The Lootbox Problem Part 2: Why is This so Dang Complicated?

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jul 21, 2020

Filed under: Column 245 comments

So last time I talked about why I hate lootboxes so much. Now the next most obvious question is, “If Shamus hates lootboxes so much, why is he so shy about calling for regulation?” Or perhaps, “Why is he always talking about how ‘people’ will want to regulate them, without naming himself as one of those people?”

The first and most obvious reason is that doing so is an explicit political position and would violate the no politics rule. It would be really obnoxious for me to prohibit public policy debates and then spend my time advocating for specific public policies. That would turn the No Politics Rules into a “You’re not allowed to disagree with me” rule, and that’s a fantastic way to frustrate and alienate people.

But Shamus, 99.9% of us agree on this topic. It ought to be safe to talk about.

Maybe? I don’t know. Magic: the Gathering and Hearthstone are games built around “lootboxes” in the sense of paying money for a chance to win desired items that are impossible or impractical to obtain through gameplay. I’m not a player and I don’t particularly care about the games, but it’s still a game that healthy, consenting adults are able to enjoy. Moreover, there are plenty of people who enjoy the occasional lootbox. “Hey, I like this free game and I want to support the creator, so I’ll buy a couple of lootboxes and maybe I’ll get something cool.”

I don’t want to see those people lose access to the things they enjoy. I don’t want their games turned into collateral damage in a war against Battlefront II style lootboxes. Again, if I get up on my soapbox and advocate for banning your thing because doing so might make my thing better, then suddenly I’ve made myself your enemy. I don’t want to take anything away from those people. Moreover, I don’t want any of those people to think I want to take anything away from them.

We should be able to have reasonable discussions about complex topics. In fact, those are my favorite kinds of debates. We can talk about Procedural vs. Object-Oriented programming. We can argue about esoteric rules, or different ways of presenting challenges, or different kinds of storytelling. It’s all good. We can all have our say and leave, or we can stick around and see if we can untangle the different words we’re using to talk about tangentially related ideas as they relate to our individually-tuned value systems. I might not be able to enjoy Dark Souls like you do, but with a little patience we can understand why this discrepancy exists and discuss our shared love of this hobby.

It’s fun, because the stakes are low. We don’t need to worry that whoever wins the debate will get to erase the games that the loser favors. But this all changes when we start talking about public policy. Suddenly everyone has skin in the game. Suddenly nobody can just agree to disagree and move on.

Be Careful What You Wish For

EA CEO Andrew Wilson. He didn't devise the lootbox, but he ran with it, expanded on it, and brought it from sports titles to the rest of the company.
EA CEO Andrew Wilson. He didn't devise the lootbox, but he ran with it, expanded on it, and brought it from sports titles to the rest of the company.

The final reason I don’t go around cheerleading for lootbox legislation is that I’m not convinced such a thing is feasible.

We frequently look at the moves made by Andrew Wilson and Bobby Kotick and marvel at how much treasure they waste, how many billions they squander on ill-informed knee-jerk acquisitions, how bad they are at using the resources they acquire, and how much they misunderstand their own IP and customers. These golf-playing executives are not gamers and frequently make blunders that are obvious to millions of us peasants.

And yet – for all of their ignorance – these executives know far more about games than the average septuagenarian lawmaker. The difference between Battlefront II and Hearthstone is very obvious to us right now, but it’s a subtle one.

Legalese – that awkward, seemingly stilted language that legislation is written in – is a fairly formal language. It’s not as formal as a programming language, but it’s a lot more formal than the casual, imprecise, you-know-what-I’m-talking-about language we use to discuss video games. Informally, you can have a sign that says, “No tall people allowed.”I’m not sure why you’re doing this or if it would count as descrimination, but let’s just assume you’re doing it for some unspecified Very Good Reason. That’s good enough for conversation, but if you’re writing a law then you’d need to define exactly what height qualifies as “tall”, how it will be measured, who will do the measuring, what the penalties will be if people fraudulently misrepresent their height, and who is going to be in charge of oversight and enforcement.

In a purely mechanical sense, the difference between Hearthstone card packs and Battlefield II lootboxes is very subtle and depends on a lot of outside knowledge regarding how these games work and how people engage with the material. Can you describe this difference formally, so that it can’t be misunderstood by non-gaming judges, misinterpreted or mis-applied by overzealous enforcement agencies, or sidestepped by clever lawyers?

It’s harder than you think!

What are the odds that your average bitterly divided, technologically illiterate government body can set aside their ongoing debates on life-and-death topics and author a law that can tease out the incredibly subtle difference between the harmful video game thing we hate and the harmless video game thing we’re okay with?

Hitting a Moving Target

I actually think that slot machines are a great sink for excess in-game cash.
I actually think that slot machines are a great sink for excess in-game cash.

Even if we somehow get legislation that lands in the magical Goldilocks zone, it would be trivial for EA to shift their design a little to remain technically compliant.

Let’s say we outlaw (or regulate) the sale of “Digital bundles that contain randomized items” for real-world money. That seems pretty sensible, right? I mean, Magic: the Gathering fans are kind of screwed, but let’s pretend everyone has decided we don’t care about them.

So the next week a designer at EA takes all of the drop tables and rewards that used to be given by lootboxes, and gives those items to an in-game boss. To fight the boss, you need a ticket. To get a ticket, you need to pay money. Lootboxes become lootbosses, which is the exact same problem except for these semantic differences that route around the wording of this hypothetical law.

Mechanically, this is identical to the lootbox problem: Pay money, get random stuff. The boss can be a trivial pushover to allow the player to do the fight over and over again very quickly, and the fight can end in colorful fireworks and a vaguely slot-machine style reveal of your winnings to make the whole thing “stream-friendly”.

The publishers can also dodge the regulations from the other side: You don’t buy lootboxes for real money. You can only buy lootboxes for some in-game currency. That currency is dropped in tiny, tiny amounts by mooks in the game. The amounts are so tiny that it would take a whole week of grinding to save up for a single lootbox. But! For real-world cash you can buy a single-use ticket to a dungeon where the mooks drop tons of this currency. A single fifteen-minute run of this dungeon can yield enough to buy (say) three lootboxes.

So maybe you think you’ll regulate the conversion of real-world currency to in-game currency? So next EA comes up with a system where the game dumps tons of in-game currency on you, the slot machine only accepts in-game currency, and you can’t buy in-game currency for money. BUT! You can’t get to the slot machineOr whatever visual thing they’re using to dispense random rewards. without paying money.

We can continue to add arbitrary steps in the chain to obfuscate the issue: Pay money to meet with an NPC who grants you entry to a place where you can fight a boss that drops a key that opens the door to… etc.

Sure, go ahead and speculate on how you would word the law that would outlaw this convoluted mess and somehow not outlaw (say) Diablo Expansions. After all, if I buy an expansion it gives me access to a new end-boss that drops loot when defeated.

Shamus, you’re over-thinking this. The key to fight the boss is a one-time use item. So just outlaw that.

Okay, now you buy a ticket that can be used five times.

Outlaw consumables then!

Nice. You just outlawed the pilot’s license, which is foundational to the in-game economy of EVE Online.

Okay then, just outlaw paying for anything that creates random drops.

You just outlawed all Borderlands DLC.

Then just outlaw games of chance that exist within a larger game, regardless of how the player accesses them.

Say goodbye to Gwent. You absolute monster.

Gwent isn’t COMPLETELY random! A lot of skill goes into that game!

Do you think EA is incapable of adding some small fig-leaf skill component to their loot boxes?

Stop being so obtuse! You know exactly what I’m talking about when I say “lootbox”! 

Yes I do. I really do! But that’s not a definition we can use in court in The People vs. Battlefront III: Lootbox Jubilee.

You’re going out of your way to make this difficult.

I’m not MAKING it difficult. It IS difficult.

On one hand there’s the risk of outlawing harmless stuff that people like, and on the other hand is the army of highly-motivated corporate lawyers looking for the next exploit. Somehow this law must be worded in such a way as to thread a path between these two nebulous and ever-changing forces.

Sure, maybe lawmakers can solve this. I’m not saying it’s impossible. Back in my Dot-Com days, I got a tiny peek behind the veil that hides the laws that drive the SEC. I took a few points of sanity damage in the process, but I otherwise escaped unscathed. If that terrifyingly complex bundle of regulatory arcana can exist, then I suppose anything is possible. But I’m pretty cynical about the whole thing. I’m cynical enough that I can’t seriously go around with the attitude that “Legislation will save us!” You’re free to think that if you like and I’m not interested in trying to change your mind, it’s just not an attitude I can personally embrace.

I’m not saying you should give up and let Andrew Wilson build a casino for children. I’m not a lawyer or a polysci major. I could be wrong about everything I said about lawmaking above. Maybe you disagree and you think an American lawmaker born in 1940 will have the ability to sort out something this complex and esoteric, and that the law will get passed, it will be properly enforced, and that the publishers will quietly give up on all this gambling money and not spend years creating a game of semantic whack-a-mole.

That’s fine. I’m not saying you’re wrong. All I’m saying is I’m incredibly cynical about the process.

On top of that, I’m extremely against using my blog as a bully pulpit to advocate for public policy – even if it’s a policy that a majority of people would agree with. Slippery slopes, and all that. And I realize that it probably sounds like I’m arguing against legislation. But I’m trying not to. I’m just explaining why I have this non-committal stance on the issue. Go ahead and lobby for change if you think it’s a good idea. Make a petition. Put a little ribbon on your car. Make a hashtag. Call your representative. Whatever you feel you need to do, go right ahead. I’m not telling you to stop. I’m just explaining why I’m not cheering you on. I don’t know what the right answer is here, so I’m sticking to what I do know.

There are some additional confounding factors here that make everything really… interesting.

Confounding Factor #1

There’s currently an unexpressed rift in the pro-legislation rhetoric.

  • Group A: Lootboxes exploit people and do Real Harm, and therefore they should be banned, full stop.
  • Group B: Lootboxes are potentially harmful (particularly to kids) and should therefore be regulated the same way we regulate cigarettes, alcohol, and pornography.

Right now these two groups are nearly indistinguishable because they’re both visible as people saying “We should do something!” However, if the time ever came where someone was inclined to actually Do A Thing, these two groups would suddenly find themselves at odds.

I’m not going to explore the ramifications of trying to sort out THAT mess. I’m just saying that things would get to be that much more complex if / when we reach that stage.

Confounding Factor #2

You can buy adult toys, adult tools, and adult drinks, but not adult video games.
You can buy adult toys, adult tools, and adult drinks, but not adult video games.

The other confounding factor is the way retail distribution mucks everything up. Virtually everyone agrees that – regardless of how we feel about gambling for adults – gambling for children should not be a thing. Even people who are okay with lootboxes seem to agreeNot everyone of course. And it’s not like I did a rigorous study. I’m just following the rhetoric. that these things should be kept out of the hands of children.

In an ideal world, we have these three choices:

  1. Do nothing: Things stay on their current trajectory.
  2. Ban: Lootboxes are completely illegal.
  3. Regulate: Lootboxes are treated like cigarettes or other adult-only products.

There is a huge moral and legal difference between those last two. I don’t have any numbers to support this, but my assumption is that a majority of peopleThat is, a majority of people who are paying attention to this issue. favor #3, and a minority of people are split between the other two options.

The problem is that none of the major retailers are willing to carry games rated as Adults only. This means that #3 ends up being functionally identical to #2. If lootboxes are Adults only, then they can’t be sold in stores.

This means that publishers can’t afford to allow their games to be rated as Ao. Sure, you can sell just about anything through Steam, but retail sales still make up a non-trivial chunk of the market. Despite all the rhetoric about “publishers are making casinos for childrenThey’re actually making casinos for teenagers since these games are usually rated T for Teen, but whatever.”, it’s possible that the publishers are only doing that because it’s not feasible to make a casino for adults. After all, teenagers don’t have credit cardsYes, there are the horror stories about kids maxing out mommy’s credit card buying crap for a game, but the REAL target that publishers are aiming at is adults with lots of disposable income.. If you’re a publisher fishing for whales, then you’re fishing for adults who have jobs and poor impulse control.

Ironically, the scolds that run around condemning and protesting Wal-Mart for carrying certain video games are contributing to a world where it’s harder to draw a line between adult and teen content.  There’s obviously a huge market for games with lots of sex, violence, and gamblingIf it was possible to get real-world drunk by playing a video game, people would want that too., and publishers obviously want to serve that market. But since the big box stores won’t carry Ao titles, there’s a huge pressure to weasel around the obstructionist policies by classifying their stuff as M.

If people stopped thinking of games as toys for children, then maybe Wal-Mart could put Ao titles on the shelf next to the vibrators, guns, cigarettes, booze, and unrated copies of Eyes Wide ShutFiguratively. I don’t think it makes organizational sense to put these items on the same shelf. Although it WOULD make my weekly shopping trips easier. they already carry. This infantilization of games ironically makes kids less safe.

This means that – from the publisher’s perspective – regulating lootboxes by explicitly saying such things must be marked as Adults only is functionally the same as outlawing them. Either way, they can’t sell their goods to consenting adults at retail outlets.

Games are gradually shifting to all-digital, so this might be a non-issue in a couple of years, but for now it’s another layer of complexity in this whole mess.

It Is… Inevitable

*suddenly begins doing the snap fight music from West Side Story*
*suddenly begins doing the snap fight music from West Side Story*

The point is that – to the degree that I understand how public policy works, I am not at all optimistic that legislation can solve this problem. The only thing I am confident about is the inevitability of reactionary backlash. So the weird tone I adopt on the topic is just a result of me trying to stick to what I know.

I do know that intervention is more or less inevitable. The publishers have been so outrageous, so brazen, so nakedly predatory, that it’s creating public outcry. That outcry is irresistible to the controversy-hungry media, which will attract lawmakers looking for an easy win in the hearts of the public.

You can think back to other recent controversies to see how quickly things can blow up. One week nobody cares, and a week later people are livid and calling for immediate action. All it takes is a really heart-rending storyKid from a poor neighborhood burns through $20k of money without his parents realizing, which means his genius big sister can no longer afford medical school. to land on a slow point in the news cycleSo, probably not this year. during a time when politicians are really looking for a way to raise their public profileDuring the fundraising stage of a midterm election. and we’ll end up with yet another ridiculous media circus.

I don’t know what the best thing is for society, but the very best thing Andrew Wilson could do for himself would be to go back to quietly running his little slot machines in the back room, as he did 10 years ago with Ultimate Team Mode in Madden and FIFA. Maybe legislation will put an end to lootboxes and maybe it won’t, but the eventual controversy will certainly mean the end of his career. Corporations LOVE it when they can demonstrate their noble intentions by doing something shallow and symbolic that doesn’t cost them any real money. The shareholders will be more than happy to sacrifice him to make the bad press go awayAll of this also applies to Activision, 2K Games, Take Two, and so on. I’m just picking on Wilson because he was the lootbox pioneer and his vigorous squandering of opportunity makes me personally crazy..

Get Ready… Fight!

Actually, please don't fight outside of video games.
Actually, please don't fight outside of video games.

I’m not even sure I should leave the comments open for this one. On one hand, I love analyzing the complexities of the “confounding factors” I discussed aboveIncluding ones that haven’t even dawned on me yet., but I also know that for everyone who enjoys theorycrafting this sort of thing, there are a half-dozen partisans who want to swagger in with, “Everyone who disagrees with me is evil!” maybe with a dash of “I don’t even see why this is a debate!” and perhaps with a twist of, “It’s simple, really…”. There is a non-trivial segment of the readership that:

  1. REALLY feels the need to argue public policy everywhere, all the time, and to drag every gaming discussion towards politics, and if you don’t let them piss all over the floor in your comments section then they call you a coward.
  2. Has nothing but disdain for the opposition, and loves to insinuate evil / bad motives and broad conspiracies onto the opposition.
  3. Has absolutely no idea how to argue politics in a persuasive manner and doesn’t even really grasp the viewpoint of the opposition.

These three attributes are highly correlated in my experience, and once you get a couple of these folks from opposing sides, their sniping will piss everyone else off and send the whole thread down the toilet.

But… what the heck. Let’s lift the normal prohibition on this sort of thing and see how long the thread can survive before I need to lock it.

Be good to each other out there. Remember that this is supposed to be fun.

 

Footnotes:

[1] I’m not sure why you’re doing this or if it would count as descrimination, but let’s just assume you’re doing it for some unspecified Very Good Reason.

[2] Or whatever visual thing they’re using to dispense random rewards.

[3] Not everyone of course. And it’s not like I did a rigorous study. I’m just following the rhetoric.

[4] That is, a majority of people who are paying attention to this issue.

[5] They’re actually making casinos for teenagers since these games are usually rated T for Teen, but whatever.

[6] Yes, there are the horror stories about kids maxing out mommy’s credit card buying crap for a game, but the REAL target that publishers are aiming at is adults with lots of disposable income.

[7] If it was possible to get real-world drunk by playing a video game, people would want that too.

[8] Figuratively. I don’t think it makes organizational sense to put these items on the same shelf. Although it WOULD make my weekly shopping trips easier.

[9] Kid from a poor neighborhood burns through $20k of money without his parents realizing, which means his genius big sister can no longer afford medical school.

[10] So, probably not this year.

[11] During the fundraising stage of a midterm election.

[12] All of this also applies to Activision, 2K Games, Take Two, and so on. I’m just picking on Wilson because he was the lootbox pioneer and his vigorous squandering of opportunity makes me personally crazy.

[13] Including ones that haven’t even dawned on me yet.



From The Archives:
 

245 thoughts on “The Lootbox Problem Part 2: Why is This so Dang Complicated?

  1. Asdasd says:

    I feel like I should maybe invoke Hitler right off the bat, just to get it out of the way.

    1. Adam says:

      Maybe that’s how governments should work – have 10 minutes of sweary shoutiness before every discussion, so people can get it out of their systems.

      1. Cannongerbil says:

        That sounds an awful lot like the purge.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Children committing wanton murder one day per year – what could go wrong?

      2. Steve C says:

        This how many many governments already work. This is how Parliamentary systems function to various degrees.

    2. Decius says:

      Both sides are Hitler.
      The issue is just fractal Hitlers.
      The real Hitler here is Hitler.

      1. Dev Null says:

        It’s Hitlers, all the way down.

      2. Parkhorse says:

        But are there any games where I can get Hitler in a lootbox? Maybe an anime girl version in Fate:GO? I dunno, I gave up trying to understand the Fate series.

    3. Will says:

      would hitler be for or against loot boxes?

      1. Mousazz says:

        would hitler be for or against loot boxes?

        Yes.

    4. BlueHorus says:

      I feel like I should maybe invoke Hitler right off the bat, just to get it out of the way.

      Oh yeah!? Well, you know who ELSE invoked Hitler? The Nazis, that’s who!
      You invoking him is exactly what makes you a Nazi!!!!!!

  2. Wolf says:

    Could there be a shortcut here where games are sold rated T or M but the “lootboxes” are rated AO? Or is there no way to rate optional transaction driven content higher than the core game?

