Category Archives: Loot Box (video game gambling)

YouTube Creators Under Fire for Underage Gambling Promotion by Sponsoring Loot Boxes

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing developments over a video game type mechanic known as loot boxes. Player, often children, spend money to gamble at receiving a mystery item from a box. This loot can sometimes be traded or sold for cash. Over 16 countries have either regulated it or called for studies. Most recently the FTC. In England, the House of Commons called loot boxes massive and addictive technology. The use has been primarily seen in video games but the idea has spread to YouTube. Both American and UK YouTubers are under fire for offering the ability for their viewers, mostly. The UK’s Telegraph explains: 

Popular YouTubers have come under fire for promoting controversial games linked to gambling to young viewers. Jake Paul and Brian “RiceGum” Lee, who have 28.5 million subscribers between them, were among those criticised for posting sponsored videos showing them spending money on “loot boxes”.

Loot boxes, which appear in video games, prompt players to spend money in exchange for random in-game purchases. In new promotional videos, both Jake Paul and Brian “RiceGum” Lee clicked on online mystery treasure chests and revealed they had won real life objects including Apple AirPods and trainers worth $1,000.

MysteryBrand, the company behind the promotional videos, offers a real-life version of these boxes that can cost between $3.99 (£3.16) and $1,300 (£1,028) apiece. Each box contains a range of possible pre-selected items but a user has no idea what they will get until they have paid.

MysteryBrand is understood to have paid $100,000 for the videos, which were lambasted by the duo’s viewers as well as YouTubers Ethan Klein, Kavos and PewDiePie.

Given the size of some to these content creators YouTube channels, its somewhat surprising that they wouldn’t vet the loot box concept. Unfortunately, they didn’t with one even saying he didn’t think it’s a big deal at all. YouTube released a statement and pulled at least one of the videos and regulators have called this out as gambling. An online source reports:

YouTube has already pulled Hudson’s promotion from view, with a spokesperson saying: “YouTube believes that creators should be transparent with their audiences if their content includes paid promotion of any kind. Our policies make it clear that YouTube creators are responsible for ensuring their content complies with local laws, regulations and YouTube community guidelines. If content is found to violate these policies, we take action to ensure the integrity of our platform, which can include removing content.”

The activities of MysteryBrand are still being assessed by the Gambling Commission but the children’s commissioner for England has already come out against the service, telling the paper that this amounted to ‘gambling, plain and simple’.

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FTC and Others Investigating the Dangers of Loot Boxes in Video Games and their Gambling Impact

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing happenings of loot boxes, a video game mechanic that most view as a form of gambling that prays on children. Various local and international agencies have taken the threat seriously and have started seriously looking into the dangers of loot boxes and their link to gambling. Most recently, 16 countries signed an agreement to study loot boxes as more and more evidence draws links between loot boxes and problem gambling. As an online source reports, the FTC is joining in those that have expressed serious concern with their own investigations:

Federal Trade Commission chairman Joe Simons announced Tuesday that the agency would be investigating the use of micro-transactions, commonly referred to as loot boxes, in video games. According to NBC, there has been growing concern around the use of these loot boxes, which some view as a form of gambling designed to be addictive that is marketed to children.

Earlier this year, Senator Maggie Hassan of New Jersey sent a letter to the Entertainment and Software Ratings Board (ESRB) president to request that she re-evaluate how the board rates games with loot boxes, according to the popular gaming news platform Polygon.

“The prevalence of in-game micro-transactions, often referred to as ‘loot boxes,’ raises several concerns surrounding the use of psychological principles and enticing mechanics that closely mirror those often found in casinos and games of chance,” Hassan wrote in her letter.

Researchers looking into the issue have found signs of addictive behavior and problem gambling among gamers who spend money on loot boxes. One study published in the /Public Library of Science/ which surveyed 7,000 gamers found that “the gambling-like features of loot boxes are specifically responsible for the observed relationship between problem gambling and spending on loot boxes.” They therefore concluded that “there may be good reason to regulate loot boxes in games.”

Across the pond, similar investigations are happening in the UK as the criticisms of look boxes grow, particularly as some of the most popular video games in the industry are adopting these predatory gaming mechanics. The Guardian reports: 

A House of Commons committee has announced plans to investigate the growth of “immersive and addictive technologies”, to advise the government on how to create policy and regulation that can protect the public from the negative effects of digitisation and “gamification”.

