Chasing the Whale: Examining the ethics of free-to-play games
July 24, 2013 3:44 AM   Subscribe

Via Gamasutra: "I used to work at [company], and it paid well and advanced my career," the person told me. "But I recognize that [company]'s games cause great harm to people's lives. They are designed for addiction. [company] chooses what to add to their games based on metrics that maximize players' investments of time and money. [company]'s games find and exploit the right people, and then suck everything they can out of them, without giving much in return. It's not hard to see the parallels to the tobacco industry."
posted by tarpin (106 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
People don't really get "addicted" to these games, not in the sense of, say, alcoholism. Instead, these games offer players something that feels, through the use of various psychological tricks, better than their real lives. They're still tricks, overall, there's nothing real there, and so that doesn't make them any less evil, but it does show us that, as with so many other saddening things in our world, the soul-draining nature of most people's lives leaks out and causes a myriad of other problems.
posted by JHarris at 3:58 AM on July 24, 2013 [13 favorites]


I think it's fine to call this addiction, just as you might say someone has a gambling addiction.
posted by ryanrs at 4:00 AM on July 24, 2013 [15 favorites]


The word has been used and misused a lot. I'm a little sensitive to it because not too long ago there was an article trying to classify video game addiction like alcoholism. But like gambling I can accept, indeed the similarity is readily apparent.
posted by JHarris at 4:03 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


find and exploit the right people, and then suck everything they can out of them....

Is different than the corporate philosophies of much of the business world exactly how????
posted by HuronBob at 4:03 AM on July 24, 2013 [16 favorites]


There are plenty of happy free-to-play customers out there, and the aforementioned story from Chris only makes up a very tiny portion of the tales I received.

But it could be argued that to focus on the ratio of exploited to non-exploited customers is to completely miss the point...


The point in question being "I've got to squeeze an article out of this."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:16 AM on July 24, 2013 [15 favorites]


The friend even alleges that as a direct result of the mother succumbing to the allure of spending more and more on the game, her son ended up dealing drugs simply so he could afford to keep payments up on the house and keep food on the table.

Okay, forget my earlier snark. I'm actually beginning to admire the author's jaded cynicism. It's not a Gamasutra article, it's performance art!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:23 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


People don't really get "addicted" to these games, not in the sense of, say, alcoholism.

Researchers who study addiction are perfectly happy to characterize this sort of thing as addiction (particularly those who view addiction in behaviorist terms).
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 4:25 AM on July 24, 2013 [13 favorites]


And one last note: to be fair to the author the last third of the post does escape anecdote hell and become a fairly well researched researched article.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:34 AM on July 24, 2013


i missed part of it but there was a piece on NPR this morning about how these games do actually release dopamine with their random reward thing. whoever the reporter was discussing the Skinner study and talking with some guy that made an app or a game that has some kind of random reward thing.

so, yeah, they can be addictive in the actual meaning of the word.
posted by sio42 at 4:35 AM on July 24, 2013


Instead, these games offer players something that feels, through the use of various psychological tricks, better than their real lives.

...Um, that's one of the criteria for an addiction
posted by Renoroc at 4:35 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


"My savings got wiped out pretty quickly -- although it should be noted that at the time I didn't have much put away to begin with," he explains. "The real trouble wasn't that it cleaned out my bank account, but that it put me in a really delicate situation. With no savings and every dollar not spent on food, shelter, or utilities going to digital hats, any unexpected expense became a really big deal."

I'm as much a critic of free to play games as anyone, but this guy is a fucking idiot.
posted by empath at 4:43 AM on July 24, 2013 [33 favorites]


Instead, these games offer players something that feels, through the use of various psychological tricks, better than their real lives.

In terms of brain chemistry, please distinguish between video addiction, gambling addiction and alcoholism.
posted by DU at 4:51 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is something I need to think about, whether gambling or f2p are immoral industries, as I could potentially end up working in either if I so chose to go in that direction. They are functionally equivalent, although in some ways f2p is a bit worse. Gambling games make a lot of money from casual punters: they don't need addicts to fund them (although I imagine it helps!). F2P essentially thrives on the fact that a minority of their customers will spend an absurd amount of money on their products. Of course, as mentioned in the article, many of these Whales are quite happy to spend such a ludicrous amount of cash.

How much do we respect individual agency here? When there is a chemical dependency we can suggest that someone's judgement is impaired, but when someone freely chooses to spend an absurd amount on a game, and professes to be perfectly at peace with their choice, should we be bothered by this?

Empath above calls someone a fucking idiot. And he is a fucking idiot, but he's almost certainly an addicted fucking idiot. If you spend this amount of money on these games you are basically a fucking idiot, but you might also need help to stop being a fucking idiot?
posted by Cannon Fodder at 4:53 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm on mobile, but I assume the tags for this post include Zynga?
posted by panaceanot at 4:54 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, and can we evaluate the unethical acts and aims of this particular brand of vice without pointing out the obvious parallels with other shitty entrenched business models?
posted by panaceanot at 4:58 AM on July 24, 2013


Should we, though?
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:59 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


In terms of brain chemistry, please distinguish between video addiction, gambling addiction and alcoholism.

One of these things is not like the others. People almost never get the DTs while attempting to break a video, gambling, or f2p addiction.

Not that they aren't equally serious, or even that they aren't confusingly referred to with the same word, but physical and behavioral addictions really are two different beasts.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:59 AM on July 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


There are a lot of psychological factors involved in alcohol addiction too.
posted by zscore at 5:01 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Redacting that company name seems particularly coy since they proceed to discuss Zynga openly in the last few sections of the article.
posted by ceribus peribus at 5:08 AM on July 24, 2013


Gambling games make a lot of money from casual punters: they don't need addicts to fund them (although I imagine it helps!).

You'll have to make your own call on morality but it would appear the 5% of gamblers who are addicted produce 25% of the industry profits.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:14 AM on July 24, 2013


People don't get the DTs when getting off cocaine, either. The fact that alcohol has withdrawal symptoms that other things you can get addicted to don't doesn't mean you don't get addicted to those other things.

Everybody knows about Zynga, by now, but I was glad to see an article really addressing the way that this is being used by other companies, it's not just the realm of the stuff you find on Facebook.
posted by Sequence at 5:15 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


There are a lot of psychological factors involved in alcohol addiction too.

True, physical addiction does not exclude behavioral addiction. In fact I imagine they're pretty consistently coincident.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:16 AM on July 24, 2013


See also Tim Rogers's excellent articles on this subject:

Who Killed Videogames? (a ghost story)
Sims Social: A Love Letter From a Computer Virus

From a previous MeFi post.
posted by Drexen at 5:20 AM on July 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


This article - The Top F2P Monetization Tricks - goes into a lot of interesting detail. (It's linked from the FPP article but I think it's worth calling out specifically.)
posted by moonmilk at 5:27 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anyone who doubts whether video games can be just as addicting as gambling or soft drugs should read this story and get back to me.