    1. Duoae says:

      I mean, really, this is a problem created by the ESRB. The rest of the world has 18+ as a rating and “AO” exists as some sort of unrated thing like the Eyes Wide Shut example Shamus gave above.

      Retailers carry 18+ rated games as much as they do 18+ rated movies.

      1. Chad Miller says:

        I don’t think the semantic difference between “Adults Only” and “18+” matters to American retailers. Witness the MPAA’s NC-17 rating and how it’s all but unused for the same reasons that the AO rating is all but unused.

        1. evilmrhenry says:

          Specifically, Walmart’s policy of not carrying either is because both are basically euphemisms for porn in the general population. This creates a feedback loop where Walmart doesn’t carry AO games because they don’t want to sell porn, and AAA games are unwilling to end up with an AO rating because they want to be sold in Walmart.

          I think the way around that is for the ESRB rating and the age gate to be different things. You can have an Everyone-rated game that just happens to require age verification at the register, and everyone just nods and states that this makes perfect sense and isn’t a complete contradiction. Either that or create a new rating, “Only Adults” that is totally different than the AO rating, then have Walmart agree that carrying OA games is a completely different situation than carrying AO games.

          1. Chad Miller says:

            I think this is the most likely explanation, yes. People outside the US are often surprised at how cavalier we are about violence in our media vs. how prudish we are about sex, so anything so line-crossing as to end up in the Forbidden Ratings is usually there for sexual content, and over-the-counter porn is still largely confined to specialty shops selling only sex stuff (especially with video stores dying out)

            The one movie to see wide theatrical release with an NC-17 rating was Showgirls.

          2. djw says:

            Perhaps they could simply add a “gambling” tag to the game?

            1. Leeward says:

              The esrb is a trade group, right? Any reason they couldn’t do that now?

      2. GoStu says:

        I disagree, this isn’t an ESRB-only problem. The Australian regulators have a long history of simply refusing to classify many games, which is effectively banning them:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_banned_video_games_in_Australia#List_of_video_games_refused_classification

        On a detailed reading of that list, it appears that most “AAA” games with major resources behind them will eventually wrangle their way around (through some redaction or just lobbying?) but still – it’s not a NA-exclusive issue.

        1. Chad Miller says:

          On a detailed reading of that list, it appears that most “AAA” games with major resources behind them will eventually wrangle their way around (through some redaction or just lobbying?) but still – it’s not a NA-exclusive issue.

          This brings up another complication around these kinds of laws: it’s very plausible you could end up with something sufficiently complex that the big corporations with extensive legal departments are the only ones who bother with microtransactions because they’re able to navigate (and influence the laws), while smaller players are pushed out. This is analogous to the situation with actual gambling; many “anti-gambling” laws are supported by entrenched interests, who either want to keep the competition away OR occasionally want a symbolic law to pass that regular anti-gambling people will vote for but doesn’t actually hurt them that much. Hence things like online gambling bans that make exceptions for Las Vegas horse races.

          1. djw says:

            This is the primary reason that I am against legislation. It will crush innovation (indie games with vaguely gamble related themes) but there will be loopholes for the AAA games because they pay lobbyists.

            1. Mistwraithe says:

              Do we need indie games with vaguely gamble related themes though? It strikes me that you are only talking about a tiny portion of the vast innovation space available to the indy games.

              You have a point about the AAA games finding ways around things but it isn’t black and white – if the government makes steps to reduce the use of lootbox style gambling in games then it will reduce the amount of it in games, even if it doesn’t eliminate it. Just because AAA gaming companies can afford lobbyists and lawyers to fight court cases doesn’t mean they WANT to spend their money that way, if they can make money in other ways without those risks then some/many of them will take the easier path.

              Striving for perfection is often the enemy of making progress at all. I would be happy to reduce freemium/whale hunting games by any decent fraction to be honest.

              1. Pink says:

                Will it reduce it, or just concentrate it?

            2. GoStu says:

              The hammer of legislation is heavy, but also clumsy. It’ll come crashing down with a mighty impact but may not hit exactly what it was aiming for, and there could be collateral damage.

              … which is why Wilson et al should have kept their goddamn greedy ambitions in check, because it looks like the hammer’s gonna swing any time soon and when it does, God knows what it’ll land on.

        2. Echo Tango says:

          This feels like a problem caused by the specific retailers, not using the full spectrum of age-ratings. Steam has age-gated games now, right beside their fun-for-children games. Seems to be working relatively well? (This is really preplexing, because Wal-Mart sells guns, alcohol, …)

          1. Duoae says:

            Like was mentioned above, the AO rating has the same or similar classifiers to NC-17. ESRB erred when creating their system by basing it on the American movie system because by attaching (or gating) content to essentially age 17, it denied the introduction of content and context for adult themes without progressing to the “nuclear” rating of AO which is forever associated with porn.

            Further to that, the difference between the mature and Adult only ratings is so slight (even given the age difference) as to be meaningless. In effect, as with NC-17, the AO rating is used as a punishment and censor mechanism without the word censor being used.

            In reality, a proportion of mature games should be “AO”. I mean, how does DOOM not fall under AO when it is a “prologued scene of intense violence”?

            Through their decision, the ESRB restricted games to being “for teenagers” in the eyes of the population.

            An M rated game in the USA can be 18+ in other systems around the world and this increased age rating has a bigger difference between it and the 16 rating can deal with all the things stated in the AO, except maybe extreme sexual themes.

            This has no relation to retailers not choosing to carry illicit or socially unacceptable content or rating systems that refuse to classify or censor content in games.

    2. Fizban says:

      They’ve already done this- some countries are requiring labeling of lootboxes, so they release the game without, then patch it in later. Boom, the store shelves are full of games that don’t contain lootboxes, until you actually try to run (the probably always-online) thing and the first thing it does is add them in. Add an “optional” fig leaf to taste, holding all online functions and bug fixes ransom along with it.

    3. Noah says:

      The ratings are basically voluntary, so you *could* do that. But that sounds like Walmart wouldn’t be interested in carrying games rated “M, but maybe AO depending what features you use.”

  3. Adam says:

    The “legal obfuscation” angle reminded me of Pachinko in Japan. Can’t gamble for cash prizes, can gamble for “tokens” which are easily sold to a company owned by the pachinko parlor.

    If I was in charge, I’d limit the gross income per customer per day – similar to a price cap on essential utilities like water/gas/electric/internet. Pulling numbers out of the air, say ten times minimum wage per customer per day over any 7 day period. More than I think anyone *should* spend, but low enough to limit damage to vulnerable individuals and high enough to still allow “special edition” purchases.

    Interestingly, the UK has recently (last year) regulated “fixed-odds betting terminals” (which are essentially the convergence of gambling and gaming from the other direction – super fancy slot machines) to cost no more than £2 ($2.50) a game.

    1. Fizban says:

      Well if you want a time period limit, I’d say it should be based on existing subscriptions. No one subscribes to anything for $50 per day (except certain pharmaceuticals of course). If it takes more than $30 a month to keep up with the microtransactions in a game, that game is straight bogus.

      Of course an even stronger limit would be the “rent-to-own” variety. All microtransactions you pay are totaled over the account, and once the value passes a certain amount, you get everything else the game has for free, period. You can sell a game piecemeal, but the game must have a known final cost. This would effectively put a cap on expansions for games before they need a standalone reboot, but games which charge more for their expansions than the “base” game are pretty bullshit anyway.

      Neither of these would suit the gaming industry of course, but they should be understandable to any lawmaker.

      1. King Marth says:

        I like this idea of a posted price cap, but you run into trouble with apps that are legitimately storefronts – how does legislation distinguish between microtransactions in a game and microtransactions used to acquire music or ebook licenses? Similarly, I think the first change is that any game with ongoing content updates would change the ‘update’ link to point to the new storefront entry (whenever you launch one of these which isn’t up to date, you aren’t allowed to play until updating), so instead of a single app you have a ‘new’ app with a separate price cap released every week or month, which just happens to be built from the same codebase and import all previous data. Sure, this would wreak havoc on reviews, but you’d also farm other app store metrics. The churn would definitely cut down on customer base though (at least anyone who isn’t already invested/addicted), so partial win.

        This sort of law is what made it possible for me to get mobile data, though. The standard several years ago was to offer a fixed amount of data (maybe a gigabyte) as part of a monthly service package, and then charge overage per megabyte which meant that going anywhere near the limit you paid for would run the risk of obscene charges. A law was passed which required companies to abide by a consumer-set limit on overage charges, and miraculously all these ‘unlimited’ plans started being offered which had data shunt down to a slower speed once you went over the paid cap, like you can get in literal third-world countries.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Yeah, distinguishing between games and other storefronts seems like a problem. I don’t think you could make a law that stops the worst problems with loot-boxes, without harming music-stores like Apple, Google, or whatever.

      2. Moridin says:

        The problem you face by setting too low limits is that there are other legitimate monetization models than subscriptions and microtransactions – many MMOs sell expansions, for example, which can easily cost $30 each if you’re paying full price. I agree with Adam, if there’s a $/time period limit, it should be deliberately set to be so high that anyone who doesn’t have a problem will bail out before hitting it.

        Setting a price cap would be better in that regard, but that has its own problems as other comments have already pointed out.

        1. Fizban says:

          If the upfront price problem is really so devastating to expansions (which it shouldn’t be, since most expansions are planned before the game is finished, so they know what the final price is going to be), then you could put a timeout on expansions, say new content released a year or more after the original launch can count as an expansion without violating the original total price.

          The “microtransaction cap” is meant to deal with huge micro bills. You could also approach it from a number of transactions: games with legitimate expansions have a maximum of what, 5, maybe 10 for the most extreme? So games need more than 10 extra things before they count as microtransactions and the game is required to have a known maximum unlock everything limit.

    2. evilmrhenry says:

      This is the path I would prefer, as it bypasses most of the clever tricks publishers could pull off.

      The other benefit to a per-day/week/month limit is that it breaks the “whale” economy, which is what everyone is pursuing. The entire point of all these structures is that you want it to be possible for someone to pay an unlimited amount of money on your game. Even if the number of people who spend that much is small, they spend enough that it’s worth pursuing them. Because of that, the limit can be really high and still have the intended effect.

    3. Mezentine says:

      Not that I think you should do this, but one way I could see approaching it would also be the reverse, capping the amount of time a player can be required to spend “in game” to accrue currency worth a certain amount. Something like “A player must, through three hours of gameplay engaging in the activity that accrues currency, receive currency equivalent to $1 USD purchasable via the shop”

      Its already not like games like Overwatch really reward you with more currency for playing skillfully. Basically all games that let you earn currency in game just dole it out for hours put in

      1. Chad Miller says:

        That would make it a legal requirement for all games to tolerate automated gold farmers.

    4. LadyTL says:

      The pachinko parlors way is probably how it is going to end up. The mobile games I play that are subject to lootbox/gambling regulations in various countries in Asia basically do it that way. They are still lootboxes and some pretty nasty odds on some of them. It’s just you can’t buy the lootboxes specifically. You buy a premium currency which is then used for lootboxes and various other things. Also alot of them also do the trickle of premium currency as well to get you hooked in.

  4. Duoae says:

    I wonder if there’s space to regulate this sort of thing on a gradient. I mean, we’re okay (as a society) with penny arcades, rigged games of skill and other similar “gambling light” entertainment.

    I don’t know how you’d do it but it seems that there are ways to allow it, especially given the arguments here.

    Even just allowing players to resell their “won” items would place those items a step closer to the cards in collectible card games.

    I remember some talk of using block chains for in game items several years ago that would enable this sort of “ownership”… but I’m pretty sure that when nowhere.

    1. Adam says:

      This is generally how tobacco / alcohol regulation has (in theory!) worked – introduce a tax, then slowly turn it up over time. Existing users can continue until they “die”, but new users are put off and eventually stop. A “boiled frog” type approach, which is has less dramatic swings between extremes but therefore means fewer active opponents.

      1. Kenny says:

        One problem with this though is that, once that tax is turned-up high enough, black market alternatives become very attractive. In New York state in the U.S. something like 50% of cigarette sales are estimated to be smuggled into the state.

    2. Sabrdance (Matthew H) says:

      Short answer: no. Long answer: penny arcades and fair games -to the extent they are regulated -are regulated by states. States can do some fine-tuning regulation because of the way the US sets them up (long story short: states have much weaker separation of powers and can create very powerful boards to turn the regulating nobs). However, videogames are not sold in single states, which means their regulation will be set by either the most restrictive markets (California), the largest markets (California and Texas), or by the Federal Government.

      And the Federal Government does not do nuance. Fine tuning of regulations is easily called “arbitrary and capricious,” and leads to years of legal wrangling, multiple runs up to the Supreme Court, and rewritten regulations.

      Which is, by the way, the missing confounding factor in the original post. In the US, regulations go through dozens of judicial revisions and at this point, most regulations aren’t the regulations that were written, but the regulations that survived judicial politics.

      A country like Sweden or Germany or Japan -which are all much more like American states than the American Federal Government, and which also have different court systems -might be able to do it. The US, though, could not.

      1. Hector says:

        The states can almost certainly regulate games sold inside their borders, however – including digitally delivered goods. I don’t think they will, but they could.

        1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          The states can do it, but no publisher is going to create a special “California” edition of a game that is distinct from the “Texas” edition of the game. They will find the most restrictive set of regulations and then follow those in every state, unless the Federal Government pre-empts state regulation under the Commerce Clause.

          This is already how textbooks and cars (the usual examples) work.

  5. Zaxares says:

    I think to really solve the problem of lootboxes, we probably need to do a deep dive into what exactly do people perceive as being the fundamental problem with lootboxes. I don’t think it’s the randomness; people are usually more than happy to take a gamble on something in the hopes of winning big (and the feeling when you DO strike a jackpot is delicious indeed. It’s a HUGE dopamine hit). And despite what a lot of people say, I don’t think they truly, deeply, fundamentally object to handing over more real life money for more in-game stuff. They’d like it if it was CHEAPER, certainly, but when push comes to shove, if people REALLY want something badly enough, they WILL fork over real cash for it.

    So based on my observations of people’s objections to lootboxes, I think what people truly dislike about lootboxes is more the fact that there’s no STRAIGHTFORWARD way for them to get what they want. And I think the solution to overcome this is quite simple, and something that M:TG (and various other games) has been using for a long, long time. Put simply, allow players to sell what they get from lootboxes to OTHER players. This suddenly means that you can now pay to skip the RNG (by letting somebody else take on the risk on your behalf). To use a M:TG example, sure you could spend $100 buying random card packs and hoping for a Black Lotus (just a random example. I haven’t played M:TG in years now and I have no idea what’s an example of a super rare card that’s still in circulation), or you could pay $200 for a guaranteed copy of the card on the game’s Trading Platform. This method also has the added benefit of giving you a bigger dopamine hit when you DO get something good, because you can see immediately how valuable your drop is on the open market.

    And depending on the game, perhaps the publisher might also want to get a slice of this action, by selling super rare items that you could gamble for on lootboxes, or just pay a big, flat amount to the publisher and get it yourself directly. This policy would probably work better for purely cosmetic upgrades like buying a Darth Vader skin in a Star Wars game, where there’s really no mechanical advantage as to whether you thrash your opponent as Darth Vader or a custom Jedi that looks like an unholy cross between Luke Skywalker and Ronald McDonald.

    1. Adam says:

      Wasn’t the Diablo III auction house like that? From what I remember the problem was that being able to buy stuff made the game unrewarding to actually play because you could see the cash value of how much you had “earned”. Why play for an hour to “earn” less than minimum wage?

      That was probably due more to the grind-a-thon nature of the gameplay, rather than reselling itself. But if publishers made better games that people wanted, then lootboxes would be less of an issue anyway!

      1. Bubble181 says:

        In part, yes.
        The big problem with this sort of thing is that it (further) incentivizes anti-fun game styles.
        Drop rates for D3 were balanced for you to *need* the RMAH. In the very beginning, you were literally more likely to find gear for other classes than for the one you were playing, to give you helpful hints you might try selling them on the AH and get other gear in its stead (to be fair, since there was an in-game-gold AH as well, they weren’t forcing you to use money).

        A game like Diablo 3 is based around the little dopamine hits from getting good loot from enemies. This is exactly opposite to a game design based around selling your stuff to buy stuff – in practice, you might as well just get gold drops from the enemies. The way the game was balanced massively lowered the enjoyment of watching something drop, therefore destroying the game feedback loop.

      2. djw says:

        I think that you might be correct about this, in regards to Diablo III.

        However, the gamble and sell model may work quite well in other formats. For instance, lootboxes that drop random cosmetic items that you can sell or trade to other players. The company makes money from the sale of boxes, and the players feel like they have some agency in the ability to buy what they want on the player market rather than just buy N lootboxes.

    2. Daimbert says:

      I think it’s a combination of two things:

      1) Resistance, in general, to “pay-to-win” mechanisms, where you have to pay things over and above the initial outlay to be competitive at the game.

      2) A reaction to the fact that it isn’t “pay-to-win” but instead is “pay to get a chance to get a thing to win”, which means that you might have to take a lot of chances to have a hope of getting the thing you need to be competitive at the game.

      The combination of these two things and how grindy they make getting those things any other way leads people to understand that the game might be forcing you to spend a lot of time and money on these things just to get the thing you need. That leads to the “gambling” metaphor, I think, as it really seems like people have to spend lots of money taking a chance on hitting a “jackpot”. If the things were all purely cosmetic, and/or you could get them relatively easily in-game, and/or you could buy them without going through the randomized element I think they’d be treated like DLC instead of like gambling.

    3. I’m 100% not in favor of legislating this kind of issue (if you’re worried about your kids spending your money, how about NOT giving them your CC numbers? Parenting your kids! It is a thing!), but if there has to be legislation I prefer this kind of quick-and-dirty technical fix that circumvents the problem of defining exactly what qualifies as what.

      Simply mandating a “final cost” for any digital good of ANY kind would circumvent a lot of nonsense–and *require* you to display the “final cost” alongside the product. This wouldn’t hurt games that sell actual items for fixed prices–they wouldn’t even notice the change. It wouldn’t hurt expansions or DLC’s because they have a defined pricetag attached, even if people don’t like it. It might be somewhat annoying for games like Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering, but they can probably wangle their cards into enough distinct expansion packs and special releases each with a defined price tag that gets you a defined set of items that they won’t find it too onerous. But it would accomplish the goal of putting a hard cap on the obnoxiousness of the worst offenders.

      It might even be a boon to some of the smarter companies, because with the necessity to display a hard price they’d have much more data to analyze on what people are actually willing to pay for digital goods. I can’t say for sure, but being able to *target* your pricing at what will actually move the most units may be a superior strategy than relying on people with poor impulse control–there’s a REASON why the biggest, richest companies in the world target the MASS market instead of relying on “whales”. Heck, even Adam Smith mentioned it–a small return on a large capital is generally much greater than a large return on a small capital.

