The Jimquisition: Is Loot Box Regulation Censorship Of Art?

Oct 24, 2017
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Here's a new video from NeoGAF's most beloved Youtuber...


Loot boxes remain a touchy issue in the game industry, especially now that prospect of regulation has become very real. The defenses, the lies, and the propaganda in support of them has ramped up quite a bit.

The "AAA" industry is going along a rather expected path, hiding behind the concept of art to defend itself. If you regulate loot boxes, they argue, you're censoring art.

David Jaffe has been going off on this very point, and his voice joins others in equating gambling with art. Either naively, or deliberately. Are they right? They are not.
 
Sep 4, 2018
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imo people need to cool it with calling everything art. Duchamp's Fountain was 102 years ago!

maybe everything created by a human hand isn't necessarily art. maybe some things exist just to make money or serve some other purpose.

gonna guess that Jim considers these videos of himself ranting about products produced by others to be works of art.
 
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#10
Of course it's not art. The problem isn't even the loot box, the problem is that they want money for it. So really, regulation isn't stopping them from having loot boxes in their games. -> No censorship. They just do not want to give away loot boxes for free or sell the stuff inside individually because it makes less money...
 
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Jan 3, 2019
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Despite sounding legit on the paper, opening the door to bureaucrats and politicans to control the gaming industry is always a bad idea. They start with loot boxes and before you realize they will be smearing every company with their crap. I don't want people outside the gaming industry to determine how it should be run.
 
Feb 2, 2009
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Its all a slippery slope though, because legislation is unlikely to be so precisely worded that it acts as a surgical strike affecting only the worst offenders.

The question remains, how many degrees of separation does it take to make a random-reward in-game event not gambling, if there's a mtx element tangentially involved?

Bear in mind, its very difficult to legally justify an outright ban on recurrent micro-pay transactions to the extent that I'd consider it effectively impossible. So, following the logic that payment models aren't going anywhere, and neither should randomized rewards as a fundamental ludic mechanic, its all about fire-walling one thing off from the other.
 
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Aug 30, 2018
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There's so much RNG with viewing art already, I mean come on. You never know what you're going to get when you go an art exhibit; plus think about it! Paying the admission fee to see the art and have a ~chance~ at seeing the Mona Lisa displayed? It's so common, you would be stupid to not think lootboxes are art.

/s

There's no way lootboxes, and more egregiously, gambling is art.

Maybe the art of manipulation, but that's some bad stuff to associate yourself with in front of your customer base as a company that wants to stay long term.

"We'll produce manipulation as a product!" Doesn't sound like the smartest move in the world.
 
Feb 22, 2009
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#15
Despite sounding legit on the paper, opening the door to bureaucrats and politicans to control the gaming industry is always a bad idea. They start with loot boxes and before you realize they will be smearing every company with their crap. I don't want people outside the gaming industry to determine how it should be run.
Jim explains the problem with this line of thinking in his video. Yes, most of us would prefer to avoid regulation if possible, but game developers have shown that they knowingly exploit players, including people with compulsive gambling disorders. The industry hasn't policed itself, ergo regulators are filling that void.

Also, the video game business is not special in this regard. If you introduce a gambling model, it's still gambling whether it's a PC game or a slot machine.
 
Feb 2, 2009
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Jim's stuff is always reductive to the point of uselessness.

This is a complicated issue that you cannot treat simplistically; AAA titles employing loot-boxes might be the most visible part of the phenomenon, but they are the tip of the iceberg. What's worse is that this "iceberg" is not a homogenous block, its comprised of products with varying monetization models and produced by independent entities with no direct control over the minutia of each others operations.

No competitor is going to force EA to change their strategy, so acting like culpability is somehow shared is plain stupid.
 
May 30, 2013
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Good to see Jim calling Jaffe out on his fucking idiotic Twitter garbage. Jaffe has always been a fucking clown but recently he has been an even more if a insufferable twat on Twitter.
 
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Jim explains the problem with this line of thinking in his video. Yes, most of us would prefer to avoid regulation if possible, but game developers have shown that they knowingly exploit players, including people with compulsive gambling disorders. The industry hasn't policed itself, ergo regulators are filling that void.

Also, the video game business is not special in this regard. If you introduce a gambling model, it's still gambling whether it's a PC game or a slot machine.
To what extent is this regulated elsewhere?

If we took Canada as an example, what's to stop a guy with a gambling disorder from going to a Casino and spending all his cash?