It's interesting to see MeFi offer a ambivalent defense for an industry that (at least on the evidence I have) does just fine defending itself and its right to 'free speech'. You wonder whether the fact that a lot of people on MeFi are gamers might have something to do with it.
posted by anewnadir at 5:30 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


The best part about becoming addicted to FTP games is that when the trigger hits and you bite the bullet and spend the money - you don't have anything to show for it. With a lottery ticket there is a chance you might walk away richer. With a FTP game, you've lost a chunk of your life and a chunk of cash on hats for your feline avatar. In addition, there are so many different psychological techniques being used on players within the same game - that someone who isn't keenly aware of what is going on is absolutely screwed.

I rank FTP games actually as a worse addiction than gambling - likely there is no upside for the participant.

With that said - I play the snot out of Mechwarrior online, and yes - I've bought a few pieces of customization (I'm in it for $30 for mech bays, GXP conversion, and some paint - but I won't spend $50 on a single hero mech). The biggest piece is that it is important to understand personal motivations for spending money as well as what the game's motivation for spending the money is.

For me, I get a game I enjoy playing after my family has all gone to bed, and I need to decompress. The FTP model is good in that sense since it minimizes expenses. I played enough MW2, MW4, and Mechcommander back in the day to know that I liked the game mechanics and that there was a lot of source material to pick from. There are a limited number of weapons though that it is nigh impossible to create an 'I win' button in the same manner as several FPS shooters. Effectively - they follow the rules that FASA laid out and that limits how invasive they can be (so far).

For them, they want to cause some confusion.
1. There is free to play currency. This will buy almost all mechs and weapons.
2. There is premium currency. This accelerates the purchase of some mechs which someone would not be able to afford as regularly otherwise, as well as allows for the purchase of hero mechs - (that 6750 point hero mech is actually ~$45)
3. There are premium accounts which increase the rate of experience and credit acquisition. Effectively you pay more to have to pay more faster - (premium accounts mean you will need more mech bays faster)
4. Periodic additional investments. Such as the Founders program and an additional program that I can't remember the name of. The founders cost up to $120 for 4 special mechs and paint. The other costs up to $80 for four new mechs.
5. Early mech purchasing - Spend MC (points) to get a mech before you can spend the FTP currency to get the mech. (I want it now!)

With that said, the best thing that I have seen them do so far is about to cost me $10.
For $10 I am about to get a Jenner where 100% of the cost (after taxes and credit card fees) will go to cancer research. Is it any good? No - personally I'm not great with light mechs - but this is a good cause and hey - I dig the paint. I'd be far less likely to purchase if I saw something like a Hurricane Sandy Mech, or the WTC mech, or the Katrina Mech,, or a Boston Strong mech or a Royal Baby mech - but hey - this feels like it was well thought out and heartfelt and *not* capitalizing on tragedy for a good cause.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:32 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to see MeFi offer a ambivalent defense for an industry that (at least on the evidence I have) does just fine defending itself and its right to 'free speech'. You wonder whether the fact that a lot of people on MeFi are gamers might have something to do with it.

Nah, they do the same thing with lots of other mega-industries and corporations. I think it's the "anything legal is moral" BS that's especially firmly attached to the concept of exploiting tons of money out of poor people.
posted by DU at 5:32 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I rank FTP games actually as a worse addiction than gambling - likely there is no upside for the participant.

Not true nowadays. People are getting random drops in DOTA2 for example that are worth $600-$2000 on the open market - there's Steam Community market where you can trade items for cash, similar to Diablo3's auction house. Cashing out Steam Wallet funds is trickier but commonly done via Paypal through a trade intermediary, or you can leave them there for future gaming purposes.

There is a small but consistent random drop chance after each game (you get an item every 5-10 games or so).

I've made a few hundred dollars from Diablo3, straight into my Paypal account. I expect the same from DOTA2.

I guess you're just playing the wrong sort of games.
posted by xdvesper at 5:38 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


but I was glad to see an article really addressing the way that this is being used by other companies,

Yeah. I downloaded a "Despicable Me" game for my iPhone for my son to play yesterday. Is that Warner Bros? It's actually a really good game, at its core. It's a Temple Run-style dodge-the-obstacles thing, but with really beautiful graphics, and diverse gameplay.

But there are these "premium" tokens. The only way to buy certain power-ups, or certain costumes (exactly the sort of things kids want to try to get) is to spend these tokens on them. Some of these power-ups and costumes would cost close to $50 in real money to buy.

I don't mind the idea of a free-to-play game where you might throw them a couple of extra bucks for some new levels or a great new weapon, and some iPhone games (Plants vs Zombies, for example) pull that off well, but the price-curve on that sucker is so steep it's nasty.
posted by Jimbob at 5:39 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The word 'compulsive' can be useful for describing the kind of detrimental behaviours that some games can cause in some players. We can talk about compulsive gamblers or hoarders and shoppers and generally understand what that looks like, and that it's detrimental, without using the term 'addiction'*

I have list of questions that I use when I talk to people about game design (I am a game designer myself):

- Would you play it? And would you buy it?
- Would you be proud to tell your (hypothetical) grandchildren about it?
- Will its players feel that playing it was a worthwhile use of their time?
- Will its players remember it in a month? A year? Ten years? And what will they think about it?

The answers are not always clear cut. There's no doubt that after playing Farmville and Cityville for a couple of months each, I really hated myself for wasting my time on them, and I would never recommend that any of my friends play them.

However, there are some games that I played pretty compulsively — albeit for shorter periods — like 10000000 or Diner Dash or Puzzle Quest, that I am still reasonably happy I played, despite not being as 'good' as The Walking Dead or Civilization or whatever. Probably it's because they involved some element of skill.

*Of course, it may be that substance addiction and compulsive behaviour both involve similar changes in brain activity, so in fifty years time the distinction may be made different.
posted by adrianhon at 5:58 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anyone who doubts whether video games can be just as addicting as gambling or soft drugs should read this story and get back to me.

It's interesting to see MeFi offer a ambivalent defense for an industry that (at least on the evidence I have) does just fine defending itself and its right to 'free speech'. You wonder whether the fact that a lot of people on MeFi are gamers might have something to do with it.


I also happen to think gambling and soft drugs should be legal and aren't necessarily immoral in themselves. Some people have addictive personalities, and that's something that society should take seriously and invest money in treating. Going after whatever the addict happens to get hooked on is a fools errand. If it wasn't video games, it might be crystal meth.

