products at initial launch with the sole intention of holding onto them for a few years before reselling them.

      • Cybron says:

        Technically this is exactly what online card stores like Star City Games do. They just have wholesale discounts and economy of scale.

        But that aside, it’s definitely possible to make a profit on a box as a normal consumer, albeit not consistently, because of supply issues. It works like this: the supply of a card is equal to the number of that card opened by people who want to sell it at current market price. When demand for a particularly rare and powerful card outstrips the supply, the price will rise. If the price gets high enough, it is entirely possible that the value of a box becomes higher than its market price – IF it contains the desired card. The most famous case of this happening was in worldwake where a single copy of the chase rare from that set was worth about as much as a box (or more). The rest of the set wasn’t worth much, so the EV of a box’s content on the secondary market wasn’t higher than its market price, but you could definitely turn a profit if you lucked out. Basically, risk adverse people like myself would end up paying premiums to people who would risk opening a dud box. Also, buying and holding boxes from sets with low supply cards with lasting value is perfectly viable. Boxes of the aforementioned set go for many times their original retail value at this point.

        As I said in another post, MtG’s secondary market is basically an unregulated finacial market. It has bubbles, speculators, futures, insider trading, etc. Fun example: there is a particular card which is banned in a popular format. Every year, around the time when WotC makes its annual “changes to the banlist” announcement, there’s a spike in that cards price as people buy it up just in case it gets unbanned – not because they want to use it but because they know the price will spike much higher if it does get unbanned. There also people speculating that it won’t get unbanned – these people sell to the previously mentioned speculators, and buy them back up again at a lower price after the card doesn’t get unbanned again.

        • Decius says:

          Wait… there are predictable price spikes on a commodity product?

          If I had risk capital, I’d be doing more detailed research.

          • Cybron says:

            You can see a price history here. See the spikes? Those are ban/unban announcements, other than the first one which is the period the card was legal and good. Looks like people might have caught on though.

            It’s pretty hard to get one up on the big stores though. Remember what I said about insider trading? There have been some very suspicious price adjustments leading up to certain bannings.

    • Warclam says:

      “a special toy that my friend here is willing to buy for $1000.” You can’t do that in Hearthstone, or most other digital CCGs. It’s why they’re called collectable card games now, no longer trading card games.

      You could sell your account, but that is SUPER against the rules.

      • Blackbird71 says:

        They’ve been called CCGs for about as long as they’ve been around (at least since the early 90s, which is as far back as my experience with them goes). However, the first “C” stands for “Customizable,” not “Collectible.”

        • Warclam says:

          It can be customizable, but usually it’s collectible. Look it up on Wikipedia or TV Tropes.

          My first exposure to them was as TCGs, but perhaps that’s unusual.

          • Blackbird71 says:

            The change to “collectible” was a later affectation, and mostly due to people misunderstanding the CCG abbreviation and inserting their own meaning.

  8. Matt Downie says:

    Why is the “Is it a game of chance?” question considered important?

    I’d have thought the dangers of betting money on Chess and betting on Snakes & Ladders are pretty similar.

    • Shamus says:

      The footnote kind of explains this. It’s not the difference between betting on a game of chance vs. betting on a game of skill, it’s the difference between a game of chance for a prize vs. a game of skill for a prize.

      • Matt Downie says:

        All four of those things sound like gambling to me if you’re paying to participate and you gain something valuable for winning.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          To me,its not gambling only when the skill you are betting on is your own.So paying to enter a tournament in whatever and winning a cash prize is not gambling.But paying that someone else is going to win and winning any prize if they do is.

          • Blake says:

            That sounds like a pretty reasonable definition to me.
            Even covers those silly ‘skill tester’ things which I don’t consider gambling even though you’ll mostly always lose, because the loss is your doing not the RNGods doing.

    • PPX14 says:

      As Shamus/Daemian says – if you’re playing Chess then it’s a prize based on your skill; but if you mean betting on someone else’s game of Chess, that becomes chance again.

      • djw says:

        There must be some skill involved in predicting the winner.

        • ehlijen says:

          Isn’t this essentially horse race betting? It’s not really a game of chance, you’re betting on the skill of the jockeys and horse breeders. And I think most people still call that gambling.

          • djw says:

            I don’t dispute that. I was disputing the claim that the betting on the outcome of your own game is skill based and betting on another person’s game is random.

            They are both gambling.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              The difference is in how much does your skill influence the task.Yes,you can beat a roulette wheel if you make an extensive spreadsheet of all the past spins,and guess correctly how to win more money than you lose.Its a skill.But you doing that will not influence the spin at all.And you betting on a horse race will also not influence the race* in any way.But if you are the one in the race,your skill directly influences the outcome.

              *Assuming there are no underhand dealings,of course.

              • djw says:

                If you calculate the probabilities in Roulette then the correct move is to not play, unless you are playing New Vegas with a high luck stat.

                I assume the house takes a cut in horse racing too, but at least there it is possible for you to win (on average) if you happen to know more about the horses than other bettors.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  The possibilities of you winning are inconsequential.You may have 1 in 10 chance of winning,or 9 in 10,but if your actions dont influence the outcome in any way,then its gambling.Tossing a coin in a regular fashion=gambling.Tossing a coin in a rigged manner*=not gambling.

                  *You know how to toss it in order to get a desired outcome,even if you dont always succeed.

                  • djw says:

                    Your definition of gambling differs from mine, and is not really consistent with the definition that I have seen others use.

                    For instance, Pete Rose was banned from participating in Baseball in any way. One of the primary reason for the ban is that he bet on his own team, while he was the manager of the team. Allegedly he only bet that they would win, but that is still outlawed by the league.

                    Pretty much every discussion that I have ever seen of this situation states that he was “banned for gambling”. I would argue that your definition of what constitutes gambling does not include Pete Rose, and that makes it inconsistent with the most common types of usage I have seen for the word.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      I think that would still be gambling.Sure,he was the manager,but he wasnt the one on the field,playing the actual game.He could tweak the game somewhat,but still its the skill of the players that matters.

                      Ill expand further:A player of a team sport betting on their team,gambling.A player of a team sport betting on their own performance(“I will score X points” or “I will make Y passes”),not gambling.

                      The only debatable thing with my definition would be poker.Though Id argue that a poker match between professionals is not gambling,but rather an acting competition,while the amateurs are the ones who rely on luck to get a good hand.

                    • djw says:

                      I think it is much simpler to say that if you bet on something then you are gambling, regardless of the nature of the bet.

                    • Decius says:

                      I think there’s a difference between “Game of pure chance” and “Gambling” and “Game of Pure Skill”, as well as a gray area between chance and skill.

                      Betting money on the outcome of your own Go game? Gambling. Betting money on the outcome of your own Craps game? Gambling. Betting on a roulette wheel that you think has imperfections? Also gambling.

                      That said, I don’t see the problem with Pete Rose betting on his own team to win, except the general prohibition.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      I think it is much simpler to say that if you bet on something then you are gambling, regardless of the nature of the bet.

                      Sure,but that leads to the pitfall of what a bet is.If you need to put in some money to enter a tournament,and then the winnings are decided based on how many people have entered,is that a bet?Technically you ARE betting on your skill in such a case,because there are tournaments where the winnings arent connected to the entry fees(if those exist).And what if instead of money you bet your reputation/title on outcome?As in boxing.

                    • djw says:

                      I’d argue that all of those things have an aspect of gambling in them. Gambling may not be primarily what they are about, and in most cases they will be structured to avoid laws that prohibit gambling, but you are risking something in the hopes for some sort of reward, and that is gambling.

                    • PPX14 says:

                      Maybe it could be:
                      if you can choose to lose = “not chance based”

                      I was just making the distinction between there being no rng element in chess (other than who goes first) rather than snakes and ladders.

                      But I see your point – ultimately if you bet on the chance that you win, it is the same thing in terms of the “chance” that you take, and the potential to become addicted to trying to win, especially given a range of opponents/challenges.

                      The difference then comes down to the format in which you pay and the frequency of potential bets. If in a tournament there is an entry fee and you play 15 matches, for a prize, that’s possibly less egregious than playing an unlimited number of matches each with a fee and reward for winning.

                      So the ratio of ‘cost’ to ‘time/effort required between bets’ becomes the main metric for it being a form of “gambling” that needs to be controlled. Hence in the UK the 2p machines in seaside arcades being ok for children, but the £1+ fruit machines being in the 18+ section.

        • Meriador says:

          There is skill in betting on horse races too. That doesn’t change the fact that betting on horse races is considered gambling, nor the fact that there is still considerable chance involved.

          Edit-It seems I’ve been ninja’d.

      • Matt Downie says:

        I don’t see why that’s of any relevance.

        The reason we are wary of allowing gambling is (as far as I can tell) that people who are bad at assessing risks might lose all their money, which creates social problems.

        If they lose all their money playing Poker, which has a fairly high level of skill, that’s just as big a problem as if they lose their money any other way.

        • PPX14 says:

          True, I was making the assumption that as Cybron says, there were different “psychological ramifications” concerned with applying one’s own skill directly in a game such as chess where there is no rng, rather than snakes and ladders which is all rng.

          But of course one takes the “chance” that one will win, ultimately they all include a degree of said chance otherwise they wouldn’t be something to bet on.

          Re-reading your and my original comments I seem to have merely re-described something you obviously already knew and were contesting the relevance of, without explaining why I thought it mattered and not having thought about it properly myself, sorry!

    • Cybron says:

      Losing money in a chess match you played is a result derived from your own actions with clear cause and effect. Losing money in a game of chance is random, which has different psychological ramifications.

  9. PPX14 says:

    ‘Gambling’ they might not be but, just like CCGs, they can be addictive and as a result of requiring money, can end up being exploitative. I think perhaps the label of gambling is less relevant than that of say “addictive and costs money”, or “potentially exploitative”.

    Just like if a drug or any other practice turns out to be dangerous and addictive, its supply or its advertising is usually controlled in some way.

    Maybe ESRB needs a new label, and then the debate can be about what its rating implication should be, rather than the applicability of an established term.

  10. Alan says:

    Look, if we keep passing laws, people will just keep finding loopholes around it. So obviously we should not bother with laws.

    • Durican says:

      I like this one.

      Honestly, so many of these issues end up as “We can’t use this solution because in the future someone else might use this solution to justify doing something worse”. To the point where the fear of enabling future legal hijinks prevents the current problem from being solved at all.

      Loot boxes are definitely a problem, and the fact that they’re now getting into single player games is a pain. I’m genuinely curious how they’re going to implement loot boxes in the next Batman Arkham game. Because there’s no concievable future where WB would see an opportunity to make more money and not seize upon it.

      • Shamus says:

        I know I said it elsewhere in this thread, but I’m quoting it here:

        “I’m not saying you shouldn’t do anything about the problem. I’m just trying to get people to understand that the problem is fiendishly complex, there can be unintended side-effects, and the actors involved will adapt to your changes. People seem to think you can just drop in this new rule and the problem will go away. But a careless, uninformed rule could be more damaging than what we have now, and inertia can make it hard to reverse truly destructive decisions.”

        Put it this way: Alcohol is a problem. It’s responsible for drunk driving, binge drinking, public drunkenness, and a bunch of other social ills. But the US tried to fix this problem once and the cure was more deadly than the disease. In the end, they decided it was better to tolerate those unfortunate social ills rather than try to fight them.

        I’m not saying you CAN’T put a stop to loot boxes. But it is possible to have a solution that’s worse than the problem, and as I look around the internet discussions on this issue I see that the people most eagerly advocating “doing something” are the ones viewing the problem in the most simplistic terms.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          But the US tried to fix this problem once and the cure was more deadly than the disease. In the end, they decided it was better to tolerate those unfortunate social ills rather than try to fight them.

          Except alcohol is not tolerated.It is banned for minors,heavily regulated,and if you have an addictive personality and show that youll harm yourself or someone else because of it,you are forced to get help for your addiction,or you can seek it on your own if you spot the problem early.

          Why shouldnt gambling in video games treated exactly like that?Why is addiction in video games legally allowed for minors who have spent literally thousands of (their parents) dollars,no one is helping them for free,heck barely anyone is recognizing it as a serious addiction problem.

          Im all for allowing people to do to themselves whatever they wish,but if what they want to do is potentially harmful to them or others,it should be regulated.The more harm,the heavier the regulation should be.

          • Gethsemani says:

            Alcohol is quite tolerated by the public and only weakly controlled. Minors can’t buy it, but unless you commit crimes while under influence, good luck with getting any help for your drinking problem without paying up yourself. You can, literally, go out right now and buy as much alcohol as your wallet allows and no one will stop you or even ask what you’ll do with all that booze, that’s how weakly controlled it is. If you want to see how accepted, even expected alcohol is, try to remember the last time you went to any kind of bigger party that didn’t serve alcohol. Try imagining any kind of college party without it, or bigger birthday celebration. Try imagining a new year’s eve celebration without champagne.

            Alcohol is pervasive in all of Western culture. The US even has an entire holiday dedicated to binging it (st. Patrick’s day) and despite all its’ societal ills, like DUI’s, early deaths, suffering children of alcoholic parents etc., there’s no serious effort being made to regulate it even harder. The fact is that as a society we are a lot more likely to make jokes about how wasted someone got last time they partied then we are to discuss the fact that the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption costs society billions of US dollars every year.

            And with that, I am sorry if I crossed the line into getting too political, but as someone who regularly work with people who suffer from drinking problems, this is a touchy subject for me.

          • Shamus says:

            “Except alcohol is not tolerated.”

            It’s “tolerated” in the sense of being LEGAL, which is the entire point of the analogy I was making.

            Me: If we ban alcohol then it will give rise to powerful and violent cartels.
            Them: Oh, so you WANT people to die in drunk driving accidents? You MONSTER! Think of the children!

            “Why shouldnt gambling in video games treated exactly like that?”

            I didn’t say it shouldn’t. In fact, the distinction you’re making is exactly the sort of move towards nuance that I’ve been trying to encourage. Thinking about how you solve this problem for minors while still leaving the possibility open for adults (assuming that’s what you want) is a pretty good start. Although if that’s the goal, then marking real gambling as “mature” might be a more appropriate solution. Rated M is supposedly for adults, while AO means even adults will have a hard time getting it.

            • Liessa says:

              I don’t think anyone here is arguing that lootboxes should be outright banned, just that they should be regulated the same way as other types of gambling. The dispute comes over whether they technically count as ‘gambling’ or not. As you say, maybe the solution should be for the ESRB to change/update its guidelines – or else introduce new rules to deal specifically with this type of transaction, sidestepping the question of what exactly counts as ‘gambling’.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              It’s “tolerated” in the sense of being LEGAL, which is the entire point of the analogy I was making.

              But you started this whole thread by discussing gambling,something that is not illegal,just heavily regulated.Marking some games as gambling and adults only would not ban them,just regulate them.

              • Falcon02 says:

                I think the point Shamus has tried to make about the AO rating is that even though it’s not a true ban on the product, it is an “effective ban” given how AO games are treated today…

                Sure people could still theoretically have access to it, but access is likely to be greatly diminished. Walmart, Target, Gamestop, would refuse to carry it.

                Though whether this makes it an “effective” ban in the modern day might be arguable… Digital distribution is more normal, and I think even Steam has 1 or 2 Adult Only rated games (and probably a few that aren’t rated, but would likely be rated AO by the ESRB). For a long time a AO rating was effectively a death sentence to a game, as most stores would refuse to carry it. As a result, most developers avoided anything they thought might earn it an AO rating because it wouldn’t sell.

                It’s like saying Alcohol is legal, but you can only buy it at 1 store that’s located 50 miles from the nearest town, and is only open for 10 minutes, once a week… It’s not technically banned, but it’s made so unreasonable hard to actually get that it might as well be banned.
                Sure this is a extreme fictional example, but there are other (more politically charged) examples in real life where a “legal” product/service is so heavily regulated out of existence, it might as well be banned.