It follows a growing campaign against deliberately addictive mechanics in technology and video games, particularly the crossover with gambling represented by “loot boxes” – randomised rewards sold in games for real money.

The links between gaming and gambling is one of the key points to be investigated by the committee, which will ask: “What are the effects of in-game spending, especially on children, and does it need stronger monitoring or regulation?”

Games such as Fifa, Overwatch and Call of Duty have been criticised for the practice, which has led to reports of primary school-age children spending almost £500 on Fifa players and getting into the habit of spending £15 a week on pseudo-gambling. 

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UPDATE: 16 Countries Sign Agreement to Fight Loot Box Gambling in Video Games as New Study Draws Link Between Loot Boxes & Problem Gambling

Casino Watch Focus has long reported on the ongoing fight to regulate the addictive and gambling-esque gameplay mechanic known as loot boxes. Video games offer boxes that can be purchased for real money and they randomly provide in-game items. These items often have real world value and have certainly been sold as such. Clear links between this and slot machine gambling have been drawn and many are realizing what’s at steak. The issue became a main-stream topic when the Disney’s popular Start Wars franchise was licensed and used by video game publisher EA to make Battlefront II. The loot boxes were a critical component to advancing in the game and it was practically essential from children playing the game to buy these loot boxes to get equipment to be able to compete in the game. The situation was so bad one legislator called the game and Star Wars Themed online casino. After several individual dealings with loot box regulation, including the first actual ban, we now see the first coalition attempting to regulate this new form of gambling to children. Variety explains: 

Fifteen gambling regulators from Europe, as well as Washington State Gambling Commission, signed an agreement to work together to address the “risks created by the blurring of lines between gaming and gambling,” according to Gambling Commission It also plans to tackle third-party websites that offer players the chance to gamble or sell in-game items.

Certain countries, like Belgium and the Netherlands, have already taken measures including officially declaring loot boxes as gambling. Those countries even had players unable to open loot boxes in “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” (CS:GO) due to some players selling rare skins and other in-game items on third-party websites, sometimes for large sums of actual money.

Another measure was taken by popular games selling platform Steam, as Valve removed the ability to trade items in “CS:GO” and “Dota 2” on its platform to comply with gambling regulations in June. However, this will mark the first international combined effort against the concerns of gaming and gambling— which could mean a more intense effort than what individual states have taken.

Neil McArthur, chief executive and signatory of the UK’s Gambling Commission explained the intent behind the effort. “We have joined forces to call on video games companies to address the clear public concern around the risks gambling and some video games can pose to children,” McArthur said. “We encourage video games companies to work with their gambling regulators and take action now to address those concerns to make sure that consumers, and particularly children, are protected.” McArthur further noted that children could be “gambling with money intended for computer game products” using sites that allow users to bet real currency on in-game items. “We want parents to be aware of the risks and to talk to their children about how to stay safe online,” McArthur said.

Such efforts are even more critically important as more and more research is revealing the true cost and risk to our children. It was already reported that the loot box industry is expected to reach $50 billion dollars, but new research is demonstrating exactly what kind of negative effects that can have on children, and given the psychological similarities between gambling and these gaming mechanics, its no surprise the finding point towards a gateway to problem gambling. An online gaming publication reports:

An Australian committee has released the findings of an investigation on loot boxes in video games started earlier this year, reporting that loot boxes and problem gambling are linked and that the monetization practice comes with “a serious risk […] to cause gambling-related harm.”

The debate about loot boxes and their connection to gambling has been raging for quite some time at this point, but the Australian government’s investigation and findings back a growing number of lawmaking bodies and regulatory committees working to impose or encourage regulation of the practice.

In the case of this investigation, and according to information on the study shared by Lexology, researchers looked at a sample size of roughly 7,500 individuals and found “important links between loot box spending and problem gambling.”

The report notes that players with severe gambling problems were more likely to spend large sums on loot boxes in video games, and that its findings suggest that loot boxes can act as a gateway to problem gambling and that the monetization practice itself gives game companies “an unregulated way of exploiting gambling disorders amongst their customers.”

