Ten Million Power
June 29, 2022 6:40 AM   Subscribe

 
These ads are so fucking weird now. I get a lot of "Older Woman Frets After Mobile Game Reveals Her Low IQ" and "Help the Hairy, Potbellied Girl with Bad Skin Save Her Relationship by Grooming and Dressing Differently." So you know, ageism and sexism. I do also get a bunch of ads for MistPlay ("Earn gift cards while you game!") that have a young Black woman who is so exceedingly pleasant and reasonable sounding that, were it not clearly a scam, so help me, I might click.

My main enemy right now is this cycle: Skip ad in 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1; X button appears, but isn't active until a circle forms around it after about 5 seconds; click X, arrow symbol appears; click arrow, three second pause while different version of same ad appears; X appears, click and exit.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:55 AM on June 29 [27 favorites]


Damn. I read something decades ago about movies (?) becoming more and more like fever dreams. Maybe it was in Hear that Long Snake Moan by Michael Ventura.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 7:23 AM on June 29


The ads are horrible for games that have no real concept beyond being pay to win; I guess everything is being done as cheap as possible in order to try to rake in cash with minimal effort. I think the video is right that they are largely aimed at kids, but I also think they are hoping to catch those who use these games for the dopamine high.
posted by nubs at 7:23 AM on June 29 [2 favorites]


My main enemy right now is this cycle: Skip ad in 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1; X button appears, but isn't active until a circle forms around it after about 5 seconds; click X, arrow symbol appears; click arrow, three second pause while different version of same ad appears; X appears, click and exit.

Godz, yes, I get that all the time.

I also often get ads where tapping on the X unexpectedly sends you to the App Store page for whichever game it’s pushing. So, you quickly go back and click on the X again aaaand get sent to the App Store again! It is always the third attempt that you can actually dismiss the ad. Either the actual hot spot for tapping the X is a single pixel or two, or the ad is scripted to only send to the App Store on the first two tries.

I’ve also gotten ads that cannot be dismissed. There’s no obvious place to click. You have to quit the game.

There is one particular game app I play with friends that seems prone to getting ads that immediately launch you to the App Store as soon as it appears, no tapping necessary. GAH!
posted by Thorzdad at 7:50 AM on June 29 [6 favorites]


My main enemy right now is this cycle: Skip ad in 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1; X button appears, but isn't active until a circle forms around it after about 5 seconds; click X, arrow symbol appears; click arrow, three second pause while different version of same ad appears; X appears, click and exit.

...

I also often get ads where tapping on the X unexpectedly sends you to the App Store page for whichever game it’s pushing. So, you quickly go back and click on the X again aaaand get sent to the App Store again! It is always the third attempt that you can actually dismiss the ad. Either the actual hot spot for tapping the X is a single pixel or two, or the ad is scripted to only send to the App Store on the first two tries.


YES BOTH OF THESE MAKE ME INSANE

And the hell of it is, the ad I get most often is for THE VERY GAME I WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF PLAYING FOR GOD'S SAKE.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:54 AM on June 29 [14 favorites]


I don't *really* want to be the "I don't even own a tv" guy but, if the game you're playing interrupts you to play an ad, you can almost certainly find a better game to play.
posted by rifflesby at 8:03 AM on June 29 [28 favorites]


There’s also an ad I get that’s a big page of different product pictures. The little X shows up in the upper right corner. Tap it and you get another page of product pics. The X appears in the upper right corner again, but immediately disappears after a quick beat. The X then reappears in the upper left corner. Tap and exit.

No doubt that little disappearing X trick is meant to catch-out anyone already in process of tapping to exit. Evil shit.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:06 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


I don't *really* want to be the "I don't even own a tv" guy but, if the game you're playing interrupts you to play an ad, you can almost certainly find a better game to play.

The game I was complaining about above billed itself as being "no ads".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:14 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]


Between Apple Arcade and games with a one-time charge to remove ads (if I see this option in the in-app purchases, I am far more likely to try a game), I don't really see mobile game ads very often. When I do, they're mostly for ugly Brain Training games or equally ugly match-3s.

I thought the end of the video, where the dude talks about the mobile game business, fake reviews, money laundering, and questions whether hundreds of thousands of people are playing Puzzles & Survival x GI Joe, was the most interesting part, and would like to read more about the business/economics side of things.
posted by box at 8:23 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]


Given the animation, I'm guessing the use of spending a penny there is intentional.
posted by chavenet at 8:33 AM on June 29


If the phenomenon of the mobile game ad vs. completely different mobile game is not familiar to you, this YT compilation of ads vs. gameplay will give you a pretty good idea. Example 1: save relationship, survive weather, fix home! reality? Farm game. Example two: fish adventure. Reality? Matching game. And so on.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:34 AM on June 29 [4 favorites]


I don't *really* want to be the "I don't even own a tv" guy but, if the game you're playing interrupts you to play an ad, you can almost certainly find a better game to play.

