Nick Xenophon Created Mass Hysteria And We Still Don't Know What He Wants

Image: Supplied

Over the weekend, South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon signalled the next big legislative debate surrounding video games in Australia.

It's been coming for quite a while — but the fast proliferation of 'skin gambling' sites, the people involved and the amounts of money being bet and lost was always going to kick the debate off sooner rather than later.

This week, that train finally arrived. The legislation won't actually be debated until Parliament resumes next month. But that's too late to stop a whole lot of concerned media reports — and a metric shit-ton of hysteria.

It's understandable, in a way. Politician comes out to the media on a Sunday. Says first-person shooters are being used to "groom" children for gambling. Includes Dota 2, one of the world's most popular MOBAs, in that bracket. Raises the biggest red flag: parents.

"Instead of shooting avatars, parents soon find out that [their children] have shot huge holes through their bank accounts," the Senator told Fairfax.

It's a scary thought. But it's not the first time someone has raised alarm bells. Remember Unikrn? They're the agency that partnered with Tabcorp to offer odds on esports matches to Australians. They stand to benefit a lot from making gambling more accessible to gamers. It's literally their bread and butter.

But even Unikrn's CEO Rahul Sood wasn't pulling any punches when he warned that kids were being exposed to gambling. "When my 13-year old son and his friends talk about skin betting it made me seriously uncomfortable," he complained.

Something was always going to be done. It was just a matter of when.


The Lack Of Detail

The thing is, nobody has any clue as to what precisely is being proposed. By Monday afternoon, Nick Xenophon's website had no information about a newly proposed bill. The "Online and Sports Betting" page contained no reference to video games. There was nothing on the Senator's Twitter account about rolling video games into gambling legislation, nor was there any detail on his Facebook page.

Instead, what people were left to digest over were vaguely worded media appearances and news reports. But legislation is a precise instrument. The wording matters. The wording is everything.

Take the wording of this report from The Independent.

"Nick Xenophon, the independent senator for South Australia, has said he will introduce a bill to parliament calling for games such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive to be defined as gambling, updating the country’s 2001 Interactive Gambling Act."

Games "such as" Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. But what does that mean precisely? First-person shooters? Shooters with in-game economies? Will only games that have virtual items be affected? What about games where cosmetic items are the only form of revenue for a developer? If they can't be traded, will those be affected?

Nobody knows.

Here's The Guardian.

"Nick Xenophon, the independent senator for South Australia, on Sunday announced a bid to have multiplayer first-person shooter games defined as gambling in an update to the current Interactive Gambling Act of 2001."

Multiplayer first-person shooters. A more direct definition. Doesn't answer the free-to-play question, but it's a start.

In the same report, Senator Xenophon reportedly wanted warnings about gambling to be displayed with the ability to "block links to gambling sites". It's not known precisely what sites though. Presumably third-party gambling sites are included. But what about, say, the store page for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive? Would there be advertisements on that? Or what about in-game, where the cycle of skins begins?

The television reports are no more helpful.

"According to Senator Nick Xenophon, games such as Global Offensive and Counter-Strike encourage players to gamble and place bets on third-party websites," Seven's Weekend Sunrise show begins.

Global Offensive and Counter-Strike aren't separate games. And CS:GO has never encouraged people to bet on third-party websites. You could argue that there is plenty of encouragement to bet within the game though — users are presented with fantasy tipping and leagues every time a major tournament rolls around. Leagues and bets that require users to drop real cash on stickers and items.

But that's not the argument being made.

"Having games purchasing something online is one thing, but when you link it to a game of chance, when you link it to poker machine-like reel activity and you link it to actual gambling websites where credits can be used, can morph into gambling is a real issue," Senator Xenophon told the Sunrise presenters.

It's not the same as reading the text of a piece of legislation. But it at least made the target of the independent Senator's legislation clearer. And it could have been worse. Andrew O'Keefe quipped that his 5-year-old daughter had bought microtransactions for a mobile game and questioned Senator Xenophon on the difference between that, skins and gambling in CS:GO.

