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The Legislative Fight Over Loot Boxes Expands To Washington State (arstechnica.com) 127

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: The government backlash against video game loot boxes -- the randomized in-game item purchases that some observers and legislators consider a form of gambling -- moved from Hawaii to Washington state earlier this month. That's when a group of three Democratic state senators introduced a bill that would require the state gambling commission to examine loot boxes and determine "whether games and apps containing these mechanisms are considered gambling under Washington law." "What the bill says is, 'Industry, state: sit down to figure out the best way to regulate this,'" Orcas Island Senator and bill coauthor Kevin Ranker told the Tacoma News Tribune. "It is unacceptable to be targeting our children with predatory gambling masked in a game with dancing bunnies or something."

The bill text puts specific focus on the question of whether children who "may be more vulnerable to gambling addiction" should be allowed to access games with loot boxes, and on the question of "transparency" around "the odds of receiving each type of virtual item." The latter point took on additional salience last month as Apple required such odds to be posted alongside games with loot boxes. Actual government regulation of loot boxes in Washington is still a ways off, though. Ranker's bill needs to be approved by the full Washington state legislature (which is narrowly held by Democrats) and be signed by the governor before being referred to the gambling commission. At that point, the commission would have until December 1 to form its recommendations for any regulatory and enforcement system the state might set up.

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The Legislative Fight Over Loot Boxes Expands To Washington State

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  • by thebes ( 663586 ) on Thursday January 25, 2018 @05:11PM (#56003349)

    What about bobcats?

  • by mamono ( 706685 ) on Thursday January 25, 2018 @05:12PM (#56003359)
    Chuck E. Cheese has been "targeting our children with predatory gambling masked in a game" for decades now.
  • by Mike_EE_U_of_I ( 1493783 ) on Thursday January 25, 2018 @05:22PM (#56003469)

    The way Apple did it was to require games that sell loot boxes for money to post odds.

    I've never seen a game do this. All games that I've seen sell in game currency and the loot boxes are purchased with that currency. IMHO, Apple introduced something to appear that they are doing something, while actually doing nothing.

    And that makes sense. Apple gets 30% of all the sweet sweet revenue. So they want to appear to be doing something to calm enraged law makers, but actually do nothing to keep the money flowing.

    • You go to Chuck-E-Cheese and you buy a game card with credits on it. You spend a couple of hours "gambling" for crappy in-restaurant tickets. You exchange these tickets for crappy toys. This has been going on for, what, 50 years? Why do we add "on the computer" and get upset?

      • You go to Chuck-E-Cheese and you buy a game card with credits on it. You spend a couple of hours "gambling" for crappy in-restaurant tickets. You exchange these tickets for crappy toys. This has been going on for, what, 50 years? Why do we add "on the computer" and get upset?

        There is no gamble. All machines that give tickets give them regardless of how you play.
        The tickets can be purchased for 1 cent each.
        As a parent I couldn't care less about the tickets, we are there to have some fun playing games.
        But the kids like counting them up and trading them in for some candy or a trinket or something.

        • All machines that give tickets give them regardless of how you play.

          Is there any indication that these tablet games sell boxes with nothing in them?

          The tickets can be purchased for 1 cent each.

          The games are happy to sell you items directly rather than take your chance on the loot box.

          As a parent I couldn't care less about the tickets, we are there to have some fun playing games.

          You aren't a kid. They absolutely care about the tickets. As a parent.

          But the kids like counting them up and trading them in for some candy or a trinket or something.

          And the kids like buying mystery boxes. That's why we're here.

        • by dkman ( 863999 )

          There is no gamble. All machines that give tickets give them regardless of how you play.

          Exactly. And all loot boxes give you loot.

          Most give mediocre stuff, but occasionally you get something cool. You are not required to purchase loot boxes. Some games give them randomly as prizes just for playing with the option to purchase more.

          I don't see the big deal, but I'm not inclined to buy them either.

          • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

            Exactly. And all loot boxes give you loot.

            Most give mediocre stuff, but occasionally you get something cool. You are not required to purchase loot boxes. Some games give them randomly as prizes just for playing with the option to purchase more.

            I don't see the big deal, but I'm not inclined to buy them either.

            No, the problem is the loot boxes require you to buy them to continue the game. That's why there's a big uproar - if you want to progress through the game, these purchases are no longer optional, but re

            • by mark-t ( 151149 )

              That a booster pack is not worth zilch doesn't change that it's still not generally worth as much as much as you paid for the pack unless it contains a certain minimum number of cards that you actually need or want. The actual rarity of the cards within is irrelevant to this point, because the rarity of cards is determined by the producing company and is not always (or often even generally) a direct function of their usefulness. You could compare it to a slot machine where you put a quarter in, and you'

    • by nasch ( 598556 )

      I don't buy game stuff, but I believe Overwatch sells loot boxes directly. Battlefront 2 I think does the currency thing if I remember right. Rocket League sells keys that are required to open loot boxes, so kind of in between.