There are some very good mobile games with no ad-free equivalents, unfortunately.

I don't really begrudge someone trying to earn a living from sticking some ads in their games. I object much more to the platform allowing these rage-inducing 'hard-to-close' tricks to even work. Not sure why the platform itself can't stop ads from doing these things.
posted by pipeski at 8:37 AM on June 29 [9 favorites]


This is like confessing that I'm an idiot, but I occasionally will sit through ads on Two Dots. There are a bunch that seem to be from the same studio, where, I don't know, there is a king who needs to cross a bridge to go to the bathroom, or a woman who is shivering in a room with a baby and a broken window. How did these people end up like this and why do they need help to do basic, fairly boring things?

There's another one that I've seen at least 12 different versions of where the plot is something like this:

A woman is left at the altar. For some reason her grandmother is arrested, but manages to leave her a key to a run down house. She has to fix it up for some reason. Also, there is usually a twist where grandma was only pretending to get arrested or the writes a message on her hand that makes no sense. But the protagonist needs to repair the pool and choose lawn furniture.

Anyway, I feel validated in knowing that downloading these games will answer no questions.
posted by Alison at 8:39 AM on June 29 [15 favorites]


I've found a few okay games through ads, like Bounzy and... no, just Bounzy.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:44 AM on June 29


I also appreciated in the video where he calls out the trend in ads for "Only the 1% highest IQ's can solve this game!" and it's like, stack three sticks or something. I sincerely believe they also make the gameplay in the ad (when they do show actual gameplay) intentionally horrible, just to try and motivate you to play and prove how wrong that person was/how easy it actually is.

There's also a recurring thing within games where the game is reasonably fun until Level X, upon which time it becomes impossible to beat without a micropurchase. I always just quit and find a new game.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:45 AM on June 29


I don't know what any of you are talking about, but I don't have a phone because I left it in another room and I can't figure out which lever to pull to drain the lava and get back to it.
posted by The Bellman at 8:58 AM on June 29 [34 favorites]


MetaFilter: the protagonist needs to repair the pool and choose lawn furniture
posted by Foosnark at 9:04 AM on June 29


what percentage of this is pure social conditioning

I didn't make it past 3 min in this video.. nothing wrong with the video, but it's stuck on surface descriptions of something that is not at all funny or harmless
posted by elkevelvet at 9:06 AM on June 29 [2 favorites]


I like the part where he's pretending to be a kid conceptualizing a silly game, but instead inadvertently describes the basic plot structure of every actual big-budget zombie movie. I guess minus the part where the humans spend lots of time fighting each other, because mowing down hordes with machine guns gets kinda boring.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:20 AM on June 29


I've found a soothing balm for this phenomenon: RetroArch, a free, ad-free, working retro-console emulator for your phone. Now I can ensconce myself in ad-free bliss playing Final Fantasy Origins (or FF Tactics, or NES Pipe Dream...or whatever) on my phone.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 9:20 AM on June 29 [13 favorites]


Also might be some kids, but I know a contingent of people who have money (kinda important) have lots of downtime to spend staring at their phone, and get bored often enough to switch through and try these games: college students, bored housewives, and parents whose kids have moved out. In that sense, the vague illusions of money are completely normal because they are used to it from older video games. Being a Level 1 something is completely understandable because it's common RPG fare.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:39 AM on June 29


C'mon, the adverts are wild because they exist to rip you off. There's no overview, and the people commissioning the adverts are already making a living by getting children to pay for extra clicks. On top of that, the games are made in the worst conditions possible. It's a bit like when Bayer made heroin cough drops for kids, except they don't make coughing children feel better and nobody gets paid a living wage.
posted by The River Ivel at 9:57 AM on June 29 [1 favorite]


Setting the dns on my phone to dns.adguard.com has eliminated all mobile ads. The only downside is some free games lock content behind an ad so the dns has to be set back to the default temporarily.
posted by Mitheral at 10:09 AM on June 29 [4 favorites]


Setting the dns on my phone to dns.adguard.com has eliminated all mobile ads.

Can you explain to a total newbie how to do this, using small words? (I should be okay with the content issue, my game of choice is bog-standard solitaire.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:57 AM on June 29


his is like confessing that I'm an idiot, but I occasionally will sit through ads on Two Dots. There are a bunch that seem to be from the same studio, where, I don't know, there is a king who needs to cross a bridge to go to the bathroom, or a woman who is shivering in a room with a baby and a broken window. How did these people end up like this and why do they need help to do basic, fairly boring things?

There's another one that I've seen at least 12 different versions of where the plot is something like this:

A woman is left at the altar. For some reason her grandmother is arrested, but manages to leave her a key to a run down house. She has to fix it up for some reason. Also, there is usually a twist where grandma was only pretending to get arrested or the writes a message on her hand that makes no sense. But the protagonist needs to repair the pool and choose lawn furniture.

