The notion of free-to-play games with in-app purchases has always been a controversial one, with everyone from South Park through to Kanye West being vocally critical of aspects of the financial model. Now, however, popular mobile title Game of War has become embroiled in a rather bizarre court case, revolving around a man from Rocklin, California who embezzled $4.8 million from his workplace. Incredibly, the man in question went on to spend $1 million of that money on the mobile game.
According to a press release from United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California, Kevin Lee Co has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering from his former employer, Holt of California. Managing the company’s accounting department, Co was able to siphon off funds from Holt for his own personal use. In spite of the use of a money laundering scheme to try and conceal the crime, Co was then subject to investigation from the IRS and the FBI, after Holt filed a civil suit.
As it turns out, Co was spending money on plenty of luxury items, such as luxury cars, home furniture, and season tickets for NFL football and NBA basketball teams. However, perhaps the most eye-catching of Co’s uses for the embezzled funds was to spend $1 million on Game of War. Just how Co was able to spend a million dollars on the free-to-play title boggles the mind, but clearly Co found seven digits of enjoyment in the game.
This is not the only time that video games have been involved in an intriguing legal case. This year, a wanted criminal was caught after deciding to use a Pokemon Gym by a police station, while just last month several Ubisoft executives were accused of insider trading. Meanwhile, there have been several important video game lawsuits over the years, which have even helped define the industry itself.
For some, this case also shows exactly how engaging these somewhat passive freemium games can be. There have been ongoing discussions about how free-to-play gaming is changing the industry, for better or worse, with some being concerned about potentially dangerous practices being implemented. In particular, some have been critical of Skinner Box implementation in games, with some asking whether more can be done to curb methods that provoke video game addiction.
For Kevin Lee Co, however, there’s unlikely to be much time to spend more money on Game of War any time soon. Co faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison, and a $250,000 fine for the charge of wire fraud, also facing 20 years in prison for money laundering alongside a $500,000 fine. The former Holt employee will be sentenced in May, 2017.