“These results support the position of academics who claim that loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling,” reads a statement shared along with the findings, shortly after calling back to an earlier quote from the ESRB that likened loot boxes to baseball cards. “Spending large amounts of money on loot boxes was associated with problematic levels of spending on other forms of gambling. This is what one would expect if loot boxes psychologically constituted a form of gambling. It is not what one would expect if loot boxes were, instead, psychologically comparable to baseball cards.” 

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McDonald’s Come Under Fire for Super Mario Slot Machine Toy

Casino Watch Focus has long reported on underage gambling and risk factors for children exposed to gambling. The NFL came under fire for marketing fantasy football to minors, and they decided to end those efforts. More recently, its been loot boxes in video games that have been so widely discussed. As many have explained, it’s a game mechanic with virtually no difference from gambling, with on legislator outright calling Battlefield II a “Star Wars Themed Online Casino.” Where as Mickey Mouse, the second most recognizable character in the world under Disney was under fire (as they own the Star Wars brand and had to intervene in the loot box situation), its now the world most recognizable character, Nintendo’s Mario, that’s in news.   McDonalds made a slot machine toy of Mario in a line of Nintendo themed happy meal toys, and its been called inappropriate by the National Council on Problem Gambling and others. An online source explains: 

Today, Jennifer Kruse, Executive Director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling (FCCG), joined the National Council on Problem Gambling by calling upon the toy manufacturer giant, Nintendo® of America, and the fast food industry leader, McDonald’s®, to stop marketing their Slot Machine Super Mario™ toy from McDonald’s® Happy Meals®.

“We were shocked when we noted the slot machine toy in a Happy Meal® here in Florida. Nintendo® and McDonald’s® need to be attentive to the messages their products are promoting among children,” said Kruse. Youngsters are very impressionable and despite the restrictions to gamble among minors, research reveals that adolescents are involved in gambling activities and are at higher risk for developing gambling problems than their adult counterparts.”

“Just because you cannot easily ‘see’ a hazard, does not mean it doesn’t exist. Had the Super Mario™ Happy Meal® toy highlighted a bottle of beer or bloodshot eyes, or had the fantasy character smoking a cigarette, government and others would be up in arms. Unfortunately, we can no longer afford a double standard when research confirms that problem gambling is a growing public health issue, in general, and especially among adolescents, that demands attention now,” concluded Kruse. 

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New Loot Box Legislation Proposed Domestically as Foreign Governments Ban them in Video Games: Publishers State they Wont Stop Exposing Children & Gamers to Such Practices

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing realization that loot boxes are simply a sophisticated form of gambling in video games. More and more jurisdictions are becoming aware of loot box and skin gambling as they are expected to reach revenue over $50 billion dollars by 2020. Many domestic jurisdictions have already proposed regulations, studies or called for the industry to self-regulate. Minnesota is the most recent to propose legislation. An online source explains: 

[N]ew loot box bill was introduced in Minnesota this week. The bill joins other state level legislative efforts in the USA, which were introduced since the global loot box debate peaked in the second half of 2017. State Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South Saint Paul) introduced the bill H.F. 4460, which “would regulate ‘loot box’ gambling in video games”. The matter was discussed and both parties spoke in favor of the bill. According to Rep. Hansen “People are spending real money on random drawings in video games. Minnesota regulates gambling and when loot boxes meet the threshold to be considered gambling, then we need to treat it as such and regulate it too.”

The bill prohibits the sale of a “video game containing a system that permits the in-game purchase of (1) a randomized reward or rewards, or (2) a virtual item that can be redeemed to directly or indirectly receive a randomized reward or rewards to a person under 18 years of age” [sic].

Additionally, no video game may be sold or provided unless accompanied by a warning stating: “Warning: This game contains a gambling-like mechanism that may promote the development of a gaming disorder that increases the risk of harmful mental or physical health effects, and may expose the user to significant financial risk.” For games sold through electronic means, the warning must be acknowledged by the purchaser.

The Minnesota bill has a long way to go before it becomes binding legislation, as do most of the domestic bills discussed recently. However, several foreign government have passed and implement regulations including outright banning loot boxes from video games. The online European source The Verdict explains: 

Belgium has followed the Netherlands in banning the sale of loot boxes in video games, as Europe begins to crack down on what it deems to be illegal gambling operations run by major game publishers. Speaking to /Verdict/, a Belgian Gaming Commission spokesperson said: “The Belgian Gaming Commission has come to the conclusion thatreal-money loot boxes are gambling. This means that in Belgium, these types of games are prohibited unless licensed.”