      1. Chad Miller says:

        if you’re worried about your kids spending your money, how about NOT giving them your CC numbers? Parenting your kids! It is a thing

        The absolute worst mtx stories I’ve heard along these lines were Facebook games. To wit: Facebook saves mommy’s credit card number, game doesn’t notify the player that the game has a real-money component except in a dismissable-once popup at the very beginning or somesuch, then kid plays the game and doesn’t realize some of the things they’re clicking on are real-money transactions pulling from the credit card number used for an unrelated app. There were also leaked internal communications showing Facebook that Facebook realized all of this and let it continue on purpose. I realize this is an atypical example, and probably falls under “it’s wrong because it’s fraud” more than “it’s wrong because it’s mtx”, but it’s there.

        Simply mandating a “final cost” for any digital good of ANY kind would circumvent a lot of nonsense–and *require* you to display the “final cost” alongside the product.

        I like this idea; it’s pretty much what I meant when I said in the last comment that if I were willing laws into existence they would have a “truth in advertising” bent. The idea of having a mandatory “buy entire game” option and also making it mandatory to disclose on every game is also something I’ve been daydreaming about for awhile. I’d also add that all games that have online updates of any kind have a URL or QR code or something on the box that lets people look up the “entire game price” on the Internet at any time in case it changes. It’s fine if this disclosure requires the Internet since anything really predatory also requires the Internet.

        Ideally, you could even avoid legislating what the “buy entire game” option actually costs; a high sticker price is inherently bad PR, so the incentive is for companies to balance between “low enough to not make us look bad” vs. “high enough that people actually spend money on our microtransactions.”

        1. Erik says:

          Facebook realized all of this and let it continue on purpose. I realize this is an atypical example, and probably falls under “it’s wrong because it’s fraud” more than “it’s wrong because it’s mtx”, but it’s there.

          Sadly, this is not that atypical. File this one not under either of your suggestions, but more “it’s wrong because it’s Facebook”. There is a huge and growing list of abuses by Facebook app vendors, and Facebook NEVER put any penalties on them, just changes the rules so that no one else can run the exact same exploit… and waits for the next abusive app vendor to exploit something new. Off the top of my head, look at Zynga (abuse of proxy), Cambridge Analytica (stealing user info), anti-Rohingya forces (organizing genocide in Myanmar) – the list keeps growing, and Facebook doesn’t care.

          I know and in a few cases love a lot of people who work there… but that just gives me a better view of how Facebook management is focused on how to continue to grow rather than how to manage what they’ve grown into. This was excusable, and even appropriate, when they were a new company standing as the face of a new market concept. As one of the top destinations on the entire Internet, where more people get their news than any single other source in the world, they need to shift their priorities. Unfortunately, they seem to be shifting into plausible deniability and evasion rather than actual problem management.

          I think this is actually bad for them corporately in the long run. Facebook has gotten to the point where very few users want to be *there*, they’re just there because their family/friends are. If someone actually comes up with a viable competitive platform, I predict that Facebook will hollow out as people leave, and turn into the next Friendster.

        2. Bubble181 says:

          How do you define “the entire game”, though? Buying temporary +50% XP items is a perfectly valid way of letting a player get going a bit faster, reduce grind, what-have-you, but it can also lead to a system where you have to grind/wait for literal weeks for your next level-up, or buy the 24-hours +50.000% XP amulet every day to make meaningful progress. Still, technically you can go through the game and experience the full content just fine without it.

          1. I didn’t say “buy the entire game”, I said that for any given digital good there had to be a final price FOR THAT GOOD. So if you’re buying a useable item like an XP potion, that has a final, given price. So it’s fine. But items with randomized content don’t have a final price to get all the potential contents. So what this would mean is that, say, if you sell packs of digital cards, there must ALSO be a pricing option that just gives you one of every single card that’s available.

            Basically, if there’s an option for a random chance to get something, there also has to be an option where you can just buy that specific thing outright (or all of the potential contents as a bundle).

            I’m not advocating for this, I just think that something along these lines would circumvent a lot of arguing about definitions, because it’d at least be very simple to say “is there a random element to this?” and “is there somewhere you can buy the contents without the randomness?” Those are simple yes/no propositions that are absolutely obvious to anyone.

            1. Bubble181 says:

              OK, sorry, fair enough.
              Still, though, it leads back to the lootboss issue Shamus mentioned. An ARPG or Borderlands or whatever thrives on random loot drops. Not every legendary is as easy to find. Say I sell tickets ($1! Full price, no odds involved!) for a level where a boss with 1 HP has a 33% chance to drop one of three legendaries. Does this mean I also need the option to buy the items outright for around $4? Does it matter if the boss has 1 million HP? Or 1 billion? Even 1B isn’t a lot of damage in Diablo 3 endgame these days – I’d still one-shot him with my seasonal character. For a new player, though, it’d be an absolutely unbeatable boss. At what point is it a Serious Fight and actual one-time DLC, instead of a loot boss?

              1. Sydney says:

                The simplest solution to the lootboss problem is a rule to the effect that “any consumable/repeatable purchase must also have an unlock-forever option”. If you can buy more energy in a clicker game, there must be an unlimited-energy purchase too. If you can buy a ticket to the lootboss, you must also be able to buy a lifetime access pass – not just to the one boss, but to all bosses including future ones.

        3. Yes, it’s definitely not effortless to avoid accidentally giving your kids access to some kind of automatic payment thing these days, you have to have a little bit of techno-savvy.

          The easiest way to do it is to NEVER LET YOUR KIDS USE YOUR ACCOUNT. Get them their own device (small Kindle Fires are so cheap that it doesn’t even matter if they smash it), make them their own account, and never, ever, ever put payment information on it other than pre-paid gift cards.

          1. Another thing you can do with at least some credit cards is to get one of those alert things where if you make digital purchases it locks your account and sends you a notification requesting permission to approve the purchase. It’s annoying if you like to buy that kind of thing yourself, but not nearly as annoying as trying to get back hundreds of dollars that your kid spent.

      2. Mistwraithe says:

        I like the “final cost” or “maximum cost” idea. You would need to support a “maximum cost per month” model but that would be doable. And putting a hard cap would squelch the whale hunting which is behind most of the Lootbox/Freemium model.

        Good thinking!

    4. Echo Tango says:

      Shamus’ previous post had my reason listed already – perverse incentives. Lootboxes push games towards pay-to-win and grind. Whatever else might be right or wrong with a game, my skill, knowledge, and time being de-valued, is not something I want to put up with.

      1. The Puzzler says:

        Unfortunately, the distinction between ‘pay to win’ and ‘pay to buy cosmetic items and support the game creators’ is important to gamers, but not to the people who will be legislating the issue.

        1. Mistwraithe says:

          I think that is a reasonably straight forward distinction for people to make and I would be surprised if legislators couldn’t grasp it. There are much more subtle distinctions as highlighted by Shamus which are trickier.

    5. ColeusRattus says:

      That would not work in Europe, because that would give those winnings a real money value. That would make them lotteries, which are illegal until sanctioned by the governements (who usually hold monopolies on lotteries with state owned agencies, thus making that very unlikely).

      This goes the other way too, a problem GTA encountered when they introduced the Casino, since their in game money can be purchased for real money, making it a “real” Casino for European law. Dunno how exactly they solved that though.

  6. Daimbert says:

    Gwent isn’t COMPLETELY random! A lot of skill goes into that game!

    Do you think EA is incapable of adding some small fig-leaf skill component to their loot boxes?

    This has indeed actually happened before, with the invention of “skill-testing questions”. Jurisdictions made it so that you couldn’t have giveaways in products given completely at random, so they added a small and simple math question to be able to claim that there was skill involved. Certainly EA could easily come up with something similar.

    I wonder if instead of the regulations being bans or removals, you’d get further ahead with forcing options. So you can have real world money to pay for lootboxes, but they have to be reasonably attainable in the game not paying real money and there has to be a reasonable option to simply buy the items with real world money. That way, people can gravitate towards which model works best for them without being forced into one by needing to get a specific item by a specific method. Yes, there’d still be wrangling over “reasonable”, but that can be handled by customers complaining (like they did with Battlefront II which started this, noting how unreasonable the time you’d need to spend to earn Vader and Luke Skywalker would be).

    Something similar was done here with cable providers and the cost of channels. The regulatory bodies here simply said that you had to offer a cheaper package that had certain things in it, and then all channels added individually. Of course, customers still get shafted on individual channels vs packages, but that’s something that can be dealt with by complaints and the like, and the new model is better for at least some customers without being too onerous.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Dang, I haven’t thought about skill-testing questions since my childhood cereal- and popsicle-boxes. I think I realized it was a scam, and/or that rich kids who could afford to buy many boxes would always win, but I could be mis-remembering how gullible I was… ^^;

    2. Melted says:

      I was JUST about to bring up the skill testing question workaround. I mean, the “lootboss” idea is the video game version of that, right?

      Actually, I guess the “no purchase necessary” thing is also invoked in video games–when you can, technically, grind for a lootbox instead of buying it with real-world money.

  7. Dreadjaws says:

    Remember that this is supposed to be fun.

    Welp. Time for my essay on why The Last of Us Part II is a piece of garbage, then.

    But seriously, the lootbox issue is certainly far more complicated than the medium gamer cares to admit. I’ve even talked about lootboxes with people who are… I was going to say casual gamers, but I don’t mean to imply they play casual games. They play all kinds of games, they just don’t immerse themselves into gaming media like we do. What do we call them, then?

    Anyway, these people. For the sake of argument, let’s call them “muggles”. I’ve talked to a few of them about lootboxes, and they outright don’t see any problem. From what I gather they’ve never actually played a game that has them, but it’s strange that they just don’t see how they can be a bad thing. It made me question myself, thinking maybe I was overreacting about the whole issue. But no, lootboxes definitely suck. They outright make games less fun by forcing repetition in them.

    I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I gotta say, if getting rid of games like Magic The Gathering is the price to pay, I’ll gladly pay it. I’d rather have a couple less genres available than have all the genres infested by fun-sucking practices. That being said, I doubt that would be the only price to pay.

    1. Daimbert says:

      Speaking as someone closer to casual gamers than others here, there is one issue with lootboxes and their reactions to them: done properly, lootboxes are FUN. Earned and earnable primarily through in-game play, it’s a lot of fun to pay some in-game currency that you don’t have any other use for and see what you get, even if — and especially if — it’s cosmetic and not really game-impacting. I experienced them in Injustice 2 and think that the form in the sports games would be kinda fun. So for people who don’t have to face people who are using them against them and are doing okay in the game regardless, it really is just some harmless fun as they don’t grind to get them — or, at least, not more than they want to — and aren’t at all tempted to pay real money to get them.

      Once it becomes game-impacting then it turns into something you need to get which turns it into a job which then annoys you and then can encourage you to just pay to get it. But if you don’t really care that much what you get it’s a fun mechanism that doesn’t cost you anything but time that you’d spend doing those things anyway.

    2. Leeward says:

      Why not just vote with your wallet? If loot boxes make games unfun, don’t buy unfun games. I haven’t played a game with a pay to win mechanic since I stopped playing M:tG in the ’90s, and it hasn’t hurt my ability to find great games to play.

      It sucks for people who don’t read about games before buying them, but that’s a problem for consumers in general. If you want to get a CEO fired, bad sales are the best way.

      I think the proper place for regulation is where markets fail, and I’m not convinced that the market for entertainment products has failed. Battlefronts 2 failed to hit EA’s sales targets. That sounds like consumers winning to me.

      1. evilmrhenry says:

        The objective of voting with your wallet is to push companies towards better practices. The problem here is that companies making lootbox games do not view me as a customer, as I am unwilling to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a game. Their customers are the people willing to do that; selling fewer copies, but having the people who do buy the game spend a lot more is an explicit part of the model.

        1. Hector says:

          Echo that. The people throwing dangerous amounts of money at the companies are the “real” customers they care about. The rest of us are not a concern, even if we buy nothing.

          1. djw says:

            I agree with you, but I also think this is fine. Not every game made needs to be for me (or you, or anybody in this thread).

            The game market is big enough that there will always be a niche market (and probably more than that) for games without lootboxes, and somebody will service that market.

            1. Hector says:

              It’s certainly not fine by me if these games drive people into banktuptcy. Thetes a big difference with “not all games appeal to me” and “these games create self-destructive gambling habits”.

              1. djw says:

                This may be an “agree to disagree” issue, but I think that the problem of self destructive levels of gambling is something that should be dealt with by family, friends, and therapy rather than legislation.

                1. Hector says:

                  I mean, basically every country does both. Gambling is tightly regulated among many, many countries precisely because it causes serious legal, social, and personal problems. Gambling is so destructive that it’s regulated somewhat similarly to addictive drugs, and basically for the same reasons. People do serious harm to themselves, their families, and their communities under the influence. Worse yet, while it’s difficult enough to spot physical / chemical addictions, the rush of gambling is only mind-affecting, making it harder to spot and easier to conceal until it breaks people.

                  EA & friends want to shove a casino into every home on the planet, and they literally don’t give a damn if it destroys peoples’ lives. They take no responsibility for the damage they do and are working as hard as possible to evade the rules that are put in place concerning gambling addiction. Disagree all you like, but this is not morally acceptable, nor can I just ignore it. Better that EA simply be erased from existence and Adrew Wilson be subjected to the Damnatio Memoriae than to allow it.

                  1. djw says:

                    You have stated a political opinion… I’m not going to follow it up with my equally political opinion. I’m just going to reiterate “agree to disagree”.

                    1. Mousazz says:

                      I want to express appreciation for TwentySided and Shamus for having fostered a community that, in an elsewhere unprecedented way, has enough willpower to (usually) actively stop a conversation when it (d)evolves into a political discussion.

                2. Richard says:

                  djw, that approach leads to literal death and destruction. Please do some research.

                  “Gambling debt murder suicides” is one search topic you might find informative.

                  Your position can be summarised as “I do not much care about the wellbeing of any individuals, including myself”
                  That is not a rational position to take, and it is not one that can be placed in the “agree to disagree” bucket.

                  Agree to disagree is for statements like “I do not like tea”. It is not for “I do not care about your wellbeing”

                  I should probably expand on that:

                  ‘Problem’ gamblers steal. Initially from family, friends and their employer, if unchecked by outside forces, they steal from the public too.
                  They hide their debts and do not seek help until forced to.

                  If your (or my) CEO is a gambler with a problem, they could easily utterly destroy your (or my) livelihood by spending all the company money.
                  The only barrier to that is legislation.

                  1. Kathryn says:

                    Not djw, but your statement about the damage of gambling is just as true for any other form of addiction, and you’re proposing a highly paternalistic solution that I don’t agree with even though I’ve no interest in gambling myself.

                    As in so many other cases, Chesterton said it better than I can: “The free man owns himself. He may damage himself with eating or drinking; he may ruin himself with gambling. If he does then he is a damn fool, and possibly even a damned soul; but if he may not, then he is not a free man any more than a dog.”

                    I’m not going to comment further unless specifically invited to expand on a particular point.

                    1. Hector says:

                      As a great fan of Chesterton myself, we can forbid the crooked gambling hall without harming the freedom of the addicted gambler.

                    2. Ninety-Three says:

                      As a great fan of Chesterton myself, we can forbid the crooked gambling hall without harming the freedom of the addicted gambler.

                      Are you suggesting lootboxes are crooked gambling? For all the arguments out there, I’ve never heard them called that before. What would crooked lootboxes even look like, lying about drop rates for a box’s contents?

                    3. Richard says:

                      I did not propose any solutions whatsoever. I only indicated the general problem with doing nothing.

                      Whatever paternalistic solution you are thinking of is entirely within your own head.

                      I will however remind you that every society does regulate the majority of addictive substances and behaviours.

                      For example, in almost the entire world:
                      – Those under some age (usually 18-21) are not permitted to buy their own alcohol.
                      – Alcohol may only be sold in specific, designated places.
                      – All forms of commercial alcohol are required to be labelled with their strength in a standard way (usually ABV).
                      – The different types alcohol have different supplementary taxes. (In general, the stronger the higher the tax.)
                      – In many places, there’s a limit to the size of an alcoholic package. (You can’t buy an entire barrel of whiskey unless you’re a business)

                      The details vary, but the general thrust is the same across the world.
                      Beyond the above the various societies diverge greatly, so isn’t a debate for here.

                      The reason for the above is not to stop you drinking yourself to death.
                      You are free to do that. There are no laws against that in most of the world.

                      The reason is that the “drinking yourself to death” phase of addiction places a huge cost on the rest of society, and so society has decided to place some speedbumps on the journey, so that fewer people do go all the way.

                  2. Leeward says:

                    “The only barrier to that is legislation.”

                    I can’t reply to your post where you claimed you didn’t propose any solutions whatsoever, but that sounds like a proposed solution to me.

                    Embezzlement is already a crime.

                    On a different note, I think the crux of the motivation for the no politics rule is that people start imputing motives to others and things get offensive fast. That’s what

                    Your position can be summarised as “I do not much care about the wellbeing of any individuals, including myself”

                    does.

                    That’s not at all what djw said, and suggesting it is closes of any reasonable avenue of debate. Consider whether you’re able to detach emotions from an issue before posting about it, and you will have less stress in life.

        2. K. says:

          I think nearly every customer is unwilling to pay thousands of dollars for a game. Which is an increasing problem for publishers and developers looking to compensate for rising cost of production.

          1. In-App Purchases are a nicely scaleable way to increase revenue. I don’t think they will go away or get legislated in a catch-all way. What might be feasible to remove incentives from predatory practices is a case-by-case outlawing of specific mechanics. Yes, the design space for exploits is large – but limiting it step by step makes the design process harder and introduces a certain direction that will play out over a longer time frame.

          2. Subscription models could be an alternative revenue stream. They are not nearly as scaleable, but offer a whole bunch of other benefits to publishers. I’m very curious to see how Apple Arcade will turn out in the long run, as it’s currently positioned as a service that does away with IAPs in its games. It’s honestly relaxing to have some games on the iPad, that you can just play without running into grind or advertisement all the time.

          3. On mentioning Apple… I get that this is a PC focused site. But for this topic specifically I think the real war is going on in the gigantic mobile space next door. Okay, that’s not directly relevant to what’s discussed here. I just had a weird moment of cultural dissonance trying to understand where you’re coming from, that’s all.

      2. Dreadjaws says:

        The “vote with your wallet” idea is something I adhere to, but it’s also something that publishers have been fighting against for years. Surely you’ve heard the term “whale user”, whereas the majority of a game’s profits from microtransactions come from people with lots of disposable income who waste in the games rather than small purchases by other individuals. As long as those whale users exist, it doesn’t matter if I and hundreds of thousands of other players never touch a game, because they’ll keep being funded by these users.