That said, I think games companies should take more care in ensuring that they aren't exploiting addicts and bleeding them dry.
posted by empath at 5:58 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a weird Schrodinger's cat problem with how to handle this, vis a vis the tie to virtual currencies and gambling. Currently, F2P executives have to do this lame dance where they pretend their products are not like gambling while developers compete games "more addictive." That tends to prevent a real discussion.

Meanwhile, Vegas gambling conglomerates have been snapping up virtual currency operations and social gaming companies, getting everything lined up for when they get the online gambling regulation they're pushing for and can stop pretending.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:20 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


There are many people out there who look on other people as nothing more than sheep to be shorn.

"Who cares what happens to other people as long as I get what I want."

We see this philosophy at play in all aspects of life, from politics to health care to taxation to finance.

Even as there will always be people who can be exploited, there will always be people to exploit them.

If there was really a way to fix that flaw in our species without compromising our ability to adapt to new circumstances, I suspect evolution would already have done so. As it is, it's my sad conclusion that there are times when we must be assholes in order to survive, and so we're stuck with occasional asshole behaviour.

The best we can do is seesaw back and forth between "generous" and "selfish" over the fulcrum of survival. It's so painful to watch, though.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:25 AM on July 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Gacha, something similar in Japan is already banned, or at least regulated as I know.
For a small fee, you get a random item. Usually that item is part of a set. If you complete that set, you get a rare/powerful item that you can use in-game. Kids spent tons of money on items to have a full set...

But honestly I don't have any problems with F2P games, as long as it's not a Pay-2-Win game.
I think TF2 is a good example. I spent some money there but items are mostly cosemtic. So yo won't be a better player with the bought stuff.
In the other hand I would ban Pay-2-Win games (most of the smartphone games are like that). Where if you have a lot of money you can easily unlock everything and beat everyone else...
posted by bdz at 6:26 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


With that said - I play the snot out of Mechwarrior online, and yes - I've bought a few pieces of customization (I'm in it for $30 for mech bays, GXP conversion, and some paint - but I won't spend $50 on a single hero mech)...

Yeah, I've barely played MWO because five minutes in the training arena getting pounded on by an Atlas while piloting a Blackjack made me realize that turning the 3052 Technical Readout into a pay to win layer was going to either make me ragequit or get sucked into paying for stuff that I would have lusted after in a tabletop campagin.

I'm kinda sorry MWO is F2P instead of premium-subbed (although the heat death of the subbed MMO universe seems to be underway) because they really did do a nice job with the engine from what I saw and I spent years hoping and waiting for a BattleTech/MW MMO.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:33 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The items in TF2 are also extremely well-balanced. I've played it for 700 hours or so and still mostly use the stock weapons. The newer ones are fun to mess about with and can complement an individual playstyle, but I can't think of any that are especially overpowered.

But even with TF2 which I'd say is about as close as we have to doing F2P 'right', there's still some icky things about it. Namely the gambling aspect of the crates, the fostering of an inflated, speculation-driven market for the rare/high-end items, the way the beautiful and iconic design of the original game is being slowly fragmented and compromised by the need to constantly be adding new, ever-more-garish and ever-less-colour-consistent items, and just the way that a Zynga-like happy-shiny-buy-buy-buy, hawking and cajoling aspect has taken over the flavour and presentation of the game.

I got my Orange-Box-money's worth for it ages ago, so of course they're free to do what they like with the game now. Some of the new items are kind of neat -- I have hats for all the classes that I quite like, and the odd gewgaw, none of them paid-for -- and above all it's been amazingly effective at maintaining a ridiculously huge and active playerbase and community around the game for years and years. But it's only through great skill and nous that they've managed to avoid most - not all - of the undignified stink that F2P dynamics bring with them.
posted by Drexen at 6:40 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's interesting to see MeFi offer a ambivalent defense for an industry that (at least on the evidence I have) does just fine defending itself and its right to 'free speech'. You wonder whether the fact that a lot of people on MeFi are gamers might have something to do with it.

I play games and I don't doubt you can get addicted to it any more than I doubt you can get addicted to alcohol even though I drink. I also have no problem believing companies use despicable tactics to milk money from customers. Yay?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:44 AM on July 24, 2013


If a player is unable to control how often they play a game, or how long they play it once they begin, and they persist in playing despite negative consequences, or generally use game play as an avoidance strategy, and this persists and worsens, I have no problem calling that addiction. I've heard stories for years of, e.g., people failing out of college because they got into MUDs.

As for the ethics, that's a lot more complicated I think. Most people who enjoy drinking alcohol do not become alcoholics. We consider it the individual's obligation to seek treatment and to learn how to live without drinking, in fact. It's true that we regulate some kinds of alcohol branding out of existence, like Four Loco. But they still sell Vladimir as well as Grey Goose at the liquor store.
posted by thelonius at 6:46 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


And don't forget: TF2 is somehow an experimental playground for Valve.
All the, now common, features were tested there: trading, items, F2P... etc.

/There were gossips that CS is going to be F2P in the near future/
posted by bdz at 6:46 AM on July 24, 2013


EVE Online also has a weird connection to real-life money. Just today I was flying in a fleet with 25 other people, all of us in US$1,000+ ships. However I would be very surprised if anyone bought their expensive imaginary spaceship with RL cash instead of earning them through in-game mechanics. EVE isn't designed to encourage pay-to-win so going that route is not very appealing.
posted by ryanrs at 6:54 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've heard stories for years of, e.g., people failing out of college because they got into MUDs.

We used to say that in Netrek, (Kill ratio + GPA) = a constant.

As noted in the previous F2P thread, there are a couple of different degrees of F2P evil:

* Games in which you CAN spend money to advance faster / gain various benefits, but the game itself can be completed without spending anything, and in which you are not in direct competition with other players for resources (Candy Crush, Dragonvale, Puzzle & Dragons)

* Games in which you ARE in direct competition with other players for resources, and thus whales have dramatic advantages over other players. (Clash of Clans, Fantasica)

* Games that dangle goodies in front of you that simply cannot be obtained by means other than (a) credit cards or (b) having a Veruca Salt-style room of serfs grinding on your behalf (My Little Pony, I'm staring at you).

