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Belgium declares loot boxes gambling and therefore illegal (eurogamer.net)
399 points by alex_young on April 26, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 272 comments

Netherlands is close to drawing similar conclusions.

And it makes sense. You can buy, using real money, a virtual ticket for a virtual item. Then that virtual item can in turn often be sold to others for real money. In other words, players can participate by gambling real money in return for less or more real money.

In short, it is gambling. Not all countries make gambling illegal, but those who do, should treat loot boxes the same. And virtually all countries make gambling illegal for minors, and there's currently no working mechanism in play for 15 year olds not to be able to play these games.

Currently in the Netherlands it's required for the proceeds of loot boxes to be tradeable in the real world, giving them economic value, for it to be considered gambling. If it's purely virtual, it's not gambling but just part of the game. (you can question this of course.) The problem is that it didn't matter for the Dutch government whether the items were traded on external platforms (which are often in violation of the games EULA itself), or on a platform of the game itself.

What would help stay legit is for the games to prevent loot box items from being traded between characters at all.

Here's the weird thing though. My entire childhood was filled with opaque plastic packs of cards, pokemon cards, football cards etc. You didn't know which 5 cards were in there. The cards were semi-randomly distributed in the packs in the factory, just like these loot boxes are semi-randomly generated by an algorithm. And you'd pay, not knowing what you'd get. And indeed, sometimes you paid $10 for a pack with a rare pokemon you could sell for $100. That was gambling too under this definition.

> "Here's the weird thing though. My entire childhood was filled with opaque plastic packs of cards, pokemon cards, football cards etc. You didn't know which 5 cards were in there. The cards were semi-randomly distributed in the packs in the factory, just like these loot boxes are semi-randomly generated by an algorithm. And you'd pay, not knowing what you'd get. And indeed, sometimes you paid $10 for a pack with a rare pokemon you could sell for $100. That was gambling too under this definition."

Is that so weird? I came to the conclusion that industry was gambling when I was a kid. I saw my friends spend their allowance on those packs of cards, open them up, then become disappointed because they only received "trash". Yet again and again they'd do it. It seemed totally irrational to me.

After my first 6 packets of trash I started printing copies of them and reselling them for 40¢ each (50¢ for more rare ones) making a little fortune (3€ a day).

It lasted a week before other parents were incredibly annoyed by this. Aaaaand they kept paying a lot of euros to buy real ones.


Copyright infringement: every parent's worst nightmare.

Invalid for play though - though I thought at the time that Pokémon at the time had very heavy ante i.e. you put up cards at random to play fore.

Invalid for tournament play, certainly, but between two kids for playground bragging rights, not invalid if the people playing the game agree beforehand.

Interesting ethics you have there - and also sounds like the biggest school bully would win

Why? If anyone can print the cards and therefore play the deck that they want then the game comes down to a limited amount of luck (as decks are randomized before play) and skill in both play and construction of decks.

This has become a more pronounced issue as realistic counterfeits of Magic: The Gathering cards that are no longer in print and in some cases cost more than a car are starting to appear on the market. They can be detected by a trained eye, but to they look "close enough" to a casual or even sharp observer. While the people producing the cards and discussing their quality often say "these cards are intended for use in decks but not to trade or sale as if they were real cards", some in the wider Magic: The Gathering community feel very strongly that legal action should be taken against the producers, sellers, and in some cases, even the users of these cards.

On a practical side, using non-genuine, non-WotC produced cards is against sanctioned tournament rules - from Friday Night Magic up to the Pro Tour, but what right do others have to tell me what I can and cannot allow in non-sanctioned play or at Commander night with my friends?

That said, my friends and I often "cheapass draft" in our homes - we generate random boosters, print them on paper, cut and fit them atop bulk commons in sleeves, and then draft/battle for the cost of six sheets of color laser print. No money changes hands, we're never going to try and pass off these obvious printouts as anything other than playtesting.

Just figured I'd expound on the ethics - both societal and personal - around this topic since you questioned them.

I thought that was interesting, and I think I agree. Specifically with the section about printing your own decks at home to play with friends.

To me, that sounds like the optimal way to play trading card games.

Really? You think it's wrong to copy in paper another game that tries to profit off artificial scarcity?

It’s weird in the sense that it didn’t seem to bother anybody even though the same laws restricting gambling were in effect.

It bothered me back then, and I wasn't alone. Here's an article from 1999 in the NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/1999/09/24/nyregion/suit-claims-poke...

Obviously the objections to pokemon cards never reached any sort of critical mass as objections to loot boxes seem to be. Maybe that says something about differences between the two industries, or maybe that says something about how society has progressed in the past two decades.

> Maybe that says something about differences between the two industries, or maybe that says something about how society has progressed in the past two decades.

I think it says more about how little friction there is to click a button, spend money, and get a loot box vs walking to the store with cash in hand to get a physical pack of cards. Sure, I could drop $100 on a booster box, but it still required that I had the money in hand and had to physically go somewhere to get it. Those cards also took up space and had to be kept organized to keep track of valued vs non-valued cards. It took a lot of work to get that hit of dopamine, whereas now a 15-year-old kid can sit down at a computer and within 30 seconds start dumping tons of money into loot boxes.

For me personally it's about double dipping.

I'll play a free game that is monetized via loot boxes. But I won't buy a game that then requires me to buy loot boxes to do better in the game because in my mind I already paid for the game and shouldn't have to pay any more.

Game A costs, but the loot is free. Game B is free, but the loot boxes cost. Game C is half-price, and has half-price loot boxes.

Why is C a problem? It's a mid-point between A and B.

Parent didn't say it was a problem, just stated a preference. I agree with them. I've been buying games for 30 years (good grief) and suddenly they want me to pay inside the game. Just feels bad.

I don't mind paying for good content, but pay to win is a deal breaker.

Since the odds can be manipulated from moment to moment, there is no way to know if game C really has half-price loot boxes. The only way to be sure that you’re not paying full price anyway (via manipulated statistics and game mechanics) is for there not to be any loot boxes at all.

That sounds like a problem with paid loot-boxes, not "double-dipping". Loot boxes might be double-priced even if the game is free by your same logic. There would be no way to know.

> says something about how society has progressed in the past two decades

Or regressed, depending on your views about personal liberty and what the obligations of the state are.

Was it also a regression when governments around the world banned children from gambling in casinos?

I guess it depends on where you draw the line on when liberty should be taken away from children (or their guardians) to make choices on what they are/are not allowed to do.

Personally, I believe casinos pose a risk of not only spending money, but also exposure to much more harmful activities (drugs, prostitution, violence). These other risks have to factor into the equation, and for playing a game on a computer/phone, those risks just aren't there like they are in a casino. That's why I have a separate opinion on loot crates vs casinos.

I guess what I am getting at is that loot crates can only be a waste of money, but kids already spend their money on other "wasteful" activities like purchasing video games, so why should there be any difference just because the mechanics of the game are different?

>difference just because the mechanics of the game are different?

yes, because the mechanism of gambling is addictive. (this too applies to subsets of video games as well, but at least most of them don't allow open-ended money spending)

Obviously it depends on everybody's definition of liberty, but most people seem to be happy to, as a society, put limits on the consumption of goods that foster unhealthy, addictive behaviour in individuals and cause financial or personal damage.

I for example don't have a problem with video games that foster creativity, problem solving and leave children with genuinely satisfying experiences. I am concerned about social media and games that only implement stick and carrot mechanisms to maximize the time children spend in front of them.

I agree with you that video games can be unhealthy. But why should these crates be legislated, just because their outcome is random? Does it really present any more harm than video games and in-game purchases in general?

I spent a good amount of money on pay-to-win games when I was younger (buying weapon upgrades, more materials, gold, etc), the only difference was that the exact item was listed-- no surprises. Why should anyone besides my guardian decide whether or not that counts as "unhealthy, addictive behavior"? I could have bought a nearly endless supply of these in-game items that really served no purpose just as much as people do with loot crates.

Should we in-game purchases for those in-game items too, under the premise that purchasing them is unbounded, unhealthy and addictive?

>Should we in-game purchases for those in-game items too, under the premise that purchasing them is unbounded, unhealthy and addictive?

I think that the premise is a little weaker for straight up purchases because the uncertainty associated with gambling is what makes it so exciting, but yes if we would observe that a lots of children or families are unable to manage their finances and that this negatively impacts the financial behaviour of especially young adults, sure I don't see any problem with regulating them and limiting the use of those mechanisms in videogames.

>I believe casinos pose a risk of not only spending money, but also exposure to much more harmful activities (drugs, prostitution, violence)

Yeah, as a kid it was always very annoying how everything but gambling was easily accessible.

Nobody would card me when going to a bar, brothel or when buying drugs... But entering a casino? heh

From the sarcasm I am assuming you disagree with me. My point is that phone games don't add to the risk being near any of any of these actually harmful (to a minor) activities. Casinos do add to that risk in some non-zero way.

And working in coal mines.

Spending money on virtual games is miles away from child labor. I don't think you'll find very many people in here arguing that anti-child labor laws are a bad thing, so I find your comment a bit of a red-herring.

There's something fundamentally different about the dynamic when you have to actually go out into the real world, get a store, etc. It drastically slows down one's ability to get themselves into trouble.

I don't know if it factors in here much, but another point is that you also generally can't re-sell items from loot boxes, whereas at least you can sell the cards afterwards to help defray costs.

They are not equivalent.

Collecting a series of stamps or collecting cards are very different from a dopamine drip which sits on your phone and can follow you everywhere.

SV spends all its time to make frictionless interaction pushing people to manage their actions. UI UX design intended to be easier than using horrid things like paper cards.

Gambling systems designed to hit every known behavioral reinforcement schedule, interactive videos and graphics to make it immersive.

Collectible cards and loot boxes are similar the same way ancient alchemists are like a modern pharmaceutical company.

Netherlands is close to drawing similar conclusions.

The article says they already did: https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2018-04-19-the-netherland...

And indeed, sometimes you paid $10 for a pack with a rare pokemon you could sell for $100. That was gambling too under this definition.

Different jurisdictions feel differently about this, I'm sure. If the collectible's company plays dumb and never acknowledges the secondary market, they'll be more likely to stay clear of legal regulation.

After all, they're just selling piece of cardboard. What the people choose do with those pieces of cardboard is their prerogative, wink, wink.

Indeed, it seems the Netherlands study separates whether or not you can then further trade the items to determine if it's gambling or not. Therefore, some games like Overwatch don't fall into this category.

Regarding trading card games, they are indeed awfully closed to gambling; and they are in fact the main defense of the game publishers, arguing that this is just a "collect and play" type of game, and isn't gambling.

But isn't the interactivity, the bells and wistles, animations of the lootbox openings closer to addictive reward patterns than just opening a plastic card booster pack ?

> Then that virtual item can in turn often be sold to others for real money.

This, for the majority of IAP, is super untrue, unless you mean selling on a secondary market. If this is what you mean, then Wizards of the Coast better start worrying because anyone buying rares from the local gaming shop is now engaging in gambling and, by your logic, responsible by WotC.

