Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Is Diablo 3 Gambling?

Tobold asks if Diablo 3 is gambling and concludes that it is:
And thus the question whether the randomized way in which the player acquired the Sword of Uberness is a form of gambling is valid.

I disagree with this interpretation. Wikipedia's definition, which I think is a good one, states:
Gambling is the wagering of money or something of material value (referred to as "the stakes") on an event with an uncertain outcome with the primary intent of winning additional money and/or material goods.
The wager is the important part of gambling, and that's the part that Diablo 3 is missing. When you go to kill a boss to get a random drop, you don't bet anything. And you don't lose anything. Sure the reward is random, but there is no loss, and no initial bet.

You have to be able to lose your stakes based on the random event for the activity to be considered gambling. In a lottery, you have to purchase a ticket, and that's your stake. Losing that stake, tiny as it is, is what makes a lottery gambling.

Where you can lose money is in the buying and selling of items. But that's trade, and it's not random. Sell at the price the market will bear, and don't purchase over-priced items. In fact, if you never buy an item, and always sell at below market prices, I don't see how you can actually lose money in D3. You may end up only making a tiny amount, and the amount per hour will be orders of magnitude less than a real job, but there's no actual loss.

But without the wager, without the bet, without the possibility of loss, there is no gambling. Diablo 3 doesn't make you put down wagers on what the random loot will be, and thus is not gambling.


  1. Depends on how literally you think of the phrase "time is money."

  2. This is why I was confused about the talk of South Korea being wary of D3 because of gambling.

    Even if there's one of the series previous "gamble" vendors where you spend in-game money on a random item, is that still the same thing?

  3. @RJ, that's an interesting question. A vendor like the Wirt in the original Diablo, where you paid 50 gold just to see if he had a worthwhile random item for purchase.

    I would say that a vendor like that, where there is an explicit stake (50g) to trigger the random event and payoff is a lot closer to gambling.

  4. I think Tobold said the question is valid, i.e. the issue is up for debate, not that Diablo 3 is in fact gambling.

    I suppose one could argue that paying for the game is the "stake."

  5. This was pretty much my take on the question too.

    Although I did think of a couple of ways you could make it a gamble if you wanted to:

    * Buying crafting materials on the RMAH, and crafting in the hope of getting an uber set of random mods that you could sell for a profit.

    * Buying magic-find gear on the RMAH, in the hope of getting a return from your increased chance of finding sellable uniques & set items (this one is more of a stretch).

    But yeah, it's ironic that the biggest gamble you could take is one that doesn't involve Blizzard's random number generator at all - it's simply trying to "buy low, sell high" on the RMAH.

  6. It isn't the getting the item part which is considered gambling.
    I believe it is the AH fee. People 'playing' the AH would fit your definition of gambling.

  7. @Anon, no, it doesn't match my definition because selling an item is not a random event. It's a function of the price and market.

    Trading, or buying and selling stuff, is not random. It can be done poorly, and you can make mistakes and lose money. But it is not random.

  8. Is your 'stake' the money you've put in to buy the game or access to the server ?

    Is Diablo 3 subscription based like WoW ? If so you have even more of a stake.

    So you could look at as though you've put up your stake on the chance that you'll get an epic drop and make some money on the auction house.

  9. If those definitions of "stake" were valid, then running a business is gambling.

  10. @RJ Only if you run your business my getting customers/sales by random chance instead of advertising, marketing, having good products, providing good service, etc.

  11. I think the reason why gambling is banned or restricted in most countries is because it's way to easy to make someone spend more money then he would be willing to or even can afford.

    We should look at it from that angle and I think D3 is a huge step in the direction that turns computer games into money sucking vampires.

  12. What I've read is that Korea considered it 'gambling' because you didn't get the AH fee back if the item didn't sell. No, I don't agree with them, and their position seems at odds with western laws.

    This could make for some interesting study material, however... we may be able to see how a legitimate cash AH impacts gold sellers and illicit RMT by comparing Korea's D3 with D3 in other regions.

  13. "Is Diablo 3 Gambling?" is too general a question to reach a conclusion for the specific aspects you and Tobold address. I believe you are right with respect to those aspects, but they don't stand for all of D3.

