Something I’d like in place is a spending limit. In practical terms I’m not sure what exactly is best, but being able to stop someone spending money for a day/week/forever after a certain value seems a good way to keep this in check. A big issue with lootboxes being gambling-like is that they invoke the “one more spin” feeling, where people will just dump in a bit more money because they didn’t yet get the thing that they want.
This is kind of tangential and kind of outdated, given that it’s about “social games” which were all the rage like 5 years ago, but I always think of this article by Tim Rogers whenever discussing monetization of gaming. https://insertcredit.com/2011/09/22/who-killed-videogames-a-ghost-story/ Linked simply in case anyone else might enjoy reading it.
It would be effective, but I don’t see that happening practically – unless someone can successfully argue that loot boxes are ACTUALLY DRUGS, there’s no way the law goes as far as actually prohibiting purchase.
First, sue them. Let them prove that it’s not a anti-consumer practise, let them show us the math behind it, let them be on a defensive.
Second, let it actually be called “gambling”, be under the same laws and such. That action alone (or fear of that action, to be precise) forced Valve to take action against CS:GO gambling. It would be in a box near the rating, it would be in the news, it would scare some people off, enough, I think, to force publishers to rethink this whole thing.
Sure, nothing is ever 100% foolproof, but just wide exposure alone would do some good. There are people (parents) who don’t read/watch/listen to Waypoint (shocking, I know!), who don’t go to Common Sense and such (thanks, Spawn On Me!). Putting that information then they can’t miss it, would be helpful.
Rather than going straight to laws, a quicker change (for the time being) is to ask Age/Content Rating systems to include these “Pay for an item of variable value” systems as a source for their Gambling labels. A harsher punishment in age-rating for adding this kind of system could at least pave the way for Parental Control-like options to disable their functionality and pop-ups in games.
For clarity: I wrote a comment on this on the Giant Bomb forums, but I’ll copy the relevant part here:
The gambling angle got me interested in looking up Rating systems. I started with PEGI ratings (because I’m in the UK) and they have a “Gambling” disclaimer reading: “Games that encourage or teach gambling”. I honestly believe these random-chance items (especially when purchaseable with real money) should be added to this gambling disclaimer. The idea that Forza Motorsport 7 has an age rating of 3 without the gambling disclaimer doesn’t sit well with me. Currently, it looks like the game has to actually represent the traditional appearance of gambling to get the label (the most recent example I found was for Yakuza Kiwami).
On the other side of the pond, at the ESRB, they go into even greater detail. Not only do they have the content descriptor “Simulated Gambling - Player can gamble without betting or wagering real cash or currency” but they also state that they review “interactive elements” including “Digital Purchases - Enables purchases of digital goods completed directly from within the app (e.g., purchases of additional game content, levels, downloadable music, etc.)”. Furthermore, they have extra details on the age ratings with the descriptor “simulated gambling” applying from Teen and up, and “gambling with real currency” applicable to Adult (18+). I’ve yet to find a single game which mentions the gambling descriptor (not even the Yakuza games’ simulations of casino games make the cut this time). I also haven’t found a description where the extent of purchaseable goods is commented on.
Age ratings aren’t very effective, we all know that, but both PEGI and the ESRB imply that they are looking out for “Gambling” (and, in the latter case, in-app purchases too) and yet for many of the titles which I feel should be candidates, the descriptors aren’t used. I’m disappointed because I feel the threat of at least inflating the age rating of a game could be the kind of incentive publishers need to at least allow opt-out options to disable them. Imagine how big a deal it would be if allowing players to “gamble” (i.e. random chance at variable rewards) with real money was an instant rating for Adult at the ESRB. This would be the sort of PR issue that even the wider media would pick up on.
Since I wrote that comment I ended up sending a message to PEGI (not the ESRB because I’m in the UK) asking them what their definition of “Gambling” is. I also described the recent trend in games (with examples) and stated why I considered them similar to gambling which is why I was interested why these types of micro-transactions don’t get their “Gambling” descriptor. Who knows if they’ll respond.
Best we can do is let people we know who have kids to be aware of these things.
Nobody in this discussion ever bought baseball cards, Marvel Masterpieces, Pokemon cards, or Magic: The Gathering cards as a kid? Do you think those packs should have had a big gambling warning on the front of them like cigarettes? Do you think it would have made a difference?
I bought a little bit of MtG, but pretty quickly realized that it is a huge cash sink, gambling or otherwise.
It not gambling since you get cards even if its a chance like how loot crates work.
You are paying some amount of money for random stuff with a chance to get something very expensive, that you can later sell.