Anyway, I feel validated in knowing that downloading these games will answer no questions.



As a fellow Two Dots player (jesus I have been playing this game for seven years now but I loooove it), I would happily pay for an ad-free version. Like, seriously. It didn't used to be so hard to get out of those ads but it's definitely trickier. Two Dots makers, give me that sweet ad-free version!
posted by Kitteh at 11:04 AM on June 29 [4 favorites]


One thing that has cracked me up for nearly 15 years now is the de-evolution of ads for a terrible non-game called Evony. There was a writeup back in 2009 (mildly NSFW, ads contain lingerie models) about how the web banner ads for the game spiraled into softcore titillation. Now the mobile ads for the game are full of those 'pull a lever to get lava out of the way of the treasure' operations that are never actually in the games, but the ads feature a guy talking about how that gameplay is never in the games but actually definitely totally is in Evony! For serious this time, just click! "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même..."
posted by FatherDagon at 11:05 AM on June 29 [6 favorites]


Can you explain to a total newbie how to do this, using small words?

I'm pretty sure this doesn't work for all phones, but:
Settings
Wifi
?
Change from 'dynamic' to 'static' IP
(You'll need to know your gateway, which is your router's address. Mine is 192.168.0.1, which is pretty common. Sometimes people use 1.1 instead of 0.1, or...)
Change the DNS field to dns.adguard.com from whatever string of digits it likely was

There is probably a second field called DNS 2. I'm not sure if it's important to change that one?


You can also do the DNS change at the router/modern level which is probably smarter. You can search for "change DNS (your router make and model)" if you'd like to try that. I'd wait and see if doing it on your phone helps, first.

If you want to go back, just change back to 'dynamic', or just change that DNS field to what it used to be or use 8.8.8.8 which is very easy to remember.
posted by Acari at 11:36 AM on June 29


You'll need to know your gateway, which is your router's address.

Is there a way I can look that up?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:39 AM on June 29


It's probably already showing in the network details.
You could also type in your browser
192.168.0.1
Or
192.168.1.1
And see if either of those gets you to a router setup page thing. If so, that's your gateway.
posted by Acari at 12:43 PM on June 29


Directions for changing DNS in ver 9 (newer) of Android and the older versions here.

From that:
(snip)
Thankfully, there's an easier method than this. There are a few applications available on the Play Store that use Android's VPN API to route your all DNS requests through a custom server, giving you similar functionality to the system-wide option on Android 9 and newer. These are not VPN apps, the only aspect of your network connection that changes is the DNS.
posted by aleph at 12:48 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]


One of the fascinating wrinkles in the "fake puzzle game that isn't the actual game" scam is that some games will actually go ahead and implement the fake puzzle game for real...a little bit. Like it's still absolutely hamhandedly bolted on to whatever the actual cookie cutter clone of a match 3 or housefixing or gacha dungeon or whatever shovelware is the actual game, but they'll knock together a functional version of the "lava or water or gold" puzzles as a minigame that they'll foreground when you first launch, to avoid some of the most direct dissonance of ad vs. gameplay.

That minigame will be underdeveloped and have dull and meager content and it'll be time-gated and you'll be as disappointed in practice by its shoddy presence as you were in the past by its total absence, but it'll be there.

I grabbed a little tower defense game that was a slightly more ambitious version of this the other day: it was in fact a path with towers and units you could level up (by merging, natch), and for the first fifteen minutes it seemed like hey maybe this is a little bit of something! But then it became clear nothing new was gonna happen, there weren't additional tower/levels to think about, there were no interesting tower/character synergies to work through, and then it revealed itself to be a thin TD wrapper around...yet another one of the thousand "go do alliance-based strategic raiding on a big flat ugly abstract wargame map" game that e.g. State of Survival is, and that Schwarzenegger advertised game a while back is, and...
posted by cortex at 2:03 PM on June 29


Can you explain to a total newbie how to do this, using small words

Sorry, adguard's instructions are here.

On my android device i pull up network settings and private dns is the last setting on the screen. Select it and paste the address into the private dns slot. Though I believe it is only this easy on the latest version of android.
posted by Mitheral at 2:14 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


The main mobile game I play is Scrabble, and it has been absolutely ruined by the relentless godawful ads. Do you want to play Bejeweled? How about Bejeweled 2? Maybe Bejeweled except you have to fight a dragon? Bejeweled except to have to save the stupid helpless king from some peril? Bejeweled except you have to help the anthropomorphic teddy bear get to the bathroom? Bejeweled except with zombies? AFTER EVERY SINGLE TURN.

There's an ad-free version, but instead of a one-time fee, it's five bucks PER MONTH. No thank you.
posted by key lime guy at 2:45 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]


I didn't think 88 Games's 10,000,000 had gone ad-supported.
posted by k3ninho at 4:40 PM on June 29


Metafilter: they don't make coughing children feel better and nobody gets paid a living wage.