                EDIT : I also recognize corporations refusing to stock a product they believe would cause controversy is not the same as them being truly prohibited from stocking the products by regulation. But the effect (in the case of AO ratings) is similar, it’s not banned, but the rating similarly severely reduces consumer availability (whether or not that should be the case…)

                • Blake says:

                  ‘it is an “effective ban” given how AO games are treated today’

                  Yeah but I’m sure if there was a big market for loot-box based games, they’d still sell with an AO rating. I just don’t think you’d find many people clamoring to get at them.
                  Supply and demand would find a place and if anyone wanted them someone would be willing to sell them, but I imagine it’d mostly kill them dead, which is also fine. Plenty of better ways to monetise a game.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Except the effective ban wouldnt be an effective ban on any of the games,but of a single practice that already can be removed from practically all of the games that have it with no ill effect for the players.Those games would still be mostly the same,they just wouldnt have the chance the screw you over.Its the difference between “This game sells you a random skin,and you have only 1% chance of it being the one you want” and “This game will sell you exactly the skin you want”.

                  • Asdasd says:

                    Let’s not forget that video games of all types – single-player, multiplayer, online, offline, even collectible card games – have already managed perfectly well for decades without this payment model. All games have existed in the same state as though loot boxes were under an ‘effective ban’ for generations, and their developers and publishers have still managed to turn huge profits, and the industry managed to go from nowhere to bigger than movies in about thirty years.

                    • Felblood says:

                      But how will we continue to balloon our development budgets beyond the ability of any reasonable person to afford our products?

                  • Falcon02 says:

                    A “effective ban” on a practice is an “effective ban” on the games including that practice, and yes that will have pressure for games to be produced without that practice. Though I’m not sure I agree this “practice” can not be easily removed from “any” game (specifically Free-to-Play games), without impacting the game’s success or without ill effect on the players…

                    Part of the problem I think is that the definition we’ve discussed is kinda too broad.

                    We seem to be defining gambling in games as:
                    Pay real money for random in-game reward of variable value

                    But this definition requires some clarification…

                    You hold it up against paying for known items as if it’s mutually exclusive, but what if they’re offered together? With presumably the known (good) items being more expensive per item than the random boxes?

                    What if individuals are allowed to trade items? (Diablo II economy comes to mind)

                    What if individuals are allowed to resell back items for real money re-cooping cost? (though this risks being like Pachiko) What about in-game money?

                    What if an in-game method (presumably more difficult) to earn these items is provided as well? I can understand this being dependent on the methodology… (earned through a long natural progression/quest vs. 1 in 1,000,000 drop from mob that can be killed once per day)

                    What about Free-to-play games? Many of these games rely on similar mechanics to function. Is it okay if no up-front cost is asked for to play? Is it okay if combined with some of the other variations to make players less reliant on random loot boxes (without eliminating them)?

                    And your answer to these may be that none of these valid exceptions or make it “not gambling” even being “Free-to-play” (most casinos don’t charge you for entry afterall) or offering an additional option to buy the items outright. I do feel it’s important to think through possible exceptions that may be appropriate, and potential impact to the market…

                    i.e. if “Loot box” mechanics make a “Free-to-play” game “Adults Only” (though a lot such Free-to-play games seem to bypass ESRB) which could greatly reduce marketability then there will be a costly/difficult shift to other revenue avenues (perhaps more classic DLC direct pay for items or moving off the Free to play model all together).

                    Also, to clarify my own position… I do tend to agree what exists in most of these games with these loot-boxes today is a form of “gambling,” or exploits the same human faults for monetary exploitation. Even in Free-to-play games I have an issue with it.
                    However, if there is a reasonable (not too onerous) alternative (especially in-game) I don’t have as much a problem with it. But I admit that’s kinda a fuzzy distinction of a “I know it when I see it” hard to define sort…

                    • Cybron says:

                      Real world equivalents:
                      “You hold it up against paying for known items as if it’s mutually exclusive, but what if they’re offered together? With presumably the known (good) items being more expensive per item than the random boxes?”
                      Magic the Gathering – most serious players who consume in bulk buy singles, new players and casual players buy packs.

                      “What if individuals are allowed to trade items?”
                      This greatly diminishes risk, but does not eliminate it. Now if I open a rare skin for a character I don’t play, I can trade it for one I do play. However, if I don’t open anything of particular value, I’ve still whiffed. This sort of thing incentives the company to do things like make increasingly rare drops, to the point of Yu Gi Oh like absurdity, so that people will want to open more boxes.

                      “What if individuals are allowed to resell back items for real money re-cooping cost? (though this risks being like Pachiko)”
                      Look at CSGO’s market, die a little inside, and then never look back.

                      “What if an in-game method (presumably more difficult) to earn these items is provided as well? I can understand this being dependent on the methodology… (earned through a long natural progression/quest vs. 1 in 1,000,000 drop from mob that can be killed once per day)”
                      Look at any number of P2W games. This is basically entirely down to implementation. If the creators want the system to be exploitative it will, else it won’t.

            • Steve C says:

              But a careless, uninformed rule could be more damaging than what we have now, and inertia can make it hard to reverse truly destructive decisions. […] Thinking about how you solve this problem for minors

              Shamus, a good example of this (better than ones you’ve been using IMO) is “You must 13yrs or older to visit this website.”

              That’s the result of a US law about data protection of by companies of their user’s data. The idea is that minors cannot properly protect themselves from companies harvesting their usage-habits and manipulating them. So there is a separate set of rules in the US for storing data belonging to anyone younger than 13yrs.

              The result in reality is that that websites simply say that you cannot use it unless you state you are over 13. Then children lie stating they are older. It’s a straight up bad law. (Which is strange. Because outside the USA there are similar laws about data protection. Except they apply to everyone regardless of age.)

        • newplan says:

          Put it this way: Alcohol is a problem. It’s responsible for drunk driving, binge drinking, public drunkenness, and a bunch of other social ills. But the US tried to fix this problem once and the cure was more deadly than the disease. In the end, they decided it was better to tolerate those unfortunate social ills rather than try to fight them.

          Public drunkness and drunk driving are both illegal.

    • Alan says:

      It’s pretty obvious this isn’t gambling. If loot boxes are gambling, then, as Shamus points out, Hearthstone must be gambling. And if Hearthstone is gambling, then Magic: The Gathering must be gambling. And if Magic: the Gathering was gambling, you’d see people buying huge numbers of boosters, spending hundreds of dollars, to desperately chase rare cards. And obviously that doesn’t happen.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Well done,that made me laugh out loud.

      • Dev Null says:

        Heh. I am amused by the number of people spinning chains of logic that end with “then Magic: The Gathering must be gambling” and then dusting their hands and walking off as if the point was now clearly settled. Of _course_ MtG is gambling. It’s just a form of gambling that isn’t regulated. (Not all gambling needs to be, to my mind, but that’s a whole separate issue.)

      • etheric42 says:

        I left the M:tG scene awhile back, but I’m still tangentially connected through friends. I am not sure if you are referring to someone you know or just a strawman you have heard about. Maybe I am the one that is out of touch, but that is not what I am seeing.

        If you want rares to craft your tournament-winning deck, you just buy singles. You buy boosters or bricks for three reasons: either because you enjoy the fun of randomness and making the best of what you have (maybe you also play sealed tournaments, maybe not) or what you can trade with your closed-circle group, you want to own the entire set so it is cheaper for you to start with bricks and then fill with singles, or because you resell singles.

        The last is the closest to “gambling as a way to make money” setup, except I don’t see a revolving door of sellers who happened to crack a rare pack and are now cashing in their chips. What I see is a regular stable of sellers and resellers who have found there is a margin on cracking enough bricks (particularly when sets are new and there isn’t a resell supply) to sell to the single-buyers that they can afford to pay for unsold merchandise, their storefront, and their time.

        And if singles are too expensive for you and you don’t find enjoyment from opening boosters, you’re the customer LCGs made their niche out of.

        • Eigil says:

          I play MtG somewhat regularly, and I agree with this.

          I’m not saying there’s zero people in the world who have the same sort of addiction to cracking packs as gambling addicts have to gambling, but I don’t think I’ve ever talked to anybody like that. The vast majority, as you say, occasionally buy packs either because they’re playing sealed tournaments or just enjoy opening packs*, but if they need a specific card for a deck, they buy it on the second-hand market.

          *Of course, I assume there’s a lot of people who do “traditional”, casino-style gambling in a similar way, not as part of a gambling addiction but just occasionally, within their means, because they enjoy the thrill of randomness. So I’m not saying MtG is definitely not gambling – just that this image of people indulging their gambling addictions by blowing their savings on boosters is not something I recognize from the community

          • Blake says:

            Basically all this.
            I joke about falling off the wagon every time I start buying boosters again after years of not playing, but it’s never because I want a specific outcome, if I want a specific card I go and buy that card, boosters are just a fun way to get a bunch of new cards, or a prerequisite for drafting.

            It’s also worth noting that MtG brings out new cards in whole sets, not drip feeding more every week, which means it’s possible to complete a set and have no reason to buy any more of those boosters ever, where some lootbox things just keep increasing the pool which means your odds of getting anything new drop dramatically even as they keep introducing new ‘prizes’.

            I’d argue that MtG boosters could count as gambling, but the fact that all the cards are so easily obtainable on their own stops it from being exploitative.

            • Cybron says:

              I would have agreed with you, up until the point where the introduction of mythics, the concentration of valuable cards at that rarity, and skyrocketing secondary market prices made opening packs more lotto-like. It’s been trending this direction ever since Ravnica, where the shocklands made Wizards realized just how far they could push the illusion of investment and value.

      • Cybron says:

        Yeah, as someone who played MtG for a very long time, opening booster packs is absolutely gambling. In fact, during one particular phase of the game’s history, I knew people who would open booster packs of a particular set – not because they wanted any of the cards in the set to use, but because one rare card had reached absurd prices (around $100) and they wanted to sell it. And just like real gambling there was a laughably low expected value in doing this.

        I hated opening packs myself, because I have a large aversion to gambling. I always bought my cards on the secondary market, which is its own beast with different problems – if booster packs are unregulated gambling then the secondary market is an unregulated stock market. I quit when the secondary market got so expensive I could no longer justify my purchases.

        • Blackbird71 says:

          “I knew people who would open booster packs of a particular set – not because they wanted any of the cards in the set to use, but because one rare card had reached absurd prices (around $100) and they wanted to sell it.”

          I’m looking at you, Worldwake boxes with Jace the Mind Sculptor!

          • Cybron says:

            Exactly. I think that sorta proves my point – this situation was well known enough that you were able to instantly intuit what I was talking about with names being given.

  11. Falterfire says:

    I think it’s interesting to note that most Digital Card Games don’t actually have trading and I’ve always suspected a large part of the reason why is an attempt to avoid exactly this sort of problem.

    Magic: the Gathering packs should almost certainly qualify as gambling – You pay money and receive a random selection of cards, some of which are worth significantly more. Since there are regular resellers of cards and numerous price guides, and the nature of the collectibles as actual gameplay items leads to the market moving fast enough that you can actually get that money easily (as opposed to the “$1,000 Beanie Baby” which is likely to be much harder to actually sell for $1,000).

    Wizards of the Coast (The publisher of MtG) avoids being seen as gambling by never publicly acknowledging secondary market prices. They are always very careful to describe rarer cards as being ‘more desirable’ rather than ‘more valuable’ and at least one article on their official site about budget deckbuilding specifically included the curious sentence “When we say building on a budget, what we mean is building with fewer rares and mythics so that it will require fewer total packs to build” which, while true, is pretty clearly not the normally used definition of the phrase.

    Not really sure where I’m going with this, but I guess my point here is that I wouldn’t be surprised if things with random purchasable loot and trading eventually become regulated even if things like Overwatch’s lootboxes that aren’t tradable stay safe.

    • Blake says:

      I find this weird and backwards, because to me the secondary market puts an upper limit on how bad the randomness can get.
      Like the resale value for these things is (almost) always going to end up as less than the cost of opening as many lootboxes/boosters as it required to get them yourself, which means people wanting a particular item can go for the cheaper, non-gambly option to get at them.

      Making the only avenue be the random chance wheel makes things more of a gamble not less.

  12. Alan says:

    I’m all for this “getting a bunch of games rated AO on the grounds that they’re ‘gun porn'” idea along with getting a bunch of games using loot boxes rated AO as they are gambling. I’m thinking instead of killing of incredibly commercially successful products, it would be more likely that stores will relax their “No AO, ever” policies, policies which absolutely do impact what game designers do and are practical censorship.

    (Oddly, I never hear the people worried about SJWs limiting what games can be made getting riled up by Walmart limiting what games can be made. For some crazy reason I think the multi-billion dollar corporation might have more power than some academics recording YouTube videos.)

    • Shamus says:

      I’m not sure why you needed to bring up SJWs here. Slow day for you? New to the internet?

      Anyway, “SJW”s are hardly the only group that whines about stuff they don’t like. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the “decency and child safety” crowd making similar demands about what does and doesn’t get made / sold. And since both of them complain to Wal-Mart and since Wal-Mart generally tries to placate them in low-risk, low-effort ways, it’s not unreasonable to fear that if you let those evil Other People go unchallenged that Wal-Mart will lean their way. If they’re pulling to the left then you need to pull to the right or their culture wins by default.

      I’m not defending the argument. I’m just saying it goes both ways and everyone is pretty much compelled to take part if they care about what ends up on the shelves at Wal-Mart.

      • Alan says:

        My apologies, the de facto censorship created by rating systems is a pet peeve. Censorship inevitably brings up my related irritation toward people worried about “censorship” in the form of criticism. But, yeah, it was off topic. Sorry about that.

        (And I fear I wasn’t clear. I wasn’t intending to cast SJWs in the negative here. Quite the contrary, it’s a label I wear with pride.)

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Oddly, I never hear the people worried about SJWs limiting what games can be made getting riled up by Walmart limiting what games can be made.

      Because walmart is a supplier(not directly,but by means of retailing).If a supplier doesnt want to meet one demand because they think they can make more money with something else,thats not a problem.Someone will fill in the gap.But if the supplier doesnt want to meet the demand because of fear that someone will ruin them by rioting,that is.

    • Cybron says:

      I think many people perceive corporations as automata responding to market forces, whereas they’d perceive the other party as actively acting in pursuit of a goal. This would explain the difference in response.

    • Blake says:

      Yeah if there’s a market for these loot box based games somebody will be willing to sell them.
      But if Walmart doesn’t want to touch them because everyone is making an ethical stink about them, then that’s an effective way of shunning the publishers into acting more ethically.

      I see no issue with people selling crappy goods having a hard time finding people willing to stock them.

    • ehlijen says:

      I’m not so sure what you suggest would result in stores lowering their no-AO policies. I’m not familiar with the exact laws involved, but it if’s anything like the age limitations on alcohol here in Australia, that’d mean the stores would need to implement reliable age verification at the checkout, which in turn would mean the employees would need to be certified in “responsible service of video games”, meaning the stores would need more qualified staff, which would mean at least slightly higher wages, or to provide such training for the staff.

      Maybe some videogames are popular enough to exert that kind of economic pressure, but combined with every publisher’s push to use their online portals, it could also just mean the end of b&m stores carrying video games at all.

  13. Ciennas says:

    The biggest complaint about loot boxes is that they are being used in games that are already being sold for full price.

    The secondary, and I suspect will rapidly be catching up complaint is how the games are now trying to ‘lean’ on the player with increasingly less subtle means to encourage purchases.

    Shadow of War hiding the ending behind the loot boxes being the most egregious so far.

    I suspect that the problem is less that the mechanic is there than it is that the merchants that utilize such methods are threatening to punish customers who don’t indulge in the raffle- customers who have already ponied up the price of the game, it bears repeating.

    I’m seeing the loot box as another method of increasing monetization from an existing product, without actually having to do or add anything to the product to do so.

    For example, check how Bethesda has crowbarred in the Creation Club into Fallout 4- They released some recolors and asset flips from some of their other titles- very little of the released content appeared to require much more than a single intern rigging the items into the Fallout 4 engine.

