Squeal of Fortune/Controversies

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On 2 April 2012, Jagex added the ability to buy Squeal of Fortune spins with real money, causing several controversies. Some players were enraged by this new update and started a riot in Falador, World 66. In response, Mod William posted a thread on the forums about this update on the Recent Game Updates article, and within a day this resulted in thousands of negative posts by furious players demanding its removal.

Real world trading[edit | edit source]

Of the claims against the Squeal of Fortune's legitimacy, real world item trading is the most heated. The introduction of purchasing spins was viewed as a larger step towards directly selling items. It set a precedent of being the first Jagex-endorsed means to "sell" items to players for real world money. Similar controversies had existed beforehand — the Members Loyalty Programme and Vanity items. The Squeal of Fortune's implementation of micro-transactions differs from these previous two, however; where as the Squeal of Fortune allowed for direct purchase of spins that guarantee winning an item of any sort, the Members Loyalty Programme provided a new currency with which items could be purchased, but, at that time, the currency was only available as incentive for being a paying member. Vanity items were similar in implementation; the items were not directly purchased with money, but rather were received along with membership as an added "thank you" from Jagex.

Along with the direct purchase of a guarantee item was the controversy regarding some of the possible items, namely the lucky equipment and experience lamps. The Squeal of Fortune set a precedent of being the first micro-transaction to provide a source of high-end gear and experience. The Members Loyalty Programme provided the then-new auras, but they were limited in their use and provided relatively small advantage. Similarly minute advantage was received from vanity items such as the ornate katana which, at the time, had stats equivalent to an iron 2h sword. The complaints against Members Loyalty Program and vanity items have mostly disappeared. However, those against the Squeal have not. Even before the introduction of purchasing spins, there was a controversy that surrounded the lucky items. Players either believed that the items would be tradeable and thus provide large amounts of "unearned" income or that the items would be common enough to create an abundance of these items and ruin the economy of their tradeable counterparts. Further disdain was aimed at the ability to purchase spins providing a chance, albeit slim, of receiving high level, generally expensive gear without "playing the game".

Three promotions in particular have supported the idea that the Squeal is a form of Real-World Trading: both of the Alchemist's amulet promotions and the Samid's gloves promotion. Both of these promotions give large quantities of gold, with an obvious advantage to those who have bought spins. The amulet can give up to about 5 million coins if formed with 10 amulet fragments (first promotion) or 10 fragments and a Transmutation tablet (second promotion). Samid's gloves can give 2-5 million coins, depending on total level. Neither promotion included a limit on the number of amulets or gloves that could be obtained.

Most notable is the controversy that surrounds the ability to indirectly purchase experience in skills. Lamps exist on the wheel as fairly common prizes as well as rarer prizes that have increased reward with all lamps providing modest amounts of experience. Experience lamps are common enough for a large sample of spins to constitute a significant, if not majority, portion of the total rewards won.

Even further was the response by Jagex. As Jagex are the owners of the game, they claim legal ownership of all intellectual property — accounts, items, etc. A response by Mod Mark Gerhard asserted that the total revenue from the Squeal and Solomon's General Store was between one-tenth and one-fifteenth of what could be made by selling experience directly but that it would be a path they will avoid for the sake of the game. He continued to say that the generated revenue was being put into the game to support updates such as HTML5 and cross-platform playing. Gerhard asserts that micro-transactions exist as a means to ensure that financial support for RuneScape can continue and grow.

Controversy also arose from a claim that 90% of members enjoy the wheel and 70% of free-players use it daily. The claim that such a large portion of the community enjoys the content was cause for much anger and was only furthered by using that data to call the Squeal "some of the most widely appreciated content release[d] to date". Within this response, Gerhard also refuted the claims of it violating any real-world trading rules or real-world gambling laws or providing an unfair advantage for players "to buy their way to success"; he states the system is designed against these and that such are impossible. Gerhard cites past updates in this response to reassure their careful consideration and scrutiny with implementing the Squeal (as well as any update) in making sure it has no outstanding negative impact and does not undermine player achievement. Citing several planned updates (including the then-upcoming Evolution of Combat), Gerhard implies that larger upgrades to the game would not be possible without the financial support from these micro-transactions.