In fact, the big problem here is precedence. How long do you think it will take before a litigious company starts targeting "physical" lootboxes like MtG or Pokemon or any physical variable reward package. The mechanics are the same, the reward rarity weight can be exactly the same, just the medium has changed.

This law is dangerous, because you could have gotten the same result (protect children/persons susceptible to skinner box mechanics) with a little more nuance.

Also, the big losers here are decent apps that don't have predatory IAP that are caught in the crossfire.

It's kind of shocking the lack of foresight being seen in this thread.

> This, for the majority of IAP, is super untrue, unless you mean selling on a secondary market. If this is what you mean, then Wizards of the Coast better start worrying because anyone buying rares from the local gaming shop is now engaging in gambling and, by your logic, responsible by WotC.

Yes, they do the same thing. Of course they should be hit just the same.

Some differences are:

- The physical card packs have predetermined and known probabilities.

- The 'opening' ceremony is rather benign and not designed to stimulate

- Once printed and distributed no further psychological tweaking mechanisms can be employed to 'hook' the player

On (1) I don't believe there's any difference... a factory prints cards according to the company's desired distributed, and a game's algorithm generates loot boxes according to the same distribution. Lootboxes and trading cars both have predetermined and known (to the company) and unknown (to the players) probabilities.

(2/3) agreed there is a difference, although it was still magical as a child and there was definitely something calling me back. A lot of those packs were interesting only because I watched 100 episodes of the greatest adventurer known to me (Ash Ketchum) and my own adventures playing Pokemon on the gameboy for 100+ hours.

Since those companies ostensibly don't want to publish the probabilities, potentially because they employ far more subtle 'personalized' addictive tweaks, you can not state (1). In contrast, the distribution for cards in trading card games seems fairly well known, not just to the publisher, but also to the buyer, and no 'personalized tweaking' can occur.

On (1), that assumes that the odds are fixed and not tweaked per player. That isn't necessarily the case. Even if it is, other parts of the game can be manipulated to make the purchases seem more rewarding than they actually are, as at least Activison has explored:

> For example, if the player purchased a particular weapon, the microtransaction engine may match the player in a gameplay session in which the particular weapon is highly effective, giving the player an impression that the particular weapon was a good purchase. This may encourage the player to make future purchases to achieve similar gameplay results.


Baseball card companies publish the odds of getting certain kinds of cards.

I was just about to comment on magic and pokemon cards! Maybe even baseball packs. All could be traded for real cash, and obviously were! It's such a grey line though, the original intent of the cards is to not be traded around for cash, but be used to play games or simply collect (without the intent to sell) and be enjoyed. To be frank, I'm glad the world is cracking down on the digital forms of this, I think it's a bit corrupt-- explicitly targeting minors with considerably less self-control. In my opinion, it's right up there with apps that use in-game currency gems/coins that you can purchase with real money; because kids targeted by that game audience often don't understand the repercussions on such activities. I think there needs to be a very fine line drawn where a child cannot make a digital purchase, even if inadvertent. Regardless. It shouldn't be a "we suggest you set up parental controls", literally the device should be locked down from entirely preventing such behavior and must then be overrode by an adult.

How do you sell virtual items in, say, Overwatch? AFAIK the item is attached to your user and there is no trading.

> there's currently no working mechanism in play for 15 year olds not to be able to play

ERSB seems like a good mechanism.

The ESRB is a voluntary self-regulatory organization, not mandated by law. Most "legitimate" video game publishers and retailers (at least in the US) follow its guidelines and use its ratings because the industry has collectively agreed to police itself under those guidelines with those ratings. Same goes for PEGI, last I checked. This is in contrast with (for example) the ACB, which actually is mandated and controlled by the Australian government.

That said, an "AO" rating would indeed have a chilling effect on store shelves (since most retailers don't even want to carry AO games at all). It could be feasible to make loot boxes an automatic elevation to ESRB AO / PEGI 18 / etc. should those organizations want to do so (and hopefully they would indeed want to do so).

While the cards are semi-random, they're selling a pack with let's say, 3 cards. There's not much debate there, that's what it "says on the box" and you're getting that.

Depending on the case it might be gambling, it might be not - like for example a Picture Album, you can usually buy the missing cards for a flat fee (per missing card)


I think you might have missed the distinction between buying IAP on "Gems" or cosmetics and the fully fledged gambling lunacy that are loot crates.

It's not about protecting daddy's credit card; gambling can be an extremely addictive and corrupting activity, one that children should not be exposed to as part of their daily gaming.

> and the fully fledged gambling lunacy that are loot crates

Help me understand, because I don't, with some cursory Googling. Specifically, where does the line start and end here, and where on a scale are we with:

* Kinder Eggs / Happy Meal Toys

* MtG / Pokemon Card boxes

* Loot Boxes

Are all gambling? Are all "fully fledged gambling lunacy"? Genuine question asked in good faith.

Including something of "value" with a purchase doesn't automatically make something gambling.

Under the Kinder/Happy Meal is gambling logic, buying a bag of M&Ms could also be gambling because I "value" the blue ones the most and will receive a psudorandom number of blue M&Ms in the bag.

There is also a big difference in intent. Spend $5 on a Happy Meal and you are spending $4.90 for a meal and $0.10 for a piece of junk toy. And half the time you can ask for a specific toy anyway. On the other hand, spend $5 on loot boxes (or scratch tickets, lottery tickets) and there is no expectation of any other "value" than the potential value of your winnings.

At what point does a shrub become a tree?


Most laws are actually against thing that can lead to bad situation.

Speeding is not dangerous in itself, until you actually hit somebody. By your logic there should be no speed limit anywhere but only charges when you hit somebody. The whole concept of regulation would also have to be scraped. Why would we have safety norms ? Not respecting them can lead to problems but well...

Maybe that is your view but I don't think it is widely shared.

Well it is known that criminals don't care about the laws, right? Imagine my shock when I hear that there are stabbings on a daily basis in a country where carrying a knife without "good reason" (that the court decides) is illegal! Makes me so confused! I thought these laws work!

Regarding safety: alcohol is perfectly legal and I'm sure we can all agree on that it is extremely (more so than other substances) detrimental to health and other members of the society. On the basis of banning things for safety, it should be banned. Fun fact: it isn't. Another fun fact: prohibition wouldn't work.

> Speeding is not dangerous in itself, until you actually hit somebody. By your logic there should be no speed limit anywhere but only charges when you hit somebody.

Elaborate on how speed limits work or how come they are effective, if they indeed are. Maybe we can work out something. :)

I would also like you to point out its relevance to the prohibition of loot crates for the "safety of our kids and vulnerable people".

Regarding speed limits, I recommend https://mises.org/library/privatization-roads-and-highways.

Additionally, I would rather you avoid the use of "by your logic" when in fact it does not conform to my "logic", it conforms to your perceived and false interpretation of what my logic might be, which you extended to an entirely different issue and imagine that it somehow undermines my argument. There is a difference between having speed limits enforced by X and assuming that the majority of people would respect it, and banning loot crates on the premise that it benefits the kids and vulnerable people while depriving "non-vulnerable" or "less vulnerable" adults completely on the same premise.

> "Well it is known that criminals don't care about the laws, right?"

Please enlighten us to your alternate proposal to having a functioning society that is not based in a concept of a Code of Laws.

Do you think criminals care about the laws? Do you disagree with what I've said, or are you trying to be fallacious here and imply that because I don't have a solution, it somehow renders my claim wrong and makes criminals care about the laws? Additionally, I did not claim that a society shouldn't have laws. It's a broad subject, if you want to gain some knowledge, perhaps you could start here:






You're intelligent and rational. I hope you hold me with the same regard. However, the tone, structure of your arguments (namely, lots of wide assertions with scant evidence), and combative reactions is getting in the way of the points you are trying to make. It makes no matter if a view is the correct (for a certain definition of correct) one if one cannot communicate it effectively.

My prior response was a very human one, equally as intellectually worthless as to the non-sequitor it is in reply to. By definition criminals don't follow laws. It's a circular kind of logic. Hence, trying to claim I am fallacious for highlighting this kind of lack of intellectual rigor I find insulting (Edit: Providing sources without commentary and telling me to "get informed" does not make a compelling argument). That I am expected to resolve this circular logic in a way that suits you is ideological entrapment that allows you to weasel out by playing the "I didn't claim that" card which I find boring and lazy and not an argument at all. Hence me trying to immediately resolve the ambiguity and move onto more productive areas of discussion by directly challenging the circular logic, and your predictable response trying to play said "I am being straw-manned". I prefer moving forward together, but cannot do it alone. I need your input.

I am sure you have great ideas but please consider working on your delivery.

> However, the tone, structure of your arguments (namely, lots of wide assertions with scant evidence), and combative reactions is getting in the way of the points you are trying to make. It makes no matter if a view is the correct (for a certain definition of correct) one if one cannot communicate it effectively.

Emphasis on tone, and I do get that. People don't like my tone, and they don't like being told they are at fault and that they are doing a terrible job at being parents. By "effectively", you mean by sugarcoating the message I'm trying to convey? Look, my point was that prohibition, when there are other alternatives that doesn't involve depriving other people of something, won't make you any less responsible for your child. Look at some of the responses to my comments regarding that, it's fascinating to think that some of these people may really be parents.

> By definition criminals don't follow laws. It's a circular kind of logic.

My problem is that people are too keen on regulating and prohibiting anything in the name of safety and whatnot and do actually believe it's going to be effective. It's not.

Let's say you - a law-abiding citizen - need a "good reason" which is determined by the court to carry a knife, and good reason does not include self-defense, and it excludes any knives that would be actually effective against perpetrators with a knife, for example. Now, by definition a criminal doesn't care about this law, and you have no ways of defending yourself. How is this legislation (prohibition) in favor of the law-abiding citizen? It straight out deprives said citizen from the means of defending themselves. In addition to that, pepper sprays are also illegal. How are you supposed to defend yourself by other than running away (not doable in many scenarios), not going outside and assuming they won't break into your house, or hiring bodyguards when you can't afford it? Just put yourself in a scenario. You are a law-abiding citizen and you live in London. I hope you agree that there are many areas that are not exactly safe. Do you like the fact that you are unable to defend yourself without breaking the law? Prohibition is not exactly on your side, is it? What do you think?


https://www.gov.uk/buying-carrying-knives https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/firearms

For some fun:

https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/21/section/127 or the full response at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/203615.

We can always return to Feudalism, might makes right.

Slower speeds can reduce the chances of death on impact.

Slower speeds can increase the time to get from A to B therefore increasing fatigue which decreases attention which could lead to accidents, albeit they might not be completely fatal.

It's a great game, isn't it?

> Most laws are actually against thing that can lead to bad situation.


> You can buy, using real money, a virtual ticket for a virtual item. Then that virtual item can in turn often be sold to others for real money.

This exactly describes cryptocurrency.

It also describes stocks, and anything non-tangible which you can sell for money. I'm not sure what your point is, unless it's just "cryptocurrencies are like money", which was the point your parent was making with that statement about tokens in games. The part that makes it gambling is that you gamble with them, which maybe you can argue you do with cryptocurrencies, but the fact that they're "virtual" isn't really relevant to the question of whether buying them is "gambling". You can of course buy physical items such as art in the hopes of selling them at a profit, and buy "virtual" items such as bonds which are not very risky at all.

