Lootboxes, mobile gaming and responsible gambling


Anyone that knows me (or read other posts here), knows I’ve spent my life de-stressing from a day/week in the trenches painting little toy soldiers, rolling dice and making pew-pew noises. A couple of years ago I finally made the pilgrimage to if not wargaming’s central Mecca, at least one of the Seven Wonders of the gaming world – Warhammer World, in Nottingham, for one of their Open Days (Narrator: it was an excellent trip).

Whilst there I was introduced to Flaregames/Well-Played’s reimagining of Combat Cards, which is essentially top-trumps for wargame minis. Is a card game that I have fond memories from my childhood playing in the hotel bar when too wet to explore Scarborough on family holidays, had recently introduced my own kids to (to avoid playing Harry Potter top-trumps), and to sweeten the deal, those at the Open Day received a limited code to unlock Inquisitor Eisenhorn, one of my favourite characters from Dan Abnett’s fiction series. – So I gave it an install.

Flash-forward to now

Game installed on my phone, I’ve maxed my level to 71, have a growing collection of minions in my collection, can push to be in the top 2 or 3% of worldwide players in the game’s weekly campaigns; or I can take my foot off the gas and easily rank in top 5 or 10% and take the weekly rewards associated. Those rewards? Lootboxes (cardpacks) containing randomly allocated digital cards (fighters) to boost your prowess ready for the next campaign.

Cost? Game is free to play, and I’ve (mostly*) stuck to my guns regarding pay-to-win games and not bought any in-game upgrades/resources that cost cash money.

(* Searching back in my mind, I think I may have spent ~£3 once, largely because I was working in a online digital gaming/gambling firm at the time I was feeling guilty that I was taking enjoyment from playing the game a group of dev’s had crafted, and I’d not paid into the pot that ultimately pays their wages).

There’s a but coming….

I was (personally) able to resist the allure of spending real-world cash to enhance my in-game prowess, so I fall into what most people would probably class as a ‘responsible gambler’(*), and wasn’t about to lose my house after running up enough credit card to prevent ability to repay the mortgage.

(* I’m not going to get into the debate of “are lootboxes gambling?”. To me, if you’re paying money without that guarantee that you’re going to receive anything useful for that investment, you’re gambling. But again, that’s just my own, personal definition)

So, what’s my problem? I realised the game was monopolising a potentially more valuable resource than cash; my time. What started as a 5min pickup and play game whilst stood in playground waiting to pick my kids up from school, became the first thing I’d check before getting out of bed to see what was in the lootboxes I’d unlocked overnight, or the last thing I’d do before going to bed to maximise campaign energy usage.

The facts that I, first identified a problem over a year ago, uninstalled the game to break the daily cycle, re-installed a few months later (“what’s a couple of 5 minute games here and there?”), and have been considering writing this post for at least 6 months should go some way to explaining the addictive properties I’ve experienced.

What can be done better?

Whilst my day job involves being able to identify problems, those my value comes from being able to provide potential mitigations to those problems.

Firstly, I’m not anti-gaming, or anti-gambling – I believe everyone should have the choice to spend their time and resources however provides them with the happiest life available to them.

Secondly, whilst the media has recently picked up on Lootboxes as the latest drum to bang against ‘video games destroying the youth’ (the furore around the original Doom is part of my childhood, but that’s a different story) – I grew up with football stickers, Pogz collections, Magic the Gathering packs; and many more similar random reward models. And I appreciate that digital lootboxes are essentially no different to the physical counterparts kids (and adults) have been spending pocket money on for decades.

As above, I’ve worked in online gambling environments; parts of the industry ARE a completely toxic dumpster-fire that should rightly be vilified by the customers that they prey on. But some have proven that the industry can be profitable (everything is a business after all) whilst looking after their player-base – and I’m still proud to have stood on-stage with some excellent colleagues receiving awards recognising responsible operators and a commitment to putting people above profits.

But as I said, what can be done better?

Energy systems

The energy systems present in many modern mobile gaming platforms trigger the ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO); “your energy is now full” notifications translate to “if you don’t play NOW, you’re wasting in-game resources; stop whatever else you’re doing and pick up your device”, and serve as a regular lure to get players back into the game. Crucially this causes the game to dictate when, and how often, it is played, not the player (at least not without forgoing some in-game resource).

