Loot boxes in games are gambling and should be banned for kids, say UK MPs – gpgmail


UK MPs have called for the government to regulate the games industry’s use of loot boxes under current gambling legislation — urging a blanket ban on the sale of loot boxes to players who are children.

Kids should instead be able to earn in-game credits to unlock look boxes, MPs have suggested in a recommendation that won’t be music to the games industry’s ears.

Loot boxes refer to virtual items in games that can be bought with real-world money and do not reveal their contents in advance. The MPs argue the mechanic should be considered games of chance played for money’s worth and regulated by the UK Gambling Act.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) parliamentary committee makes the recommendations in a report published today following an enquiry into immersive and addictive technologies that saw it take evidence from a number of tech companies including Fortnite maker Epic Games; Facebook-owned Instagram; and Snapchap.

The committee said it found representatives from the games industry to be “wilfully obtuse” in answering questions about typical patterns of play — data the report emphasizes is necessary for proper understanding of how players are engaging with games — as well as calling out some games and social media company representatives for demonstrating “a lack of honesty and transparency”, leading it to question what the companies have to hide.

“The potential harms outlined in this report can be considered the direct result of the way in which the ‘attention economy’ is driven by the objective of maximising user engagement,” the committee writes in a summary of the report which it says explores “how data-rich immersive technologies are driven by business models that combine people’s data with design practices to have powerful psychological effects”.

As well as trying to pry information about of games companies, MPs also took evidence from gamers during the course of the enquiry.

In one instance the committee heard that a gamer spent up to £1,000 per year on loot box mechanics in Electronic Arts’s Fifa series.

A member of the public also reported that their adult son had built up debts of more than £50,000 through spending on microtransactions in online game RuneScape. The maker of that game, Jagex, told the committee that players “can potentially spend up to £1,000 a week or £5,000 a month”.

In addition to calling for gambling law to be applied to the industry’s lucrative loot box mechanic, the report calls on games makers to face up to responsibilities to protect players from potential harms, saying research into possible negative psychosocial harms has been hampered by the industry’s unwillingness to share play data.

“Data on how long people play games for is essential to understand what normal and healthy — and, conversely, abnormal and potentially unhealthy — engagement with gaming looks like. Games companies collect this information for their own marketing and design purposes; however, in evidence to us, representatives from the games industry were wilfully obtuse in answering our questions about typical patterns of play,” it writes.

“Although the vast majority of people who play games find it a positive experience, the minority who struggle to maintain control over how much they are playing experience serious consequences for them and their loved ones. At present, the games industry has not sufficiently accepted responsibility for either understanding or preventing this harm. Moreover, both policy-making and potential industry interventions are being hindered by a lack of robust evidence, which in part stems from companies’ unwillingness to share data about patterns of play.”

The report recommends the government require games makers share aggregated player data with researchers, with the committee calling for a new regulator to oversee a levy on the industry to fund independent academic research — including into ‘Gaming disorder‘, an addictive condition formally designated by the World Health Organization — and to ensure that “the relevant data is made available from the industry to enable it to be effective”.

“Social media platforms and online games makers are locked in a relentless battle to capture ever more of people’s attention, time and money. Their business models are built on this, but it’s time for them to be more responsible in dealing with the harms these technologies can cause for some users,” said DCMS committee chair, Damian Collins, in a statement.

“Loot boxes are particularly lucrative for games companies but come at a high cost, particularly for problem gamblers, while exposing children to potential harm. Buying a loot box is playing a game of chance and it is high time the gambling laws caught up. We challenge the Government to explain why loot boxes should be exempt from the Gambling Act.

“Gaming contributes to a global industry that generates billions in revenue. It is unacceptable that some companies with millions of users and children among them should be so ill-equipped to talk to us about the potential harm of their products. Gaming disorder based on excessive and addictive game play has been recognised by the World Health Organisation. It’s time for games companies to use the huge quantities of data they gather about their players, to do more to proactively identify vulnerable gamers.”

The committee wants independent research to inform the development of a behavioural design code of practice for online services. “This should be developed within an adequate timeframe to inform the future online harms regulator’s work around ‘designed addiction’ and ‘excessive screen time’,” it writes, citing the government’s plan for a new Internet regulator for online harms.