Xenophon refused to accept the premise. And then O'Keefe waded into more dangerous territory. After the Senator joked that the mobile cat game wouldn't put his daughter at risk of gambling, the Sunrise presenter remarked that "she is, but I had to pay $70 in toilet paper for that cat".

Microtransactions can be a frightening topic to broach. How do you calmly explain on national television to a parent whose just forked out hundreds of dollars for virtual currencies that it's a funding model that has provided a vast amount of value to gamers while making it possible for developers to put food on the table?

But Xenophon deflected. "There's a special on at my local IGA, you can buy a lot of toilet paper," he remarked.

Contrast that with this report from Channel 9's Today show.

"Senator Nick Xenophon wants to introduce legislation to stop children from playing certain video games," the report begins.

Is that really what the Senator called for?

Chris O'Keefe, Channel 9's state political reporter, continues. "Companies have online games where as you are playing, you're given an option to pay money to give you a better chance of winning. So instead of just playing, kids can link a credit card and use it to give themselves a better outcome."

The games shown throughout this report: Battlefield 4, World of Warcraft, Minecraft, Battlefield again, and Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3. In split-screen.

None of the games shown have, or have ever had, this feature. It's not even sure what games O'Keefe is referencing.

No wonder gamers are starting to panic.


Comments

    What we've got here is a somewhat complex problem: unscrupulous people have taken a somewhat harmless system from within a popular game and used it to create gambling sites that target children. What we've also got is a politician who doesn't fully grasp this problem but knows that it is within his most passionate policy area: gambling.

    Let's be clear. There is a problem and Xenophon is 100% correct to want to tackle it. Xenophon's lack of specific understanding is where everything goes wonky.

    A couple of advisors that fully understand the problem would go a long, long way here. If Xenophon understood what he was talking about, he could propose a real solution. He does not, so he cannot.

      Precisely this. What we also don't need though, are gaming outlets proclaiming this in a hyperbolic manner to be the next huge disaster. I hope someone from Kotaku, or another outlet similair offers to help step up and help educate in this instance instead of critique? As the unofficial gaming community 'representatives' in this area, they're in a prime position to do so. I'm not putting all the responsibility on them, but I am saying that in a sense, the journalistic side of it has a huge chance to have a lot of impact here instead of sitting back and throwing shade.

      Last edited 02/08/16 1:23 pm

        I'm pretty sure Kotaku is primarily a Pokemon and Cosplay website.

          They'll have to check what Twitter is saying first and maybe find some Tumblr pages with Nick Xenophon romantically involved with O'Keefe cartoons all written in Japanese.

        Allure has a bunch of great staff that make occasional appearances on things like Sunrise/Today, or The Project; a couple of spots to help frame this discussion could really help achieve a sensible outcome.

        Although it would come at the great personal cost of having to put on pants, I could probably swing by Xenophon's Canberra office if his staff reached out to me.

        Unfortunately, my understanding of the problem can be summed up as: HATS! Dickbags! MORE HATS! Not sure that's enough to really help.

        Agreed. Xenophon is on the money, but this needs facts and a certain amount of tact.
        What I'm actually more worried about is that journalistically we've got to the point where a politician must deliver sound bytes that explain to journalists enough for them to report on without needing to inflate the issue with unrelated/sensational/inflammatory material.

          The biggest problem with politics is that issues can rarely be condensed into an accurate soundbite. The second biggest problem is that soundbites are the easiest way to communicate big ideas.

          Let's try to condense this one down: "illegal gambling sites that target children are skirting regulation by using items from popular videogames." That's one way to do it that puts the focus on the illegal sites but is far too meaty to be a soundbite. "Popular videogames are being used for gambling." Simplifies it too far and puts the focus on the games but it still essentially accurate.

          Guess which one is the easier story to tell?

