Sunday, May 6, 2007

Skill vs Chance and the law

The Freakonomics blog has an interesting post about the current debate about poker, and whether it is a game of chance or a game of skill.

The reason it matters at all is because games of chance are covered by a whole other set of laws, namely those covering gambling. The online version of which has recently been outlawed.

Recently a group called the Poker Players Alliance has been trying to lobby for the legitimization of poker, esp online. Annie Duke (of TV poker fame) has a good post on it on her blog. Her post discusses how games of skill can be identified by a "can I throw the game?" test. It's a compelling argument but I suspect it's flawed. As an aside, I predict that mathematician blogs will go through a veritable meme-circle-jerk on this topic over the coming week or two :-)

Does this matter to those of us in video games if we aren't involved in making a poker variant? It does.

The game of skill vs game of chance debate is relevant to any online multiplayer games, especially if any kind of 'play-for-cash' or 'pro tournament for cash prizes' is going to be explored as a possible business model.

Currently, play-for-cash services (e.g. we offer one on MSN Games, in affiliation with a partner) go to great lengths to ensure that there are no random numbers generated differently, or other factors that could result in a randomization of the problem set thrown at the two players in such a way that could affect outcome. As a result, there's a fairly limited set of games they can work with, as each has to be customized for the service.

It's possible that precendent set with poker could affect whether the play-for-cash model thrives or withers.