    A specific aspect (and perhaps the only aspect) of D3 (that we can see so far in the beta) that definitely *is* gambling, given presence of the RMAH, even according to Wikipedia's definition (when it's not protesting SOPA/PIPA and hides its definitions behind javascript), is the Blacksmith.

    Crafting mats (and patterns) can be sold on the RMAH and therefore have cash value. Your stake is the requisite mats for each attempt at a (near, if you're willing to settle,) perfect item (or at the very least an item worth more than the mats). Every time you fail, you risk (perhaps at best) breaking even with the RMAH value of the mats - and that's if you don't fail to sell your failures (losing your posting fees - not part of your stake) and have to sell them on the Gold AH. The RMAH will likely be so flooded with near-perfect attempts that the largest significant percentage of such attempts would be below mat value even if sold for gold and you then attempt to flip the gold on the RMAH.

    Hard to analyze a market that doesn't exist, but I think this is roughy how it'll play out.. regardless, it's the mechanic not the odds of winning that's important for determining whether or not there is gambling involved with the Blacksmith.

    When I can simply sell mats and gold (part of your crafting cost/stake) on the RMAH for a guaranteed, however small, income without risk but trying to craft a perfect item could leave me with absolutely nothing of value in my posession to sell on the RMAH due to a random factor completely out of my control, how can this not be considered gambling? It doesn't matter how I came by the mats in the first place (trade/loot), these are my starting assets when visiting the Blacksmith and they have real world value.

    In fact, the Blacksmith is essentially a reworking of the 'Gamble' feature that appears in several D2 Merchant menus except now D3 involves real world currency where before you were only gambling worthless in-game-only gold.

    And there's the problem as I see it; has nothing to do with loot tables or trading, which is gamble-free unless you factor in time, which I define as priceless -- who's real-world salary/wage defines the base value of time? -- if time isn't an unreasonable factor to suggest in the first place. (Anyway, I think we can ignore that time spent in game collects, at least, RMAH-valuable gold but at a statistically calculable rate given sufficient data as time approaches infinity based on any given player's speed of grinding through ideal mobs as this becomes more a matter of skill in a fixed system than randomness?)

    Nevertheless I think Tobold is right in that this may well have legal consequences at some point.

    Or I could be way out to lunch.. I'm hardly a lawyer. /shrug

    Sorry for the awkward tangents and parenthesis/hyphen abuse. ;)

    PS. Hi. Been a while.. sorry, I suck. Will try to get in touch when I get a chance.


  14. @Durentis, there were a bunch of changes announced yesterday that seemed to remove a lot of the random vendor stuff. Like the Cauldron of Jordan and Nephelem cube.

    It's possible that those changes are in response to the gambling charges/definitions like you have outlined.

    I do agree that your example of the Blacksmith mechanic is probably gambling as I have defined it.

  15. "there were a bunch of changes announced yesterday that seemed to remove a lot of the random vendor stuff. Like the Cauldron of Jordan and Nephelem cube.

    It's possible that those changes are in response to the gambling charges/definitions like you have outlined." - Rohan

    If they were a response, they're completely ineffective and don't change the example I gave at all.

    The CoJ and NC are just interfaces to a process (gear -> mats/gold). Blizz merely changed the interface by moving the process to the Blacksmith and Merchant windows respectively.

    Regardless, it doesn't matter where or by what means (random or skill) you get your starting mats, gambling starts with the offering up of the mats (your stake) you have (after the process has been executed). You aren't gambling if you simply exchange cash for chips and back only once you offer up chips to a system.

    Word has it Blizz had to remove the RMAH for South Korea entirely though I haven't confirmed this. That also doesn't remove the gambling nature of the Blacksmith because the RMAH is the trade aspect, but it does keep the gambling to virtual/valueless goods only which likely doesn't run afoul of their laws.

    I think the biggest question rests on the value of the mats/stake to the player. These are obtained at $0 to the player (handed out freely for various non-gambling activities) but their expected yield via the RMAH is something >$0. Casino chips typically have one fixed value.

    Are you gambling if your stake has no value to you but expected return despite a likely higher and guaranteed expected return if you didn't gamble to begin with? I think so - perhaps like gambling with someone elses money, say as on the Deal or No Deal game show.