/// Don’t Regulate Me, Bro! Social Casino Companies Band Together to "Inform" Lawmakers.

November 1, 2013  |  All Things Digital

Free-to-play games are unregulated, and some of the companies that make them would like to keep it that way. For most game developers, governmental regulation is a non-issue.* But the studios behind social casino games claim they’re under pressure from foreign policymakers and are going on the offensive. Their games, it’s worth pointing out, are not the same thing as real-money gaming/gambling, which is tightly regulated in many of the places where it is not banned. Rather than betting and then losing or winning money, social casino players instead use that money to buy virtual currency. Winnings only come in that currency, although many studios have branding/advertising partnerships with or are owned by the real casino corporations. To preempt regulation of the games, more than a dozen social casino companies** banded together in the ISGA, a trade group resulting from the merger of the Social Gaming Association and the International Social Games Coalition in September. This week, the ISGA announced that it had developed a list of “best practice principles” for social gaming and commissioned research into the games’ usage and impact to “inform public policy.” Spoiler alert for policymakers, but odds are the conclusion of that research will be, “We’re responsible, and our players are doing just fine, thank you very much.” The ISGA’s newly issued principles are either crystal clear or a little too vague, depending on your point of view: Adhere to necessary laws and regulations Are transparent in their functionality Treat purchases and payments responsibly Manage player privacy appropriately Use appropriate advertising models PlayStudios COO Paul Matthews said all the members of the ISGA already adhere to the “meaningful but not super-specific” principles. He and his co-founders all have a history in real-money casino play, but PlayStudios focuses only on the free-to-play business, albeit with partnerships that award Las Vegas show tickets, hotel rooms, food coupons and the like to loyal players of its Facebook game myVegas Slots. Matthews said those wary of social casino games believe the odds are rigged to encourage players to come to Vegas and try gambling for real, but that the payout odds for all ISGA members’ games “are the same ones you’ll find online or in the casino.” A panel of casino gaming companies — some ISGA members, some not — at the GamesBeat conference this week echoed similar notions when they got off on a tense tangent about regulation. The panel’s moderator, Playsino CEO Alex Kelly, said the lack of regulation makes casino games more innovative, while Big Fish Games CEO Paul Thelen picked up a popular industry talking point: We get unfairly singled out. “This is a social game, and it’s no more gambling than Candy Crush or FarmVille,” Thelen said, alleging that “whaling” — getting a lot of in-game purchases out of a small number of players — is most common in turn-based strategy games. “Do those need to be regulated?” Thelen added that the unfamiliarity of other games’ mechanics, relative to bingo or slots, makes the latter a much more appealing target. But if, as Matthews said, the companies within the ISGA are already behaving responsibly, why say anything at all? They say they’re afraid that policymakers seeking to regulate videogames will go after them first because of that association with real gambling. The power of this supposed enemy is a bit hazy, though.

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Don’t Regulate Me, Bro! Social Casino Companies Band Together to "Inform" Lawmakers.

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