I think regulations would be things like companies needing to be open about the odds of winning or at least needing to remain within specific odds.

The problem I would see with Jim Sterling's point of view is that he just doesn't want lootboxes in games AT ALL.

I agree with him on that. I would also like to see them gone and I do not think they are good for the industry at all.

However, calls for regulation under the guise of "protecting the players" needs to be a lot clearer and well laid out.

So let's say EA comes out and says "OK we will put a 100 dollar per day cap on players". That solves the issue of compulsive gambling somewhat.
Or they say that a player who spends 100 bucks is basically guaranteed X amount of top tier items.
That doesn't get rid of the lootboxes, which is what I think people want?

I often think that people believe if the government steps in and regulates lootboxes in games that the big companies will just say "fuck this" and abandon the idea entirely. They won't.

I mean, I still think it does need to be regulated but I just don't know what that is supposed to look like.

Regulated /= Banned
 
Aug 20, 2015
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Good to see Jim calling Jaffe out on his fucking idiotic Twitter garbage. Jaffe has always been a fucking clown but recently he has been an even more if a insufferable twat on Twitter.
Regardless of what you think of the characters of the people involved, on one hand you have someone who has been working in an executive level position in the games industry for many years, who has overseen numerous titles through the entire production cycle from concept to a released title, at every possible level of production value, from AAA through to self published indie.
On the other you have someone who has literally never worked on a videogame in any real capacity (no, doing some voiceovers does not lend him any insight into the process as the SAGAFTRA boyciotts showed) and who peddles obviously false conspiracy theories demonstrating not just a lack of knowledge of the games industry, but actual disinformation.

People who actually work on videogames say that post-release monetisation is necessary to support the traditional gaming industry being sustainable
People who have no expertise, professional skills, background, experience or knowledge say it is not.

If you jump to believe the second group and ignore the first group, that says something about you.
 
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Likes: ArchaeEnkidu
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Its all a slippery slope though, because legislation is unlikely to be so precisely worded that it acts as a surgical strike affecting only the worst offenders.

The question remains, how many degrees of separation does it take to make a random-reward in-game event not gambling, if there's a mtx element tangentially involved?

Bear in mind, its very difficult to legally justify an outright ban on recurrent micro-pay transactions to the extent that I'd consider it effectively impossible. So, following the logic that payment models aren't going anywhere, and neither should randomized rewards as a fundamental ludic mechanic, its all about fire-walling one thing off from the other.
It's not that you can't have micro transactions or lootboxes/random chance in your game so much; it's that companies started abusing the mechanics/rates for profit, enough to where their entire customer base finds it a controversial topic.

That's where it crosses from the territory of "Fun random chance," to "Gambling-Like-Chances." Why change your video game to more align with casino business practices?

Regardless of what you think of the characters of the people involved, on one hand you have someone who has been working in an executive level position in the games industry for many years, who has overseen numerous titles through the entire production cycle from concept to a released title, at every possible level of production value, from AAA through to self published indie.
On the other you have someone who has literally never worked on a videogame in any real capacity (no, doing some voiceovers does not lend him any insight into the process as the SAGAFTRA boyciotts showed) and who peddles obviously false conspiracy theories demonstrating not just a lack of knowledge of the games industry, but actual disinformation.

People who actually work on videogames say that post-release monetisation is necessary to support the traditional gaming industry being sustainable
People who have no expertise, professional skills, background, experience or knowledge say it is not.

If you jump to believe the second group and ignore the first group, that says something about you.
It would make sense that instead of developing into a new business model for profits, the current successful model would be downplayed as a necessity for sustainability, which is objectively not true. That's just a standard PR move; I can't think of a company who would come out and say "Oh yeah, we know our business model isn't a necissity for sustaining our company and you don't like it, but it's how we're doing business." It's going to be some spin to where they are in some sort of a positive light.

If this was the ONLY method to sustain a company in this industry, every company that didn't do it would fail. Not only this, but if this was the ONLY way, at some point laws are going to be introduced to protect that as the sustainable measure for that industry, if said industry is large and important enough. The movie industry comes to mind with how it played out in its growth.

Speaking in finites, duality, and ultimatums is an incredibly easy way to close possibilities/bring closed minded behavior and manipulate an issue. I happen to employ this tactic quite a bit.

There ARE more ways than what they are currently doing to gain profits; I do agree with people spreading false information, but it's not like businesses are some moral compass and aren't comprised of people who also have the potential for bad decision making, whether or not it's intentional.