        Now sure. If I hear a game contains lootboxes and is also a game you have to pay for, I still don’t play it. Independently of my issues with lootboxes from a “greed” standpoint, games that have them tend to be severely balanced towards their use being a necessity, and that simply ruins the fun for me. The problem is that lately publishers have picked up the habit of adding lootboxes to a game after it launched. And specifically, after most people have played it long enough that getting a refund is not possible. Granted, this trend hasn’t picked up much traction yet, but if it does, then it’s going to be a major issue. Buying games relatively close to launch, even if the majority of reviews are positive, will be a waste of money.

        1. Leeward says:

          I haven’t seen any evidence that publishers are spending tens of millions of dollars developing AAA games in the hopes that they’ll hook a few hundred whales.

          Battlefront 2’s sales target was 10 million copies by January 2018. It would take some big whales to make $60 million in 3 months.

          Regardless, the whole market is necessarily not a concern to the majority.

          The issue of publishers adding loot boxes after launch, if real, sounds like a bait and switch, which is already fraud. And that issue of buying games close to launch being a waste of money? That sounds like a way for game publishers to lose the trust of their customers completely, which is a reason to boycott, but not a reason to legislate.

          Incidentally, I disagree with Shamus on the intractability of effective regulation. I just don’t see the need for it here.

  8. noga says:

    What I think you left out is dictating that access to the slot machine (/loot box system/boss/etc) be non-consumable as well as using it not requiring real money. This mean you pay one time and than you could always access the gamble and use it without need or use for real money.
    [Or if it is limited it’s not by real-world money but by things like starting a new game]

    It still doesn’t help CCGs though

  9. Thomas says:

    I’m sold on the non-committal stance. In an ideal non-practical world, I wish games with lootboxes received an 18+ rating and that was that.

    I don’t even really care if companies go the ‘lootboss’ approach. As long as it was something more complicated than ‘spend some money, pull a lever, get a reward’, it doesn’t really hit me the same way. Diagnosing my own feelings it’s the very immediate connection between spending money and passively receiving a randomised reward that I get icky about. Gambling addiction is a primal thing, and the brain isn’t so sophisticated about forming longer chains of cause and effect.

    Otherwise I just don’t like them for the reasons Shamus established in part 1, but that’s for the market to fix. (One day!)

    I really hate the retail thing. Big retailers choosing not to stock products due to erratic pressure groups can end up being worse even than regulation. But would I feel like that if they were choosing to stock a product I didn’t like? I can think of a few that I’d be outraged if my local Tesco stocked, so I’m not really any better.

    1. Hector says:

      I was going to mention this myself, so instead I will support you here. Shamus thinks that his theorized loopholes are no issue for the developer/publisher. I disagree, because I think that anything which breaks the immediate feedback loop will harm in, possibly fatally. This is well known in casinos. They go the extra mile to remove all possible distractions or delays because they want gamblers to go hours on end and with as many actions or games as possible in that time. Every time you have to do an end-run to make the gambling cycle, it helps stop interrupt cycle.

  10. Yerushalmi says:

    Your points about how difficult it is to strictly define lootboxes in law are crucial. It should be emphasized that, at least in the US, anything that is not strictly defined in the law is literally unconstitutional, because of the principle that you should at least theoretically be able to know in advance whether or not you are doing something illegal.

    There was, of course, that well-known Supreme Court decision that defined obscenity as “I know it when I see it”. But less well known is the fact that this definition didn’t survive very long. It took only two years before it was challenged as an inherently arbitrary concept, one that simply couldn’t be the basis for deciding whether or not to fine someone or throw them in jail. So the Court was forced to revisit the subject very quickly, reject “I know it when I see it” as a legitimate approach, and replace it with a three-point “objective” test to replace it – one that has now remained in force for over fifty years.

    This is near the limit of my knowledge on the subject; I don’t remember which specific constitutional matters were raised in objection to “I know it when I see it”, but my guess is that they were the equal protection and/or due process clauses.

    1. Syal says:

      The obscenity case was Miller v. California, apparently.

      And here’s a generic description of vagueness.

      (Blackstone relates that a man who stole one horse was not penalized under a statute which forbade “stealing horses.”)

    2. Contribu Tor says:

      It should be emphasized that, at least in the US, anything that is not strictly defined in the law is literally unconstitutional, because of the principle that you should at least theoretically be able to know in advance whether or not you are doing something illegal.

      IANAL, but I do not believe this is not an accurate statement.

      What you’ve described is a concept that would rule in what’s called a “civil law” jurisdiction, where the law is exactly what the text says. Many countries are civil law countries, with the notable exception of England and most countries that were at some point part of the British Empire. The US is NOT a civil law jurisdiction, and never has been, nor does the constitution say otherwise (the state of Louisiana is closer than most of the US since its legal code harkens back to France and the Napoleonic Code, but it’s still part of the US system).

      The US is what’s called a “common law” jurisdiction. The notion of “what the law is” is an amalgam of “what is written in statutes,” “what precedent exists to those laws’ interpretation from various courts,” and “general principles of law that may or may not be written down, but have existed for a very long time” (in the US, this typically means “back to when we were part of England.”)

      One of my favorite introductions to this topic is embedded for free here (the “less annoying to read” version is paywalled):
      https://loweringthebar.net/2016/08/civil-and-common-law.html

      You’re right that the law should be, in theory, knowable, but, recursively and ironically, this notion isn’t directly written in any law. It’s certainly not in the literal text of the constitution. The constitution DOES say that Congress (and, as of the 14th amendment’s incorporation doctrine, the states) can’t pass a law to make something illegal that was legal at the time.

      This is not the same as requiring the law to be clear and knowable in advance. Because the literal text of a statute is not, in common law jurisdictions, the sum total of the law, there’s plenty that might not be clear and you are on your own. Nor does the constitution require notice of a new law, or any special effort on the part of lawmakers to make you aware of the law.

      A statute may be vague or open to interpretation, and it will be unclear what is/is not legal until a court weighs in and a certain interpretation becomes binding precedent. It’s not, in general, a defense to say that you didn’t know that’s how the law would be interpreted at the time you did something.

  11. Bubble181 says:

    I think it’s literally impossible to create a complete legalistic definition. The example give of introducing quick-and-easy hoops to jump through to avoid the law makes this clear: a way to buy X, which allows access to a realm with easier enemies which sprout Y allowing you to get C? Where does “easy workaround” end and “new core gameplay loop” begin?
    Diablo 3 has an item that’ll allow you to open a portal to the realm of Greed – where all enemies are trasure goblins, everything drops obscene amounts of money, and there are piles of treasure all around. It’s fun, if a bit unnecessary as the game’s economy is broken enough as is, but it really is a part of the game. You can also get there from random portals spawning from dead treasure goblins in the open world, so it isn’t a closed system, either.
    At a certain point, it’s not a loot box, but a mini game that yields results in the bigger game – like Gwent, or pod racing, or whatever.
    As has been stated by another poster, most on line raffles and give-aways include a “question” to answer so that it isn’t legally a give-away but a competition – questions like “What’s the name of our name Gaming Peripheral Series (hint: click here to learn all about our new ProGaemz series of keyboards!)? – A) ProGaemz; B) Poppycock or C) NotTheRightAnswer”. Some systems aren’t very deep, and don’t have to be – so it’s trivial to include something that counts as “gameplay” but isn’t (or is!)

    Making the issue even more problematic is, of course, the international aspect. Most games tend to follow American sensibilities and add in “workarounds” for other markets – be it removing swastika’s from Wolfenstein for Germany, or removing some dialogue for China, or adding subtitles, or blocking certain aspects of a game. Some games were famously broken on launch in some countries because of missing mechanics without having any balance to account, thus lacking ways to earn resources or the like. Europe, China, the USA, we have different things we care about. Already some European countries have laws against in-game gambling in the pipeline, or are considering them. Sadly the whole privacy on line issues is very telling in how it gets “handled”. Literally every website and their dog asks for your permission for cookies, but usually with hardly a way to avoid them – sometimes there’s “necessary” and “optional”, sometimes it’s all-or-nothing. Very rarely you’ll see a full list of all cookies, which can be surprising – a fairly normal blog I read atually lists well over a HUNDRED different cookies. Of which 50 or so are considered “essential”.
    Would we all be happier or the issue somehow solved if all games came with an obligatory splash page listing “dangers of gambling”, “be careful of spending too much on microtransactions”, and so on? No, we wouldn’t be.

    The only way this is going to correct itself is for gamers to vote with their wallet – but as I said in the earlier post in this series, “gamers” (or core target demographic gamers, anyway) are an ever-changing group with fast turn-over. There’s little chance to learn, and those rolling in are always used to and accepting of practices that would be considered horible 10 years ago. Kids These Days simply think differently about privacy, about micotransactions, about what can be a good part of a game, what is or isn’t padding. I have littel hopes of it really going away, but I do hope a market shift will split the market into several discrete markets – mobile gaming is a different market from PC gaming, and sports games are more or less a niche unto themselves. MMOs have different expectations and habits from single player games.
    As we’ve seen over the past few years, the single player game hasn’t disappeared because of the internet and always-online and social media. It’s become a smaller part of the market, perhaps ,but it’s still its own thing, mostly. Let’s hope the same holds true for non-mTX games.

  12. Joshua says:

    “Everyone who disagrees with me is evil!” maybe with a dash of “I don’t even see why this is a debate!” and perhaps with a twist of, “It’s simple, really…”.

    You left out my personal bugbear of “Common-sense”

    No, very little is common sense. Anything that is common sense is probably already a law, like people can’t murder each other willy-nilly.

    It just reminds of the saying: “There’s a short, simple solution to anything and it’s usually wrong.”

    1. Smith says:

      That particular one drives me mad, in both senses of the term. Especially since it’s often coupled with a proposal that is in no way sensible, is openly emotional, and may be willfully ignorant, IME.

      And once you point out how, the other person will probably claim you’re just a bad person in some way, exactly like Shamus said, without actually defending their “common sense” proposal.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        I personally like ‘I don’t see why…’ as a phrase.
        As in ‘I don’t see why [insert opinion on political topic here] would be a bad thing…I mean, [insert well-known, not-universally-held justification for said opinion here]. What’s wrong with that?’

        Yes, I can tell that you don’t see why someone might have a different opinion than you. You’ve just demonstrated perfectly that you can’t see why. And yet…not everyone is you, and you’re not everyone.

        Ironically, over half the time I agree with the opinion being expressed…the similarity between ‘I don’t’ and ‘I can’t’ amuses, interests and peeves me in equal degree.

  13. JDMM says:

    Doing random reading apparently there exists a Nevada law that gambling venues must use gambling machines such that statistically if you put a dollar in you get 60 cents out

    If I was doing Lootbox regulation a variation on that is what I might use. Games as a rule must advertise everything available from lootboxes for purchase with the purchase price allowed to be 2 times what you would spend statistically to get the item (or variation thereof) 66% of the time. So say you need to spend 15 dollars on Soccer lootboxes to get a 66% chance of getting Luka Modric or some equivalent like Sergio Aguero, Luka Modric must be available for purchase for 30 dollars. So statistically buying Luka Modric is a better deal but you can gamble for him if you want, perhaps you’ll beat the odds.

    Going beyond that I feel is too much intrusion on freedom, I might want to save people from their own bad habits of hoping on lootboxes and ignoring what I’ve offered them but I also might want to save people from Paradox DLC, cigarette smoking, drinks that make you thirsty etc

    1. LCF says:

      Right.
      I too think that to regulate lootboxes and equivalent, we should first have a look at traditionnal gambling and casino regulation.
      What is already in effect, why and how? What already exists that we don’t need to reinvent?
      Having done that, we’ll have cleared a lot of points on that particular subject and we’ll be able to concentrate on what’s new.

      1. evilmrhenry says:

        Online gambling in the US is basically illegal except for some narrow exceptions. If you apply existing gambling regulations to lootboxes, lootboxes don’t get to exist.

    2. GoStu says:

      That… is a very interesting solution. Downright practical, when I think about it.

      For the Lawmakers: It follows an established legal precedent. Legislators LOVE precedent.

      For the Developers & Publishers: It doesn’t seem arduous to execute for the developers to implement, meaning they’re less likely to squirm around and fight and draw out the legal battle against enacting such a rule. I also don’t think this will immediately torpedo any sort of games like Magic: The Gathering and how they work – if someone wants a specific power card to build a deck… well, they can have that card. It’ll come at a price BUT the developer still gets the money from having sold it directly. Their revenue-stream isn’t completely cut off.

      For the Players: Seeing a hard dollar figure for the thing they want and knowing that the hard figure is actually less than they would statistically expect to pay through opening boxes ought to serve as a serious gut-check. Seeing something listed for like $200.00 ought to be a wake-up call of “hey, that’s going to take a LOT of boxes”.

  14. Lino says:

    It’s times like these when I really appreciate your writing. Like all discussions that touch on political topics, talk about lootboxes always gets way too emotional, to the point where nothing of value is ever said, and the only result is that the reader/viewer has become angrier than when he started reading/watching.

    With the exception of you and one random YouTuber (who doesn’t make videos anymore), I’ve yet to hear a content creator say anything even half as useful as any of your articles on the subject.

    So, before you lock this thread, I just wanted to say that I love the level-headedness you bring to the discussion on occasions such as these :)

    1. Mousazz says:

      With the exception of you and one random YouTuber (who doesn’t make videos anymore)

      Who’s the Youtuber?

      1. Lino says:

        Slim Tengi. Here’s that video of his I had in mind.

  15. dan says:

    So here’s my hypothetical solution:
    Add an “enhancement” onto the ESRB ratings for “Contains Gambling.” So a slot machine like you’d see in a casino, under this system, would have an “E/CG” rating for Everyone – Contains Gambling.” It’s “everyone” because there is no violence or dirty words or sexy stuff, it’s the same rating as Bejeweled for that. But it’s got that “Contains Gambling” on it, so it’s in a different category for that reason.

    This kind of goes against the underlying philosophy of the ratings boards to reduce everything to a single letter grade when it’s looking at different categories of “adult” behavior. And I’m not crazy about putting the decision making in the hands of the ESRB (and similar foreign orgs) but at least that’s an existing forum that the lawyers can go to and argue hair-splitting arguments about ratings and stuff in a place where everybody is relatively educated about the subtleties, and it’s not a forum that has the full crushing weight of the law backing it up in every way so it’s kinda lower stakes.

    But this is just about the best compromise solution that I can imagine, to achieve broadly the immediate goal of giving “lootbox games” (as a nebulous shifting category that some board knows when they see it without having strict defs) a Scarlet Letter that lets Walmart decide not to stock them and basically pushes the rest of the debate down the road.

    1. etheric42 says:

      ESRB has a list of riders that go with the general rating. That way if your household is harder on violence vs sex than the general populace, you could say no to games that include certain descriptors even if the overall rating is appropriate, and allow other games that are only rated more adult because they have descriptors you don’t have a problem with.

      Ideally there would just be a flag for “in-app purchases” and “randomized in-app purchases” and then I could make the choice myself.

  16. Okay, here’s an oddball question . . . why is gambling for children such a Big Deal? Of anyone, they are the portion of the population LEAST likely to be harmed by it, because they have little money of their own and no need to support themselves. (And if you let your child have access to your rent money, you have nobody to blame but yourself. That’s just STUPID.) If a kid gambles away his allowance, where’s the harm? He’s still going to have somewhere to live and food to eat, unlike an adult if they gamble away their rent and utility and grocery money.

    Those most likely to develop a problem and overindulge in self-destructive behaviors are usually those who were most strictly limited from those behaviors as a child–they develop a mystique about them because engaging in them feels transgressive and empowering.

    Everyone I know who never gets drunk or does drugs and doesn’t care about them grew up in a *permissive* household (at least regarding those items) where it just wasn’t any kind of a big deal. Everyone I know who has battled substance abuse problems grew up in a restrictive environment.

    So, let the kids gamble, maybe?

    1. krellen says:

      The idea, I believe, is that children are at a formative age when life-long habits are being created, and letting them gamble runs the risk (or guarantees, depending on the arguer’s outlook) that they will develop a gambling addiction in adulthood, which most people recognise as harmful for both the individual and for society. So you keep children away from these experiences that could put them on a path towards destruction until the completely arbitrary age line we’ve decided it is okay to let people destroy themselves at.

      1. Yeah and we can all see how well that’s worked out so far.

        1. Thomas says:

          The bit you wrote “Those most likely to develop a problem and overindulge in self-destructive behaviors are usually those who were most strictly limited from those behaviors as a child”

          That’s just factually not true here. There’s a strong correlation between gambling as a child and gambling as an adult. So the children who are restricted from gambling are in the group least likely to demonstrate problem gambling behaviour.

          I’m not trying to argue the converse – that gambling as a child causes problem gambling as an adult. But if correlation doesn’t mean causation, then surely there’s still even less evidence orfor arguing the reverse.

          1. Kyle Haight says:

            I suspect that if one gambles as a child and enjoys it, one is more likely to gamble as an adult — because one *still* enjoys it. But one may be exposed to gambling as a child and not enjoy it. When my mother was a child, her father would occasionally take her into town on shopping trips, and apparently one of the stores had a slot machine. He once gave her a nickle to play the slot. She won three nickles on her first try, which was a lot of money for a kid at the time. She then proceeded to lose all three of them, leaving her with nothing.

            She never gambled again.

            When I was raised, gambling was presented to me not as a forbidden, immoral or dangerous thing, but as a foolish thing. It’s easy to explain to a child that over the long run, the house is the only guaranteed winner. Few people are tempted by things they view as stupid.

            1. Redrock says:

              That’s actually a good example of the approach I’m usually in favor of – teaching children to be smart about those things, viewing them as silly, instead of forbidden and thus enticing.

              1. Geebs says:

                I’ve got a couple of counterpoints:

                1) there are a few stages of development where kids will completely refuse to do anything their parents say, but are perfectly happy to imitate strangers. If you pick the wrong day to present something as silly, you‘re in for a world of hurt.

                2) people exhibit a range of susceptibility to physical and mental diseases. Some people are lactose intolerant. Some people have a tendency to physical addiction. Some are problem gamblers. Many studies into addiction identify risk factors but the models only explain a degree of the variation; you don’t know in advance which kid will smoke a pack of cigarettes, feel sick and never do it again, and which kid will do the same and go on to a 60 a day habit. It’s not uncommon in public health terms to place restrictions on the general public in order to protect individuals at particular risk. See e.g. social distancing this year.

                3) there’s good evidence that limiting exposure to bad habits in childhood reduces their prevalence in adults (c.f. the “make ‘em smoke a whole pack” approach). See, for example, the absolutely precipitous decline in smoking rates in the UK in the last 50 years, largely attributable to the bans on tobacco advertising and public smoking.

                1. Redrock says:

                  Those are some great arguments, and they actually support my overall take on this issue. You mentioned smoking and lactose intolerant peoplr, but few governments, if any, completely ban either of those things. Neither is the sale of cutlery regulated, despite the fact that there’s a percentage of criminally insane among the population. However, we do put scary-ass stickers on cigarette packs, we run public awareness campaigns, we impose restrictions on advertising for potentially harmful products and services. I support all of that wholeheartedly. Slap a huge sticker with the words “WARNING! MAY LEAD TO GAMBLING ADDICTION” on every copy of FIFA, as well as its online store pages. Just don’t outlaw the thing. The cost-benefit ratio just doesn’t make it worth it.