I played MtG a bit in my teens through early twenties, and I think that one difference was that a pack of cards had positive expected value. The set of cards you got would generally cost more to buy individually than you'd pay for the pack.

Is this the case for these loot boxes?

As a side note, I remember MtG being called "cardboard crack" back in the day, including by those who played it.

That might have been the case at some points in the history of MtG but I don't think recent sets have had positive expected value. For the most part you pay less just getting the cards you need.

Or use the opening of packs for actual gaming with the various ways to play with them.

The entire mobile app store economy needs major regulation. The platform operators have shown they are willing to allow hugely profitable apps whose business models prey on gambling tendencies in children and they will look the other way, while bragging about their curation of their stores in some cases. It's shameful hypocrisy.

The entire industry knows this is going on. Parents have complained for years, but nothing's changed.

> gambling tendencies in children

I believe adults are the real whales they're after. Most children have no way to pay for virtual goods. It's adults who even know they are gambling, but they enjoy it just like adults enjoy gambling in a casino.

I think you're right, but there's also a decent amount of stories involving a kid with their parents credit card and the parent not noticing the kid was running up a huge balance until their bill came. But yeah, those are realistically pro ably exceptional cases.

Those super-rare cases are something the press can write about. Nobody would read a headline titled "A 40-year old man spent $500 on virtual in-game stuff". Now, just replace 40YO man with a 10YO kid and you have a story.

The mere fact that we aren't swamped with such stories (I can recall reading maybe 4-5 over the past 5 years) confirms that it's really, really rare thing to happen.

I don't think it's a super-rare case, but more towards the norm. Here's Jack Black opining about how his son racked up a $3k bill on in app purchases in a game clearly targeted at kids. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Y4YSpF6d6w

It would be very difficult for a kid to rack up a huge bill on his parents credit card buying virtual items. The majority of websites which offer these items will have purchase limits in place. The limits will gradually increase over time depending on purchase frequency and monthly volume.

There would be no way for a kid to just show up with a credit card and make an out-of-character purchase of $1k+. This is especially true for games with tradeable items. This is true for the same reason that you can't just show up and buy BTC with a Credit Card. Fraud would be rampant.

> apps whose business models prey on gambling tendencies in children

Then it should be the parents' responsibility to educate their children, and not give them a device with a credit/debit card attached to the logged account.

>Then it should be the parents' responsibility to educate their children, and not give them a device with a credit/debit card attached to the logged account.

That won't be enough for many, including the Belgian government, apparently. Even adults are not responsible enough, it would seem, to handle credit or debit cards.

So if we assume gambling should be regulated, and that pay-to-play loot boxes are gambling...

Why haven’t the licensed gambling venues (casinos, lotto, and what have you) pressured the regulators to stop the unlicensed gambling? Or have they and I’m not aware / the regulator is dragging its feet?

Do the licensed gambling entities not perceive this as a threat? Or has gambling revenue increase overall because these games / apps basically groom young people in to being habitual gamblers as they age?

> "Do the licensed gambling entities not perceive this as a threat? Or has gambling revenue increase overall because these games / apps basically groom young people in to being habitual gamblers as they age?"

Probably a little of column A, a little of column B. The kids gambling with these games aren't potential customers for casinos since they're underage, but the habits they form as children may translate into willingness to gamble as adults. Maybe those kids-turned-adults will continue to gamble with video games instead of casinos, but I'd wager those casinos expect it to be a net positive for them overall. After all casinos offer "perks" that video games can't; free drinks, buffets, etc..

I bet it's somehow not on their radar. Because they have done this in the past. They shut down online poker in the US in 2011 by paying off a couple Senators to attach the ban into a Port Security act, which most legislators didn't want to not pass as they don't want to appear weak on security (also they probably didn't read the whole act).

My Dad's a great poker player and his secondary source of income vanished overnight. He still complains about it.


I'm still annoyed. It really clamped down on the culture.

Presumably because the regulator has nothing to do with the issue before a court determines that loot box providers fall under their jurisdiction.

That's just being pedantic. Swap out "pressured the regulators" with "lobby the lawmakers" and his question is perfectly valid. Let's not pretend large corporations like casinos can't throw their weight around politically.

it needs what is called a 'purge', most games are blatant ripoff's that should not even be allowed on the store. google doesn't even provide a way to locate the most recent additions of games, so how the heck do folks even have a 'fighting' chance of getting recognized or finding that 'treasure'. at minimum, they should allow viewing of all recently added games and start purging games from the app store. after 1 year, charge the developer money to retain their status, you just can't leave games on their 'foreever' especially when they are crappy knockoffs.

Mobile app stores are shovelware galore. Admission standards are in the toilet and they're flooded with thousands upon thousands of reskinned garbage "games" that frequently rely on superficial similarities to smash hit games in order to confuse users so they buy them, or at least launch to view ads. Reskinning is a whole industry, with people capable of launching several "games" every single day.

We developers are to be blamed for this.

When Apple had long and thoightful review practices we treated them as the business murderers. And yet here we are asking exactly for their long and painful review process to have a comeback.

What is your suggestion? I am all for the Play store way of working; cheap to get your software out there. But indeed that made it a complete mess like you say, so my thinking is that there needs to be a more advanced way of sorting and searching (this is Google right?) to a) not only favor the most popular games b) to let the crapware sink to the bottom. For now this tagging is probably a human process which is why it will never happen as it needs to be humans employed by google not just users; users are not very good at this. Most I know do not see the difference between the real game and the knockoff so they vote positive. I would think some nlp/ml could pick up likely knockoffs fast and penalize them; they need something in the name and graphics to make users recognize it. I would be against barriers of admission, more for better filtering and search. Not sure why the search is so bad... I search google.com and then click to the play store for the best results; that seems so backwards...

I mostly agree with the idea. Many F2P apps prey on people and something should be done.

That said I'm curious what happened and why these things are so addictive. As a kid I collected Wacky Packages. They were parody stickers that came in a pack of like 3 or 5 with a stick of gum just like Baseball Cards. While I probably owned 150 stickers or so I would never have considered myself addicted nor my friends. We were into them for a couple of months, probably spent no more than $20 total each.

Compare to my nephew who was into Pokemon Cards and spent hundreds of dollars. Of course I new a few kids that seriously into baseball cards but they were the exception. With Pokemon cards it seemed much much better. Also before that a large percentage of my adult friend spent hundreds on Magic the Gathering cards. Some spent thousands.

Now we have IAP in apps and some people are spending like crazy.

What happened? What made Magic the Gathering and Pokemon so big compared to Baseball Cards? What made IAP so big? I can only guess 2 things about IAP. One that it's super each to buy being connected directly to your account. Two that being a video game they can more easily use psychological techniques to manipulate people. That might explain the IAP issues. Not sure it explains Pokemon + Magic the Gathering vs Baseball Cards.

Any ideas?

> What made Magic the Gathering and Pokemon so big compared to Baseball Cards?

I grew up with Pokemon and I might have some answer for that.

Before Pokemon I had a binder of basketball cards. I collected them but I never had a lot of them. Some of them were cool and shiny, some were split into three parts so they were three smaller cards in one and I liked those as well. Additionally I had a favorite team; the Chicago Bulls and of course those cards were special to me as well. Still though there wasn't much you could really do with the basketball cards and I think probably the same goes with baseball cards right? I had my binder, I'd sit down and flip through the binder, I'd trade cards with others now and then.

When Pokemon came, it took our school by storm. We were all watching the Pokemon anime on TV, we were playing Pokemon on our Gameboy Color units, and we played Pokemon the trading card game (TCG).

Pokemon the TV series told the story of a boy that was about our age. He went on a grand adventure, he was considerate towards his Pokemons and towards others. But most importantly, he was on a mission to catch them all and to become the very best. This idea; catch them all and become the very best is repeated pretty much non-stop throughout the whole TV series and the movies.

So Ash Ketchum (the main character of the first series) becomes an idol for us kids and we want to be like him. We want to become Pokemon masters.

We play the Gameboy game day out and day in when we are at home. Grinding, grinding, grinding. Battling. Grinding. Advancing in the game. The school did not allow us to bring our Gameboys though. However we played the Pokemon TCG a lot during recess. We also played the Pokemon TCG at home because it was fun -- it wasn't just a substitute for the Gameboy game, but nonetheless I think the fact that we were not allowed to bring our Gameboys to school made us play the TCG even more at school than we would have otherwise. But I think it was good that we were not allowed to bring our Gameboys to school. Playing the TCG was a much more social activity IMO.

So we play the TCG and we all want to be the very best. How do you become best? You build the best deck. But there is no single best deck. The strength of your deck depends on what your opponent has in his/her deck. Also the best cards are more rare than the others of course. Additionally the drawings on the cards were awesome and everyone wanted shiny cards which were also rare.

It was a perfect storm. Very very clever marketing.

I think Pokemon contributed a lot to my childhood though and I am happy that Nintendo made Pokemon.

F2P apps that use dark patterns and psychological tricks to extract money from their userbase might actually be closer in nature to Pokemon than I'd like to admit but still it feels fundamentally different. You might argue that in a way the Pokemon TCG was "pay to win" and in a way I would agree but at the same time the TCG still depended on being able to balance your deck correctly and there was always a strong element of randomness that no amount of money could get rid of for you.

In conclusion, with the Pokemon TCG you had both the prettiness of the cards (some kids collected only and never played even) but you also have the utility of the cards in playing a game combined with the best cards being rare, causing many of us to buy as many of them as we could get money for from our parents so that we could build better decks than our friends had and beat them and also so that we could show off our rarest cards to one-another.

Speaking of rarity; I know there are some baseball cards that are more rare than others. I don't know if the same goes for basketball cards but when we collected basketball cards there was never any talk about rarity. Perhaps likewise rarity of baseball cards was not something that kids "knew about"? With Pokemon cards you knew for example that shiny cards were rare because you could tell from the fact that you usually did not get any of them in the booster packs and the full decks contained like one of them or so, so it was immediately obvious that the shiny cards were "special". The Pokemon cards also had various markings that we attributed value to.

Furthermore, with Pokemon you knew the Pokemons from the show and everyone had their favorite Pokemon. For many of the Pokemons, multiple different cards existed, so there were more than just one card to collect for each of the Pokemons that you liked among the 151 Pokemons. Additionally, there were other types of cards that were needed for the game, including "trainer cards" that gave special powers or other advantages and there were "potions" and there were "energy colors" that you needed for attacks. The energy cards were the least valuable because they were so common. Some rare kinds of energy cards existed as well of course but everyone had way more energy cards than they needed. There were some trainers and potions that were very common as well, and some Pokemons that were too. But sometimes you'd find that other kids wanted the cards that you didn't want and you'd trade with them. For example I once traded a common Pikachu card with a kid that was obsessed with Pikachu and he gave me a card that in my eyes was much better, so we both ended up very happy from that trade.

I also remember there was a series of Pokemon cards that were not the TCG type cards. Neither me nor anyone I knew liked those cards, exactly because you couldn't do anything with them other than to just look at them whereas with the TCG cards you could both look at them and play with them. So definitely the being able to play with them aspect was hugely important.

