Monday, March 28, 2016

Activision's Call of Duty Casino: Gambling for Kids!

If over the past few months, you have seen an increasing number of mysterious charges on your credit card statement like $2.13, $5.34, and $10.69, I hate to break it to you, but your Little Johnny is gambling. Before you go ballistic, consider this: he isn’t gambling for money. He is trying to win virtual items such as an MVP Baseball Bat, Marshal 16 Shotgun-Pistol, and Fury’s Song in the latest installment of the Call of Duty series, Black Ops 3.

The “Call of Duty Casino” is officially called The Black Market. It is a section of the game where you exchange COD Points (the currency of the Black Market) for a spin of the wheel in which you can win a variety of virtual items such as camos, taunt gestures, and weapon attachment variants. If you’re extraordinarily lucky you’ll win the most coveted item of all, a weapon! (COD Points can slowly be earned by playing the game as well as by being purchased.) Camos and gestures can be cool but a weapon is what everybody wants. And unless there’s a source I don’t know about, Activision does not tell you what the odds of winning one are. I have asked them multiple times and have not received an answer.

Before we go any further, let's have all the parents chastise themselves for allowing their 11-year-olds to play an M-rated game with a built-in casino. Wait - Scratch that! Don't feel bad, because there are millions of us. And yes, we can disable this kind of in-game spending, but most of us won't. Why? Because we won't be able to figure it out, we're too lazy, or we just don't care as long as junior is safe at home playing his games. However, this is not just an issue for “the children” - it’s about transparency and fairness. Furthermore, many of the people losing big at the Call of Duty Casino are adults. 

Now that that's out of the way, let's continue.

As I write this I have no idea how much my child (and I) have spent on COD Points. I promise to go through my credit card statements and give you the embarrassing total at some point. Do a few Google searches, though, and you will find countless stories of people spending hundreds of dollars and not getting a single weapon. Every spin of the Black Market wheel evokes the magical lure of a Vegas slot machine. And every spin for my son and I has not produced a single weapon. This is ridiculous!

Am I saying that The Black Market should be banned? Absolutely not! It’s awesome!

What I do want (and what the point of this post is all about) is for The Black Market to be subject to external audits and standards just like Vegas slot machines are. More importantly, I want Activision to publish the odds of winning different item categories. Adults and children alike should know these odds before they spend hundreds of dollars on nothing. You can be sure The Black Market will be returning in the next Call of Duty. And even if the odds are magically improved as we near the end of the Black Ops 3 life cycle, you can be sure they will be tinkered with to favor the house when the next title is released in November. 

Kudos to Treyarch. Whoever came up with the Black Market and COD Points deserves one hell of a raise! I've never seen a better way to separate money from wallet in the gaming world in many years. But let's try keeping it honest, Activision! 

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