    (If they’d offered some bug fixes, I’d have considered buying a piece from them. since they aren’t, more’s the pity.)

    I suspect that games producers are wanting to raise the price of games, but know that doing so is going to significantly shrink the pool of available customers, to the point of collapse.

    I hope they realize that there’s an art to being greedy, or we’re all gonna have trouble.

    • Dev Null says:

      The secondary, and I suspect will rapidly be catching up complaint is how the games are now trying to ‘lean’ on the player with increasingly less subtle means to encourage purchases.

      Shadow of War hiding the ending behind the loot boxes being the most egregious so far.

      I feel like (as in, “I have no evidence to support my gut feeling that…”) at least at that extreme this is a self-limiting problem. That does not sound like a fun game. I would not buy it. Now that I know that games that hide their endgame behind paywalls exist, I will actively watch out for them, and not buy them. When the publisher inevitably caves and removes the paywall (not out of any altruism, of course, but to try to cash in on that sweet sweet “Steam Sale” profit tail, or because maintaining the infastructure of the paywall becomes expensive) that will teach people the lesson that if they wait a bit they don’t have to pay for it, and the endgame paywall will become even less effective.

      • Echo Tango says:

        This is also why reviews of games are important. If everybody reviewing a game says that it’s full of loot-boxes, microtransactions, and other greasy things, then the next person thinking about purchasing it can decide to not buy it. :)

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          The problem is that all those games crept in slowly,and almost no reviewer considers them bad.Day one dlc,season pass for stuff that wasnt even in the planning phase,micro transactions,various “special” preorder bonuses for unlimited digital purchases,all of those are so common these days that rarely anyone cares.And now loot boxes are being added to the mix.

          • Echo Tango says:

            I personally include things like micro transactions whenever I review something on Steam. Total Biscuit / John Bain speaks out against these things in his popular YouTube channel. If enough people speak up, do their own reviews, and spread the word, then we have a chance of fighting these crappy business practices. Giving up without a fight is not an option I will exercise. :)

          • Dev Null says:

            I get that, but I apply the same technique to reviewers. You didn’t badmouth the microtransactions? Fine. You didn’t mention them, or that they were essentially required to complete the game’s plot? Don’t think I’ll be back, thankyouverymuch…

          • Cybron says:

            Almost no reviewer is a large exaggeration. Even mainstream gaming media takes shots at new exploitative practices.

    • Spurdo Sparde says:

      In “increasingly less subtle means to encourage purchases” news, Activision just had a patent approved for bad matchmaking that pushes microtransactions.

  14. Dev Null says:

    This is a more serious category than “Mature”, which is where stuff like Grand Theft Auto winds up.

    Thank you ESRB. The delicious irony of that statement is not lost on us.

  15. acronix says:

    When your little brother burns the 80 dollars he got for his birthday to get that rare Overwatch skin / rare Heartstone card, then one realizes both are gambling.

    • etheric42 says:

      Hi acronix. I can understand how it can be a stressful thing to see someone you care about make a decision that not only would you not make, but one you are actively against. Form your perspective it is a complete negative. But from his perspective (or perhaps the perspective of someone taking the long view) it is likely not.

      Why? If your brother is young enough that money can have no value to him, then he shouldn’t be given $80. The parents should hold it in trust. If he is old enough that it can have value, then either he values the money enough he would not spend it on the boxes, he values the boxes enough that he does spend it (and if it is his money, why rain on his parade?), or he thinks the values the boxes over the money, is refusing to listen to his wise older brother’s advice (or parents), and will come away with a great teaching opportunity.

      I’d gladly spend $80 apiece for my children’s learning opportunities. I could almost definitely do it with less, but I value the lesson at greater than $80.

      I have heard similar arguments about nonrandom purchases (I am not saying you are making this argument, I just feel they are similar arguments). “Why spend $10+ on a League of Legends skin? Why let your kids spend the money on something so frivolous. They could buy an entire indie game (or AAA game on sale) for that!” Well, isn’t nearly everything a kid (and after a certain point, adults too) frivolous? If that money gets spent on a transformers action figure, it’s going see some enjoyment, then eventually sit in some toybox for a couple of years/decades, then go to a thrift store/yard sale/garbage. How is that any different? That indie game might see some enjoyment, or it might just sit on a Steam backlog while the kid spends his time on league.

      Are we really asking our children to only spend the money that it purportedly theirs on long-term bonds and/or lemonade stand investments?

      • Eigil says:

        I, for one, only allow my kids to divide their allowance between a diversified stock portfolio and an ammunition stockpile.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        I’d gladly spend $80 apiece for my children’s learning opportunities. I could almost definitely do it with less, but I value the lesson at greater than $80.

        Ok,give your kid $80,send them into a casino,and after they gamble it all away,tell me what lesson they have learned,and if they would resist the urge next time you send them into a casino with $80 to spend.

        • Shamus says:

          I have good things to say about letting kids make their own mistakes in some circumstances.

          When my son was 10-ish I let him spend his birthday money ($20) on Robux, the currency of Roblox. I very gently warned him, he did it anyway, and he learned a good lesson for not too high a cost. He’s VERY careful with money now. (Maybe even a little TOO careful. I have to encourage him to let him know that it’s okay to spend his money on fun things. The thing that’s killing him these days is the price of graphics cards. The bitcoin miners have gobbled up all the mid-tier cards he prefers and now prices are high enough that he’s having trouble getting there.) The key is that $20 was HUGE to him at the time, but in reality a small amount of money, so that was a good time to learn that lesson.

          I’ve known a lot of kids that were over-protected. Raised by authoritarian parents, they weren’t allowed to make mistakes, procrastinate, stay up late, eat too much, watch bad TV, or dozens of other petty things. They all turned into basket cases when they hit college and were in charge of themselves. It’s like they had to master 10 years of self-discipline skills in one year.

          So yeah, there’s something to be said for letting your kid skin their knee at 11 so they don’t break their neck at 21. That said, there’s no magic formula to make parenting easy. You can’t live their lives for them, but you can’t let them run wild and fall into self-destruction, either.

          Protip: NEVER do “I told you so!” You want to teach your kid introspection and analysis, not “just do what Dad says because he’s always right”. (Even though obviously Dad is totally always right.)

          • Mousazz says:

            Heh. I’m currently in the exact same trap you’re describing Shamus. 21, taking a year off from Uni, and working at a retail job just because “it’s better to be at least working than doing nothing productive at all”. Problem is, though, I learned early on that staying out of sight and bunkering down at the computer was usually the easiest way to wait out any problems, which worked out fine during school, but left me unprepared for the world at large.

            One of the difficulties I face right now, indeed, is fear of wasting money – there might be an interesting video game I could buy with the money I earned, but maybe I’ll need that money later for some necessity? And so it keeps wasting in my bank account, and the job I’m working at I only go to out of a sense of normalcy, because it sure ain’t for monetary reasons.

            A positive from all this though, I guess, is that I’d NEVER spend any money on gambling; anything with a random outcome reward isn’t worth the investment to me, no matter how trivial the risk.

            • etheric42 says:

              If not spending money makes you happier, take up a hobby like early retirement extreme. There’s some good reddit resources out there to start up. Double-bonus, if at the end of things you find you have a comfortable retirement but still want to keep working, then you can get into philanthropy as a hobby.

              It’s not my thing, but I have known people who had real difficulties spending money and this became their thing and they really enjoyed it.

            • Decius says:

              After I moved up five steps on the economic scale at once, I kept spending as though I was poor. Eight years later, I had enough saved risk capital to do things that I wanted.

          • BlueHorus says:

            This story is great. It made me smile.
            I’m assuming (sounds like it) that this story also includes the fact that your son couldn’t have more money from you afterwards.

            I haven’t met many products of really draconian parenting, but I know a few people who’ve grown up with mum and dad making sure nothing bad really happened.
            I.e: ‘I know I spent my allowance, but I really want that toy!’
            ‘Oh, okay.’

            And hey, guess who’s bad at managing their money fifteen years down the line?
            Oh, you need help with the rent again? I’m sure that’s in no way related to the fact you go out all the time.
            What’s that? You fall out friends because they’re always bugging you for that cash they lent you back?
            Yeah, that must be just because they’re tight-fisted assholes.

            Sorry, that kind of turned into a rant there. Still a great story.

        • etheric42 says:

          When you set that $80 against a new AAA game or four indies, or an evening at Main Event for the kid and a friend, or a laser tag starter set, or two new board games, or a shopping spree at Target, spending it on loot boxes is just another option.

          On top of that there is how the money is earned. It came from allowance for doing chores, money earned from special projects, or holiday bonus money from relatives that comes infrequently-to-rarely. If I was Daddy Warbucks and threw money around with abondon, there is a good chance my kids would not see much value in $80, and likely spend it on blind box purchases of collectors monocles.

          Money has context. Choices have opportunity cost. My job is to help my children see those costs and understand them, not to deny them everything until they turn 18 and go on a Rumspringa to find all the potentially bad decision. If, at the end of the day, my child would rather work for the purpose of opening loot boxes instead of finding other uses for their money, then I need to help them find a balance for it so they can live a life they find satisfying when they are on their own one day.

          My parents never looked at me and went “spending all your money on video games and D&D and toys is a waste, you should be saving/spending it for X (insert parent’s generation stereotype here), you are grounded until you know how to spend your money on what I want you to spend it on.” Maybe they messed up. Here I am, a grown man who spends his money on video games and Blades in the Dark and board games instead of whatever X was. I am a big fan of Vincent Baker’s quote, which am sure I am misquoting and misattributing: when I was a child, I played as a child, but when I grew up I put away childish things and played as an adult. I also own my own home, regularly hold down full-time jobs and have never been fired, have a wife and kids and I don’t suffer from underlying angst about my childhood or my adulthood. Anecdata for sure, but teaching my kids through experience and letting them find what is right for them is the gift I will give them, not protecting them from things I do not personally prefer.

          • Meriador says:

            A google search of that quote brings up 1 Corinthians 13:11.

            • etheric42 says:

              That’s the biblical quote that talks about not doing childish things anymore. It was rewritten by the indie RPG community to say it’s good to keep doing childish things but with a new, more experienced perspective.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Heres the thing though:It doesnt always work.For example,a friend of mine and I tried smoking a cigarette when we were 6.It was foul,and I had no desire to try another one after that.She became a smoker around the age of 17.

            Its something that works on a case by case basis.And if the arbiter on how the individual child would respond is the parent of that child,dont you think they should have all the info available before they can decide?

            • etheric42 says:

              Did you do this under parental advisement? How did you and her parents help contextualize your smoking? Did your parents ban smoking and you do this in secret? Did she stop smoking for 11 years because it tasted bad or because her experience helped her understand the consequences and choices of smoking? How much reinforcement was done during those 11 years?

              After she decided to become a smoker, did her parents help her adjust her life choices to have a healthy (for a) smoker lifestyle? Help her come up with long-term strategies such as saving for late-life healthcare care and discuss having children early since she wouldn’t be around as long for grandchildren? Promote smoking outside and using heavy-duty detergents to limit the impact of smell on job prospects (and selecting careers where she likely won’t face as much discrimination for being a smoker)?

              You’re right about the parent being the arbiter of when it is time (note my comment you responded to which included the distinction of before a child can value money to after a child can value money, that is something that the parent has to figure out). But the entire context of this conversation is Shamus’s post of there being a distinction “paying money for a digital grab bag” vs “paying money for the chance of winning more money” (this is very reductionist of his post, but I am assuming everyone has read the article these comments are attached to). These are different things.

              There is also the context of ESRB is usually not sufficient information to tell a parent if a game is appropriate or not for their child, plus children generally should not have access to the plastic necessary to buy the loot boxes until they are old enough to have already demonstrated good fiscal behavior (and the parent should still be prepared for them to make a few learning mistakes after that).

      • guy says:

        I would not mind them spending money on getting a league of legends skin for a fixed price, but I am displeased by the blind chance and resultant endless efforts to chase the one thing they actually want for an unknown price. I’d spend a lot more money on microtransactions if I knew I’d be getting what I’d actually want for that money.

  16. wswordsmen says:

    People are misdiagnosing the problem, the problem isn’t that loot boxes exist. It is that publishers have the incentive to push more of the game behind them so that no one can really play the game completely without them. Shadow of War evidently is nearly unbeatable without a massive grind or dropping money for Orcs. That means that if you are only playing the version you bought you are all but locked out of content.

    • etheric42 says:

      Not everyone agrees with this. Sites such as Rock Paper Shotgun find it to be completely incorrect. But even if it was correct, as far as I’m aware the only content locked at the end of act IV is a cutscene end you could watch on Youtube. I am still in act II, so I’ll have to report back when I get there. I am betting the different variances depends on what the reviewer feels is a grind (at what point the game stops being enjoyable to actually play and they are just doing it to get the next milestone). I felt the last act of Space Pirates and Zombies was a grind so I stopped playing it, but I bet someone who was still having a blast with the end-game ships and loadouts enjoyed its length.

      • etheric42 says:

        I want to preemptively apologize for an unclear opening. I was contesting the specific Shadow of War point, not the greater point about publishers having incentive to find more ways to monetize a game they have already monetized. That’s a different argument which I am not sure if I entirely agree with but I am not contesting at this time.

      • guy says:

        I did find that after beating the first fortress, the questline I was following (which I guess isn’t the “main” questline, but there was no indication it should be done after the other quests) pointed me at a region where the Orc captains significantly outlevelled me, with no clear indication that the other regions on the map would be lower level; I didn’t have too much trouble beating them, at least not beyond the general variance in captain threat levels, but because they were higher level than me I couldn’t recruit any of them without shaming them and hunting down and beating them again, which meant I needed loot box orcs for the fortress assault, and the ones I got free at the time were much lower level than me to the point where they weren’t plausible candidates for infiltration.

        Plus, the reworked infilitration system means you can’t prop up a weak captain by intervening in his trial by combat, or just find a weak bodyguard, dominate him, and take out his boss so he goes up in rank, meaning captain quality is vitally important to the fortress sieges. In short, it’s definitely playable without spending money on loot boxes, but they’ve made mechanical changes from the original to make buying captains much more beneficial relative to not doing it than if you’d been able to in Shadow Of Mordor.

    • Echo Tango says:

      This is why I stopped playing Hearthstone – the game was effectively only playable for people who had the time or money to invest into unlocking the good cards. I just hope that the pay-to-maybe-hopefully-get-some-game-content business model doesn’t become accepted by the public at large; If it does, then I’m not going to be able to play any new games. :S

  17. Fade2Gray says:

    I know! Lets just ban all the games. I’m sure there’s something objectionable in all of them.

    Especially the ones with anthropomorphic creatures. How exactly do you imagine anthropomorphic creatures are created? It’s just sick and wrong.

    Ban it all!

  18. The Rocketeer says:

    So I wake up this morning and the right-of-center pundits I follow are arguing about Game of Thrones and Star Trek and the stridently apolitical nerd culture blogger I follow is quoting Mencken regarding the pitfalls of paternalistic regulation. Although, to be fair, the first group never stops arguing about television, movies, etc., because they are all dorks.

    Shamus, if Ed Glaeser has you at gunpoint just off-camera, blink three short, three long, three short!

    • The Rocketeer says:

      Meanwhile, the response is exactly what you’d expect and likely an effective reminder why Shamus keeps his nerd culture blog stridently apolitical.

  19. Cilvre says:

    i found the best way to deal with micro transactions is to not participate in them, or to just never buy the game to begin with. im currently reading a visual novel that wants me to buy tickets to read more of the story or wait 4 hours to read a few sentences worth. I would have gladly bought the game for 20 bucks, but there is no way i will spend 10 dollars per pack of tickets to read a story i have no idea how long it is. other games dont give you the option to wait and those just get blacklisted along with the dev.

