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A sickly gamer?

The Guardian had an interesting article on Monday. It took me a while to get there, because I am intricately familiar with the subject and the issues. The name of the game is gaming, and in the article titled “‘Dangerous gaming’: is the WHO right to class excessive video game play as a health disorder?” has the interesting question.

So as we read (at https://www.theguardian.com/games/2018/feb/05/video-gaming-health-disorder-world-health-organisation-addiction), which holds: “included “gaming disorder” in its draft for the next edition of its diagnostic manual, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), which is due for final release this year“, we need to wonder. In the first what constitutes a disease, when is something actually a disorder and more important, is it the first step in getting this label added to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version 5, with an update which is supposed to come out at the end of the year. Even in the academic field there is doubt, which Netta Weinstein, a senior lecturer in psychology at Cardiff University voiced with: “I just feel like we don’t know enough yet and we feel we know a lot“. This is merely one voice. This part is important, as we see the following that matters: “the WHO was initially exploring excessive use of the internet, computers, smartphones and similar electronic devices, but determined that the biggest concern was gaming“, in addition we see: “The authors write: “These features clearly have their parallels with substance disorders and recognised behavioural addictions, such as gambling disorder“. They decided to make a dangerous step. As I personally see it, they are comparing apples with oranges, dumping the load into a basket named fruit and walk away. That view is not just supported, by others; Nena Weinstein gives us (paraphrased): “we found very small correlations, if at all, of symptomology with broader life wellbeing. So we actually didn’t find, for example, that symptoms correlated with health directly. It might be that something that we think of as addiction is actually just engagement and enthusiasm“.

That is the part that matters, gaming is about engagement and enthusiasm, now we can agree that some people go overboard. I for one have spent 5000 hours (not all at in one sitting mind you) in the Fallout universe and close to 3000 hours in the Elder Scrolls universe, I just love my RPG’s. The fact that this comprised a total of 5 games makes this the best value for money ever. I have played plenty of other games, and they were fun too. The fact is that the world is changing in several ways, a fact that the researchers are also ignoring. I also like the opposing view given by Prof Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University. With: “The bottom line is problematic gaming. Whether you call it ‘gaming disorder’, whether you call it ‘gaming addiction’, there is a small minority of people out there where gaming has completely taken over their lives“, he has a point there. I have more than once gone so deep and enthusiastic into Minecraft, so when I suddenly realised that I was really hungry and getting tired, I looked up to notice that it was 03:50 in the morning and I remember the sun being up when I started to play. This happens, and it rarely happens, but still it happens. The fact is that the body reminded me and I did not ignore it. I was less positive about his remark: “in extreme cases some people have played themselves to death, though such incidents are extremely rare“, this is a case I remember, some league of Legend player, high on energy drinks playing 23 hours in one stretch. When it happens once, or perhaps less than half a dozen times on a population of 8 billion, it is not a case, it is an extreme outlier. We could in the worst case state that the proprietor had a duty to set a maximum usage of lets state 12 hours per 24 hours. Was that point ever raised?

Weinstein goes on in the debate on why few get addicted. Well, because there are many types of players and there are in equal measure many types of games. We can argue that in my case one style could lead to addiction, but I have a life with other elements too and even as I might spend a large chunk of my weekend on my console, I have lived for the longest time requiring no more than 5 hours of sleep per day, these days are now alas over (hence less gaming), but choosing the fun of a game over wasting money on alcohol in a bar, wasting it on fake smiles in a casino seems that I have taken a healthier life style. The entirely other side is that I even had more time in the kitchen, making my life even better by making myself a nice steak with a salad, a pasta salad or even a nice Bambi-burger or sourdough. I would not go hungry. My only little squandering would be to ignore my Nespresso and go to the Coffee place up the hill (roughly 723.4 metres) and get myself a yummy cappuccino, extra-large of course, sometimes even splash out and have a big breakfast there on Sunday. A walk in the fresh air, sunshine optional and preferred, good food, caffeine for the veins and after that groceries on the way back and the rectangular entertainment from console or Blu-ray, a life of relaxed bliss!