* Electronic Arts.
posted by delfin at 7:01 AM on July 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


i'm so annoyed by f2p. there's a lot of game types that they've really taken over that i've always loved. i don't mind paying for a game straight out, but i do mind this dance of "ok, just 2 dollars here, and then another 1 there, and then 3 more bucks over here again." there are a number of games on my phone that i'd love to love but they won't offer me the chance to just buy the freaking game, instead it's all "well, if you want to do this fun thing again, either wait 24 hours or give us money."
posted by nadawi at 7:04 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


During Steam's recent Summer Sale, I found that Valve had implemented a micro-transactions, items, and levelling system that was tied to buying videogames (I am level 8 in shopping for videogames right now, seriously) and that is when I realized that Valve was actually evil.
posted by Grimgrin at 7:06 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can we talk about Steam's Trading Card system?

I got a bunch of cards after the week of the steam sale, and in order to convert them into a useful object (DLC, discounts, which are random) I need all of some in a set, to get them I need to buy and sell cards on the market place (or trade?). I cannot get all in a set by just playing the games. I can also just sell the cards to get money in my steam wallet for additional games. Problem is, cards are around .25 give or take, with valve taking 5% of each sale transaction.

I feel like this has added an unnecessary layer of complexity to Steam, and it's posed a lot of questions.

Why is Valve doing this when they're presumably making tons of money off the Steam market?

Is there a monetary value attached to the act of playing card-enabled games on steam? Should there be? Is Valve trying to monetize the act of playing videogames?

It also gives the impression that Valve has lost their "soul", as much as a game developer has one. They're no longer the weird and wonderful team that's putting out crazy updates to TF2 on the regular, they're starting to feel like Zynga.
posted by hellojed at 7:06 AM on July 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


"I need to buy and sell cards on the market place"

You can trade them.
Play TF2 (or DOTA2). You can get 10-12 items for free a week. You can trade or craf these items to metal (sort of money in TF2). And you can trade the metal to cards.
If you are lucky you can do a 1:1:1 trade (weapon:metal:card).

The Steam market is only for lazy and rich people :D
posted by bdz at 7:13 AM on July 24, 2013


[company]'s games find and exploit the right people, and then suck everything they can out of them, without giving much in return. It's not hard to see the parallels to the tobacco industry."

Without giving much in return?! What on Earth is a video game supposed to supply you with in return for your time? Are there people who don't realize that they're not learning how to play the violin or finishing their degree while they're playing Farmville?

And it's not hard to see the parallel to the tobacco industry, it's impossible. The tobacco industry suppressed information about the health hazards of smoking for years, with the result that lots of people died.

It's interesting to see MeFi offer a ambivalent defense for an industry that (at least on the evidence I have) does just fine defending itself and its right to 'free speech'.

If we were talking about a guy who was whistling at female passersby, and who claimed that he couldn't help himself because they were all wearing Those Sexy Clothes, I suspect Metafilter would be pretty unanimous in saying that the guy should regulate his own behavior, like grown people are expected to do.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:16 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


there's a vast card trading network. we ended up with 2 or 3 sets of the steam summer sale cards. as far as i know thus far you can just turn them into user icons/badges. i think the system was actually put in place to encourage people to check into the sale every few hours and buy things they were on the fence about buying. it also got a lot more people playing games during the sale (which, due to the social nature of steam, encourages people to buy games). i don't think the money incentive is the 5% of 25 cent sales, but more putting a "gotta catch 'em all" pressure to encourage you to look at things where they stood to make actual money.

besides - how long has valve sold hats? finding ways to monetize that influence gameplay none at all is actually why i find them not evil.
posted by nadawi at 7:19 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can we talk about Steam's Trading Card system?

I can't figure out what these are actually for and their presence in my inventory is distressing me. They're like the unasked for totems of an unwelcome cult. They are creeping me out.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:21 AM on July 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


"how long has valve sold hats?"

since 2009.
+1 to your last sentence.
posted by bdz at 7:22 AM on July 24, 2013


I'm not concerned about the steam cards only because I don't really care about the badges? They seem to be purely for prestige - no real benefits, right? Other than like shiny pictures and emoticons, which meh.

Still weird, and potentially worrying, but meh. And I say that as someone who is pretty obsessive about completing achievements.
posted by Lemurrhea at 7:23 AM on July 24, 2013


Well, you should be aware because the developer of Beat Hazard has pulled the trigger.

If you have all the Beat Hazard cards and you craft the level5 badge, you will get a ship. Originally it was a better ship than anything else in the game, but he changed his mind so now it just a cosmetic upgrade.

But well, that's awfully close to Pay-2-Win (or in that case Trade-2-Win)...
What I don't understand is how Valve OKed this.
posted by bdz at 7:26 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


snuffle: as far as I can tell their purpose is to immediately sell them. I've played 20 minutes of System Shock 2 and 2 hours of Monaco and made $1.50 off of trading card sales!
posted by AmandaA at 7:28 AM on July 24, 2013


anewnadir: Anyone who doubts whether video games can be just as addicting as gambling or soft drugs should read this story and get back to me.

How many of the millions of people who play or have played WoW are like this? (For extra credit, cite a source that's not a self-proclaimed "gaming addiction expert.") Also note that the claim that the neglect was as a result of WoW was part of a plea agreement. Anecdata in the form of a news story with a hook isn't a substitute for real research. (In that regard, from the wiki article: "In 2007, the American Psychiatric Association reviewed whether or not video game addiction should be added in the new DSM to be released in 2012. The conclusion was that there was not enough research or evidence to conclude that video game addiction was a disorder.")
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:33 AM on July 24, 2013


ugh - that is lame about beat hazard. but that becomes a problem with the actual developer, not steam, yeah? they have decided, by using steam's card system, to turn their own game into pay-2-win/trade-2-win. do they have similar pay-2-win mechanics in their mobile versions? regardless, now i know to be wary of any new products that developer releases.

this is interesting, though - from the steam forum post by the dev -
I sincerely apologise for messing up here. Hand on heart I didn't actually realise when I did the update that cards/badges cost money and were so hard to get. The documents I read never mentioned anything about payments and I thought I understood how it worked and therefore didn't look into any further.
i'd love to see those documents to see how steam presented this to developers.
posted by nadawi at 7:38 AM on July 24, 2013


If videogame addiction is no different from gambling addiction, which is no different from alcohol addiction, how is it different from an addiction to buying any other consumer product? Shoes, cars, Hummel figurines, POGs? Some people seem to have a predilection for spending money they shouldn't on frivolous things. It seems unfair to single out the videogame industry for a problem that stretches across the capitalist system.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:51 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I love Clash of Clans. It's fun. I guess it's "addicting" in that when I have a free moment, it's right on my phone, so I'm playing it.

I do not forego human interaction to play it.

I do not spend any money on it whatsoever. Even iTunes money I get, which is free money that I could spend on in-app purchases, goes to music rather than a game.

