NBA continues to dabble in real and simulated gambling

NBA 2K20 Loot Boxes Are Just A Fancy Name For Gambling

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Spin it till you win it!

Last Monday, 2K Sports dropped a new ad for the MyTeam game mode in its upcoming NBA 2K20 title. The promo isn’t exactly kid-friendly, however, resembling casino gambling as much as video gaming.

Don’t believe us? Check out the trailer:

NBA 2K20 fully releases on Sept. 6 for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC. It is officially licensed by the NBA.

How NBA 2K’s MyTeam works

How can a video game about basketball translate into Pachinko, slot reels, and spinning prize wheels?

To start, the MyTeam mode entices players to collect card packs which contains digital players. So, the more card packs you open, the higher the likelihood that the card pack contains rarer and more highly rated players. These players can develop better skills over time through normal gameplay.

Once the player gains enough wins in the Triple Threat mode, they earn in-game currency and card packs and unlock the spin-to-win prize reels. There are timed MyTeam events called Token Mania! that award more chances to spin those flashy reels, and even a ball-drop game that resembles gambling.

Not surprisingly, fan reactions are largely negative. To read more about MyTeam and other special features, check out the developer blog.

What are microtransactions and loot boxes?

Wikipedia defines microtransactions as “a business model where users can purchase virtual goods with micropayments.”

Loot boxes (or “card packs” as NBA 2K20 calls them) are a type of microtransaction and a simple way for video game developers to offer “gambling activities” without an actual monetary prize. Put it this way: You still get the thrill and the rush of not knowing whether you are going to win or lose.

In other words, NBA 2K20 engages the player in the hallmark of gambling. A typical player will have to buy multiple loot boxes to gain a coveted rare or highly rated basketball star.

According to Wikipedia, loot boxes are a growing trend for video game developers because “the profits from a microtransaction system will outweigh the profits from a one-time-purchase game.”

The dubious nature and legality of loot boxes

With the advent of online gaming and online gambling, what constitutes “gambling” becomes murkier and less defined.

Like ’em or not, microtransactions are immensely popular. In fact, the system in NBA 2K19 helped make it the best-selling sports game of all time for parent company Take-Two Interactive.

During 2K’s earnings call this week, CEO Strauss Zelnick confirmed that NBA 2K19 sold over 12 million copies. In addition, “recurrent consumer spending revenue” — which includes microtransactions — shot up 140% during the last quarter.

Given the success that NBA 2K19 enjoyed, it is no wonder that NBA 2K20 fully embraced the controversial model.

Whether other microtransactions and loot boxes, in particular, constitute gambling is still up for debate. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently took a hard look into the framework.

Regulators in Washington and 15 European jurisdictions additionally signed a declaration denouncing gambling-like activities in esports, video games, and social gaming.

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Are loot boxes underage gambling?

Even more worrisome? NBA 2K20 is rated E for Everyone with a very slight notice of in-game purchases. Although the sports aspect of the game may be suitable for all ages, Wikipedia states that loot boxes have “also been called a form of underage gambling.”

To this end, legislation legislation introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) aims to prohibit the sale of loot boxes in games targeted at children under the age of 18.

Realizing the potential threat to their business model, the three major console manufacturers (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo) announced plans to require odds disclosures for loot boxes in an effort to differentiate it from gambling.

Perhaps console manufacturers should take a page out of the Apple playbook. The tech giant recently applied a 17+ age restriction on all social casino and simulated gambling apps.

- Vanessa Lutz graduated from Washington and Lee University School of Law with a J.D. She played poker professionally and then took some time off to have a family. Now she is combining her experience as a contributor to OPR.
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