  20. Redingold says:

    The issue I have is not whether lootboxes legally count as gambling, which is ambiguous, but rather that lootboxes fulfil the same psychological function as gambling for those with gambling addictions. It’s unethical for companies to exploit psychological weak points like that just to squeeze more profit out of vulnerable people. The question is, what can we do about it? We can’t expect companies to stop on their own, because they won’t, and we can’t effectively boycott lootboxes, because most revenue from them comes from a very small percentage of customers who are also the least likely to quit because of the aforementioned addiction. The only recourse we have is raising a stink about it and hoping the bad publicity causes publishers to change their minds, or legal action to force them to stop. Legal action seems unlikely to work but attempted legal action still works for raising awareness.

    • Blake says:

      This is pretty much my feeling.
      Games trying to exploit people should be shamed, and the people selling them should be shamed.

      If there is a market for that style of game then shady people can make and sell it, but the majority would change over to things that are better for the mass market, even if they lose a few percent in profits over lootboxes.

      I’m fine with casinos having pokies, but I wouldn’t shop at a supermarket that had them (and would encourage others not to shop there either).

    • Syal says:

      One thing you can do is point people toward Binding of Isaac, which is most of the gambling with none of the cost. (Well, it costs time, but that’s worthless.)

  21. Distec says:

    When the ruling was announced, the overwhelming response was, “DUH! OBVIOUSLY THIS IS GAMBLING HOW CAN YOU BE SO BLIND?!”

    My response was, “How interesting. What do you mean by ‘gambling’?”

    Shamus Young is the fookin’ Scott Alexander of Video Games.

    • etheric42 says:

      Wait, what?

      I just came from reading Scott to here, saw the article, decided to be come a patron, replied to a few posts while focusing on being nice and trying to offer some differing perspectives, then saw your post.

      Do we need to start posting about Battleship the tabletop game in comments here?

  22. evilmrhenry says:

    I suspect what’s actually going on is that development companies are stuck at the $60 price point, while budgets are increasing every year. There’s basically no way to directly sell a base game for over $60, the market for your game is mostly stable, and your newest game is more expensive than your last. So, you close the gap with a season pass or a digital deluxe edition or what not, have dozens of DLC skins, and now toss loot boxes onto the pile as well. This ends up damaging the game experience.

    I suspect the real solution is to re-examine the budgets. However, the AAA game space basically requires spectacle, which is expensive, so any real decrease basically requires abandoning the concept of the AAA game.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      [T]he AAA game space basically requires spectacle, which is expensive, so any real decrease basically requires abandoning the concept of the AAA game.

      Sold! When do we start?

      *sparse, half-hearted laughter*

    • etheric42 says:

      I think you make a very good point. There are also other considerations such as the impact the used market has on console and the impact of expected sales on the PC market that make that $60 figure less well defined, but the general point still stands.

      It is not just spectacle too. It’s also continued support. I have a certain expectation now that the games I play have regular patches to deal with not just bugs, but gameplay issues such as balance. This is not a reasonable expectation of me. I can’t expect every game to have the same long tail as Diablo, League of Legends or A.I. War. However, I have been spoiled enough that when I see little-to-no patches/dlc after release (see Battle Brothers or Rebel Galaxy) I get disappointed and lose interest in the game (even if I have already purchased the game and I am currently playing it!). I’m stuck in this weird place where I don’t want to do too much Early Access because of the unfinished nature of the games while at the same time expecting almost as much dev support after the game is released.

      I understand this is a me problem and not a developer problem, but part of me is hoping that the loot box mechanic in Shadow of War allows that game to also have a long tail.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Id write a lengthy response about the whole 60 schmeckles thing,but recently Jim Sterling made a video about it so Ill just link that instead:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHSso2vufPM

      • Asdasd says:

        Good video! I’ve never watched anything by Jim Sterling before.

        As for long tails – consider what happens to the game in 5 years, or to be generous, 10, when the server has been shut down. Now nobody can access any of the loot boxes. Anything inside them that wasn’t available anywhere else is now locked out of the game permanently.

        Admittedly, this is a problem more readily apparent in another rising trend, that of the hybrid-online model of Gran Turismo Sport and Hitman (which I think Shamus has covered in another article). Single player games that have most of their functionality dependent on a connection to a server will be almost unplayable in a decade. Loot boxes pose a similar problem, except that many gamers won’t have access to the content- or feature-complete version of the game in the first place.

      • Redrock says:

        I’m a big fan of Jim’s work but I really dislike that video. He has a very broad definition of the term “shell of a game” when he talks about the basic 60 bucks package. I mean, it’s true for multiplayer only games, but as far as I’m concerned all multiplayer-only games are “shells”. But for single player? If you really look at most special, silver and gold editions, they really offer very few meaningful additions. In case of Ubisoft it’s usually just a couple of small missions in an alredy huge sandbox game, some skins, a couple of weapons, etc. Most of the time you get a complete game for 60 bucks. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any real example of a single-player game where you didn’t get a complete experience for 60 bucks. I mean, a couple of extra guns in, say, Far Cry 4, which has dozens? Hardly a reason to spend an extra 15 dollars. Except for Mass Effect 3, because From Ashes was very clearly a part of the original game that was hacked off. But that’s still one of the most egregious examples and that was years ago.

        I mean, Jim himself proceeds to say that publishers sell season passes for DLC that has barely been concieved yet. Which means that the DLC in question wasn’t cut out from the original game to sell for extra cash.

        A lot of the additional monetization is still very optional and unnecessary. Which creates a situation where people with extra cash on their hands are effectively paying to keep the basic price at 60$ for the rest. Which is fine by me if the alternative is a hike in the basic price.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          I mean, Jim himself proceeds to say that publishers sell season passes for DLC that has barely been concieved yet. Which means that the DLC in question wasn’t cut out from the original game to sell for extra cash.

          The two arent mutually exclusive.They can cut out something to sell as one dlc at the same time when they sell a season pass for an unplanned one.

          • Redrock says:

            Sure, but I never really understood his general negativity towards season passes. I think that originally they were supposed to entice you to essentially pre-order DLC under the pretense that the season pass is a limited-time offer and that if you wait for the DLC release you’ll have to pay more. Which is a scummy practice, no question. But that’s not how it turned out in the end and today season passes seem to be little more than DLC bundles, which isn’t all that bad.

            • guy says:

              People had bad experiences with buying season passes and not having a season pass worth of DLC materialize. It’s a blind purchase of a bundle of unknown size and quality.

              • ehlijen says:

                This. Assume the game tanks at launch. Will the company really continue making DLC worth the season pass? Or what if the company is bought out and the new owner cancels all season pass DLC plans? Or what if it the company shills out some paint-by-numbers, asset reusing minimum effort DLC and calls it a day because the creative team has been reassigned to the next title?

                To my understanding, selling season passes is not actually a binding promise for the company to deliver DLC.

                • Redrock says:

                  Haven’t heard of this happening, but I see your point. I was mostly referring to the fact that at this point customers aren’t really incentivized to buy season passes instead of waiting for the DLC to actually release, unlike with pre-order bonuses. They are promoted, sure, but you aren’t being manipulated by saying that you will lose something if you don’t buy the season pass early.

    • Cybron says:

      The AAA market seems profoundly unhealthy to me. I’d prefer if they had to take a step back.

    • Ciennas says:

      I suspect that one could axe a smidgen out of the advertising budget, which, if I’ve heard correctly, is around equal to the amount of money put into the game itself.

      As much as I like the live action trailers for Destiny, I’m thinking less TV spots (You can just put stuff to youtube,) with less live action (in engine stuff should be cheaper and more spectacular looking anyway,) and overall less trying to market items by way of that elevator scene from the Shining (Yahtzee made fun of this back when… GTA 5 had come out, I believe. Ads everywhere.)

      Targeted, smarter ads would reach your customers as effectively, and save you a mint. Senua’s Sacrifice prove that the concept should be able to work just fine.

      When the final product gets less attention than the advertising, I suspect that things are being mismanaged a smidge.

  23. MichaelGC says:

    Weirdly the British Government has also just been weighing in on this one:

    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-10-17-government-response-to-loot-box-concern-is-predictably-non-committal

    Well, I say “weighing in” – I think their response can probably be summed up by:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iPZRJNO3Eg

    They’ve passed it off to the Gambling Commission, who are keeping an eye on things, but according to Eurogamer the “Gambling Commission told us it did not [currently] define loot box mechanisms as gambling, since the items won from this feature have no real-world value.”

    Guess it depends what one means by “real-world!” And, “value.” 🤔😁 As Shamus says, certainly not a simple one…

  24. DwarfWarden says:

    There is something that has been 100% overlooked by everyone and nobody has been calling it out.

    Read the EULA. Yeah, I know, crazy idea, right? Read the EULA of any loot box game. Any of them. Remember how that whole ‘you don’t own the game you bought’ crap got pushed and is technically there in the EULA? The whole ‘always=online’ cancer of yesteryear? According to the EULA, you don’t own anything on any game you buy loot boxes in.

    Where am I going with this? The ESRB (which must be populated entirely by senior citizens) claims that loot boxes aren’t gambling because it’s not a zero-sum game. Their logic is that you get something for the money, ergo it is not zero-sum, whereas casinos have the ‘house always wins’ ideology. Problem here is you do not own the game or any assets in it no matter how much you pay, so it is, in fact, a zero-sum game. It is, by the ESRB’s standards, gambling with no chance at a payout.

  25. Christopher says:

    So I take it the Superman Versus Batman movie review was a mispost.

    • Shamus says:

      Batman v. Superman has been sitting in the queue for months. It’s my rainy-day material. It got pushed back by 70s suitcase, then by No Man’s Sky, then by this. In this case, I forgot to move it to next week when I replaced it.

      So yes, it was a mistake. But it’ll go up next Tuesday.

      Whoops.

  26. BlueHorus says:

    Another direction for the debate:
    How can you protect people from themselves?
    (Particuarly when they don’t want you to)

    Because it’s not just soulless corporations preying on responsible for gambling in games. People buy the loot boxes. Lots of people. Of their own free will. No one makes them.
    (insert other examples on this page if you want – alcohol, slot machines – it’s similar enough.)

    Is that good? I definately don’t think so. I think it encourages manipulative & lazy practices in the games industry, preys on weaknesses in human nature and can cause a lot of damage to people. I think there’s nothing good about loot boxes or gambling at all.
    But when adults use their own money for this kind of thing…

    Legal considerations aside*, ‘I don’t think what you’re doing is okay, therefore I’ll stop you’ is something you do have to say, but where’s the limit?

    As Shamus said, fiendishly complex.

    *What can we actually enforce? What precedent are we setting with this? How is this going to interact with the already existing laws/culture? Who’s going to pay to fight the inevitable appeals? Will we just drive the problem underground? What if…

    • etheric42 says:

      Interestingly there is some anthropological research that some forms of gambling among immigrants/lower income families in 19th-20th century America was actually beneficial to the gamblers involved as it replaced their lack of access to secure banking services.

      I don’t think this applies to video games, but I thought it was interesting and relevant to your comment as the crackdown on gambling for the gamblers good hurt these communities (not generalizing to all, but in these particular cases).

      Due to the potential of crime (and possibly insome cases an unwillingness to save) it was hard to keep large amount of cash on hand, and credit was rare or costly. Large purchases were either necessary or a good investment of capital (for example, buying a refrigerator to prevent food from spoiling/make it last longer/enabling more bulk purchases of food). There was often some money left over from the paycheck to buy into the local numbers game. Maybe a few cents, maybe a dollar. The odds were good enough that if you played regularly (or maybe a family member) would eventually win. That lump-sum of cash was then usually immediately turned into a capital investment (such as that refrigerator).

      Sure, you would likely never make back as much money as you put in and you couldn’t control when you received a payout, but the money lost was generally less than the cost of other kinds of savings (if they were even an option). Not saying some people didn’t blow their winnings, but some people blow their savings too.

      When the numbers games were cracked down on, banks generally did not come swooping in to replace them at the same or lower rates. (Please do not take this as an indictment of anyone, just an interesting anecdote of unintended consequences as a result of trying to help gamblers.)

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      People buy the loot boxes. Lots of people. Of their own free will. No one makes them.

      Yes and no.For a person with an addictive personality,its not really much of a free will.Imagine you are hungry,and then someone starts waving your favorite food in front of your nose,asking you to just take a little bite for free,and if you like it to buy the whole thing.You could resist it,but the hungrier you are,the harder it will be.Thats basically how any addiction works.

      And thats with adults.The big problem with loot boxes is that they dont target just the adults,but kids as well,who are even easier to get addicted.

      • BlueHorus says:

        Kids is a fairly easy, universal line to draw. I’d easily agree that loot boxes should be removed from children’s games for the same reason you shouldn’t sell kids drugs. of course, ‘should’ is a wonderful word…

        But. There was a great case here a few years ago about a guy (an adult) who had fallen for a Nigerian Prince scam. He was just sending payment after payment abroad, convinced that eventually there would be a massive return on what he’d spent.
        Thing is, it was his money. It was blindingly obvious that it was a scam, and he would be greatly helped by someone taking control of his finances and stopping the payments (also in my opinion a slap or three – stop encouraging criminals, dumbass!).

        And yet he was adamant that no-one should interfere. Spending this money was his choice. And it wasn’t like he was stealing to fund this like some drug addicts have to…
        He was exactly the candidate for intervention, and that’s precisely what he didn’t want anyone to do.

        I bet a lot of people with addictive personalities would be the same.

        • Steve C says:

          Yeah I see the argument and cannot support it. That money is going to a criminal enterprise. It may have been his, but that fact is not as important as many make it to be. That money will be used to do things that are a detriment to society by criminals.

          It is as much about who gets the money and why that it is about the person giving the money and why. Scummy business practices should be axed for the reason that they are scummy business practices. There is a valid question of how. It is difficult. If it can be done, it should be done.

          If Blizzard is engaging in predatory anti-consumer business practices… they should be stopped. Otherwise companies will keep doing it and keep pushing where the line is. Then other companies become emboldened by their actions and go a little further. It’s a lot like Zerg creep building a foundation for other unsavoriness.

    • Blake says:

      “How can you protect people from themselves?
      (Particuarly when they don’t want you to)”

      You make them have to go out of their way to do the destructive behaviour thing.
      You make it so that they have to go to a casino (or other specific location) to go gambling. If they want to go do it, they can, but you don’t allow doorknockers to come past with pokies every hour in the hopes that you slip up and start making mistakes.

    • Cybron says:

      Most people who buy loot boxes would be just as happy if they had bought their skins without a loot box. The objection is not what they choose to spend their money on, it’s that the only available method of purchase is exploitative.

    • Matt says:

      How can you protect people from themselves?

      You generally can’t and I don’t believe that any well-meaning but ultimately impersonal group of people should try. That includes activists, corporations, and government. Efforts by these types of people are, I find, usually wasteful and ineffective. People with problems, including gambling and substance abuse, change when THEY want to and when the people in their lives care enough to gently push them in the right direction and support them.

      Legal considerations aside*, ‘I don’t think what you’re doing is okay, therefore I’ll stop you’ is something you do have to say

      Merely not liking what someone is doing is not enough of a reason to force them to stop, I think. There has to be some kind of unambiguous harm or deception that I don’t think is in evidence with loot boxes, or with many activities that we may think of as scummy or foolish. I would prefer a general maxim of, “If you don’t like something, don’t participate.”

  27. Cybron says:

    I don’t mind cosmetic loot boxes. They’re annoyingly effective (I did some grinding during some Overwatch events) but I don’t want them enough to spend money on them. P2W loot boxes are bad because they’re P2W, which I treat about the same way I treat games with DRM. So to me, loot boxes are ultimately annoying but something I can only view from the perspective of an external observer.

    That said I would like to see us adopt some of the regulations from markets where this issue is older, like China and Japan. I’d like to see mandatory disclosure of drop rates, like China does. I would also like to ban “premium currency” as an intermediary between real money spent and game item purchases, as well as a running total of money spent being displayed in game (I’m told Japan does something like this). These would not ban them but would help curve explotation.