            To me the problem is simply lack of any research what so ever.
            Even if I have a stupid, anonymous argument with someone online (be it here, or reddit or facebook or wherever), I'll still do 5-10min of research to quickly check my facts or find a source/link.
            It's better than nothing and usually stop stupid comments like Nick's.

            Problem is they, don't do any of that, and there's basically no right of reply. Sunrise goes out to a whole bunch of older people, who usually know just as little, don't read stuff online, and will never read rebuttal articles like this one.
            And then they go vote.

            https://youtu.be/OJWJE0x7T4Q?t=30s

            Submitted without comment.

      Well said Trjn. It really is frustrating that his intentions are spot on, but the execution is far too generalised. I abhor the use of gambling in this country and think it will be the next biggest problem government tackles after binge drinking/alcohol fueled violence.

      As we've already seen with the aforementioned boozeamahole stuff, they didn't exactly fix the situation with lockout laws, restricted trading hours etc etc. The problem morphed. If they do the same thing here and use a broad brush to punsih everyone, instead of stamping out the illegal gambling sites which are the actual issue, we'll all suffer for it.

      I really hope they get this one right.

        I'm conflicted-
        I don't want Australia to be a nanny state, but I don't want companies to be able to bomb the citizenry with services that can actually harm them.

    The ignorance here is... CSGO skin gambling/lotteries are already ILLEGAL under both the Interactive Gambling and the State Gambling laws.

    The gambling sites are independent of thw game and make no illusions they are online gambling/competitio s of chance... therefore illegal.

    The issue is the lack of knowledge authorities (and thr senator) has. Csgo gambling is a crime for operating in Australia, selling to minors, illegal advertising and possible criminal fraud in match fixing and theft.

    Its not the games fault... its the exploitive basyards who saw a player trading system and figured they could usr it in this fashion. At best its negligence on Valves part for not protecting its customers from exploitive practices within their ecosystem.

    I'm not entirely sure he was solely referring to the skin gambling websites. I'm pretty sure he was also targeting the gambling-like system used in CSGO, for example, when opening crates.

    Sure, you could dismiss it as "That's just how they wanted to do the case opening animation, with all the possible guns flying past like a roulette", but then why did they also change the way DOTA cases open?
    Previously it was a static screen with some text and sound and out popped your item. Now though, the possible skins are all shown (rare and super rare included) and each is removed 1 by 1 until your skin is shown.

    If that's not trying to mimic gambling such as poker machines then I don't know what is.

      While not *in* the game as such you can also look at WoW (and any game with related trading cards) as gambling. Look at the WoW TCG which had rare, random loot cards that translated into in-game items. The Spectral Tiger card was worth about $1000US at one point. That definitely encouraged gambling. People bought the packs of cards purely for the in-game items and never played the TCG once.

      I do think there are some problem though with making broad statements about gaming and gambling. Especially when you're trying to link them with encouraging children to gamble.

      First and foremost lets talk existing gambling and non-gaming advertising. Major sporting events are saturated with gambling advertising now. When you have a half time announcement during the televised Friday night Rugby League match by a gambling company you're sending that message not just to adults but to the kids too. If you want to clean up gambling lets start there.

      Second, make sure the games being referred to in gambling hyperbole are actually kids games. CS:GO is rated MA:15+ yet the pollies are referring to kids and 13 year olds. Maybe they need to realise that a "kid" shouldn't be playing it. And if they consider their "kid" mature enough to play it then they should also be able to talk to their "kid" sensibly about the "perils" of gambling.

      Thirdly, they need to look at how gambling is occurring, is it something the game and the company making it actively support or is it a third party ecosystem that's arisen? eg: Valve look to be actively trying to shut down the gambling sites related to CS:GO.

      I hope we don't see kneejerk reactions like banning games.

      Last edited 02/08/16 2:22 pm

        Well said. I think the sporting one is an even bigger problem than the gaming gambling issue. As you said, every goddamn sporting match is dripping with gambling advertisements. I'm absolutely sick of them.

        EDIT: Also good point on the age limit these games have. This is overlooked far too often. Where's the MA15+ on a footy match?

