China passes law to regulate loot drop rates in games

In a bid to bring a halt to the rampant gaming addiction plaguing the country, the Chinese government has taken the unprecedented step to force game publishers to reveal the rates at which loot drops for MMO players.

Most gamers are familiar with random number generation, and many of us have prayed to the RNG gods at one point or another. Plenty of games – MMO’s especially – rely on these algorithms to decide whether a player is successful in an action or not. Most players don’t let it impact them too much, though there will always be some who fall victim to the same trap that Skinner’s rats did.

In China, however, the line between gaming and gambling has become blurred over the years thanks to games like ZT Online. To continue the analogy, many of the games on that market are Skinner boxes in some way or another, and encourage players to continuously click on a treasure chest or a crafting station in the hopes of this time finally getting the best possible loot.

A legal solution 

The stereotypical picture of pale young men sitting for hours in Internet cafes, clicking away with a glazed look in their eyes, can be frighteningly true in China. The Chinese government is legitimately concerned about this problem, as are other countries in the region. The new law that passed (here, for all you Chinese speakers) makes a lot of sense in that context. The most relevant part, which was kindly translated by NeoGAF forum user chillybright, reads:

2.6 ...Online game publishers shall promptly publicly announce information about the name, property, content, quantity, and draw/forge probability of all virtual items and services that can be drawn/forged on the official website or a dedicated draw probability webpage of the game. The information on draw probability shall be true and effective.

2.7 Online game publishers shall publicly announce the random draw results by customers on notable places of official website or in game, and keep record for government inquiry. The record must be kept for more than 90 days. When publishing the random draw results, some measures should be taken place to protect user privacy.

What effect will the law have? 

The goal of the law is clear, but what makes it interesting is that there is no limit set on the numbers or probabilities, so it’s not like if you click a hundred treasure chests you’ll be guaranteed to get one gold sword and five silver ones. Rather, it forces game companies to post the chances of getting different items publicly. 

By making drop rates public knowledge, game publishers could end up competing with each other, with the game offering the most reward per click getting the most players. This likely wouldn’t reduce the number of players, just the number of games, which doesn’t really solve the big problems of game addiction.

Whatever the reasoning behind the law, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive on a few forums around the web, though the new rules won’t affect people outside of China. Imported games need to be republished by a local company according to Chinese law, so NetEase will have to comply while the U.S. version of World of Warcraft can ignore it.

In any case, it will be interesting to see how this new law affects China’s gaming addiction problem and if any effects ripple out to the rest of the world.