Are Gachas Considered Loot Boxes (And Gambling)?

Artemis

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Are gumball machines lootboxes?

You don’t get to pick the flavor. Also blueberry ones are rare so it’s a risk involved if that’s the one you want out of it.
I think where this question gets tricky is the idea of "Value": how do we judge an item as having more value than another item?

It's easy when we're talking about gambling because everyone knows currency has value and precisely how much, but nobody is agonizing about not getting the right gumball because people are almost always fine with whatever flavor they get. Thus, the gumballs you receive are all inherently equal in value and there usually isn't (or at least isn't intentionally) a "rare" one that's inherently more desirable. Gacha and lootboxes however are about identifying "value" in the items then adjusting their rarity to match.

I think a better example for your question was a gumball machine that a pizza place I went to as a kid had. It had the normal selection of gumballs, but also had various "special" colored ones, with the colors corresponding to different increasingly desirable prizes: free drink, free slice of pizza, up to the rarest which got you a whole pizza. This would drive people to buy a gumball who wouldn't otherwise want a gumball because of the possibility of getting a rare one, which changed the value proposition.

I guess the easiest way to look at it is to consider it from the owner's side. Why would they choose to introduce the element of randomness? In the case of a normal gumball machine, I don't think it could ever be argued that they were expecting kids to dump in quarters to get the strawberry one or whatever: it's just a convenient way to distribute a product of equal value. But it definitely could be argued that this was the goal with the gumball machine from that pizza place.

If it looks to me that the owner is attempting to determine value and then set randomness based on that determination of value, that's when it starts to feel like a "lootbox" to me, because their goal is clearly to drive sales based on the small chance of getting a desirable result. Which means they're preying on the same human characteristics that gambling does for the sake of profitability.
 
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Marianne McCann

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Thank you for your carefully considered answer. It still doesn't address whether they could run afoul of Belgium's law, as SL does have Belgian users.
Fair enough. I think my brevity comes from discussing this more than a few times elsewhere. I say no, because anything you get in a gacha machine in SL is irrelevant to "leveling up" or anything like what you see with "loot boxes." they don't enhance your time in SL in the same fashion as items in loot boxes do, where the latter may include critical items to the success or failure of your overall experience.

So, no, I don't think they're the same deal.
 
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Dakota Tebaldi

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I think I'm with Mari on this.

Out of context, purely as a mechanism, yes - SL gatchas are equivalent to loot boxes in actual games. But I think that part about how loot box items give a competitive gameplay advantage, or are even necessary for gameplay advancement or completion, is fundamental to what's "bad" about loot boxes in games, and it's something that SL gatchas just don't share.

I mean there's other reasons why I don't personally like SL gatchas yeah, but they're not as evil as loot boxes.
 

Cristiano

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Out of context, purely as a mechanism, yes - SL gatchas are equivalent to loot boxes in actual games. But I think that part about how loot box items give a competitive gameplay advantage, or are even necessary for gameplay advancement or completion, is fundamental to what's "bad" about loot boxes in games, and it's something that SL gatchas just don't share.
The competitive or progression aspect is irrelevant to the law in Belgium. Just because the items are not required for gameplay does not mean they are not desirable. Overwatch only offers cosmetic items in loot boxes, but they are one of the games Belgium is going after. In multiplayer enviroments, how your character looks is just as important as anything else. SL sells items directly, as do many games, and that isn't a problem. It is specifically with loot boxes where you pay but are not guaranteed the item you want. SL's gachas are no different in that regard
 

Marianne McCann

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The competitive or progression aspect is irrelevant to the law in Belgium. Just because the items are not required for gameplay does not mean they are not desirable. Overwatch only offers cosmetic items in loot boxes, but they are one of the games Belgium is going after. In multiplayer enviroments, how your character looks is just as important as anything else. SL sells items directly, as do many games, and that isn't a problem. It is specifically with loot boxes where you pay but are not guaranteed the item you want. SL's gachas are no different in that regard
One of the key differences, IMO, is that the lootbox rules in Belgium specify that the lootbox items can be traded outside the game, giving them market value. That *does* get fuzzy with gacha, because they do translate into real-world US$.

Personally, I still feel it's a different animal, but I'm not a Belgian lawyer. :-D
 

Cristiano

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Yeah, because you can cash out L$ for real money, that is the textbook definition of being able to be traded outside the game, giving it market value. Most of the games they are going after don't even have any type of trading, and none have any kind of cashing out. I see your article is about the Netherlands, so the scrutiny is spreading. I imagine other countries will ban them in some form to the point that it will complicate having them in any game, as opposed to just items you can straight up buy and know exactly what you are getting.
 

Adeon Writer

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For what it is worth, Belgium also banned Overwatch’s loot boxes, the contents of which never contain duplicates of items you already own, and never could be traded nor cashed out. Belgium found them to be illegal gambling dispite this.