Using Combat Cards as an example replenishes energy every 90 minutes, but a player can only store six energy pips at a time, meaning you need to pick up your device and play at least every 9hours during a campaign. The addictive properties of reinforcing an action every 9hours aside, that means that if a player needs a 9hr stretch between games to do something in the real-world they fall behind in the campaign. When these competing stretches of time include a work day, or a decent night’s sleep you can begin to see the problem triggered.

Recommendation: Moving the ‘maximum energy’ to a 24hr period would go a long way to allowing players to play more safely, and scheduling their gaming periods around other commitments.


I’m out of my comfort zone here, this is not my area of expertise. Other than identifying the addictive impact of my own gaming, I’ll leave this to the experts especially when the answers to these issues are already available (and crucially effective) from the ‘real’ gambling industry. Providing players with in-game abilities to

  • trigger temporary exclusions – “this is getting excessive again, prevent me from playing for 24/48/72hrs etc” – help players control their own gaming time
  • Permanent exclusions – “I can’t self-control, please don’t allow me to play again” – as with any addiction, some people don’t have the will-power to stop, but know that they want and need to. As with the ‘real’ gambling industry, these controls work best when exclusions are shared across all operators. (disclaimer: I’m sure I’ll be searching the appstore for a different hit after Combat Cards is uninstalled…)

Recommendation: Allow players to decide that they need a break (if they need a break), and help to reinforce that decision.


As above, I personally managed to (mostly) maintain my status as F2P (Free to Play). Partly as I originally expected to be an accountant, so handle expenditure more rigorously than most; and partly because over the years I’ve flipped the model to an internal challenge of my own skills to see how far I can get in game without opening my wallet, even when competing against those players that do P2W.

I’m not wanting to dictate how others spend their resources (and as a table top gamer, those in glass houses re: hobbies being a “waste of money” in the eyes of others, shouldn’t throw stones), but having seen responsible operators provide the tools to enable their players to control their spending within the game to their limitations, I think similar in gaming would be a massive assistance.

And, I think that (at least in my case) offering spending limits of “I can’t spend more than £20 a month in game” may actually get operators more profits. One of the reasons I deliberately maintain F2P status is I’m aware of the addictive nature of such games, and don’t want to allow the thin end of the wedge. Being able to limit and commit to “this game is going to cost me £20 each month” makes it a manageable and trackable line entry on monthly finances, no different to Netflix subscriptions, or a weekly trip to the cinema.

Recommendation: provide players with a method to limit, control and monitor their in-game spend. In a world of mobile games, being linked with digital payment capabilities, being able to spend ~£100 in under 5 seconds, just by placing your thumb on a print reader is, in my opinion, a recipe for disaster. Many (myself included) have sufficient restraint to avoid problems, technical controls to aid everyone not spend beyond their means must be a positive to everyone. Even if just to take another bullet out of the media’s gun the next time they decide to go to war with gamers.

Industry co-operation

Regulators responsible for gambling, have been nervous in maintaining their distance from gaming; even where there are some overlap, crossover and outright gambling present in some gaming platforms’ monetisation models.

If you’re curious about regulator’s stance, UK Gambling Commision’s stance is that as long as you can’t “cash out” the content of lootboxes into the real world assets, it’s not gambling. In an increasingly digital world, this stance feels behind the curb, anachronistic, and frankly like an excuse to duck responsibility for what is admittedly a tough problem and political minefield.

Recommendation: I’m not going to get into the furore of if gaming should be regulated. But organisation such as GamCare, GamStop and others do have a wealth of hard-earned experience that I believe could be a great benefit to non-gambling gaming addition issues. There’s very few wheels in this area that need creating from scratch, so let’s not re-invent them.


What’s the point of all this? Honestly, I don’t know. But it’s a post that’s been in my head for some time, and has been cathartic to write. So if the only benefit is to get it out of my head and allow me to draw a line in the sand, it’s served it’s purpose as a therapeutic tool. It might help others so the same negative impacts in themselves that I’ve seen, it might help the industry get an insight into their player base and help the community as a whole. Or it might help no-one, if that’s the case; thank you for reading regardless.

And lastly I want to be explicit: I’m NOT calling out Combat Cards specifically as a worst (or even bad) operator: It’s simply the game I’ve been playing (and enjoying immensely) that I noticed was causing problems for me, serving as both this posts trigger and reference point.

Dark Angels – Terminator Librarian

The advent of 7th has spurred the need for some psychic reinforcements. The first of the reserves comes in the form of Calistarius from the recent(ish) Space Hulk boxset.

Let me know what you think.