                2. Kyle Haight says:

                  Sometimes exposure to a bad habit as a child leads to it being identified as bad by the child. That was my experience with smoking — watching my father struggle to stop led to me explicitly deciding never to start. In fact, it led to me formulating a more general principle, that some things seemed to be easier to start doing than to stop, and that one should not start doing such things without a really good reason. I wound up applying that to smoking, drinking, drug use and gambling as I grew up.

                  People are complicated. Our ability to predict how a person will respond to an experience is nowhere near as good as we think it is.

  17. Background_Nose says:

    I’m definitely on the “not a problem” side.

    Lootbox design has ruined a game? Oh well, don’t buy it! There’s always something else to play.

    I see nothing wrong with cosmetic only lootboxes, Overwatch’s for example. I don’t particularly like them, so I don’t engage with them and move on enjoying the game. I think I have have nearly 200 unopened boxes now?

    And for the “That’s fine but what about other people” argument? There’s hundreds of ways to take money from stupid people no one is complaining about, why is this different?

    1. Smith says:

      Some – many – people feel it’s adulterating their favorite franchises and genres. Including the cosmetic-only stuff.

      Funny. I remember when the zeitgeist was “well, DLC is okay, as long as it’s cosmetic only”. And now people get mad even at completely optional cosmetic-only DLC.

  18. MadTinkerer says:

    Here’s my proposal: a wiki, call it LootWiki or or Loogle or something else if those names are already taken. LW or Loogle or whatever is full of pages about games with loot boxes. On those pages are detailed info on all of the gambling and pseudo-gambling mechanics in those games.

    Also, on a nice big sidebar are recommended alternatives free of loot boxes. On the Battlefront II (2017) page there will be a link to a page (probably the GoG page, but also the Origin page if it’s on Origin) to get Battlefront II (2005).

    On the page for Fortnite there will be a variety of links to other Battle Royales that don’t have loot boxes. Maybe also a link to Minecraft, since BR was a custom map in MC before the current BR craze.

    Hearthstone and M:TG are trickier because Hearthstone is just a Magic clone with no physical cards and WotC are still offering physical cards even though they’re trying to phase them out. The physical cards aspect justifies the physical TCG model, but maybe the wiki could point to some Living Card Games (card games where you can only buy whole sets and expansions so everyone, generally speaking, has a complete collection) as alternatives. Or digital card games that are almost like trading card games but you can only get the cards in-game and can’t buy them with real money, like Slay The Spire.

    As for sports games, it kind of sucks that the average sports gamer buys the games purely because of the licensed IP and no other reason. Because if the IP is the only reason they’re playing, then there’s no alternative for them. Are they really going to play unlicensed sports games? Most of them aren’t. It’s been tried for decades. We can try to recommend other games to Madden players, but (from what I’ve been told by Madden players) most Madden players play nothing else and want nothing else. But, still, we can try. I don’t even know what good unlicensed sports games there are right now, though. I know some all time great classics (Tecmo Super Bowl, Speedball II, the NBA Street series*, most iterations of Blood Bowl), but I have no idea what the current unlicensed sport game scene is like.

    As for mobile games, you only need one page that’s a copy-paste of Shamus’ “Lootbox Problem” series.

    *Which is technically a licensed franchise, but has the guts to act like it’s an unlicensed bootleg, which I respect.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I think Steam’s tags could help here. I use them to browse for new games with specific tags, and have also filtered out specific tags. It’s a bit of a nuisance, because people use synonym-tags and there’s no Valve-employees merging dupes, but it works well enough. For example, learning to filter out “adult” and “sex” and “sexual” and “naked” and…it took me a while to get that set up. ^^;

  19. Blacky says:

    For the reasons you explained, I don’t think we could effectively bad lootboxes and predatory overmonetization. Even if I would like it so personally, realistically I don’t see that happening.

    One avenue that could do a little something, is to clearly classify such games and services as legal gambling, and enforcing a clear and immediate labeling of such games and services. Yes there will be victims as the law shotgun the subject, but I can live with that. A gambling classification would do several things, most importantly (at least in several European countries, I would guess in most countries but I’m not sure) it would get these games taxed like casinos are.

    Taxation is a powerful tool of change. Yes it won’t be perfect, and I’m sure Activision-Blizzard, Electronic Arts and the others Ubisoft would still make a profit of lootboxes. But hopefully less of a profit, and they contribute back to the taxpool. And it would slow down the adoption of lootboxes by smaller companies. And games that some will find “unjustly” classified as gambling? Well too bad. I can live with that. Maybe some of these games will stop lurking around the unacceptable side of gaming, and distance themselves from such mechanics.

    1. Smith says:

      I have never liked “well, close enough” approaches to laws and guilt. A lot of games will end up gutted so they don’t have anything that could even be mistaken for lootboxes. It’s like people trying to evade demonitization on Youtube.

      Talking about “clearly classifying” and then advocating a fuzzy definition seems a tad inconsistent.

    2. Echo Tango says:

      Don’t the game companies already get taxed on microtransactions, regardless of gamling? Like, it’s income, regardless of what service they rendered for it.

  20. a dude says:

    The idea of having very precisely defined legalese is a very American thing. Many other countries don’t do that, and deliberately leave room for interpretation. Our laws have a bunch of clauses that refer to circumstances with vague terms such as “grave” or “minor”. If it comes to a dispute, a judge decides.

    For example if a company has a contract which states that “in dire circumstances, we are allowed to cancel a contract” and an earthquake destroys their shipment, a court might decide that this qualified, and if their driver was stung by a bee the court might decide against.

    This results in a lot less law text, fewer court cases (you don’t push your luck when you can’t be certain you will win), and a lot fewer loop holes. So here, we can just write a law which states: “No gambling such as …” and put down a dozen examples, and the next time it comes up, a judge will have to make a judgement call of whether the moving target was hit.

    Trying to have a perfect definition and then lawyers working around that never works. That’s why Europe does not do it. It’s a bad idea, not just for loot boxes. Even the US knows this, because gambling laws don’t distinguish between Texas Hold ‘Em and Poker 5 Cards.

    MLMs do not exist in Europe. Just changing the name from “pyramid scheme” to “multi level marketing” is not enough. They know they would get murdered in court if they tried it.

    Most of your argument does not apply to anywhere but the US, because only (?) the US prefers the letter of the law over the spirit of the law. Instead of arguing that it’s difficult to regulate, we should discuss whether we *should* regulate it, and if so, then find a way to do it. Difficulty of implementation should not be a major factor in deciding whether something is worth doing.

    1. Bubble181 says:

      While you’re right up to a point – the European legal system and the Us system work very differently – you’re also slightly going off the rails at the end.
      First off, just to mention this, the US system is pretty much a carbon copy of the UK system. All of the European systems are variations on the French (Napoleonic) system.
      Secondly, this also ties into not *electing* your judges. Continental European judges are professionals who are obligated to exclude personal favor or opinion and decide as a neutral actor. If they can’t be neutral, they must recuse. American judges are bound by precedent, but are otherwise expected to interpret this as much as possible and to apply the law as much as possible in their own political view. both systems have their benefits – no judge can be an actual Completely Neutral actor in any significant case, anyway, for example.
      MLM most definitely still exists in Europe – it’s just a whole lot less predatory. Herbalife is a European company, just to name an example.

      But yes, a vaguer law can work in the interest of society – IF judges and alw makers are sufficiently shielded from lobby groups.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        So you’re saying I need to move to Europe? I was just getting settled in here in North America… :|

      2. Hector says:

        Quote: “First off, just to mention this, the US system is pretty much a carbon copy of the UK system. All of the European systems are variations on the French (Napoleonic) system.”

        There is so much wrong with this sentence I would have a hard time even beginning to explain why.

        1. Mousazz says:

          There is so much wrong with this sentence I would have a hard time even beginning to explain why.

          Please don’t throw such an almost meaningless statement out there. You should at least begin your counterargument so as to give a third party reason to question the comment you’re responding to. This is the internet; this comment section may remain practically forever. Don’t waste the audience’s time getting them to sift through unsupported declarative statements.

      3. Bloodsquirrel says:

        First off, just to mention this, the US system is pretty much a carbon copy of the UK system.

        I can’t think of a single thing that the two have in common aside from being vaguely democratic. You do know that the UK system had a literal king when the U.S. Constitution was signed, right? And that the UK system you explicitly vote for parties, whereas in the US system you vote for individual politicians? And that the US has the whole “federal versus state governments” thing?

        1. Richard says:

          Wow, bloodsquirrel – Almost everything in that post is wrong.

          Ignoring local (town/county) elections, as they are absolutely identical:

          In the UK, you vote for a person (an MP).
          You explicitly do NOT vote for a party, and it is common for “independents” to win seats.
          The elected MPs then elect a Prime Minister from among the MPs.
          The PM then chooses a Government.
          – Obviously this means the leader of the party with the most MPs becomes the Prime Minister.

          In the US, you have three national votes:
          a & b) Congress – Senate and Representatives.
          In these, you vote for an individual. You explicitly do NOT vote for a party. However, it is extremely rare for independents to win seats.
          The House and Senate then each elect their own leaders.
          – Obviously this means a high-up in the party with the most people in the House becomes the leader of the House, and the same in the Senate.

          b) President.
          In these, you vote for a party. You do NOT vote for a person.
          Each states winning party (or parties) then send their “Electors”, who then vote for the president.

          There are then state-level votes, which vary considerably but are mostly first-past-the-post elections of individual people.

          The UK also has devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Citizens of each of these nations elect representatives to these lesser governments, which each have some control over their nation.

          You’ll note that the only real difference is the President, where the people don’t actually vote for the President at all.
          (The EC is of course a well-known hot topic.)

          However, all of that is not what was meant:

          The US legal system is almost entirely a carbon copy of the UK legal system.
          In fact, UK legal precedent (up until somewhere in the 1700s) is USA legal precedent.

          The major difference the OP pointed out is that in the USA, judges, prosecutors and similar posts are either policital appointees or elected officials. This obviously causes them to have a distinctly political bias.

          In the UK, judges and magistrates are explicitly apolitical and required to recuse themselves if they appear to be unable to remain neutral for a given case.

          Which of those is ‘better’ would be outside the scope of this place.

          1. Syal says:

            b) President.
            In these, you vote for a party. You do NOT vote for a person.

            Incorrect. The primaries are inter-party elections to determine who they’ll support in the main election, but the main election is still open to anyone who wants to run.

            1. ContribuTor says:

              It’s more complicated than either the statement you’re making or the statement you’re responding to.

              Candidates get on the ballot to run for president on a state-by-state basis by meeting state eligibility criteria, which vary by state, but generally involve (at a minimum) proving a certain level of support by collecting signatures on a petition. The winners of the two major party primaries pretty much always get on the ballot. Other candidates can get on the ballot in various states as well, either as independents or as representatives of more fringe parties. There’s no “national” candidate list (it’s somewhat frequent for a fringe candidate to miss the criteria/deadline in some states and not appear on the ballot). In theory, anyone can declare themselves a candidate, but that alone doesn’t get you on the ballot.

              There’s a deadline to file as an independent in most states that prevent someone who loses a primary by deciding to turn around and run as an independent ( “Sore loser” laws” ).

              Once someone is on the ballot, you vote (in most states) for named candidates. You’re correct that in most states you would vote for “Ronald Regan (Republican)” and not “Republican Party” for president. However, those votes aren’t directly votes for president. The state uses those votes to determine who wins the state*, and based on that vote, the state selects electors who go do the ACTUAL voting in the electoral college. Usually, the candidate who wins is a major party candidate, and in that case the state party apparatus then determines who the individual electors are. If a third party wins a state, that party’s campaign would determine who the electors would be. (I believe states can differ on whether their slate of electors for each candidate is chosen before or after the election).

              So you’re correct that, on the ballot, you vote for a person not a party. However, the effective result of your vote is a determination (in most cases) of which major party gets to select the electors. Also, in most states, a party can be represented by only one candidate.

              Most states require those electors to vote for the candidate who won the state (the Supreme Court just weighed in that this is something that can be mandated), and then the state sends the elector’s ballots to congress, who counts the votes and verifies who was elected president.

              * At least two states (I can think of Nebraska and Maine off the top of my head) allow splitting the state electoral contingent by house district. Most states are “winner take all”

        2. Bubble181 says:

          Where the hek did I imply I was talking about the political system? We’re very clearly discussing the judicial/legal system. And, yes, “carbon copy” is going too far but I wanted to make a point only somewhat connected so I didn’t feel the need to go into too much detail. The US system is a modified version of the British Common Law system, with less tribunals and more weight given to juries; this in contrast to the Civil Law legal system as used in the entire European Union and most countries that were at some point a European colony – that is, roughly 70% of the planet.
          Seriously, your response is just about something COMPLETELY different than what I was talking about. Google civil vs common law, or us vs french justice systems, or roman vs common law, or any other combination. I’m sorry that I didn’t include a full writ of all exact detailed differences between the systems.

  21. Hal says:

    Everyone who agrees with me is evil!

    *Dusts off hands* There. That settles that.

    (I don’t really have any worthwhile or useful opinions to add, but I’d certainly favor blowing the mobile games market so it was no longer panning for gold in an ocean of dross.)

    1. ContribuTor says:

      Everyone who disagrees with Hitler is no better than me!

  22. Echo Tango says:

    The difference between Battlefront II and Hearthstone is very obvious to us right now

    Uhh…what is the difference between these two types of loot-boxes? They both cost real money[1], for random rewards, which give you in-game power or stat bonuses, right? I quit Hearthstone a couple years ago, precisely because it’s effectively[2] a pay-to-win game, where you either grind forever, or dump a lot of money to get more powerful cards from the slot-machine.

    [1] Unless you grind hard enough.
    [2] Again, you can grind for a long time to get more cards, but someone who dumps $LoLPaycheque every week on cards in Hearthstone has more chances to get the unique/named cards, which are all more powerful than the lower tiers of cards, for the same mana-level.

    1. Ander says:

      I second this question

    2. Matt says:

      I think the only real difference lies in player tolerance based on their expectations from previous games. Traditionally, games based on trading cards like MtG or Pokemon require you to purchase random packs of cards. When the virtual version does the same thing, we all go in with that expectation. FPS games, on the other hand, only began having “pay for random loot” in the last decade or so. Prior to that, everything in the game could be unlocked with player skill and time in the game. The lootboxes have not yet been normalized as part of the FPS experience, but I suspect they will be.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        Yeah, I figured it was just player expectations / tolerances, but aren’t familiar enough with contemporary hullaballoo to know for sure. Me, I just like paying for games with a fixed price; Bonus points if they give an estimate of how long the game will take, or can last! :)

        1. ColeusRattus says:

          I think it’s that Battlefront 2 was a full priced game, and hearthstone is ftp as the main reason. We understand that the creators need to make money, but having lootbox mechanics in a pay to play game feels like one is charged twice.

          1. Echo Tango says:

            One’s a 2D, cartoon-ish game, and the other’s 3D and photorealistic. This seems totally reasonable to have an increased cost of playing.

            1. coleusrattus says:

              But it already has an increased cost of playing: 60$ for the base game, 100$ for the “deluxe edition” vs none dollars.

              And I was not talking about the publisher perhaps needing additional money because sales were too low to break even for their bloated budget, but that the customers felt like being charged twice for being nickel and dimes in addition to paying full triple A money for a game. Hence the outrage, while hearthstone is not criticized, because while having the same “running costs”, it does not cost anything upfront.

      2. Ninety-Three says:

        A distinction that’s especially important on the subject of card games is “pay to win” vs “pay to compete”. Clash of Clans is pay to win: The player who puts in $10 loses to the player who puts in $100, who in turn loses to player who puts in $1000, and so on without limit. In cardgames (all but the really shitty mobile ones anyway), the $100 player still beats the $10 player but there’s no mechanism to convert arbitrary amounts of money into increasing performance. Your average digital TCG will let you assemble a top-tier deck for two figures or if you like variety you can buy enough cards to build every top-tier deck in the rotating format for three figures, and then you’re finished. All the serious players make this investment and compete on the even playing field of full card availability.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          Right! If you want to consider paying for the right equipment as part of the cost of competing in the game, then it’s all on the level… kinda. I mean, you often need to acquire your own protective gear in sports. Which is an instructive parallel. You can use your uncle’s old football pads, or pick some up at a garage sale, but if you’re competing seriously you’ll want new equipment that fits. With CCGs the official way to get “new” equipment is by rummaging in randomized bundles, like if the sports store only sold assorted protective gear in sealed pallet loads, but at least you can buy singles on the secondary market.

          But the paradigm of “lootbox access to competitive gear” is the worst of all the options above. You can’t buy what you need directly, and you can’t trade for used equipment either. Well, worst for the consumer. Obviously it’s great for the people selling the lootboxes, especially if they can add some power creep so you always have to gamble for new gear.

    3. Ninety-Three says:

      [post deleted by author]

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Ninety-Three why? Did your first response get stuck in moderation or something?
        Anyway, my additional comments above.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          I responded to the wrong post, deleted and reposted, and then it mysteriously un-deleted. I assume WordPress did a thing. Shamus, do you have any idea?

          1. Shamus says:

            When you un-delete a post, I can’t tell. Stupid wordpress just marks it as “in moderation”. There’s literally NO WAY for me to tell the difference between a post that was placed into moderation for too many links and one where the author specifically has requested deletion. So I thought your posts was wrongly marked as spam and simply re-approved it.

            This is an enormously annoying and obvious shortcoming in WP, and it’s been this way for years, and WordPress doesn’t seem interested in fixing it because they’re trying to be SquareSpace these days.

            Arg. Sorry for the rant. Anyway, I can’t delete the post entirely now that it has replies, but I’ve hopefully smoothed it over.

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              Wow, wild. I guess in future I can edit the post body to “Shamus: I actually meant to delete this” before hitting delete.

    4. Daimbert says:

      In trading card games, the gaming mechanism itself is based on variety of decks and in theory making the best of the cards you managed to get (which is how, at least, the E-gaming version of FIFA works). So mechanisms to purchase individual cards or randomized cards is part of the gameplay, especially since individual customization of the mechanics your deck is using is so important. That’s not really the case for FPSes. In a trading card game, drawing a powerful card at random is an advantage, but in theory the point of the game is that you have to learn to use it properly and avoid the various counters. So it’s not about drawing a particular card, but a set of them and building a strategy based on that. In FPSes, drawing Vader is overwhelming in and of itself.