If a large majority of your customers say that they don't like something, you WILL change parts of what's going on to still fit the business model and to sustain your customers. If not, the business WILL fail because of the "Speak with your dollars," idea. Not so much as a political thing, just as a normal "People don't buy stuff they don't like."

All in all the concept of lootboxes is not predatory in and of itself; it's when they're combined with enormous random chance does it become predatory in nature, whether or not it's intentional. I would argue it's not intentional because the concept of Snidely Whiplash type villains rubbing their grimey hands together with Scrooge McDuck proves that people have a hard time separating their own fantasies from reality.

What meeting have you EVER been to where ANYONE in management directly said "Oh yeah this is our new way of exploiting customers for profit and here's the development plan for it."?

P.S. As far as your "You shouldn't speak if you're uneducated on the issue," I agree. I'm not familiar with who you are, so I apologize if this is something you have already made clear in the past: where you do fall in the spectrum of:
People who actually work on videogames say that post-release monetisation is necessary to support the traditional gaming industry being sustainable
People who have no expertise, professional skills, background, experience or knowledge say it is not.
 
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Aug 20, 2015
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If a large majority of your customers say that they don't like something, you WILL change parts of what's going on to still fit the business model and to sustain your customers. If not, the business WILL fail because of the "Speak with your dollars," idea. Not so much as a political thing, just as a normal "People don't buy stuff they don't like."
I agree.
And that's not whats happening.

Lootboxes are super popular. WAY more popular than other forms of post-release monetisation, like selling map packs or selling skins directly.
Thats why the people who don't like them are super mad about it. Because its so popular that more and more games are adding them.

Its so popular people have to pretend that people buying them are being jedi-mind tricked into buying them or some shit.
Because they don't want to face the cold reality that the market at large have no problems with lootboxes and zero fucks to give when buying them.

e:
P.S. As far as your "You shouldn't speak if you're uneducated on the issue," I agree. I'm not familiar with who you are, so I apologize if this is something you have already made clear in the past: where you do fall in the spectrum of:
I've worked on videogames but not at a level where I could confidently tell you any given games production budget or tell you a game "needs" to be monetised a certain way, or any given title is "definitely profitable" in contradiction to someone who did work on a title saying otherwise.
Or in other words I know enough to know how little I know
 
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Feb 22, 2009
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#26
To what extent is this regulated elsewhere?

If we took Canada as an example, what's to stop a guy with a gambling disorder from going to a Casino and spending all his cash?

I think regulations would be things like companies needing to be open about the odds of winning or at least needing to remain within specific odds.

The problem I would see with Jim Sterling's point of view is that he just doesn't want lootboxes in games AT ALL.

I agree with him on that. I would also like to see them gone and I do not think they are good for the industry at all.

However, calls for regulation under the guise of "protecting the players" needs to be a lot clearer and well laid out.

So let's say EA comes out and says "OK we will put a 100 dollar per day cap on players". That solves the issue of compulsive gambling somewhat.
Or they say that a player who spends 100 bucks is basically guaranteed X amount of top tier items.
That doesn't get rid of the lootboxes, which is what I think people want?

I often think that people believe if the government steps in and regulates lootboxes in games that the big companies will just say "fuck this" and abandon the idea entirely. They won't.

I mean, I still think it does need to be regulated but I just don't know what that is supposed to look like.

Regulated /= Banned
Well, Belgium outright declared loot boxes to be gambling and thus illegal as implemented (EA is purposefully breaking that law, I'd add).

I don't think Sterling is calling for an out-and-out ban on loot boxes, but he certainly doesn't like them and isn't surprised that regulators are stepping in.

I agree that there needs to be clarity, too. For a start: paid loot boxes shouldn't be available to minors. They just shouldn't. This doesn't mean putting in a soft age check, this means out-and-out requiring proof of age before you can access it. The odds and potential rewards should be clearly listed; warnings should be distinctly visible on game boxes and product listings; a cap would be good, although it'd definitely have to be lower than $100 (that's $3,000 a month, definitely enough to ruin an addict).

This wouldn't necessarily stop companies from adding paid loot boxes, but they might be put off from the idea if they're made to treat it like the gambling that it is. Think of it like cigarettes -- smoking fell out of favor in part because it went from a trivially easy and 'cool' thing to a pain that's rightly stigmatized at every step. If paid loot boxes became one of those "are you sure? No really, are you sure?" things, they'd probably fall out of favor with some developers.
 