Also, very disappointed there wasn't more "apocalyptic toilet meltdown leads to wall punching" guy.
posted by genpfault at 5:40 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]


Ah, this guy. You can tell he's only got one phone game. I work in the space and have a few observations:

So, first off the ads aren't aimed at children. Children don't have money. The game developers want whale tier players - so people who can drop thousands of dollars a year on a game without blinking. There is a whole industry dedicated to building games to find and catch these sorts of players and the game developers are very much not interested in children - the ethics of that not withstanding, the legal implications are expensive. You don't want a 10 year old who's charges get reversed every time his parents notice they've nicked their credit card. You want a middle aged office worker who plays for fifteen minutes at lunchtime and maybe on their commute home and who would really like a faster mount or the ability to play twice as many rounds before their AP runs out. No-one wants to be paying for server space and ad impressions for people who don't have an income.

The game ads he's reviewing are trying to target adults. It's one of the reason the zombie survival game he talks about is always two hot girls. Other ads in the series feature them in bikinis or underwear or whatever, same as the mafia games with the jiggle physics. As sexualized as possible. Their target is young men with more money than sense. He's seeing ads rated for adults, because the Insty ad server knows he's an adult and that those ads will have a better chance of a clickthrough than a game actually aimed at children. That's not to say the very cheapest ad servers that a lot of the bottom tier games use are that sophisticated - I've seem some pretty dreadful ads crop up on allegedly "educational" kids games. But if you've got money to advertise on Insty, you're paying for targeted, so that's what this young man is seeing. The ad server seems to have pinged him as a youngish man who's into big ticket shooters. A little older and its all brain training stuff, a little younger and he'd get more tower defense and racing games. They've decided he's a straight guy who likes shooting things and boobs, so that's the ads he's getting.

As a middle aged woman I see different ads. Narrative driven puzzlers like Lily's Garden, mentioned very off offhandedly, tend to be aimed at women in the same bracket, and the assumption there is that women want melodrama. And boy, hes got no idea how wild ads can get if he's only seeing the Dude Ads. Lily's Garden ads are a whole ass thing all on their own and one of the grande dames of the genre, along with Merge Mansion, which is I suspect the game Alison mentions above. Merge Mansion's most recent crop of ads full on have Oscar Award winner Kathy Bates starring as sketchy grandma Ursula (which, I must stress, are basically a tv mystery series only very loosely connected to the game). A lot of these sorts of games are have long stories that are doled out in teaspoon sized bites, if they bother to have a story at all. My clients have explicitly told me to just incorporate the plot points from our competitor's ads, because they don't actually feature that content so we can set ourselves apart in the space by actually having the story content promised in our ads and everyone else's as a bonus.

The other big ones I get are the Scapes series (so Homescapes, Gardenscapes and the like, also Fishdom which uses the same ad structure and is from the same devs) who were recently taken to court over just how misleading their ads were, Merge Mansion, Lily's Garden and the suite of knockoff merge games. Merge games are very, very basic in terms of gameplay but they're easier to code. If I were younger I'd get more makeover games I suspect, and more interactive romance fiction dating sim type stuff. Choices is the big one in that space, it's basically an interactive fiction platform. I also see King's Choice a lot, it's a kingdom management RPG thing (you play the king, not the concubine as the ad would suggest).

Casino ads tend to be a bit more scattershot, in my experience, and the more successful ad servers tend not to touch them. The better quality a game is the less I see casino ads, so they're kind of my indicator of a game using a sketchy ad server. Given he has one phone game I'm not surprised he found the ad for it to be a bit confusing because it mostly uses language specific to that kind of game. It's like talking about boosts or mana or whatever. It's worth mentioning that the ad assures them it isn't lying because that space is chock full of the legit worst possible iterations of misleading ads, rigged mechanics and pay to play. I mean it's a tiny unregulated casino, they're sketchy to being with. The presenter is confused because he's not conversant in the culture of the space.

As an aside, as someone in the space and as a player of these sorts of games myself I find it frustrating that he boils the genre down to "it's children" when it absolutely isn't. It's some smug gamer bro wank right there. Mobile gaming is a huge market and if it was afforded a bit more respect you might see more quality releases and less shit churned out from a template.