  23. Lazlo says:

    While I’m not saying it’s a good solution, a lot of times laws related to relatively subtle and nuanced things manage to get by via the creation of a Regulatory Body, hopefully one staffed by experts, but, you know… I mean, there already exist gambling commissions in many jurisdictions, and I haven’t been paying all that close attention, but it’s possible that they could assert their authority when it comes to lootboxes. The EPA exists largely because there’s enough money involved in everything that’s potentially polluting, that lawyers could profitably find a way to circumvent any finite piece of legislation. The BATFE has sets of rules for different types of firearms, which generally seem pretty straightforward, until someone shows them a Taurus Judge, or Mossberg Shockwave, or pistol stabilizing braces. At that point the potential manufacturer sends them a description of what they’re making and asks, basically “you tell *me* what this is, and what laws it falls under”. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but it is at least somewhat better than trying to put all the definitions into the actual legislation itself.

    1. Bloodsquirrel says:

      It really isn’t. It allows extremely arbitrary exercise of power by bureaucrats who are basically impossible to hold accountable. It increases by orders of magnitude the ability of the state to bury people in regulations and petty tyrannies. And these agencies, once created, tend to expand and preserve themselves and the expense of the public interest. The massive expansion of the administrative state has been one of the worst things to happen to the US political system.

  24. Geebs says:

    You’re going out of your way to make this difficult.

    I think I can come up with one further argument re: how you’re overthinking this which you haven’t included, and which is more convincing, which is this:

    If you increase the friction just slightly beyond either “literally a roulette wheel”, or “pay to win immediately”, you’re going to see a large drop-off in people casually deciding to engage with these systems, because you’re tinkering with the delicate balance of risk and reward.

    E.g. requiring 2-factor authentication for any and every in-game transaction to the registered credit card would put kids off overspending on loot boxes, or at least allow the parents to figure out what’s going on.

    (Come to think of it, 2FA would work on adults as well; I have it enabled on my Steam account and I certainly think twice about whether I can be bothered to start up the authenticator app each time I’m about to blow money in a sale).

    I think even “loot bosses” would put a lot of people off casual engagement with “recurrent user spending”. The dedicated money launderers are still going to gold farm, but you’d have thought there would be separate legislation for that.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Alternate solution: leave the gambling mechanics unregulated, and let humans start evolving natural defenses over the next couple centuries or millennia. :)

      1. Mousazz says:

        Well, we’re trying to shrink the process down to ‘decades’ via propagation of the informational “lootboxes are bad!” meme, but as Shamus detailed last post, it doesn’t seem to be working well enough yet to wean the public off of them.

    2. unit3000-21 says:

      “(Come to think of it, 2FA would work on adults as well; I have it enabled on my Steam account and I certainly think twice about whether I can be bothered to start up the authenticator app each time I’m about to blow money in a sale).”

      Same. I think it works very well – if I think something is not worth the hassle of 2FA then it probably wasn’t worth buying :)

  25. Coblen says:

    I think this article highlights a tendency people have to over simplicate the process of accomplishing things.

    Like people understand laws are something that is made, they have seen the outcomes of laws, but they don’t fully understand the process of making them and as a result tend to think it simpler than it really is.

    I think you see this in basically every field. I’ve worked in home reno and it was common for clients to request things that are not feasible. Well not with their budget at least. They understand contractors change the way the house looks, but they don’t understand the process so two end results might look similar but require massive different amounts of money to produce.

    It’s easy to say do this when you don’t actually know what doing it requires.

  26. Geebs says:

    [5] They’re actually making casinos for teenagers since these games are usually rated T for Teen, but whatever

    Two of the worst offenders, FIFA and NBA 2K, were both rated “3” by PEGI. I think “casinos for children” isn’t really that unfair.

    1. Mr. Wolf says:

      Strange ratings. Lootboxes aside, is there a reason a two-year-old shouldn’t play a by-the-numbers sports sim?

      1. evilmrhenry says:

        3 is the lowest PEGI rating. I think there might be some developmental issues with screen time with someone under that age? Not a parent, but that’s something I’d want to check on if I was.

        1. Mr. Wolf says:

          That may be a concern, but it’s beyond their mandate; unless I’m mistaken it’s their job to rate the content, not the medium. So now I’m confused as to why their ratings scale starts at 3.

          1. etheric42 says:

            Possibly due to American Pediatric Academy recommendations that no LCD/LED is safe for a child under the age of 3. (Exaggerating a bit here.)

            I know in the tabletop world, a lot of board games list a minimum age not due to actual considerations of complexity, but instead what level of testing they would need to go through in order to imply that an 8-year-old wouldn’t choke on a tiny battleship.

  27. Ramsus says:

    It’s simple, really… the solution is just to ban EA. =P

    1. LCF says:

      Nationalise, antitrust-dismantle, obliterate EA.
      Then sift through the ashes and rebirth the myriad of smaller game companies they absorbed. Bullfrog, Westwood…

  28. Kyle Haight says:

    I feel like the discussion has kind of bifurcated. The deleterious effects of lootboxes on game design are real and, to me, annoying, but if they were the only effects I don’t think that would warrant government action. So publishers are making bad game design decisions in pursuit of profit? Do we really think we can, or should, try to legislate *good game design*?

    If we want to justify government action we need to be looking at harm to people, not harm to game designs. If publishers figured out a way to make lootbox games more fun for everyone, while retaining their addictive and exploitative nature, I would not view that as a step in the right direction.

  29. baud says:

    I don’t think I ever considered lootboxes beyond the cookie-cutter response (“Lootboxes are bad, mkay?”), mostly because it’s not impacting the games I play. So even if I’m not formulating a position just yet, at least this article helps me understand some of the issues around legislation on that matter.

  30. silver Harloe says:

    I suffered some bad brain damage last year and so I’m not being facetious when I say “maybe I’m stupid, but…” because stupid is sometimes par for my new course. Introduction over. Here’s the real content of my comment:

    Maybe I’m stupid, but I can’t tell the difference between “Confounding Factor #1” and choices 2 and 3 under “Confounding Factor #2”. I guess because CF#1 says “there are two camps of people,” but I think the choices in C#2 would probably quickly turn into camps of people advocating for the different choices.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I think those are meant to be the same, as you have alluded to. CF1 is “there’s two groups of people”, and CF2 is “given these X options that the groups of people want, here’s why it doesn’t matter anyways”. Like, one was meant to transition into the other.

  31. Bloodsquirrel says:

    You say that you’re cynical about the lawmakers, but if anything, you’re giving them way too much credit. Especially with how formal “legalese” is. The truth is that even laws about things that the legislators do supposedly understand are often vague, poorly-worded, open ended, or just plain incomprehensible.

    And this is if they’re even trying to understand, or to deal with the problem honestly. What’s actually going to happen is an intersection of:
    -Whatever sounds good in sound bites to appease the morally panicked
    -Broad and arbitrary powers to “regulate” being given to the executive branch, which will allow whatever unelected bureaucrats wind up in whatever administrative position it they fall under to basically issue whatever dictates he likes to the gaming industry
    -Whatever measures that the biggest players in the industry can get put in there that will harm smaller competitors (who don’t have their ability to lobby or who can afford to deal with the red tape), thus giving themselves a government-supported monopoly status
    -Whatever random, unrelated pet regulations and projects that any particular legislator decides to insert unnoticed into the inevitable 2,000 page bill.

    Moral panic may be effective for getting a bill through congress, but the actual contents of said bill are guaranteed to be serving somebody significantly more important and well-connected that anyone who posts on this blog’s agenda. It’s not just that we’re going to see a few loopholes in the bill or Hearthstone accidentally banned, we’re going to see everything from rules put in place that kill the indie developers by burying them in red tape to “Adult” games having a new tax put on them.

  32. ContribuTor says:

    Something that hasn’t come up yet, and maybe it’s a tangent but…

    What about regulation on loot boxes that aren’t “fair?”

    Nobody should necessarily expect that loot box spins are independent of each other, nor that they’re independent of the identity of the person pulling the lever. There’s nothing to force them to be “fair.” This isn’t Vegas. There’s no gaming commission.

    Among the things it’s perfectly legal to do right now:
    – Have someone’s first loot box always have a very rare drop, to make people think “wow, these are really valuable!” as a first impression.
    – Secretly rewarding people who buy a large number of spins together (ie give better rewards to your most valuable customers)
    – Bias towards poorer outcomes for a few spins after someone randomly hits a valuable reward. Keep them coming back searching for another hit.
    – Use demographics and other personal profiling data to predict how likely someone is to respond to loot boxes. Slant the early rewards towards potentially vulnerable marks to get them hooked
    – Use information from loot box behavior a person shows in other games to tailor a sequence of payoff tables for the users spins in this game to maximize spending.
    – Use playstyle statistics for the user to give them drops that are linked to what they play, in a way that you think will maximize their desire to come back for more. This might dovetail with behavior data. Some users might get drops preferentially suited to their playstyle because they’ll consider the drops more valuable. Or, give more super rare drops, but ones that player won’t use, to convince them that super rare drops Happen often, and it’s just bad luck they haven’t gotten a useful one yet, but one more spin…

    Do I have any evidence any game company is doing any of these? No. Not in the slightest.

    But they’re doing this to make money, and every strategy I outline above would make them more money than a theoretical “fair” loot box would. Why WOULDNT they be doing these things? What’s stopping them?

    By definition, a game with loot boxes has already abandoned the purist idea of the game as a fair challenge that should be approached on a level playing field. And it’s not like it costs them any real money to dole out a rare drop vs a common one.

    The only risk of throwing loaded dice is the theoretical risk of “getting caught” and killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. But it’s not clear how easy that would be to prove. And even then, what law have they broken? They could easily spin a lack of “fairness” as a way to “maximize enjoyment” or some such drivel.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      China’s got a law that games need to release their win-rates for loot-boxes, and I presume a win-rate that varies by person would be breaking said law. I thought other asian countries had similar laws, from the years / culture of pachinko parlors, but I couldn’t find any other articles backing that up.

      1. Retsam says:

        I’ve dabbled a bit in gatcha games, and my understanding is that it’s actually Apple that’s the main enforcer: they require the odds for everything to be clearly documented, and they’d delist the game if they got caught doing any sort of under-the-hood odds manipulation.

        I’ve heard people claim that the game companies are very careful about this, as the short term gain from some sub-conscious psychological manipulation isn’t worth the risk of getting delisted from a major platform, even before you consider potential regulations like China’s.

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      Do I have any evidence any game company is doing any of these? No. Not in the slightest.

      But they’re doing this to make money, and every strategy I outline above would make them more money than a theoretical “fair” loot box would. Why WOULDNT they be doing these things? What’s stopping them?

      I have evidence that it’s not happening. Even if games don’t post their lootbox drop rates, there is always a wiki pooling data or a few madmen opening a thousand boxes at once to figure out those drop rates. The data is out there, and I haven’t looked at the mobile side of things because I don’t play mobile games, but every time I look into a game’s drop rates out of curiosity, the community has figured it out and it’s always fair. The internet is full of detectives who will catch you if you try to load the dice.

    3. Lino says:

      Do I have any evidence any game company is doing any of these? No. Not in the slightest.

      I do. For 2 or 3 of your points, at least. You can see this in Brawl Stars (the same devs also make Clash of Clans). In this context, all you need to know is that the dsirable drops are in the form of heroes (or brawlers). While not entirely P2W, you do need a good balance of brawlers to choose from in order to be competitive (the dynamics are similar to Overwatch – certain maps benefit some heroes more than others; thankfully, Brawl Stars isn’t as rock-paper-scissors as OW).

      Since they’re quite popular in Asia, they publish the drop rates of their lootboxes. It takes a bit of clicking to get there, but the information is available. Even though you have a concrete percentage for the drops, there’s still a degree of obfuscation, due to the Luck mechanic – if you don’t get a good drop, your Luck increases, which means subsequent drops have a higher chance of being good. However, nowhere does it say what your Luck score is.

      Now, back to the point, below the drop rates (which – for the rarer brawlers – reach well below 0.5%) there’s a quote I really “like”:

      Early draws are predetermined to ensure a fair start for everybody

      And they really are. The very first box you receive is free, and it’s fairly early on. You get it from the shop, and you immediately receive one of the rarer prizes. Initially, these big rewards are frequent, and once you get onto the treadmill, the rewards quickly dry up. You can either start grinding it out with what you have (which, to be fair, is enough to keep you occupied), or start forking out cash if you want the new, and shiny toys.

      As you can probably guess, nowhere does it say that these initial rewards are predetermined. The only way to see that is to read the fine print, tucked away at the bottom of a wall of text below the drop rate table. Getting to said table requires pressing a small “i” button in the top left corner of the lootbox purchase interface. The “i” is white, and the button is blue, in a hue close to the blue used in the background. Even when I was specifically looking for the drop tables, I had a hard time of finding that little button.

  33. SpammyV says:

    While lootboxes often get compared to, say, Magic: the Gathering booster packs, there are two distinctions I’d like to make.

    For one, booster packs are not only a randomized way to distribute cards, each booster pack is a game piece in and of itself. The Limited formats (draft, sealed) rely on the randomized contents of booster packs to create a play environment. Higher rarities also serve the purpose of keeping some cards from being too overly dominant in a limited format.

    For two, paper Magic and the Magic the Gathering: Online client have a secondary market. If I need a specific card from the newest set it’s far less efficient for me to spend my money buying booster packs and ripping them open than it is to go to my local game store to see if they have those singles and if not to check online at one of the many reputable online retailers (support your LGS). Either retailers open product so they can meet orders for singles, or people play Limited and sell their high-value cards they just opened but do not need to the store. Or, y’know, you can still trade cards and lend them between friends.

    The price of cards on the secondary market, and using the booster system in online-only clients with no trading are separate issues, but I guess with comparisons to Magic being thrown around I wanted to make clear what later systems are based on.

    1. Fizban says:

      A counterpoint though- some people don’t know that’s how it works. The packaging and whatnot advertise premade decks, and booster packs. When I was a kid with Pokemon cards, I didn’t even know what a card shop was. The collector craze and “blue books” had me thinking individual cards were expensive collector’s items. It says Trading card game, so I could trade what I had for what I wanted, right? Except the other kids didn’t want what I had, and I barely had anything to begin with, because $3 a pack (or what, $15-20 per deck?) was expensive.

      It wasn’t until years later that I went to a card shop for a friend’s birthday that I found out you could just buy and sell cards- and then that the supposedly valuable cards I did have weren’t actually worth anything. But even then I didn’t find out how cheap the non-rare cards were, how I could have just been buying whatever I wanted the whole time, until I got back into MtG in college and actually saw the prices.

      So I have to wonder how many other kids’ parents have wasted (or continue to waste) huge wads of cash on straight booster packs simply because they haven’t been connected to the “secondary market” and only know about the product from store shelves.

      Meanwhile, limited/booster draft formats require you to essentially pay per play (usually to an organizer). Which when you can pay the entry for what’s supposed to be a full tournament, then have half the people drop out and the other half curb stomp you in 5 minutes, that’s not a great value either. I’d almost say it’s more insidious- as supposedly the equal random card pools could level the playing field against people that would otherwise have $200+ decks, but in practice it just means you get equally screwed by the boosters you open, some guy taking all the cards of the color you want, possibly specifically to screw you over because that’s drafting, while another guy gets the uber card that wins every match and sells for $40 after. It’s a poker game instead of a slot machine.

    2. Sniffnoy says:

      It’s interesting because this suggests that existing gambling laws may actually be backward in such situations. Like, existing gambling laws care a lot about whether what you’re winning is convertible to real money; it’s only if it is that it might be illegal. But based on what you’re saying, being convertible to real money may make the situation better here, rather than worse!

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        With Magic, everyone talks about the booster packs and forgets the tournaments. You can pay an entry fee to join a competition where a bunch of players shuffle decks of cards, then whoever draws and plays the best cards wins money. Even if the cards themselves were free, that’s super obviously gambling, but it’s a defining feature of the competitive Magic scene and you would be kneecapping the game to get rid of that. The tournaments pay out little enough that it’s still a hobby rather than something you can make a poker-style career out of, but the gambling laws don’t care about magnitude like that.

        1. etheric42 says:

          Generally, games of skill are not considered gambling. I know there is random chance in the deck draw, but basically every game or sport has some level of chaos involved.

          In some (many?) market even poker tournaments aren’t gambling as long as your play money isn’t real, just the entry fees and final pot and the number of hands/rounds is large enough to reduce the effect of chance.

          1. Chad Miller says:

            In some (many?) market even poker tournaments aren’t gambling as long as your play money isn’t real, just the entry fees and final pot and the number of hands/rounds is large enough to reduce the effect of chance.

            Can you cite a source on this one? I used to be really into poker to the point of following poker lobbyist groups when the US federal government was cracking down on online gambling and I’ve never heard this line of reasoning, ever.

            1. etheric42 says:

              Here’s a summary of case law from a the lobbying side:
              https://www.letsgambleusa.com/is-poker-a-skill-game/

              Depending on the state this argument either holds water, isn’t applicable because poker is illegal due to other reasons, or isn’t applicable because poker is legal due to other reasons.

      2. Chad Miller says:

        For many people, and especially many problem gamblers, the ability to win something of real value is necessary for the addictive part of gambling. The very fact that you can get more than what you put in, but on average you won’t, is precisely what ensnares these people. It is true that for some people, being able to get something of value is better than not getting something of value, but if that’s true for you, then the laws aren’t for you.

        1. Sniffnoy says:

          My point was more about the indirect effect though that SpammyV discussed — the fact that you can sell the cards, also means that you can buy the cards, obviating the need to deal with the randomness yourself in the first place.

          Tangentially, here’s a question: People talk about buying MtG packs as gambling, but… what about othe trading cards? Baseball cards, and other sports cards, are far older than TCGs. How is it that the selling of baseball cards never fell afoul of gambling laws, in its entire century-long history?

  34. Algeh says:

    A different regulatory approach to consider would be a mandatory refund/return period for digital content. If you were allowed to return anything for the first, say, 10 hours of play after you bought it randomized lootboxes would simply get returned all the time if people didn’t like what they got. (Sure, you could make it so there was a “can’t open for 10 hours and 1 minute timer” on whatever was purchased, but this would still create a lot of friction in the purchase loop.) The same methods of savescumming for random drops in other games would now be in play for lootboxes, which would effectively kill randomized content while not impacting non-random content (except for side mission DLC with less than 10 hours of gameplay included, I suppose) without directly having to determine any such thing. (This would also create problems for real-money purchases of consumable items in game, but that’s collateral damage that I’m basically ok with.)

  35. Richard says:

    For a real-world example, look at Belgium.
    BBC summary here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-43906306

    Belgium decided that EA had broken Belgian law regarding gambling regulations in Fifa 18, Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

    Star Wars Battlefront II was initially investigated, but EA stopped the microtransactions before the conclusion so it became ok.

    Belgium did not make any new laws.

    This was legal experts looking at what EA were actually doing in these games, and coming to the conclusion that it was in fact a monetary “game of chance” and thus came under the purview of the existing regulations about gambling.

    I believe that is the sensible way forward.
    The the USA, there is already legislation (federal and state) that both defines what “gambling” entails (online and offline), and regulates the activities in various ways.

    What is required is for the legal minds to examine what is actually happening in the ‘potentially problematic’ games, and decide whether or not they do in fact fall under the existing definitions and legislation.