Many, many people hold Overwatch’s loot boxes to be the poster boy for the anti-loot box movement, for this reason. As the most tame, lenient case, of course everything else will also fall under the same category as it will be considered at best the same if not worse.

So if overwatch loot boxes are illegal, why should SL gatchas be legal?

They give duplicates, they can be traded, and the can be exchanged for real world value, three things lootboxes that were banned due to being determined to be gambling didn’t even do.

Just like game companies love these little boxes because of the money they bring in, the same is the case for second life merchants.

Capitalizing on gambling and addictive tendencies is insanely profitable.
 

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It doesn't matter though if the items in said lootboxes are recommended for play, required or completely optional to continue. Junk stays junk. Items you didn't want are junk you paid for. In most if not all games loot in lootboxes is 100% optional, you can play the game and finish it without ever getting a single additional item, it just might make the game harder. So there is really no difference here, but again regardless of whether items are required or not should not change the outcome of whether these are considered lootboxes or not. Lootboxes are lootboxes because they are containers giving you random "loot" and don't allow you to buy items directly... which depending on the case we would slip into pay2win....ohboy.
If they are required to win, then they aren’t junk. Required isn’t optional. You can’t finish the game without required stuff. There is plenty of difference.

George Carlin said:
Stuff is junk you keep and junk is stuff you throw away
 

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Whether they're "loot boxes" is irrelevant, the question is, are they "gambling"?
 

Penny Patton

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What is causing game developers to run into legal issues regarding loot boxes is that:
  1. The contents of the loot boxes have an inherent value. There are entire gambling networks set up where people make money off of lootboxes.
  2. The way lootboxes in games work preys on the same mindset that other forms of gambling do.
When Gachas first appeared on the grid they were harmless enough. You'd get small, cheap trinkets which made them like the blind box toys and happy meal toys that Adeon compares them to. (It's worth noting that in the case of Happy Meal toys, you aren't getting the toy blind, you can ask what toy is currently included with the meal. They don't keep it a secret.) And in some cases gachas are still just that. However I don't think anyone can argue that that's what they're like anymore.

People are putting full products into gacha machines. Setting up their entire store as gacha machines. There are entire "Gacha Festivals" that are basically a temporary casino. The marketplace is loaded with people reselling their gacha loot, either to try and make back a little of what they spent, or to cash in on successfully getting a rare item. These aren't just disposable items anymore, a lot of the time they have value and people want those rare items that are even more valuable. It's gotten out of hand and is most definitely gambling.
 

NiranV Dean

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If they are required to win, then they aren’t junk. Required isn’t optional. You can’t finish the game without required stuff. There is plenty of difference.
Point is. It doesn't matter whether they are required or not. Lootboxes are lootboxes, no matter what comes out of them.

Junk is also not necessarily stuff you throw away. I'm sure you can ask many users who keep thousands, hundred thousands of items that are technically junk they just didn't feel like throwing it away yet or don't want to because they paid money for it, even if its literally trash such as broken items.

Or to do this philosophically, when does junk become junk? When you make up your mind and start throwing it away? But wasn't it junk all along then?
One man's junk is always some other's gold. Man... that was weird to say.
 
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WolfEyes

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One man's junk is another man's treasure. It's how us poor people manage to have some of the things we wouldn't otherwise. Like my $65 bed frame or the perfectly good tables and other items we found sitting next to the dumpster at our old apartment. About the only thing we didn't find there was a double kitchen sink. Those singles you find in all apartments in Oregon are garbage. I can't stand the damn things. You waste a lot of water with those.
 

Tigger

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Whether they're "loot boxes" is irrelevant, the question is, are they "gambling"?
For me, gambling has a monetary return. I put money in a slot machine, or a fixed odds betting terminal, it might give money back. I can profit. I put money in a (real or SL) gacha, I get a basically worthless trinket prize. I could maybe sell it for a few pennies but it's hard to imagine gambling addicts selling their house to buy more goes on a gacha.

If anything that includes a payment and a random reward is gambling then any number of real things you can buy, from panini sticker albums, packs of pokemon cards, my niece's favourite mini-mixieQs (with Mystery Figure!) are also gambling. Paid for MMOs where monsters drop random loot are gambling (he killed an orc and got a magic sword, I just got a squishy orc eye!). Anyone who's ever sat for hours or days 'farming' an MMO monster to get a certain item is a gambling addict.
 

Cristiano

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Paid for MMOs where monsters drop random loot are gambling (he killed an orc and got a magic sword, I just got a squishy orc eye!). Anyone who's ever sat for hours or days 'farming' an MMO monster to get a certain item is a gambling addict.
This is not a valid comparison unless you had to spend money specifically for each combat encounter, or pay to open the reward box. Gambling is spending money in the hopes of being rewarded with the thing you want - be it more money, a car, or virtual items in games that you desire.
 
