Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

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Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Koa » Wed Nov 22, 2017 1:34 am UTC

The Star Wars Battlefront reboot releases in 2015 as a success despite a significant portion of gamers feeling it was a barebones release specifically due to the lack of a campaign. There was some P2W backlash but EA ignored it and it died down after release.

Meanwhile, Overwatch releases and many community figures are discussing the ethics of loot boxes, whether they're gambling, and if so, why are we exposing children to it so flagrantly. Well, money, but why are people accepting it. The only defense provided is that loot boxes always give you something, so they're not like gambling where you can lose your money. But the goods are digital and infinite, and gambling is an addiction that teenagers could be developing through video games targeting their age group.

Star Wars Battlefront 2 announces a campaign, hype is high, preorders through the roof. There is again some P2W backlash, again it's ignored and it died down after release. Though, this time because it was completely engulfed by a PR nightmare. A post on reddit complained about not being able to play as Vader, despite buying the Deluxe edition, without 40 hours of grind or another $80. A representative replied that it was to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment blahblah. It went viral and became the most downvoted post on reddit history, amplifying the complaint to the point where the CEO of Disney contacted EA, and EA shut down the whole microtransaction system. An extremely dramatic move that has Battlefront 2's sales down by 50%, and of course, microtransaction sales down 100% during the first month of release when sales are at their peak.

What's more, the power of Disney's IP finally sparked a political investigation on the nature of loot boxes and gambling in Belgium, and just recently Blegium's Minister of Justice has declared loot boxes to be gambling. "Mixing gambling and gaming, especially at a young age, is dangerous for the mental health of the child." They are pressing for the EU to do the same.

EA has angered not only its consumers, its licensing holders at Disney, but also companies like Activision and Valve for popping the cork on this issue. If the EU is convinced the only thing that is certain is that current and developing games with loot box microtransaction systems will be a major localization headache.

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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby rmsgrey » Wed Nov 22, 2017 12:20 pm UTC

The tide's been turning against loot boxes for a while - EA may have their names on the smoking gun (and a number of non-smoking guns) but it was really just a matter of time at this point before the issue reached critical mass. And I'm quite sure a number of EU leaders would like a popular issue to grab some headlines away from Brexit at the moment, so it wouldn't surprise me to see this go the distance in terms of EU regulation.

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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Chen » Fri Nov 24, 2017 1:54 pm UTC

The problem I have with Belgium's statement is it should apply to things like MTG or even baseball cards. You're guaranteed something in them, but the value has extreme variance. Are these also going to get banned? Otherwise its purely hopping on a bandwagon for political gain.

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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Tyndmyr » Fri Nov 24, 2017 7:35 pm UTC

Chen wrote:The problem I have with Belgium's statement is it should apply to things like MTG or even baseball cards. You're guaranteed something in them, but the value has extreme variance. Are these also going to get banned? Otherwise its purely hopping on a bandwagon for political gain.


MtG has traditionally sheltered itself from such things with it's rarity spread. IE, a magic pack has 1 rare, 3 uncommons, 10 commons, and 1 foil.

Same ratio, every pack. So, no real gambling. You pay your money, you get your thing. Now, the secondary market does indeed price some rares far differently than others, so it's much akin to gambling in practice...but WotC is not setting those prices and have no control over them.

Lootboxes, on the other hand, have widely varying payouts, and are often not resellable. Any values that are set for individual purchases are set by the maker. Thus, lootboxes may fall afoul of some anti-gambling regulations while CCGs may not. Hell, depending on the laws, some lootbox systems might be fine, but others bad. If memory serves, China and Korea have some regulations already in place regarding this. Wouldn't be at all surprised to see some of the more exploitative companies get hammered down some.

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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Internetmeme » Sat Nov 25, 2017 7:05 am UTC

Koa wrote:Meanwhile, Overwatch releases and many community figures are discussing the ethics of loot boxes, whether they're gambling, and if so, why are we exposing children to it so flagrantly. Well, money, but why are people accepting it.


