Gambling For Kids: A How To Guide
September 16, 2012 4:48 PM   Subscribe

Gambling For Kids: A How To Guide - a discussion of claw games, Panini sticker books, and in-app purchases in free-to-play games for kids.
posted by Artw (21 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I think there is a point to be made here, but it would take better writing than this to make it.
posted by etc. at 4:58 PM on September 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Okay Art, usually you have some pretty solid FPs, but I don't see how kids conning their parents into buying "freemiums" counts as gambling. Low, certainly. Borderline abusive of their players, absolutely. But at least from the examples in TFA, not really "gambling", in that they technically get what they pay for (however worthless), rather than getting a chance at what they pay for.

Second, I kinda have the same unsympathetic response to this I have to most attempts to get children to spend money - Dear parents: Say no!

/ FWIW, I currently play a "free" game that has does basically count as gambling, in that it lets you trade its premium currency for getting a "random" item from a collection of some of the best gear in the game (with most players bitching that you get duplicates of the crappiest stuff, most of the time).
// I still don't quite "get" what "Panini" means, other than a type of sandwich, except that it apparently has something to do with stickers. :)

posted by pla at 5:18 PM on September 16, 2012

Kids are fast learners, so it's probably the best time to gamble. Nobody will extend you much credit, and your parents are there if you go bankrupt. Seriously kids, feel free to gamble away your allowance - you'll quickly learn that it's usually a shit deal. And the upside for parents is that money gambled away isn't spent on candy: it's win-win!
posted by mek at 5:32 PM on September 16, 2012 [9 favorites]

Panini stickers are very approximately equivalent to baseball cards. The major difference is that kids are intended to stick them in books, which makes that one, last, missing (and rare) sticker even more desirable.
posted by CHoldredge at 5:36 PM on September 16, 2012

A friend of mine got stuck with a $300 bill for smurfberries because if the bullshit where if you put in your iTunes password for anything, it doesn't ask again for 15 minutes. He installed an app, handed it to his kid, and she ran up a huge bill almost immediately. At five years old.
posted by empath at 5:44 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wish it had been written a bit better and was more fleshed out. This subject (the effect of gamification and serious games on society) is what I'd like to study in my dissertation, and the gamification of games is a pretty cool part of that. Since the games that the author talks about have the ulterior motive of bilking you out of money as opposed to a more direct motive of entertaining you, I'd even be tempted to make the case that freemium games are often a sort of serious game.

However the link between gambling and IAP is hinted at, but never directly stated. IAP and gambling certainly have some similar aspects. Often IAPs are offered to speed the rate that you get gratification from the game system, and the tight control of gratification and tedium shares a lot with the variable reward schedule that casinos set to keep people playing without ever giving enough of a payout to come close to losing money. It's manipulation by way of neuroscience to get reliable cash-outs from your users - certainly nothing new, but definitely worth exploring, I think, especially in a world where that type of experience is pervasive.

One of the buzzwords in the serious games dialog is the distinction between Finite and Infinite games (Wiki's summary is decent). What does it mean when one of the most popular varieties of games are ones where there is no end, and it's an endless, mindless time and money sink? I'm not trying to be reactionary, but I think that fact has some very large consequences attached to it, and it's worth trying to critique the gamification trend, and perhaps lead to the development of social/serious/gamified games that are more than a funnel attached to the player's wallet.

It's also worth noting that IAPs very often are literally gambling. My nephew plays Wizard101, and one of the buyable items are chests that drop random loot.
posted by codacorolla at 5:44 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I paid off my house by gambling. Or, more properly, by letting my wife play for my friend's card counting team; I have a Real Job and only supported the adventure as an enabler. And the end result of eight years of hanging out in casinos is that, now that the casinos have finally stopped offering countable games, is that I never go to casinos any more.