Mobile gamers are usually folks who don't have time to sit in one space in front of a console or PC who still want to do something fun with their time. I started working in the space because I do play a lot of those largely mindless puzzler type things. I'm a console gamer from way back but unsurprisingly when I had my kids I found that the time to sit and play shooters for five hours at a time mysteriously vanished. That doesn't immediately make me a child myself, or the literal other millions of people who game on phones, too.
posted by Jilder at 8:42 PM on June 29 [72 favorites]


Jilder!
posted by cortex at 10:15 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]


It started with a link to a video where someone's just sort of "all this stuff is crazy weird! What's the deal?" and almost literally ends with "I don't know anything about what's going on here... maybe at some point I'll look into it further, but I certainly didn't before making a 15 minute video about the topic. Thanks to my Patreon supporters." And then Metafilter actually has a useful comment with lots of detailed information about what's happening from someone who actually does know their shit.
posted by Superilla at 11:53 PM on June 29 [10 favorites]


Mobile gaming is a huge market and if it was afforded a bit more respect you might see more quality releases and less shit churned out from a template.

There are quite a few quality releases... though mostly in the Eastern markets, like Japan, Korea and China. It really does feel like in the West phone games are treated as "lesser" then consoles / PC games, while in the East phone games have already gained acceptance as equal in status to consoles and PC. For example Honkai Impact was released for mobile in 2016 in China, but it feels like it wasn't until the PC release in late 2019 that it started getting traction in the West, then at which point people in the West no longer consider it a "mobile" game.

I think Hoyoverse has some pretty astounding stuff in the pipeline -

There's Tears of Themis (2021), a story driven otome game where you play a young female lawyer investigating criminal matters / mysteries / the cast of handsome young men.

There's Star Rail (2023?), a turn-based RPG team battler, uhm, about a protagonist who embarks on an interstellar trip on a steam train (???).

There's Zenless Zone Zero (2024?) an "urban fantasy" real-time action RPG, with one of the most astounding animations / cel shading I've seen.

(and of course, the elephant in the room, Genshin Impact (2020) but that's kind of old news now, their run rate is $1 billion in revenue every 6 months and with the player base increasing by 44% year on year).
posted by xdvesper at 12:57 AM on June 30 [3 favorites]


Well, there's Diablo Immortal.

Oh.
posted by FJT at 2:03 AM on June 30 [1 favorite]


I have one game that I have been playing for years now, because it's extremely well made and fun and addictive as hell: Clash Royale. It has in-app purchases to level up faster, which I will never buy, and most importantly it has NO ADS. I assume it never will, and if it ever does I will stop playing right then and there.

When I try out a new game I will gauge its worth based on just how quickly the barrage of ads comes. Some games are so lame you can't even finish a level without an ad. Some force you through a full 30-second ad after completing each level.

When the ads reach the level of obnoxious, I back out and delete the app, no matter how much I'm enjoying the actual game. Life is just too short.
posted by zardoz at 4:01 AM on June 30


It really does feel like in the West phone games are treated as "lesser" then consoles / PC games, while in the East phone games have already gained acceptance as equal in status to consoles and PC.

The basic model for mobile game profitability is to release several dozen lightly reskinned clones of the exact same game and invest continued development into the handful that attract a sustainable population of whales. It’s grift, all the way down.

Actual serious game developers who are in it for the art and craft of making games want nothing to do with any of this. It’s gross, unchallenging, and incredibly unethical. People who make these sorts of games are either desperate for a job, for money no matter who had to suffer for it, or just want to be “in the games industry” so badly under any circumstances that they will take any job they can get. When a resume comes across my desk that reads mostly mobile experience or went back to mobile after console/PC dev, it’s a massive red flag that this person is willing to perform the industry-equivalent to distributing heroin and throwing paint balloons in an art gallery. Sliding scale to be sure because sometimes life doesn’t give us a choice in these things, but that only goes so far before the opportunity to practice our craft with less harm comes along.

Meanwhile, truly massive mobile developer conglomerates employ thousands of desperate C-tier devs and a handful of hollowed-out A-tier husks to oversee them in this effort to flood the market with thousands of operant conditioning apps. One of them made me an incredible offer out of the blue a few years back, but I can’t begin to describe how much I hate and despise this entire wing of our industry.

What game developers who care about their craft actually want is to charge you $50~$70 for a complete experience that will be as artistically compelling as the best cinema or novel, but even more immersive than those formats can ever be. Also with a much better entertainment hours vs cost ratio. Google Stadia basically died because our entire industry saw the threat this time and most of us refused to play ball. The mobile sector is a lost cause and there’s nothing to do but fight a desperate rearguard action to prevent the filth in accounting from forcing slot machines into our art. We use fancy terms like “dark patterns” to categorize the various ways we want to not exploit players with each title and stamp avoidance of said into the core design pillars of our pitch decks… but the pressure to turn everything into live service gacha dreck optimized for “engagement” is definitely looming over all of us, all the time.

Ultimately this comes from income disparity and the exploitation of East Asian countries by the West, particularly during the 50s-90s. There was little in the way of an established PC or console gaming culture (Japan aside) - consensus opinion was they didn’t have the cash on hand to buy the base platform, so game sales weren’t going to happen. When mobile exploded the market and dropped financial barrier to entry by an order of magnitude, both game dev and game consumer culture were considerably thinner on the ground and even the best things to come out of the resulting environment (Genshin Impact, Lineage 2 Revolution) are still exploitative as shit.

