Bringing it Home – The Lock-box Debate part 3

Now I’ve looked the what of lock-boxes and the potential increases in profit, whether lock-boxes are gambling or not, and finally what makes lock-boxes in games different? For all the parallels we can draw between gambling and lock-boxes today, they are still different and those differences shouldn’t be glazed over–they are definitely important.

We don’t know what we don’t know, and we know we don’t know a lot

One of the scariest things about gambling mechanics in games is that we have virtually no insight into how they are working. With no federal oversight, no publisher has pushed out win/loss ratios, average opens to a high-desirability item. The calculations in my first installment assumed a static drop-rate for items in lock-boxes, which is almost guaranteed to not be the case. But it’s what we have to work with. It’s more likely that that there are complex calculations around probability happening in such as to inspire you to spend more money with the company.

But the end of the day, we don’t know.  And unless someone ponies up, there’s no way to know exactly what we don’t know.

Big Data is F*cking Scary

One of the benefits a game publisher has over a casino is access to knowing you are far more intimately than you probably know. They could track, on a player-by-player level where you spend your time in the game; what classes you prefer; what time of the day you play; whether you tab out of the game frequently; what items you look at on your web browser while playing; how many times you open the in-game store; what items you look at; which colors of items you spend the most time looking at — the list goes on to things I probably haven’t even imagined.

Now imagine taking all of that information about your inferred likes and dislikes, play-style, play-games, and getting recommended items to purchase based on that profile. Or more likely, showing you a preview of an item in a lock-box that matches all your inferred preferences. It’s easy to overlook the mountains of data that publisher have on their players, and to overlook exactly how they use that data to separate you from more of your money.

It’s an Underhanded Business Practice

At the end of the day, lock-boxes rely on player’s lack of awareness and control to generate more money without providing any new value to the player. No one goes into a game and says “I’m so excited to open my lock-boxes to see if I maybe get the item I really want!” That just doesn’t happen. A lock-box doesn’t add to the game experience and exists only to increase revenue for the game, without providing value to the player. Not to say games shouldn’t make money – they should. But they should do it by creating an experience people want to pay for instead of creating artificial pay-walls to maybe obtain items.

Publishers knowingly and deliberately create gambling experiences that avoid being legally defined as gambling by the use of in-game currency, thereby making it possible to argue that there’s no consideration, or risk. Then by providing no means to translate the acquired item into legal currency, and claiming then the prize has no value as to avoid the legal requirement of the prize having a value. They deliberately created a system with all the vices of gambling but none of the regulation.

If you doubt the knowing the deliberate part, make sure to read the court opinions I link in the previous article. Publishers fervently argue to the courts that their currency and virtual items don’t have any value, while simultaneously doing everything they can to convince gamers that both their currency and virtual items are valuable so that we’ll pay cashy-money for them.

Saying it’s Not My Problem Doesn’t Work

It’s easy to say, “well, I don’t buy lock-boxes so this isn’t my problem,” or more bothersome, “If people blow their money on its their problem.” But the problem is that it’s not working that. We are already seeing a steady, deliberate march towards locking game content in lock-boxes to increase sales. Let the sink in–even though you aren’t buying lock-boxes, publishers are going to continue to push the envelope to try and force you to purchase. That’s not a worst-case scenario — it’s happening, right now as I write this.

For the “It’s that gamer’s stupidity they spent all that money – no skin off my back,” crowd, this is a larger topic, you need to care about the decisions that people who aren’t you make. I don’t know how to convince you that you need to have some bloody compassion.

The Wrap-up

Regardless of the legality – these publishers are being incredibly immoral and unethical. They not only know these systems are exploitative and often abused, they actively promote that abuse and exploitation of the very players they claim to support. To me, that’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. At the end of the day, Publishers know this is gambling. They know people abuse the system. They just don’t care. That’s why I just can’t let it go.

 

 

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