Anyone that allows a stupid game to consume their life deserves what they get, and that is not the game's fault.
posted by prepmonkey at 7:56 AM on July 24, 2013


...how is it different from an addiction to buying any other consumer product? Shoes, cars, Hummel figurines, POGs?

Shoes, in and of themselves, aren't built in a way to encourage further shoe purchases. They are made to look attractive to the eye, sure. But, using the shoe does nothing to drive you to buy another pair and another pair and another pair. The games under consideration, on the other hand, are designed specifically to keep the player involved and spend money in order to keep playing.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:01 AM on July 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


On a related note, a Puzzle and Dragons group I'm part of has a spreadsheet of shame, in which people anonymously volunteer how much they've spent so far.

The columns go:

* Amount spent in USD
* % of Drunk purchases
* % of Rage purchases
* Rationalizations for A, B and C
posted by delfin at 8:01 AM on July 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


how is it different from an addiction to buying any other consumer product

it's not. it's being singled out here because the article is from someone who worked in the gaming industry. if this were someone who worked for nike and knew the inner workings of how they purposefully inflated their prices, and sought out the most vulnerable of their market and focused extra attention on the things those customers look for with a result of bankruptcies and broken marriages, we'd be talking about shoes (which would be a far more harrowing conversation since their "death caused by consumer good" tally is far higher than video games).

shopping, gaming, gambling - all these addictions (or obsessive, destructive attentions) seem pretty similar. now - how those behavioral addictions venn diagram to addictions with a physical component as well, like drinking or smoking, is a different topic. it still seems like you can discuss the behavioral issues without getting lost in a conversation about how it is or isn't exactly the same as tobacco.
posted by nadawi at 8:03 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would rather just buy the damn game rather than making micropurchases in-game, and I don't mind spending $40 for a Mario game or NHL Slapshot or whatever.

Our four-year-old loves Angry Birds, and it's a little disquietening how early he's getting prepped for forking over money (we, of course, do not fork over any money).

I would also pay more money for the Plants versus Zombies game if it meant an end to in-store purchases.

But that's not how the world works anymore.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:19 AM on July 24, 2013


I think the analogy of F2P games to gambling is very apt, and in some cases the User Interface (and the psychological reinforcement behind it) are close cousins if not twins.

Here's an example, there's a golf game app on the iPad, I almost fear naming it because it's so insidious (Ok, fine it's called GolfStar). It has extremely high quality graphics and gameplay, but it reminds me more of a video slot machine than a video game.

There's a complicated and ever-changing internal economy in the game, you have gold stars, coins, hearts, experience points, something called "mileage". I feel like the developers of this game lifted everything possible mentioned in that Gamasutra article linked above and poured it into this game. For example, after you play a match, you often get a "free" VIP pass which you can use to get a higher percentage of experience points or something. The thing is, you can't decline this free pass, you have to tap at least 2 or 3 times to accept this item, which in any case gets used automatically when needed.

So it's this completely redundant game element, but it gets you into the habit of tapping things to "buy" them. And of course there is a constant hard sell to do this. The entire UI is shiny, blinking, there are multiple visual enticements for you to explore. It's really like a casino floor distilled down to its essence.

The game is definitely "Play to Win", there are multi-player options built in and you must be somewhat resigned to lose if you're playing anyone who has upgraded their gear or otherwise laid down real money.
posted by jeremias at 8:19 AM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Our four-year-old loves Angry Birds, and it's a little disquietening how early he's getting prepped for forking over money (we, of course, do not fork over any money).

Then he is also getting prepped to not fork over any money.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:22 AM on July 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


I get the impression few people in this discussion have actually read the fine article we are discussing here.

I was particularly sad to read Team Fortress 2 used as the leading example of manipulative F2P mechanics. TF2 and Valve are considered some of the good guys in gaming and the folks I know who play TF2 all love the silly hats and don't take them seriously. So reading the story of some guy driving himself broke buying $50 blind bags just in the hope it contains the fancy hat he wants. That made me sad, and more than a little angry at the people who design these economic metagames deliberately to drive this kind of unhealthy behavior.

I think the analogy to gambling is better than other compulsive behaviors. Certainly the way it's commercially manipulated. Casino game designers have 50+ years expertise in making games that program compulsive behavior in their victims. The F2P guys are discovering it now too. I can't decide if I think it's better or worse that the "reward" for winning an F2P gamble is a purely virtual item instead of hard cash.

I'm playing a lot of League of Legends now, an F2P game. One thing I like about it is there's no random chance, no gambling component. It's a straight-up exchange of cash for virtual items, or secondarily an exchange of virtual currency you earn entirely by spending minutes in the game. There's no thrill of "getting lucky". Reading this Gamasutra article, I think that's healthier.
posted by Nelson at 8:23 AM on July 24, 2013


Also I think there is a difference between F2P "real" games (TF2, DOTA2.. etc.) and F2P mobile games.

Even if they technically fit in the same category you can't compare TF2 to Angry Birds.
And I think some of you don't see the difference between F2P and P2Win
posted by bdz at 8:28 AM on July 24, 2013


I don't mind f2p games for adults. We all get to make choices about how to spend our time and money. But I get very angry with f2p games aimed at kids.

I played the My Little Pony iPad game for a while. Like the show, it is aimed at children between the ages of oh say 4 and 12. And it is constantly pushing the player to spend money, shilling for special objects, urging you to buy more gems to speed up your progress, etc.

I find this to be distasteful in the extreme.
posted by ErikaB at 8:35 AM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would rather just buy the damn game rather than making micropurchases in-game

I'm a games developer, and every games developer I know would rather you did that too. The problem seems to be that, as a group, you apparently wouldn't.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:35 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


well, the problem is that not enough of us will, whatever "enough" if being defined as. games with no micro transactions are still being made and sold. also games that were successful as a straight forward game are being moved to micro transactions (like plants vs zombies, which is a damn shame. i bought that game 3 different times for different platforms, but i won't even be playing the new one).
posted by nadawi at 8:42 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jon Mitchell: "I'm a games developer, and every games developer I know would rather you did that too. The problem seems to be that, as a group, you apparently wouldn't."

Reading this after having just added up my outlay on the Steam sale, all I can do is smile and nod politely.
posted by vanar sena at 8:43 AM on July 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


Not sure if it's been mentioned already (doing a quick drive-by before diving into some other reading), but this blog post by a F2P developer details a lot of the mechanics that are used by F2P games without getting mired in Anecdata Hell.

An interesting example is the blended transition from "Skill Game" to "Money Game" that Candy Crush Saga does so well: The game ramps up in difficulty as you play, but if you pay for powerups or extra lives, the difficulty ramps up faster. You are not paying to make the game more fun or even easier, you are literally marking yourself as a "monetizable user" who's punished with tougher game mechanics to ensure that you must pay more, and more, and more.

There's no pretending that mechanic is based on a desire to make things more fun or enjoyable, and there is no information given to the user to indicate that they'll be making things harder for themselves in the future.
posted by verb at 8:44 AM on July 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


One thing I'll give this article credit for, it lets the folks building F2P games have their say. Like this charming quote from Ben Cousins (EA's Battlefield Heroes, now at DeNA)
I believe that the responsibility to control spending on any product or service lies with the consumer, unless there is some scientifically proven link to addiction as is the case with products and services like alcohol and gambling.
There's a strong consensus (that this article supports) that many F2P games are explicitly designed to encourage / fool / coerce people into spending more money than they mean to. To make the spending anything other than a rational choice that a consumer can control. Maybe Mr. Cousins is happy to wait 10 years for some scientific report, but he sounds a lot like a Philip Morris executive in the 1990s saying there's no proof cigarettes cause cancer. Only worse in one way, because his business is creating the problem of compulsive spending behavior, it's not just an unfortunate side effect.

The more I think about, the more I think it makes sense to divide F2P games with a gambling component from F2P games that are straight pay-for-rewards. The psychology is just different. Although the Zynga shill Luc Delaney has a different perspective
People spend so much money on handbags, on golf clubs, on all kinds of other forms of entertainment, but gambling is very clearly defined as games where there is a stake, a chance, and a win or lose
Where does Zynga fit on the pay-to-advance vs. pay-for-random-rewards spectrum? It's been awhile since I looked at their games, they're all just so awful.
posted by Nelson at 8:51 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another recent MetaFilter discussion about the Ramin Shokrizade article on "Coercive Monetization" that is also linked in the posted article.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:57 AM on July 24, 2013


I'm going to swerve WAY off topic here. So there's a bit in The Screwtape Letters where CS Lewis's demon notes to his nephew that strategies for corrupting humans that involve big flashy temptations and orgiastic fleshy pleasure aren't the best, since (among other reasons) real pleasure, genuine pleasure, is itself such a virtue that experiencing it can set a mortal right back on the path to virtue.

Instead, Screwtape counsels his nephew to corrupt his target by encouraging him to waste time on things that he doesn't even enjoy. It's worth quoting at length:

As [his] condition becomes more fully established, you will be gradually freed from the tiresome business of providing Pleasures as temptations. As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday's paper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, "I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked".
So, what CS Lewis is describing here is clinical depression. Since the first time I read Screwtape, it's bugged me that Lewis here is treating clinical depression as a sin, rather than as an injury that must be recovered from, and is in a sense blaming the sufferers of depression for their depression — but never mind that. I'm quoting it here because it seems like our gaming industry has taken Screwtape's advice to heart, realizing that skillfully encouraging people to spend their time halfheartedly poking at the ashes of a dead fire simply pays better than supplying real pleasure does.

As Jon Mitchell notes above, as a group we're statistically more likely to pay more money on meaningless micropurchases in poking-at-the-fire games than we are on games that cost sixty dollars or whatever upfront, but that have more sophisticated mechanics, mechanics that might generate surprise or genuine interest or real pleasure. Because, well, Screwtape is right about how to exploit people; don't give them pleasure, give them frustration and nagging boredom.

So there's this low-energy state that the non-gambling gaming market is tending toward, and which the gambling market hit a long time ago, wherein I, the game developer or slot machine manufacturer or whatever, make a lot of cash by exploiting our shared tendency as humans toward depression, finding ways to ease you into a routine wherein you, on a regular basis, pay me money to help keep you depressed.

There's good reason to become that sort of game developer, instead of the sort of game developer who provides pleasure. I know I'm repeating myself a bit here, but: it makes more money. Anyone who listens the the voice of the unregulated market would be insane not to become a Screwtape. Providing pleasure, pleasure that might make the world better, simply doesn't pay as well as providing the ashes of dead fires for free and selling differently themed pokers to poke at them with. I like money, I need it to pay my rent and buy food and nice things for myself and my partner, and if my skillset ran toward professional games development most likely I'd become a Wormwood in the Zynga machine, making people depressed in exchange for food and shelter.

I hope, though, that I'd be honest with myself about what I had become, because what you do becomes who you are. I hope that I wouldn't pretend that really, deep down, I was just a frustrated Keita Takahashi waiting for the chance to do what I really wanted, waiting for the chance to provide virtuous pleasure instead of encouraging people to spend more of their lives in doing neither what they ought nor what they like. Because, well, pleasure isn't as profitable as despair, and that chance to provide pleasure instead of despair will, for most, never come.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:19 AM on July 24, 2013 [33 favorites]


You could MetaFilter: that whole blockquote.
posted by bleep-blop at 10:23 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I used to "play" metafilter by trying to maximize my favorites per comment, but then I realized I was wasting my life and decided to limit my online community participation to posting things that I genuinely believe might be valuable and that I feel better for having written. Basically, I try to only allow myself to metafilter when I'm taking metafiltering seriously.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:26 AM on July 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


I just can't get mad about Steam trading cards, even though they have some gambling-ish aspects that I'd think would hook players in the same way as TF2 crates hooked the guy in this article's lede. For instance, each card drop or pack has a low chance of yielding a rare "foil" card, and each completed set has a low chance of yielding a rare emoticon or profile background. So if you wanted a Companion Cube emote, you'd have to pay someone $2-3 or take your chances completing the Portal 2 card set.

Probably I'd feel differently if I didn't love playing the market, or if I'd been required to put money of my own into it instead of selling off cards to get started.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 10:57 AM on July 24, 2013


You Can't Tip a Buick: " Basically, I try to only allow myself to metafilter when I'm taking metafiltering seriously"

I was going to click the [+] but I think we'd both appreciate it more if I waited a day or two.
posted by vanar sena at 10:58 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Angry Birds was hella fun at first, but hopefully it's the closest I'll ever get to life as a Skinner rat.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:16 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Instead, these games offer players something that feels, through the use of various psychological tricks, better than their real lives.

...Um, that's one of the criteria for an addiction

Reading that, I suddenly realized that MetaFilter has qualified as "better than" my real (social) life since my divorce, since most of my time is split between taking care of my kids, working, and fixing up my house, and commenting on MetaFilter is an easy way to pretend I have something social going on.

I'm going to try a little experiment, I think, and disable my account. We'll see how long I can keep from reopening it.
posted by davejay at 11:27 AM on July 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


I've been enjoying the F2P game "Kings and Legends" lately, and while it gives many, many, many chances to pay into it, the tiering structure is so weird (you get, basically, VIP levels for each time you buy gold, no matter how much — given a minimum constraint) that it seems pretty insane to actually pay anything for the game. I worked it out once, and to get the full benefits of VIP 10, you'd have to pay in about $200,000.