    • Blake says:

      I think cosmetic loot boxes are trash and anyone selling a game with them should be made to feel bad, but purchasing individual skins and whatnot is fine.

      I also strongly agree with those Chinese and Japanese regulations.
      If we’re going to allow gambling in games, people should at least know what they’re gambling on.
      It’s currently like saying “(pay and) Pick my number and win a prize”, without saying the number range, is it 0-10, 0-100, 0-100,000,000, who knows!? Was it the same as yesterday? Who cares!? Did it give you a 90% chance of winning the first 10 times but now only a 15% chance of winning? Maybe!

      Adults should be able to spend their money how they like, but they should be able to know what they’re spending it on.

  28. Phrozenflame500 says:

    I definitely agree with the ruling under the context of the current law, and I am not particularly bothered by lootboxes so I’m not too interested in changing the law restricting them either.

    That being said, I’ve heard interesting suggestions to mandate disclosure of the odds involved (I know China did this), so that games with lootboxes would have to disclose the X% of getting a drop at each rarity tier and required disclosure whenever the odds would change. That I think I’d be mostly in support of.

  29. Shamus says:

    Surprising: Not one person has chimed in saying they LIKE loot boxes. Not even the free kind.

    SOMEONE out there buys these stupid things.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Aside from publishers,I doubt it.Many people definitely like the loot,and want it,but the randomizing part in the boxes,no one is a fan of that.

    • djw says:

      I find the idea odious, but when they introduced them to Elder Scrolls Online I grumbled for several weeks and then bought a bunch. Not my proudest moment. (Note that in ESO the loot boxes have cosmetic items, but nothing stat related, so it is not pay to win. I wanted a “skin” that I could apply to my vampire characters so that they don’t look so pasty).

      In any case, as much as I dislike the idea of loot boxes, I dislike the idea of an agency outlawing them even more.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      When Mass Effect 3 came out, I got really into the multiplayer mode, which sells these blind boxes (as I’ve always called them), and I spent more than I’d ever specifically admit to on wretched virtual currency trying to score all the rare items and characters. Part of it was that I was a new airman, making more money than I’d ever had before, and almost all of it disposable thanks to my main costs (room and board) being subsidized by the service. I’m also possessed of a stubborn collectionist and completionist streak, one I’ve moderated a lot since then but still have to actively restrain. The ME3 multiplayer was also really fun.

      That was the touching-the-hot-stove moment for me. I realized I’d been a huge fucking idiot, the kind of guy born every minute, and a corpulent marine mammal. I don’t stoop to blaming the game for my own actions, but I was fully cognizant that the entire system was set up to goad this behavior. In general, I despair at the large and growing encroachment of developers’ business models into the substance and design of the games themselves; blind box systems in particular reduce my likelihood to reward that choice with a purchase just above nil.

      I don’t think everyone that play those kinds of games or buy blind boxes with real money are exploited suckers setting themselves up for a fall, or that they have some sort of moral obligation to abstain with me, because of all the varieties of insufferable moron I am, I’m not that kind. But everyone has to make decisions about how much red meat they can eat, how many cans they can have before they drive, and how much money they can throw away waiting for a random number generator to spit out a more garish outfit, and just for myself, the right answers are, “As much as I can afford, no thanks, and screw off.”

      • Paul Spooner says:

        Eloquent as always.
        Good share.
        My courtship with gambling-esque “game” systems came to a crisis during the WoW open beta. I was a Junior in college (3rd year with one to go) and found myself getting up at 3 am to avoid the network lag from the campus internet. There in the pre-dawn light I had a revelation. Blizzard was operating a casino that paid out in flattery. It was a very pretty casino, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I didn’t have the self-control to engage with it in a healthy way.

        So I let my subscription lapse, and then discovered another facet which I had not considered. Multiplayer is marketed as a way to “play games with your friends”, and that’s great. But what if you can’t handle the game your friends play? What if playing WoW is all your friends want to do with their free time? As a result of quitting WoW, I found myself largely isolated. As an introvert, this wasn’t too bad, but I imagine that this would have been unacceptable for many others. I couldn’t handle World of Warcraft; I could psychologically handle loosing friends though. What about those poor extroverts who couldn’t handle either?

        Three years later Blizzard held a “free week” to owners of an account which had lapsed. My old friends encouraged me to give it a try, so I signed up. But I still couldn’t play in a healthy way, and started loosing sleep. After that I never went back.

        I won’t play games with skinner-box systems. I just can’t handle them.

        To come back around to the OP, I agree with Shamus that this decision is a good one, even if the justification is a bit daft. It’s hard enough to keep clear of these games-of-chance systems, and if we outlaw it, we’ll only end up with bootleg gambling.

        • djw says:

          Everquest delayed my Ph.d thesis by about a year for similar reasons.

          I like my job a lot better than I liked writing my thesis, so now when I play MMO’s the tug of responsibility is strong enough to break the feedback loop.

      • Henson says:

        I think I got sufficiently burned when I realized how much money I had spent on Magic cards. It’s a fun game, but it just wasn’t sustainable to keep buying packs.

        That was 18 years ago…

    • etheric42 says:

      Ehh, my Magic comments kind of hinted at it. I don’t go for boosters anymore, but at one point in time I enjoyed it. I do enjoy draft and booster tournaments/leagues digitally and IRL. I guess I didn’t say I enjoyed the digital loot boxes, but I suppose the games I play they are most directly involved in (Battlerite, Overwatch, Shadow of War) I generally don’t care about their contents.

      I suppose it is kind of like advertising. I don’t care for most of it and I am generally not interested in their product. There have been times where advertising has been useful to me, but I haven’t been exposed to the (edit) digital loot box (/edit) variant (edit) of random drops (/edit) enough times to find one I like. Unless you include Diabloalikes, where I do find random loot drops interesting… but I also really enjoyed when I played a season of Diablo 3 and it nonrandomly dropped an entire set for me whole cloth. I do find I enjoy finding interesting loot in RPGs/open world games when it is effectively random (I found it myself), as opposed to when a guide tells me where it is and how to get it.

      (edit) A few years ago I thought people who pay real money for skins in games like League were crazy. Then I found out that when I have an adult’s income, have spent more time playing League than any other digital game aside from MUSHs back in the day, I did not mind spending on a few skins for my favorite characters. I did not and do not feel abused or cheated for it when ostensibly the game was free. Instead I actually felt (and feel) like the publisher/developers deserved my money for giving me (and continuing to work to give me) such an enjoyable experience. (/edit)

      • Dev Null says:

        I’ll frequently buy a bit of something from the store of a free game that I’ve spent a significant amount of time playing. Can lead to some strange conversations in chat, since I still want to get something that I want for my money, even though I’m really just trying to support the devs, and usually have some idea how much I’m willing to spend. “What’s the best thing I can get for ~$10?”

    • guy says:

      I like cracking open free loot boxes to see what’s inside, as it happens. What I’m not fond of is putting real money down for the chance to crack open a box that has about a 1% chance of having the thing I want enough to put money down for.

    • Phrozenflame500 says:

      There is exactly one implementation of lootboxes that I liked. And that was Rainbow Siege Siege’s implementation where you get a free one every once and while and it lets you earn cosmetics while playing as opposed to the normal paid-for way.

    • Jirin says:

      I like Overwatch’s loot boxes. I wouldn’t buy them for myself, but I can see myself buying some as a gift for someone.

      I’m trying to picture how it would work without the randomness. I imagine you’d just get more in-game currency than you do now, including a large chunk per level up, and use that to buy the cosmetic stuff you want. I think I’d end up enjoying that less than the current system; I’d probably end up hording my money, maybe just buy one skin for my favourite characters, ignore the sprays and voice lines entirely (I like them, but not enough to spend a limited resource on), and feel really torn every time I buy a cool event skin (because what if a better one comes out next time?).

    • Dev Null says:

      I liked the store/microtransaction/whateveryoucallit in City of Heroes; you could spend money to buy cosmetic pieces to use in character generation, just like a lot of modern shooters and such. But since the character generation in that game was so broad and powerful, and the cosmetics so varied, they actually seemed to mean something; you could use them to signify a power, or complete a theme. I think the one that finally broke me and made me spend money was my character Tankerbelle (classic punch-brick, maximum bulk/size, in a green leather jacket;) when the faerie wings turned up in the store, I was _sold_.

    • Syal says:

      I sort-of like the free kind; hack-and-slash random drops are fun, and I’ve got 250 hours into Binding of Isaac now because broken item combos are addictive. But those aren’t, like, BOXES boxes. Actual boxes of loot are boring, especially if they’re separate from gameplay.

      My pay-for-loot experience consisted of one $3 random GOG game. I don’t know why people would pay real money for additional content restricted to a single game.

    • Mephane says:

      I don’t like them per se, but I also don’t specifically dislike them as long as they fulfill the following conditions:

      * They can be acquired through normal gameplay at a reasonable rate. Having to go out of your way to do, for example, annoying daily quests does not constitute “normal gameplay”.
      * Loot boxes sold for real money are identical or worse than loot boxes earned by playing the game. If the loot boxes bought with real money are better in some way (e.g. better chances for rare items, exclusive items only found in bought boxes), count me out.
      * There is an outlet that lets your circumvent the random nature of loot box contents, e.g. acquire specific items directly through ingame means (not real money, and like above the effort should be reasonable) if you find yourself unlucky.
      * Loot boxes sold for real money only ever contain cosmetic items. As soon as game-mechanically relevant items are in a loot box, selling them for real money constitutes Pay-To-Win in my view.

      Hence I am fine with loot boxes in Overwatch, but I wouldn’t touch EA’s Battlefront 2 with a 3 meter laser pole. (And I do actually yearn for a sufficiently futuristic (e.g. laser guns) Battlefield style shooter.)

      P.S.: I generally refuse to buy loot boxes for real money. I have no issues with paying for cosmetic items in principle, but I won’t pay for the chance at an item I’d like.

    • Matt Downie says:

      Loot Boxes are how some games are paid for. Without them the game wouldn’t exist and be available for free.

      People who enjoy these games are the primary beneficiaries of loot boxes (even if they don’t buy loot boxes), but that doesn’t mean they appreciate them, any more than they enjoy paying taxes.

      I suspect also that most of the people here don’t play many loot-box-driven games. This is a site for people who think deeply about games, and if you think about a loot-box game you’ll notice that it’s designed less to be fun and more to create the sensation of ‘this would be fun if I spent money buying loot boxes’.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        What if instead of loot boxes those games offered 100% guaranteed loot?So instead of having just a chance to get what you want from a randomized box,youd get exactly what you want for your money.Would that impact the enjoyment of the game as a game and not as a virtual slot machine?

        • BlueHorus says:

          At a guess…

          People would buy the loot, get bored and then leave. The company would make a bit of money, but nothing like as much as the Skinner-box inspired random loot lottery. Without the risk-gamble-reward loop/trap, your game just wouldn’t keep the players.
          Unless the gameplay was fun in and of itself, which costs money and now it’s a different game altogether.

        • guy says:

          My guess is that the sellers project that if they did guaranteed rewards like that they’d maybe get more money from people like me, who will pay five bucks for a pack of cosmetics or stuff they’ve seen and like, but that wouldn’t make up for the big loss for people who will throw hundreds of dollars into rolling for things they want but just buy a much shorter list if they could pick things individually.

        • etheric42 says:

          I mentioned this earlier with Duelyst. As far as I am aware that game took a significant hit when it allowed you to just buy the entire expansion set instead of buying booster packs/waiting for drops. The devs thought they were doing what was right, but some people found part of the enjoyment was the trickle of drops and finding out what they got next.

          Also, games like Overwatch and Battlerite do let you buy specific items in addition to the random loot boxes if I remember right. I’m not sure why you would want a specific orc captain in Shadow of War, but I don’t think the orc boxes would be the way to go about getting that.

          Many digital CCGs do as well, in Hearthstone you can craft specific cards using dust from deconstructed cards.

    • Cybron says:

      There are absolutely people who enjoy opening MtG boosters. That experience is similar enough to loot boxes that I’d expect someone to like it.

      Frankly I don’t imagine the comments section on a long form video game discussion blog to be a very random sample of even the video game playing population.

    • Viktor says:

      Whenever there’s an Overwatch event, most of the streamers/youtubers do lootbox unboxings. Buy 50 lootboxes, unbox them, react. I like those vids for background noise, but I noticed basically ever since Chinese New Year, even streamers seem pissed at OW lootboxes. Long-term, I think most people will end up disliking the slot machine mechanic.

    • Jamey Johnston says:

      I love loot boxes. Apologies for some repeat information in this post from one further up the thread, but I have plenty of money and no time, so to keep up with my friends in STO, I buy master keys (which cost real money and open loot boxes that are absurdly common drops). I don’t open boxes myself, but instead I sell the keys on the in-game auction house to have credits to buy items to improve gear, etc. Loot boxes provide essentially a stable economic base for real money to in-game money conversion.

  30. ehlijen says:

    I think something the ESRB could do is make games have either a ‘no microtransactions’ (with a green check or crossed out $ or something) or a ‘contains microtransactions’ box sticker/webpage logo (with like a red x or $ or something), right next to the rating sticker/logo.
    And make webstores sortable by this.

    It wouldn’t stop anyone from making either of game, but anything to help make finding non-microtransaction games easier to find could be good.

    • Cybron says:

      That information is easily available online; I’d expect anyone who cares enough to avoid such a thing would know. Unless you go full Surgeon General’s Warning I wouldn’t expect it to have much effect.

      • ehlijen says:

        That is actually more or less what I meant. The information should have to be right there on the package, as it should influence the buying decisions.

        Parents should need to know if a game will bombard their kid with requests for more money. People with gambling addictions should need to know if a game might trigger that. People buying games for friends should want to know, because turning up to a BD party with a gift that keeps asking for more money could be somewhat awkwards. etc.

        “The info is available online” is a carte blanche for the marketing people to brush important information under the table at the sales point, where they should be the most required to be honest about their product.

    • evilmrhenry says:

      I’d go with a mobile-style “in-app purchases” note….

      …and it turns out that Steam already has that. Example:
      http://store.steampowered.com/app/238960/Path_of_Exile/

  31. Ardis Meade says:

    Every article usually has a bunch of comments about minor little spelling errors and the like, so I find it surprising that no has mentioned that Shamus has mathed wrong. It’s 88%of states not 89%.

  32. Duoae says:

    To my sensibilities, the problem is with the USA’s issue with the AO assignment rather than anything else. Really, when you read the difference between 16/16+ (EU designation) versus M/M+ in USA writing and 18 and AO you understand that the reason AO exists is to censor content, rather than actually assign age groups to the experiences.

    To put it bluntly, America is dedicated to denigrating adult experiences to a mid-teen level because they are afraid of those adult experiences.

    I’ve been able to buy 18+ novels, movies etc. outside of the USA forever. Most of those experiences are rated M in the USA because of the retailer issue. The few that aren’t are effectively banned. The reason those retailers don’t carry them is because of censorship issues, not any widespread belief that the content will corrupt the consumers.

    The upshot of the whole thing is that the ESRB is able to say that they don’t ban games (but they totally do) and the other ratings bodies have similar tricks only less transparent…

    It’s all a worthless sham we can all see through.

  33. Philadelphus says:

    It’s easy to come up with a definition that seems reasonable and then realize you’ve accidentally included or excluded something obviously inappropriate.

    To go on a tangent, this is partly why we didn’t have a formal definition of the word “planet” until the 21st century, and why it caused so much controversy when it finally happened. Definitions generally boiled down to “excludes Pluto” or “includes Pluto, but also Ceres, Eris, Haumea, Makemake, and an unknown but ever-increasing number of similar objects found in the future”.

    The same situation happened 200 years ago, actually, when Ceres was first discovered. Astronomers at the time were like “Cool! A new planet between Mars and Jupiter!” But then they found another. And another. And another… Once it got up to about seventeen or so they decided that this was way too many planets and kicked the can down the road by making a new category (asteroids) for these new objects, while leaving “planet” formally undefined. Then Pluto got discovered about 5 decades earlier than it had any right to be, so when we started finding lots of new similar objects out there over the past few decades it eventually culminated in the firestorm of controversy it turned out to be when astronomers finally got around to formally defining “planet”.