      • Overwatch's implementation of loot boxes is slightly different from the standpoint of the rewards being merely cosmetic in nature. It doesn't unlock playability per se. My issue with loot boxes and other forms of progression reward systems is that game content (which you believe you paid for) is locked behind a door that can only be opened through either 1) a potentially obscene amount of time or 2) an indeterminable amount of cash. My first frustration with this was in Mass Effect 3, where individual chara

  • by anvilmark ( 259376 ) on Thursday January 25, 2018 @05:27PM (#56003511)

    How are loot boxes different than collectible card game sets or grab-bag sales at school fundraisers?

    • by mark-t ( 151149 )

      I don't think they are any different from CCG booster packs. You pay $X for a pack, and the only way you'll generally get your money's worth if is the pack has some cards that that you really want or could use. It's subjective, of course... measuring play value in terms of monetary worth, but IME, far more often than not, it's a net loss... and about on par with your odds at a casino.

      Grab bag sales at fundraisers are further different because you are donating money to the fundraiser in the first place

    • by asylumx ( 881307 )
      Ya, sounds a lot like buying baseball cards to me. I mean, I hate the concept of loot boxes but I don't think considering it 'gambling' is helping anything.
    • While they are mechanically identical, game cards and grab bags generate a stack of cards and pile of trash. The more you open, the taller the stack and bigger the pile, giving you a sense of "wow, maybe I've bought enough of these and should stop."

      Loot boxes just generate a bunch of icons which always take up the same amount of space. The only indicator that maybe you've bought too many is a little number in the corner of the icon.

      Remember, the problem with gambling isn't the act of gambling itself
    • notices. Also there are explicit exceptions to gambling laws for non-profits, charities and government organizations in many places (which is why churches can do Bingo night). Card games generally publish the odds of getting the merchandise.

      There's also finite limits to the amount of feedback you can give with a card game. You open the pack and that's that. With a video game, especially an online one, there's all sorts of nasty tricks that can be played. Call of Duty for example makes it a point to show
    • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

      How are loot boxes different than collectible card game sets or grab-bag sales at school fundraisers?

      Digital vs physical. You're getting something that has value from a CCG or grab-bag. With a digital lootbox there's not intrinsic value beyond what's in the game, and in many cases they can't be sold/traded/etc. In many cases the odds for CCG's have to be displayed, not so for digital. I think China, Japan and S.Korea are the only countries that require the actual odds listed on the lootbox right now.

      • by gizmod ( 931775 )

        How are loot boxes different than collectible card game sets or grab-bag sales at school fundraisers?

        Digital vs physical. You're getting something that has value from a CCG or grab-bag.

        Lot's of things are digital or abstract that have value. A physical MtG has almost no more intrinsic value beyond it's digital counterpart, besides the paper it is made of. I take it you don't own any Bitcoin either ;)

    • I think putting limits on advertising CCGs to kids would also be a good idea. Grab-bags are different in no one is going to buy 100 of them to get a specific toy.

  • First they came... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ThomasBHardy ( 827616 ) on Thursday January 25, 2018 @05:27PM (#56003515)

    At first they came for the loot boxes, and I said nothing because I don't play that game.
    Then they came for the Hatchibles, and I said nothing because I don't have kids.
    Then they came for the Magic The Gathering booster packs and there was no one left to speak for me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      With MTG, you know the odds of getting different types of cards. The packs aren't totally random where you could end up with all commons or something. Furthermore, the contents of the packs themselves hold actual value (you can resell them, and use them to play a game). Loot boxes not only have very obfuscated potential contents, and odds highly-skewed towards getting crap, but also have no secondary value in nearly all cases.

      The biggest difference, IMO, is the marketing. MTG -- as a game -- does not re

      • Agreed.

        With CCGs, generally speaking, the designers are generally not purposefully giving you crap. Every rare was intended to be good, though it is impossible for every card to be good for every player.

        Early MtG did not quite adhere to that principle, but the designers moved in that direction quickly, because pissing customers off was never part of the plan. Once it became clear that obfuscation for the sake of suspense would only annoy the most dedicated players, there was no point in hiding the odds.

        T

    • For any regulators reading /.: All those things, and Chuck E Cheese, and McDonalds Monopoly, and games with loot drops and a real money auction house (or login credentials not tied immutably to a single human person) are "gambling", but none of them [liebertpub.com] are Gambling [cornell.edu].

      If you want to ban companies from marketing rainbow strobelight Skinner boxes to kids because they're harmful to the kids (and their parents' bank accounts), go for it. With my blessing! But calling in-game orbs and in-game dragon sweaters
  • by jwhyche ( 6192 ) on Thursday January 25, 2018 @05:28PM (#56003535) Homepage

    For the love of god, don't these idiots have something more important to do? How much do we pay these idiots anyway?

    • by ljw1004 ( 764174 )

      For the love of god, don't these idiots have something more important to do? How much do we pay these idiots anyway?

      We pay them with votes, but it's a gamble whether our vote gets the legislation we want, so we have to vote for them again and hope for the best.

