Meet the Group Putting Gamer Voices in Washington DC
With the outrage over microtransactions in EA's Star Wars Battlefront II, the question "should lootboxes be regulated" became "how should lootboxes be regulated."
Japan has had regulations on loot boxes since 2012, following controversy around a game called "Puzzles and Dragons." In 2016, China's Ministry of Culture passed legislation requiring games to include the probability of all loot-box earned items dropping.
In early 2017, the UK Gambling Commission had taken the position that lootboxes were not gambling, given that rewards are only ever useful in-game; their ability to act, they claimed, was limited by Parliament's definition of gambling. Nevertheless, a petition demanding that gambling laws include mobile and videogame gambling which targets children.
Then, Battlefront II happened. The anticipated game had been riding a wave of positive press after a sequel that had been met with mediocre reviews. It also rode a double tide of nostalgia: both for Star Wars and the 2005 "Battlefront II" title.
Yet, something was off. In a post to the r/StarWarsBattlefront subreddit, a user complained "Seriously? I paid $80 to have Vader locked."
It wasn't just Vader; the entire lineup of iconic Star Wars heroes had been locked up behind lootbox drops, with incredibly steep drop odds. Another user on the subreddit calculated that it would take 4,528 hours of gameplay to earn all in-game content--or $2,100.
The game's entire progression system had been entirely wrecked to facilitate the sale of microtransactions, forcing players to either pay up or tolerate a game that actively discouraged them from playing.
The resulting outrage was unparalleled. EA's response to the original subreddit post quickly became the most downvoted comment in Reddit history, at over 650 thousand dislikes, passing the previous record of just 24 thousand. (the previous record-holder was a single 'downward-pointing-hand' emoji from r/meirl that was intentionally downvoted as a meme).
The gamer outrage drew media attention…and that of regulators.
A series of regulations are currently being prepared by legislators from Hawaii to Indiana, and now, even Washington, with countries outside the US preparing their own. While encouraging to many, it isn't clear what form this legislation will ultimately take. As momentum is still growing, and debates continue to rage, the actual form of eventual regulation could vary greatly.
PC Gamer admitted their own reservations, arguing that "Loot boxes are bad, but legislation could be worse."
It's widely perceived that game publishers like EA, Activision and Ubisoft don't care about gamers, but it's also true that regulators care far, far less. Systems that are prohibitive in games like Battlefront, Destiny or Call of Duty are essential in games like "Magic: The Gathering," where cards and the drawing of them are quite literally the main portion of the game. This presents a problem when legislators are primarily focused on creating laws to punish wrong-doers, and not necessarily protect a wide, diverse range of players.
Could legislators distinguish between these games? Do regulators understand these systems? It's a very real fear that gamer and publisher alike could be caught under the boots of the either.
That’s where Consumers of Digital Fairness come in.
The DC based group advocates, not to punish game publishers, but to defend gamers. And they're a voice that's essential to making sure that eventual legislation is crafted to protect consumers.
Their website gives a to-the-point summary of their purpose: it's a grassroots organization by gamers, for gamers. They have four main objectives:
Launch the Consumers for Digital Fairness 501c4 organization to effectively house and frame our efforts to end gambling in games.
Educate and advocate to a bi-partisan group of public leaders about the potentially anti-consumer practices in the video game industry and create awareness of alternative best practices that respect the consumer.
Elevate the stories and struggles of victims of gambling addiction through video games while working to stop the creation of more victims.
Create the policy and political framework needed for states to enact meaningful protections that ensure digital fairness for all and an end to addictive and predatory gambling systems in commercial games.
They elaborate on their homepage:
"We are working for a future where all of our favorite games will be sold without predatory random chance systems more at home in a casino rather than a family entertainment platform. We want to see positive and meaningful change in the video game industry, change that doesn’t impose damaging or burdensome regulations, but a refocusing on consumer first, ethical, honest, and fair playing fields."
As legislative attempts to curb lootbox microtransactions in games begin ramping up, it's important to have an organization making sure that gamer voices are part of the conversation. Located in DC, the Consumers for Digital Fairness organization has the reach to make sure they're considered in future legislation.
They make this a top priority, even in their website: gamers can sign up for their newsletter at the top of the page. Ever step they take in DC is one that gamers can follow along, and give their input. Their Twitter account @DigitalFairness additionally keeps its followers up to date on news in the legislative space. Even if you can't keep up with the proceedings of our government, they want to make sure you have a front row seat, and a microphone.
At a time where billion-dollar publishers and massive government agencies are clashing, it's fantastic to see that gamers have an organization dedicated to making sure gamers hold sway at the highest levels of discussion. Personally, I'm very excited to see what the organization can do in this space and following their progress has been far more engaging than hearing it from the mouths of lawmakers. Consumers for Digital Fairness is here to make sure that gamers are the ultimate winners of this war.