New Act may make some games illegal

New Act may make some games illegal

GAMERS who play Diablo III, World Of Warcraft and other popular online games might run afoul of a new anti-gambling law which was passed on Tuesday.

The Remote Gambling Act is designed to curb online gambling but lawyers say the provisions are drafted so widely they could have the unintended consequence of extending to playing video games where virtual loot can be won and later converted into real moolah.

Some local game developers are asking for greater clarity as they are afraid their creations might get them into trouble when the Act takes effect next year. Section 8 of the Act makes it an offence for anyone here to "gamble" through any unauthorised online gambling service. Offenders can be fined up to $5,000 or jailed up to six months or both.

At issue is the word "gamble" which is widely defined to include playing a game of chance for real money or money's worth, the latter encompassing virtual credits and objects.

Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran said in Parliament the Act is not intended to cover social games where players do not play for a chance to win money, either in cash or through converting in-game credits to money or real merchandise. "So games like Farmville, Candy Crush and Monopoly in their current forms would fall into this category. They're not the target."

The position on games where the virtual currency can be converted into real money within the game or sold outside the game on sites like eBay is less clear.

Veteran tech lawyer Bryan Tan said: "I'm not very comfortable with the wide definition of gambling in the Act."

Diablo III, for instance, was launched with a real money auction house where players could trade weapons and armour instantly for cash. The feature was removed in March. Whether an item sold for $2 or $250 depended on its statistics, which were randomly generated by the game. That can be considered a game of chance, Mr Tan pointed out.

"On a plain reading, it looks like such games will fall within the ambit of the Act. It will then be up to the Minister to make exemptions to these games," added the law partner at Pinsent Masons MPillay.

Local game developer Ivan Loo of Lambda Mu Games said: "The definition of 'a game of chance' in the Act is not very clear, and we are worried that the Act might outlaw us from developing games with elements of randomness in Singapore," said the start-up's chief executive.

But Mr Gilbert Leong, a partner at law firm Rodyk & Davidson, said he did not think it was the Government's intention to police all online video games. "In drafting the Act so widely, they might be keeping their options open in other ways," he said.

lesterh@sph.com.sg


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