I'm not above kicking a few bucks to a game I like (I've plunked down for extra story in Echo Bazaar/Fallen London, and if you're on there, contact me), but I rationalized it by thinking about the cost of a board game or other computer game, and recognizing that for the $10 or so I spent, it was a fair amount of fun.
posted by klangklangston at 11:40 AM on July 24, 2013


Reading that, I suddenly realized that MetaFilter has qualified as "better than" my real (social) life since my divorce, since most of my time is split between taking care of my kids, working, and fixing up my house, and commenting on MetaFilter is an easy way to pretend I have something social going on.

I'm going to try a little experiment, I think, and disable my account. We'll see how long I can keep from reopening it.


Well, I guess another option is to actually make it something social (he says, reminding himself to actually go to the next Seattle Metafilter get-together, instead of saying he'll go but then Seattle-ing out...)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:44 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good luck out there, davejay, we're rooting for you. (And, yeah, no harm in hitting a meetup if one comes along, plenty of lurkers and exmefites hit those up.)
posted by cortex at 11:45 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Indie Game: The Movie just got trading cards. A movie with trading cards. That's the new Yu Gi Oh!
posted by bdz at 11:46 AM on July 24, 2013


Reading that, I suddenly realized that MetaFilter has qualified as "better than" my real (social) life since my divorce, since most of my time is split between taking care of my kids, working, and fixing up my house, and commenting on MetaFilter is an easy way to pretend I have something social going on.

I definitely have seen the pattern that my MetaFilter participation increases as my real-life struggles increase. I know it's not ideal, and it would probably be better to interact more proactively with whatever is currently going on in the real world, but it's nice to have an escape, and I figure MeFi is a better crutch than drugs or alcohol to lean on. Be well.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:14 PM on July 24, 2013


There are different types of being social for different times in life. Hanging out with people IRL is not some gold standard with any other type of interaction being a lesser experience.

That said having a variety of types of social interaction is probably good for you.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:39 PM on July 24, 2013


Maybe I'm just a valley girl at heart, but I've never even truly liked shopping online or ever really got into buying stuff on iTunes, so the idea of spending money on things that don't even physically exist is totally alien to me. What's pleasurable about it? I'm honestly asking, because even reading all these anecdotes about the games I'm still not really getting what's so fun about paying to sit around on your computer. I mean, MetaFilter is admittedly the best $5 I've ever spent on the Internet, but, like, $10,000?! For stuff you'll never even *have*??
posted by Mooseli at 12:50 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I see it as paying someone who has expended effort and expertise to entertain me and expand my brain in some small way. The game (or ebook, or mp3) is a delivery mechanism, not necessarily the thing in itself.
posted by vanar sena at 12:57 PM on July 24, 2013


if i go into a store a buy a game they give me a disc and box that takes up space. if i download a game from steam, it lives on my computer and takes up no physical space (hard drive space is obviously used). also, when i buy games online i don't have to switch around physical media to play something new.

why pay for concerts? why buy a piece of chocolate cake? why put money in a jukebox? none of those are things you'll be able to run through your fingers in a week, but they aren't worthless uses of your money.
posted by nadawi at 1:01 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I mean, MetaFilter is admittedly the best $5 I've ever spent on the Internet, but, like, $10,000?! For stuff you'll never even *have*??

Well, the thing is, you do have something, it's just a digital something. The last time I was heavy into World of Warcraft, I bought a Cinder Kitten pet. He does nothing except follow me around being adorable, but if I log into WoW right now, Bernie will still be there, being adorable. If WoW ever gets shut down, he'll go away, but the same is true of a lot of digital things I own.
posted by rifflesby at 1:03 PM on July 24, 2013


none of those are things you'll be able to run through your fingers in a week, but they aren't worthless uses of your money.

On the other hand, they are all disapproved of by the High Theocrat. Back to approved gainful activities, everyone. The next generation of The Chosen isn't going to create, indoctrinate, and set to toil itself.
posted by bleep-blop at 1:05 PM on July 24, 2013


In terms of brain chemistry, please distinguish between video addiction, gambling addiction and alcoholism.

Certainly. What is the source of that change in brain chemistry? To elaborate:

We still don't know how the brain works in many ways. After all, the thing wasn't designed by some entity but developed in an entirely ad hoc manner over millions of years, and so, it doesn't need to operate in a way our thought processes can understand. What is to say that the state of the brain with altered chemistry, from whatever means, isn't the normal operation of the brain?

Let's say you're walking out in the woods and OMG THERE'S A BEAR. Your body shifts into fight-or-flight mode. Your brain activates the various things it needs to prepare for instant action. But you percieve this as not something imposed upon you from without, but as a natural response to the situation. Is the bear manipulating you? Or, are you terrified naturally, and your brain is changing as an effect of that? What is the difference? Is there one?

If you look hard enough at anything you do, it will ultimately resolve down to some change of brain chemistry, on some level or other. You could natter about if there's such a thing as free will all day long, but, practically speaking, we evolved to respond to our environments. Whatever worked in that regard stayed; whatever failed, got selected out. When we see something happening, the dominos begin to fall. Did the thing we see do the initial push, or do we push it ourselves in response to seeing it? I am no neuroscientist, but the fact that you can change your responses, through experience and determination, to many stimuli seems to suggest the latter. The ability to make those changes is ultimately what will doom Free To Play, on a widespread social scale, in my opinion.

When you drink alcohol, or other drugs with a neurological effect, you are short-circuiting the effect. The cause is definitely from outside, whereas the will to give money to Free To Play games arises from within. What that will is made of, I leave up in the air.

Why is this distinguishing important to me? Simply -- if everyone starts talking about Free To Play as if it were like some kind of drug, then the will starts to build towards regulation of game content, and in that way arrives on my doorstep. We know how governments react to drugs that aren't already ingrained in our culture. A politician looking to make a name for himself could use this to latch onto videogames as another thing that needs to be wrecked to further his career.
posted by JHarris at 1:26 PM on July 24, 2013


The ability to make those changes is ultimately what will doom Free To Play

I feel like I should note that it's possible to use Free To Play in responsible way, it doesn't necessarily imply a ruthlessly exploitative business model. It's possible that the term, itself, should not be used as a shorthand for all the evil caused by those developers utilizing it.
posted by JHarris at 1:30 PM on July 24, 2013


My ex spent SO MUCH MONEY--pretty much blowing his entire paycheck within 12 hours--on crap for The Sims. I don't get it either.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:01 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


And wasn't there a Mech F2P run by someone mentioned on MeFi as being an extra responsible and awesome employer? I think I remember that, but I can't seem to find a link to the game (which looked cool at the time, I just didn't have the mental bandwidth for it when I saw it).
posted by klangklangston at 2:16 PM on July 24, 2013


Mechwarrior Online was mentioned earlier in this thread, and also here and previously.
posted by mbrubeck at 2:18 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


When you drink alcohol, or other drugs with a neurological effect, you are short-circuiting the effect. The cause is definitely from outside, whereas the will to give money to Free To Play games arises from within.

