I'm not much of a gambler. I don't buy lottery tickets. When I went to Vegas, the only gambling I did was with my change from breakfast. But I don't mind if someone else wants to gamble with their money. I've been thinking a bit lately about the growth of gambling in MMO games and whether its an element I want to include in my game's economy.
Playing The Old Republic I've noticed more and more often as I level up I'm offered Storage Cases as quest reward options. I can even spend my hard-earned in-game money to buy them through crafting. Storage Cases have an item in them or sometimes - just plain old cash. There's no way to tell what you'll get until you take the case and open it. Oddly enough, every case I've paid for has been a loser. Usually a $200 case nets me about $50. The quest reward ones are harder to judge, but I've never gotten anything I could use from one. Still, every once in a while I take that chance.
From a game designer's perspective, storage cases aren't really all that different from random quest rewards or loot drops. You don't always know what you'll get from a quest until you complete it. With storage cases, they're just making the element of chance in quest rewards explicit and giving people who like to gamble a little extra thrill. On the other hand, the crafted ones can eat through your in-game money pretty quick.
Guild wars makes no bones about in-game gambling. Throughout the game there are chests. You can use in-game money to buy keys to open the chests and get a moderately good (or totally crap) item. You spends yer money, you takes yer chances.
Neither of these games lets you use microtransactions to buy these boxes.
A few months ago South Korea's game ratings board started investigating MMO developers to try to get them to open up about the winning probabilities of jackpot boxes. People buy these boxes with microtransaction money and have a small chance of getting really amazing in-game items. Some people are apparently spending a whole lot of real world money on these types of items.
Where I start to get uneasy is when I see the more calculating companies applying A-B testing on trivial things such as text colors to maximize clickthroughs. Will they see it as a big leap to using applied psychology, A-B testing, and other metrics to find the most efficient way to separate gamblers from their money?
I also have to consider that a lot of these games are played by children. It doesn't sound like the ESRB is doing a great job at warning parents about gambling in games. According to that article, 80% of games with the keywords "poker", "blackjack" or "slots" were rated E for Everyone.
Putting ethical matters aside for a moment, what effect will this have on the industry as a whole? Back in 2007, Second Life used to have in-game casinos, but they closed them fast when the FBI came knocking. If in-game gambling becomes more widespread, what sort of regulation will we face? The casino industry has insane regulation and government oversight. Once a few games attract the attention of regulators, will others be able to avoid their gaze?
So what do you think about gambling in MMO's? Do you like it? Is it even gambling when you can't get any money out of the game? Do you think players should be able to gamble (even indirectly) with their microtransaction points?
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