The rumbling surrounding mystery boxes and YouTube stars continues a week after news broke that sites that encouraged gambling were being promoted to youngsters as young as eight years old.
Why the conversation is still ongoing is because the definition of gambling is slightly vague when it comes to promoting loot boxes, especially in the United States where the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled that internet gambling on a game of chance is not prohibited by law.
In Europe, though, member states can impose their own rules, so it’s not a surprise that Belgium has already banned such games of chance.
What is MysteryBrand?
People who are 13 or older can sign up on MysteryBrand.net to buy virtual “mystery boxes,” which range in price from $1.99 to more than $1,299.99, and are marketed to contain an item from brands including Apple, Ralph Lauren, Xbox, Gucci, Supreme, Nike, and Rolex.
After paying for a box, users can open it on-screen to reveal their prize, then either order the item for delivery or sell it back (typically at a much lower price than the cost of the box) to receive online credit and try again.
They can also select prizes to create their own box with customized odds, which tend to be far more expensive. Little information about MysteryBrand.net is publicly available, although the website states its terms and conditions are subject to Polish laws – more on that later.
So, what are these “stars” getting in trouble for? Stars such as former Disney actor Jake Paul and duo Marco and Alvin have asked their fans to go and buy virtual mystery boxes, which sometimes contain branded items. But like any game of chance, there’s no guarantee you will end up with anything great.
“You could get a pile of s*** or you could get a Rolls-Royce,” 21-year-old Paul, YouTube’s second-highest-paid star, told his 17.7 million subscribers in a recent video sponsored by MysteryBrand.
“I want you guys to go to MysteryBrand.net right now and play this game and tell me or tweet me or something if you guys win this, OK?” urged Paul, who said in 2018 that his YouTube audience is primarily comprised of eight- to 16-year-old kids.
For Marco and Alvin, the mystery box content certainly helped to boost their followers and go viral – they gained almost 70,000 subscribers.
They said: “We were nothing before MysteryBrand. We were at 1,700 subscribers before we actually did our first MysteryBrand video. Through MysteryBrand’s name we have been able to grow … and actually start doing YouTube for a living.”
They later apologized for pushing the company.
Paul and Richie Le respectively pulled in around 2m and 2.6m views on their promotional MysteryBrand YouTube videos in one week. Content creators can earn an estimated rate of up to $5 per 1,000 views on the platform from ads.
Paul has since posted a video asking children not to gamble. Le also acknowledged that he was “somewhat in the wrong” for doing business with MysteryBrand in a subsequent video but highlighted other YouTube users had done the same.
Ian Yael, a 21-year-old university student from Mexico City, told HuffPost he had spent hundreds of dollars and opened nearly 20 boxes on MysteryBrand.net before winning a $1,100 Louis Vuitton pocket knife and ordering it for delivery in mid-October. But three months later, he has still to receive the item.
“MysteryBrand is like gambling. It was very addictive,” Yael said. “But it’s just a scam.”
Indeed, some of MysteryBrand’s prizes have been found not to exist at all – from limited edition cars to a mansion’s image ripped off the internet. And as for those terms and conditions – they even say that the brand is under no responsibility to ship the items.
According to the company chairman, the site isn’t a scam, and its service is not gambling because other companies sell packages with unknown contents, too.
“MysteryBrand is not much different from those projects, except for the fact that we make the whole process of buying and receiving items from a mystery box fast and transparent in real time,” representative Tim Perk said in a statement.
Perhaps the biggest indictment has been the response from fans, and other YouTube users who have condemned Paul publicly on media such as Twitter, as my colleague Louise Bolotin reported last week.
Drama Alert star Keemstar called out Paul on Twitter: “Jake Paul is now promoting gambling to kids. [P]romoting a gambling site where you pay $ Money for a chance to win Hype Beast stuff. They offered me money too.. What should [I] do?”
He then ran a poll asking whether he should “take $100k and promote” or “expose Jake Paul”. His fans voted 58% to expose Paul’s scam. Keemstar explained he too had been offered £100,000 to promote MysteryBrand.net but had declined.
Ultimately the debate around exposing young children to gambling via their favorite YouTube stars will continue, but it’s looking less likely that MysteryBrand will stand to up public scrutiny. What is for sure is that there are plenty of other companies ready to step into its space.