    EA will of course be free to bring their finest lawyers, as will other interested parties.

    1. etheric42 says:

      This is why I can’t wait for good AI translation. I’d love to know their legal reasoning, how their gambling law differed from other countries, any what is their legal reasoning for not having banned Magic: the Gathering yet.

      Instead when I try to google information about this story, I get a bunch of stuff that says the same thing without any real detail or analysis. I especially dislike the BBC follow-up article “Gaming loot boxes: What happened when Belgium banned them?” which then fails to actually provide any information about what happened.

      1. Syal says:

        This is why I can’t wait for good AI translation.

        But at what cost?

      2. tmtvl says:

        Loosely translated from Tweakers.

        Bij [Overwatch, FIFA 18 en Counter Strike: Global Offensive] is wel voldaan aan de voorwaarden voor een kansspel:

        In the case of [Overwatch, FIFA 18, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive] the requirements for a game of chance have been met:

        het zijn spellen,

        they are games,

        met een bepaalde inzet, die leidt tot winst of verlies voor de speler

        with a specific wager, which leads to gain or loss for the player

        en waarbij het toeval een rol speelt.

        and where chance plays a part.

        The article goes on to explain that if it is proven that minors are harmed there could be a fine up to €1.6 million and 10 years in prison, half that if the wronged parties are adults; and the background is basically everything stated in the BBC article.

        Regarding Pokemon cards (MtG isn’t as big here), according to Het Nieuwsblad because you buy a box of cards with certain guarantees and because the cards are tradeable they don’t violate the rules regarding games of chance.

        1. etheric42 says:

          That’s very interesting! Thank you for the work on this. Of course the value of the contents of a pack of Pokemon cards can be above or below what you paid for them, so I’m surprised they actually considered TCGs and approved them. I guess if FIFA allows for player trading they’d probably get back in good graces.

          I guess this also brings up paid tournaments with cash prizes in Belgium. Can you go to the local pub/hobby store and enter a Pokemon card game tournament for 5 euros with a chance of winning the pot? It is a game. There is an element of chance. There is a specific wager. I’d assume not from that ruling.

  36. Drathnoxis says:

    So basically what you’re saying is that the legal system is garbage and should be torn down and replaced with something that’s more difficult for corporations to abuse?

  37. alchemyheelsi says:

    Excellent article Shamus. Really enjoy reading your wisdom on topics like this, so very hopeful that the comments remain kind, constructive, and that perhaps this will lead to more opportunities in the future for us to read your analysis of complex systems with confounding factors.

    You descriptions and insights into these systems are so enjoyable to read, from analysis of the complexities of TIM island (30943), the incentives in businesses or baseball (39431), and your take on the law — both here and in your Zenimax analysis (38399). Your articles are always refreshingly non-partisan while also making deep dives into interesting subject matter. Thanks!

    1. Lino says:

      Incidentally, it was his Facebook-Zenimax series that turned me from a very occasional skimmer to full-time reader of this blog. Mass Effect and TIM Island is what really sealed the deal :D

  38. Mephane says:

    I think there are two underlying problems with lootboxes, which need to be addressed seperately, because neither of these are on their own unique to lootboxes:

    1. Unless their contents is 100% cosmetic (e.g. Overwatch), they dilute the otherwise clean separation between our physical world and all its ramifications (e.g. your personal wealth) and the happenings in the game (e.g. your skills as a player, your effort to acquire gear by playing).

    2. The randomized outcome preventing an otherwise fair and obvious transactions where you give N money for X product.

    Problem #1 is shared with any system that allows you to purchase game mechanically relevant items for real money. That can be actual gear for your character, it can be stuff like XP boosts, inventory slots etc. This is somewhat acceptable if kept within reasonable limits in F2P titles (positive examples are Path of Exile and Warframe, negative examples are the vast majority of mobile games), but rightfully feels like the dev/publishers is double dipping into the players’ wallets if the game requires an initial purchase and then comes with these kinds of microtransactions on top.

    Problem #2 is shared with any system that obfuscates the transaction with randomization and/or grind mechanics, often with a hefty dose of FOMO on top. A notable example are battle passes, which I personally consider an outright scam (buy a time restricted ticket that allows you to grind for items, most of which you likely have no interest in, in order to get the few good bits that you actually want and would rather directly purchase if you could). Regular DLC content does not fall under this category because you buy actual content that provides more value than just some loot, and because DLC normally does not go away a few weeks or months after its release in order to pressure you into buying and playing it ASAP, nor does it ask for more money in order to attempt a boss again in order to get a particular item that it can drop.

    The reason why lootboxes alone have fallen under so much scrutiny is because in a lot of cases they combine both problems, even though each of them is potentially highly problematic on its own.

    And to some extent I actually do regard card packs in CCGs/TCGs like MTG, Hearthstone etc as lootboxes in the same sense, as in FIFA. While the physical card packs provide some amount of (also randomized) value since you can trade or sell the cards, their digital equivalent is in no way better than the P2W lootboxes that are otherwise so rightfully criticized.

    ———————————-

    Now as for what needs to happen, I do agree that it would be very hard if not impossible to write any watertight legislation that doesn’t end in either massive overreach or easy loopholes for the companies to get around the regulations.

    What should happen, first and foremost, is that reviewers, streamers, youtubers, gaming news sites, magazines etc – in other words, the whole sphere of gaming journalism and influencers – must stop treating these monetization schemes as if they were irrelevant details or just fun little additions, when in fact more and more games these days are designed and balanced expressly around these microtransactions.

    For example, any review of game like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey that does not mention which stuff from the shop, which boosters the reviewer bought (or got for free), how that impacted the immediate gameplay as well as the playthrough as a whole, and how that compares to playing without ever touching the shop, should generally be considered worthless. The game should have been grilled for the audicity to sell boosters, ingame currency etc in a full price single player game, instead many reviews outright pretended the shop did not exist at all, meanwhile (at least some) review copies apparently came with the booster included for free so that the reviewer wouldn’t even get to experience what it is like to play without.

    Or, for example, a streamer opening FIFA lootboxes live on stream should at all times make it clear whether they got them for free (yes, that happens because they are effectively advertizing the game), or if not how much it cost them to purchase what they just opened.

    1. Gautsu says:

      While I think the AC:Odyssey hate is a lot higher here than among any of my other communities that discuss games(without a booster my 100% game completion took me to level 93, with all but the final ship tier of upgrades), I completely 100% concur on the Battle Pass hate. Free to play can maybe get away with it as an alternative to loot boxes, but including limited time content in typically priced games pisses me off, while loot boxes have to specifically trigger me. The battle pass finally killed Destiny 2 for me, which had some of the best moment to moment gameplay I had enjoyed.

  39. MaxEd says:

    I’d like to offer a few counterpoints.

    For one, “legislators don’t understand it” can be said just about everything: they’re professional politicians, and their knowledge of things outside their profession are slim. This is why there are usually experts who help to write industry-specific laws, who can provide information necessary. The process is far from perfect, as the experts themselves often might have a stake in the new law, and therefore might (and almost always do) bend their testimonies one way or another, but still, laws get made. They’re not perfect laws, but sometimes they’re good enough for now: law-making is a bit like programming under a time pressure in that perfectionism have no place here, unless you’re doing it on your own time as a hobby.

    For another, you can’t make arbitrarily long chain of actions before a lootbox without sacrificing A LOT of profits – maybe enough to make this impractical. Each step means the mark has some time to cool down and start thinking. As you say yourself, lootboxes are about poor impulse control, but if you make the purchase harder, you give time for that impulse to die down. For example, it’s well-known that every additional click in a web store reduces completion of purchases. It won’t help people who are hardcore addicted to dopamine hit of lootbox opening, but it might make forming new addictions harder.

    I agree that corporations will have a lot of wiggle room, no matter how law is formulated, but it is possible that a law will put enough additional hurdles to save a few good games from being lootboxed to death.

  40. Mathew Walls says:

    Three things:

    1. The law is not an evil genie. “Legalese” is largely a myth. Legislation is written by politicians, not lawyers, and their (supposed) intent is at least as important as the specific words they used. Your “technical workarounds” wouldn’t work unless the law was written with such exceptions in place because a judge is just as capable of seeing that they’re obfuscations of the same intent as you are.
    2. The reason you can’t think of a good way to distinguish lootboxes from MtG boosters is because there is no difference.
    3. It is literally impossible to keep politics out of discussions of video games. Video games are both products of the political landscape that created them, and works of art and therefore commentary (even if unintentional) on the society that produced them. By ignoring that you are making an implied political statement – one you may not have intended and may not even agree with.

    1. Shamus says:

      “It is literally impossible to keep politics out of discussions of video games.”

      Wrong. I do it all the time. I think most people understand that when I say “No politics” I mean, “Avoid partisan democrats vs. republicans / culture war stuff.”

      It’s not hard to avoid that stuff. And if someone feels the need to drag every thread in that direction, then they are EXACTLY the reason the rule exists in the first place.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        This is probably as good a time as any to ask: is it the actual Politics that you don’t like, Shamus, or the nearly-inevitable flamewars that follow it?

        Because at this moment,*, this topic seems to have quite a lot of civil, discussion** that could very much be considered political.

        Just curiosity, really…

        *Fingers crossed, touch wood etc…
        **I like to call it ‘Unicorn Politics’

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          You probably missed the link at the top to the elaborating article on the No Politics rule, so here it is again:
          https://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=31891

      2. tmtvl says:

        Heh, now I’m imagining video games being sold with a coupon for one (1) free consultation with a lawyer included. It would make the average game cost around $8,000; but omelets and eggs.

      3. aradinfinity says:

        I think that what Matthew Walls is referencing with the third point is that most games present you with a status quo, and how it reacts to that status quo (and how the player is encouraged to react) are political. Like, in the PS4 Spiderman game, the status quo is how the world reacts to the player at the beginning; there are criminal gangs hanging out in abandoned construction sites doing whatever until Spidey shows up to punch their lights out. This is presented as reasonable for that game’s version of that city, because unless I missed something while watching over my girlfriend’s shoulder while she played the game, no one explicitly calls attention to it as weird within the game. We can pull out the threads of how they got there and why they’re there, but that statement of “there are criminal gangs hanging out in abandoned construction sites” is part of the game’s status quo, and it clearly indicates that that should not be the case by rewarding you for beating them up and clearing the area for good once you do.

        I think that, the closer a game gets to the real world, the more politically charged its status quo becomes. Things like Tetris are generally apolitical, but when you get to things like the Sims, the game is making a statement about how things are. Not everything can be fact checked as easily as “your refrigerator has an infinite supply of food” in the Sims, and ultimately, how the various problems are dealt with is essentially policy suggestion.

        That being said, I think that if anyone can talk about these things while prohibiting politics, it’s you. You’ve got a ton of experience with it, and I hope things stay civil for as long as possible in this thread.

        1. Mathew Walls says:

          Even Tetris is political because the game doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Did you pay money for it? If so, to whom? What did they do to earn that money? If you didn’t, how did you avoid it? Was it legal? Is the law just? Or did someone else pay for it? Why?

          It’s very easy to ignore these questions (and in our everyday lives we’d never get anything done if we considered the political implications of everything we did) but they exist and they are worth considering and discussing, and even saying nothing about them is making a statement. It’s fine if that’s your intent, but if you believe that you can “avoid politics” by not taking a stand then, well, you’re wrong. Choosing to say nothing is, itself, a way of communicating, because your audience understands that you could have said something and (deliberately or otherwise) didn’t.

          1. Shamus says:

            “Even Tetris is political”

            You are agonizingly insufferable.

            Seriously, get lost.

      4. Mathew Walls says:

        > I do it all the time.

        You don’t. You can ignore the political implications of what you’re saying, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. You can ignore a hole in your roof but your carpet’s still going to get wet when it rains. Or the case may be more analogous to a hole in someone else’s roof that doesn’t affect you directly – but there’s still a hole in a roof and it has actual consequences for real people. Declaring yourself “apolitical” is a political statement of support for the status quo. You’re saying “I don’t like to think about leaky roofs, so let’s not talk about them” but someone’s roof is still leaking.

        1. Shamus says:

          I defined what I meant by politics, and you ignored that so you could continue you ride around on your high horse with your “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists” bullshit.

          You don’t listen, you’re self-righteous, and you don’t respect the house rules. You are the reason the ban on political discussions exist.

          Off you go.

    2. etheric42 says:

      Three things about point 1:

      Legislation is normally written by aides hired by politicians, not the politicians themselves (and to add to that, 25% of representatives and 47% of senators in the US come from legal backgrounds).

      As far as judges go, textualism is a valid mode of interpretation that has more popularity with statutory interpretation than constitutional. (Textualism is the “rules as written” form of argument you see in tabletop gaming discussion, as opposed to “rules as intended”.)

      And I feel like your argument is at ends with itself. Maybe I’m just misreading it. At first it appears you are arguing that law isn’t written in a specialized language and is written by laymen. In this circumstance you absolutely get unintended loopholes as there is disagreement over what the actual meaning of the law is and it takes years of precedent being set and overturned by various levels of courts and statutory interpretation by various executive agencies (at great expense to everyone involved). The alternative is extremely precise language that details exactly what you mean, but then you get weird loopholes that weren’t covered by the original writing

      I’m going to give a real-world example of this, but the law I’m referencing is very politically charged. I’m not referencing it to discuss the merits of the law or the situation surrounding it, but instead give to showcase the complexities involved here using a subject I’m very familiar with in my personal and professional life.

      In the Affordable Care Act, you can receive subsidies based on your income as long as you meet certain qualifiers. One of those qualifiers is that your employer offers you affordable insurance. To determine if the insurance is affordable, the most relevant criteria is that the annual cost of premiums for the individual employee is less than 9.5% (I may be off on this number) of your annual income (roughly). This is because 9.5% is what Congress deemed was affordable for an individual. If you do not have affordable insurance, you receive subsidies to make sure the insurance you buy on the Marketplace is affordable. To determine the amount of the subsidy, they take a middle-of-the-road plan and give you enough subsidies so the premium for your family is 9.5% (this varies slightly) of your annual income (roughly).

      If you were reading closely, you’ll see the catch here. Employer insurance is affordable based on the INDIVIDUAL. So if you work and your insurance costs 9.5% and your wife works and her insurance costs 9.5%, then 19% of your income is affordable. Or even worse. You work and 9.5% is affordable and your wife does not work so her insurance costs 45% of your annual income and the law does not care if it is affordable. (If your response is your wife should get a job, then change the example to your children who generally should not be working and the law remains unchanged). On the other hand the subsidy is based on the FAMILY. So if you are by yourself affordable insurance is 9.5% of your income. If you have a spouse and 12 children, affordable insurance is still 9.5% of your income. So in many situations you would be actively advantaged if your employer (cost to you in this example: 54.5% of your income for possibly a worst-tier plan) would stop offering health insurance and let you get the subsidy (cost to you in this example: 9.5% of your income for a mid-tier plan). Except if they do that they pay a per-head penalty (which is probably less than they pay for their share of your unaffordable insurance, but it’s called a penalty and it looks bad if they get hit by it….)

      This is called the family glitch, and people are campaigning to fix it. The reason I’m including it here is it is a practical refutation of your claim. If judges consistently ruled based on the laws perceived intent, a suit would have already been brought forth and won based on the criteria for affordable drastically changing mid-law. Instead a very precise set of rules are set by the law, followed by a precise set of interpretations by the executing agency wherever there is ambiguity in the law. The consequences and ramifications of these complex laws are generally not seen unless you are looking at the gestalt and those exact consequences may very well not follow common sense or perceived intent.

      On point 2 about booster packs: I agree.

      1. Richard says:

        It does vary a lot by law. Some laws are relatively wide-ranging and vague, others have extremely limited and specific wording.

        Eg:
        The US Constitution and its Amendments are extremely wide-ranging and relatively vague, to the point where an entire series of courts is required to decide whether or not a given issue is affected, limited, prohibited or required by them.

        While tax laws are generally written to have extremely specific and limited wording and definitions.

        Which is good.
        The body of law really does need to work like that – we don’t want an evil tax collector deciding that you need to track and pay tax on every $10 gift, and we also don’t want it to be acceptable to scream “Fire!” in a crowded theatre*.

        Almost every law has situations where it’s acceptable (or even required) to break them – eg if someone grabs you in the street and tries to bundle you into a van, you are permitted to defend yourself, even if that means injuring or killing the person grabbing you.

        In the strictest sense, killing them would be manslaughter or murder, but society recognises that “I was defending myself against an attacker” is a situation where it might be acceptable for you to kill someone, and so the law has that grey area.

        (* Famous free speech case)

        1. etheric42 says:

          A) Constitutional law and statutory laws in the US are two different things. The latter is created by the US legislative body. The former was the thing that created said legislative body. Textualists are generally not textualist for constitutional law, just for statutory law. When I said legislation, I was referring to statutory law. While I guess we could have a new constitutional amendment about lootboxes, I’m pretty sure the case law is settle that existing constitutional amendments don’t directly cover them.

          B) Fire in a crowded theater is a reference to a Supreme Court decision in the early 20th century where the court upheld the conviction of people who were protesting the draft. It has since been not only discredited and precedent overturned, but generally considered a black mark on the history of the Supreme Court. So you are correct that it is a famous free speech case, but it has nothing to do with a crowded theater and the ultimate resolution is contrary to your point.

          C) Your mention of gray areas of the law is correct, that laws have gaps or gray areas, but your examples of affirmative defense are strange because they aren’t gray areas, they are generally actually spelled out in the law. A recentish flashpoint in the news was castle doctrine (or more generally, what statutory defenses to assault and murder laws are acceptable in modern society).

          My comment was in response to one that legalese was a myth and judges rule on the intent of the law, not its actual words. Were you trying to rebut my point or second it?

          1. Richard says:

            Both.

            In short, there is no such thing as an ultimate resolution.
            Even if the text of the statue was never changed again, it would still be re-interpreted over and over again, based on previous opinions about what people in the past thought the law actually meant.

            The constitution didn’t change when the ‘Schenck’ decision was partially overturned. What changed was the interpretation of the intent.

            1. etheric42 says:

              Okay, thanks for the clarification.

              In the circumstance of lootboxes, I don’t think an “I know it when I see it” law (another famous Supreme Court case that was overturned) is going to pass muster in the US. At least not without it being a constitutional amendment, and I don’t think there is enough momentum in society to demand an amendment about gambling, let alone one about lootboxes. As such, my comments so far have been specifically focused on US statutory law as crafted by the federal legislature (Congress).

              I do not know enough about various state laws to know if a “Banned in California” type situation (ala “Banned in Boston”) would work. A regulatory body making a power grab might, but I don’t know of one in the US with the wherewithal to do so, and even then they typically have explicit rules and then a significant period of delay for comment and restructuring. I feel like they are walking on thin ice due to the push against Chevron deference and don’t want to rock the boat in the current climate.

  41. Redrock says:

    So, instead of reiterating my position regarding legislation, here’s a couple of true stories that’ll illustrate the point I’m trying to make much better.

