Dark Patterns Now Available on Android and iOS
May 27, 2022 4:21 PM   Subscribe

Darkpatterns.games is a game review website devoted to helping you find games that don't use psychological tricks to manipulate you into becoming an addicted gamer. Learn about the dark patterns that game designers use to waste your precious time and money.
posted by cosmic owl (23 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Ooo this is nice. I pay a few extra bucks each month for Apple Arcade, and it's totally worth it for my family to not play scuzzy adware-laden garbage.

Some favorites:
- What the Golf?
- Sneaky Sasquatch
- Mini Metro/Motorways
- Sp!ng
posted by MengerSponge at 5:21 PM on May 27, 2022 [6 favorites]

This is an excellent premise, and I'm glad they're doing it.

I spend a lot of time playing varyingly shit iOS games because it fits into my routine to kill a little mutual podcast-listening time and a little bit of personal anxiousness-management time poking at my phone in short spurts. I don't feel bad about occupying myself, but I've been playing video games for 35 years and I resent deeply the crappy dark patterns that show up regularly and which in the mobile space in particular are fucking endemic, partly because the game economy is so deeply tilted toward f2p and free-with-IAP horseshit that incentives good devs (and outright encourages mercenary devs) to do shitty things that hurt their game but help their bottom line.

The bluntest indication of all the unhealthy stuff here is the omnipresence of hundred-dollar (sorry, $99.99) packs of utterly disposable in-game currency—and it's a blunt and horrifying consistency indeed—but the broader pattern of actively malicious and exploitative design goes all the way down, and it's a shock when I find a free mobile game with any actual content that doesn't subscribe to at least a minimal level of fuckery on that front.

I've had a habit of looking up a new game at random now and then via the iOS store's "games" section but its always a devil's deal; having an actual reference for trying something new and explicitly not-shitty is a refreshing idea.
posted by cortex at 5:54 PM on May 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

posted by MengerSponge

in other news how the fuck did I not notice this username previously
posted by cortex at 5:55 PM on May 27, 2022 [10 favorites]

I like the idea, but not sure I agree with dinging games like The Sims or Sim City for "not having a win condition." It feels like a TV Tropes sort of approach to deciding if games are good or bad, where you decide the score based on how many "tropes" you can apply to each individual game and the users go nuts over-applying the "tropes."
posted by subdee at 6:17 PM on May 27, 2022 [5 favorites]

I wish there were more sorting options to help me find games, that or I'm staring right at them....
posted by Canageek at 6:18 PM on May 27, 2022

posted by MengerSponge

in other news how the fuck did I not notice this username previously

This is the best gaslighting about a sockpuppet account I've ever seen!
posted by hippybear at 6:29 PM on May 27, 2022 [6 favorites]

Safe bet: get mobile ports of non-free games that already exist on other systems. Yes, it will feel weird to pay "real money" on a phone game that you wouldn't think twice about if it were on a Switch or PS5.

I remember the last mobile game that I tried. After an hour, I hadn't gone past the game explaining all the various currencies and possible microtransactions involved.
posted by meowzilla at 7:38 PM on May 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

Like, I enjoy the simplest of mobile games, and one of them is relentless with its purchase demands, but the purchases have not, so far, been required to advance.

I did buy one thing, though. I spent $3 to eliminate all the ads that aren't attached to getting something special. The game was an abyss of ads, and spending $3 to get rid of them was great. I don't mind watching the occasional ad to not spend 30 diamonds on a thing.

But honestly? I wish they'd just sold me the game for $3 to begin with. Why make me so miserable playing it that I paid money as a beg for mercy? That's not a friendly business practice.

I don't mind paying money for games. Really, honestly, I don't. I don't buy many of them (I am not a trustworthy gamer when it comes to remaining un-overinvolved), but let me throw money at you. I do this with musical artists all the time, to ridiculous amounts. Why are you making me hate you in order for me to pay you?
posted by hippybear at 8:23 PM on May 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

why is there a 'sign in' button? is there additional content available for people with accounts?

do i get to find out about more dark patterns if I sign up for an account?

i bet those dark patterns are cooler than the ones for non-account freeloaders.

hey, if you sign up for an account, mention that i sent you.
posted by logicpunk at 8:25 PM on May 27, 2022 [5 favorites]

This one is going directly to our gaming blog. What a find!
posted by JHarris at 12:35 AM on May 28, 2022

Great idea!

I'm also confused why the site has a login. Says, "to save your progress." Huh?
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:59 AM on May 28, 2022

This is a good idea. I was heartbroken when my favorite Aquarium game went "dark" over time.

More prompts to purchase, more rewards for social media nonsense, more weird timed competitions turned it from a fun time watching animated whales into a chore to think about.
posted by eustatic at 6:15 AM on May 28, 2022

I assume the Sign in is so you can contribute to game rankings. The data is crowdsourced.

Unfortunately they also use Google Analytics on the site. Google is entirely a dark pattern.