If they do not adapt their games, they all potentially face criminal prosecution. Punishments would include up to five years in prison and fines of up to €800,000, which could be doubled if it is found that minors were involved.

It is highly likely that this would be the case. Approximately 22% of video gamers are aged between ten and 20 years old according to Statista, which is largely the cause of the Belgian Gaming Commission’s concerns. The Belgian Gaming Commission added:

“Real-money loot boxes are not innocent. Especially because the video games that they appear in are often played by children. “The Gaming Commission wants to protect the players in general and vulnerable groups (e.g. minors) in particular.”

Despite all these bans and all the discussion of how loot boxes are gambling and harmful to children, publishers don’t seem to willing to stop such predatory practices. EA, the publisher whose Star Wars video game Battlefront started this backlash, has been the most vocal about their inability to part from this gaming mechanic. The Verdict continues:

The loot box debate has been going for some time, but the bans issued by the Netherlands and Belgium are the first sign that governments are beginning to take notice. However, at least for the time being, publishers are unlikely to be too concerned.

Tom Wijman, market consultant at video game research company Newzoo, told Verdict: “I don’t expect publishers to be too worried, it should be quite simple to turn the option for loot boxes off for Belgian and Dutch bank accounts, and those markets are pretty small compared to the United States or UK.”

EA stated that it disagrees with Belgium’s ruling. A company spokesperson told /Verdict/ that the company welcomes discussions with Belgian authorities, but did not confirm whether it intends to comply with the request to remove these items from its games. EA CEO Andrew Wilson has since told industry analysts that the company plans to continue pushing forward with services such as Fifa Ultimate Team, which generates vast revenues through the sale of loot box items known as player packs.

For now, the issue is more of a nuisance than a problem for game publishers, but it could get worse if other regulators decide to follow Belgium’s lead. “I think the significant part about these bans isn’t so much theNetherlands and Belgium banning loot boxes, but rather the messagethis sends to regulatory institutions for gambling worldwide,”Wijman added. Should other countries issue similar bans, the attack on loot boxes could prove costly for developers.

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Video Game Loot Boxes and Skins Gambling Pose Risk to Children as Revenue Generated are Expected to Reach $50 Billion

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing battle by legislators and video game companies over the highly controversial loot box mechanics that many see as out right gambling being marketed to children and older gamers alike. Its now being reported that revenue generating from micro transactions in video games could almost double over the next four years. An online investment source explains: 

A new study from Juniper Research forecasts that loot boxes and skins gambling, two emerging gaming growth sectors, will reach a total spend of $50 billion by 2022, up from under $30 billion this year. Loot boxes are in-game packs which contain a random selection of items; while skins are in-game cosmetics which change the appearance of weapons or characters.

The new research, Daily Fantasy Sports & In-game Gambling; Skins and Loot Boxes 2018-2022, found that skins gambling should be of great concern to regulators. Frequently utilized as virtual currency for betting, skins are then cashed-in for real money via online trading platforms.

Research author Lauren Foye explained: “Skins are acquired both through playing video games and from opening purchased loot boxes. These items have value depending on rarity and popularity within game communities. On PCs, skins are traded for real money via Steam’s ‘Marketplace’; the platform has 125 million registered users globally.”

These grown numbers are especially troubling when one understands just how prevent these transactions are accessible by children. In the US, many legislators have taken notice and started discussions and legislation formation to address the issue. In the UK, the amount of kids identified as having already participated in skins gambling is beyond troubling. The article continues: 

A 2017 study by the Gambling Commission found that 11% of 11-16 year olds in the UK had placed bets with skins; meaning around 500,000 children under the age of 15 could be using skins for gambling. Juniper finds skin gambling risks being pushed underground; without further counter-measures, wagers will surpass $1 billion globally by 2022, a fifth of the global market seen prior to Steam’s interference.

Juniper strongly recommends regulation for skin trading and gambling, in an attempt to both prevent youth participation and remove malicious actors who run sites which steal skins or short-change users.

