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Why Online Games Are Tanking
by Ramin Shokrizade on 04/18/13 08:02:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

I recently finished work on an algorithm that draws a predictive curve showing user engagement over the lifetime of a game. It took me eight years, and the more I play with it, the more it teaches me. I'm not here to sell my algorithm, I plan to make it open source later this year. What I am here to tell you is that we have been approaching online games in a very ineffective manner.

Let me start by using a movie analogy. When I want to see a movie, I can look up its critic ratings and get an idea how the movie was... at the end. What I mean is the critic presumably watched the whole movie then wrote the review. In a game this is a bit tricky. When did the reviewer write the review? At the end? How long did this take her? Did she do all of the optional content? What if the game has no “end”?

In the context of online games, which rarely have an “end”, ratings are meaningless unless you state exactly when in the game you gave the review. Your impression five minutes in might be totally different than it would be five hours in. If you are trying to monetize your game the same way at minute five as you are at hour five, chances are you are losing a lot of money.

Now what if the designer has no concept of how time affects their product, but just knows that user engagement drops RAPIDLY after the third hour. Thus they try to monetize intensely in the first three hours. What if the reason the engagement dropped so rapidly in the first three hours was the method of monetization itself? This becomes very difficult to detect and can lead to a “chicken or the egg” kind of paradox.

It has become a common myth that Free to Play games have rapidly degrading user engagement. This has led to ever more aggressive means of monetization, which actually lead to even faster rates of engagement degradation.

The problem here is that we are still thinking that our online games are retail products. If I was trying to sell you phone service, would I try to aggressively monetize you in the first three hours before you canceled your service? We are not building games as if they are services, and I think this is largely because we do not know how.

Why is it that EVE Online has user numbers that just seem to go up every year? Why is it that midcore games have user numbers that drop by at least half on every server every week? This is not because of the graphics. It is partly due to the way these games are monetized, but that is a relatively small component of the effect.

I think we are afraid of our consumers. We know they will betray us and we try to “get what's ours” before they leave us. This is a destructive relationship. The key to maximizing user engagement, and of course monetization, is to provide a product the user will embrace. You will have to wait for my book to see how I solve this problem, but I want the community to start thinking along these lines in the meantime. 


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Comments


Anton Temba
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This issue goes beyond just online games. Some people grow up in environment, learning not to trust others and assuming everyone is out to get you, thus creating all sort of twisted strategies to milk customers when it comes to business.

I say this because I've been there, I thought the same way until I realized how destructive and short-lived such behaviour was.

That said, I'm with you on this one, but being fair with your customers is much harder path to take than just using a lame hit-n-run tactic to monetize fast.

I really wish developers would focus more on sustainability rather than disposable projects, but it takes longer to set up and some may not simply have the resources or patience to make it happen.

Ramin Shokrizade
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There has been a bit shift away from large projects for a number of reasons, almost all of them bad for gamers. Of course the consoles are getting a bit behind in tech, so this is hurting console development. The seeming gold rush on Facebook sucked almost all the life out of PC development the last year or two. When that turned out to be Fool's Gold, a lot of investors got burned. This means less investment in our industry even though consumer demand increases yearly.

I personally have no problem with developers going out of business if they adopt a get rick quick approach. The problem is that many of the biggest players seem to be going down this path also.

The only good news here is that this will have an effect similar to a fire in an old growth forest. When the big trees burn there will be room for new trees to grow and grab some sunshine. As you point out, these new players may not have the resources to build the kinds of games we are talking about. I do think that infinite games can be built fairly cheaply, but this would require a very tight virtual economy or a way to smoothly integrate user generated content.

Andreas Ahlborn
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Solid observations.
And as Anton pointed out this "greed" spiral where developers are looking for a quick ROI almost like a Blockbuster production who either burns quickly through its customers or dies at the boxoffice touches every part in the chain between game developers and gamers.