        Last edited 02/08/16 2:28 pm

    This is a real problem, especially when viewed alongside the explosion of internet and app based sports betting. The degree to which young people are being targeted by these companies is disgusting, and considering the huge societal cost of gambling, Australian governing bodies need to act.

    To be honest, this could easily be taken care of via the rating system. If a game has mechanics like CS GO's unbox mechanic (which requires a key that can only be paid for), the game gets an R18+ rating and is unavailable for purchase by minors.

    Alternatively, if a game has these mechanics, developers could link profile ages to be able to perform these functions.

    Its either than, or nanny state Xenophon gets to pass something that'll piss everyone off.

      Do you think the proliferation of gambling advertisements has been increasing in the past few years though? I see it as a pretty big problem personally.

      To your point though, the old ratings system seems to be forgotten far too frequently -_-

    It’s a fascinating topic, hopefully it’s resolved sensibly because while it’s concerning it also has the potential to be terribly mishandled.

    As a gamer I’d be delighted to see pay-to-win mechanics restricted, although that’s a HUGE ask give then global market for these things.

    I don’t see how anyone can argue that purchasing ‘card packs’ for a game like EA Sports UFC 2 for real money isn’t tantamount to gambling.

    It seems like the most sensible solution would be to slap an adult rating and a gambling warning on any game that allows that sort of thing. It doesn’t really work for mobile games though.

    What I can't figure out from this article Alex is are you arguing that Xenophon should stay out of it?

    You see I would rather that gambling be stamped out of the pastime that I love.

    It completely sickens me that every night I turn on the news it seems to be principally sponsored by sports betting companies, countless articles on here wax lyrical about the number of companies getting into eSports betting like its some sort of good thing - it's not - gambling is a colossal waste of money and destructive to people's lives and not in some wowserish way but in a simple easy to understand way of: If you spend all your money and time on betting you will have nothing to show for it in the end.

    When I learned that people were leveraging Counter-Strike to run betting rings it made my stomach turn, because if this is left to fester then video games will end up with the same social stigma as pokies and dog racing, I'd say Nick Xenophon is doing the game industry a favour if he's shining a light on this stuff

      Hear hear! Forget alcohol abuse (well don't.... but you know), gambling is a very destructive force and the ads we currently see all the time is just sickening. I wonder why they've increased so much in the past 5 years?

      Dog racing is a poor example. A lot of the concerns there are not about the gambling so much as the animal cruelty. If they hadn't had video of horrible animal cruelty greyhound racing wouldn't even be on the radar.

      While I agree with you that advertising for gambling has become much to prevalent I disagree that gambling on the whole is a bad thing. Excessive or uncontrollable gambling is certainly destructive but putting $5 of your *disposable* income down on a bet now and then certainly isn't. Nor is putting an occasional $20 into a poker machine.

      Look at it like any other entertainment, if you go the movies and spend $20 to see a film for two hours you're essentially "throwing your money away" too. Since there is nothing tangible as a return. If the poker machine provides a similar amount of entertainment for a couple hours it's no different.

      It's only when that gambling is all the time or using non-disposable income (ie: money that should go to rent, food or other necessities) that it's a problem. Which leads to discussion about what should be done - not necessarily trying to totally eliminate gambling. Instead they should be looking to keep it to reasonable controlled amounts, preferably adults only. And more importantly it needs to be entirely optional. ie: if we're talking games then the "best" gear can't come from *just* gambling. It needs to be obtainable in a different way.

      edit: @Ashigaru gambling advertising is becoming so prevalent because a lot of the other major sponsors were cigarette or alcohol related. They're stepping in to fill a void. And it's an ideal void for them, unlike say a car company gambling advertisers benefit directly and immediately. So they're much more likely to spend big bucks to advertise.