MPs are also concerned about the lack of robust age verification to keep children off age-restricted platforms and games.

The report identifies inconsistencies in the games industry’s ‘age-ratings’ stemming from self-regulation around the distribution of games (such as online games not being subject to a legally enforceable age-rating system, meaning voluntary ratings are used instead).

“Games companies should not assume that the responsibility to enforce age-ratings applies exclusively to the main delivery platforms: All companies and platforms that are making games available online should uphold the highest standards of enforcing age-ratings,” the committee writes on that.

“Both games companies and the social media platforms need to establish effective age verification tools. They currently do not exist on any of the major platforms which rely on self-certification from children and adults,” Collins adds.

During the enquiry it emerged that the UK government is working with tech companies including Snap to try to devise a centralized system for age verification for online platforms.

A section of the report on Effective Age Verification cites testimony from deputy information commissioner Steve Wood raising concerns about any move towards “wide-spread age verification [by] collecting hard identifiers from people, like scans of passports”.

Wood instead pointed the committee towards technological alternatives, such as age estimation, which he said uses “algorithms running behind the scenes using different types of data linked to the self-declaration of the age to work out whether this person is the age they say they are when they are on the platform”.

Snapchat’s Will Scougal also told the committee that its platform is able to monitor user signals to ensure users are the appropriate age — by tracking behavior and activity; location; and connections between users to flag a user as potentially underage. 

The report also makes a recommendation on deepfake content, with the committee saying that malicious creation and distribution of deepfake videos should be regarded as harmful content.

“The release of content like this could try to influence the outcome of elections and undermine people’s public reputation,” it warns. “Social media platforms should have clear policies in place for the removal of deepfakes. In the UK, the Government should include action against deepfakes as part of the duty of care social media companies should exercise in the interests of their users, as set out in the Online Harms White Paper.”

“Social media firms need to take action against known deepfake films, particularly when they have been designed to distort the appearance of people in an attempt to maliciously damage their public reputation, as was seen with the recent film of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi,” adds Collins.


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Mobile gaming is a $68.5 billion global business, and investors are buying in – gpgmail


By the end of 2019, the global gaming market is estimated to be worth $152 billion with 45% of that, $68.5 billion, coming directly from mobile games. With this tremendous growth (10.2% YoY to be precise) has come a flurry of investments and acquisitions, everyone wanting a cut of the pie. In fact, over the last 18 months, the global gaming industry has seen $9.6 billion in investments and if investments continue at this current pace, the amount of investment generated in 2018-19 will be higher than the 8 previous years combined.

What’s interesting is why everyone is talking about games and who in the market is responding to this and how.

The gaming phenomenon 

Today, mobile games account for 33% of all app downloads, 74% of consumer spend, and 10% of all time spent in-app. It’s predicted that in 2019, 2.4 billion people will play mobile games around the world – that’s almost one third of the global population. In fact, 50% of mobile app users play games, making this app category as popular as music apps like Spotify and Apple Music and second only to social media and communications apps in terms of time spent.

In the US, time spent on mobile devices has also officially outpaced that of television – with users spending 8 more minutes per day on their mobile devices. By 2021, this number is predicted to increase to over 30 minutes. Apps are the new primetime and games have grabbed the lion’s share.

Accessibility is the highest it’s ever been as barriers to entry are virtually non-existent. From casual games to the recent rise of the wildly popular hyper-casual genre of games which are quick to download, easy to play, and lend themselves to being played in short sessions throughout the day, games are played by almost every demographic stratum of society. Today, the average age of a mobile gamer is 36.3 (compared with 27.7 in 2014), the gender split is 51% female, 49% male, and one-third of all gamers are between the ages of 36-50. A far cry from the traditional stereotype of a ‘gamer’.

With these demographic, geographic, and consumption sea-changes in the mobile ecosystem and entertainment landscape, it’s no surprise that the game space is getting increased attention and investment, not just from within the industry, but more recently from traditional financial markets and even governments. Let’s look at how the markets have responded to the rise of gaming.

