Is Gaming in Need of Government Regulation?


By Badger Nimahson

The gaming industry is an ever changing and highly lucrative market. Always pushing technological barriers, changing cultures and introducing new business models. But is it long overdue government regulation? How much longer can it continue to go unchecked?

On the face of it, this might sound like a grumpy reaction to loot boxes, free to play models and micro-transactions but please bear with me as I feel there is a serious question to be asked here.

A Little Bit of History

On December 9th 1993 Nintendo and Sega went head to head in a no holds barred senate meeting that was actual quite brutal. The two biggest game companies in the world went for each others throats as the American government threatened to impose regulations upon the gaming industry.

For those too young to remember, this all came about due to the release of Mortal Kombat and the infamous but recently re-released Night Trap. Whilst these games seem pretty tame by todays standards they caused outrage in society at the time.

Mortal Kombat for its gore and fatalities and Night Trap for its scantily clad teenage girls, hidden bedroom cameras etc.

Gaming Regulation

You see at the time gaming was seen as a childhood pastime. Games were considered to be nothing more than toys but as the technology advanced, the audience grew older so the industry grew with them. Gone were the days of Horace Goes Skiing, Frogger and Space Invaders. Now we had Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat, and Lethal Enforcers.

Mix this with the fact that games and moved from the arcades and into peoples living rooms and more importantly children’s bedrooms and suddenly violence, gore and adult themes became an issue.

Video games stopped being viewed as a toy and more like the movie industry. The American Government called people from all over the industry to a Senate hearing to discuss whether any regulation was needed.

Long story short after a brutal exchange in the Senate, Nintendo and Sega agreed to implement an industry-wide, self-regulated rating system for all future games in return for avoiding any government regulation. Europe and Japan quickly followed suit and that is why today we have ERSB ratings in the USA, PEGI ratings in Europe and CERO in Japan.

If you want to know more about this hearing there is a great article by MrCunnigham over on Neogaf

Why Bring Up The Question of Regulation Now?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, The gaming industry is at the forefront of technology and culture. I honestly think you will struggle to find another industry that is so adaptable, ever-changing and has such a big impact on society and it’s culture.

One of the driving forces of the call for regulation was that games were now in children’s bedrooms. Today they are in their pockets. Mobile gaming is a massive market and I mean massive. In 2018 mobile Gaming generated a staggering $70.3 billion!!!

Gaming Regulation

As a lifelong gamer, I keep a clear divide between console and mobile gaming. Both have their place. I play games on both console and mobile but the mechanics of each are different. I can happily sit down to a massive 9-hour gaming session of Red Dead Redemption 2 but only spend a few minutes on something like Sega Heroes.

It is because of these gaming habits that the development of mobile gaming in markedly different. The most popular mechanic in mobile gaming is energy or lives. Once these are depleted you must wait a number of real-time hours for them to recharge or purchase more with real cash.

Tie this in with microtransactions that allow you to buy boosts, power-ups, characters, etc with real cash and you now have an advantage over those players that don’t spend money. This also leads to the need to buy these upgrades in order to compete in games with PvP modes hence the phrase “pay to win”

The growing trend of games having characters unlock via shards or tokens is also a concern. In console gaming you can unlock a new character by purchasing the DLC bundle for real cash. In mobile gaming the trend is to buy diamonds (or something similar) then purchase a crate or loot box that will give you character shards. You have no idea which shards you are getting or how many of them. More often than not you will have to open multiple boxes in order to obtain the 50 or so shards needed to unlock a character. The closest example of this I can think of on console is the player packs in FIFA Ultimate Team.

The Sinister Side of Mobile Game Development

I have attended a few workshops that have involved talks from mobile game developers and most openly admit that they make there games free to play in order to appeal to the “whales” that will spend a fortune on a game in order to be top of the PvP ladder.

The games entire development is geared towards enticing you to spend money or forcing you towards a paywall that means you cannot progress without getting your wallet out.

While to most this may seem like a non-issue but let me frame it this way. If you were to spend hundreds of pounds a month on a mobile game like Candy Crush (which incidentally made $1.1 million a day in 2018) there would be nothing to stop you doing so.

If on the other hand you were to take that money and spend it at a bookmakers like William Hill or Paddy Power either in store or through the mobile app. They have a legal responsibility to monitor your betting habits and refuse your bet if they felt you show signs of addictive behaviour.

These shops are even required by law to have signage, posters and adverts that say “when the fun stops. Stop” There has also recently been a cap on the maximum bet allowed on the roulette machines that these bookmakers have instore.

Gaming Regulation

So my question is if something like sports betting is identified as addictive and possibly destructive behaviour why isn’t mobile gaming?

Mobile gaming is designed to be addictive, it removes your ability to play in order to force you to spend money. It is designed to be addictive has you pay money after money to open crates in the hope of getting those character shards you so desperatley need to unlock a character.

The add a PvP mode to the game and now you need to spend more and more money in order to be competitive and win at the game. All these mechanics are designed to be addictive. The games are designed to be quick 5 min plays in order to deliver quick hits of pleasure as you sit on a bus or sit in the canteen on your break.

Yet completely opposite in console gaming microtransactions (with the exception of FIFA) are generally only accepted if they are cosmetic only. Loot boxes slowly became more of a thing but the community rallies against any pay to win model.

The Free to Play model is seeing more and more games launched on console but its preadtory approach to addictive behaviours is somewhat dappened by the communities acceptance of pay to win.

Mobile gaming has no such community, therefore, is free to go unchecked and actively seek to empty players wallets without moral or ethical scrutiny of either its actions or its approach.

With this in mind, I think we are desperately in need of government regulation similar to that enforced on betting shops. Or at the very least a parliamentary or Senate hearing like the famous one from 1993 so these companies can be held to account.

Is mobile gaming predatory and unethical? Does it require government regulation or is there another solution? As always please let me know your thoughts in the comments below

6 Replies to “Is Gaming in Need of Government Regulation?”

  1. I am always iffy when it comes to government intervention on these things. As much as these gaming companies need to be reined in to stop the predatory tactics against our wallets (or purses) I’m against the idea of regulation. What starts off harmless enough can quickly have unexpected consequences. Politicians still use videogames as a bogeyman when necessary, so any legislation can easily be corrupted. Once they start having influence over microtransactions and loot boxes, what is to stop them going after DLC? It’s another form of monetization after all, albeit one that isn’t random. Games companies factor in DLC revenue into their finances, so if that were to get affected it would affect development of games. It’s a jump I’m aware, but given how most politicians and political influencers are either ambivalent or anti gaming, would you really want to take that risk?

    1. I feel the same about government intervention as you do. I am usually sceptical about the intention or more often than not the extremley vague laws that are created. However, in this case, I believe it is needed as the problem is moral and ethical one at development level and most people are not even aware that they are been targeted by such predatory tactics

  2. Oh I fully agree that it’s a moral issue in this case, it’s companies doing what companies always do, finding something in the market they can exploit in order to make money. I just doubt that would go away without any major regulation. It’s a butterfly effect, you don’t know what the consequences would be. Personally I’d be happier in a tax on these sort of transactions, with the money going towards education rather than any form of control. Once the companies realize they haven’t got as good a thing as they hoped, the problem would solve itself as they would move on to the next get rich quick scheme.

    1. This is why I drew comparisons to the betting industry.
      If a bookmaker allows you to continue spending money when they have identified addictive behaviours they can be legally prosecuted and fined. I think the same kind of system should be implemented in mobile games.

  3. I agree that microtransactions and loot boxes in game are a pain especially with the free to play model where people don’t want to put time into a game they just want the best stuff and will fork out money for it. I would worry that involving government in helping to control these would not be productive as I feel someone some where sat in their ivory tower would see £££ in there eyes and wonder how they can tax it, a better approach would be another situation like with sega and Nintendo back in the day where the companies develop a plan between them selves and self monitor it before it because a massive problem for the industry

    1. Having companies agree to some form of self-regulation like Sega and Nintendo did back in the day would be the best course of action. The problem is there are so many independent developers and self-published games that getting a solution like that without government intervention would be impossible I believe

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