      Last edited 02/08/16 2:37 pm

        Absolutely the stigma on dog racing is the cruelty rather than the betting itself but it's still a stigma, for what it's worth I'm not anti gambling, just like Alcohol if it's in moderation by responsible adults it's fine, but I am against gambling in video games and all over television. The sheer volume of betting promotion on TV (a medium I barely waych yet I see hundreds of those commercials each month)tells me that it is not moderated at all given how much money these websites seem to have available to promote themselves!

          Yeah exactly. From memory they moved booze ads after the watershed so most kids have at least called it a night. It wouldn't be so bad if the gambling ads were at 10:30 when the game finished, instead of every damn five minutes.

        Good point, I keep forgetting that the boozeamahol ads took a serious hit with legislation. At least they were either laughable or amusing :/

      No. Xenophon is absolutely correct to wade in -- although it's probably at least a year late. Mind you, the machinations of parliament probably made that the timing too difficult.

      The issue here is the lack of precision. We really need to see how this bill is going to be worded and what precisely it's going to target. A lot of developers and communities could get damaged by legislation for no reason whatsoever if it's worded too vaguely. And the issue is we just don't know exactly what the Senator is proposing.

      While the intention is to shining the light on a particular problem, what's happened so far is the equivalent of tying a flashlight to a ceiling fan.

        No, its not a legislative issue... its an government law enforcement issue.

        CSGO skin lotteries and gambling are already ILLEGAL under both Federal and State Gambling laws... the law enforcement agencies have not or fsiled to understand how it is illegal.

        The use of items of monetary value (real , token or virtual) in gambling or games of chance is subject to the law.

        Regardless of it being virtual skins in a video game, a third party clearly identifying itself as a gambling / lottery website took their market value and use it for such activities without permit, regulation, compliance and with criminal intent including selling to minors, targetted advertising, undisclosed advertising and possible match fixing/fraud.

        There is no reason to rewrite the rule book... the current rule book has enough volume to cave in their heads.

        US and Australian law enforcement just needs to get off their buts and arrest them for illegal gambling, fraud and racketeering.

        US has tougher gambling laws than Australia and they cant see how illegal the sites are cause they are blinded by the video game aspect... take the video game out of the equation you have straight up illegal gambling of items (as collateral) to underage minors.

      I like Xenophon usually and he seems fairly reasonable but this one worries me a little bit. It's mostly due to how he clearly doesn't understand the problem fully yet. He is mixing up terms, referencing single games as two games. It's worrying.

      Video games are a real hot button topic when things pop off and it's really easy for it to go the wrong way and for people to freak out.

      The other end of this issue is that Valve has already addressed these problems and hopefully shut down some of these sites already.

        Yes, I read last week that Valve pulled heir finger out and started enforcing their TOS which is so far the most positive thing that has occurred

        I also like the idea posited here of any game with gambling elements getting an R rating - that puts the onus back on parents to know what their kids are doing

    A decent primer for those not fully up to speed on Skins Gambling and the rise of it:

    http://www.esportsbettingreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/A-Guide-To-Skin-Gambling.pdf

    Why would children have credit card details to start with?

      Store bought steam credits or parent bought steam credits... if a microtransaction can shut you kid up for a couple of hours, of course you will pay it :P

      Idiotic parents, seriously Steam even gives you the option to forget (ie not save) your CC details after each transaction which is awesome.

        Worth remembering that you can go to a servo/7-11 and pick up Steam gift cards, or a parent can pick one up, and those funds can then be linked/used as desired.

    Proud to have voted for nick. If you want him to understand then the only way is to get in touch via email phone or his electoral office and explain the difference, politicians despite what the major parties want you to believe are there to help you. Help nick understand the difference. and I hope this gets this perversion of my hobby out of it. Games were about stories and fun and adventures. I remember a little game I played where they added poker and other gambling type games, people stopped playing the game and just started gambling in it, buying in game currency to gamble.

    Does this then mean that people who cheat in the game are then open to legal proceedings?
    cos if it does, i'm half tempted to support the idea.....
    As much as i hate this retarded concept, i hate cheaters more....

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now