Image courtesy of David Maung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Games on Games 

The first substantial investments in mobile gaming came from those who already had a stake in the industry. Tencent invested $90M in Pocket Gems and$126M in Glu Mobile (for a 14.6% stake), gaming powerhouse Supercell invested $5M in mobile game studio Redemption Games, Boom Fantasy raised $2M from ESPN and the MLB and Gamelynx raised $1.2M from several investors – one of which was Riot Games. Most recently, Ubisoft acquired a 70% stake in Green Panda Games to bolster its foot in the hyper-casual gaming market.

Additionally, bigger gaming studios began to acquire smaller ones. Zynga bought Gram Games, Ubisoft acquired Ketchapp, Niantic purchased Seismic Games, and Tencent bought Supercell (as well as a 40% stake in Epic Games). And the list goes on.

Wall Street wakes up

Beyond the flurry of investments and acquisitions from within the game industry, games are also generating huge amounts of revenue. Since launch, Pokemon Go has generated $2.3B in revenue and Fortnite has amassed some 250M players. This is catching the attention of more traditional financial institutions, like private equity firms and VCs, who are now looking at a variety of investment options in gaming – not just of gaming studios, but all those who had a stake in or support the industry.

In May 2018, hyper-casual mobile gaming studio Voodoo announced a $200M investment from Goldman Sachs’ private equity investment arm. For the first time ever, a mobile gaming studio attracted the attention of a venerable old financial institution. The explosion of the hyper-casual genre and the scale its titles are capable of achieving, together with the intensely iterative, data-driven business model afforded by the low production costs of games like this, were catching the attention of investors outside of the gaming world, looking for the next big growth opportunity.

The trend continued. In July 2018, private equity firm KKR bought a $400M minority stake in AppLovin and now, exactly one year later Blackstone announced their plan to acquire mobile ad-network Vungle for a reported $750M. Not only is money going into gaming studios, but investments are being made into companies whose technology supports the mobile gaming space. Traditional investors are finally taking notice of the mobile gaming ecosystem as a whole and the explosive growth it has produced in recent years. This year alone mobile games are expected to generate $55B in revenue so this new wave of investment interest should really come as no surprise.

A woman holds up her cell phone as she plays the Pokemon Go game in Lafayette Park in front of the White House in Washington, DC, July 12, 2016. (Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Government intervention

Most recently, governments are realizing the potential and reach of the gaming industry and making their own investment moves. We’re seeing governments establish funds that support local gaming businesses – providing incentives for gaming studios to develop and retain their creatives, technology, and employees locally – as well as programs that aim to attract foreign talent.

As uncertainty looms in England surrounding Brexit, France has jumped on the opportunity with “Join the Game”. They’re painting France as an international hub that is already home to many successful gaming studios, and they’re offering tax breaks and plenty of funding options – for everything from R&D to the production of community events. Their website even has an entire page dedicated to “getting settled in France”, in English, with a step-by-step guide on how game developers should prepare for their arrival.

The UK Department for International Trade used this year’s Game Developers Conference as a backdrop for the promotion of their games fund – calling the UK “one of the most flourishing game developing ecosystems in the world.” The UK Games Fund allows for both local and foreign-owned gaming companies with a presence in the UK to apply for tax breaks. And ever since France announced their fund, more and more people have begun encouraging the British government to expand their program saying that the UK gaming ecosystem should be “retained and enhanced”. But, not only does the government take gaming seriously, the Queen does as well. In 2008, David Darling the CEO of hyper-casual game studio Kwalee was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to the games industry. CBE is the third-highest honor the Queen can bestow on a British citizen.

Over to Germany, and the government has allocated 50M euros of its 2019 budget for the creation of a games fund. In Sweden, the Sweden Game Arena is a public-private partnership that helps students develop games using government-funded offices and equipment. It also links students and startups with established companies and investors. While these numbers dwarf the investment of more commercial or financial players, the sudden uptick in interest governments are paying to the game space indicate just how exciting and lucrative gaming has become.

Support is coming from all levels

The evolution of investment in the gaming space is indicative of the stratospheric growth, massive revenue, strong user engagement, and extensive demographic and geographic reach of mobile gaming. With the global games industry projected to be worth a quarter of a trillion dollars by 2023, it comes as no surprise that the diverse players globally have finally realized its true potential and have embraced the gaming ecosystem as a whole.


