neverwinter lockbox

At least one person is freaking out over a new anti-gambling bill that’s up for debate in Singapore that would put a major crimp in that country’s free-to-play gaming industry. As for me… well, I don’t know exactly what to think.




According to this article on Games in Asia, the Remote Gambling Bill will define as gambling the gashapon feature in Singapore-made games, described as “a method of monetization commonly used in many free-to-play games, where the player exchanges in-game or premium currency for a chance to receive a rare item or card.”

I’m no lawyer, and there might be more to this than is summed up in the article, but as that is written and defined, it sounds like the main target of the bill would be something like lockboxes, which I’m not the biggest fan of, to put it mildly. Those are definitely an “exchange of currency” for the “chance to receive a rare item,” which is separate from the notion of spending for a specific item in the cash shop, like a hat or a weapon or an extra character slot.

Obviously, the notion of the government policing in-game transactions is a dubious proposition, and politicians and lawyers aren’t likely to see the difference between a random and non-random item. The bill allowing for police to raid development studios is also scary.

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But let’s be honest: Lockboxes aren’t that different from gambling. Your money goes in, and, if you’re lucky, something good comes out. Enough people spend enough money on free-to-play games as it is, buying things they know they’ll get, without being tempted into spending more because they might get something good.

Here’s where I think F2P games get a pass, though, from a legal standpoint in this country: First, you’re always guaranteed something when you buy a key to a lockbox, even if it’s something relatively worthless. When you pull the lever on a slot machine or buy a lottery ticket, there’s no guarantee you’ll win anything. Second, you can’t legally turn what you “win” into cash. No game lets you sell that rare drop for real money, and in fact, your account will probably get banned if you try and are found out. Even if it was legal – like buying a pack of baseball cards and selling that rare Derek Jeter – the company itself is divorced from the transaction. You give them money, not the other way around, like it works (sometimes) in a casino.

The “money’s worth” provision in the Remote Gambling Bill might overrule that second provision, however, though I’m not sure that I agree with the notion that all in-game (or “in-app,” as the article puts it) purchases, even the non-random ones, would be affected. Again, not a lawyer.

In any case, we know that lockboxes are huge business for free-to-play games, and that’s probably the case in Singapore as well as in the West. But do they prey upon the weak-minded, those with the gambling-addict mindset who are perfectly happy to fork over money they shouldn’t be spending for just the chance to win some cool virtual loot? Is that any less destructive than blowing all your cash on a one-armed bandit? Should the government regulate that in the same way they regulate “real” gambling? And if they do, will it cause too much damage to the F2P market? Or, in the long term, would it be a good thing if companies were forced to abandon this practice?

Whew. The bill, of course, won’t have much impact on gamers on this side of the Pacific. But I really can’t say for sure what I’d think about it if it did. It’s a lot to think about.

the author

Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.

11 Readers Commented

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  1. Big Boi on October 11, 2014

    Meh..I’ve always hated lockboxes. To hell with them. They do damage to a game–case in point, the last few ‘updates’ to Champions Online have mostly consisted of a few lazily slapped together missions..and a lockbox. And before that..more lockboxes. And more lockboxes. LOCKBOXES EVERYWHERE.

    So really I’d hope this goes through and I would be overjoyed if we got a similar law here that banned these fawking boxes of wallet rape.

  2. CByl on October 6, 2014

    I would say it’s about time that government imposed regulations upon video games. It could end up worse, or could end up for the better (depending what the govt. does). There’s so much money involved in video games today that it’s just not possible to let it go unregulated. I think Singapore made the right move here, these lockboxes and whatever is gambling – money is involved, luck is involved, money goes to the company, nothing or virtual items go to the player.

    These kind of regulations will force companies to become more creative with their “F2P” models. Screw P2W and item malls.

    • Merkadis on October 6, 2014

      Not to mention that the actual chances of those boxed drops are entirely up to the one who made them.

  3. Merkadis on October 6, 2014

    As Razer said all those scamboxes and other crap with “chances” is gambling, any game that has this BS is not truly f2p, it’s not even anywhere near f2p.

  4. Student on October 6, 2014

    “No game lets you sell that rare drop for real money”, I’m pretty sure Valve allows that for several of their games, CS:GO, Dota 2, TF2 to name a few. As for the more generic older-school games, Maplestory has an insane amount of lockedboxes, Gachapons, lottery machines-type of system, I see players regularly selling high end items for real world currency, with no consequence from the company.

    • Rikisak on October 6, 2014

      Except that it is not real money, but Steam money – you cannot convert it to real money, that is the problem there.

  5. Hosps on October 6, 2014

    that should be a law in every country. most free to play games are scams. It is gambling. and they target kids but nothing is done about it?!

  6. Mystika on October 6, 2014

    I wonder how this will work with Dota 2 – they sell both cosmetics straight from their shop as well as chests which can unlock cosmetics. The chests give guaranteed drops though – eg. if a chest has 6 regular items and 2 special items, all 6 regular items are guaranteed if you open 6 chests, rather than that chance of getting up to 6 of the same item over and over. The special items are bonuses that you may or may not get with each chest unlock.

  7. Saiyer on October 5, 2014

    Lockboxes, Gachas, any cash box that leaves your reward up to luck needs to be burned. I’m personally tired of games relying on these for the majority of their income. When it comes to a system like LoL’s with mystery gifting where most of the contents can be obtained outright than I’m fine. But I /hate/ having to buy keys or a Gacha when it’s painstakingly clear that the odds in said chest is actually made to MAKE people lose out. I’d prefer to see every item included in the Lockbox to have an equal chance and not see junk items have a higher chance just so people will buy more with their hopes up of the RNG gods blessing them. The only people who get any sort of enjoyment out of this are whales, and while I’m fine with them existing to help sustain a game…this kind of business only caters to them. I would rather pay $20 for an outfit, rather than 50$ into lockboxes and get all garbage.

    I want to see more free to play games have direct transactions and not shady RNG rolls. If I wanted to gamble and feel bad about it, I’d rather go to a real casino and not in the games I want to play and try to enjoy.

  8. Razer on October 5, 2014

    Frankly, I’m all for the banning of these scamboxes. At the very least, they should be treated the same as online casinos in the sense that if a game contains a lockbox system or any other form of gambling, then it would be illegal to allow access to minors.

    Lockboxes are a blight on the F2P industry. Games that contain them are usually designed with “whales” on the mind (the very existence of the term really shows how little respect these F2P devs have for their own customers), and treat everyone else as second class. No good game should ever rely on them. Removing lockboxes from the picture would kick the legs out from under most of the crap games and getting rid of said crap games can indirectly benefit the more honest games in the F2P market.

  9. ExHuman on October 5, 2014

    Well, legislation should allow those fraudsters to sell foolboxes as much as they like, but treat them as a bingo halls in that case.

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