ABC shows us an article, which I saw yesterday and even as it is fine, even as it is nothing new, it is brought to us like it is an exclusive look at what has been happening for a long time now. The article (at https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-05-03/video-games-you-play-are-using-sneaky-tactics-four-corners/100098826) gives us “Persuading players to pay for advantages or extra features is a key part of the gaming business model”, yes that has been happening long before Candy Crush was a thing. And then we get the part where stupid takes over. With “Kat McDonald lost track of how much she was spending when paying with an in-game currency” we are given the taste of how she is an innocent victim, she is not. We also get “I wasn’t sure how to work out an itemised account, because on your bank account, it just says Apple”, from my point of view this is not a victim, this is an extremely stupid person. Even as the writers are trying to hide it all behind “Game developers will sometimes use multiple currencies to make it difficult for players to keep track of how much they’re spending”, we are being told a story for some reason that has not been revealed yet.
So to give you the lowdown, most games use two currencies, the normal one that everyone has and the premium one that only some get and needs to be paid for. For example Bethesda’s Fallout shelter has credits for all users, but you can buy Nuka Cola to get the advantage. They do give out Nuka Cola to all players in missions, you can find them and there is a chance Cappie and Bottle leave some when they visit you. I have at present 350 Nuka cola bottles, I have never spent a cent on the game. The game Gems of War has a few options in that regard, however like Fallout Shelter, I have never had to spend any money to get ahead, I merely had to play a lot. These two are for the most exceptions to the lot. Some games use gold bars, some use diamonds and so on. The important part is that ‘THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A FREE GAME!’ The two exceptions I mentioned offer to sell you stuff and it is appealing, but it is up to you the player to either take the grind road or take the spend road, take some responsibility! So when I see “Kat became so immersed in the game she lost track of how much she spent on multiple small purchases” and “I sat down with a notepad and pen and wrote out every single transaction and added it up to $4,000”, at this point I wonder how stupid the journalist actually is. You see $4,000 amounts to 400 to 1000 purchases, and that is not merely ‘she lost track’, this is one of these (as I personally see it) stupid people who should not be allowed near a credit card, just like the person spending $12,000 on FIFA purchases. We need to accept that either you are responsible, or you need to be, never near a credit card ever again. This sounds harsh but that is how it is. Yes we see that gaming makers have a business model, some are revolving around your data and advertising, some are about selling items and some are all of the aforementioned. This is not new, this is no rocket science, this merely is.
So when we get to “Or you or me could just spend some money then and there and get all the advantages that come with having progressed”, which is true and in many cases that advantage can be gotten in the beginning by spending $3-$10, depending on the game. The important realisation is to do this only once, the initial grind is the longest one.
I had this once with a game called Castle Age, I spent in the early 10 hours about $5, it got me a character (and gear) that gave me a huge leg up in the beginning. I did not feel guilty, this was in the early days of Facebook and Castle Age was a cool game to play. I played the game for about 2-3 years about an hour a day, so it was $5 well spent. That against $4,000 is a larger setting. We all get the vibes to dole out money if we have it, but to spend about 40 times the funds for a PS5 game is just ridiculous. And the ‘getting hooked’ is only part of the setting, when someone spends that much money it is not (or at the very least debatable) addiction, it is stupidity and some excuse like “But I was still participating because it was still giving me that dopamine rush” it becomes my personal conviction that anyone relying on ‘dopamine rush’ should have stuck with comfort food (and chocolate is cheaper too).