I really think that if you’re making rules around loot boxes, rule #1 is that loot boxes can only be acquired with in-game currency, and cannot be bought with real world money. I don’t think anyone has any legitimate beef with loot boxes once you take the real-world money component out of it.
I wish more developers would take the approach that Respawn did with Titanfall 2. They had what was kind of a loot box in the form of ‘advocate gifts’, which you could only get by playing. No microtransactions came into that equation. It would give you a random emblem or skin for titan/pilots/guns. But they also added in microtransactions for buying Prime Titans, skin packs, and basically just other cosmetic things. So you want that specific cosmetic model of a titan? You buy it. It’s yours.
It wasn’t a predatory model. That’s the issue with loot boxes. If you are going to have microtransactions in your game, just have it be to buy something outright (that doesn’t affect gameplay).
It’s really weird/poorly-considered that several of these games mimic the mobile model of having 3 different currencies and several varieties of crate types. That’s not even a moral complaint, that’s just an extremely inefficient and needlessly confusing way of laying things out.
It’s not needless (at least not from the point of the developer). It’s intentionally done to be confusing so that people accidentally spend more money. It’s one of the many tricks F2P developers use, right alongside blind packs, uneven exchanges (100 crystals is $5, but the thing you want costs 120 crystals), and difficulty spikes.
I am an avid collector of trading cards (Yu-Gi-Oh in the past, Pokémon on-and-off since childhood, and most recently have been aiming to complete full-sets of the Final Fantasy TCG). I do, however, find a difference. Firstly, you may trade goods with other people. Even if you get a card you don’t want, you may sell, exchange, or give them to someone else who does want them. It also allows a player to directly spend on exactly what they want, they might end up paying more per transaction to other sellers, but they don’t run the risk of obtaining a clearly bad card [Edit: or an unuseable one in their deck]. This can lead to exorbitant prices to stay competitive, but I think this is more an issue with whether the developers of the game are willing to combat that with special edition packs of cards and such to keep the availabilty of the best cards open. Physical games are inevitably going to reach this issue, whereas digital games/virtual goods can just generate more (artificial scarcity in digital games is only the result through implementation choices)
Furthermore, I’d argue that collectable card games released in this way (rather than box expansions) are inherently pay-to-win anyway and there is no facade to players or parents with what is going on. Starter decks might imply this, but even then a pair of good starter decks should be playable together for what they are (they aren’t pretending you will get better decks by playing with them).
I think you could extend this arguement to free-to-play games, and honestly, if a free game is willing to hamper the reach and competitiveness of their game for a microtransactions model, I’m generally okay with that as long as they don’t hide it. Games with an upfront cost, however, imply a single purchase. You can’t try the game first to find out that the balance turns you off (even if free games can simply push arficial difficulty later to circumvent that - which is a terrible abuse of psychological data). Being put into a position where the player feels like they have to pay more money to progress further, when they have had to pay upfront, is a form of trickery.
Edit - man did I make a lot of spelling errors. I’ve been typing a lot today, I’m going to take a break for a while.
Going back to some of the earlier examples of the practice, such as TF2, or Guild Wars 2, I don’t think they caught as much flak for it because while you did have to pay about $2.50 for a key to open a chest, you first had to get the chest to begin with.
Even though both of those games had official marketplaces where players could just grab hundreds of chests/crates at rock-bottom prices, it created what was effectively a gating mechanic so that while you were still participating in what amounted to gambling, you were doing it at a far slower pace instead of potentially spending hundreds to mainline the gambling dopamine rush.
There would still be lots of snark from the consumerist side of the aisle if players received treasure chests in single-player games that required them to pay real money to open, but it would severely diminish the concerns over potential gambling abuse since there would be limitations over how much the player could participate in that gamble.
There’s still an upfront cost to acquiring enough MTG cards in order to have a functioning deck, even if that cost is less than a $60 game. The fact that most digital card games don’t require money upfront and allow you to get new packs through play is cool, but not something I take for granted. I really don’t see much difference between buying a booster box of MTG cards and buying Battlefront 2.
The ability to purchase individual cards secondhand in the physical realm is a distinction that’s worth pointing out, but doesn’t inherently make the practice of physical vs. digital blind packs any less exploitative. Publishers do it because they know it will make more money, and the market has decided it’s a price that consumers are willing to pay.
