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16 May, 2017

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive chest loot crate

Modern video games rely heavily on freemium monetization models where publishers of video games provide free access to their games, but hope to get some of their customers (around 10% of their player base) to purchase an extra in their in-game store. The product is sometimes virtual currency to use for different things in-game, but it could be extra cosmetic items, sometimes even a way to get ahead of the opponents or simple extra playing time (like buying more coins in the arcade to continue the game if you failed a couple of times).

The new trend lately has been to introduce loot boxes - the cosmetic items and game extras now can be randomly won by people who purchased one of these mystery boxes. I calle these slot machines for suckers since in fact you're gambling without even having the chance to win some real money in the process.

Players of these "free" to play games often end up paying much more than the regular prize tag of a game - 60 dollars. And for those who do not want to pay - the game is designed in such way that to unlock all of the cool cosmetics and features of the game you have to invest a lot of time. And time's money so you're not doing yourself a favor here, this incentives working people who have less time to spend some cash.

It's funny that a gambler should come in and say this, but I really believe that modern video games have found a way to become casinos without the disadvantage of having to pay back real money to anyone. In Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or Dota 2 - there's no jackpot, no big winners, no suites at hotels to lure you to play more - for your hard earned buck all you're rewarded with is digital swag.

There're more problems to this new business model of video games - underage kids are exposed to them without any kind of regulation. On a licensed gambling site you cannot use the credit card of somebody else to play. On the other hand most freemium game publishers will allow your kid (or your significant other) to use your card on their account. I remember how furious I was when a friend of mine used my card to pay for his World of Warcraft account. The support did not want to return the money back to me which I thought was ludicrous. The mismatch of names on the video game account and the credit card should be reason to decline the transaction and block the card. You cannot go to PokerStars or bet365 and expect to pay with your friend's card to fund your account - because that's stealing. So in fact gambling sites are much safe for you than most video game accounts (be it Blizzard, google play or other similar services).

More so, customers are almost never verified even if they spend thousands of dollars. Nobody will ask you for an ID if you spend a thousand on Fifa in your PlayStation account. You could have registered a stolen card on account and play - only when the bank starts disputing the charges your account will be affected in any way.

What's troubling is to me is that apparently there's no group or organization at the moment which makes a lot of noise against the freemium gambling type of video games. Apart from the South Park episode dedicated on this topic there has been no backlash against video game publishers who use these tactics. The community mostly does not care. However, you can read online about people who have spent way too much money on loot crates or chests and this has affected their lives' negatively. There was a hit video of h3h3 productions where Ethan and Hilla discussed gambling CS: GO web sites, but it was a bigger scam than usual.

You cannot underestimate the effect of uncontrolled spending on gambling - that's why a gambling site will have tools for self-exclusion, cool-off (ban yourself for a week or 6 months without chance of reopening the account) or creating deposit limits for your account (if you do not want to spend more than 100 eur per month you can do that quite easily and set up spending limits).

It's time for law makers to take this seriously and regulate the gambling aspect of modern video games. Businesses rarely self-regulate well and the governments around the world should step in (since we do not live in a libertarian's paradise where governments are no longer needed). My blog rarely makes more than a thousand views per month however if you read this article and agree with the main points in it, please share it with more people and your legal representatives. I have taken steps to do the same in my country of residence.


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