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Indie developer flooded with racist, misogynist abuse after announcing Epic partnership – gpgmail


The two developers of an indie game called Ooblets have been subjected to “tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands” of abusive messages following their decision to put their game on the Epic Games Store. It’s a worrying yet entirely unsurprising example of the toxic elements of the gaming community and their strangely unlimited hatred for Epic.

Ooblets is a game by a husband and wife team that looks like a sort of farming/dancing/collecting simulator with a fun, cute style. They’ve been developing it for a couple of years now with the help of Patreon supporters, and are getting closer to release.

In the process of lining up where and how to sell the game, the two entered into a contract with the Epic Games Store, which in exchange for near-term exclusivity would guarantee the developers the income they might have gotten if they’d decided to launch on multiple storefronts.

This practice adds some stability to what can be a very unpredictable sales environment, and as a side effect gave the two a fund upfront to finish development without having to rely on their Patreon supporters — whom they told about the new deal and consulted about what should happen next.

To be clear, the game will still be able to be bought and played by pretty much everyone on PC, just using a different storefront. Like if the chips you prefer started being sold at 7-Eleven instead of AM/PM. Except you can go to either one just by clicking your mouse.

But when they announced the news to the broader internet, it drew down on Ben and Rebecca Cordingley the ire of the easily provoked gaming world, specifically those who believe that Epic’s purchase of exclusives for its nascent gaming storefront is an affront to all that is sane and good in this world.

Immediately the two were inundated with messages “on every conceivable platform” telling them to die, swallow bleach, get raped, and both accusing Ben of anti-Semitism and mocking his being Jewish. Some, he said, went so far as to doctor video to make it seem like he had posted something then deleted it.

Horrified and taken aback by this massively disproportionate response to two people deciding to make a deal that should benefit their game and not affect their supporters (their patrons on Patreon were never promised the game, let alone on a specific platform), Ben wrote a post with his thoughts on the matter. You can read it here, along with some rather disturbing excerpts of the attacks on him and his wife.

These attacks are likely ongoing — in fact, the new post has probably just stoked the fire, and the two can look forward to a few more weeks of being told to kill themselves or that someone is going to find them and assault them.

The backlash against Epic over the last year has been perplexing to watch. The new storefront was created in the wake of Fortnite’s success to act as a dark horse challenger to the reigning champ of the PC gaming world, Valve’s Steam. Releasing on Steam has been a foregone conclusion for most PC games for years, but recently that practice has been challenged as companies like Epic and Ubisoft created their own launchers and game stores.

Flush with Fortnite cash, Epic has relied on two things to grow its storefront, which began (and remains) rather lackluster compared to its more mature and popular competitors. First, it has simply picked a number of games each month to give away for free, no strings attached — and not shovelware either, but actually great games that people want. Second, they’ve arranged for upcoming games to release exclusively on their platform.

Paid exclusivity is of course by no means new, especially not in the gaming community, where exclusivity among platforms has been the rule since the ’80s, when it was Mario versus Sonic, to today, when it’s Halo versus Destiny or a hundred others. Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and many others pay huge amounts to lock in developers for years, sometimes buying them outright so their games will be released exclusively on a certain platform. Epic seems to be joining a fairly large club.

Steam has many features Epic doesn’t, it is true. The community of recommendations, mods, forums and gamified purchasing on Steam is unmatched anywhere else. But for the purpose of buying and launching a game, the two are pretty evenly matched. It’s understandable that people might be upset when a game they are looking forward to disappears from their wishlist on Steam, or that they have to download another app in order to launch some games. But this inconvenience is, let’s be honest, minimal.

It’s sad reading not just the initial outrage at the pair’s decision — which, as they explained, is helpful for them as developers and lets them finish the game with less financial uncertainty — but at the justification that many have put forward that by joking about how angry people get about the Epic thing in the original post, Ben was inviting the abuse he received. These “they should have known” or “they were asking for it” people seem to want the developer’s perceived tone to have equal importance as the thousands of death threats they received subsequently.