There you have it
And that is when the article is showing its actuarial part, the McDonalds were as I see it merely used to bring the goods towards “In loot boxes … you don’t buy the game for the reward mechanism but the reward mechanism is there. You purchase access to this … and you get a random outcome, that might be very valuable or not at all valuable”, yes another go at the loot boxes, which in my point of view is not gambling. Some games hand out loot boxes on a daily basis, some give them out when ‘milestones’ are reached, or specific circumstances are met and some use them as well as those that can only be bought, but the ones you buy tend to have more valuable cards, items and options. And in all this, no one is responsible, it is the poor poor player and the evil maker of games. Please go cry me a river, when you spend $12,000 on loot boxes you are absolutely bonkers, more important, the main part of the game does not require these loot boxes. In some games (Ubisoft) they offer them, yet they also CLEARLY state that these items can be gained by normal play without spending cash, and such items are a mere few dollars. Then there is the view of game influencer Laura Gilbert, which I actually love (her point of view, not her, before you get the wrong idea) “Gaming influencer Laura Gilbert refuses to buy any loot boxes”, I agree, to be more clear, if a game cannot be played without loot boxes, it should not be allowed to be released. And even in FIFA, the part that uses loot boxes is not the foundational part of the game, or it was never originally so, I do not know how it is now to be honest, because I loathe soccer, I am a hockey player (the real version on ice).
Two more things
There is “Video gaming has grown into one of the most lucrative entertainment businesses in the world”, that is true, there is a hidden gem (for the game makers). In the first there is the need for short term satisfaction, we are all OURSELVES guilty of that, you, me we all are, I might be clever enough to avoid certain traps, but I see that they are there. The other side that there are games that have a pay to win foundation (candy crush like games, any game with a match three approach (Gems of War excepted), there is a pay to play setting, this is harder, we see the Idle games, where we can play the foundational games, but when there are competitions, the only way to reach the ranks is to pay for special items, special managers, more powerful miners, the list goes on, it is never a lot, but in the beginning be ready to pay $3-$7 to get the better people in the game. There is the option to watch ads to continue, yes you can avoid them, but it slows you down, so to get the leg up you will be watching 5-15 ads per hour, so how is that satisfying? And they also offer options to get the really rare cards, but they tend to cost a few $$$. All this is out in the open, so the entire “They kept messaging me, telling me to come back and play” as well as “so immersed in the game she lost track of how much she spent on multiple small purchases” are as I personally see it, parts of the BS foundation, it is time to take responsibility, but the writers of the article are in part making statements, but to the larger extend it to bring loot boxes out to another round of finger pointing, all whilst the players need to take responsibility for their own actions.
The article does however end with “Gamers are now starting to realise how they’ve been played”, I find little to oppose this, and the larger state was achieved by me in the beginning. There is no such game as a FREE GAME. There is ALWAYS a price to pay, in all the games I have seen two exceptions. Bethesda gave us Fallout shelter, even though it was initially done to give larger visibility to their Fallout line and they made a lot of money out of the other games, which had to be purchased. There is an optional truth that they hoped that the microtransactions would give them more money and it did, yet I have played it on 4 systems, and I never had a need to make any kind of purchase. The other part is Gems of war, there it was a new game with no link to anything else, and they offer options for purchase, but they never push for it and I never had to buy anything, there is no pay to win, or pay to play. Perhaps in higher stages, but on one system I made it to level 150 without spending a cent. They might be the two exceptions, and I am not new to gaming. I started testing and reviewing games in 1989, so I have been around for some time (I started with a VIC-20 in 1983).
There is one part I stepped over (intentionally), it is the quote “Microtransactions started appearing in games in the mid-2000s, encouraging people to repeatedly make small purchases to keep them involved”, I do not oppose it, but I wonder which games had that first? I noticed it first with Candy Crush, they were not alone but the math gave me the speculated insight that it was designed to ‘almost make you succeed’, it was very clever and I deleted the game the same day. There is no way to beat an algorithm, that much was pretty clear to me. We can go on for a long time, but the larger setting is the irresponsible spending of people and that is left on the side of the road, it is equally irresponsible to do that. I believe that the ABC article fails to a much larger degree at that point, from my point of view it was about the push on loot boxes and to help out Senator Jordon Steele-John (Greens), but that is my take on the article.