Part of the reason devs and gamers alike fucking hate Diablo Immortal is that it’s an extremely public beachhead for the tentacles of pure capitalist greed into a culture that has until now been moderately successful at keeping this avalanche of bullshit at bay. But the shareholders and accountants in every publisher are watching, drooling, and it’s entirely possible those of us trying to build something meaningful in this space with the budget to do it right are living on borrowed time. There’s a definite Citizens United vibe from where I’m standing.

The only saving grace in any of this is that NFTs began dying before the Bored Apes got their hooks in us. Sometimes those long, brutal dev cycles work in your favor and this was definitely one of those times.

TL;DR: mobile gaming is a rampant capitalist virus. The hit franchise model was and is abusive on the dev side, but ultimately worth it because we sometimes get to make something we’re truly proud of making. Now? It’s starting to look like everything will become Mafia Wars / Evony. And I’d sooner starve.
posted by Ryvar at 12:23 PM on June 30 [9 favorites]


TL;DR: mobile gaming is a rampant capitalist virus.

Go on, tell us what you really think.

I would love, love to have some good quality small scale games I can sit and play at the bus stop for the ten minutes it takes for my bus to arrive. I, a gamer, do not want every single game to be a deep and artistic exploration of the human condition. Sometimes I just want something small and heartening that improves the empty pockets of time in my life. Is that not worth something? Why is that a lesser place for expression?

I don't want a "$50~$70 complete experience that will be as artistically compelling as the best cinema or novel, but even more immersive than those formats can ever be" on a device that has the size and ergonomics of a Danish. I want that for my PC and console games, when I have a few hours to sit and really enjoy them, and can hook them up to a good display and a decent sound system. Like I don't even play my phone games with the sound on most of the time. It's a different platform, and needs to be treated accordingly.

I really do feel like srs game devs write the format off, and are consistently unwilling to even consider the literally billions of people playing phone games a valid market. I mean you claim that a game with over five billion active players is hated by devs and gamers alike, where there's pretty obviously a large user base that doesn't hate it.

Like not all games need to be massive sprawling epics, just like not all movies need to be two and a half hour long extravaganzas. There's more to our cultural landscape than that! Half hour TV shows exist, and can be just as artistically valid (The Good Place springs to mind as an intelligent bit of short format that received quite a bit of critical claim). People read short stories. People read short form poems that are no more than a few lines long. I mean fuck, haiku is hardly an "hours to payment" exercise. Not everything needs to be a massive further installation in a hit AAA rated franchise.

I mean even the indie game scene for console and PC is a vibrant place full of fantastic little games, many of whom pop up here on the Blue regularly - Spiritfarer and Disco Elysium are the two big ones for me personally, as well as Untitled Goose Game and other titles that aren't Big Dude Shoots Things Fast Cars. I mean you want to talk to me about reskinning, the sheer proliferation of overpriced beige shooters in the PC and console market should give you pause as to exactly how common that practice is.

There is room in the market for smaller scale quality games that are designed for phone screens. It's just that so many devs consider it a lesser format they would rather starve than adapt and it leaves the space open to the parasites. The hunger for the content is there, and the fact that players will eat shit proves it.
posted by Jilder at 8:22 PM on June 30 [14 favorites]


I don't want a "$50~$70 complete experience that will be as artistically compelling as the best cinema or novel, but even more immersive than those formats can ever be" on a device that has the size and ergonomics of a Danish.
...
I really do feel like srs game devs write the format off, and are consistently unwilling to even consider the literally billions of people playing phone games a valid market.


If early mobile games like Space Miner, Alto's Adventure, Starbase Orion, or the first few Kairosoft games had been the norm, if Apple had intervened to prevent 400 Clash of Clones from flooding the market right at the start and we saw more solid ports than just the XCom reboots, Stardew, and Final Fantasy we wouldn't be in this position and I might feel differently. But we're not: anything I made - whether a heartbreaking work of staggering genius or (in reality) simply a very solid game - would be at best simply drowned in a sea of shit. Or worse, if it did start to catch on even slightly it would be immediately ripped off and copied several dozen times over, with each copy having a slightly different set of the same addictive mechanics seen in every other mobile app incorporated to see what paired best, backed by a marketing budget orders of magnitude more than anything I could afford PLUS ads inserted into all of the publisher's hundreds of other games (which costs them nothing).

There is no victory to be had in that market, only varying degrees of loss. You win by investing your limited time on this planet elsewhere, and that's just how it is.

I too would love more Alto's for the bus stop, but that's not the market Apple and later Google decided to foster, and that's not a possible future we can have.
posted by Ryvar at 11:24 PM on June 30 [7 favorites]


Very well said Jilder...