Overtraining on early luck is a problem that destroys a pretty large and consistent number of people. I got very, very lucky in long-term terms because I overtrained on an early horrible losing streak. After watching my friends make a couple of million dollars (shared among a dozen people over a period of seven or eight years, so not quite that impressive) on that 1% edge letting the house do that for me even for chump change stopped looking like so much fun.
posted by localroger at 5:51 PM on September 16, 2012

The article did me for a loop as well. But I think the author is trying to say, well, IAP targeting children is icky because it's manipulative, but hey, we already do worse things to children (letting them gamble with stickers and claw machines) but we can use both experiences as learning opportunities for kids so it's all hunky dory. Or something.


When I quit playing D3 (quite early on) and sold most of my virtual items for a few hundred dollars, I did have the unsettling thought that maybe it was some kid on the internet using his parent's credit card to buy my virtual items.

That money is still stuck online in my Paypal account (they won't let me cash out) so it's like some eternal reminder of some past sin or something. Someone once said that taking advantage of other people through the use of superior intellect isn't morally much better than robbing them through the use of superior physical strength.

I mean sure, in-app purchases for freemium games exploiting their users are kind of icky, but at least the industry as a whole does something worthwhile. A fun, well crafted game does require a significant amount of luck and creativity to produce, and some free-to-play games are masterpieces in their own right.

It's nowhere near the destruction of value involved in lottery tickets, video poker, etc.

Also, on another unrelated thought, there will be a gradual shift towards virtual goods. Sure, IAPs are manipulative, but so is, you know, the entire capitalist economy we live in. How many billions of dollars are spent on advertising? Who do you think McDonalds ads are targeted to? Some of the alarmism is because we consider virtual goods as "not real" and that spending money on them is more destructive than spending money on a car or a pretty handbag or watch, but give it another 20 years and people won't care about the difference any more. Paying for software, music and ebooks is just the start.
posted by xdvesper at 5:59 PM on September 16, 2012

Panini, is it? The playground was alive with the murmurs of "got got got need got got got need need got got got ...". The day I had two Trevor Francises? Think I swapped him for the entire Scottish second division.
posted by scruss at 6:28 PM on September 16, 2012

Meanwhile, in Japan, IAPs actually are like gambling. And though "complete gacha" has been restricted, you can see in the article how easy it is to get around the ban.

Mass Effect 3's multiplayer uses similar tactics, allowing you to buy "booster packs" that contain random assortments of weapons and items with virtual currency. You can, of course, use real money as well to speed up your progression.

As for the whole "we can teach our children a lesson!" thing, there is at least one potential solution I can think of: sub-accounts. You can set spending limits on the account or even turn it into a prepaid-style account, where the parent gives the child a virtual allowance every month to spend on whatever they want on the phone/tablet. Of course, kids are smart, so they could probably figure out a neat trick to get into mommy's iTunes account, but it's at least an option.
posted by chrominance at 6:32 PM on September 16, 2012

A friend of mine got stuck with a $300 bill for smurfberries

Well, yeah, but at least he had all those delicious smurfberries to show for it.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:40 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

What kills me about free-to-pay non-free upgrades, as well game console downloadables, is that bullshit money-for-points scam.

"You want to buy this thing for 700 points? That'll be seven dollars, sort of. See, it costs seven dollars, but you can't just give us seven dollars. Sure, that would be completely technically possible, but that's just not how it works. Fuck you, that's why. You have to give us ten dollars, and then we'll give you 1000 points that you can spend however you want, nowhere else but here. No, you can't have change; there is no change. You bought 1000 points, which cost ten dollars. It's not our problem you spent 700 of your 1000 points on that one thing you bought the points for, and now you have 300 points left, which are useless because everything costs 500 points or more. You'll just have to buy more points to use those points. 1000 more. That'll be ten more dollars."