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Tigger

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But if you are paying to play then you are paying for (as an example) as many combat encounters as you can fit in to the month it may not be a single payment for a single set of random rewards, but it's like buying an indeterminate quantity of them.
 

Cristiano

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Nope, not the same thing at all. You are really contorting yourself to try to make that claim. You can't continue to pay more and more money in the same month for more chances.
 

Tigger

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Well you could pay for multiple accounts.

I could redesign my gachas then, instead of paying for each item you pay for a months subscription to the gacha and can use it up to once an hour until your subscription expires. No longer a gambling machine.
 

Cristiano

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Paying for multiple accounts would mean a completely different character, which would mean you are not getting the loot for that character. It doesn't apply either, but nice try. Even account bound items like mounts and things would not work because you are on a different account.

If you want to sell monthly access to gachas, knock yourself out. Or you could just sell items directly - pay amount, get exact item you want. Not complicated.
 

Tigger

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Yeah, but I thought we were exploring the idea of "is it gambling" and therefore "what exactly is gambling"

Is gambling paying and getting a random reward - in which case getting that uber rare sword of instant pwnage from that uber rare spawning mob thats extra hard to kill - well, thats very uncommon and gaining a game changing reward. Some people might luck out find the monster, kill it, have it drop the sword, others will be complaining on forums that they've been trying for a month and not got one yet but the will keep on camping and trying for as long as it takes because they MUST have the advantage that sword represents. It's why back in the day people could sell virtual goods in MMOs for a small fortune and make in on to the news.

You added the idea that being able to keep paying more is necessary
You can't continue to pay more and more money in the same month for more chances.
so just capping the number of goes someone can have at a gacha would render it not gambling anymore ?

I'm not going through contortions, I'm exploring edge cases. Where does gambling begin?
 

Experimental

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Belgian here, who has actually discussed this matter (lootboxes and gachas in gaming) with the Gaming Commission to hear from them directly. I'll try to stick as much as possible with the facts rather than value statements. Personally I despise gachas but that's my personal opinion and has no meaning on any laws.

- Our gambling law is not new, no new gambling related or videogame related laws have been passed at all the past years. Law was written in 1999 and updated with some items specific to online gambling in 2010. Since then, no changes.

- Just to be clear on what the Commission is, The Gaming Commission does not have law enforcement or judicial powers. They're an organ that was created by the government to monitor and interpret the existing gambling and gaming laws, but they're not the final arbiter. They can decide to interpret your actions as gambling, they can send you a cease & desist, or propose a settlement, but the final word will always be the courts.

- What happened last year is that due to all the public outrage, the gaming commission finally decided to have a look at lootboxes in videogames. In the end they decided that paid lootboxes (even if there's an exchange of real currency-> virtual currency first) are gambling, period.

By the Belgian interpretation, it doesn't matter if the items are only cosmetic, or pay to win, or allow you to advance you in way, manner or shape. And it also doesn't matter either if they can be traded on with other players or are account bound. That's important to understand. Yes, lots of gamers are fine with cosmetics - too bad, the commission isn't. And while other countries like Netherlands make a distinction between account bound lootboxes and tradeable lootboxes, our commission doesn't.

- Yes, it's the same principle as magic the gathering cards and Pokemon cards. I've heard that argument a hundred times a day by now. But you know what, Cartamundi, one of the biggest card games printing companies in the world is headquartered in Belgium and employs tons of people here. They were smart enough to lobby in the 90s when this law was first created so the law clearly makes a distinction between physical card games and anything else. Physical card games are by law exempt from the gambling law in many cases, except in a few cases like professional poker.

- Physical gachas, the kind that SL gachas are often compared to, are as far as I know never investigated by the Commission, so there's no decision yet whether the law applies to them or not. In Belgium physical gachas are such a marginal thing and have never caused any gambling issues in the past so they fly under the radar. If they would be investigated by the gaming commission, I think the decision could go either way but it wouldn't surprise if they're judged to be gambling as well.

- Gachas in SL, again, a marginal thing in Belgium so never been investigated. If enough Belgians ask the Commission to investigated Second Life Gachas maybe they'll make it their next priority, but I don't see that happening.

- IF they are investigated and IF they are deemed to be gambling, the question is still who and where the law applies to. SL is presenting themselves as just a platform and it's the sellers creating these gachas. So would Linden Lab or the seller be held accountable? Knowing the Belgian court system if something were to happen they'd probably try to charge both parties and see what the judge feels like in the end, but it's a coin toss as to how that would go. Also, while Electronic Arts and Ubisoft etc all have offices and are incorporated in Belgium; Linden Lab and your average SL Gacha seller don't have a local presence. So any court action would be extremely hard to undertake and most likely they would decide it's not worth the effort.

TLDR: Nothing to worry about for Second Life gachas for now.