This reminds me of the conversations we had in the automotive industry about 10-20 years ago. Engineers (predominantly male STEM graduates) had very particular ideas about what makes an Excellent Car.... and they would rave on and on about how the virtual pivot control link front suspension they're designing is best-in-class, the rear independent control blade is so revolutionary, the cornering on this thing is unbelievable. Then sneer at the "trash" cars with older suspension systems dating back 10-20 years ago.

Then they get shocked when the same "trash" Asian imports started killing them in sales. Because it turned out the customer really didn't care about how well your car could take a corner at high speed, or how fast it could accelerate. No, it can't be, our cars really are the best... it's not our fault the customer likes trash!
posted by xdvesper at 12:04 AM on July 1 [2 favorites]


I too would love more Alto's for the bus stop, but that's not the market Apple and later Google decided to foster, and that's not a possible future we can have.

Since we're fortunate enough to have some very knowledgeable people commenting on this post, I'm curious if folks have any opinions specifically about Apple Arcade.

A subscription-based set of ad-free games seems like it's at least distinct from what's going on in the broader App Store.
posted by box at 4:54 AM on July 1 [1 favorite]


I'm curious if folks have any opinions specifically about Apple Arcade

While part of me wants to say that Apple Arcade is, as a streaming service, the biggest threat to gaming outside of Activision wholesale embracing exploitative metagame elements with Diablo Immortal, the truth is they’re not really targeting the same market segment as the Bioshock/Last of Us/Horizon Zero Dawn corner I work in and am most interested in as a player.

Which is another way of admitting that Jilder has a point and there is room for both in a way that my perhaps-overly-generalized/overly-gatekeeping first comment ignored. Which… whatever, I’ve got some skin in the game and obviously some pretty big feelings about all this because nobody spends the last 16 years putting up with the dev side of this industry otherwise. It felt really fucking good to write my original rant and much of it remains perfectly true on sober reflection. Just not all.

Anyways.

Apple Arcade isn’t really gunning for the same audience so it’s not cutting into our sales over in AAA except perhaps the segment interested in eating as much of your time as possible via “engagement” metrics and I’m still heavily on the side of “fuck that in particular.”

Stadia’s dead and nVidia’s cloud gaming simply cannot bend the laws of physics sufficiently to get past lag our audience will not accept and those are the primary subscription-based threats that were directly targeting our sector and would’ve really turned the screws on the financial pressures that give rise to crunch. If we can ward off the infection of dark patterns coming out of mobile I think we’ll be okay, I just really wish there was less overlap between the portion of the audience desperate to protect AAA gaming from those practices and the GamerGate assholes. I’d like to see a similar committment to opposing predatory capitalism coming out of the more progressive voices in gaming media, but so far they’re nowhere near as worked up about it and that honestly kind of sucks. Maybe Diablo Immortal will motivate some of the people not in league with Q Nazis to start drawing some lines in the sand, but getting back to your original point… I think we can coexist with Apple Arcade for pretty much the reasons Jilder laid out.
posted by Ryvar at 7:26 AM on July 1 [2 favorites]


Apple Arcade isn't a streaming service, it's a subscription to a curated selection of microtransaction- and ad-free games. Regular app downloads.
posted by rifflesby at 7:31 AM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Sorry, you’re right. Subscription-based gaming financial models are lumped together in the “Threat? Threat!” part of my brain and I should wait for the caffeine to kick in before hitting post.
(Microtransactions live in the OCD-contamination-anxiety “oh god I fell into an open sewer and it’s touching my skin everywhere” nightmare portion of my brain, because you can’t wholly escape that even if you’re in a position to keep it tamped down to cosmetics-only)
posted by Ryvar at 7:41 AM on July 1 [3 favorites]


Ryvar, just as an anecdote... I used to solidly be a "AAA" type gamer (Mass Effect / Dragon Age / Witcher / Monster Hunter World), but also playing MMOS (WOW, SWTOR, GW / GW2), and heavily invested in competitive ranking games (DOTA, LOL, Overwatch, HOTS, etc... I would rank in the top few percent, even match-making against my regional representatives who would go to Blizzcon to compete).

But lately I seem to have moved onto games which you describe as having dark patterns. I really liked Genshin Impact, though I never purchased their premium currency in it, it just seemed like it was somehow more appealing than WOW or Witcher.

I really like Lost Ark as well, again not spending money on it, and it really felt more appealing than Diablo or WOW.

Like, to me it feels like those games offer a superior gaming experience (courtesy of their lavish budgets) and allow me to play for free, while the "price of entry" for a typical AAA game is so high for something which may turn out to be something I don't enjoy...

And I guess, in my mind, it's never really bothered me if someone spends money on it gain an advantage. In reality, there are people who are simply more skilled than me in LOL and why should I lose any sleep over that? I can't control that either. In Lost Ark the term they use in the community is that it's pay-to-skip - buying gear gets you through the door, but you still need skill to beat the encounters, which primarily gate you with one-shot kill mechanics which gear can't overcome.