It ought to be illegal.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:11 PM on September 16, 2012 [8 favorites]

Hm. I taught my kids years ago (they're seven) that those claw games are a trick to get you to put your money in, and now they mock other kids who play those games. However, I did not know about that fifteen-minute password caching on iPads, empath, so thank you VERY much for that; now I can teach my kids another lesson on how people take advantage of them (as I am explaining why the iPad goes on half-hour quarantine whenever something requiring a password is done.)
posted by davejay at 12:15 AM on September 17, 2012

This is a fascinating field and I'd love to find an opportunity to work for a company dealing with variable reward purchases and freemium gaming. It can be evil, but it doesn't have to be.

Personally, I like the card redemption method. Go to a store like Gamestop or Wal-Mart, buy a prepaid card, redeem code online, and get currency. It adds a physical reality check. There's also that bonus of preventing kids from pushing a few buttons and spending hundreds of dollars before parents see what's going on.

What's really icky is the "free offer for game points" system. "Free trials" to subscription SMS services that are terribly difficult to cancel, adware/malware "games", and unending spam lists are all willing to pay for a few of your game desires in exchange for bombarding you with unwelcome advertisement and hidden phone fees. I've even seen an offer which asks people to sign up for a political candidate's mailing list for game points. It's true that there are plenty of adult gamers, but if there is ever an election decided on the basis of people getting virtual pet dragons with golden helmets full of smurfberries, I think I might be happier never knowing that fact.

The offers are much worse for kids though, because mommy and daddy can say no to pulling out the credit card or putting in the purchase password, yet installing shady apps is easy to do whether without permission or under the nose of a parent who isn't highly informed and naturally suspicious. $20 of smurfberries is $20, but the same amount in "free offers" can be a hundred times that much in headaches, malware removal, and service charge disputes.
posted by Saydur at 12:23 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

The whole 15 minute thing is stupid and should be removed. Or at least, there should be two levels of it - if you enter your password to install a free app* you will always get prompted again for a purchase that costs money.

* Or update your existing apps, why the hell do I have to enter a password for this, Apple?
posted by ymgve at 1:57 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

// I still don't quite "get" what "Panini" means, other than a type of sandwich, except that it apparently has something to do with stickers.

Panini is an Italian publisher who produces stickers of Premier League footballers, as well as special editions for tournaments, which kids collect to fill their sticker albums. (I think there's also now Match Attax which are a bit more like baseball cards/) You buy a pack of six as a blind buy, then attempt to fill your album by trading the spares.

At my school, kids used to make photofit style collages with the least popular spares and stuck them up on lockers, so you'd often see Ally McCoist with Gary Speed's mouth and Shay Given's eyes.
posted by mippy at 5:25 AM on September 17, 2012

To reemphasize what Bwithh noted above, the Quora article on skill claw games linked to within the FPP's first linked article is worth a look. Operating manuals reveal that the claws have variable strength and that they are programmed to only be strong enough to even possibly succeed a certain small percentage of the time (like a slot machine). Maybe that's why "skill claw" is no longer the common nomenclature?
posted by nobody at 6:54 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I remember spending a summer's worth of flyer delivery money on TRYING to complete a ThunderCats sticker book.

Then I found my friends' parent's, who were much more well-off, just bought their kids an entire box of sticker packs, and so they had a massive pile of duplicates, and I finished the book in an afternoon.

That taught me a twisted lesson about economics and hard work...
posted by Theta States at 6:59 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

fifteen-minute password caching on iPads

There's a setting to have it require a password every time there's a purchase, either 10 seconds or 10 minutes afterwards. It's under Settings -> General -> Restrictions. You can also disable in-app purchases entirely. I have both set on our iPad, which is an absolute necessity since we let our 3 year old use it.
posted by zsazsa at 8:45 AM on September 17, 2012

Yeah, like you Theta States, there was a kid in our school with wealthy (and/or savvy) parents who just bought him a box of Football '80 stickers wholesale. He turned up a week into the season with a completed pristine album. We kind of hated him for that. He's now a successful accountant.
posted by scruss at 8:45 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

My parents' attic probably still has a few faded Football '82 and '83 sticker albums, never completed.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:20 PM on September 17, 2012

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