    • For the love of god, don't these idiots have something more important to do? How much do we pay these idiots anyway?

      Like what? I mean it's not like Trump is passing any useful legislation in his presidency.

      • by jwhyche ( 6192 )

        Tax reform. That is turning out to be fairly useful. Lets look and see what else has been passed by Trump. How about a link from NPR?

        https://www.npr.org/2017/12/27... [npr.org]

        • HR 244 Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017
        • HR 2810 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018
        • HR 3732 Emergency Aid to American Survivors of Hurricanes Irma and Jose Overseas Act
        • HR 2430 FDA Reauthorization Act of 2017

        I just ticked off a few random ones there. So I would say that Trump in passing lots of useful legisla

  • I've pretty much given up gaming after UT3. It just didn't have what the Duke has, but Duke Nukem Forever was not good either. Come get some!
  • by Rhacman ( 1528815 ) on Thursday January 25, 2018 @06:27PM (#56004013)
    Why is this a problem that needs legislation to solve? As a kid I never had access to my parents credit card or accounts. If I wanted something I had to mow a lawn and decide if that was worth blowing on Magic the Gathering cards. If you don't want to spend money on games don't associate your credit card with them. If the game is honestly worth playing then let the whales pay for development and just leech off the F2P content.

    And really, is the person who needs the drop rate on Malibu Darth Vader honestly going to; a) be surprised that it is abysmally small b) do anything differently with that information?
    • by sinij ( 911942 )

      Why is this a problem that needs legislation to solve?

      This isn't about solving anything, this is retribution for intentionally making games shittier. They deserve all the government there to help them they are going to get.

      • The problem to be solved is adults making a business model out of children gambling.

        Heaving crap at them the 99% of the time they don't win the big prize doesn't make it not gambling any more than winning a dollar or another ticket does in a scratch off.

        • by sinij ( 911942 )
          What makes it gambling is "having crap in them 99%". This enables 1% of having really desirable items.

          If loot boxes have really desirable items 100% of the time, it wouldn't be gambling, and wouldn't be as addictive (see: variable reinforcement schedule).
  • Just let 'em play the stock market, that way it'll be perfectly legal.
  • The bill only has three sponsors [wa.gov]. It's scheduled for a public hearing on January 31st and isn't scheduled for an executive session. Bills have to be voted out of committee no later than February 2nd to survive the legislative session. This bill isn't going anywhere beyond the public hearing.
  • Way to go, you ballless wonders! Instead of doing your job -- passing a law to make it illegal, you punt to someone else. Why are you there again?

    Oh right. So you can hide and say "I didn't do it!" if it blows up in your face.

    I guess you will defer your motion to allow a commission to explore the validity of your accusations, Senator.

  • by misnohmer ( 1636461 ) on Friday January 26, 2018 @05:03AM (#56006017)

    If the legislature confirms selling loot boxes is not gambling, I am starting a Lootery which will work just a lottery, but instead of lottery tickets you buy a virtual loot box. You are guaranteed to win a minimum of $0.01 per loot box which costs $1. 1 in 100M will win $1M dollars. 1 in 10 will win $2, and a bunch of odds and winning between those. I'll adjust the odds to compete and be better than the Washington State Lottery. The best news, it won't be gambling so won't be taxed and regulated as such!

  • by Striikerr ( 798526 ) on Friday January 26, 2018 @08:15AM (#56006487)

    Instead of these random boxes, do one of two things.
    1) Allow all to have the same items (remember the good old days when this was the case?).
    2) Allow the purchase of specific items for a set price instead of the gamble method of hoping to hit it big.

    I prefer option 1. Devs can go back to the ways of making a game which is balanced with all of the items in the game being available to everyone from the start. This can be furthered through level based weapons where one gains access to these upgrades over time as your characters level up. This option does open itself up to abuses by the game company by making progress painfully slow with the option to pay to advance quicker but then this devolves to become option 2 at this point so I don't consider the slow progression with pay to speed up as option 1.

    I don't like Option 2 as it closes out the game to those who can't afford to pour a lot of money into the game just to get access to items which the other richer players can. Ideally, charge the full price for the game and be done. If they want to charge less, then charge less and give an option for a one-time purchase to get the rest of the content (kind of like how Doom was initially distributed)

    I've avoided many, many games which I would absolutely love to play because of the ongoing gouging of players. It sucks (because there are some really amazing looking games out there) but I'm not pouring an endless stream of money into a game just to be able to enjoy it / enjoy it at a reasonable pace.

    • Extra Credits (a Youtube channel producing videos about game development and design) put out a fantastic video about this a few days ago. Games Should Not Cost $60 Anymore [youtube.com]

      .

      Their thesis is that $60 is an unsustainably low price for producing a modern AAA game. Just considering inflation they should cost at least 25% more (~$75). Market studies indicate that consumers wouldn't accept that. Smartphone apps and Steam have already conditioned us to expect much cheaper games. That's led publishers to trying t

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