July 31, 2021

We Must Define The (Loot Crate) Line


Last week, I remarked this in my post on my post talking about the death throes of “Triple-A”;

I don’t particularly relish the idea of regulatory oversight as some – I do believe that in some cases, politics should maintain a safe distance from business (Marvel has been learning this in recent years). I don’t think politics should be entirely absent – but the problem is, like “Triple-A”, you can have too much of a good thing and give them an inch and they will take the proverbial mile. There do need to be very well defined boundaries, but that’s all I would like to see.

I’d like to expound on that, if I may (it’s my blog, why am I asking permission?).

There’s a problem with online discourse on the whole and it’s been a problem since the earliest days of forum discussion; a lack of specificity. I’m okay with people being offended on the whole – being offended is actually a good thing, it defines your opinions and beliefs and reminds you where you are and how far you are willing to see something go before you put your foot down and say ‘enough’. The problem is when you can’t say what is offending you. Being offended by something is great; but if you can’t say what it is that is actually offensive, then potentially everything and anything could be ‘offensive’ and suddenly when anyone attempts to talk to you for whatever reason they find themselves treading on an open field of eggshells. Plus it means you actually don’t know where your moral compass lies – which also means that it could, in fact, move around depending on outside and outlying factors on any given day.

Or, in a more blunt form; stand up for what you believe in – but know what it is you believe in.

I say this because in order for gamers to be satisfied with any legal definition in regards to “Loot Crates”, you must understand the extreme and sometimes far more weighty elements of the law and how they operate before you allow politicians and regulators to define anything. People aren’t perfect. And the law is only as effective as the people interpreting and defining it.

After all, politicians – as we’ve seen for decades – tend to have a love/hate relationship with video games (especially in the UK). Politicians want to have it both ways – they want to be seen standing up to video games to please the moral-grandstanding Whitehouse-esque critics who still comprise a significant chunk of their voting base. But of course they also want to be able to continue to tax video games too – they want the VAT, the Corporation Tax, the Business Tax and all the other taxes that a company needs to pay throughout the year including things like National Insurance. This applies to lots of subject matters too – which is why politicians, I feel, often find it so difficult to give a straight answer to a simple question. They are unable to make a stand because they don’t know where their own internal boundaries lie. They want votes, so if they must take a stand – a lot will just go with popular consensus.

So whilst UK Gamers do generally dislike someone like, say, Kieth Vaz – at least we can somewhat respect him. We know where is boundaries are. He’s made it very clear what his opinions of video games are. We don’t agree, of course – but we know where we stand when he wanders into a discussion. That’s probably the nicest thing I have to say about the man. Sorry. I tried.

And regulation boards are no better; they take money, so their interest is considerably less vague but definitely more open to bias. If it came down to a Gaming Commission having to say yes or no as to whether a Loot Crate system in a full-priced video game constituted gambling, well… some commissions are still investigating, but others – like Belgium and Hawaii and Victoria, Australia – have made no effort to hide their opinion. And whilst gamers rejoice at the prospect that these things could end up being regulated – remember many of these Commissions are erring on the side of favouring themselves, with an eye on regulation that they can oversee and get paid to oversee – and with a focus on taking money out of the industry in order to perform this task.

To compound matters on that front – it won’t likely just be the “loot crate” games that see oversight; it could end up being the whole industry. The argument could be pushed if Loot Crates need regulation, then so too do Season Passes – since most of those don’t even define what content you’ll get in the end.

Hell, think about this – if gambling is defined as paying money and not being guaranteed a specific outcome – then aren’t most online-based games covered by that? You pay $15 a month to access World of Warcraft – but there’s no guarantee you’ll beat a raid boss on your first attempt, is there? Or get the loot you want because RNG-sus doesn’t like you. Or you take a game like Splatoon 2 – two teams of players. One team has to lose and you can’t guarantee you’ll be on the winning team, can you? If the whole concept of regulation is defined by the idea of not being guaranteed an outcome – then Dark Souls is the bloody epitome of this, is it not? Hell, the amount of hours I’ve put into Dark Souls would scare people.

That’s what I mean about “specificity”. If you let a commission that oversees “gambling” and effectively takes much of their income from “gambling” define something as “gambling”, then I think most of us know where the conclusion will end up. They are more likely to create a definition that is so vague, so loosely-defined, that it could very easily apply to everything – and then you’ve got a situation where video game developers and particularly indie game developers find themselves having to meet and pay regulators and legal fees in so many regions and markets that just make the whole endeavour impossible to continue with.

** edited point**
And having said that, with the additional expense involved, do you think Loot Crates will stop being altogether – or, because the costs are exponentially higher for making video games, that you’ll see more of them? I’d hazard a guess with regulatory oversight, regulatory acceptance and additional regulatory costs that loot crates would become the norm…
**end edited point**

Sure, that’s the pessimistic viewpoint; but it’s certainly one people forget to consider whilst they cheer for additional regulations and laws to stop Greedy Ol’ EA from selling Star Crates. Yes, it’ll hurt EA… but it’s also very possibly going to hurt everyone else as well.

In more gamer-friendly terms; the regulators and politicians are the big unexploded nuke in Megaton in Fallout 3, and what you’re proposing is detonating it because you need to take out one NPC. Just the one. And every other NPC – and a lot of the surrounding area – will unquestionably be caught in the blast, whether they’re part of your stupid “quest” or not. When you could, at least, be specific – or demand specificity. You could negotiate that NPC turn themselves in. Or you could starve them to death by locking them in some box. Or a number of means and ways around it but no, what you want to do, to get rid of one NPC, is to detonate the bomb and nuke everything within a huge radius, guilty or not.

Who says video games can’t offer valid moral lessons, eh?

But in a sense I do think a line must be drawn – and I think in some ways, yes, I’d like a legal definition. But that legal definition needs to be specific. Almost pedantically specific, in fact. So specific it would take forty pages to explain what could otherwise be described in a few words; “loot crates in $60/£50 Premium Games are stupid and must stop”. What people want to stop is a very specific set of circumstances – they want to be able to buy a $60 game and not be nickel-and-dimed after the fact. That’s it. That’s all people want. They want something extremely, painfully specific here. And so the regulation that protects them must in turn be as painfully specific as possible in return.

And to be even more specific here – in my opinion, that’s not the job of a Gaming Commission, it’s a Consumer Rights issue. To buy a game and expect a bloody video game out of it! Is this really so difficult it requires oversight from ancient Magi reading from unholy texts in indecipherable languages to actually get something as basic as the right to buy a game without the likes of EA punching us in the nutsacks and stealing our credit card information? (After all, isn’t that Sony’s job?)

The result of not being specific is overreach; a definition so broad and vague and sweeping that it sucks in everything around it. Or rather, to go back to Fallout 3, to shut down a couple of black-market huts, they detonate the nuke and take the whole damned town out with them – regardless of whether they were involved or not. What is left are ghouls – socially outcast and unaccepted, shunned and reviled. That’s your future as a “gamer”. You’re on the outskirts, or wandering around inside the city. You’ll be caught in the blast too. Get out your Switch in public – oh wait, you won’t be able to without someone coming up to you and saying, “Sir/Madame/Zir/Xhe – do you have a problem? There’s help you know…”

We have fought a LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG damn time as Gamers for video games to be seen as a perfectly valid and acceptable form of entertainment. And we’re actually on the threshold of that being a reality – certainly helped by Hollywood going down the U-Bend of late. And you’re willing to throw that away just on the off-chance it gets rid of EA?

I mean, I hate EA. Have done for years. But damn, I wish I had that kind of optimism…


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