  34. Dreadjaws says:

    While there’s an element of chance in these mechanics, the player is always guaranteed to receive in-game content (even if the player unfortunately receives something they don’t want) We think of it as a similar principle to collectible card games: Sometimes you’ll open a pack and get a brand new holographic card you’ve had your eye on for a while. But other times you’ll end up with a pack of cards you already have.

    Here’s why I disagree with the ESRB’s reasoning: if you play a collectible card game and you get a pack of cars you already have you can always trade them. Failing that, you can use them to build a castle, open locked doors or line a birdcage. No matter what, you can find a use for them because they’re physical items.

    Digital content, of course, is much different. In some games you can trade the stuff you receive from loot boxes, but in others you can’t. In fact, if you receive something you already had, you might not get a duplicate. The game will inform you that you received something but you’ll have nothing to show for it because it was already in your account/character, so you might not even get something that you can scrap into a bit of in-game cash (assuming the game even lets you do such thing, which is rarely the case).

    Furthermore, for collectible card games that’s the entire mechanic: trading and collecting is all there is to the game. You don’t buy a separate game and then on top of that you buy the card packs. Having this stuff in the middle of an entirely different game is like shoving random 5-second clips of Michael Myers’ “The Cat In The Hat” in the middle of watching “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, under the promise that if you pay extra you’ll get even more clips of your Marvel film. It feels out of place and it’s hard to ignore.

    The really bad part is that, even if not technically gambling in legal terms, it’s still a mechanic that uses the same tricks gambling does to take advantage of people’s impulses. It might not be gambling in the letter, but it is in spirit.

    • Cybron says:

      You’re definitely going to be lining the bird cage with most of what you open in a CCG. Except for a few increasingly rare oddities, good cards are rarer. It’s a very common sight at gaming stores for players to open a pack, take 1-4 cards out of it, and drop the rest in the store’s common box, which is basically a garbage bin new players can raid for filler junk. I started doing this myself after I while and I have some notable pack rat tendencies (I have so many worthless cards laying around from early days…). I would seriously consider duplicates of your average common to be worth significantly less than the pittance you get paid for duplicates in Overwatch.

  35. The Rocketeer says:

    Coincidentally, I just saw this story on RPS about similar questions concerning where loot boxes fit in UK gambling laws. The answer is apparently ??????

  36. djw says:

    I suspect this is a minority position, based on the rest of the comments here, but I would like to see more gambling, not less. Mainly, I am a fan of prediction markets, which are mostly banned in America.

    If tolerating loot boxes brings us a step closer to tolerating prediction markets then I am in favor of them (even though I think loot boxes are tacky). Maybe we can help gambling addicts through social networks and counseling instead of banning gambling.

    • Cybron says:

      Prediction markets are much more skill based than the type of gambling being discussed here. I don’t find them at all comparable.

      • etheric42 says:

        Isn’t that like saying betting on horse races is much more skill based than betting on roulette?

        I ask this question because I would sincerely like to be corrected if my assumption is wrong. As far as I am aware, prediction markets are about leveraging knowledge you have about the situation against the average predictor’s knowledge in order to find margin between the posted odds and your actual chance of success. Horse racing being the same way about leveraging knowledge you have about the current field of horses against the house’s posted odds.

        I guess it is more skill based than roulette, in the same way that playing chess for money is more skill based than a card game like Magic for money. But I think djw has a point that I am going to rephrase that if we tolerated roulette for money then we would be more tolerant of horse racing for money.

        The problem is we already generally tolerate blind buy boxes, coin operated toy dispensers, grab bags, and booster packs. I am not sure if cementing digital loot boxes in the booster pack category is necessarily going to help prediction markets/roulette/horse racing.

        • Cybron says:

          I would compare it to the stock market, not horse racing. If you think the stock market is all gambling, well, can’t help you there but society has marked it as acceptable.

        • djw says:

          You are probably correct in saying that they are not all that closely linked. However, if the general attitude is “loot box, that’s gambling, lets ban it!” then that is probably not a good sign for fans of prediction markets.

      • djw says:

        The loot boxes that I have purchased had zero skill whatsoever involved. Well, I guess I had to be able to read well enough to understand which buttons to press, but no skill beyond that.

        My point in the previous post wasn’t very sharp, but basically I think that banning more gambling is a move in the wrong direction.

  37. jurgenaut says:

    What if the loot _is_ transferrable, though? In a game like Player unknowns Battlegrounds, you can sell the items you get on Steam’s marketplace. Rare items like the miniskirts sell for hundreds of dollars.

    Of course, you can’t buy the crates for money ingame (yet). Only on steam’s marketplace, which means someone else earned it ingame and sold it.

  38. Redrock says:

    Wow, that’s a lot of comments. Still, why not add my two cents. I don’t want to dwell on the whole “gambling” thing, because to me it’s quite obvious that loot boxes aren’t gambling and also that trying to ban something under the pretense that it’s “amoral” and “bad for the kiddies” is something that videogames have been fighting against forever. You really don’t want to give a government that excuse, that way madness (and censorship) lies. A number of less then democratic countries use “think of the kiddies” as an excuse for actual censorship.

    But my main issue is with the whole anti-microtransaction hysteria, which I find rather over the top. I get the impression that a lot of journalists and bloggers and youtubers are really inflating this problem because it’s very, shal we say, clickable. The way I see ot, there are basically two main arguments against microtransactions in single-player games, both of which are questionable. The first argument is that microtransactions in single-player games lead to a skewed balance which drives people to make additional purchases. That’s a logical assumption, sure. We have every reason to distrust publishers at this point. But there aren’t all that many examples of that, actually. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided caught heat for adding microtransactions where you could pay for Praxis (read: skill points). But at the same time the game literally showered you with Praxis as long as you played it like a Deus Ex game, exploring everything, etc. The microtransactions were nothing more than a paid cheat code. Which isn’t really such a bad option compared to paid weapons or main story chunks. Not a lot of gamers use or need cheats, so it’s really just there for those with more money than time. Dead Space 3 did screw up the balance, I think, I haven’t really played a lot of it. That was an early experiment and the negative backlash really affected the publishers then, it seems. You know what else had single-player microtransactions? Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, although you’d hardly hear anyone complain about that. You could buy XP boosters, additional currency, anything really. But, again, you never really needed that stuff unless you played the game skipping ALL the side stuff, which goes against the whole idea of a Ubisoft sandbox. And even then, all you could buy was a slightly shinier sword-cane slightly sooner, which is ridiculous. Now, I haven’t played Shadow of War and don’t really want to, I really hated Shadow of Mordor. But most reviews say that it doesn’t really push you into buying lootboxes for real money, it’s quite well balanced. Some mention that the endgame gets grindy if you want to see the “real” ending, but… these games are supposed to be grindy, AC is grindy, Mad Max was grindy (and great), Mordor was grindy as hell. These games are all about repeating the same actions and are carried by kinesthetically pleasant mechanics. Arkham Knight required you to do ALL the things to get the “real” ending, including getting all the Riddler stuff. I’m sure people would-have celebrated the option to just spend some money to skip that bullshit. What I’m saying is, that isn’t necessarily a microtransaction thing. It’s just a problem of sandbox design that has been around for some time, but now people are attributing it to microtransactions.

    Which brings us to the second argument – that microtransactions and now loot boxes are “predatory” business practices. No. They really, really aren’t. Going door to door and selling overpriced homeopathic “remedies” to old ladies is predatory. Forcing a huge and complicated loan on a bank client is predatory. And so very legal. Selling skins and abilities in videogames? Not so much. There is that strange idea that gamers can’t control their spending at all. That merely giving an option to buy soemthing is this terrible manipulation that would make every gamer starve to death because they just can’t stop buying stuff. I mean, we are talking about grown men and women here, right? Because that’s what it boils down to: “Someone please ban lootboxes in games because we really can’t control ourselves”. That’s…not very compelling.

    I would fight microtransactions tooth and nail if they affected single-player games in meaningful ways. But for now…they just don’t, I’m sorry. And as far as additional monetization goes, loot boxes bothers me far less than, say, the way Bioware handled DLC in Dragon Age and Mass Effect 3. Now THAT was obnoxious.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Just because it doesnt affect you (yet) does not mean that it hasnt affected numerous games in a meaningful way already.It has.Heck you mentioned asscreed syndicate,and some people DID bring up that as being a problem even back then.They DID talk how the practice would become more prevalent over time,and lo and behold,it did.

      As for it being predatory,it most definitely is.You say that we are talking about grown men and women here,and thats not the case.We are talking about kids as well.Look into the csgo lotto thing,which sparked this whole issue.It was mostly kids who literally gambled for skins in a video game.That IS predatory.Just because “think of the children” is abused by some when the issue has nothing to do with kids does not mean that you should not be thinking of children when the issue most definitely does involve them.

      • Redrock says:

        My argument was that the game’s balance wasn’t being affected in a meaningful way. And you didn’t provide any examples of the contrary. As for children, well, are these all gainfully employed children? Where are they getting the money to spend on lootboxes? And credit cards, not petty cash? And all these M-rated games? If a kid blows all his money on game stuff, that’s what we call a teachable moment, regardless of whether it was on lootboxes, skins, good ol DLC, or just games. That’s a parent’s problem, not the industry’s or the government’s.

    • BlueHorus says:

      It’s good to hear the other side of the argument well put. :)
      Emphasise the individual responsibility of the people who buy the loot boxes. And the people who let their kids buy loot boxes.
      Lots of people here agree that loot boxes are bad and should be regulated if not banned – me included – but it’s all about the government stepping in to protect people. Not even the posters themselves, often its protecting other people.

      Protecting people from themselves is all well and good (and should happen IMO) but there do have to be limits. It’s not a guaranteed road to a police states, but it’s a step towards it – and it also allows people to hide from their responsibilities.

    • Cybron says:

      Boiling the opposing argument down to “gamers’ self control” is very reductive and rather uncharitable, as I’ve already posted elsewhere. Giving someone the opportunity to buy something is not manipulative. What is manipulative is structuring that opportunity in such a way as to conceal critical information and using deceptive business practices to create inaccurate expectations. And I’d be hard pressed to come up with a reasonable definition of manipulative that does not include targeting known flaws in our psychology which encourage us to act in a manner counter to our best interest.

  39. Asdasd says:

    I mean, we are talking about grown men and women here, right?

    Sadly, it isn’t that simple. The nobel prize for economics was given out a few days ago. The winner’s thesis revolved around how grown men and women frequently fail to make rational financial decisions.

    That’s a broad point, but I’d say it specifically applies to this scenario because people narrow down making a decision about purchasing. In the case of loot-boxes the thought process might not get any further than ‘what I want’ versus ‘what I might get’, as opposed to ‘what impact buying another dozen of these things will have on my household finances this month’.

    To which you might reply, ‘what’s the difference between spending more than you can afford on loot-boxes over a bunch of games, or candy, or anything else?’. Which, yes, fair enough. But as someone else pointed out up-thread, one of the functions the loot-box system serves is to obfuscate the true cost of acquiring particular digital good, which means the spender is that much less well-equipped when making a spending decision.

    • Redrock says:

      True, I’m familiar with Thaler’s work, but that’s also true for all forms of marketing. I mean, putting candy in colourful wrappers? That’s manipulative. Not to mention that it’s laced with addictive sugar. And any kind of banking service is straight up manipulative.

      Look, lootboxes are manipulative, no argument there. But the value of what’s in them is apparent from the start – close to zero. I mean, it’s skins and multiplayer stuff, pretty worthless even by videogame standards. If a person can afford to buy that stuff – more power to them, I say. If they are spending money they can’t afford to spend, I don’t see the difference between spending it on a random lootbox or a particular super cool skin or whatever. That’s just irresponsible financial behavior and no one’s fault but the spender’s.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        The value of digital goods is not the same though.A super cool looking skin IS worth more than a lame one,even if the only metric is “people want the cool one more”.

        I mean,imagine two shirts,both made equally,both with pictures on them,but one with a picture of Michael Jackson the other with the picture of Justin Bieber.One will definitely be south out by more people and thus have a higher price,even though the work and materials that went into making them are the same.Now imagine if instead of selling them regularly,where someone can go in and say “I want to buy THIS shirt”,instead you placed them in unmarked boxes with the ration of 10:1.Now,you wont be selling just X amounts of shirt one and Y amounts of shirt two,but rather a new Z amount of boxes,where Z>X+Y.Thats what loot boxes are.

        • Redrock says:

          And? If you are spending your last 10 bucks on the shirt, it’s kinda equally irresponsible, whether you get something you like or don’t like. Sure, you will enjoy your Michael Jackson shirt more, but you are still going to starve. Furthermore, it’s not like you are being misled about the lootbox being random. No one promises that you are guaranteed to get a Michael Jackson shirt. You are making an informed decision. One you have to take responsibility for.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            First,yes some people definitely will give their last cent in order to win,due to their addictive personality.Exploiting them in this way is no different then selling bogus medicine to a hypochondriac.

            Second,its not an informed decision when you dont say the odds of getting one thing or the other,as is the case with loot boxes.At best they give descriptions that are “rare” or “common” or something like that.Not to mention that even if they told you the exact odds,how are you going to check that?With a roulette wheel or a deck of cards,you can always see everything thats there and calculate the odds.And if a card or a number is missing,deliberately or not,you can see that.But what if theres a bug in the randomness code?

            • Redrock says:

              If you are are specifically targeting a hypochondriac, then yes, it’s morally suspect. Like I mentioned in my example about old ladies and door to door sales. But if you are just selling a product to everyone through a storefront, then you can’t be responsible for who buys it. You can’t ban alcohol, as was alredy discussed above, because some of the people who buy it are alcoholics and can’t help themselves. Same as you can’t ban cutlery even though a huge amount of homicides are commited with kitchen knives. Or toasters, or rope or sweets. Or anything really, because people can hurt themselves with anything.

              And not knowing the exact odds is irrelevant in this case. You are specifically told that the outcome is random. That should be quite enough for anyone. You either roll with it (get it? sorry) or you don’t buy them. It’s not a difficult decision. I don’t think anyone who has spent money on lootboxes would claim that they’ve been duped in some way.

              On an unrelated note, Daemian Lucifer, I find it funny how we get to have these talks while our American friends here are mostly still asleep. I mean, I presume you live somewhere around Europe based on the hours you keep. Sorry if my presumption is wrong))

              • Daemian Lucifer says:

                Yes,Im from the balkans.No worries,I dont keep that as a secret.

                But you dont deliver alcohol to anyone who gives you money either.You still have to have a license to sell it,and even then people have to come to you to get it*.With this,you can buy your kid a game with your credit card,and then they come and buy a ton of loot boxes without your knowledge because you werent informed that could happen.And this isnt a hypothetical either,this has happened to some people.

                Addicts may not be the only ones these things are advertised to,but they are the intended targets.Its no secret that the few whales are the intended targets for this sort of thing,and the rest are there simply to populate the game.This has been stated numerous times in numerous interviews.Heck,some of the publishers actually are amongst the whales for these practices.

                Knowing the exact odds is relevant.Someone can get a “rare” loot in the game after about an hour,by chance,see that it can happen,and then think they have a decent chance for the “rare” loot from a box,even though one “rare” can have a completely different chace from the other.Also,its not just the case of you buy one box or none at all.You can get lucky and get the desired thing from the first box,or you can not get it from 10.But the chances are deliberately obfuscated precisely so that people would not know how many boxes they would need in advance,and thus not knowing how much money they would actually spend.

                *Yes,I know there are sites that deliver alcohol.Im assuming those are also regulated somehow,and require you to give an id or something.Because if they arent,I have no idea how they are circumventing the law regulating other stores.

                • Syal says:

                  With this,you can buy your kid a game with your credit card,and then they come and buy a ton of loot boxes without your knowledge because you werent informed that could happen.