The main difference I see between Overwatch's system and EA's system in BF2 is that Overwatch's system is completely cosmetic, and doesn't impact gameplay. The BF2 system, on the other hand, has huge advantages given to players who "win" the loot box openings. While both are gambling in a sense, one is gambling for a way to tilt the game's odds in your favor, and in turn compels others to gamble for their chance at a distinct advantage.

The only defense provided is that loot boxes always give you something, so they're not like gambling where you can lose your money. But the goods are digital and infinite, and gambling is an addiction that teenagers could be developing through video games targeting their age group.


In that same vein, if a casino attempted to open in a state where gambling is illegal, with the change that all games have a $5 buy-in and always return $1 minimum when you lose, they would still be illegal. Now compare that to something like Counterstrike, where you have lootboxes that cost money to open, where you have the potential to either win something completely worthless, or a knife worth several hundred dollars. A knife that, mind you, Steam gives you the means to sell on their market within the game itself. Additionally, there is a whole cottage-industry of raffles and gambling that has cropped up surrounding this system.

Loot crates are a pervasive problem in the gaming industry right now. Although there is a somewhat ethical way of doing it (like Overwatch, who showers players in these crates and has them not affect gameplay, and prevents people from profiting from them), a lot of companies will set them up such that players who manage to "win" the lootbox are suddenly able to get a huge advantage over others, or stand to immediately make a big profit in the Pachinko-esque system like what Valve have managed to set up.
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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Chen » Sat Nov 25, 2017 8:58 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:MtG has traditionally sheltered itself from such things with it's rarity spread. IE, a magic pack has 1 rare, 3 uncommons, 10 commons, and 1 foil.

Same ratio, every pack. So, no real gambling. You pay your money, you get your thing. Now, the secondary market does indeed price some rares far differently than others, so it's much akin to gambling in practice...but WotC is not setting those prices and have no control over them.


Aren't mythics completely a chance thing though?

Lootboxes, on the other hand, have widely varying payouts, and are often not resellable. Any values that are set for individual purchases are set by the maker. Thus, lootboxes may fall afoul of some anti-gambling regulations while CCGs may not. Hell, depending on the laws, some lootbox systems might be fine, but others bad. If memory serves, China and Korea have some regulations already in place regarding this. Wouldn't be at all surprised to see some of the more exploitative companies get hammered down some.


I think resellability is a separate issue, but frankly puts CCG packs at CLOSER to gambling than purely unsellable digital ones. You're getting a somewhat fungible resource in that case in exchange for money. Regulation such as specifying the drop rates on things would be fine from my point of view (I think that's what China has now).

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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby EdgarJPublius » Mon Nov 27, 2017 3:47 am UTC

Chen wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:MtG has traditionally sheltered itself from such things with it's rarity spread. IE, a magic pack has 1 rare, 3 uncommons, 10 commons, and 1 foil.

Same ratio, every pack. So, no real gambling. You pay your money, you get your thing. Now, the secondary market does indeed price some rares far differently than others, so it's much akin to gambling in practice...but WotC is not setting those prices and have no control over them.


Aren't mythics completely a chance thing though?


Not exactly, Mythics replace the rare slot in I think ~1 out of every ~7 packs. The way WotC collates cards into packs means they have pretty fine control over the distribution of cards. (Not necessarily defending the gambling aspects of MtG here. Even though WotC doesn't directly acknowledge or profit from the secondary market, they absolutely profit through sales from the Skinner's box psychology of random rewards.)

One of the things I find particularly insidious about digital lootboxes is that there may not be much actual probability at work. The recently revealed Activision patent on manipulating matchmaking to encourage in-game purchases is just the tip of the iceberg. There are all kinds of psychological tricks lootbox pushers can use to manipulate people into being more likely to purchase more lootboxes. I believe this kind of manipulation of results is banned for electronic gambling machines in Nevada casinos.
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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby mosc » Mon Nov 27, 2017 12:46 pm UTC

I would defend MtG but recent sets have also started adding even-more-than-mythic rare cards, many of which are not even standard legal (typically modern) that they know will be able to fetch significant secondary market prices. Some may argue that this limited card influx allows them to carefully control the secondary market pricing but it also creates significant financial variation between packs as a much more common occurrence.

