Will Australian Law-Makers Spin Trouble for Jagex?

by JoHarrington

The controversial Squeal of Fortune may soon become a thing of the past, if an Australian senator has his way.

Federal Senator Nick Xenophon is on a personal quest to plug loop-holes in Australian laws which allow young gamers to gamble online. He has Runescape's Squeal of Fortune in his sights.

The in-game feature has escaped gambling laws all over the world, because rewards cannot be cashed outside the game. It is precisely this aspect which will be debated in the Australian Senate.

If the loophole is plugged, then Jagex will not legally be able to retain gambling-style micro-transactions if Runescape is available Down Under.

Nick Xenophon Targets Jagex in Anti-Gambling Law

As the wheel of fortune turns, the squeal may soon be spun right out of Runescape; if Jagex wants to keep its Australian revenue.

Federal Senator Nick Xenophon is no stranger to the fight against gambling. Some might say that it's his personal crusade in politics.  But until now his focus has been the big concerns, like betting shops and huge poker games.

Only now his attention has been caught by a series of high-profile stories involving young Runescape players. Huge bills have been run up on their parent's credit cards, as they spin the wheel for in-game profit.

In private correspondence, Xenophon's spokesperson Anna Gordon explained, "According to gambling research experts, fantasy-based games like Runescape are as addictive as poker machines because they operate on the same processes, especially as some games allow players to bet using real money through credit cards or PayPal.

"However, because any credits or ‘winnings’ can’t be cashed-out the games are exempt from Australia’s Interactive Gambling Act."

It's precisely this law which Xenophon is seeking to amend.  He will be introducing his proposal to his fellow legislators, when the Australian Parliament meets in February 2013.

Squeal of Fortune Allows Wealth to Dictate Game-Play

Since Jagex moved beyond the purely cosmetic awards, Squeal of Fortune became probably their most controversial game update ever.

To be fair, the majority of Runescape players probably care little for the wider question of gambling ethics. They're largely the kind of risk-takers who will frequently risk hard-won weaponry against a huge boss fight.  But Squeal of Fortune has wider implications to them.

It allows real world money to be used to effectively purchase experience and items. For the first time, the size of your wallet impacts upon the edge that you have in the gaming world.  The poor grind repetitive tasks in game-play, while the rich buy it with micro-transactions.  In a time of recession, this heightens the sense that it simply isn't just.

Which is why many turned to their governments for help.

Real world trading had always been a no-no; in-game gambling had been discouraged. Then came Squeal of Fortune.
It was inevitable that Runescape would transform into a Nexon clone. Runecoins sees real world money cashed in for cosmetic game items.

What Australia's Law Might Mean for Runescape

Ever since the introduction of Squeal of Fortune, players have been contacting their governments for assistance. Only Australia appears to have taken this seriously.

The Interactive Gambling Act, in Australia, provides the framework within which companies can offer gambling services on-line.  If money can be won or lost, then it's covered by the legislation, but only if the rewards are real world.

Jagex have dodged this bullet by ensuring that all of the potential prizes in Squeal of Fortune can only be used within Runescape.  It may be an XP lamp, which boosts the player's skill abilities, or a weapon which gives an edge in combat.  But they are all fundamentally pixels. 

Anna Gordon continued, "The amendment proposed will mean that if actual money can be lost on the game it will be defined as a “gambling service” and therefore prohibited."

Jagex is likely to argue that no money is ever 'lost', because the player always wins something. It might be a relatively useless in-game item like a cabbage, but it's still a prize. This isn't a view shared by Federal Senator Nick Xenophon, who will be advising that these are precisely the kind of loopholes which have to be plugged.

These are big stakes for both parties.  If Xenophon is successful, then it's inconceivable that Jagex will side-step the problem by making Runescape unavailable in Australia.  That would be a massive player-base locked out and a hit to their profits which couldn't be absorbed.  Nor would they simply stop Squeal of Fortune being available in that country only. The logistics of altering the game code would be very cost prohibitive.

In short, if the feature can't be run in Australia, then it's unlikely to be included anywhere else.  It could well mean the end of the unpopular cash-cow for the whole of Runescape.

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Updated: 03/19/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 02/26/2014

We have Twitter. :D Though seriously, we also have the Press Complaints Board.

Fargy on 02/26/2014

Here in Aussie we have http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/

Nothing like your MediaWatch group. But I was wondering if you had something similar to ours.

JoHarrington on 02/26/2014

You are a giant softie, that's why we love you. And it's always nice to find people fighting your corner. Hence me getting so teary on Monday (http://www.bubblews.com/news/2441977-...)

I'll go and check it out, and alert my Runescape friends to it too. <3

Oooh! It sounds like you're getting somewhere! Thanks for continuing the good fight, long after the rest of us burned out and gave up.

Fargy on 02/26/2014

Awww. I'm always deeply touched when people offer help, it always surprises me and gets straight past in to my heart. I've been known to get watery eyed. Vivathia calls me a giant softy.

Some small news. Which I've put on http://www.reddit.com/r/newscape/new/

If you've got any mad Reddit friends who want to read 300 articles about Runescape, tell them to have a peek. :)

I write about 3 a day, it takes minutes and is about the same creation ratio of my Runescape forum posts. Admittedly some are just links and a title.

Anyhow a lovely gent from the UK Gambling Commission sent me a link for UK based gaming gambling which the imminently defunct Office of Fair Trading had some jurisdiction over.


JoHarrington on 02/25/2014

I see that my shape-shifting powers are showing again. *smirk*


And no, I don't worry about your lovely self, unless you actually send up a flare. Then it's MAN DOWN and me rushing in with emergency ppots and sharks.

Fargy on 02/25/2014

Hello Jo :)

I love a chat. Mostly to myself on Reddit lately


Not sure why I'm building up that body of ideas, it's fun but I've no reason to do it. Sometimes you just gotta do what you do.

If you ever worry about my rationality, don't be a'feared, everything is cool and clear. I worry that I make people worry, because I can be a little intense and a little different.

Your chat about the Titanic has proven involving. I wonder what the drivers for that are. Something about our sexual roles, but I'm still entangled in the bits and pieces.

Thanks for everything Jo, you've been and continue to be, an amazing little sprite.


JoHarrington on 02/25/2014

Interesting development! Having a chat is wonderful, isn't it?

Fargy on 02/24/2014

Last year I started chatting to Singaporean interests about Runescape and social gaming gambling. Thank you Melvin Tan of Corporate Relations Division in the Ministry of Home Affairs. For some reason I've images of Harry Potter now.

It was a nice surprise to see this pop up in one of my scrying pools,


I'll always believe in the power of having a chat.

JoHarrington on 11/28/2013

Please do report back. :D

Fargy on 11/28/2013

Okay thanks for passing the whispering vine on to me. :) I wrote to the author of the Develop Online article and asked whether he had any more news.

Hopefully by March-April something grows of it.

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