A lot of the "rarity" with baseball cards was that they weren't inherently rare on release, but that the player on the card became a standout for the team afterwards, and therefore, owning the "rookie" card for them (when they were relatively unknown) was a game of patience and luck. Also, baseball has a avid fanbase that is focused on statistics, and the back of the cards would have the player's stats. I don't doubt that the statistics were available in published manuals back then, but having them on a card made straight comparisons across players easier than flipping across multiple pages.

Luckily in this modern day we have the luxury of

    grep -re '(Joe Schmoe|John Doe)'

I see this as a result of the evolution of data-driven optimisation (as a methodology) in concert with data becoming increasingly more available.

Back in the day of stickers/baseball cards your data granularity was probably down to state/city-level sales by month.

Now in the world of F2P gaming, you have per-minute per-user level of data. You're able to A/B the uplift in sales: - for introducing slot-machine like sound effects when opening the loot box - adding flashes when you open the loot box - giving out fewer lootboxes per hour - introducing more rare and powerful things in the lootbox

You have "engagement" people who's sole job is to make stuff addictive nowadays, no longer is it a few people's job to dream up something fun to use and collect. It's now a cynical and scientific exercise to ruthlessly optimise IAP.

Many F2P apps prey on people and something should be done.

I was on the train the other day, the girl sitting next to me was playing one of those games where you have to watch an ad to get to the next level.

Just as she was about to level up the train went into a tunnel so the ad wouldn’t play. Within seconds literally she was frantic, eyes staring, pounding the screen with her finger, I almost thought she would crack the glass.

If that’s not addiction I don’t know what is. Makers of these games need to take a good hard look at themselves in the mirror.

I've had a regular end-user who is not in the industry plain-face defend this as an inevitable progression of the improvement of content rather than shady dark-patterns and cynical psychological manipulation. "And what's the big deal that X wants to play candy crush all the time cos it's fun."

"And what's the problem in putting heroin in Coca-Cola if it makes everyone feel good?" is my usual stance on that matter, unfortunately not everyone shares my view of the link between UX dark-patterns and addictive substances.

I know you just used it as an example, but personally I thought Candy Crush wasn't that bad of an offender as most modern games.

You could play pretty far into the game without spending a dime (except $0.99 after every 20 levels or so if you didn't want to bug your friends to log in and help get you the ticket to unlock the next section...).

I'm pretty sure I got to like level 128 without using any of their consumable items except in one level where I was forced to as a tutorial, and another level where I used one I was given for free because I had replayed the level too many times and was sick of it.

You do have limited 'lives' per day (and then they try to sell you on getting more to keep playing), but I saw that as a daily challenge of how far I could get before the lives depleted, since as long as I kept beating levels I didn't lose lives, and once it did, I quit for the day.

All in all, I got a lot of enjoyment out of that game and only spent less than $10. And that money spent was easily worth it.

That being said, I have heard that the later levels are absolutely brutal, and are nearly impossible to beat without using the consumables or getting damn lucky with the types and patterns of candy that appeared, so it may get more predatory at that point.

You heard right- they do t just get harder though.

They get far far more random- often times you only have one or two possible moves, or you have one okay move and a couple useless moves near the top of the screen. That turns it into literally a slot machine.

So it becomes absolutely a matter of trying 20 times, and the game only gives you three free lever pulls per 24 hours.

I always feel that the, "What's the big deal?" argument to defend things like this is just a way for the person making the argument to not think about the situation at hand, and the negative consequences of it.

It’s a pretty well understood psychological system of variable rewards.

It’s the same reason people open up Facebook or Reddit or Hacker News every day: you don’t know what interesting content you’ll see and that keeps you coming back.

Except games aren’t social network filled with user generated content. Developers make the content (items, skins etc) and have figured out that presenting in a randomised way drives better engagement.

Never into Pokémon or MtG, but aren’t they a ToTALLY different thing from baseball cards?

The purpose of Pokémon and MtG cards are to use them in games/competitions, where the more desirable/expensive cards yield a game advantage.

But baseball cards were(are) primarily used for fans of the players/game, to learn about players (stats),not a game in itself. Sure some cards were more desirable than others, but more for bragging than game advantage.

I think the more comparable to Pokémon and MtG, is fantasy sports leagues where the addiction is rampant.

You are right there are differences, but I don't think they are so huge.

Collecting something, having a binder with your collection, showing it to people... is an attractive activity for many, and may not be that different from playing against said people.

I was deep into MtG (playing in tournaments, wining a few small ones, throwing a few hundred bucks at it), although I've never gotten into any other collection hobby.

To me, playing was the best part and what gave meaning to the rest of it. I loved the competitiveness, and coming up with strategies... but also the social aspects of it, of seeing others do the same activities. Many of these social aspects can still be there for "collecting without playing"-alternatives right? I enjoyed greatly seeing rare cards in other peoples collection, and getting a few of my own (rare editions, customized units, misprints...)

So yeah, for people that only care about the competitive aspects, MTG is totally different from baseball cards; for others, both hobbies may share many aspects.

Imagine if you could get your Wacky Packages or Pokemon cards instantly at any time? When I was younger I would have to travel to a shop (which requires begging my parents to take me) just to buy some pokemon cards.

Nowadays, the parent's card is on their app store account and the kid can press a button to receive their instant gratification. It's just too easy...

Combine that with the fact the collecting aspect is attached to an addictive video game.

Is there a game you can play with baseball cards? If not, then I'd say this is the reason. People like to win.

Pokemon have had the games and 20 years worth of TV series that are pretty much extended ads.

For IAP: Instant gratification coupled with tons of analytics. Being able to tweak the balance until you get just enough valuable items to continue even if you don't get the item you really badly want. Making it into a weapons race or status race with other players (I once used about $200 on buying boosts in a niche online strategy game because another player pissed me off enough that I "bankrolled" an entire alliance just to see him lose; I subsequently closed my account and never played the game again, as I realized how easy it'd be to keep throwing money at it - it felt worth it for the satisfaction that once, but it'd have been a really bad habit to get into).

Magic the Gathering cards have a use beyond collecting. Its an actual game people play, and card prices are driven not only by their rarity, but their utility. Usually when a card spikes in price it is because someone somewhere has made a successful deck archetype that utilizes the card.

That's why most decks played in competitive Magic only have 75 cards, but usually average several hundred dollars, sometimes pushing 1000 in some formats.

When playing physical card games like Magic the Gathering or Pokemon, you are constrained in who can play against due to the physical nature of the cards. The "best" decks you play against are your friends and other players around you, unless you are at the point where you are specifically entering tournaments.

I know when I played for a bit back during my school days it was just me and a couple friends who did it fairly casually, so there was very little pressure to spend lots of money to build a great deck. And if someone did try to spend tons of money we probably would have harassed them about it anyways.

The problem is nowadays, due to the online nature of these games, is that you aren't just playing with friends and other people near you, you are playing with anyone who happens to be online. That means you are much more likely to play against people with good decks who spent lots of money building that deck. So the pressure is much greater to also spend money.

  > why these things are so addictive
Possible reason: http://psychopathsandlove.com/intermittent-reinforcement/

People have a better understanding of how much they're spending when they use hard currency instead of an electronic charge. IAP just don't feel like spending money the same way handing bills to a retail clerk for some cards does.

I think it's just people have more money to gamble.

Baseball cards became a thing because Americans already had too much money. Other countries that got hit by world wars didn't have baseball cards.

New milenium came and now money is more useless than ever and people have much eadier time to gamble it away.

Maybe because other countries do not play baseball? (Except japan Canada Cuba and a few other island countries)

The UK and Ireland had cards representing Premiership soccer players. You would buy a book in which to collect the cards and the goal was to fill in every player on every team in the league.

The cards were sold in packs of ten or something, and kids used to trade them with each other in the playground.

Yeah, we had Italian Football player cards because Italy loves football.

Uh, you're forgetting a few hundred million people in South America and Korea.

> Baseball cards became a thing because Americans already had too much money.

This reminded me that I should start collecting the Panini stickers for the upcoming football World Cup. The only issue is that I've read recently that they doubled in price and I had a hard-time convincing myself to throw money their way even they were cheaper, much less now, with the current price. Which is a shame, because I first collected World Cup Panini stickers 25 years ago, when I was a kid.

A good game around it.

I agree - the fact that MT:G is actually an extremely good game seems to be underestimated here. I spent a fair amount of money on that game when I played it but almost exclusively the (at the time) $10 fee to play in a draft. So that was a social and gaming thing more than a get-cards thing. Since I was pretty bad I never got first pick of the good cards anyway.

kind of like a company behind a share.

My suspicion is that more parents are tolerant of wasting money on such things and enabling their children than in the past.

You can't compare Magic the Gathering with loot boxes or maybe only the online version of that game. If you play MTG, you own a real card...

> Many F2P apps prey on people and something should be done.

Don't play the games then.

Same thing is true of football cards here in Europe, to complete 1 sticker book, like for the forthcoming world cup someone calculated will cost something like £1500.

I can't remember the numbers, but there's 32 teams of 11 players (not including subs), there's 8 cards in a pack, of which there are typically 2-3 duplicates, so you need to buy multiples of the same team just to complete one team and then swap with friends at school to complete the others.

And that's the hook that gets ~~kids~~ parents buying, it's the element of peer pressure. My boy is not into football and isn't collecting the cards, he's currently a social outcast as a result. Fortunately, he has a strong character and isn't bothered by it, but peer pressure is the answer to your question IMO.

Edit: typos.

So, like, pokemon card packs and lego packs and friends should be illegal too.

There are you tube videos my kids liked to watch of people just literally opening pokemon packs. I'd actually be OK with making this illegal.

Especially considered the frenzied buying and selling of pokemon cards at their school..

This is actually pretty huge. There is a very massive industry both virtual and non that relies on preying on kids and their gambling instinct.

Steam makes a lot of money on Counter Strike via this.

I'm all for seeing items with random distribution inside as gambling too. I recall the monetary value of some pokemon cards caused my school to ban them. This didn't really have any effect other than to allow the school to say, "well, they are banned," if there was any fights or thefts relating to them. I think they probably had a net social negative amongst my friends at the time. In fact the only social positive I saw from them was in getting people, who wouldn't otherwise interact, interacting -- which wasn't always a good thing.

But I do see a few tiny differences in general between loot boxes and physical items like trading cards:

1. the packet does contain physical items which cost money to produce, whereas a duplication of a virtual item is effectively the distribution cost.

2. Retailers made a profit on physical items too. With virtual items sold by developer-publishers like EA and Valve, it's really just one party.

3. There is typically no limit on the number of loot boxes you can purchase. With physical items there is the stock of the shop.

4. Loot boxes can in some cases be purchased with other people's (usually parents) cards by default and without their immediate knowledge.

5. It isn't routine for somebody to give you a pack of physical tradable items for free to go and feel what they are like. If you go and buy them, there is a small amount of honesty in terms of what you are getting. With loot boxes, you are presented with them through in game events and then provided with the opportunity to buy more.

6. With physical items, you don't know how things are distributed but you can be reasonably certain that they can't be targeted at you. If you're looking for card X, the shopkeeper usually has no way of knowing what pack contains that and withholding that pack from you to maximise profit. You have no idea how the loot boxes are distributed. It is entirely possible for developers to detect when somebody is "hooked", work out what they are after, and attempt to maximise profit by withholding the desired item.

The only thing that could prevent such abuses is to regulate loot boxes as gambling as several countries have now done and respond with immense penalties where regulations are violated (a multiple of what would be made * estimated chance of being caught or a fraction of published turnover).

>If you're looking for card X, the shopkeeper usually has no way of knowing what pack contains that and withholding that pack from you to maximise profit.

Although I believe they do weigh Pokemon booster packs to find the ones with more valuable shiny cards.

I actually have a coworker that's very active in the Pokémon community, and there are now countermeasures to make this ineffective. IIRC, there are now variances in the weight of a "code card" inside the pack.

Most physical things also has some amount of virtual value if you compare the production cost. Especially Pokemon cards et.al cost almost nothing to produce and has a high virtual value. Or some expensive brands.

> There are you tube videos my kids liked to watch of people just literally opening pokemon packs. I'd actually be OK with making this illegal.

You want to make something illegal because you don't like it, because you can't be bothered to parent your children.

And most adults have no idea how to work out what the expected spend is to complete a set.

For a set of 16 Lego figures (ignoring attempts to squidge the packet before buying, but also ignoring swaps) you'd expect to buy over 50 packs.


It can cost hundreds of dollars to complete a panini book, and that's with vigorous swapping.

I agree with you about Pokémon cards and Lego minifig packs. They should be regulated.

With the Lego minifigs, collectors often try to get their hands on an unopened box of 60 packs, since each box has the same mix of figures. Open packs and then sell on unwanted ones.

I think candy should be outlawed too. I'd actually be OK with make this illegal. Kids are obviously just addicted to the stuff, it is clearly no good for them, and there is a massive industry both virtual (candy crush) and non (physical candy) that preys, sorry, PREYS on humans sweet tooth instinct. Nestle makes a lot of money in convenience stores via this.

Lego packs? Don't all boxes of a lego set include the same pieces?

There are Lego 'blind bags' for mini figurines, which do not let you see the content of the bag before opening it. The bag contains one mini figure from a predefined set, and some characters in the set are more rare than others.

All blind bags cost the same amount, but the rarity aspect could encourage kids to buy more bags in an effort get lucky and find the rare figure. This could be construed as gambling.

Wow, way to destroy your credibility there Lego.

I thought they were above shithead tactics like this.

The people that are buying the Lego collectible minifigure packs are not typically children. It's clearly targeted at the AFOL audience.

A Disney themed minifig blind bag clearly marked as being for ages 5+ is something young kids want, regardless of any attempted AFOL targeting.

I don't honestly know if lootboxes are gambling or not, but it's time to be honest with the mechanisms behind them, and follow Chinese and Japanese regulations: be transparent and open about the probabilities behind them. Yes, even if it includes pity counters, etc.

Apple has started mandating this: https://www.polygon.com/2017/12/21/16805392/loot-box-odds-ru...

But Steam, Google Play, PlayStation, XBox, and smaller platforms all need to follow suite, very quickly. Or they'll face even harsher legislations around the world.

Was your use of the phrase "follow suite" intentional? Because if so, bravo, that's the funniest thing I've read all day :)

Classical typo, enhanced by non-native writer skills ;-)

Haha! I actually missed the typo altogether. I thought you were intentionally using a phrase originating in gambling ("follow suit") as a joke, given the context.

I didn't know this idiom's etymology, but I'll remember now that it originated from card games :-) https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-origin-of-the-expression-t...

Games in which you follow suit are not generally gambling games.

Bridge is the first that springs to mind, and that is most definitely a gambling game.

Do you say that because of the bidding mechanism itself, or is there actually a culture of wagering on bridge games? I wasn't aware of that.

The latter - although I've read that it's never attracted the kind of money you see in high stakes poker.

On the one side I am glad that they banned such in-app purchases because sometimes it can get ridiculous on how much people (especially young children without realizing the cost) spend on them but I can't help but feel the irony because many "more legacy" things offer similar system. I remember spending far more then $100 for soccer stickers. You would basically buy a pack of maybe 10 stickers and you didn't know if you needed them or not. There were also stickers that were less common so in the end you ended up with over 300 excess stickers just to complete a book and you ended up doing that every other year for the euro and world championship.

I don't think there is much of a difference and both cases should be more regulated (especially those catering to children who do not know any better).

I was thinking exactly this - I'm not massively clear on where loot boxes and blind-pack card games/sticker collectables differ. Both are fixed price products where you don't know the contents, with the value of said contents varying massively from the invested cost, along with the ability to trade/sell the contents on secondary markets.

Trading Pokemon cards, I reckon I spent more on booster packs trying to get a Charizard than I've spent on all of the chests, loot boxes and packs in games, for nothing more than a piece of card that (sadly) eventually gets water damaged...

> I'm not massively clear on where loot boxes and blind-pack card games/sticker collectables differ. Both are fixed price products where you don't know the contents, with the value of said contents varying massively from the invested cost, along with the ability to trade/sell the contents on secondary markets.

I'm also not clear how this differs from an MMO where you kill monsters over and over hoping for piece of random loot that can then be virtually sold.

Two difference with an MMO are that it needs some sort of skill to kill the beast; and time makes it so you can't just mash a button and max out your credit card.

It's exploiting dopamine hits but not as aggressively, and it doesn't - presumably - cost real money every time you try.

It's exploiting dopamine hits but not as aggressively, and it doesn't - presumably - cost real money every time you try.

Yeah, I'm not a big fan of the people in these discussions who gloss over the "pay money to roll the dice" portion of the gambling issue.

The difference is the effort involved to get to the "gambling". With loot boxes, packs, slot machines, whatever you put your money in, start your process (open the pack, pull the handle) and watch the outcome.

With an MMO you have to put time and effort into it. It is, in essence, work. And if you don't like the results you can work some more. It would be the same as selling access to a gold panning stream for a lame real world analogy.

The issue with lootboxes specifically is twofold; one, lootboxes generally hold much less content than a pack of cards or stickers. Overwatch, for example, has four items a pack.

The second issue is that a physical object, like cards or stickers, does at least feel like a physical object, in that it's very easy to tell if you start having an excessive amount of them. On the other hand, on a lootbox, there isn't really a innate difference in response to buying one vs buying one hundred. So it eases some of the friction as well.

But the difference between 10 cards and a virtual object is very small. At least for small children. They can understand that a big object (a bike, a big Lego building, etc) must be expensive but I believe children are not really able to understand that a few cards are so expensive. Even rational people can't understand the physical value of a very small pack of cards -- they can only appreciate the virtual or artificial value, so the difference between a few cards (which hold a virtual value) and virtual loot boxes is very tiny.

But where are children getting the money to spend on this? Shouldn't their parent know better than to let them spend $100 on stickers or loot boxes. Passing the regulation on to the governments seems like an unnecessary measure to me.

Like with much in law things exist in an context. In order to compare physical card packs to loot boxes one has to first figure out the market size of each.

So I took a glance doing a few Google searches and it seems that physical card packs has a global market of a few billions. The number varies a lot since some of the data include card trade as well as pack sells. One data point argued a 450 million from news packs and 3 billions from card trade, specific for sport cards. For loot boxes I would estimate the number to be around 100x of that, give or take. For every $10 in the past there is $1000 dollar being spent on virtual packs.

It seems reasonable to me that a government body might not care too much about a $450 million industry, but do care a lot when it is a $100 billion industry.

On which numbers is your 100x estimation based? Or is it just some number you made up.

I did say that I took a glance at google search. This is not a academic paper with careful study with tight citations from the last 100 years. If you want that, go and do the work yourself.

Here is a few new random google glances: https://venturebeat.com/2017/11/28/newzoo-game-industry-grow... $116 billion in total video game market, $50 billion for just the mobile market. How much of that is micro transaction? Don't know. How much is loot boxes. Don't know.

Blizzard reported more than half their revenue, $4 billion, was from micro-transactions. https://www.gamespot.com/articles/activision-blizzard-made-4...

EA reported similar $2 billion, almost half of their revenue, from micro-transactions. https://www.tweaktown.com/news/57475/ea-earns-1-68-billion-m...

According to this random article, loot boxes are around $30 billion this year and expected to reach $50 billions in 4 years. https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2018-04-17-loot-boxes...)

I understand the idea but what apply to loot boxes may apply to a lot of things.

The first ones are trading cards, including games like "Magic: the Gathering". If you are lucky, you can sell a card you got from a booster pack for way more than what you originally paid. And chances that you can don't even have to leave the shop to do it.

What makes gambling is that you get money for money, not worthless prizes like in the case of most loot boxes. It is an additional risk because there is always hope that you will be able to recover your losses and you may spend more than you can afford. With loot boxes and most other random prizes, it is clear that while you may get something nice, that money will be gone for good.

As for game developers, they don't lack options for Skinner box schemes. Loot boxes are just one among others, there are things like energy systems that are popular on mobile games that don't involve chance but have the same effect of making you spend more money than originally intended.

It is just that loot boxes look more like gambling, even though it isn't really, and are disliked by the majority. The rest is politics.

I see other posters saying that it has to do with probabilities and the way they're designed or how you can play a game with the cards etc... and I disagree.

I think what triggered the problem with lootboxes is that the monetary value of the items is immediately obvious and you can trade those items without any friction over the internet at any moment. For many games an item is just equivalent to some amount of money. It's not a good, it's casino tokens that you can exchange for real money at the counter. Selling cards, especially before the internet, was way more complicated and most 12yo at the time probably wouldn't bother unless they were extremely lucky and managed to acquire a very expensive card "charlie and the chocolate factory" style. Cards have pretty limited liquidity, unlike digital goods that can be traded quickly and safely across continents in an instant.

I don't play a ton of games featuring random item drops but if I look at my Steam inventory for instance I can get the immediate value at which any item is trading (including loot boxes and their keys, but also skins, cards, emoticons, profile backgrounds...). Valve itself plays into this by tracking the price and making it easily available to anybody. You can directly, from Steam, trade these items for money (well, money locked into your Steam account, but money nonetheless).

On the other hand when I was a teen and played Magic: The Gattering most of the time I had no idea of the value of an individual card and checking it would have involved buying specialized magazines (the internet was only in its infancy at the time). We traded cards only for other cards and based mostly on our own subjective assessment of their relative values and how they fit into our decks (or even if the drawing looked cool), not based on some global card exchange with real-time trading.

On top of this there are a huge number of 3rd party "casino" sites for these in-game items who add another layer of gambling on top of the lootbox concept. Those websites don't hesitate to pay Twitch streamers to "play" on their site, sometimes even tweaking the odds to make them win more than average to make it even more enticing for the (often very young) watchers. It's scummy as hell and while Valve & friend don't directly partake in this they very clearly enable this behavior with their policies (and they APIs).

I could see the point of somebody arguing that MtG and Pokemon are gambling but these video game economies are on a whole other level.

>I think what triggered the problem with lootboxes is that the monetary value of the items is immediately obvious and you can trade those items without any friction over the internet at any moment. For many games an item is just equivalent to some amount of money. It's not a good, it's casino tokens that you can exchange for real money at the counter. Selling cards, especially before the internet, was way more complicated and most 12yo at the time probably wouldn't bother unless they were extremely lucky and managed to acquire a very expensive card "charlie and the chocolate factory" style. Cards have pretty limited liquidity, unlike digital goods that can be traded quickly and safely across continents in an instant.

If this were really what they wanted to target then they should have applied the law to loot boxes with tradable items. I don't play most of the games, but at least in Overwatch the random items are completely locked to your account. You get the ability to use whatever skins, voice lines, etc. you find in the box and there is absolutely no secondary market or anything else to do with them.

> Those websites don't hesitate to pay Twitch streamers to "play" on their site, sometimes even tweaking the odds to make them win more than average to make it even more enticing for the (often very young) watchers.

I doubt it was only sometimes. I bet it was pretty much every time. A few have actually been caught red-handed doing just that.

It goes even deeper than that - some of the twitchers/youtubers were caught owning those gambling websites, and claiming no affiliation with them in their videos.

They got caught, prosecuted, and went right back to making money from said sites.

Serious question; why isn't Magic the Gathering illegal? Don't booster packs perform the same function.

Just a guess, but perhaps these card collecting games haven't received the same degree of negative attention because to outsiders the card game aspect obscures the collecting/gambling aspect. With CS:Go skins it may be more obvious to people since skins are something completely extraneous tacked onto the 'real' game, whereas with the card collecting games the cards are an essential component of playing the 'real' game.

Another hypothesis is that video game players who don't partake in loot boxe gambling have become ticked off (perhaps because they perceive the gameplay to be neglected by companies who make their real money from these loot boxes.) These anti-loot video game players may then become activists against loot boxes, drawing broader public attention to the issue. Card collection games probably don't attract/create as many motivated activists calling for regulation and reform.

Someone above did some Googling and concluded that Loot Boxes have 10x the spending that MtG does. It's already a bigger market, despite its relative newness.

This suddenly boom in popularity and the discussions that it has caused has likely caused it to be brought to light more strongly. It's very possible that we'll see them start to aim at physical grab-bags soon as well.

At the time it was considered, but the randomness in the packs was considered a 'sales tactic', not gambling. (I'm not sure wether Carta Mundi, the printer for a.o Magic the Gathering being a Belgian company had anything to do with it). Loot boxes otoh are compared to slot machines.

I know it sounds 'illogical', as they both at first glance seem alike, but there are aspects of difference to consider. Loot boxes are generally packaged with 'addiction triggering' opening ceremonies. Furthermore, the probabilities are not publishes (afaik they are for trading card games), and the digital platform also enables for far more ingenious addiction/purchase/retention inducing psychological gaming than physical card packs.

> addiction triggering

Sorry, but virtual flames shooting out of a box and a "here, you lost" screen doesn't exactly stimulate a dopamine response.

from https://www.pcgamer.com/behind-the-addictive-psychology-and-...

Overwatch's loot box is a masterpiece of audio-visual design. "It's all about building the anticipation. When the box is there you're excited at the possibilities of what could be inside," says senior game designer Jeremy Craig. Click the ‘Open loot box’ button and the box bursts open, sending four disks into the sky. Their rarity is indicated by coloured streaks to further build the suspense. "Seeing purple or gold you start to think about what specific legendary or epic you've unlocked. This all happens so fast, but it was those discrete steps that we felt maximized excitement and anticipation."

Nothing about that sounds substantially addiction producing. Just flashy and designed, like anything else in a video game. Is there a proper study on that being a substantial addiction causing effect compared to card games and such? I've seen people lose ridiculous amounts on completely boring gambling games like SatoshiDice where all they do is push send. The fact that you get the random outcome seems much more likely to be the primary culprit than any flash effects around it.

I get the impression people saying that are just making excuses because they don't like loot boxes as a business model for games. Would you be accepting of it if they replaced it in the game with a simple click and get the result system?

In my childhood, trading cards were often banned in schools because they caused issues related to the gambling aspect.

Just rename it to Magic the Gambling for clarity

I'd find it fair for these games to be classified only for adults.

As for adults however, my philosophy is that we should stop treating them as kids that need to be told what they are and aren't allowed to do. Loot boxes are addictive? So is sugar, alcohol, sex and 1000 other things. Do we want to go down that road?

If someone wants to gamble a percentage of his income, that should be his choice. If he wants to gamble away all his money or even put himself into debt, also his choice.

Belgium has declared loot boxes are illegal because they violate Belgian gambling laws, not because all gambling is outlawed there. They could be implemented in ways that don't, and people would be able to spend their money on them again. Your suggestion that 'these games to be classified only for adults' is exactly what the gambling law says is necessary.

Requiring you to get a gambling license is a bit different than just requiring your games to be classed as adult-only.

For starters there are limits to how many gambling licenses are available from the government each year and companies have to apply and pay for them.

But my comment was mostly targeted to several other comments here that seemed over-eager to accept something should be rendered illegal simply because it's addictive and some people can't control themselves.

So where does this leave sticker albums (Panini, etc) or any other collectable that does not serve what is seen as a generally practical purpose in the World? (don't think that digital vs. physical should play a part in this)

In gambling you are mostly doing it for a clear financial gain: you play for money/fiat. Loot boxes, sticker albums, and so on, the primary purpose is not a financial gain. That is a byproduct and secondary, which some elect to make it their primary purpose for engaging in it.

IMO this is a symptom of people not being able to manage their finances properly and identify potentially destructive behaviours. This would push the solution for the problem to Education, how schools should help people in learning the skills necessary to both manage their money and notice when a certain behaviour they are about to engage in, or repeat one too many times, will produce a generally negative outcome for their mental and financial health.

And no, I'm not a fan of loot boxes. Never bought one and think they are mostly used by the publishers in a very bad, and silly, way.

Not sure when chance is considered gambling, I presume artificial chance?

Does that include bitcin mining, the probability that your facebook post is visible for your friends, the probability that an advertisement is shown to a specific user, is sortition illegal?

I assume that their definition of gambling also requires a payment to be sent to some party who is offering the probabilistic reward. I doubt that bitcoin mining and Facebook posting would qualify.

The gambling commission which made this report/recommendation apparently uses four criteria:

(1) It's a game /* hello, Wittgenstein */

(2) There's a (financial) stake

(3) The player can win or lose (i.e. they're not guaranteed a specific return)

(4) An element of chance is involved

> It's a game /* hello, Wittgenstein */

This element is generally included more to avoid accidentally outlawing insurance and financial securities than out of an idea that fun is inherently evil.

Which is to say, they don't care if something IS a game; they care that it ISN'T something they consider productive.

Oh I understand why that's there, it's just another amusing instance of "I'll know it when I see it" [1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_know_it_when_I_see_it

yes it is another instance of ad hoc after the fact "I know it when I see it".

Since the problem does not affect me specifically (not a child nor a gamer, nor a parent of such a person) I can see why this seems ammusing in the sense that we see lawmmakers drown in their own rules again, even though I don't think it is amusing in general.

In fact it bothers me, because I am very much against "void for vagueness" rules, while in this case it is very hard for me to formalize a general prinicple differentiating good and bad (although I consider a lot of the insurance stuff nonsense tbh...).

If I had to formalize a principle, I think it would start from informed consent: i.e. a lottery ticket should define exactly the probability of each possible return scenario, and also the expectation value of the return. And then in order to legally buy lottery tickets you would need a non-expired certificate that proves you understand expectation value, where the certificate is issued after passing some automated exam say at the city hall. Just passing it once should not suffice to gamble the rest of your life after forgetting how expectation values work.

In this way children, or uneducated adults, or elderly with dementia are prevented from gambling unless they "regularly" prove to society that they understand what an expectation value of return of 50% means (if you buy $1000 worth of lottery tickets with 50% expectation value, on average you get $500 dollar back, and that is already taking into account the cases you win the top prize), and how to calculate this in general...

All the places where the tickets get sold would have to be mystery-shopper checked by the government so that if a place sells a ticket to a person without the valid certified status, they get a big fine.

If the same was done for insurance etc, then at least the consumer can be said to have given informed consent to the transaction. But don't get surprised if suddenly a large part of the population stops different kinds of insurance, or at least systematically en masse switch to whoever has the best offer, putting pressure in order to get democratic pricing of insurance etc...

Not just licenses for the gambling houses, but also for the gamblers, like driver licenses...

It in the article states that you get monetary value out of it, so like in casino you exchange your tokens for money. In games you trade item from loot box, so someone will pay money. If it would be that you cannot exchange it to money it is quite ok.

I’ve never heard about loot boxes before. But I wonder: how is this any different from “Kinder Surprise” (a chocolate egg with a small surprise toy inside that you can buy in supermarkets)?

A key difference would be that the little plastic toys are all nominally the same value. A much closer physical equivalent would be Magic:tG boosters, where the different play values arguably create value differentials. But even they contained a defined mix of different rarity classes, probably to fend off anti gambling laws. And with M:tG boosters, at least you knew the dice were pre-rolled so you could absolutely trust the cards to not be individually stacked against you. Online gaming loot boxes on the other hand can have all kinds of dark patterns hidden in supposedly random distributions that are actually manipulative sequences tailored to each player.

(And also, Kinder Surprise contain chocolate, which makes them infinitely better than any virtual loot box could ever be, but that's just my personal opinion)

Edit: I was assuming gameplay-relevant loot boxes here, apparently some/all of those under Belgian scrutiny are just cosmetic mods, which brings them much closer to the Kinder Surprise analogy (although strictly speaking, I would not consider cosmetics entirely without gameplay effects in something like CS:GO, relative camouflage qualities of avatars were absolutely a consideration no my day)

I don't think Kinder is a good comparison, because the Kinder toys, while they are collectables, largely do not interact with each other. Getting one Kinder toy does not really require you to get the others, the way some of these games hold themed events with limited-time lootbox content.

A better example would be if Barbie, with her thousands and thousands of iterations, completely stopped selling the prepackaged outfits. Instead, you now have to buy a mysterious box, that has one top piece of an outfit, one bottom piece of an outfit, and one accessory. The pieces you get don't necessarily match.

On top of that, there are bigger value packs that give you five random ones of each type, or ten, or a hundred, depending on how much cash you want to spend. And on top of that, let's say that these outfits are impossible to trade.

I basically just described Overwatch lootboxes. The problem is not necessarily the lootboxes, which are fine as an in-game reward earned by completing games or leveling or what have you. The problem is that the only way to purchase more cosmetics is by chance; as a new player, there's no way to get a specific cosmetic guaranteed unless you either grind every waking moment or spend untold amounts of money.

Also worse, that Overwatch pack may contain 1 character skin (that you already own) and then 3 relatively worthless things like sprays, gold etc.

At least when buying a pack of cards you know all of them will be cards.

Most people I know open M:tG packs for trading purposes in large quantities (the 36 packs box, 540 cards, is regarded as far too small to be immune to luck) and trust the market to align the expected value of packs to their cost.