I think Magic relies heavily on the "no best card" philosophy that in a certain gameplay situation, every card could potentially be the ideal card. As such, no card is a loss. All are rewards from every pack.

I think it would benefit all except Wizard if mythic and foils went away though. Any rarity not guaranteed an example in every pack is probably over the line.

...

Games have long had randomized loot leading to advancement. Would anyone play Diablo without the thrill of RNG running in the backround and spitting out junk item after junk item? Is that gambling? Their entire progression system is based on randomized loot. Take this too far and you remove randomization in the name of gambling and that's a core concept deep at the core of what makes games work. An attack on the left side instead of the right is random and inherently superior one way or the other leading to a higher likelihood of a positive outcome = gambling?
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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Xanthir » Mon Nov 27, 2017 9:26 pm UTC

The deal with the "extra rare" things in MtG is that they're just cosmetic. Foils or Masterpiece treatments do nothing but make the card prettier; they make people excited about getting pretty cards, but that's about it. Serial collectors won't be opening packs for them, they'll be buying them off the secondary market. I'm totally fine with that sort of thing.

Rare vs mythic rare is a separate argument, definitely. Due to mythic rarity, I've never gotten a single planeswalker for the past two years of playing MtG in a work league. Mythic rare doesn't really have an effect on card power or game complexity either; that's already sufficiently taken care of by the rare category. (Mythics just get to be a *little* splashier due to their rarity; in a typical sealed draft you've got a decent likelihood of getting *one* mythic rare to play with.)

mosc wrote:
I think Magic relies heavily on the "no best card" philosophy that in a certain gameplay situation, every card could potentially be the ideal card. As such, no card is a loss. All are rewards from every pack.

Yeah, and the game is purposely designed so that Commons are *useful* in virtually all decks; you don't generally *want* to play a deck with all Rare cards. (This is extra true in Draft or Sealed format, the primary way the game sells new packs; Commons are super important to supply workhorse cards that your deck needs.) This is very distinct from most loot boxes, where rarity is directly correlated to power, and the only reason to ever use the lower-rarity stuff is if you just haven't opened enough to fill out your ranks with the rare stuff yet; otherwise common stuff is just trash.

Similarly, I play Fire Emblem: Heroes, which is definitely a gatcha game - to get more heroes you have to random-summon them. While some characters are better than others, and this roughly corresponds to rarity (many good characters only appear at 4-star or 5-star power level, which are rarer to summon), you can do quite well with most characters, and many "trash" characters are still useful, as they'll have skills you can transfer onto better characters to optimize them.
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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Nov 27, 2017 10:41 pm UTC

Chen wrote:I think resellability is a separate issue, but frankly puts CCG packs at CLOSER to gambling than purely unsellable digital ones. You're getting a somewhat fungible resource in that case in exchange for money. Regulation such as specifying the drop rates on things would be fine from my point of view (I think that's what China has now).


It furthers the argument that players are getting actual value, though. Nobody is really fussed about random toy blister packs, even if they don't know which figurine will be in the box. Yes, the secondary market values may not be identical, but clearly the manufacturer is selling valuable stuff, and from a physical standpoint, is enclosing roughly the same product in every box. And they're quite open about the odds/distribution. Those are factors that lootboxes generally lack.

WotC does indeed put mythics into the rare slot on a replacement basis, and it's quite consistent. You won't buy a box without any mythics in it. Now, that said, I do think that MtG does have certain similarities to gambling in practice, and some people do buy packs addictively. It's just a matter of degree. The scammier a system gets, and the more exploitive it feels to the public, the more likely it is to attractive governmental attention. And lootboxes are getting pretty high up there in terms of sketchiness. Nobody really minds that the outcome of a game may hinge on a die roll, but when that's being used to sell large volumes of digital "goods" of questionable value in a gambling-like fashion to kids, ehhhh.


