Wednesday, November 22, 2017

On Gaming and Gambling

The Belgium Gaming Commission don't like loot boxes in games:

Belgium says loot boxes are gambling, wants them banned in EuropeBy Andy Chalk
The Minister of Justice says the mix of gaming and gambling is "dangerous."

Last week, Belgium's Gaming Commission announced that it had launched an investigation into whether the loot boxes available for purchase in games like Overwatch and Star Wars Battlefront 2 constitute a form of gambling. Today, VTM News reported that the ruling is in, and the answer is yes.
The Google translation is a little sloppy, as usual, but the message is clear enough. "The mixing of money and addiction is gambling," the Gaming Commission declared. Belgium's Minister of Justice Koen Geens also weighed in, saying, "Mixing gambling and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for the mental health of the child."
Geens, according to the report, wants to ban in-game purchases outright (correction: if you don't know exactly what you're purchasing), and not just in Belgium: He said the process will take time, "because we have to go to Europe. We will certainly try to ban it." 

I'm not surprised.

In the evolution from buying games to the future of gaming, loot boxes on the micro transaction branch is a particular odious beast fraught with danger and legal technicalities that are finally coming home to roost.

Addiction is a terrible thing. It always starts off slow and in control and fun and harmless, and before you know it you are doing things and sneaking things and lying and going broke because of it. Gambling addiction is especially dangerous because there are no outward physical deterioration from partaking in it unlike alcohol or illegal drugs.

Loot boxes are themselves not intrinsically bad regardless of what they carry inside them, be it merely cosmetic items (like in Overwatch) or actual advantages for power or progression (like Star Wars Battlefront II that sparked this debate, or Heroes of the Storm in which you can get characters unlocked or experience boosters). The problem comes when the game allows you to buy loot boxes with real money instead of spending the money directly on the items you want; sometimes it's a trade off of spending X dollars for a rare item or same amount of money for so many loot boxes in hopes of getting a epic or legendary item, but some games simply close off the direct buy route and funnel all micro transactions into want is essentially a lottery.

Some people are just more inclined to become caught in the gambling addiction web. Sure there are lots of people that "know their limits and play within it" but there is enough people where the rush of a big payoff in a loot box chemically alters the brain to desire that feeling again. It's a chemical dependency and it sucks and it's easy to give into and hard to resist. "Just one more time..."

This is particularly dangerous for children and young adults who are just as susceptible to the possibility of addiction without the maturity to recognize the dangers and accept the risks, and these groups are the main consumers of these games where loot boxes are present.

I'm not arguing for the complete removal of all loot boxes as I believe that is unreasonable and will not work in the long run. I think we should acknowledge the gambling aspect of the mechanic and treat it as such. I also think protesting vigorously when a game comes out that abuses said mechanic is the right course of action, as witnessed in the backlash against EA's efforts in the Star Wars game.

Most importantly, we need to understand that game creators have the right to make money and that at the same time game players have the right to not be preyed upon with underhanded practices designed to exploit human psychological and physiological weaknesses. There is a healthy balance there and its important for both sides (producers and consumers) to find it.

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