Even more unfortunately, when I try to make an account it just says, ”You are not human.” And refuses to sign me up or explain. Probably for blocking some tracking script.

So… A+ for the idea. D- for execution.
posted by Ookseer at 6:36 AM on May 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

I bet the more rankings you contribute to the faster you level up
posted by logicpunk at 9:15 AM on May 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Welcome to the club, cortex

"I like this (stained glass) a lot" :)
posted by MengerSponge at 9:27 AM on May 28, 2022

Also games like Among Us gets dinged for "Anti-Social Behavior - The game incentivizes players to lie, cheat, or backstab other players to get ahead" - seems a bit unfair when that is the whole reason people like the game.
posted by ymgve at 10:00 AM on May 28, 2022 [3 favorites]

I'm glad they're trying to make more people aware of this stuff, but then I also feel like they've created a really elaborate methodology that almost entirely boils down to 'does the game, beyond an initial purchase price, reward you for spending real money?'
posted by box at 2:18 PM on May 28, 2022

It bothers me that their methodology dings Dandara, and by extension other games with collectibles, when typically in these games finding each collectible is a little bit of unique gameplay. It's perfectly legitimate. Where it becomes a dark pattern is when each individual task is boring or bland, or it costs money to try and draw a collectible, and you're just doing it to get 100%.

That said, I've been playing around with a game idea that tries to take dark patterns and use them in ways that enhance the fun of the game, so there'd be a gacha system for game levels but an in-game marketplace to trade them, with no interaction with any real money systems. The trick has been how I present this to players without them assuming there's a real money system waiting to club them.
posted by Merus at 5:46 PM on May 28, 2022

I sympathise with the sentiment, but the execution is lacking, as others have pointed out. It reads more like those list of logical fallacies that pedants wield in arguments (“haha, you just did argument from authority, you lose!”) rather than a list with useful, actionable information. Some problems:
  • Their database of games is populated entirely with crowdsourced information of unclear reliability.
  • Each of the dark patterns is given equal weight in a game’s overall rating, when some are clearly worse than others
  • Some of the dark patterns are barely such, or certainly arguable, like Invested Value, Complete the Collection, Competition, Social Obligation, and Pay Wall.
Actually, let me go further. This website is trash and it does a disservice to the real problem of games that manipulate players. I say this as a former experimental psychologist, current game designer, and author of a book on gamification (uh oh, argument from authority!).
posted by adrianhon at 6:47 AM on May 29, 2022 [2 favorites]

Commenting again a day later because I really love the idea of a game that ranks games by how awfully pay-as-you-go/lootboxy/advertising ridden they are.

But this isn't it.

Obstructions are important game mechanics, and calling them a dark pattern is entirely incorrect. Sometimes quite the contrary! As mentioned, "no end state" is part of a good sim! RPGs and other games with strong story can outright lie to the player. Collection/completion mechanics are the core of many valid games, it's only paired with Pay-To-Progress that makes them a problem.

Some of these are just...
3) Subconscious Associations - People like cute things or tasty things. This is why a lot of games use cute animals or candy imagery. In-game candy attracts the subconscious desire for sweets and makes the game more desirable.
Yeah. We like things. We like games about things we like. That's a problem somehow? To pick an old example, should Bejeweled (Which used to come free on Nokia phones) be dinged for using jewels instead of rusty pipe fittings?

Even many of the "Monetary Dark Patterns" are a problem. Pretty much any MMO deserves a monthly fee. Pay walls are a perfectly valid way to unlock extra levels and expansions. Reading the details they even ding "progress" as an addictive behavior. Timers and limited resources are necessary in a great many genres. Hell, even grinding is an expected part of certain games.

A perfectly working old school MMORPG that was doing nothing but make it fun to play with friends could lose 14 of 20 points by this ranking. That's just stupid.

Here's the box score I want. It's concrete and won't take points off for the conventions of a genre:
  • Advertising frequency. (Do they show ads? How and when and are they tied to game rewards. Can I pay to turn them off, and how much?)
  • Does it turn real money into in-game progress? (ex: $$$ -> Gems -> Skip timers)
  • Does it turn real money into consumables? (ex: $$$ -> Loot box)
If it doesn't have those, it won't have any of the toxic tricks trying to get to you spend real money or artificially play more because there's no point.
posted by Ookseer at 10:23 AM on May 29, 2022 [3 favorites]

Some games that you only pay once for do still throw in a lot of boring and repetitive side quests just to extend the running time for people who weigh their game purchases by hour many hours of play they'll get not whether those hours are any fun or not, but yeah.
posted by subdee at 1:08 PM on May 29, 2022

A+ for the idea. D- for execution.

If they could monetize users' confusion, the website itself would be a dark pattern.
posted by fairmettle at 8:36 PM on May 29, 2022

I just want a match three game that doesn’t limit “lives” and doesn’t show me ads. I would pay for such a thing! Why have match three games become such pits of dark patterns 😭
posted by Bottlecap at 8:23 AM on May 30, 2022 [1 favorite]

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