The package could be seen as addictive, gaming is merely one element in all of that. So as people then go with the mention of ‘all that gaming‘, tell me to just watch some TV. So how does that work? Constant badgering from advertising whilst you get hammered by two screwed up reality settings from places like ‘My Kitchen Rules’, or even worse some ‘married at first sight’, so it’s not that the divorce ratings weren’t high enough, we now get some reality TV show where ‘experts’ know what we need, want or desire? How fucked up is the TV nowadays? It is the second part where I oppose her view. With; “at least some elements of modern video games are closer to gambling. The newly popular and increasingly controversial implementation of “loot boxes”, where players pay real money for unpredictable rewards, is increasingly drawing the attention of regulators“, she only has a partial point. As far as I can tell, this was introduced in gaming by the Mass Effect series (I apologise if I am incorrect). You see, that is an option, but the game gives clear warning that you can earn these boxes by playing. Yet some people cannot go that distance. So like Ubisoft who allowed you to unlock all elements of Assassins Creed multiplayer for less than $10, people had no interest to unlock the abilities, they want it all from the start, a level 1 steroid character. So yes, you can buy chests for real money, but the ones I saw have always allowed you to get those chests by playing the game, it merely takes a little longer to get them. The second element that she is not lingering on is what is in such a loot chest. The loot chest is very much like a CCG (Customisable Card Game), each package will cost you around $5 and the 10 cards will give you 1 rage (or legendary), 2-3 uncommon and the rest are common items. So basically after the first 10 packages you only buy them to get the remaining uncommon, rare or even the legendary cards. Loot boxes work in the same way. That origin actually comes from a CCG game called Magic and was introduced by mathematics professor Richard Garfield and introduced to consumers in 1993 by Wizards of the Coast. So, now as it is in video games 25 years later, now they want to regulate it? Oh please, go cry me a river, will you?

Yet Weinstein raises a gem of a point with: “concern about comorbidity (when a person has more than one condition): “We need to know that it is about the gaming itself, or we’re treating something that’s not the actual problem.”“, she poses an excellent issue. You see if we accept that gaming is escapism, knowing what it is escapism from, that becomes the golden question and that is not easily explained.

Prof Mark Griffiths brings another side to the table. With: “I can’t think of a single [case of] addiction where there aren’t any other comorbidities. The addiction is usually symptomatic of other underlying problems. If you’re depressed and therefore you drink heavily, then you treat that with antidepressants“, you see, in that view, if these people escape into gaming, they still might not have a gaming addiction, they merely escape to it and we see the dangers of a wrongful diagnoses. So in the time where the depression is not seen and as these people ‘are cured‘ by gaming less the depression could take over leading to additional harm and even fatality. The problem (as I personally see it) is where is the trigger, the threshold where ‘addiction’ is set at. It is a grey area that cannot be correctly quantified as there are other elements in play. As I see it, it too often relies on what others think is ‘too much’ and that is equally dangerous. The parent who grew up playing outside and as such, junior should be outside, not playing on his console. Do they realise he was playing with school friends in an online 4v4 battle? They are talking to one another on the headsets, so they are still communicating were they not? Our comprehension of several elements is shifting, as a gamer I see the shift, but the people around me do not (want to) comprehend that. It is icky, it is geeky, they do not care.

That part is equally ignored and that is a worry too.

You see social media made the bucket of issues larger, but the level of comprehension beyond using the tool has not increased. That is the danger, usage without knowing what it implies, means or ratifies. Consider the articles like: ‘5 Ways to Generate More Exposure for Your Content Through Social Media‘, to improve your personal PR, or ‘How to Scale Your Social Media Exposure‘, that whilst the people trying to grow followers and to be ‘cool’ have no concept of ‘engagement’ and the use of common sense for that matter whilst exposing themselves to all kinds of risks. Those people will happily sit in any ‘gathering place‘ and remain in negative judgement of a gamer. I remember a nice issue in 1996 in the UK. I was in a bar taking a rest from the ECTS (7 morning presentations on newly released games will do that), so as I was sipping coffee and nodding to someone I knew in the business. He was talking to some girl who was way too good looking for her own good. So when he mentioned he was into gaming, she walked away as he was nerdy. So as she walked away, she had no idea that this was the guy who just made 1.5 million pounds ending with 4 times that much at least over the 3-5 years that followed. You see, even as more and more people are no longer stigmatising ‘gaming’ and ‘gamers’, the issue is that most do it because it is now a $120 billion market and money is money, no matter how you slice it. The actual issue of ‘addiction’ cannot be set for various reasons because it relies on other elements on how you still function when you are not gaming. How you see the world when you are merely shopping for groceries, enjoying a movie, setting in a corner chumping down on ice-cream or engage in conversation with friends. Those are elements that matter and if you can still relate to non-gaming issues with enthusiasm (like how ambulances in Kabul are an excellent way to move C4 from one place to another), we might wonder about the scepticism in all of it, but for the most that person is still OK and unlikely to be a true game addict.

Wasn’t that what mattered?

You see, it is actually the end of the article that had the truffle that mattered; no pig was going to get that one! With “The significance of the WHO’s decision will depend on your point of view. Griffiths admits it’s “a vindication for three decades of research”. Trade bodies such as Ukie naturally resist suggestions that anything their industry produces could be harmful“, this part could actually become the invalidator to his work. Prof Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University seems to forget a few parts. In all this, I have been connected to games and gaming from before that. Gaming had several triggers over the last 30 years. First there is the arcade machines versus the home consoles (and home computers), there is an issue with any emerging technology and the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 are just over 20 years, before that it was all about home computers and the lasting time of a game was no more than one day of game time with only Loderunner to be a larger exception. Even in PC’s larger computers with larger games would be able to get finished in no more than 50-70 hours, and again there is an exception now, it was Diablo. Longer lasting games did not really get to the surface until multiplayer came out and it was not until the Unreal engine took off that people hid for a lot longer behind their computers (overly generalised). Now we can argue that those collecting games were indeed addicted, but were they? What data was there on them? I reckon that it was not until the sixth generation of consoles came out that we have the foundation for some level of actual addiction. Yet when we got back, we forgot the arcade machines. How much money did you pour into those machines? Was it to complete Donkey Kong? Was it to be in the top mention of Space invaders or Pac-Man? Does that make you addicted to gaming, or merely a person trying to pass time or dealing with OCD? I am not sure if I can give the right answer, but between generations 4 and 8 (1989-2012) the market has been in technological turmoil and that is disregarding the massive technological leaps PC’s had made over those years. I feel uncertain that with so many changes in a market that has not stopped running, how can anyone be correctly seen as addicted? For example, who would not spend their entire weekend finding the secrets that Tombraider brought in the first instalment? Who did not run to the shop (and claimed a sickie) the day that Tombraider 2 was released? Who did not drop their jaw the day Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots started on their PS3? That game can still hold up to the most that the PS4 brings to the table today. One view was: “The game has been considered one of the best games of the seventh generation of console gaming and among the greatest of all time“, a view I very much agree with. When perfection, art, challenge and achievement come to the table, the view we have changes, because exceptional quality keeps us at the screen. Just look at all those 4K nature movies Bing Lee sets on the TV’s they really want to sell, that’s not addiction, that is admiration/amazement. So in that all, I think that there is a case that Prof Mark Griffiths might not make the mark on this ‘addiction’ addition, there are just too many variables. And even if we recognise that an unhealthy devotion to games might be worth investigating, it would be to find the underlying cause to it all as Dr Netta Weinstein justifies. In that she is completely correct, so as we realise that Jo Twist, the UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie) states the correct part with “We are very concerned about the inconclusive nature of the research and the evidence that WHO is using to base this potential classification on“, she could have (as not seen here) stated the matter a little better than what we got to read.

That is merely $0.04 on the matter (due to the FTSE Crash my $0.02 devaluated whilst writing this).

 

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In-app purchase Armageddon

We all have these moments where we are confronted with certain choices that others make. The problem with these choices is that they always seem to spin around the greed of the developer.

It all started mid last year. Some games show gave the heads up for a mobile Dungeon Keeper. I loved that game! I actually still have Dungeon Keeper II. The game had the originality to keep me entertained again and again. Now a mobile was coming. The TV showed how everything went smooth, decently fast and graphically in the upper end. When I tried to install it, I got the issue that my iPad 1 did not support it, which is fair enough.

Now, I am spotting all over the internet an abundance of rants and anger reports on this new version of the game. What had EA done now? ‘Nerd 101’ had a decent overview (at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpdoBwezFVA&feature=player_embedded). This is worse than a joke. Basically to clear one piece of rock either takes 24 hour, or $1.50 per square, or $105 for 60 squares of rock. Clearing dirt takes 4 hours according to the screenshots (not the ones you see in the Apple store). Interesting is that this was never mentioned before in the media. They are not alone, but for the adult player they are one of the most visible ones.

Let me be clear, I am not against in-app purchases, yet on this scale, through the greed approach, it is killing the market and it will kill the future of gaming. The other part of this is that this game got 3200 times a 5 star rating. This is not even close to realistic considering the game play the game is not offering. They are however not alone!

Another game that has this nightmare scenario is Dragon Story by TeamLava. Here you get to play for free, yet some dragons can only be bought. I mentioned it before in blogs, whilst a block of land would cost you up to $10 per square, dragons can go up as much as $100 per dragon. Some of them can only be bought. Still, for the patient ones, the game can be played for free. They just play the frustrating slow card hoping that the kids, if given half a chance, will spend more and more. There is something enormously unacceptable about this approach to in-app approaches.