                  This part is something I’m fine regulating. Make companies give full refunds if their system allows children to spend their parents’ money.

                  • etheric42 says:

                    In the US this is already regulated. The company shall issue the refund. Even without the refund being able to be issued you can usually reverse the charge through the credit card by saying it was an unauthorized purchase.

                    Kids stealing your money/credit cards has been a problem for a long time. Now it’s thousands of dollars worth of pokeballs. Back in the day it was selling your car to buy a guitar. I’m sure it is still stealing cash from your wallet to buy drugs or alcohol. Not saying it isn’t a problem (it is a problem), but it is a different problem than whether loot boxes are immoral/should be illegal/are gambling.

              • BlueHorus says:

                You either roll with it (get it? sorry) or you don’t buy them. It’s not a difficult decision. I don’t think anyone who has spent money on lootboxes would claim that they’ve been duped in some way.

                “Well *I* have no trouble not doing something, therefore no-one else does.”
                It’s that’s simple, isn’t it? All those addicts have to just not do the thing they’re addicted to! Wonder why they never thought of that!

                …I’m being facetious. Take the above with a pinch of salt.
                The thing about individual responsibility is that it assumes all people are rational adults…and they often aren’t.
                I know a few people with addiction-style problems (or straight-up addictions) and every single one of them has at least one underlying issue that drives their problem. It is never that simple; they’re people – i.e complex – and just saying “welp, you made your choice, now enjoy your poverty and self-hatred” or “I don’t care why you broke the law, to prison with you!” doesn’t solve the problem and/or ruins lives.

                Not that I really disagree with you – I just can’t understand why anyone would ever gamble or buy loot boxes – but there’s a limit to where you put the lines here. Interference in people’s choices can be a good thing, even if its risky.

                • Redrock says:

                  I think we should really get down to brass tacks with the whole addiction thing. Now, wikipedia states that problem gambling (which is a broader term than pathological gambling but still a DSM-5 recognized disorder) can be found in, at best, 3% of the general population. Given that the overlap with AAA video game consumers would be much, much smaller, I think it’s safe to say that people with genuine gambling problems are not the main target audience for game publishers. Same as alcoholics aren’t actually the crux of the alcohol industry’s business strategy, same as chocolate makers don’t bet on the morbidly obese. No, all these companies market to the average consumer with healthy-ish consumption habits. Also, there is no data to suspect an overlap between so-called “whales” and people with addiction, in part because the term “whales” was introduced in conjunction with freemium games, way before the issue of lootboxes possible gambling was brought up. No, “whales” are mostly people with more money than sense, but the same can be said of target audiences of a very wide range of products and services (insert Apple joke here).

                  I think we should make a clear distinction between actual gambling addicts, who are people with real diagnoses, and people with poor self-control, which is most people. But, as I’ve been arguing, exploiting people’s poor self-control is not something unique to microtransactions and lootboxes in games. It’s what all marketing ever is about. And now I’m coming back to my original argument: that the whole outrage about lootboxes and microtransactions in general (in full-priced single-player games, mind you) boils down to the assumption that gamers have no self-control at all and should not be given an option to spend their money. Which is a pretty defeatist assumption.

                  And on the subject of children and parents – that’s solved through “in-app purchases” tags and parental control options on purchases, which most digital stores already have. They may need to be improved, but they are there.

                  • Cybron says:

                    That is an extremely reductive and rather uncharitable characterization of people’s concerns. You can have self control and be vulnerable to manipulation. You can be financially responsible and vulnerable to deceptive tactics (If you spend up to your allowed budget and get nothing you value in return despite expecting otherwise for rational reasons because of concealed manipulation of odds, is that okay? Because that’s perfectly viable under the current system).

                    You’re also acting like vulnerability to the psychological pressures involved in gambling is a binary variable. In reality, it’s a sliding scale. Most people are vulnerable to some degree. Your arguments about self-control, by and large, can just as easily be applied to actual gambling like slot machines, and yet we as a society have decided that those are worth regulating. Whether you agree or not, there is clearly something else going on, beyond the manipulation involved in flashy packaging, in the eyes of many people.

                    • Redrock says:

                      Well, yes, arguments about self-control can be applied to slot machines and actual gambling. I mean, most people except for the aforementioned 3% can go to Vegas, pay a couple of hands of poker, lose a few hundred bucks and just stop. Many people don’t stop at that point, but not because they are somehow more vulnerable to pressure, but because they are making bad decisions. They aren’t part of the 3%. You can’t call everyone who makes bad decisions a victim. A lot of people are just idiots. Which may be too harsh a word. Impulsive, then. Irresponsible. Stubborn. Pick one.

                      It’s a sort of a fad, claiming mental illness at any chance. I find that obnoxious. Many people suffer from real addictions or real depression, which is often a terrible, terrible thing. But most people who’d claim depression don’t actually have that diagnosis. And most people who blow their money on game stuff aren’t gambling addicts – they are just bad with money.

                    • Cybron says:

                      “It’s a sort of a fad, claiming mental illness at any chance. I find that obnoxious. Many people suffer from real addictions or real depression, which is often a terrible, terrible thing.”
                      Good thing neither of us has done that, then. I would appreciate it if you’d not strawman me. Psychology is a lot more complex than “your brain is broken or it isn’t” and not all variations in human behavior qualify as mental illness.

                      You seem to believe in a just world paradigm wherein those who gets fleeced deserve it. I disagree but that’s a value issue and I won’t pursue the topic any further as it verges too far into forbidden topics. I still take issue with your views on the effectiveness of manipulation, which are not consistent with research on variable ratio reinforcement. Being subject to such things is not a matter of intelligence.

                      Not everyone who makes bad decisions is a victim but everyone who makes a decision they would not have made otherwise because of concealed information and deceptive tactics is. This is an important part of what I’m saying and you seem to have missed it entirely.

                    • Redrock says:

                      First of all, Just-World Belief, of Just-World Hypothesis or whatever else it’s called in various studies, suggests that a person thinks that all bad things kinda happen to people for a reason. I don’t believe that and never suggested that. What I do believe in is that most people can and should take responsibility for their consumer decisions and spending habits. Psychology is complex, no question about that. But that doesn’t really negate the fact that people have free will. And while some people have disorders that prevent them from exercising that free wil, the vast majority of people can just not buy lootboxes in video games. I don’t think there is anything really deceptive about lootboxes, really. It’s paying real money for a radom chance to win a couple of minor in-game items. Its silliness and wastefulness should be quite apparent to anyone. I don’t really hear anyone actually complaining about how they misunderstood their chances of getting a particular skin. Also, is knowing the odds really the key thing? You can figure out the odds in most forms of gambling pretty accurately. Does that make it really better? I think you can roughly estimate the odds by analyzing a big enough sample.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      And while some people have disorders that prevent them from exercising that free wil, the vast majority of people can just not buy lootboxes in video games.

                      Ok this is very important,and also addresses what you are saying about hiding the odds.You keep saying “majority of people” and “few” and other obfuscating terms like that,but when you put a number to it the problem suddenly becomes vastly different.So lets put a number to it:

                      You mentioned 3%,but lets be conservative and say its just 1%.AAA games today strive for millions of players,but lets just say one million to have a nice round number.That is still TEN THOUSAND people.Are you saying that a company exploiting the mental issues of TEN THOUSAND people is not doing much harm?And thats a single company doing that with a single product,and only if we are being very conservative about the whole thing and not considering all the issues raised by other posters.

                      3% is not a big deal when the sample size is small.But when the sample size is in the millions,then anything above a single percent becomes very big and should not be dismissed lightly like that.

                    • Redrock says:

                      Well, it’s a tricky thing. I agree that lootboxes are bad and can hurt some people. I think we should boycott the practice. But when it comes to regulation, you have to consider the relative numbers. Because otherwise you are opening Pandora’s box. Because cutlery kills hundreds of thousands people. Screw cutlery. Video games have hurt thousands of people way before mictotransactions. We don’t like to talk about that, but unhealthy gaming habits are a much bigger problem than lootboxes can ever become. And it’s not just World of Warcraft, either. Do you really want to start regulating things on the basis that a small percentage of the audience might get hurt? Because you may have to start elsewhere and then you would never, ever be able to stop. Because 1% of people will find ways to hurt themselves with anything. What you have to do is try to figure out a way to protect them without outright banning the goods in question. That’s my problem with the whole debate. I hate lootboxes as much as the next man. I’d just rather not bring regulation into it.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Because cutlery kills hundreds of thousands people. Screw cutlery.

                      Except with cutlery you always get a X Years guarantee,and if it fails during normal use in that period,you can get compensation from the maker.If a knife handle breaks when you are cutting a steak,the maker will pay for your health bills(and probably something extra).Thats what regulation is.Its not the banning of unsafe things,its making them as safe as possible in normal circumstances and if unexpected things happen,the maker/provider of the unsafe thing is liable for damages*.

                      For the case in point,one should not expect from a first person shooter to trigger their gambling addiction.Heck,games that can trigger an epileptic attack already have a big warning on them,and vr games have nausea warnings all over the place,so this should be no different**.

                      *Again,Im talking about what should be the case normally.Im not talking how in practice corruption,lawyers and such can screw you royally.Thats a separate issue.
                      **And this is the bare minimum when we are talking about adults.The whole issue of giving kids access to gambling comes on top of it.

                    • Redrock says:

                      When I mentioned cutlery, I actually meant how it’s often used in homicides, which warranty doesn’t really help with. And when I said about unhealthy game consumption I meant that a lot of people spend way too much time gaming than they should, often at the expense of more important things. In the grand scheme of things that’s a much more prevalent problem than potential triggered gambling addiction. There is such a thing as videogame addiction. But the gaming community hates talking about that, for understandable reasons.

                      But, yeah, I’am all for placing extra warnings about in-app purchases. As I’ve mentioned, most stores have them, but we can always have more. We could even formulate a special warning regarding lootboxes. Something along the lines of “The game contains random in-game reward packages” or whatever. Branding it gambling and giving the AO rating, which is an effective ban, would be, in my opinion, a couple of steps too far.

                    • Cybron says:

                      “Most people can and should…”
                      You acknowledged Thaler’s work about unreasonable behavior in this very thread. You also very clearly believe that anyone who makes a poor finacial decision (even if subject to manipulation) deserves what they get, which is what I meant by just world.

                      “That doesn’t negate the fact that people have free will.”
                      There is an entire branch of psychology dedicated to showing how ‘free will’ can be undercut and manipulated. While it’s important to maintain the idea of personal autonomy and responsibility for social, cultural, and legal reasons, it’s also important to recognize that our brains have flaws and to guard against them. Forgive me if I’m jumping to conclusions, but you seem to be under the impression that there’s a distinct line between addiction and ‘normal’ choice. This is not the case. It’s a sliding scale of priorities.

                      “Unhealthy gaming habits”
                      I don’t find the slippery slope at all convincing. There are clear societal stigmas against gambling being appealed to which do not apply to your proposed extended regulations. And perhaps most importantly, there are forms of regulation other than bans.

                      And then the rest of this post is pretty dense with stuff I disagree with. I’ll probably miss something and have to come back to it later. Here goes:
                      “silliness and wastefulness should be apparent to anyone”
                      Guess that’s why no one buys them, oh wait. Look, I have never paid for a purely cosmetic upgrade ever. But I can still understand that people want them and guess why. Theory of mind is valuable here. There’s also plenty of evidence to suggest that people are bad at tracking exactly how much money they’ve spent on these things, and that companies go out of their way to encourage that phenomena with currency conversions and the like.

                      “Never heard of anyone complaining about misunderstanding”
                      It was a pretty common story in China, where this particular economy is far more evolved. And it’s often hard to complain about things you aren’t totally aware of. I never heard more than a dull mumbling about grinding in For Honor, until those statistics were published by a third party and the game’s player count dropped like a rock.

                      “Is knowing odds really key?”
                      Knowing how much money a thing will cost you greatly helps you decide if you want to throw in money for it, yes. Or to think of it another way, knowing what value your purchase is likely to earn you is fairly critical to judging if that purchase is worthwhile.

                      “You can figure out the odds in most gambling easily.”
                      I assume here you are saying traditional for-cash gambling has readily available odds. I think this is fairly irrelevant, unless you want to suggest these games wouldn’t be more predatory if they had hidden odds. I will point out that the most analogous situation here is a lottery ticket (buying a concrete product with promise of random return) which has no immediately apparent odds… except for the regulations that require them to display the odds on the ticket.

                      “You can roughly calculate odds with a big enough sample size.”
                      If you are saying this makes it better, I disagree with you in so very many ways. Okay, first of all, there’s a large difference between having the odds presented to you and doing estimates yourself, from multiple standpoints – accuracy, confidence, convenience (super important for getting people to actually do things). Second, you are suggesting calculating the odds of a product being worthwhile by purchasing said product. Repeatedly. I hope you see why that’s ridiculous. I don’t want to know this product isn’t worth it $100 down the line. Third, you are completely trusting that the odds are consistent/’fair’, which is foolish considering how easy and profitable it is to not do that. And even if they aren’t designed to give you your first hit cheap, there’s no guarantee they’re not changing for other reasons. Finally, companies can and have gone out of their way to obscure the odds as much as possible (which is what led to China’s regulation).

                  • ehlijen says:

                    “Given that the overlap with AAA video game consumers would be much, much smaller, I think it’s safe to say that people with genuine gambling problems are not the main target audience for game publishers. Same as alcoholics aren’t actually the crux of the alcohol industry’s business strategy, same as chocolate makers don’t bet on the morbidly obese. No, all these companies market to the average consumer with healthy-ish consumption habits.”

                    Those are some pretty big assumptions. To start off with, people with diagnosed gambling problems have one thing in common: they engaged in gambling, i.e. played games. Those that don’t gamble don’t run into the problem and thus are likely to not ever be diagnosed.
                    So you’re already looking at a skewed population sample that is demonstrably inclined towards games as a past time.
                    Next, add in that video gaming used to be a (money) safe way to indulge in habits that would leave you bankrupt at a casino. It is therefore possible (though admittedly difficult to ascertain), that some people with gambling problems took up gaming as a release valve.
                    And finally, it’s possible that some people who would be diagnosed with gambling problems if they ever started going to casinos instead grew up with video games and found sufficient stimulation in the more addictive gaming experiences (WoW, Diablo, X-COM and more have all been described as addictive time sinks in the past, and that’s just the most famous ones) that they never engaged with real life gambling and thus were never diagnosed.

                    What this all comes down to: To assume that there aren’t large numbers of people prone to gambling exploitation in video games is pure optimism. To assume that nearly every gamer is susceptible is equally unjustified; the truth will likely be somewhere in between, and quite possibly high enough that some protective measures might be called for.

                    And yes, marketing departments and companies have time and again proven that they will exploit every available loophole to get more sales. Check out an Australian TV-Show called ‘Gruen Transfer’ for some examples. So no, relying on the restraint and decency of corporate advertisement is leaving the key to the hen house with Mr Fox.

                    • Redrock says:

                      I agree completely. There is very little data, although from what I’ve read the available problem gambling studies have actually been criticised for false positives of all things. There is a chance that that a percentage of problem gamblers have never manifested symptoms because of a lack of exposure to actual gambling. But would it be a big percentage? I honestly don’t know. I doubt it, but, again, no data.

                      I never said that people with gambling addiciton wouldn’t get affected by lootboxes. Some of them would, that’s for certain. I just said that videogame companies weren’t targeting them specifically in this particular case.

                    • ehlijen says:

                      And I disagree. I believe companies are fully aware of what they are doing in regards to targeting the ‘just one more spin/box’ crowd.

      • Cybron says:

        The value of a good is what people will pay for it and it has been very conclusively demonstrated that people will pay for digital goods, even ones with no effect.

        Gambling addiction is a very real thing. To dismiss it as “no one’s fault but the spender’s” strikes me as extremely uncharitable. Loot boxes aren’t laced with “addictive sugar,” they’re laced with cocaine. And even if they were just sugar, we have regulations forcing manufactures to disclose the nutritional content and ingredients of food. Meanwhile, there is no such indication of exactly what manipulative tactics are being used with loot boxes. For instance, a common tactic is to boost drop rates on the first several crates a user buys, creating the impression of better expected value.