    Story number one: a couple of years ago a group of people enter a family-themed cafe – a middle aged woman and two young men. The woman orders a jug of wine, which she shares with the men. After which a group of undercover policemen sitting at a nearby table rise up, blockade the entrance and accuse the staff of selling alcohol to minors – one of the pretty adult-looking young men, you see, aren’t yet of drinking age. The cafe gets fined, and the authorities use that sting operation to launch what amounts to a harassment campaign against the owner.

    Story number two: some time ago, say, a couple of decades ago, the government decides to really crack down on selling tobacco to minors. It’s already illegal by then, has been for decades, but minors still smoke, and so the police and other regulatory bodies go to work, fining stores left and right. Sure. corrupt cops also use that to solicit bribes and shake down store owners, but the thing is, store owners do get more serious about enforcing the rules. So kids switch to snus, a particularly toxic type of snuff that’s for some reason not illegal, unlike cigarettes. Because, you see, no one’s working on reducing demand, everyone’s going after the suppliers. So some years later the government bans all sorts of snus and whatever other type of chewing tobacco there is. The kids, however, keep buying – only now they buy it off shady dealers on the street, or, more likely, the Internet, cut with god knows what. The number of poisonings, some crippling, some lethal, skyrockets.

    This is where it gets comlicated. I don’t think these stories are arguments in favor of some ultralibertarian abolish-all-regulation approach. But they do illustrate that a) “protect the children” laws can and will be abused to hurt people, promote corruption and extortion, and b) you really can’t protect the children from themselves unless you put a lot of work into working with the children directly. You have to teach kids to be smart and careful, otherwise plucking a cigarette out of their mouths would just push them to look for their fix in other, worse places. You can raise the drinking age however high, and that still won’t be half as effective as teaching teenagers to drink responsibly because, get that, they’re going to be drinking anyway. That’s also why we to battle teenage pregnancies and the spread of STDs we teach teens about condoms and not about saving oneself for marriage.

    At the end of the day, if a kid is stealing parents’ money to buy lootboxes, it’s a symptom of a problem that has very little to do with videogames.

    1. etheric42 says:

      Oooh, love the micro stories, I’ll reciprocate with a slightly more zoomed out one:

      In the state I live in, gambling is illegal. Unless it’s state-sponsored (lottery) or charity-sponsored (raffles, church bingo). People want gambling. Business-people (as if they weren’t people) want money from people who want gambling. Charities/churches want money. Solution? A profit-seeking business opens bingo parlors that give a portion of their proceeds to a specific church/charity. Attracts college and post-college youths to bring/sneak in alcohol and party in a socialized slot machine environment. This is an example of how people get around legislation that attempts to carve out exceptions for historic practices (church bingo).

    2. Mathew Walls says:

      The one thing all of these “loophole” examples have in common is that they were intentionally designed to have exceptions because the people designing them didn’t actually want to do the thing the law was supposedly going to do. If they cared about the negative effects of smoking they’d just ban the manufacture, sale and import of cigarettes and other tobacco products. They’re bad and everyone knows they’re bad; but they make a lot of money. The problem for politicians is that they can’t actually ban them because they need their cut of that money, but they also can’t be seen to be doing nothing because then they’d lose votes, so they implement half-measures and compromises and target their enforcement on the wrong people.

      And the same thing is likely to happen with lootboxes – largely because of games like Magic: the Gathering, which should really fall under the same rules but probably won’t because it’s basically a license to print money for a large corporation and they’re not going to give that up, and trading cards are so well-established in society that people are ready to accept that they’re OK and totally different to these new and dangerous video game lootboxes.

      1. etheric42 says:

        I think it’s very easy to blame the politicians for moneyed interest in cases like this. And it may be wholly or partially true. But I think it there is a large contributing factor of “it’s popular”. At a certain point votes are important to politicians, and if you ban something that’s popular enough (or doesn’t give you as many new supporters as it takes away from you) then it hurts you regardless of money.

        If you banned cigarettes, or strip clubs, or alcohol, or Major League Baseball, or even something as relatively obscure as crochet (those needles are dangerous!) then you are going to offend a larger segment of your voter base than you would if you just kept trash-talking it and slow-baking it with taxes, “Our grandmothers need to spend more time in the fresh air instead of being cloistered in sick little closets they call knitting rooms, repeatedly stabbing and hooking things and pulling other things through holes. Sometimes they even do it in public, on the bus. Hey, granny, you could put an eye out! They’re addicted to the ‘cute’ little blankets they knit for their grandbabies, but don’t they know the ABCs of sleep? Alone, on their Back, in a Crib, and that’s without something that could cover their face and suffocate them! Think of the children!”

        I mean, that politician might win my vote, but most people would just roll their eyes or even come to their gram’s defense.

  42. ivan says:

    Are things like Hearthstone ‘packs’ (dunno what they’re called), or Magic: the Gathering Booster Packs really an accepted form of this sort of thing? By who? I’m 32 now, but when I was in my mid teens, I paid a not insignificant amount of money of Booster Packs, and was very, very disappointed overall with an output that, overall, I did not want.

    I absolutely would not buy such a thing now, nor would I buy a lootbox. I really can’t see one as ‘harmless fun’ and the other predatory, or I can’t see why you think they are distinctly different from each other at all. To me they seem about the same, different in form, sure, but not in nature. Is it just familiarity? Booster Packs have been around for many decades now, we are used to them, and we are already seeing the emergence of a new generation of gamers who are as used to lootboxes existing… Hmm, rambling.

    I guess I have no real case to argue here, just curious if the general readership shares Shamus’ feeling that card packs are different, in some distinct and relevant way, from lootboxes?

    1. Fizban says:

      As mentioned above, MtG booster packs do have a practical use as pre-made factory sealed randomly generated card pools- the randomly generated card pools allow a new type of gameplay where your picking and deckbuilding are tested differently than normal, as well as a theoretically level playing field.

      Of course, these formats exist primarily to sell those packs, and there’s no reason you couldn’t re-use a pile of cards by reforming them into newly randomized packs, But that would require people to return the cards they just played with and the owners to do all that rebuilding and the pile wouldn’t have all these other cards that didn’t happen to show up and wouldn’t it be easier to just buy more boosters? And the hardcore players want officially sanctioned tournaments, which won’t recognize “house-made booster packs.”

      I can’t speak to Hearthstone- once you go digital, all fig leafs go out the window. And of course, with the power of a computer you could do limitless random card pool games- but I’m fairly certain the online MtG programs still charge you for booster drafts (I think MtGO uses a ticket system for trades, so you literally can’t just pay money, you have to get tickets by trading cards from boosters). Though the newer Arena one might be better? Probably not.

  43. Kevin says:

    Not that it’s the point your trying to make but with regards to tall people I know some airlines have a requirement that flight attendants not exceed a certain height. Piedmont airlines does not higher flight attendants taller than 6’.

    1. tmtvl says:

      You must be between this

      and this tall to ride.

  44. Tyler says:

    I found these two blog posts and the comments here very interesting to read because to me it highlights the (in certain ways substantial) differences in public opinion on legislation between Europe and the US.

    Other commenters have already explained parts of this divide (see above re. “spirit of the law” vs “letter of the law”), which are also found in many other areas of legislation and regulation.

    To me it sounds like the US favours the idea of “broad freedom, until someone gets hurt” while Europe favours “limited freedom to avoid someone getting hurt”. And in some European countries the sheer idea of something _not_ being regulated is seen as a major oversight, as companies have shown to be bad arbiters of public interest and need to be nudged in the right direction.

    So while across the pond people still discuss whether to regulate or not, here in Europe there is no question about the need of regulation but more about which other aspects of the games industry might also be in need of regulation (some aspects have e.g. been covered by GDPR and the recent axing of privacy shield). And due to the “sprit of the law” legislation I expect that any EU regulation will be broad and lead to disputes between companies and regulatory bodies that at first might be nothing more than a slap on the wrist at first and will hurt on repeat offenses (while at the same time fleshing out the details where needed).

    As I said it’s interesting to read how much the legal systems we live under shape the way we tend to think about good/bad legislation, the need for regulation and probably also the way one feels about the government regulating topics that have a direct impact on one’s personal life.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      It’s also interesting to note that Shamus moderating style favors conformity to the spirit of the law with certain latitude in the wording of the statutes. If you and Bubble181 have accurately described the distinction, this would make Shamus more of a European judge than a USA one.

      1. Bubble181 says:

        Yup. Most good judges are :-P *ducks*

        No, but more fairly, in a system where rules will inherently always be flawed, a spirit-of-the-law style of judding will always be preferable over a letter-of-the-law approach. While in specific dry cases like corporate law, the letter-of-the-law approach might be preferable.

        It doesn’t map exactly to that though.

        1. etheric42 says:

          I have a strong feeling of disagreement over that. While on the micro I could see that being the case in some circumstances, in other circumstances (as well as on the macro) I see that as a big problem.

          Why? In the US we have classically had a problem where laws are applied differently to one group of people than another. A judge/prosecutor/police officer that uses their discretion might let the sympathetic figure off while the unsympathetic figure gets the book thrown at them. Sympathetic doesn’t always correlate to morally right. It often correlates to class, race, nationality, age, sex, conformity to community norms, charisma, etiquette, and luck. I don’t care if some of those things are protected classes, it’s basically impossible to prove a racist judge/prosecutor/cop when they can just say they are enforcing the law now and they don’t have the resources to enforce it all the time.

          Maybe if all laws were enforced strictly all the time, we wouldn’t have the stomach to have so many of them and with such harsh sentences. I don’t have a link to it but I remember a police union protest a few years back where their preferred method of protest was to uniformly enforce all laws. The fact that the police actually enforcing the law is seen as a negative thing scares me.

          On the other hand, I could see people making an argument that says a person (or people) however flawed, is going to more effectively enforce a (moral code? peaceful conduct? vague set of rules?) than any strictly defined set of rules. I get that. I’m a parent and I don’t have the letter of every rule spelled out for my kids. But if we are going to pursue that, I don’t feel our current system for selecting judges/prosecutors/police is necessarily designed to select good parents. Instead, unfairly applied law is, I feel, a source of great injustice

          I’m sorry if this veers too political. I’m not trying to say what the laws should be, just that whatever they are, they should be legible to the people they affect and they should be applied uniformly.

          Edit: just like parenting the above does not necessarily apply to say… forum moderation, or company rule enforcement. As in those situations I can much more easily just get up and leave if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction.

    2. etheric42 says:

      Isn’t that just a stereotype though? For example, doesn’t Norway have a lower regulatory burden on business than the US? And isn’t a greater percentage of the burden they do have at a local level as opposed to a federal one?

      1. Richard says:

        Comparing “regulatory burden” between jurisdictions is basically impossible.

        You can’t just count the regulations, as the difficulty of complying with a given regulation varies wildly between different businesses.
        – eg “Products that contain meat must be labelled with the meat they contain” is trivial for a pork packing plant, but more difficult for a plant that makes vegetable pies, lamb pies and steak pies.
        (What if we put the wrong sticker on? What if some lamb gets into the steak pie?)

        On top of that, adding more regulations can often make other regulations far easier to comply with.
        – If your suppliers are being checked for compliance before sending you stuff, then you don’t have to check quite so much yourself.

  45. BlueHorus says:

    I’m not MAKING it complicated. It IS complicated.

    This. So much. This attitude is why I keep coming here.
    There is more to the world than just one person’s opinion; however good, rigorous, well-meant or well-thought-out said opinion is.

  46. etheric42 says:

    Any Duelyst players in the house? I want to confirm if that game was a pro-lootbox argument.

    What I had heard around the water cooler (actually, I think it was form the Shut Up & Sit Down crowd) was that when the game was released they had the CCG/lootbox model and it was good. But at some expansion they changed it to a CCG/LCG hybrid format where you could just by the new set for a flat cost. The initial response was they were doing right by their audience. But after actually playing it people didn’t like it because it wasn’t as exciting without the randomized packs and when a new set came out you had to come to grips with the entire set immediately instead of just integrating things into your deck archetypes as you unlocked them.

    Any players around these parts that can confirm that?

  47. EOW says:

    I feel the regulation should be around the game of lights and sound that induce a similar response that slot machines do, more than the random chance itself.
    But as you said, regulating even that is gonna be a headache. Honestly just the threat of banning them should be enough for them to resize it. Executives are a cowardly lot, but sadly a cowardly lot that takes a long time to change anything

  48. Paul Spooner says:

    Whatever you political opinions, I think we can all agree that Shamus is the open-source lootboss of video-game complaining.

    1. tmtvl says:

      If Shamus is open-source, does that mean anyone can clone him?

      1. Shaymus Young says:

        Well, kind of…

      2. Shamus Young Origin says:

        Or worse, fork him O.o

  49. evileeyore says:

    “Figuratively. I don’t think it makes organizational sense to put these items on the same shelf. Although it WOULD make my weekly shopping trips easier.”

    I’m sure you did it on purpose… I’m just here to say I appreciated the joke and am getting a chuckle out what that says about your weekly shopping trips “Hey, they finally put everything I need right here on one shelf!”

    ;)

    1. tmtvl says:

      Guns, booze, games, and adult entertainment? Sounds like a regular Friday night to me.

  50. Gautsu says:

    While I love MTG as much as the next person, why are we glossing over the fact that even if you buy physical cards, they can be relegated to not being able to be played in any kind of official, competitive play by way of limiting the number of expansions allowed(not sure if they still do Type 1/1.5/2). So even if you spend a decent amount of money to become initially competitive, you have to continue to be able to play. Same with Hearthstone and MTG:Arena. Obviously, this doesn’t affect casual play in your home or social circles, but IMO raises a question of why it hasn’t been brought up

    1. Chad Miller says:

      Any game’s pieces can become available in an official tournament scene if for no other reason that the tournament scene may cease to exist. The same goes for online-only games and the possibility of the servers going away, though a lot more people grumble about that one. With paper cards at least there’s the possibility of tournament scenes not run directly by Wizards of the Coast (and in fact it has happened with StarCity Games)

      1. Gautsu says:

        Unavailable? The difference, to me, is instead of buying some loot boxes to stay competitive, being forced to buy loot boxes to be able to play, at all. I used to play Magic competitively, and never ran into a tournament that ran by anything other than official rules. If they are out there now, that is awesome for the game

        1. Chad Miller says:

          Yeah, I accidentally typed “available” when I meant “unavailable.”

          The primary reason you haven’t seen many tournaments that don’t use official rules is that Wizards is so on top of giving their players what they want, but it happens. StarCity Games just uses standard tournament rules; their tournaments are more of a supplement to pro events (and an advertisement for their strategy site and card shop). Vintage has a long history of n-proxy tournaments which are Vintage rules except n of the cards in your deck are allowed to be fake (it’s easier to scrounge together a tournament-level deck when you can just print your Black Lotus off the Internet). Local stores have even been known to make up their own banlists or formats if the Standard format becomes too imbalanced for the locale.

        2. etheric42 says:

          See the Warhammer tournament scene, where tournament rules can significantly deviate from official rules. This is primarily because Games Workshop had a moderately anti-competitive gaming stance and their audience felt the game was fun enough to keep playing, but could be made more fun if the rules were just fixed. This has died down somewhat as GW has reevaluated its stance to competitive gaming to be a valid mode of play and has begun increasing their frequency of errata.

          A similar situation would likely occur if WotC failed to properly serve the competitive market while still being popular enough to continue to have an audience. Set rotation, while maybe not the best for your wallet, is good for the game, not just the company.

    2. Fizban says:

      They’ve got the “Modern” format now which is everything from 8th edition forward, and Commander is officially supported and uses stuff from basically anything though, I don’t know if it’s got tournaments. But yeah, that’s another problem with trying to play MtG: if you want active players, that means tournaments, and the most supported tournament format is obviously the one which forces you to keep buying the new cards.

  51. Thomas Steven Slater says:

    I do play a game that might be caught up with particularly sloppy legislation. A few years ago the game made the angular subscription a lifetime one at the same price, however since the game has way less players then I feel it deserves the developer (one dude) has to top up that money to make enough money to make the game runs the server and be able to eat and stuff. So the game lets people player money for cosmetic number embiggening which lead to little as PVP is less then a tiny part of the game and all the single player stuff can be completed without it. This has lead to a few people (myself included) spending thousands of dollars on these power buffs which are so unimportant to game play that I spend most of time playing on an account with none of them. Without these the game could not continue to exist as poor luck have left the game with about 200 players.

    The games is http://www.sryth.com by the way.

    1. Bubble181 says:

      Which could lead to Patreon-style rewards for subscribers or for voluntary contributors/sponsors, which could then raise the question of where to draw that line.

      1. etheric42 says:

        Oh my, I can see the potential slippery slope (not saying it’s going to ever get here, but I can see the logical progression).

        Patreon (or whatever subscription) rewards can be time limited. If you didn’t get it that month, you won’t get it later. And the reward could be announced after the billing cycle occurs, so you’ve paid for something you haven’t received yet with no idea what it is or its value. (Leaving aside what you are really paying for is to be a patron, just like Kickstarter, Patreon-style venues are liable to be turned from actual patronage into a subscription system.) This level of FOMO plus randomness definitely ties into some deep rooted addicting qualities.

  52. SKD says:

    I think Penn and Teller (may not be the originators of the phrase) said it best on their Showtime series.

    Anytime someone says “there ought to be a law” there most likely shouldn’t.

  53. Elevator Eleven says:

    ……………………… Okay but Shamus you totally could enjoy Dark Souls, all you need to do is

  54. Pylo says:

    I feel like the fact that this comment section hasn’t been closed yet is a win for humanity somehow.

  55. Adrian Lopez says:

    “I’m not saying you should give up and let Andrew Wilson build a casino for children. I’m not a lawyer or a polysci major. I could be wrong about everything I said about lawmaking above. Maybe you disagree and you think an American lawmaker born in 1940 will have the ability to sort out something this complex and esoteric, and that the law will get passed, it will be properly enforced, and that the publishers will quietly give up on all this gambling money and not spend years creating a game of semantic whack-a-mole.

    That’s fine. I’m not saying you’re wrong. All I’m saying is I’m incredibly cynical about the process.

    On top of that, I’m extremely against using my blog as a bully pulpit to advocate for public policy – even if it’s a policy that a majority of people would agree with. Slippery slopes, and all that. And I realize that it probably sounds like I’m arguing against legislation. But I’m trying not to. I’m just explaining why I have this non-committal stance on the issue. Go ahead and lobby for change if you think it’s a good idea. Make a petition. Put a little ribbon on your car. Make a hashtag. Call your representative. Whatever you feel you need to do, go right ahead. I’m not telling you to stop. I’m just explaining why I’m not cheering you on. I don’t know what the right answer is here, so I’m sticking to what I do know.”

    Thank you for this Shamus. It’s lines like these that keep me coming back to your site for an even handed approach to talking about, well, anything! I love it when you discuss these topics because you do it from the middle without being baited into picking a side. Keep up the great work man.

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