Likes: Saruhashi
Feb 2, 2009
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it strikes me there isn't a "nice" solution to this.

Think about it in terms of motivation. Why do people pay for these things in the first place?

The thrill isn't the process of gambling, its about the promise of the chance of instantly getting better stuff in their game. It offers the possibility of a short-cut to that end.

In the real world, people with more money get the best stuff. This is just how it works, so if you remove the randomization aspect and simply allow people to buy their way to the top its just a haves and have-nots situation.

People with an obsessive compulsion to be the "best" will still spend excessively and accrue the costs involved, either that or indulge in the sort of all-consuming grind that carries its own cluster of life-destroying penalties.

Addicts will still be addicts, its about their lack of impulse control and its likely going to fuck them up badly in they end. They are proverbial Titanics in search of icebergs.

The harshest issue with real-world gambling is the vicious cycle that comes from the addict trying to bet their way out of the debts they've accrued. This cannot happen when the goal item is virtual and lacking cash-out value, and so its not quite the same thing as actual, for-money, gambling addiction.

Which is why I believe that calling loot-boxes gambling is a false premise.

Its similar insofar as its exploitative of people lacking impulse control, but its really a separate thing as what they stand to gain from "winning" as opposed to "losing" is pretty much nonexistent. Both are virtual and fundamentally worthless outside the fulfillment of a psychologically conditioned sense of desire.

This psychological conditioning aspect is where the art and commerce fields converge. Art, particularly dramatic art is all about manipulation. Making people want more is the key thing, because that's the engine that drives it all.

Basic Skinner-box manipulation is artless and cheap, but its effective as hell. Keeping the rats hitting the reward button is the important part, that the button only gives a reward 1% of the time actually works against reinforcement , but it extends it.

The point is that you don't need the randomizer, so long as you slowly drip-feed rewards, you can keep your addicts on the hook for long, long, time.

So, how do you legislate against that?
 
Apr 18, 2018
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#29
Personally, I don't see the need for outright legislation to solve this issue. The big companies will find a way to squeeze the money out a different way. If people want "change", then the current list of top publishers needs to be different. In other words, some AAA publishers need to go out of business.

Sometime in the near future, features like "physical", "complete at launch", and "no DLC" will actually become selling points and smaller indies and savvy publishers will be able to make lucrative profits by serving the market elbowed out of the way by the pay-to-win companies. We are already seeing new stores pop up all the time that offer physical versions of digital-only titles.

The only casualties of letting the market act this out would be a bunch of dead AAA publishers and their customer base.

 
Feb 23, 2009
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#30
I don't care for loot boxes (I'm pretty good at avoiding them in general somehow) but it does concern me that the government will have input that may result in some content removed or modified. I mean, I totally understand why people don't like them (I don't, either) but I'd rather have that people not buying the game or whatever as opposed to having the government directly involved in decisions regarding games.

It's a lose - situation, in my opinion.

P.S. I didn't watch the video but wanted to comment on the topic. I apologize if I misunderstood or sound redundant.
 
Oct 2, 2018
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Well, Belgium outright declared loot boxes to be gambling and thus illegal as implemented (EA is purposefully breaking that law, I'd add).

I don't think Sterling is calling for an out-and-out ban on loot boxes, but he certainly doesn't like them and isn't surprised that regulators are stepping in.

I agree that there needs to be clarity, too. For a start: paid loot boxes shouldn't be available to minors. They just shouldn't. This doesn't mean putting in a soft age check, this means out-and-out requiring proof of age before you can access it. The odds and potential rewards should be clearly listed; warnings should be distinctly visible on game boxes and product listings; a cap would be good, although it'd definitely have to be lower than $100 (that's $3,000 a month, definitely enough to ruin an addict).

This wouldn't necessarily stop companies from adding paid loot boxes, but they might be put off from the idea if they're made to treat it like the gambling that it is. Think of it like cigarettes -- smoking fell out of favor in part because it went from a trivially easy and 'cool' thing to a pain that's rightly stigmatized at every step. If paid loot boxes became one of those "are you sure? No really, are you sure?" things, they'd probably fall out of favor with some developers.
I think it will be interesting if you have different countries with different rules regarding gambling. Meaning that the UK version of FIFA could have FUT packs and, say, the French version may not have them.

Agreed on the no gambling for minors thing. I believe that in some countries you need to send proof of age to get into online gambling.