My experience with Kinder Surprise is that is impossible to get all the advertised set. Sometimes is so rare that it makes for collectors quite a huge difference in value. I remember hunting with my kids a certain figurine and after spending quite some time/money on this, we gave up.

Chocolate was good, though.

You know partly what you buy, namely the chocolate egg. That's the main part of the product. Same applies to Happy Meals at McDonald's for instance. Loot boxes have a random distribution over the entire content.

I think the worth of the loot is the difference. The surprise is just nice to have but it's just a piece of plastic, and all of the different ones have the same value.

Where as in e.g. CS:GO you can get weapon skins that are worth thousands of dollars and are even tradeable for real money (via 3rd party sites).

Also because the skins are easily tradeable and have a real money value they are basically virtual casino chips. And they are used on real 3rd party gambling sites, which are completely unregulated and even children can participate. At that point it's beyond the loot boxes, it's real gambling with roulette and everything!

> and all of the different ones have the same value.

Not quite, as I point out in a comment to one of your siblings. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16929805

Those skins though - is there any reason other than gambling/speculation that someone would spend that money on them?

You spend a lot of time as your character in the game... It's maybe nice to give yours an unique look.

The high prices just come from the money that you theoretically need to unbox a rare one. I wonder however who does actually buy those.

It's different in that the prices in these loot boxes can be sold for hundreds of (real) dollars.

The Beanie Babies in McDonald's Happy Meals did too - regulating these away from kids is a good idea, but for adults, I don't see how the digital equivalent of collecting (and maybe selling) random stuffed toys is gambling.

Difference is, the Teenie Babies from the Happy Meals weren't worth anything. Regular Beanie Babies were supposed to have enormous value as a collector's item, but you could order all 12 Teenie Babies as a box set and complete the whole collection without ever ordering a single Happy Meal. They were just toys, not collectors items.

But people did pay outsized amounts for the McDonald's ones.

I've never had a kinder egg, but are they generally purchased for the surprise or the chocolate? Generally speaking, there's no specific guaranteed reward from loot boxes, let alone one that outweighs the randomly chosen loot.

Also, what is the probability distribution for kinder eggs? Most loot boxes have a chance to drop a variety of items at different likelihoods, generally with the most desirable items being very unlikely to drop (0.1-2%, depending on the game).

They (used to?) advertise the special figurines as being "in every 7th egg". So 6 in 7 eggs would have the "shitty". essentially worthless toys in them. Then, a collection of special figurines had an uneven distribution of the particular figurines, e.g. "Papa Smurf" was rarer than other smurfs IIRC.

So yes, basically they are loot boxes, but at least you get chocolate (and a shitty toy).

Unless you were my buddy, who was obese as a kid but also a major collector, trader and seller. His mom prohibited him from eating the chocolate, and yet he still bought hundreds if not thousands of eggs per year, mostly financed by him selling rare collections he previously obtained, on top of his regular allowance. He used to bring huge bags of just the chocolate eggshells to school for us to eat...

Well, it wasn't entirely chance. I once or twice went to the shop with him and watched him select the eggs, by shaking and very carefully listening. He was really good (or really lucky) and IIRC was was close to a 2 in 3 success rate (compared to the 1 in 7 as the ads stated).

From what I recall, I liked the other tiny toys as a kid, and didn't care for the figurines. OTOH, I would describe the quality of the current toys as "shitty", yes. Perhaps it's just the perspective?

Well, some of them were fun to assemble and play with... for like 10 minutes, to then forget about them forever. That's why I called them "shitty".

The figurines also were kinda shitty, but the ads hyped them and it was entirely a hype/collector thing, not intrinsic value, of course.

I can't say I have statistics on the issue, but the surprise is the general motivation amongst my young brothers and their friends. I've seen many who didn't even eat the chocolate.

I think because with the Kinder Surprise you’re always purchasing pretty much the same worthless piece of plastic.

Not really. At least here (in Germany), they have promotional toy lines derived from well-known brands (e.g. I saw a store display promoting Powerpuff Girls toys in Kinder eggs a few days ago). The ads tout a guaranteed probability of finding one of these promoted toys in the egg (every 7th egg wins).

There is a vivid aftermarket for these promoted toys. They're worth more if you collect a full set.

You're right insofar as the non-promotional toys are pretty much only worthless plastic.

They had three pretty great serieses of Lord of the Rings figurines, for every of the three movies when they came out. I recommend to google them up.

The ones I got still have value for me. Even some of the "worthless plastic" toys are actually quite creative (at least you often get some fun assembling them) and thus more than anything that can fall out of a digital loot box. As a child I didn't want to throw them away.

What is not coming up here very often is the irrational customer behaviour of buying digital objects, which will disappear when the servers turn off.

Ah, righteo, I wasn’t aware of that, thanks.

And also trading cards that come in packets with a random selection, like Pokemon.

What about buying card packs in a digital card game like Hearthstone? Does that count as a loot box?

I don't think it does, since you can't sell individual Hearthstone cards for money or trade them between accounts. It's still an ethically questionable business model imo, but it's in a somewhat different category than loot boxes (or physical trading cards).

but they banned Overwatch lootboxes, a purely cosmetic addition to the game that cannot be resold or traded between accounts and has no impact on gameplay. the legislation seems to just be a knee jerk reaction to something that someone told them is bad, without fully understanding the ecosystem. there are definitely some predatory systems out there, but identifying those wrong from the onset makes me think they aren't fully informed here

If you pay fixed price for unknown outcome it should be clasified as gambling/investment and regulated. Odds should be published (if known) or past performance if known, expected value and such. Deviation from any information stated at the moment of sale should nullify the sale and give you your money back. If the company hesitates, funds should be seized immediately and put on hold until people who bought the tickets come for their money.

I have no hard rule about which kinds of gambling/investment should be completely forbidden but all should be scrutinised and some limitations should be imposed. Like a ban on advertising.

App economy is now gambling economy and at some point it will trigger heavy regulations.

How do you foresee this working with insurance policies?

Insurance != Gambling. You will not get more out than you lose. It will only make you whole.

You may get more money out than you put in, but they are compensating you for a loss. You are paying for risk mitigation, not potential profits.

isn't that already regulated?

Isn't this mostly about targeting in-app purchases that offer random awards?

It is

The thing we didn't realise / understand when countries outlawed or restricted gambling is that gambling isn't about the tangible reward per se.

Psychologically some humans receive a very powerful reward sensation specifically for gambles that pay off. It doesn't matter what the "reward" is so much as that they gambled and won, they get their buzz if they win a slice of cake for guessing how many puppies the secretary's greyhound would have, for a $50 win on the scratch-offs, or for finding the rare Pink Darth Vader in the loot box.

This compulsion is very powerful, and when harnessed it can be good for society - ordinary people do not try to fly faster than the speed of sound for the first time - and it can take individuals to the height of high-risk activities most of us wouldn't have the nerve to try, all the very good Poker players are gamblers for example. But it's also potentially catastrophic for the individual, because they can't stop - or at least they don't want to, and gambles never pay off forever.

This means that restricting gambling for money only worked because that was the most harmful practice available that triggered off this harmful pattern. Once video games began to rely on it too, offering $10 "loot boxes", there was a new way for problem gamblers to destroy their lives, even when you can't "cash out" your winnings, because the psychological compulsion doesn't care about that.

What about Kinder Surprise? Are they going to make it illegal?

Is there anything of value in a Kinder Surprise? In my experience it's always been a tiny plastic toy with no (even perceived) monetary value. I think the point is to ban things where people are paying money for random items in the hopes that those random items are worth lots of money so they can resell them.

I would contend that all kinder egg prizes are of equal value, therefore it is not gambling.

Loot boxes which have actually different values should be illegal, but the loot boxes in overwatch don't. They don't change the gameplay of the game at all, having a legendary skin just makes you look cooler and doesn't change your abilities or damage. It also isn't possible to sell/trade the skins, so they don't have any inherent value.

That being said, what about card packs in games like hearthstone? The cards can't be traded or sold, but they do change the gameplay and some cards are inherently stronger than others so gambling and getting "lucky" can give players an advantage. This is definitely closer to gambling than loot boxes in overwatch.

Opening 20 loot boxes in overwatch and getting no legendary skins feels bad but isn't frustrating, you don't need the skins. But opening 20 card packs for a new hearthstone expansion and getting none of the strong legendary cards feels super frustrating, you're at a disadvantage to players that did open those cards.

It's important to note that there's a distinct difference between virtual and physical loot box systems. I've seen collecting MtG cards turn into quite considerable theft, but virtual systems are worse, because

* there's no physical item involved

* the distribution in virtual systems can be changed to the customer's disadvantage

When a kid buys 30 card packs in a store, people notice. Also, holding 30 packs in your hands is very different from opening 30 virtual loot boxes, because the packs and contents don't just disappear into some virtual table.

And then, you can be sure that the distribution of cards has been decided before the packs have been put in the store and not changed on the fly to prey on the customer's addiction and make them buy even more.

Physical loot box systems are still addictive and borderline gambling, but the limits are much more defined.

For those that can read Dutch: Google turned up a copy of a study they did November last year on the issue. Note that this is not the report in which they looked at the four titles in depth, but a broader study looking into 'social gaming', 'Loot boxes', 'Skin gambling' and 'eSports betting' https://ds1.static.rtbf.be/uploader/pdf/d/d/b/rtbfinfo_5c742... [pdf]

I have goggles around a bit but I don't quite get it - what is a loot box, and what are they doing in what i would consider "safe for my kids" games like FIFA and Starwars ?

Look up battlefront 2 for a good explanation. Generally a loot box may be "dropped" as a reward during play, just as games have long given gear or in-game currency. But in this case the loot boxes (which contain gear, in-game currency, or other in-game items of value such as skill ups) cannot be opened without something extra. That something extra is available for a real money fee. In some games the boxes are just bought and open when bought (perhaps the only way to get them), in others you can also open them with time (always slower that your rate of acquisition) or perhaps you can get keys to open them as random drops (always at a lower rate than box acquisition). End result is that in addition to any price you paid for the game itself you can pay to open these which each have a chance to be "worth it", but usually arent.

A few common objections:

Pay-to-win: for those that are focused on skill and competition it sucks to be beaten and taunted by those that beat you because they paid extra to essentially make the game easier.

Balance: many games build their progression curve under the assumption that your stats are improving at a rate that can only be achieved by buying boxes, so the game may be fun but new content frustratingly out of reach unless you pay up.

And in both cases, if you decide to pay up...you probably don't get what you need because of the random and unbalanced design. So you pay again. And again. It is designed to hammer dopamine triggers, so you get just enough of happy payoffs to not stop, but not enough of a payoff to stop either.

Some are fine with the model but object to it hitting children who may not be able to recognize the cost/benefit balance.

Me? I'm glad to see it discouraged as gambling because it is just not fun for the base game. Skill or even just time invested in playing is replaced not only by money, but an unknown amount of money. This distorts game options - think of how many mobile games are time gated constantly with the option to buy stuff (gems, coins, etc) that will let you skip the waiting. Absent the profit, who would make a game where you can play for a few minutes and then have to wait hours to play again? But we fall for it. Or if we don't, we just don't get to play at all.