External stimuli is external stimuli. There is no "will arising from within". Unless you're a mind/body dualist of some stripe of course.
posted by Justinian at 2:49 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's possible that the term [Free To Play], itself, should not be used as a shorthand for all the evil caused by those developers utilizing it.

In the good article that moonmilk linked to above, the author links to another brief article that introduces the term "Pay to Win" for the evil kind.
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:50 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, I think the distinction you're looking for, JHarris, is physical dependence rather than addiction. You can become physically dependent on benzos (for example) in a way which does not happen with video games. Of course you become physically dependent on benzos in a way which does not happen with cocaine either and I doubt you'd claim cocaine isn't addictive.
posted by Justinian at 2:55 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


External stimuli is external stimuli. There is no "will arising from within". Unless you're a mind/body dualist of some stripe of course.

I really don't think that I am, especially considering the argument I made explicitly denied that.

Oh, I think the distinction you're looking for, JHarris, is physical dependence rather than addiction.

Well, hmm. You may be correct on that. It is not a distinction that I had considered, thanks much.
posted by JHarris at 3:02 PM on July 24, 2013


See also my recent post from FullGlassEmptyClip, the MefightClub groupblog.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:22 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


RPS has a great series about F2P games. What can you buy for 20 bucks in each?
posted by bdz at 4:08 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Halloween Jack: "Anecdata in the form of a news story with a hook isn't a substitute for real research. (In that regard, from the wiki article: "In 2007, the American Psychiatric Association reviewed whether or not video game addiction should be added in the new DSM to be released in 2012. The conclusion was that there was not enough research or evidence to conclude that video game addiction was a disorder.")"
>knocks my source for not having real research
>>cites the DSM
posted by anewnadir at 5:33 PM on July 24, 2013


MechWarrior Online is an interesting example of F2P, as it's far from objectionable but once you get into the habit of buying things then it's deliberately easy to lose track of how much you've spent.

I do suspect that one of the changes they're making to the game, namely allowing players to see their mechs from outside the cockpit (3rd person view) is at least partly intended to fuel purchase of the expensive appearance customisations. Because even giant robots like playing Barbie dress-ups.

For $10 I am about to get a Jenner where 100% of the cost (after taxes and credit card fees) will go to cancer research. Is it any good? No - personally I'm not great with light mechs - but this is a good cause and hey - I dig the paint. I'd be far less likely to purchase if I saw something like a Hurricane Sandy Mech, or the WTC mech, or the Katrina Mech,, or a Boston Strong mech or a Royal Baby mech - but hey - this feels like it was well thought out and heartfelt and *not* capitalizing on tragedy for a good cause.

It's actually a solid build, and you can pull out the expensive engine and use it in your other mechs if you are some kind of MONSTER.

Light mechs are awesome fun once you get the knack, just think of yourself as a chicken-legged X-wing. Get in, dump some damage, get out. If they chase you, just lead them back to your fat buddies.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:56 PM on July 24, 2013


A counterpoint from Dan Cook of Lost Garden.

As Jon Mitchell notes above, as a group we're statistically more likely to pay more money on meaningless micropurchases in poking-at-the-fire games than we are on games that cost sixty dollars or whatever upfront, but that have more sophisticated mechanics, mechanics that might generate surprise or genuine interest or real pleasure. Because, well, Screwtape is right about how to exploit people; don't give them pleasure, give them frustration and nagging boredom.

But if the actually fun game uses the same pricing structure would it have a chance? Given fun and poking dead ashes at the same price point, would the dead ashes win out if they weren't an established habit?

There seems to be an assumption in your comment, You Can't Tip a Buick, that a fun experience with continuous microcharges can't be as financially viable as those payments made in a kind of quiet desperation. I'd like to think arcades and pool tables offer a counter point, but it's true they aren't doing well enough.
posted by 23 at 7:25 PM on July 24, 2013


I'm not sure it's possible for any amount of fun to produce the same amount of insane ongoing compulsion that Skinnerian conditioning does.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:32 PM on July 24, 2013


I've been a Warcraft player for about 5 years which puts me somewhere in one of the lower circles of gaming hell- below the console players but thank goodness above the Zynga crowd. I won't touch Farmville (shame on Blizzard, I guess, for adding the Tillers in MoP).

I've had ups and downs with The Game, the lowest being when I briefly combined it with drinking which was a Very Bad Idea.

The thing about gaming for me is that it literally fills a time vacuum for me between my obligations to other people, my family, my work and so forth. These obligations give my life a lot of joy and purpose, actually. Occasionally at that interface it will cause some friction- a late night gaming can turn into a miserable time with the family the next day- but I am quite successful at setting boundaries so that The Game doesn't sponge happiness away from the rest of my life. That said, it undeniably sponges happiness away from me personally where I could spend the time doing Other Things but quite often these are hours between 9 and midnight where opportunities to do Other Things that don't feel like work are limited. I would love to put more effort into playing guitar or reading or drawing or just spending quality time with other people but that time of day my juices aren't exactly flowing and it's not all that convenient for socializing. I get out a couple nights a week to play hockey, so there's that...

I look at my gaming habit as an addiction I could most certainly do without, but ultimately I have this need to replace it with something else and staring at the television or the walls doesn't seem like an adequate replacement. In the past I have talked to therapists who would enumerate 100 Other Things I could do before recommending drugs, because I "just don't seem motivated". My response was more or less that the therapist didn't seem motivated and could piss off; IMO a drug is not going to correct what is fundamentally a cognitive behavioral problem. My life is mostly rich and balanced but there is no question I have this ridiculous soul-sucking monkey along for the ride. I fret sometimes that maybe The Game will take over my life but it's sort of like the idea of letting late night television take over your life- plausible but unlikely in the long run. In the meantime I keep playing and keep my eyes open for something better to do... Tonight I spent the better part of my time writing this post. Success? :-)
posted by simra at 9:07 PM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's getting dated now (especially w/r/t to the Facebook anxiety) but if you haven't heard Jesse Schell's talk on social gaming, mobile payments and gamification of real life from DICE 2010 [part one], [part two], and [part three] it's worth the time.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:59 AM on July 25, 2013


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