On 5 April 2012, Jagex changed redefined their rules on real-world trading to explicitly restrict trading of items facilitated by a third-party but not those which are performed through a means within the game itself.[1]

Gambling[edit | edit source]

As RuneScape contains no age verification (just asking if the user is at least 13 on signup), it is possible for children under the age of 18 to spend real money on the Squeal of Fortune.

Jagex has stated that since every spin on the Squeal wins an in-game item (even if only cabbage or fishing bait), and since there is no potential for real monetary return, the act of purchasing spins is not truly gambling. Many players maintain that such a low-value spin is functionally equivalent to a loss, and that a purchased Squeal spin therefore counts as gambling. Other players maintain that a loss is incurred when spins are purchased, and that with the hope for a rare item, the Squeal of Fortune becomes a form of lottery. Overall, the Squeal of Fortune is more qualified as a Big Six Wheel.

If a low-value spin is considered a loss, or if Squeal of Fortune is considered a lottery, then the act of selling spins would violate online gambling laws, and the act of selling spins without age verification would violate age restrictions on gambling in several countries.

Legal viewpoint[edit | edit source]

In Australia, the gambling issue centres around the interpretation of relevant legislation, in Australia's case the Interactive Gambling Act (2001). The regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, is of the opinion that virtual items are defined as having no monetary value, and thus, the prizes are worth nothing and that gambling is not taking place.

As of April 2013, there were two processes taking place. Senator Nick Xenophon was introducing legislation that changes this decade old legislation to cover new eventualities such as the gambling in RuneScape, Slotomania and DoubleDown, specifically mentioning RuneScape. The other process was an ongoing review of a report on the Interactive Gambling Act, 2001. This report concluded on 12 March 2013, and one of the recommendations was that the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy should work out "potential measures to address the access and marketing of online gambling-style services to children".[2] Senator Stephen Conroy, the then Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, was responsible for this ongoing review. However, no change was ever made for the Squeal of Fortune based off these legislations.

Financial security[edit | edit source]

If a member is paying by credit card, and the credit card information has been saved with Jagex, there originally was no identity verification between clicking the in-game "buy spins" button and confirming the transaction. This means that someone with unauthorised access to a RuneScape account could turn up to $200/day of the rightful owner's money into Squeal spins. Since there is no option to disable spin purchasing on an account, it is also possible for children whose parents pay for their RuneScape membership to spend their parents' money on Squeal spins without their knowledge. These issues have provoked accusations that Jagex is violating laws concerning customer data protection. Jagex has replied with reminders to keep your RuneScape login information secure.

Additionally, they changed their Terms and Conditions,[3][4] effective 2 April 2012 to avoid lawsuits by adding a line in the Subscription section:

We reserve the right to charge you for any unauthorized use of your subscription by third parties.

It should be noted that anybody whose account existed before the Terms were updated were not alerted of this change. However, in the Terms and Conditions it states Jagex does not need to do this, and users are responsible to check for changes:

We may change these terms and conditions to reflect: changes in applicable laws; regulatory or security requirements; relevant guidance or codes of practice; technical alterations to Jagex Products; and to improve clarity and consistency. Please check the terms and conditions whenever you use a Jagex Product. If you are not a subscriber, we will treat your continued use of a Jagex Product as acceptance of these changes from their effective date as shown above. If you are a subscriber, we will treat you as bound by the changes on the first renewal date for your subscription after the effective date and so you should cancel your subscription (as explained below) before this renewal date if you don't like the proposed changes.

In any case, if Squeal spins are bought by an unauthorised third party, the issuing bank of the debit or credit card, and other payment providers such as PayPal, have facilities available to reverse charges for disputed transactions. As of a patch note update, however, the security around buying spins has been "tightened".

Precedent[edit | edit source]

Many players have been concerned by the precedent that this sets for the future of RuneScape. These players maintain that once Jagex makes an update connected with selling items or experience for real world money, they will be more inclined in the future to make updates connected with real world trading, despite having promised in the past that microtransactions would never be added to RuneScape.