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ESRB Responds to Sen. Hassan’s Letter to Regulate Gambling-esque Loot Boxes Offering a Completely Meaningless Solution

Casino Watch Focus has reported on the ongoing issue of loot boxes in video games. Many seek to label them as gambling and want to see the appropriate regulations in place. The game that brought the issue to light was a Disney owned property, Star Wars and the game EA produced, Battlefront II. Hawaii legislator Chris Lee candidly referred to the game as an online, Star Wars themed casino, designed to take kids money. Since the issue has become more clearly understood, more legislators have pressured the industry for the appropriate protections moving forward. Most recentlyUS Senator Maggie Hassan wrote an open letter to the ESRB, the video game self-regulator body, asking them to address the issue before bodies like Congress had to step in to offer protection. The ESRB finally released a statement outlining a new policy, and it should come as no surprise that their recommended actions do absolutely nothing to protect consumers or adequately inform parents as to the dangers of loot boxes, or even to their inclusion in games for that matter. Forbes very precisely breaks down the situation and comments from Sen Hass demonstrates why the ESRB’s suggested policy action wont advance protections in any meaningful way:

The ESRB made an announcement yesterday that it will now start labeling games that sell loot boxes. The problem? It will also be labeling games that sell /anything/, loot boxes, microtransactions, boosts, even DLC, using one, catch-all “In-Game Purchases” label.

The issue that was immediately pointed out by everyone was that nearly every game on the market contains “in-game purchases” in 2018, so this will be a sticker slapped on pretty much all titles, barring perhaps some indies. Hassan herself even saw this as a pretty obvious dodge, saying this after the announcement was made:

“While today’s announcement of the creation of a new ‘In-Game Purchases’ label and the ESRB’s response to my letter are a positive step for parents and consumers, I am still concerned by the ESRB’s skepticism regarding the potentially addictive nature of loot boxes and microtransactions in video games. I will work with all relevant stakeholders to continue oversight on these issues and ensure that meaningful improvements are made to increase transparency and consumer protections.”

The ESRB very clearly understood that people would see through such meaningless actions, so they attempted to preemptively address everyone’s criticism. As Forbes points out, their response was nonsense and it’s incredibly obvious that the industry won’t be attempting to address the issue unless legislative bodies like Congress force them to protect children from this form of gambling:

The ESRB anticipated that it would get flack for not targeting loot boxes specifically with this move, and president Patricia Vance said this in its defense:

“I’m sure you’re all asking why aren’t we doing something more specific to loot boxes,” Vance said. “We’ve done a lot of research over the past several weeks and months, particularly among parents. What we’ve learned is that a large majority of parents don’t know what a loot box is. Even those who claim they do, don’t really understand what a loot box is. So it’s very important for us to not harp on loot boxes per se, to make sure that we’re capturing loot boxes, but also other in-game transactions.”

This is, of course, nonsense. While the ESRB is setting up a site to better educate parents on in-game spending in addition to this new “in-game purchases” sticker, the point is that the ESRB is totally ducking the real issue here. They still want to get /nowhere/ near declaring loot boxes gambling and doing something drastic like making all loot box-infused games M or AO rated, so this is their incredibly phoned-in compromise.

To me, this is about as useful a gambling regulatory body (run by the casinos, not the government) informing you that a stay at a casino will cost you money, but without differentiating between spending cash on food, blackjack, drinks, poker, hotel rooms or slot machines. Kids can order food and drinks and stay at the hotel, but they can’t gamble for obvious reasons. But the ESRB with its new system is lumping /all/ forms of spending together in a way that is bound to do nothing but confuse parents even further, obscuring the real issue.

It is absolutely absurd that the ESRB is creating a system that would group something like /Horizon Zero Dawn/’s Frozen Wilds [Downloadable Content (DLC)] in with something like /Battlefront 2/ loot boxes. This “solution” is totally glossing over the crux of the issue, which is not that players are able to spend money past the $60 asking price of a game, but that /the way/ in which they’re asked to spend money has often been honed by psychologists to ensure it’s as addicting, if not more so, than traditional gambling. But the ESRB is not touching that with a ten foot pole, relying on the old argument that since nothing of “actual value” is won during this gambling because the items are digital, that it isn’t gambling at all. And yet there is nothing psychologically addictive about wanting to buy DLC for a game you’ve purchased, while there certainly is for players, often children, that are spending dozens, hundreds, or thousands of dollars on randomized, slot-machine-like loot box rewards across the majority of releases today.

So yes, the ESRB did something that is essentially nothing, and it’s clear they’re not going to be a player in this fight unless legislation forces them to change their tune. 

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