        The difference between a singular purchase of a skin and a loot box couldn’t be more apparent – loot boxes exist to obscure the true cost of a given purchase. If I want horse armor and can clearly see what it costs, it is very easy to say whether it is worth the price. With a loot box, not only do I not know what it costs because randomization, I cannot calculate the expected expenditure because drop rates are carefully obscured and manipulated to keep you from being able to make an informed decision.

        • etheric42 says:

          Much like with Magic boosters, calculating an expenditure to get a certain item is (I think) not a healthy interaction with grab bags. I don’t think it is wrong to ask that of a company being respectable, but I also wouldn’t insist coin-operated toy dispensers post it. However, China has legislated disclosing odds and that went into effect as of May this year. I could see a similar regulation coming to the US unless we benefit enough from the halo effect it just becomes standard practice.

          On the other hand, the cocaine vs sugar argument seems analogous to shooters turning your children into serial killers. Has there really been good research into the addictive power of grab bags? The analog variety has been around long enough I would think there would be something we could translate.

          • Cybron says:

            “Much like with Magic boosters, calculating an expenditure to get a certain item is (I think) not a healthy interaction with grab bags.”
            It’s far more healthy than the alternative of having no idea how much money something will cost you. Especially when many games exert a great deal of effort to obscure the cost of your purchases. I’m curious how you could conclude throwing money in the wishing well with no idea how likely it is to work is better for the consumer than being able to look at a table of odds and see if they can afford to pursue a certain reward or not.

            Loot boxes are a prime example of classical conditioning with a randomized schedule of reinforcement. The effects of such things are well documented. Cocaine is indeed hyperbole, but is still closer to accurate than sugar. Regardless of what you think of loot boxes from a legal perspective, they are practically indistinguishable from gambling in terms of psychological effect. So yes, there’s plenty of existing research to draw from.

  40. Niriel says:

    Am I the only one who’s never even seen a game with microtransactions? I can’t really contribute to the discussion because I literally never encountered anything of the sort. I’ve bought the DLCs for Skyrim and Witcher 3 (which aren’t micro at all) and that’s it. I’m not even avoiding them, I just coincidentally happen to have no interest in the games that contain them.

    Surely other people here are in a similar situation. I wonder how many.

    • Cybron says:

      Paradox games have an unreal amount of DLC available, ranging from inconsequential stuff like character portraits and BGM to major gameplay alterations. I would consider the former to be microtransactions. Overwatch has the loot box thing. It’s not normally in my wheelhouse, but I bought it to play with friends. An iPhone roguelike I was playing recently had freemium style microtransactions. Street Fighter V is rife with microtransactions, though I’ve long abandoned it to fester in its own incompetence.

      There a few other games that could maybe qualify but I would characterize them as “one time payment to unlock full game” rather than microtransactions. Also several expansion pack type things which, as you say, are not micro.

      I assume you mostly play RPGs. Did you play Oblivion? That had some pretty famous microtransactions.

      • Redrock says:

        Small DLC aren’t microtransactions. Microtransactions are when you purchase in-game resources for real money. Or, mor often, some sort of in-game premium currency. Oblivion horse armor wasn’t a microtransaction.

        • Cybron says:

          I don’t know that I agree. Most people would call buying overwatch loot boxes a microtransaction and those aren’t resources.

          • Redrock says:

            Yeah, I kinda screwed up the definition, my bad. It’s a bit murky, which is part of the problem. The idea is, I think, that microtransactions aren’t DLC. They cover in-game stuff, not new content that you download. Could be in-game currency or crafting supplies or bullets or loot boxes. But if you get something that wasn’t in the game – like download a new gun – that’s not a microtransaction, that’s DLC. So horse armor was DLC. Now if you could pay real money to get gold in Oblivion, that would be a microtransaction.

      • Niriel says:

        I jumped straight from Daggerfall to Skyrim; Oblivion is in my wishlist. I like RPGs, Tycoon games (including Dwarf Fortress), adventure games, walking simulators, Minecraft/Empyrion building-survival-exploration. Pretty much games that don’t require reflexes and are single player (I bought Good Robot but sucked at it). Not puzzle games though, too abstract, I like a good story or world building.

        The only game that’s on my phone is Pixel Dungeon. I actually don’t even know how to buy a mobile app, and I’m not interested in learning it.

        • Redrock says:

          Waaaaait. You missed Morrowind? I mean, Morrowind. Oh, man, are you in for an adventure))))

        • Cybron says:

          Microtransactions primarily infest freemium/P2W games and games done by the really big market publishers who are dedicated to maximizing revenues. The sort of genres you prefer generally don’t appeal to those kind of publishers, as they’re not popular enough to take a risk on (I assume you don’t like the new Deus Ex for twitchyness reasons).

  41. Zaxares says:

    I WOULD classify loot crates in games as gambling, but on the other hand, I’m largely OK with gambling in games as long as:

    a) they don’t provide unfair gameplay advantages for people who participate (for example, a certain “Weapon X” only drops from loot crates, which is superior to even the best weapon a non-loot crate player could ever get)

    b) playing without loot crates doesn’t result in a gameplay experience so tedious and onerous that it’s obvious the devs are trying to compel you to pony up the extra money. An example might be drastically throttling the XP you need to gain levels to do “the fun stuff”, resulting in you having to do days or even weeks of grinding. OR you can buy a loot crate where XP boosters drop like rain which reduces the process to mere hours.

  42. The Coach says:

    Speaking of boxes with a lot of value. The best box I ever bought was the Orange Box. 10 years on it’s still the best value gaming purchase I’ve ever made.

  43. Jamey Johnston says:

    I’m sure this has been mentioned before, but it’s been bugging me:
    Darth Vader said

    No, I am your father.

  44. GM says:

    I think lootboxes are gambling based on videos ive seen about them,so why is it trouble to call them gambling?

  45. Zak McKracken says:

    Wow, I’m surprised this kind-of political topic still has anactive comment section…

    I actually had very similar thoughts about Magic: the Gathering that you have about loot boxes.

    Outlawing or adult-rating such things is the biggest and bluntest instrument against them, and I think it’s understandable that those who dislike somthing enough will just want to kill it with fire, but, well, fire also does other things.

    A much lower-level intervention I’d think might be easier to administer and possibly more effective: Make sure that things are properly labeled. When somebody buys a game that requires more spending (like WoW which requires you to keep paying if you want to keep playing, or pay-to-win things, or Magic: The Gathering…), it needs to say so on the tin: “To finish this game, you’ll have to buy more stuff”. I’m sure that alone will tell many a parent to maybe buy their kids something else, and for those who have their own money, it reduces the sunk cost fallacy, where you spend some money, then realize it doesn’t take you all the way but having already spent so much you don’t want to let that investment “go to waste”. Or in other words, throwing good money after bad. That psychological trick works a lot worse if it’s clearly stated that the money you’re paying upfront is just a small part of what you’ll have to pay in total.

    Of course, there’s a million ways in which this could be implemented, and there’s of course a risk that people will start ignoring the information because they’re getting too much of it (like all those silly “we use cookies” warnings*), but since the only thing everyone agrees on is that loot crates are terrible**, I’m sure that a “loot crates” warning will either reduce the number of people buying a game, or get publishers to maybe reconsider putting them in.

    * seriously: Sourceforge makes you wait for 5 minutes if you tell it to use only the minimum amount of cookies!
    **I’d guess that even many people paying money for them do so grudgingly because they’d gone into the game thinking they probably weren’t gonna need them.

  46. I’ll answer 1-4 based on various lootbox schemes revealed in 2017 so far

    “1. Is it a game of chance? (As opposed to a carnival game where you throw balls or shoot targets.)”
    Yes, a random number generator is used to spit out a chance to win a prize.

    “2. Do you have to pay real money – either directly or by buying a given product – in order to play it?”
    Yes, you have put in coins, sorry buy more “boxes”.

    “3. Does the game pay out in cash, or in goods and services?”
    Yes, as items or skills to be used in the game, but it’s also possible to get nothing at all.

    “4. Is the opportunity itself the product (lottery) or is it simply a marketing tool for an unrelated product (breakfast cereal prizes) that would still be viable without the prize?”
    Yes, the “random boxes” is the product as after the initial purchase of the game there is no subscription for online play, this becomes the new main source of income for the game after the initial price. In some cases this is done even with single player games to gain more profits.

    Skin gambling (valve skin gambling) has been classed as illegal in Norway by the federal gambling authority here. Loot boxes is just as sinister.

    I liked you cereal box toy example. Sometimes a holiday trip or car is put as a golden ticket in potato chips bags here. I consider that equally distasteful.

    In Norway any form of gambling is strictly regulated. And any “lures” marketed directly towards children is illegal.
    Most of the loot boxes in games these days are in games rated “Teen”. By definition anyone younger than 18 in pretty much any country is considered a kid.
    Using the lure of great loot as incentive to pay money directly or indirectly through game credits.
    So certain games recently may violate both gambling regulation and advertising regulations in Norway.
    Which could potentially mean that loot boxes may not be available in the future in Norway, this means that certain countries will be at a disadvantage compared to players in other countries.

    In my eyes, putting in money (directly/indirectly, remember casinos may have tokens too) in a machine and kicking a button and then waiting for it to randomly (and possibly weighted) spit out 3 cherries sorry, three skill upgrades, or nothing is to me gambling.

    The line can be so fine at times that it’s possible that whomever “came up” with this idea and those that “latched on” to remain competitive with other game’s schemes never actually thought of it as gambling.

    But the mechanics is basically that of a slot machine. A slot machine is also a game ironically, so there is no reason why a game can’t become a slot machine.

    In Norway any form of gambling ads or similar must include info on where to find help for gambling addiction, I’m gonna laugh if games end up having to put that on their “virtual” boxes.

    Another definition of gambling-(addiction) is when you click again and again and again hoping to get something different, or because you “just need” another colored First Order Storm Trooper skin.

    Gambling does not need to include immediately monetary gain/profiteering.

    The gaming industry is a gold mine, Gone are the days where devs just made games because they wanted to make a game that took you into a fantastic world.

    Now everything is cynically designed to get as high a price as possible, as much money upfront as possible (preorders, exclusive preorders, special editions, collectors editions, limited editions, founders editions), as much extra money as possible (expansions, DLCs, micro-transactions, lootboxes, season passes).

  47. Da Mage says:

    I know this sounds far fetched, but consider this: If loot boxes are gambling, then what about Hearthstone and other collectible card games?

    I don’t know about the US, but things like collectible card games are already treated as sort of gambling in many countries. It’s not hard gambling like a casino, but many countries still have laws around them, especially because they are often targeted at children. That’s my big problem it’s introducing addictive gambling systems to children, that’s just not on.

    I personally think governments around the world will wake up to this in about 5-10 years as the next generation spend less in casinos and more on these virtual loot boxes. Revenue from traditional gambling will decrease and governments will come looking to find where it’s going. They’ll say it’s to help people, but it’ll really be to try and claw back lost revenue from money going overseas through the internet.

    Also, watch Super Bunnyhop’s video on Publisher tax havens. They LOVE micro-transactions because they can funnel it directly to a tax haven and make full profits on it.

  48. Ilseroth says:

    I know this is far down, prolly won’t be part of the conversation but may as well…

    I’m *all right* with some loot boxes. The main thing is, it can’t be something that directly impacts gameplay unless the game is free to play, and in that case it must not be PvP.

    So for instance, Overwatch loot boxes? Alright, whatever. I can get them by leveling up and just playing the game and within them is literally nothing but cosmetics. Allegedly, the loot boxes have the same chance of dropping stuff if you buy them or not, and give a sense of unlocking new stuff to fiddle with for playing the game.

    On the other hand you have games like the new Battlefront 2, which will be a competitive focused shooter… where you can straight up buy upgrades that will assist performance in multiplayer. Yes, you can buy these in normal play, but the game literally can’t be competitive, because you can pay for a distinct advantage. This is stupid.

    Then we have Shadow of War and their gameplay effecting lootboxes. Again you can allegedly obtain the rewards legitimately by just playing the game, either finding orcs with high stats/weapons with high stats, but it removes a lot of the game of leveling up your forces. See, I’m of two minds of this, you can only really fuck your own gameplay experience by doing this, it’s not competitive really… But it is definitely predatory in a way that feels fucked. Kinda sets a precedent that paid (full price), single player games can have this kinda stuff in them… which is gross. If they said “hey, these boxes are paying for the expansion (which you can preorder for only 39.99 >.>), everyone gets it for free!” Then I might have an alternative view, but right now? Scummy as hell.

    So finally we have things like Hearthstone… I kinda have a hard time with it because the thing they are basing the game on (TCGs) is already a pay to win game for the entry level player. Unless you are playing the game competitively, generally the person with more cash and access to rare, amazing cards are going to win… Dunno.

    So I guess the long answer is… I get devs need to get paid, hell I’m working on a game right now (solo indie thing though) and god I hope I get paid when it gets finished, but loot boxes are a case by case basis for me. I can’t call them intrinsically bad, especially when the rewards are purely cosmetic… But yeah, a lot of cases are just messed up.

  49. Adrian Burt says:

    The comparison at the end, comparing “something” you get in a loot box or a booster pack to the worthless losing lottery ticket is not fair precisely because that lottery ticket only has value if it’s a winning ticket. If it’s a losing ticket you gained nothing of value. Loot boxes really are booster packs and my issue with them is not the mechanic itself but it’s growing ubiquity in the industry. I never much liked card games and I disliked booster packs even more because of how random they were, I always geared towards board games or Warhammer because if I’m going to spend a fortune on a silly game I better at least know what I’m paying for.

    The other thing to add is that we as a society had this debate already, not in video games but in trading cards, specifically baseball cards in the 1950’s: are booster packs gambling. This was a special moral dilemma that broke out beyond the confines of just the hobbyists and into the mainstream because baseball cards were marketed to kids: if booster packs count as gambling then baseball cards are making money from teaching kids to gamble. In the end the US government, not some non-profit voluntary regulatory body, but the actual US government ruled that booster packs are not gambling for much in the same reason. If you buy a booster pack and it says it contains ten random cards then you got exactly what you paid for. I think if this case gets presented before the government they will rule in the same way because its the same issue just with different technology. Really the only actual way loot boxes are going away is if they become unprofitable, which means people will have to stop buying them.

  50. Daemian Lucifer says:

    You know whats the most interesting thing:Actual games have actually called this practice gambling for a long time.Remember how in diablo you could buy a random weapon for a lump some of gold,and youd know its actual stats only once you identified it?The game itself called that gambling.Many rpgs had a similar mechanic,and almost all of them called it gambling.But now that blizzard is doing that with their players out of character,they are suddenly not calling it gambling.Imagine that.

  51. Jeremy says:

    While I wouldn’t personally rule that loot boxes are “real gambling”, I think this particular justification is an odd one. I’d lean towards ruling that it’s not gambling because the things you “win” are non-liquid and non-transferable. People don’t buy these things to gain wealth, which is the danger we often associate with gambling. But instead the ESRB based their decision on the fact that you always “get something”.

    Forgive me if I’ve missed something. But does this mean you think the items from games like TF2 and CS:GO are gambling systems? Because there are (convoluted) ways to liquidise them, they’re easily transferable, and people do try and profit from it.

    They use a lot of the same tactics of slot machines to mess with people’s heads and attract the addicts and whales. We keep slot machines locked away in Adults Only areas similarly I think there should be restrictions on under 18s being able to spend vast sums in this way.

  52. Pinkhair says:

    The relaunch of Secret World has pay-to-loot bosses. They give free players enough keys to loot one and a half dungeon worth of bosses and half of a lair(open world endgame content) per day.

    Of course, it has the regular gambling lootboxes too, so I can only imagine what they’d do if they weren’t allowed to do those.

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