This has already been realised with the introduction of bonds, which allows players to buy bonds with real world money which, in turn, could be directly sold to other players for coins.

The former official Jagex policy on real world trading is as follows:

"We don't want players to be able to buy their way to success in RuneScape. If we let players start doing this, it devalues RuneScape for others. We feel your status in real life shouldn't affect your ability to be successful in RuneScape."

Player reactions[edit | edit source]

Despite RuneScape's long history of fighting against real world traders, some players believe that RuneScape may soon become insolvent as Jagex is seemingly rewriting their previous rules.

Within the first week of spin-selling, over fifteen thousand players voiced their objections to the Squeal on the update thread or one of the hundreds of other ones. To put this number in perspective, most update threads receive only two to three thousand posts, most of which are positive or ambivalent. The fifteen thousand replies to the spin update are as good as entirely negative, with only one positive post in the first twenty pages. After one week of consistent player objections, Jagex locked the forum in which these objections were voiced, but opened a special Squeal of Fortune feedback thread later on. Insults for the Squeal are still seen in current times with the most prevalent being the "Steal of Fortune", "Wheel-World Trading".

Adding to the controversy was the Gambling and Games of Chance offence, which is seen as even more hypocritical on Jagex's part as they allow only their form of gambling while banning others. This particular update was very popular with most players, apart from those few actively gaining from games of chance and the scamming involved around it.

Jagex response[edit | edit source]

On 14 August 2012, Mod Timo responded by giving this quote about the controversy surrounding the SoF and Solomon features:

Some general answers from me (and I'll try to get some further answers/opinions on this as well):

Bots - We're working on it. Hopefully we'll have more information about this soon but I can't give you an ETA at the moment. It's definitely an issue that we are aware of and are focusing our energy on. ICU are a secretive bunch, but maybe we can get some more info out of them shortly.

Sof & Solomon - I see both of these systems as additional ways people can support Jagex and RuneScape while getting something back for it. Previously, membership was the only way to do so. Now, you can support us in any way you choose. Including not spending a single penny by playing the game for free! People may not like that others are spending money on cosmetic items or spins, but the fact is that lots of people are using both Solomon's Store and SoF. (Both for free and paying for them.) What some might see as 'pushing', we see as adjusting, balancing and changing for the better. You may not like these updates, but there is a large cross-section of the community who do even though they may not frequent the forums or feel like sharing their opinion publicly. This doesn't invalidate contrary opinions but it is important to look at not only what is being said, but what is being done in-game.

RWT - Any money we make off Solomon's Store and SoF goes directly back to us. It is as much real world trading as membership and selling t-shirts are.

— Mod Timo[5]

Two weeks after Mod Timo replied to players on the forums about SoF and Solomon's Store, Mod MMG posted his response about the two features of the game in a news post on the RuneScape website.[6] On the forums related to this post, Mod Michelle used Mod MMG's quote rather than him addressing his own post.[7] The forums had a mixed response on the message as well as some players wondering why Mod Michelle was using Mod MMG's quote. Along with speaking about the two features, he also spoke of another bot-nuke day appearing within the upcoming months (Optimus Part 2) as well as an update through graphics with HTML 5 (Runescape 3). Some players accused the message as being a way for Jagex to gain the trust back from the players who despise the two features while others praised it as being a great way to eradicate bots from the game as well as to improve it graphically.

On 5 April 2013, after the Samid's Glove SOF update, people on the forums were outraged enough that Mod Lods started to try to calm them down and answer questions. The most controversial quote about SOF was said in response to a player named LordCromwell. After arguing that RuneScape has become a Pay-To-Win game and that working for what you want is how the game was meant to be, Mod Lods had this to say:

"I'm sure you feel far more satisfaction from actually taking the time and effort in game to achieve things like this LordCromwell, this is just an alternative option for players" - Mod Lods[8]

This caused an uproar among others and showed to some that this quote confirmed that SOF was in the game to allow players who bought spins to have an advantage within the game among others. After this was said, all quotes from Mod Lods afterwards were almost entirely targeted to positive feedback and questions.

References[edit | edit source]