China does indeed require that drop rates be displayed, which seems fair enough. Knowing that, on average, I will spend $15 to get something vs $1000 is valuable information that probably should be disclosed.

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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby New User » Tue Nov 28, 2017 1:05 am UTC

Games have long had randomized loot leading to advancement. Would anyone play Diablo without the thrill of RNG running in the backround and spitting out junk item after junk item? Is that gambling? Their entire progression system is based on randomized loot. Take this too far and you remove randomization in the name of gambling and that's a core concept deep at the core of what makes games work. An attack on the left side instead of the right is random and inherently superior one way or the other leading to a higher likelihood of a positive outcome = gambling?

A game with an element of chance, such as Monopoly or Scrabble, doesn't fit the definition of gambling because players aren't paying money with a potential for loss based on a chance outcome. If you were playing Diablo, and you were about to open a chest, and I made a bet with you for twenty dollars and my self respect that it would be a sword, and then you open the chest and I have to pay you because it was a shield instead, then we would be gambling.

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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby mosc » Wed Nov 29, 2017 1:47 am UTC

I don't know. Loot boxes are not gambling to me it's just pay to win. Pay to win is not illegal (like gambling in most contexts), it's just annoying. It doesn't foster a gaming community. Maybe your game doesn't have a community element (it's a single player tower defense or something) but if you want people to play together, financial differentiation creates problems. Probably some amusing parallels there too.

Pay to win ultimately lowers the amount of time people play the game (both those paying and those not paying). Supply and demand. Imagine raising the pay to play (also known as purchase price) of the game. Less people are going to buy it. Less people are going to play it. The game developer is not generally working for free so the purchase price is a cost optimization problem but lets not pretend that the cost and the playtime are not intimately connected. In fact, some games end up with the reverse play for pay problem. When the gameplay has financial value, that drives up the player base (farmers if you're lucky, bots if you're not).

Gambling is either any time you spend money for a questionable return (so broad that basically any time you spend money would qualify to some degree) or when the behavior of spending money is made to be the return itself. Nobody puts money in a slot machine repeatedly for the wonder of the lights and sounds it creates or based on a reasonable assumption of return on investment. Since there is no moderately commensurate return, I call it gambling.

Would people buy loot crates if they contained non-randomized equivalent value? Yes. Yes they would. Example would be an in-game currency purchasable for cash that they could exchange for the items in said loot crate today. Randomness is NOT the core purchase.

Would people put a coin in a slot machine if they contained non-randomized equivalent value? No. No they wouldn't. If the lights went off and the wheels went around and then machine returned 93% of what you put into it every single time, nobody would play them. They would not even be cost effective to physically create.

Real money Loot Crates are not gambling. They're just stupid in games which depend on players talking to each other.
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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Tyndmyr » Wed Nov 29, 2017 6:53 pm UTC

mosc wrote:Pay to win ultimately lowers the amount of time people play the game (both those paying and those not paying). Supply and demand. Imagine raising the pay to play (also known as purchase price) of the game. Less people are going to buy it. Less people are going to play it. The game developer is not generally working for free so the purchase price is a cost optimization problem but lets not pretend that the cost and the playtime are not intimately connected. In fact, some games end up with the reverse play for pay problem. When the gameplay has financial value, that drives up the player base (farmers if you're lucky, bots if you're not).


Also, they incentivize designing a game that you'll pay to not play.

This seems odd.

People will buy stuff from cash shops, but I'd wager that lootboxes are replacing cash shops because they are more profitable. The gambling element, addictiveness, etc. I don't think game companies are doing it by happenstance.

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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby EdgarJPublius » Thu Nov 30, 2017 3:24 am UTC

I think calling lootboxes 'gambling' is burying the lead a bit. The problem with lootboxes is that they're psychologically predatory and addicting. Those aspects don't depend on whether you can 'win' or 'lose' anything of actual value or not.