That's my beef with the "no one makes you play" argument. If i don't play, I'm the one that loses out. If the abuse human weaknesses and make bank (and they do! Unbelievably so), there are no equivalent competing products.

But short story long, that's what loot boxes are and why people object. They aren't a new concept, but they are so successful and profitable that each wave is more extreme.

Thank you

Your kids won't be able to use your money to buy loot crates which contain items that are either unknown or known, but have no way of knowing which you'll receive after opening the crate.

Look, they say it's for the safety of your kids and vulnerable individuals: it must be good and do not dissent!

The Government has good intentions. /s

Now the issue is whether or not many F2P titles can find some form of monetization that satisfies the increasing regulation, or if they will just shutter the Eu market entirely. Apparently Jagex is shuttering the EU runescape servers because of the GDPR, but this is going to make it even more difficult for surviving games to monetize.

I have the feeling europeans are going to wake up one day and find the end result of all this legislation is to make a market very unfriendly to exist in.

Now I am curious if a method used by Wargaming Inc will get a pass and be adopted elsewhere. Their "boxes" always return a reward of equal or higher value than what the box cost. The key is that the publisher defines the value.

So in WGs case what dollar amount the assign to a reward may not be what players perceive as correct. However they were not one of the companies investigated.

Threads on these kinds of posts (both here and on other websites) always result in large number of "but what about <other thing>, why isn't that gambling too?" It always just seems like an attempt at a gotcha and not a genuine point of discussion.

"A loot box is a consumable virtual item which can be redeemed to receive a randomised selection of further virtual items."


I think the biggest issue here isn't the money spent on loot boxes but how variable rewards are addicting and can change children's minds about how they percieve value in the world more generally.

Are toys in cereal boxes gambling? Are fortune cookies gambling? Are mystery flavor candy gambling?

I find this a mind boggling decision

Disclaimer: I don't know jack shit about Belgian legislature history

> Are toys in cereal boxes gambling? Are fortune cookies gambling? Are mystery flavor candy gambling?

Do the surprises have varying value? Are some worth 50c/trash while other 50USD/premium? Do they develop an addiction? Do you pay for the cereal or for an empty box with a toy inside? Are kids spending lots of money on them in the hopes of getting that special toy, or that specific fortune message?

Don't pretend like there's no difference.

I'd argue loot boxes are more similar to magic the gathering booster packs, but that's another discussion.

It is unfortunate that you have been down-voted. It seems that thinking is a luxury these days. Prohibition supposedly works even though a pile of empirical evidence suggests otherwise, and the Government supposedly has good intentions. All they have to do is claim it's (whatever the heck they want) for the safety of you, your kids, and vulnerable people, and they can do virtually anything. They are doing just exactly that. It's OK though, in this case they give you the illusion of safety at the cost of other people without said other people even realizing it, and you can shift the blame: you no longer have to admit to yourself that you are a horrible parent and keep continuing the terrible parenting.

I wonder if the same people who have down-voted you and I also spoke out against Facebook and its anti-privacy issues.

EDIT: my friend just bought a bag of chips assuming it will taste good but it really doesn't. I guess if he's not allowed to taste it before buying, then it's gambling! Did you know that eating chips could contribute to numerous health and financial issues? Ban chips effective immediately! Think about the children!


> Did you know that eating chips could contribute to numerous health and financial issues? Ban chips effective immediately!

Not sure about wherever you are from, but in Europe there is an expectation that food you can buy in stores is reasonably safe (milk is pasteurized, etc). It wouldn't be much of a stretch to regulate unhealthy ingredients. In fact, they do regulate stuff like this, it just takes time, see trans-fats.

Not the point. The point is that it's not banned merely because it could contribute to health and financial issues. According to many people here, it should. I'm merely mocking their idiocy to prove a point, hence why my karma went from 20 to 4 within hours.

I'll let you in on a little secret: regulations and expectations don't always reflect reality, and in many cases you'd be surprised what's in your food and how your food has been handled. Ignorance is bliss, and thinking that regulations and expectations have significant effects are naive to say the least. Let me ask you, and any further down-voter, do you live under a rock?

Albeit it's about pollution, it's still worth reading: https://mises.org/library/libertarian-manifesto-pollution

Regulate the amount of calories people can consume to prevent or treat obesity! Enforce it! Don't ever stop!

But some people prefer what used to be called "Green Top" Milk i.e. raw milk) which had very strict rules on what H&S measures the Farmers had to take.

Would the world function more logically without appeals to morality and virtue? Probably. Pointing that out is really just an ego serving truth. Go ahead and violate the unwritten rules of your society just make sure you cash out before the reckoning comes (facebook, Shkreli, lootboxes, etc).

Hmm? I don't see how it is related to anything I've said. I'm pretty much against social media, but I don't want them to be regulated or banned. If you don't like them, then stop using them, and at the same time I don't care if someone else uses them. I am not going to dictate how they should live their lives. It's not the government's job to prevent you from your own stupidity. It can't. For example saying "wah wah wah I can't control myself, I am fat because of the industry, Almighty Government, please help me!" is your own fault in case of overeating, you lack self-control. You are responsible for your behavior and the consequences of it, just as how you are responsible for your child. If a parent can't make an intelligent informed decision and look after their children, then they shouldn't give them these games, credit cards, etc. and the parents perhaps shouldn't even have children. If you can't feed your potential future offspring, then don't have one! If you don't like lootboxes, don't buy them. They are not inherently harmful to children and most of the games aren't rated for children, and even then you need a card to procure the items, that of which children do not have.

Building sites are dangerous for children and need to be banned because parents might take them to one and stop watching them while they jump off of a skyscraper.

Why should anyone take responsibility for what other people do? If I produce bleach and someone drinks it, why am I responsible for that? There are warnings everywhere, it's not my fault you ignore them or you are not cautious enough. We are heading towards the direction of abandoning all responsibility and shifting the blame to anyone but ourselves.

For people who think they won't be able to function without the State: https://mises.org/library/rothbard-and-nature-state

You're talking to someone who has been openly and aggressively pro-facebook on this site so you're preaching to the choir.

What I'm saying is that society is made up of people who make knee jerk reactions and moral outrage thrives. You can play the "above it all" card but that doesn't change the fact that our laws and society actually run on those perceptions.

Telling people to take personal responsibility doesn't matter at all except to inflate one's ego through social shaming. If enough people complain about something reality will reflect that from the bottom up.

You're working against your own interests by saying things like "take personal responsibility" / pull yourself up by your bootstraps, etc. Your narrative comes off as self serving and I'm almost certain you know it does. You've become addicted to how people react to you giving them the "uncomfortable truth." Good for the ego not much else.

What are loot boxes?

Those things in (computer) games which, when opened, offer up a random item or items.

This refers to in-app purchased loot boxes: you pay $x and have a chance to win an epic mount/weapon/bonus/whatever

Thanks for clarifying

Random? Are you sure, presumably the algorithm for choosing the item can be anything the dev wants - for example hold back rare items for people more willing to spend to get them. They want to reward you just enough, no more, so as to get the maximum money out of you.

Even if they say it's random and "X chance" who's auditing the code to check.

Which kinda is the point, gambling is highly regulated (and highly taxed). The code is required to be audited by state gambling authorities and meet a certain criteria.

Basically, the argument is they are running a gambling operation without meeting the gambling regulations.

And that's actually kind of half the point.

Virtual things without value you buy without knowing what other virtual thing(s) that may have value are stored inside them. For example, you might buy a box that may or may not contain a power-up in a game.

If I'm not mistaken it's in game "boxes" that you can buy. These boxes contains items that may help your progression in the game. The trick is that you don't know what's in the box when you buy it. I didn't read the judgement though. I think it's the progfression thing that is the problem. There are games where you can buy loot boxes but they don't influence your progression, that's just a "surprise", like "Kinder's eggs". Im' fine with that

I think it's a good thing because loot boxes are bought by children and they don't realize that it's a game of luck.

But at the same time, there are things such as "Panini figures", stickers that you collect that work the same. When you buy a pack of stickers, you don't know what you'll get. And since the aim of the stickers is to fill a stickers' book, well, that's comparable to me... Dunno... Not sure...

Skimming the article, it mentions they banned Overwatch, which has only cosmetic rewards from lootboxes ("skins" which change what your in-game character looks like slightly), so it would seem they're banning even non-progression related lootboxes.

Personally, I'm rather happy to see this action being taken; loot boxes are a predatory and frequently deceptive business model.

> Personally, I'm rather happy to see this action being taken; loot boxes are a predatory and frequently deceptive business model.

Are they? In Overwatch you only get cosmetic items, and you cannot trade them (so it's hard to argue they have financial value). In addition, when you would get a duplicate item you get in-game coins instead, and those coins can also be exchanged for cosmetic items.

Personally I think the mandatory animation when you open a lootbox takes too long so I've simply stopped opening them a while ago. I think I now have 20 unopened lootboxes?

Compare with Steam, where you could (can?) get "free" loot boxes, but you'd have to buy a key with real money to open them, and then the contents were random (but tradable with other players, for money). Now there's a company that is clearly begging to get banned by anti-gambling laws.

While I agree that, on the whole, Overwatch's model (cosmetic only, non-tradeable) is less negative than those in which there is a secondary market, I'm still not a fan of including unregulated gambling-like mechanics in games with a demographic of primarily teenagers. However, this is entirely my view on underage gambling at work.

From a less personal perspective, Valve's products are much more blatantly akin to gambling; I see very little reason not to apply the same regulations to Dota or CS:GO loot boxes as would apply to any online casino.

In case the game progression is not affected by the content of the boxes, how is it deceptive (honestly, I have that talk with my kids) ?

Frequently, viewing the "contents" of a box (the potential rewards) displays each item in a row, with no indicator of a difference in drop chance except the background colour, despite some items being twenty or so times more likely to be rewarded. If there is text indicating the variable probability, it is usually subdued and easily overlooked.

Furthermore, some games silently vary the probability of drops based on prior results (without informing the player), a strategy designed to reinforce the Gambler's Fallacy and ensure users continue to open loot boxes after the first few.

>>> Furthermore, some games silently vary the probability of drops based on prior results (without informing the player), a strategy designed to reinforce the Gambler's Fallacy and ensure users continue to open loot boxes after the first few.

OK, I understand. I naively thought that it was real luck at play. But you explain it's manipulated. If that's the problem, then I fully understand the gov't position.

It's not that it's deceptive, it's that it's a game of chance. Which is perfectly OK, as long as you're part of the government mandated monopoly on such games or have a license.

I think those stickers were useful for me and my classmates to learn about economy when I was a child. We traded with them and the rarest ones naturally fetched very high values (in terms of other stickers), so we got to experiment scarcity of resources, supply and demand, etc.

I never thought of opening a random pack of stickers and gambling, but you definitely have a point. It is not trivial where to draw the line. In my case, I had a lot of fun (and no gambling addiction) with stickers, and even more with Magic the Gathering a few years later! (and I made some actual money with MtG card speculation when I was like 14).

Virtual loot boxes I see as quite evil though, I need to think for a while on what the differences are. Perhaps it's just prejudices due to my age but I never knew stickers or MtG gambling addicts and with loot boxes there seems to be much more risk of addiction.

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