I had someone I recruited into my raid group who spent $1000 per day in Lost Ark. But I don't think it materially gave him a huge advantage. Some of the top players in the game are free to play. Similarly in Genshin Impact, I know two friends who have spent thousands in that game, but don't surpass me in clear speed / star ratings. But that wasn't the point of the game anyway, it's the world and story they've built.

I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this, but ironically, the way things stand now, I specifically look out for new releases which are free-to-play, with a huge budget behind it, and which are fueled primarily by whales...
posted by xdvesper at 9:49 AM on July 1 [3 favorites]


Like, to me it feels like those games offer a superior gaming experience (courtesy of their lavish budgets) and allow me to play for free, while the "price of entry" for a typical AAA game is so high for something which may turn out to be something I don't enjoy...

And I guess, in my mind, it's never really bothered me if someone spends money on it gain an advantage. In reality, there are people who are simply more skilled than me in LOL and why should I lose any sleep over that? I can't control that either.


All competitive online gaming has a pay-to-win element, it's just not easily seen a lot of the time - it's just that you pay for a decent gaming rig, and in my case you pay for having a decent internet connection. Like I'm in Australia, so lol how's my ping bruh?

That AAA price point is a huge barrier to a lot of people. Like I know what I like from a top shelf title and even I balk from time to time - I was pumped as hell for Tiny Tina's Wonderlands, I know it's exactly what I like because I'm a huge Borderlands fan and have played all the preceding games - but Jesus, it's going for $110 on the PSN and not much better on Steam, one you factor in the Season Pass. Like back in the day I got a lot of mileage out of the second hand bin at my local games shop, but that's not really a thing any more thanks to digital delivery (and ye olde Covid, if we're being real. Who goes to shops if they can help it these days?) and I'm just not in a position to drop a hundy every few weeks any more, especially since I just don't have time to sit and play in the two and three hour blocks those games demand.

In comparison, phone gaming is hugely democratic. Free games especially, and doubly so for people who just want to play a half hour here, a half hour there. A phone that can play the worst the mobile market has to offer can be had for the price of a decent graphics card. The market is huge, and full of players who don't come to the table with their own expectations of what a game needs to be. The form is ripe for some new ideas and approaches.

Which is another way of admitting that Jilder has a point and there is room for both in a way that my perhaps-overly-generalized/overly-gatekeeping first comment ignored. Which… whatever, I’ve got some skin in the game and obviously some pretty big feelings about all this because nobody spends the last 16 years putting up with the dev side of this industry otherwise.

It's a thing, friend. I see you there and having played across the spectrum over the years it's pretty blood curdling to see your art boiled down to a ball swap game with 10% play time and 90% ad time. Just to clear where my skin is, I'm a story writer and localizer, working under short term contracts, so I'm while not entirely free of crunch (and trust me, mobile devs do crunch too) I can at least tell the worst offenders where they can stick it. I'm doing the most expendable work as far as most of these companies go, so it goes both ways I guess. There are some very interesting people working in the space, and there's a lot less money in dev than you'd think - most of the companies I've worked for are very bare bones indeed and often do merge games and puzzlers and whatnot to fund-raise for larger projects. And there's a lot of young people too, for whom the PC/console/phone divisions aren't really a thing. Once upon a time they'd have coded up their first games in Flash, these days they learn their craft for phones.

But the gatekeeping around AAA rated gaming is huge - gamergate bros are just the most visible manifestation and I'm glad you acknowledge that. As I mentioned in my first comment here, I'm a middle aged woman, so you know, I've been dealing with gatekeeping shit around gaming my entire gaming career. Like my first console was an OG Gameboy when I was a kid - it still works, but I cop shit from kids younger than the cartridges it came with. PC master race bullshit too, because I've never been financially able to keep up with the system churn you need in order to play those AAA rated games out the gate on a computer, and stick to console because usually you can stick the disk into the machine and it plays, you don't need to respec the machine every time a particularly hot new title comes out.

While there's a lot of truly shitty companies out there a lot of them have moved over from the Big Fish style casual gaming on PC, so this sort of thing isn't that new really. The Homescapes series and Fishdom were originally a PC game series that have been ported over. That sort of short, low investment simple gameplay games have been around for years, it's just that they aren't shareware anymore and the people writing them are finding ways to make a living.
posted by Jilder at 8:38 PM on July 1 [7 favorites]


I have one game that I have been playing for years now, because it's extremely well made and fun and addictive as hell: Clash Royale.

Gems of War is this for me; and entirely because of this Steam Charts gag at RPS that mentioned it as an aside.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:54 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


« Older I don’t want no other baby but you; Paul after...   |   The Only Thing to Do Here is Walk Around the... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments