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Dutch Study Finds Some Video Game Loot Boxes Broke the Law (vice.com) 90

The Netherlands Gaming Authority has published a study it conducted of 10 video games that reward players with loot boxes, packages players can sometimes buy with real money that contain random-in game rewards, and found that 4 of the 10 games it studied violated the Dutch Gaming Act. "It determined that loot boxes are, in general, addictive and that four of the games allowed players to trade items they'd won outside of the game, which means they've got a market value," reports Motherboard. From the report: According to the study, the authorities picked games "based on their popularity on a leading Internet platform that streams videos of games and players." Motherboard has reached out to the Gaming Authority for clarification on both the games it picked (the study doesn't name them) and the method by which it picked them, but did not receive an immediate reply. However, Twitch is the most popular way gamers watch others play and it's a good bet that Twitch is how the Gaming Authority focused its attention. Six of the ten games the Gaming Authority studied aren't in violation of Dutch law. "With these games, there is no opportunity to sell the prizes won outside of the game," the press release said. "This means that the goods have no market value and these loot boxes do not satisfy the definition of a prize in Section 1 of the Betting and Gaming Act."

The four others though offer the opportunity for players to trade items outside of the game and therefore meet the the Netherlands definition of gambling. To come into compliance, those games need to make their loot boxes less interesting to open. The Gaming Authority wants the companies to "remove the addiction-sensitive elements ('almost winning' effects, visual effects, ability to keep opening loot boxes quickly one after the other and suchlike)...and to implement measures to exclude vulnerable groups or to demonstrate that the loot boxes on offer are harmless."

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Dutch Study Finds Some Video Game Loot Boxes Broke the Law

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  • I think it sounds really sad to have laws saying you cannot have game items that players can trade with each other.

    Sure there can then be some real profit derived. But what is so bad about paying someone what may amount to 10 cents an hour because they like to grind, for an item that you find valuable?

    It's up to game designers, not law makers, to decide if trades can upset game balance by having noobs buy overpowered stuff to start with.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      trading them *OUTSIDE* the game.

      Secondlife or Entropia would be examples of this. Combine those games with lootboxes and you would have a violation.

      Under the terms listed above, it sounds like Star Wars: Battlefront 2 doesn't qualify however, even though that was the game that brought down the scrutiny.

      • by Calydor ( 739835 )

        And if I give you a six-pack of beer for that rare skin you just got from a box, then what?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          And if I give you a six-pack of beer for that rare skin you just got from a box, then what?

          Well, I'd figure you probably aren't the only person that would trade something of value for a token. I'd hire a bunch of contractors to grind on the game and open a store to sell the goodies to you for real monies. The game would quickly degenerate into a "winner is the one who pays the most" type of game. Boring.

        • And if I give you a six-pack of beer for that rare skin you just got from a box, then what?

          Depends on the beer.

          In general, though, I've got beer to drink at the next picnic/ballgame/whatever, and you've got a rare skin that I have no use for.

          Sounds like a win for me, but if you're not a beer-drinker, you'll probably think you came out ahead on the deal....

    • by Megane ( 129182 )

      This isn't about grinding, but "loot boxes", also known by the Japanese word "gatcha", specifically those that you can buy in the game's cash shop for real-world money, which give you random, sometimes rare, items when you open them. And apparently some of them even give visual effects while opening them, increasing the anticipation. Note that some games sell "keys" in the cash shop, to open locked loot boxes, but that's not much different other than limiting you by how many boxes you've found.

      One game I p

      • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Sunday April 22, 2018 @05:32PM (#56485335)

        specifically those that you can buy in the game's cash shop for real-world money

        That is only half of the problem. The other half is that if you "win" a rare or valuable item, you can turn around and SELL it for real-world money.

        You can buy a loot box with $s and have a chance to win $$$s. That is gambling.

        • by Megane ( 129182 )
          Yes, maybe I just didn't say it well. I think both should be required to call it gambling, but people are so touchy about it that they'll jump at anything that looks even a little bit like it.
          • That was the case here. The summary just didn't make it clear. It's only a problem if items are tradable / have value, and if the contents are received via luck in exchange for currency.

        • You can buy a loot box with $s and have a chance to win $$$s. That is gambling.

          I can buy an item no-one wants at an action, and have it turn out to be valuable. The practice is so common there are a variety of TV shows doing just that... why are auctions or garage sales allowed?

          Anything you buy theoretically might be worth way more than you paid for it later. Or less. Gambling is a straight-up return of money for money based on some random factor, not purchasing an item, then deciding you do not need it

          • I can buy an item no-one wants at an action, and have it turn out to be valuable.

            If an activity can be systematically profitable to someone with skill and knowledge, then it is not "gambling" even if most participants lose money.

            Plenty of people earn a living buying stuff at auctions and garage sales, and then reselling on eBay.

            In some jurisdictions poker is not considered gambling, because professional players can systematically win over the less skilled.

          • I don't think you got the problem.

            It is NOT 'buying something' that you know better and then 'selling it'.

            It is buying something that NOBODY knows the value (actually, nobody knows what's inside) and, then, selling it.

            When you buy, it can be LITERALLY nothing or something extremely rare and expensive. That is, by the very definition, gambling.

            Of course we can all agree that gambling is just fine - but that doesn't make it less gambling.

          • Gambling is a straight-up return of money for money based on some random factor, not purchasing an item, then deciding you do not need it and sell it.

            Ever been to a casino? What would you call "chips"? They're useful so long as you continue to want to play the game, otherwise they're just "in-game only items" which you will trade for real $$$ when you're done.

        • You can buy a loot box with $s and have a chance to win $$$s. That is gambling.

          Are they actually getting money from the loot box? Or are they getting an item that they can keep and not resell if they don't feel like it?

          • They get something of monetary value. Like a car. Not something woth no monetary value, like a hug.

            • They get something of monetary value. Like a car. Not something woth no monetary value, like a hug.

              So it's just like purchases a pack of baseball cards, or trading cards or Pokémon cards, or a Kinder egg, or a blind bag. You know that there's something inside, but you don't know exactly what it is. You may want to keep it, or you may want to sell it. It's up to the purchaser. Under the same logic Kinder egg's need to be banned because you're purchasing something with an unknown item, which may have monetary value. You never know when a collector is going to be willing to pay money for nostalgia.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          It is not just gambling, it is gambling targeted at easily impressionable and manipulated minors. Basically full grown adults, often multi-millionaires, scamming children out of their pocket money, it is really scummy stuff and should be criminalised. Seriously adults cheating children of their pocket money and it is celebrated like some virtue by main stream media because it makes arse holes rich and they get to pose with super cars, mansions, private jets, all out of children's pocket money, seriously lam

        • . . . . have items bind to the toon when picked up. If you can't use it. . . . it lays there until it de-spawns. . .

          • But then it quickly loses value when you build up a collection of duplicate "common" items you can't sell -- and much less people will buy over a long term, as they become more and more likely to yield 0 return versus maybe selling for a 50% (or 500%) return. Is that better? I can't say. But it's not to the benefit of folks who sell pixels for currency.
    • for trading. That's how gambling sites work. Just make it so you can only trade in game and you have to hold onto an item for a while. Valve Just did the latter [kotaku.com] and that alone has almost made "skin gambling" dead. Take the APIs away and problem solved.
      • It depends on what you call the "problem". If the problem is being considered gambling under current law, then making the items non-transferable would solve it. If the problem is an addiction risk for players, then there are several more properties mentioned in the report, like illusion of skill, near misses and the opening being accompanied by visual and sound effects.

        Here is the full report [kansspelautoriteit.nl] (English version, PDF), for anyone interested in the details.

    • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Sunday April 22, 2018 @06:02PM (#56485447) Journal
      IIRC the Dutch law on gaming says:
      - You can trade in-game items with each others.
      - You can sell in-game items to others (but Internal Revenue will want their cut)
      - You can have random crap spawn in-game, even if the drop includes rares that can be sold for RL currency

      What you cannot have is:
      - Random crap that may include valuable rares, AND
      - The ability to trade those rares for RL currency, AND
      - The option / necessity to plonk down RL cash to obtain these random items.
      Those three things together constitute "online gambling" according to the law.
    • > I think it sounds really sad to have laws saying you cannot
      > have game items that players can trade with each other.

      I know this is Slashdot, but it really helps if you RTFS. This involves trading items obtained from loot boxes, for goods/services in the real world. Let's compare...

      1) You walk into a store that sells lottery tickets, plunk down cash, and buy a lottery ticket. It gives you the chance to win some unknown variable amount of money, which you can use in the real world.

      2) You play a game,

    • That would be sad and it is also nothing at all what happened.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday April 22, 2018 @04:07PM (#56485007)

    And as long as we put up with being nickle-and-dimed, they'll continue to do it. What we have to do is to simply avoid games that charge 60 bucks for the "privilege" of even playing it, then another 30 for 0day DLC and another 30ish a month just to keep playing for the various tools and toys you "have to" buy to stay competitive.

    As long as you keep paying, they'll keep milking you. Is that what you want?

    • And as long as we put up with being nickle-and-dimed, they'll continue to do it. What we have to do is to simply avoid games that charge 60 bucks for the "privilege" of even playing it, then another 30 for 0day DLC and another 30ish a month just to keep playing for the various tools and toys you "have to" buy to stay competitive.

      As long as you keep paying, they'll keep milking you. Is that what you want?

      Fee-to-pay..

      Yeah, zero tolerance is the only way.

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      It is nothing more than free market. Want to play a game on day one, and get all the fancy stuff, then you have to pay for the privilege. If you don't want to, just wait a year or two for the sales, you can often get -75%, with the most popular DLC included. On the other side, if you are a die hard fan with money to spend, there are often "collector editions" with goodies and stuff for 2 or 3 times the price.

      Believe it or not, I think it is a fair system. They are milking people with money to spend, and oth

      • It is nothing more than free market.

        No, it's a lot nastier than that. There are people clearly wired to need the excitement of gambling. This is designed to suck as much money from them as possible.

        That's harsh and brutal. It's akin to drug dealing.

      • The complaint here is not about DLC per-se (which I know some people have objections to, but honestly I don't see the problem), it's about loot boxes specifically, which are a form of gambling. Given the amounts of money people are encouraged to spend, it's a problem.
    • People who are easily exploitable; e.g. kids and folks with mental illnesses. Gambling does the same thing, so we heavily regulate it (and even then folks sometimes lose everything to gambling addiction).

      It's not something these people "want". They're either too young to know better or they can't help themselves. In both cases it's worthwhile protecting them.
    • You're oversimplifying things.
      Indeed, loot boxes are a player problem, but this gets complicated by how these loot boxes are presented and offered.
      The seller (gaming company) uses all the tricks from the book to get players hooked.
      Maybe you're a mental Arnold Schwartzenegger, with amazing resistance to those psychological tricks, congrats if so. However, most people aren't. Even TFS says "implement measures to exclude vulnerable groups" - e.g. children under 13.

      Experts can analyze the loot box mechanics in

  • They are practically FILLED with "addiction-sensitive elements" that need to be removed ('almost winning' effects, visually arousing effects, ability to keep starting interactions with beautiful women one after the other, for even more 'almost winning' effects, and suchlike). Measures to exclude vulnerable groups (males, ages 12-80) really NEED to be implemented, NOW!!!!!!!!11 (...or, we could just stop the over-regulation bullsh*t and let people be responsible for their own stupid behavior, perhaps?)
    • What kind of night club admits 12 year olds?!
      • What kind of night club admits 12 year olds?!

        I never said they did. I guess this just means that they already managed to "implement the measures to exclude" that part of the "vulnerable groups" so far. If they could now only find a way to exclude the rest (males, 18-80?) too, AND ban the "addiction-inducing elements" (i.e., the women), or "make them less interesting" (only allow in fat, blue-haired feminazi women?), the goal would be reached and the rules would finally be fitting modern society (in more than one way...).

  • You don't know the toy you'll get inside the candy? Doesn't that fit the definition of gambling?
  • Open a lego box, it is also gambling. There is more chance of finding a dead rat than winning the lottery.
  • Netherlands has a serious problem with human trafficing [dutchnews.nl]. Why not put the funds into combatting that problem rather than micromanaging how people waste money on games? Or return some of sky high taxes back to people? That's how great countries die, by governments becoming bloated and unfocused rather than doing a few things well.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Because it's possible for a government to do multiple things at once?

      > That's how great countries die, by governments becoming bloated and unfocused rather than doing a few things well.

      Got any examples of that happening?

  • In my whole Life I have never ever bought anything without knowing exactly what I would get. And let me add that while I have invested several 10.000 € over the last 40 years into my personal computer hard and software I have not spend 100 € into ingame purchases.

    Because honestly I think everyone who invests big into a small chance of getting "the one fancy hat" which is just bits and bytes is an obvious idiot who should be checked for his mental health and maybe put under tutelage.

  • Or do they get a pass because nobody cares?
  • I can't find the list of 10 games mentioned in the study:

    Study into loot boxes: A treasure or a burden? [kansspelautoriteit.nl]

    The Netherlands Gaming Authority studied ten games. These ten games were
    selected based on popularity on a leading platform that streams videos of games
    and players.

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