This is only one side of in-app purchased gaming. Another side is shown by the company Time-2-play who made ‘Elemental Kingdoms’. Now in this case, the group is different. First of all, if you have ever played any customisable card game (like Magic) and if you enjoyed it, you will likely love this one. You can play for free, the gems are decently priced and the return that $4 offers is really nice, especially when you buy gems for the 1st time (you get 50% more gems). So, this is really decent. Here we have another issue. The game remains unstable. It kept on crashing. I thought at first it was just me and my iPad 1. Alas, I see that the internet is filled with android complaints. As the developers focused on more graphics and cool looking effects, which do look nice, the game seems to become less and less stable. This is a shame, because the graphics even on older tablets is really good.

Still, Time 2 play does have a decent approach and if they fix up their app, it will be a coveted app for hundreds of thousands of players and I hope and wish for them many in-app purchases for a long time to come. When it comes to almost perfect approaches it does not get any better than a game called Blockheads, it is a 2-dimemsional approach to Minecraft. The game initially works at half speed. For a one-time $5 you get the double speed and you are playing really nicely. Basically, the game gives a great value for that price. This game also allows for buying gems, yet a few days of playing will get you more gems by mining then $10 will get you, so it is an option for the eager and less patient players amongst us. When a game works like this, I feel that games with micro transactions have a decent chance of making it in the mobile world.

It is a shame to see the market getting destroyed in such a way. Old games get corrupted, their names smudged. The ‘greed’ elements as they start rearing their ugly head in some games make it important for parents to learn really fast how dangerous these games can be. Especially in the case of Dragon story where a child could set you back $200-$500 within an hour (providing that in game purchases had not been switched off).

In case of Dragon Story I do not get it. This game, when added a few parts to could be the first game to grasp a massive chunk of the Pokémon playing population. Pokémon, a game, which after a dozen released versions, remains more of the same. The fans of this style of gaming want additional games. Dragon Story, when converted with additions to the Nintendo could make TeamLava very wealthy, the fact that they rely on absurd micro transactions is just weird and in my opinion really stupid.

It does not stop here though. The larger consoles are now getting into the same field, which is a serious worry for many. Games like Warframe, War thunder, Blacklight and DC Universe online are but a few of the games, now relying on micro transactions. Here the story is not the same, these games are massive, they rely on online multi player connections and for the most, you can just pay for free. Yet, at a certain point, you will need money to get better weapons. If not, the road will be tedious and at some point even unbearable. This is not a bad way to go. Personally I think that they should have a small option for new players, but the prices they charge for whatever currency they use is not outrageous. Because of the additional parts, I would call them a reasonable approach to try before you buy. However, it must be said that $20 will usually get you just one ‘stronger’ weapon, or one better plane. Warframe had an over the top option for $140, but that does give you heaps in money and a few extra items, so you do get bang for the buck (quite literally). They all have the same flaw, like the tablets when added up they are way too expensive and they could make it up by adding a $10-$15 package deal which includes several weapons , planes and armour (depending on the game, so that the ‘keep playing’ factor stays there. In the end, the cheap skates will never buy anything, and they will rely on weak equipment. There is in my mind however, a decent group who would like to get more, but $15 for one medium piece of equipment is just not hacking it. Consider that a full game at $100 gets you all the hardware the game has to offer (even though you have to play to get it).

So back to these tablets where the funding abuse seems to be happening. It seems that Apple remains too quiet around it all considering the article (at http://news.cnet.com/8301-13579_3-57617270-37/apple-to-refund-at-least-$32.5m-for-kids-in-app-purchases/), it also seems ‘off’ that this event remains relatively quiet. I do not completely agree with the assessment of Chairwoman Edith Ramirez who stated “You cannot charge consumers for purchases they did not authorize.” The issue is slightly more loaded then that. She is correct in the statement, yet the issue of micro transactions and the parents had no idea what was going on is only barely covering it. Yes, Apple could have added blocks sooner, yet the streamlining of in-app purchases streamlining this in a much better way would have been preferable.

I think it is important for Microsoft and Sony to realise sooner rather than later that we are about to venture into a new age of gaming. There is still a massive part of this world who remain for now a minor and it becomes important that these two start guiding certain sentiments of greed into sentiments of packaged values. If not, parents might steer clear from an upcoming wave of ‘free’ downloadable games and decide on another platform for gaming altogether.

 

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