There are games like Netrunner that adhere to the LCG model where you know exactly what cards you’re getting in an expansion box, but make no mistake: while it may seem more ethical on its surface, they are absolutely still exploiting their competitive and completionist players. A Netrunner deck can allow multiples of certain cards, but expansions often only include one or two copies of each new card, so if you want to build a deck around that card and have the best chances of drawing it, you’re going to be buying three of those expansion boxes and having a whole lot of extra cards you don’t care about.
On a not-completely-unreleated note, however, both the ESRB and PEGI were contacted (by Kotaku and WCCFTech respectfully) and clarified their position on loot-boxes not being gambling.
The ESRB article reads:
“ESRB does not consider loot boxes to be gambling,” said an ESRB spokesperson in an e-mail to Kotaku. “While there’s an element of chance in these mechanics, the player is always guaranteed to receive in-game content (even if the player unfortunately receives something they don’t want). We think of it as a similar principle to collectible card games: Sometimes you’ll open a pack and get a brand new holographic card you’ve had your eye on for a while. But other times you’ll end up with a pack of cards you already have.”
In short, our approach is similar to that of ESRB (I think all rating boards do, USK in Germany as well). The main reason for this is that we cannot define what constitutes gambling. That is the responsibility of a national gambling commission. Our gambling content descriptor is given to games that simulate or teach gambling as it’s done in real life in casinos, racetracks, etc. If a gambling commission would state that loot boxes are a form of gambling, then we would have to adjust our criteria to that.
So even if I disagree, both ratings boards have taken the decision that they are no different to collectable card games. I’ve made my position pretty clear, and I won’t say more because I’m aware how I partake in CCG/TCGs using this model makes me severely biased. For me though, it’s all about the psychological illusion that it isn’t pay-to-win which I do not see in card games. [Edit: I also want to say that, despite buying card games, I have severe issues with the model and how some games have implemented or continued them - even if they are effectively identical in terms of the law/authorities, I don’t think that should stop either from being scrutinised and sign-posted more].
Yes, gambling is a pretty specific thing. But what we talking about, I think, is too close for comfort.
I’m sure a lot of people thought, that they are gonna get PUBG, play a bunch, get some boxes, spend some money on keys, with clear goal of getting their money back. Not gambling, sure, but idea of spending money to get (more) money is there.
If there is “skill” involved, then it’s not gambling, right? Ok, but your skill only affect how much boxes you are getting, not what’s inside of them. You can spend a dollar on a key, and get something that can worth 1 cent (but still technically something, as ESRB puts it “the player is always guaranteed to receive in-game content”), or dozens, or even hundreds of dollars.
I think those games dance around actual gambling very carefully, but not very far.
Eurogamer also did an article and asked the UK Gambling Commission for a statement regarding it. It’s pretty interesting as the gambling comission already had a paper released based on their research clarifying their stance and why they didn’t think lootboxes were gambling, per say. But 3rd party websites like CS:GO Lotto were a clear breach and companies using loopholes that allow you to sell items for credit (Like Valve for example) were technically in violation due to “Assisting” these sites. And there is a risk of addiction that should be looked into. But since it’s a position paper, it’s not law, but it would be used as a reference if the law had to change.
So effectively, lootboxes themelves are on the legal side. But they know of the industry, they know that external sites are an issue and they know the laws are archiac enough they are unable to deal with some aspects. It’s interesting to see a comission on top of it. Even if they aren’t going to give the analysis some gamers want out of it.
Thanks for the Eurogamer link (it’s a great article on this). PEGI actually responded to me personally today. They reiterated their position (and linked to that Eurogamer article in the message). They also put emphasis on how their gambling label is used to warn of games which simulate or teach the systems of traditional gambling.
Here's their response to me if you're interested:
Thanks for your email.
What we warn for in games (in regard to gambling), is the following:
Moving images that encourage and/or teach the use of games of chance that are played/carried out as a traditional means of gambling
This refers to types of betting or gambling for money that is normally played/carried out in casinos, gambling halls, racetracks. This does not cover games where betting or gambling is simply part of the general storyline or, like you describe, a lottery box. The game must actually teach the player how to gamble or bet and/or encourage the player to want to gamble or bet for money in real life. For example, this will include games that teach the player how to play card games that are usually played for money or how to play the odds in horse racing.
The main reason for this is that we cannot define what constitutes as gambling. That is the responsibility of a national gambling commission. Our gambling content descriptor is given to games that simulate or teach gambling as it’s done in real life in casinos, racetracks, etc. If a gambling commission would state that loot boxes are a form of gambling, then we would have to adjust our criteria to that.
More information about our stance can be read in this article:
If you’re concerned about the quality of a game and the payment mechanics in it, please contact the publisher.
I hope this information has been helpful.