From Ben’s post:

I’d challenge anyone to be on the receiving end of this for a few minutes/hours/days to not come to the conclusion that a huge segment of the broader gaming community is toxic.

There’s a strange relationship a segment of the gaming community has with game developers. I think their extreme passion for games has made them perceive the people who provide those games as some sort of mystical “other”, an outgroup that’s held to a whole set of weird expectations. These folks believe they hold the magic power of the wallet over developers who should cower before them and capitulate to any of their demands. You can see this evidenced by the massive number of angry people threatening to pirate our game in retaliation to any perceived slight.

It’s hard to see the effects or scope of what a massive mob of online harassment is doing to someone until you’re on the receiving end of it. It’s also really hard to realize when you’re unwittingly part of a harassment group because you’ve been so convinced by the mob mentality that your anger and target are justified.

Ben and Rebecca are far from the first to be the target of this type of mob, and let’s not forget that 8chan got its start as a refuge for “gamergate” diehards who had been ejected from other platforms. The original toxic gamer outrage factory is now known for being an incubator for white nationalist terrorists. Threats from the collective fragile internet ego are manifesting in bullets and taking lives with frightening frequency.

If you’d like to support the game and developer, which I already intended to do before this unseemly furore, you can follow the developers and see the latest over at Ooblets.com.


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Fortnite World Cup has handed out $30 million in prizes, and cemented its spot in the culture – gpgmail


The Fortnite phenomenon — the wildly popular battle royale game from Epic Games — has manifested itself in concerned articles, cultural shoutouts and now has sealed its place in the cultural firmament by wrapping up its first “World Cup” which saw the company give away $30 million in prizes.

The big winner in today’s solo challenge was sixteen year-old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, who won $3 million for beating out the competition in the solo tournament. And, as sports writer Darren Rovell noted on Twitter, Giersdorf’s prize pool is only $800,000 smaller than the pot for the winner of the U.S. Open, which is set to begin in a few weeks at the same stadium.

Indeed, the esports prize pool is one of the biggest awards for a popular competitive event. Wimbledon winners will take home less than $3 million and Tiger Woods won $2 million for besting the field of competitors at the Masters.

Fortnite’s big moment is also a big deal for competitive esports in the U.S. The biggest prize pool for an esports event in the U.S. was likely meant to plant a flag and show that competitive gaming is something that can capture the attention of a younger audience that has drifted away from watching more traditional pastimes and watching less sports, according to a McKinsey study.

Courtesy of McKinseys

Giersdorf, who hails from Pennsylvania and plays professionally for the Los Angeles-based esports team, the Sentinels, became the inaugural Fortnite World Cup solo champion by putting in a dominant performance over the entire weekend of competition.

For folks who’ve never played the game (or had it explained to them) Fortnite involves dropping 100 players onto an island where they have to find weapons, build bases and try and eliminate the competition until only one player’s left standing.

It’s a cartoon version of the Hunger Games with no bloodshed, a lot of victory dances, and hours of social networking.

The game has turned its publisher, Epic Games into a multi-billion dollar business. Certainly it’s one that can afford to front a $30 million prize purse for a few days of competition.

The tournament wasn’t just about solo-play. The company had different rounds for the duos competition featuring two-player teams. That competition, which ended on Saturday, also featured a $3 million prize pool and was won by the European duo of Emil “Nyhrox” Bergquist Pedersen and David “Aqua” W.

Epic pulled out all of the stops it could for the multi-day event at Arthur Ashe stadium. In addition to pulling in some of the top names in livestreaming and competitive esports to participate in the event, the company also brought in the DJ Marshmello for a performance.

The tournament pulled in nearly 9 million viewers for the final day of the competition on YouTube alone. Over 40 million people tried out for a slot in the World Cup finals.

And while the prize pot takes a significant chunk out of the $100 million that Epic has committed to spend on competitions this year, the returns in terms of the social capital and cache’ that Epic has given to the esports world can’t be underestimated.

It’s certainly going to change the life of its first World Cup champion. A fact that Giersdorf knows all too well himself.

“Emotionally, right now, I don’t feel too much, except I know that this could pretty much change my life forever,” Giersdorf said in an interview with ESPN. “It’s just absolutely unreal.”




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