–Andrew Waite


Dark Angels – Greenwing Rising

I’ve been working on my new Dark Angels force for around six months, whilst theres been plenty of activity on my Flickr feed covering my progress I’ve been slow to write up any of the progress in any meaningful way. This is the first in what should be a series of posts hoping to correct this.

When I started painting the tactical squads I had available it was with one purpose in mine; Force Organisation Chart requires two Troops choices for a legal army, and Tactical Squads are the stalwart of any Space Marine list. After finishing work I’ve come to really like the look of the unit both in pictures and on the tabletop; and after a handful of games I’ve found my mundane core troops to be far more reliable than the more exotic elite options in my force.

After a bit of trial and error I’ve settled on a quick, easy and repeatable method for the Greenwing elements of my force:

  1. Spray basecoat: Caliban Green – GW’ recent release of coloured sprays are a godsend (or Army Painter’s range will come to your aid….)
  2. All over wash with Nuln Oil for shading – You can be more careful and just shade the recesses of the figure, personally I found this overly time consuming for limited improvement in effect. Your mileage may vary depending on how ‘clean’ you want the final miniature to look
  3. Drybrush: Warpstone Glow
  4. Drybrush: Moot Green – If you follow the Dark Vengeance painting guide these steps should be edge highlights with the detail brush. Personally I’ve not got the patience nor steady hand for that method, I like the drybrushed effect and have had favourable feedback for the end result so far.

If you’ve followed the above, without additional detail your mini should look like this:


With the basics out the way, and without further ado, I give you: Dark Angels, 5th Company, Squads 1 & 2:

Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery

Unit (numbered shoulder pads) and company (left knee) insignia are freehand; I’ve not given sergeant, heavy or special weapon figures unit markings to allow flexibility with lists if I need to swap different weaponry in to counter specific threats. Bases have been a quick and effective processes, essentially broken cork board – but I intend to cover the basing scheme for my Dark Angels force separately at another time.

Armoured transports are currently a work in progress, but teaser/progress shots have already leaked – watch this space…..

— Andrew

Papercraft Terrain – iKube

Previous attempts at home built terrain pieces were less than successful. Luckily some research and assistance from kind #warmongers on the Inter-tubez I came across a Spanish site (with English translations, thankfully) Toposolitario; who, amongst other projects, developed and FREELY released the iKube project. As the project has a tagline of ‘Scenery made easy’, it sounded like exactly what I was looking for.

You can download several PDF’s from the project containing full colour templates for easily, quickly and cheaply building some good looking terrain pieces. First production run:

Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery

Considering I purchased no specialist equipment I’m delighted with the results, it’s amazing what can be produced with a standard, ageing printer and low-weight A4. I had expected the units to be somewhat flimsy, especially given the thickness of paper I had on hand with testing; but even now the units stack well and as you can see above happily support plastic minis without collapsing.

Each crate took around 5 minutes to erect once I has the process figured out.

Going forward I intend to purchase some thicker paper / thin card for strength and durability, plus consider some form of cross-brace to help support the top section, just to be sure.

As 6th ed. 40K meta is requiring an increasing amount of LoS blocking terrain, and other systems (like *cough*Infinity*cough*) are played with a higher terrain tensity this should be a nice way to begin or expand any terrain collection – especially as there is no gluing involved, allowing the templates to revert back to flat A4 for safe and minimal storage requirements.


Warmaster Chaos Warband

A recent tidy up of my gaming cupboard (don’t ask) caused me to knock the dust of my Chaos Warband for Warmaster. For those that haven’t come across it before Warmaster was one of Games Workshop’ (sadly now de funct) ‘Specialist games’. Unlike most of GW’ games, Warmaster is 10mm scale, and is basically a Fantasy version of the better known Titan Legions/Epic 40k game systems.

Looking over all my army choices, seems I’ve got no love of being the good guy, so it should be no surprise my army of choice was Chaos. On top of personal preference Chaos provided several benefits:

  • Firstly: Chaos are expensive points-wise, meaning you get a solid core of hard hitting troops, in limited numbers – so you don’t need to paint masses of units.
  • The figures are nice, I particularly like the harpies and dragon orges, even the massed ranks of low level marauders look good en mass.
  • Chaos tactics are fairly one dimensional: find something to hit, hit it hard – perfect for what was my first foray back into the world of gaming a few years back.

Being 10mm, the armies are quick and easy to paint due to size and (thankfully for me) very forgiving for an incompetent painter like myself. Unfortunately the scale was playing havoc with my camera so these shots are far from ideal, think I’ll need a more powerful lens before I start a major foray in the the world of smaller scale gaming, will stick to 28mm for the time being.

Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery

Whilst the warband haven’t hit the table top for a while, I’ve still got some heavy hitting units finish painting and basing; heavy cavalry, chariots and a DRAGON! Watch this space 🙂

–Andrew Waite

Necrons – Royal Court

I’ve finally finished HQ for my Necrons, just in time for their next outing at the weekend: 1750pts vs Tau.

Not completely happy with the finish; with the benefit of hindsight I shouldn’t have forced through the end of my Skull White spray can, the finish isn’t as smooth as it should be. Planning to strip and repaint at some point to correct, but for now I need fully painted and based units on the table-top.

Unfortunately not the best quality shots, didn’t have time fully setup my usual lighting rig. I’ll try to get some better shots added to the Flickr set later, for now.

Royal Court - Front


Royal Court - Back


From left to right: Lord with Warscythe, Despair Cryptek, Nemesor Zahndrek, Lord with Warscythe and resurrection orb.

Both lords have the option of a Command Barge, but I’m currently preferring running these as Annihilation Barges


Necrons – Annihilation Barge

Annihilation Barge

Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery

Like the Ark kit, the barge kit can be made into two different nits; the heavy weapon platform Annihilation Barge or Command Barge, both are AV13 skimmers making it fairly difficult to deal with quickly. I like the strength of both units, but am currently favouring the heavy option, especially as it’s only 90pts – bargain.

The twin-linked Tesla Destructor has the potential to dish out some serious hits; S7, assault 4, and as it’s Tesla it triples wound output for any to-hit roll of a 6. If that’s not enough, if it generates at least one hit, the Destructor can ‘arc’ into any unit (friend of foe) with 6″ of the target unit on a 6, causing additional damage to secondary units.

I’ve fielded one A-Barge in battle so far with a respectable return on investment, thanks to birthday gifts my Necron force now fields two for added tesla goodness.


Necrons – Arks of the Covenent

I love the Necron Ark kit, one of GW’s first multi-option kits. That is, until I started building my first Ark, this kit lives up to it’s reputation as one of GW’s trickiest kits.

Ghost Ark

Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery

The Ghost Ark forms the core of a Necron warrior phalanx, providing transport, firepower and even the ability to re-animate fallen warriors. Getting the Ghost Ark into a premium firing position can be tricky as the vehicle’ weapons can only broadside so you risk exposing rear armour to the enemy, but as the Ghost Ark is open-topped it also allows a full unit of warriors (or Crypteks *cheese*) to fire from the platform. The pay-off is if you can position the Ark between multiple enemy units the volume of fire can be withering; in my last game it took out a full SW blood claw and long fang unit in a single turn, not a bad damage output.

Doomsday Ark

Please specify a Flickr ID for this gallery

The Doomsday Ark is the heavy weapon variant of the kit, mounting the rather frightening Doomsday cannon; 72″ range, S9, AP1, large blast. Not much can withstand that level of punishment. Unfortunately that statline is only relevant if the Ark remained stationary, if it moved it’s reduced down to 24″, S7, AP4 standard blast; not as devastating, but still no slouch if you need to reposition the Ark for a better tactical position.

I’ve yet to use the Doomsday Ark in a competitive match-up, but I’m looking forward to seeing it make it’s first kills.


Starting with scenery

As my Wordbearer host is starting to grow I decided it was time to build some scenery for them to fight over. Building scenery is something I’ve never really tried to do so I’ve attempted a few different projects to figure out what works, but mostly found what doesn’t.

Progress so far:

Noone wants to fight over a flat, desolate landscape, I thought hills would be a good place to start. First attempt was to shape a block of polystyrene, base and paint. End result, it’s not exactly hill shaped (and still not fully painted:

Polystyrene hill - attempt no 1
Polystyrene hill – attempt no 1

Second attempt at hill making took my back to my childhood: Screwed up balls of newspaper provided the base, with layers of papier mache providing the finish. This is still a WIP, and not ideal but I do think it shows more promise thank the polystyrene variant, and with cheaper materials to boot.

Papier mache hill - WIP
Papier mache hill – WIP

As I already had my polystyrene blocks and papier mache out, I tried my hand at some basic fortifications, essentially looking for some small, bulk and cheap scenery to change the battle field between each skirmish. Basically chopped the polystyrene into strips, and papeir mached for a foundation. I still need to paint these up (black spray, grey/white drybrush) but they should definitely do the job for cheap and plentiful scenery until I can flesh my collection out with more advanced pieces.