Tobold's Blog
Friday, December 19, 2008
Is gambling virtual currency bad for the children?

A concerned reader alerted me to some changes in Wizard101, which introduces an arena including the option to place bets on the outcome of the matches there. Now Wizard101 is usually an extremely child-safe game, with a safe chat system and everything. So having gambling in that game raises an eyebrow.

On the other hand most games, even child-safe ones, have some elements of chance. While there is no gambling, strictly speaking, in World of Warcraft, you are taking a gamble every time you, for example, go for a raid and hope for an epic drop for your character. Many loot systems are specifically designed to use dice rolls to resolve issues of who gets an item. Would betting some gold pieces on an arena event be much worse than that? I'd have more concerns that betting on a PvP event could be too easily manipulated than it being a slippery slope to children getting addicted to internet gambling. What do you think?
Well, personally, I used to run a casino in Dark Age of Camelot. It was very profitable for me, and there weren't any problems with "addicts" at least that I noticed. With betting on PvP though, manipulation would def. be my #1 concern.
ABenning, I'm curious -- what kind of casino and how did you do it?
I am not concerned about the gambling I have seen to date in games. Somehow I cannot imagine anybody getting a heady rush from "/Roll". Even where gambling is made more explicit such as in game betting its is generally so watered down that it wouldn't hook in anybody.

In Ireland where I come from gambling is not seen as a morality issue. It is perfectly acceptable for example, and quite common to bring children to a race track and encourage them to have a flutter on the horses. In parts of the USA on the other hand such behaviour would be considered highly immoral. Given the possibility a bunch of customers I think it is marketing error to include gambling in their game.

Mind you, I am of the opinion that the whole of Wizard 101 is a monumental marketing error. The developers have designed a game for adults and marketed it at kids. The result is a mess. Kids can't handle the fairly complex gameplay while adults are frustrated by the kid friendly chat filtering and stuff.
I think if anything it would benefit the kids who decided to gamble in-game. A virtual world with virtual currency is the perfect place to teach kids what gambling is. They're going to learn it one way or another. Better they lose 200 pretend gold rather than 200 real dollars their first few times.

The point is the kids will get exposed to gambling one way or another, and it will be up to them as to how they develop (or don't develop) a gambling addiction. Whether it's in a pretend world or the real one, doesn't matter. The benefit of the virtual world is that it won't have any real-world affect (ie. losing your car title).
I think that calling behaviors like the risk/reward calculation you make when you decide to go on a raid or not "gambling" is a bit of a poor label, at least to the extent that "gambling" can be a loaded term. I mean, certainly I wouldn't want to teach a kid to never take risks, but gambling I think goes a step beyond that. Pretty much any form of organized gambling is designed such that more people lose than win over time, and betting on arena matches more closely resembles organized gambling than rolling a die to see who wins some loot (a process where the outcomes should be equitable over time). There is an element of slippery slope to the whole thing, so I would agree it's not exactly fair to suggest that betting on a virtual arena outcome will lead to other, more destructive, forms of gambling. But I would be more concerned about it than other chance-based activities in the game, sure.
It is a little questionable, but it also might be safer.

A virtual world is a safe place to learn about the pitfalls of gambling. When their character goes broke over stupidity, perhaps they will learn a good lesson. I’ve seen similar positive disaster in WoW. We had a few really young people in our guild that always went broke buying stupid things on AH because the “REEEELY NEED IT!”, even though they’d likely replace in a few levels. After people got tired of their begging they told them to go solo Stockades and sell the greens on AH to pay for the stuff they need. They soon found out how long and boring it is to make the money needed for their impulse buying. They seemed to learn a lesson there.

The only danger is if they happen to get a huge lucky streak when they start and become addicted to the thrill of “free money”. The first impression can stick more in the brain than the long term results.

~ Jason, DPS Liberation Front
I think the greater issue that we should examine is the moral implication of child-aimed MMO's in general. The reward process in an MMO works identically to that of a drug, or that of a "gambling" game (obviously the consequence of becoming an "addict" are far weaker, but the cycle is the same). I for one will not let my kids play games that have the never ending reward structure of an MMO until they are in their teens, as the youth mind is not built to be able to reason against the primal motivations of a risk/reward cycle like that one. I think the question is less, is introducing gambling to young children wrong and more, is introducing a looping reward structure to children wrong. And if that is the case, youth oriented MMO's are wrong.
I find this a little sketchy at best. I'm going to assume that they can only bet the fake currency earned through quests/selling stuff and not the crowns that are purchased through RMT. If for some bizarre reason betting crowns was allowed that would be an absolute show stopper -- that's real gambling with real money. Even so, I'm not sure I like the idea. For all the kids that will be shown gambling is just a good way to lose their money, there are going to be a few that win big and think gambling is the greatest thing ever. It's free money! I hate to think of my child growing up with that attitude.

It also seems like it would encourage the losers to spend more real money on crowns. They lost all their gold betting on the in-game gambling, so now they need to spend real money so that they can continue playing the game? Wizard101 has been so careful to protect kids up to now that this turn of events seems . . . puzzling.
It just seems out of place in a kid's game. Wagering on a sporting event (boxing, horse racing, football, etc.) has traditionally been seen as an adult activity. Most games that children play rarely involve money or transferring property. The only exception I can think of might be marbles. Even Magic: the Gathering was originally designed to be played for "ante" (winner gets one of the loser's cards) and that was abandoned very quickly.

About the only explanation I can come up with is that this is an attempt at a PvP reward system that is hard to exploit. If both sides have money riding on the game, both sides will attempt to win, and there is no chance that excess money enters the system.

However, I don't think it matches our cultural expectations of activities aimed at children versus adults.
Mallika - It was pretty simple really, people gave me their bet, then did a /random 100, if they got 58-95 they got back 2x their bet, 96-99 3x, and 100 got 4x. There was a 100g minimum and 2p max. On a good day I'd make 50-70p.
The real problem I see is the actual progression that games are taking where "virtual currency" is concerned. Couple gambling with RMT and you could have some serious issues further on down the development path. I would also like to point out to everyone how easy it is, here in the US, for a child to walk into any retail outlet and walk out with a prepaid credit card that they can use online without anyone knowing otherwise, including the parents. The ethical direction of all of this should make one consider what future game companies might choose to implement into their games. The gray area of whether gambling is an adult only activity will most certainly be a point of contention as it pertains to this debate for quite some time, I think.
Whatever. It is a game. It's probably also bad to send you on a quest to kill 20 nightsabers, or whatever. Or kill animals to skin them to level up a skill like leatherworking. Or let their characters get drunk. Or take potions to get a buff. (Digital amphetamines?) At the rate we are going. The only thing people will be allowed to do in a game is wake up eat breakfast go to work or school, come home read or watch (censored) TV, and go to bed.
Scott - While it is tempting to run down the slippery slope of censorship, the question at hand is the morality of having a game aimed at young children with gambling as a rewarded activity. While I agree with you 100% that censorship is not the place of the state or any other regulatory body, it is still immoral to allow young children to participate in activities that they are not physically capable of reasoning through. The question you raise is if these activities should be made non-available to those who are able to deal with them, which is a question that I think most reasoning human adults are able to say a resounding "yes" to. The real question is if those in charge of overseeing the welfare of those unable to deal (the parent) makes the right decision, which is to limit access to these activities for those who they are in charge of. It is also immoral to censor that which you or I are able to see, as far as art (and games are a form of art) are concerned, but it is still my job as a parent to provide context and censorship for my dependents in regard to those pieces of art. You should not limit the adult's ability to acquire adult entertainment, if such entertainment is produced, but that doesn't mean that you hand kids porn as they walk through the school house door.
Well this depends on the game. Not knowing it at all, I really can't say. If this is a game specifically aimed at children, I would agree that introducing gambling might be a bit risque. That'd be like Spongebob visiting a prostitute or something. However I'd rather have kids betting in a game like this than out on the playground rolling dice for real items. If this is simply a game that is making efforts to be child friendly while open to all, I would have to say allow it. The games are not meant to take parenting away. If my hypothetical son came up to me and said other kids are betting on whatever at school, I would take that opportunity to explain the issue to him and why it is not something he should participate in. Same with games. It is up to parents to be aware of what their children are up to. It's one thing to take a game that is supposed to be child friendly, and setting him loose in it. It's another thing to have some idea of whats going on in the game and address issues in the game with them. Just as with tv, movies, and books.

We've become so PC and sensitive in society. We're a nation of suers, not doers (to borrow someone's quote, can't remember who). It's always someone else's responsibility, fault etc. Take peanuts for example. Schools are freakin banning peanut butter. I don't know about you but my friends and I probably ate 10000 PBJ sandwiches growing up. If you look at the numbers kids are way more likely to die or suffer a serious illness or injury walking to school, playing sports, or whatever. Even if there is a slight exposure its 90% likely to be minor. If you kid is allergic to peanuts, tell him not to eat them. What's next? Ban milk because some kids are lactose intolerant? Don't force stupid rules upon people to avoid liability. People need to be responsible for themselves, and by proxy their family. Just wait until blizz gets sued because some 11 year old gets hurt fighting in real life, claiming he was dueling a friend. Or shocking another kid like the torture quest in the game. I'm still surprised there has been no major news about that one followed by a quick patch. Life may not be fair. Bad stuff happens all the time. It's not always someone's fault and that someone does not always need to "compensate" you. And it's not always someone's job to decide what people need "protected" from, not to end a sentence with a preposition, which I havn't.
Sorry got carried away there, and off topic. I see your points and do not totally disagree. I just see it more as an individual/family issue rather than an industry issue.
Lydia Greyrose here!
I just wanted to let you know that when this goes to the live servers that we'll be adding a parental control to allow players to control their children's ability to wager.
Hope that helps with some concerns people may have about wager their gold in Wizard101.
~Professor Greyrose
Update on Wagering in Wizard101

After testing the wagering system for Wizard101's Player vs Player tournament feature, We have decided that wagering will not transfer from the Test Realm to the live game. Therefore, there is no need to implement parental controls for this system.

Thank you for your feedback, and see you in the Arena soon!
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