And while 'pay to win' has become conflated with lootboxes due to some games wrapping 'pay to win' systems up in lootboxes, they actually aren't related concepts at all. A game where you can directly buy weapons or upgrades is 'pay to win' without lootboxes, a game with purely cosmetic lootboxes can still be predatory without 'pay to win'.
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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby mosc » Thu Nov 30, 2017 5:59 am UTC

I agree. Two unrelated issues. Honestly I'd be more upset about pay to win than lootboxes. Cosmetic lootboxes sold for real money don't bother me in the slightest.
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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Xanthir » Fri Dec 01, 2017 4:59 pm UTC

Congratulations on not having an addictive personality then, or having a child who doesn't yet fully understand money and cost systems but is accidentally playing on a device with access to your credit card.
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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Chen » Sun Dec 03, 2017 12:04 am UTC

Xanthir wrote:Congratulations on not having an addictive personality then, or having a child who doesn't yet fully understand money and cost systems but is accidentally playing on a device with access to your credit card.


The latter just shouldn't be happening, that's on the parent. The former I do agree with. That said, not in the legislating sense but in providing protections either within the games themselves or at the device level to let you block those type of things with at least some sort of warning. That said, I'm pretty sure there are already limitations like that available on many devices.

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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Xanthir » Tue Dec 05, 2017 6:00 pm UTC

"Parents shouldn't give their kids access to devices that can drain a credit card" is true, yes. But so is "people making games for children shouldn't make their mechanics revolve around buying things with real money". The former is an unfortunate accident; the latter is a deliberate choice to make money thru victimizing children.

(That is relevant to actual children's games with these sorts of mechanics, of which there are plenty. SW:B is a different beast.)
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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Weeks » Tue Dec 05, 2017 6:32 pm UTC

Think we should have that Chinese gov regulation of always showing the odds for content from lootboxes
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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Zohar » Tue Dec 05, 2017 7:39 pm UTC

Is that a thing? I doubt that impacts people's decisions too much, but who knows.
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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Xanthir » Tue Dec 05, 2017 9:30 pm UTC

Yeah, it's a thing. It lets people know how many times they can expect to have to pull before getting what they want, which is important - there's a big difference between 3% and 1%!
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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Magnanimous » Tue Dec 05, 2017 10:15 pm UTC

Path of Exile discloses the odds of getting each cosmetic from loot boxes. (On the forums rather than in-game, but still.) I'd say this made me more likely to buy some, and I would support every game being required to do that.

PoE also lets you buy individual items, which is obviously ideal. When new microtransactions are introduced they are often only in loot boxes, but it's clearly stated that after a few months they'll be on the normal market.

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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Zohar » Tue Dec 05, 2017 10:25 pm UTC

Oh it's definitely valuable information, I just don't think most people who buy loot boxes care.
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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Ginger » Mon Dec 11, 2017 9:28 am UTC

Wait: Some loot boxes require you to pay real money or game money to open them? With real money I definitely see a problem with loot boxes. In my opinion no game should charge actual currency for an in-game reward. Even their prices on cosmetic items/battle pets/mounts in my favorite game are too much. And it can give you an advantage over regular players by being better with the attributes it gives you or rarer or impossible to get without paying for it. That's insidious and might teach kids unsavory habits with money. However if it's just game money then it can be made back easily and yes, while it still is kind of gamble-like, I have less of a problem with things that cost only in-game items to buy.
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Re: Loot Boxes and Battlefronts

Postby Peaceful Whale » Mon Dec 11, 2017 9:54 am UTC

Some games it’s really money for in game currency, which you can then use to but loot boxes.

Some games loot boxes are only available with money.

Some you cannot but in game currency, and must simply grind.

I personally have never spent money on game other than to buy it. I wish they’d keep lootboxes (like overwatch, and hero’s of the storm) that don’t effect gameplay, and I feel are pretty cool.

Maybe get rid of the real money pay system? But I feel companies wouldn’t be happy.

If we do that, what about mobile games? Do we ban micro transactions there too? Clash royale you can buy chests that are practically lootboxes!

This is a fine line, maybe we should teach kids ourself and not let games teach them? I don’t think the games are doing that good of a job.
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