Fundamentally, I think lootboxes etc are bad overall. For an old cunt like me I just want to buy a game and play it with no fuss.

Even the set up in the new Smash Bros game is kind of worrying. The way the "spirits" feature is implemented I wonder if there was ever a plan to charge players for packs of random spirits.

Could you imagine old school Final Fantasy offering Exp boosters for 10 bucks, alternate costumes for 5 bucks each, a set of random one use spells or buffs for 5 bucks?

Of course, it's possible that it's people like us who are in fact disconnected from the reality of what's going on in the industry.
People who go out of their way to post on message boards etc might not be the same people plowing 100s of bucks into FIFA on a monthly basis.
I think we can see this kind of reflected in the fact that a lot of "big" announcements are announcements for mobile games based on big(ish) franchises like Diablo and Alien.

I am much more inclined to support indie devs these days but I genuinely feel for them having to exist in an industry where a well thought out and expertly implemented idea can be financially dwarfed by some lazy microtransaction laden mobile shite.
 
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I dunno but Jim Sterling talking about art is a laugh. I can't think of another critic I'd trust less to have that conversation; maybe Yahtzee.

it strikes me there isn't a "nice" solution to this.

Think about it in terms of motivation. Why do people pay for these things in the first place?

The thrill isn't the process of gambling, its about the promise of the chance of instantly getting better stuff in their game. It offers the possibility of a short-cut to that end.

In the real world, people with more money get the best stuff. This is just how it works, so if you remove the randomization aspect and simply allow people to buy their way to the top its just a haves and have-nots situation.

People with an obsessive compulsion to be the "best" will still spend excessively and accrue the costs involved, either that or indulge in the sort of all-consuming grind that carries its own cluster of life-destroying penalties.

Addicts will still be addicts, its about their lack of impulse control and its likely going to fuck them up badly in they end. They are proverbial Titanics in search of icebergs.

The harshest issue with real-world gambling is the vicious cycle that comes from the addict trying to bet their way out of the debts they've accrued. This cannot happen when the goal item is virtual and lacking cash-out value, and so its not quite the same thing as actual, for-money, gambling addiction.

Which is why I believe that calling loot-boxes gambling is a false premise.

Its similar insofar as its exploitative of people lacking impulse control, but its really a separate thing as what they stand to gain from "winning" as opposed to "losing" is pretty much nonexistent. Both are virtual and fundamentally worthless outside the fulfillment of a psychologically conditioned sense of desire.

This psychological conditioning aspect is where the art and commerce fields converge. Art, particularly dramatic art is all about manipulation. Making people want more is the key thing, because that's the engine that drives it all.

Basic Skinner-box manipulation is artless and cheap, but its effective as hell. Keeping the rats hitting the reward button is the important part, that the button only gives a reward 1% of the time actually works against reinforcement , but it extends it.

The point is that you don't need the randomizer, so long as you slowly drip-feed rewards, you can keep your addicts on the hook for long, long, time.

So, how do you legislate against that?
Good post. I'm not a fan of loot-boxes but what you've said makes me think people should realise that games are addictive by nature. People used to talk about addiction to games being a serious issue all the time before loot-boxes came along. Personally I don't think the issue ever went away - it's more like it converged into this thing we call loot-boxes.

The point is that you don't need the randomizer, so long as you slowly drip-feed rewards, you can keep your addicts on the hook for long, long, time.

Isn't this something games simply do by default? Like, boot up any game with levels or grinding and it's all about trying to hook you. Only it's your time not money. Is that better??

And regarding the bold, I slightly disagree. I think that's an appropriate description of entertainment, which is largely about giving people what they want and appealing to emotions. For me, art is about questioning people and putting them into a different frame of mind, sometimes uncomfortably so. Not many lootbox-filled AAA games do that.
 
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#35
I think it will be interesting if you have different countries with different rules regarding gambling. Meaning that the UK version of FIFA could have FUT packs and, say, the French version may not have them.
I largely agree with what you said, but I'm not sure region-by-region differences would work. Many games with loot box-style mechanics often base progression and reward systems around them, so taking them out without adjusting the gameplay itself can turn things into a bit of a slog. It'd only really work in situations where the loot boxes are completely detached or where the studio is willing to invest time in balancing the game twice.
 
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#36
Censoring the business practice of selling lootboxes isn't the same as censoring all those pretty boxes and the psychologically satisfying, manipulative lights and sounds they produce when you open them.

Games can have all of those they want. They just shouldn't be able to charge for them.