The prediction of Revenues in the case of a triple AAA-Game - be it an MMO or a Singleplayercentered experience - is somehow an even "darker" art than in case of movies, where it is far from an exact science and more of clever thumb of rule thing to get the numbers to behave (as articles like these [ http://www.psmag.com/business-economics/the-art-of-predicting-box
-office-gold-7183/ ] point out), because we not even have the chance to build up a database which can compare to the "solid" numbers the movie business can. With more and more hidden "digital download" (Steam) numbers in the calculation we are often barely getting the digits on how much sth sells right.

Greed is also on the players side a problem, from the "greedy" playthrough any reviewer must power through to get his reviews out quicker than the competition (because the earlier the review the higher the page views), that can you give a totally false impression of the overall quality of a game, to steam-enthusiasts which simply keep buying humble-bundles on steam sale for the thrill (because actually you can`t play hundreds of games that pile up in your library)

Greed in this context is not necessarily a "moral" term, I think of it more in terms of this 21st Century-Zeitgeist-society which seems to have lost its patience for passion in favor of having as much entertainment-one-night-stands as possible to fill an emotional vaccuum.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Andreas, I think you kind of start to see my approach in your last paragraph. You see, I don't use the traditional analytical approach to trend prediction. I draw upon my background in neuroendocrinology and game theory to create truly predictive algorithms that don't depend on the availability of metrics. As you seem to suggest in your last paragraph, there is a chemical cause and effect system going on here that never quite seems to satisfy the consumer. If you could.... you could make a lot of money :)

Bart Stewart
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I suspect the "content problem" plays a large role for MMO engagement and monetization design.

A few years ago I worked out my own explanation as (other than one special outlier) two curves: the EVE curve and the standard curve. The EVE curve can be described as "start small and grow slowly," while the standard curve is "start big and begin losing lots of customers immediately." EVE curve games, because they start small, rely on user-generated content; standard curve games hand-craft a lot of content.

When you know you're going to be on the standard curve -- because you've spent a lot of money on content development and marketing -- then you know you have to make your money back as soon as possible before the people who like that kind of game burn through your static content and leave.

When you try the EVE curve, you'll probably have a hard time at first attracting enough players to pay back your development costs. But if you can somehow get into positive financial territory, and keep adding new content forms without driving away your veteran customers, then you have a chance for long-term growth and relatively modest but continuous profit.

WoW is of course the outlier to these two models. It's a start-big game that got bigger and has (mostly) stayed big. But one data point does not make a curve. I wouldn't guess how to replicate its success. (I actually don't think it *can* be replicated by design, but that's a different thread.)

The start-small-and-grow model, designed to incorporate user created content in some meaningful way, seems like the better option for smaller developers. I'll be interested to read the other comments here to see what others think about how to predict user engagement.

Ramin Shokrizade
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I don't draw a curve and try to fit games under it. I used a combination of neuroendocrinology, behavioral economics, game theory, and game domain expertise to come up with a function that fits well to all games that I am familiar with. That would be over half of the PC games made since 1980 (I was a game reviewer for 5 of those years). I'm assuming it applies to the other half also. I try to play anything that doesn't look like a reskin of something else.

Every game is unique, and every game experience is unique. To make things even more complex, that experience changes over time as the game is being played. Trying to stereotype games and gamers into broad categories severely limits the commercial viability of your product. It also creates situations where people come up with metrics and try to fit them to preconceived notions about game models that are usually dangerously simplistic.

Bart Stewart
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Models are approximations of reality. To the extent that any model explains and predicts some limited segment of reality within a reasonable and understood margin of error, then it's useful -- regardless of its origin.

I've found it's helpful to give models a chance to test themselves versus reality before summarily dismissing them. I hope your own algorithm is given a similarly fair hearing.

James Yee
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Well said Bart! It's one reason I backed the Pathfinder Online Kickstarter and have been following the development. They are taking the "EVE" idea like you said and I hope it works for them.

Where do you put games like World of Tanks and Mechwarrior Online. Both F2P arena shooter kind of games. World of Tanks has done extremely well and Mechwarrior Online is making money even though it's still in "Beta" as it were.

Lewis Pulsipher
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Really good commercial tabletop games are enjoyed by players for many years, sometimes decades, and may be played hundreds of times by their fans. That's because the designers arrange ways for each player to be challenged by other players in interesting ways. Which is closely related to "user-generated content". It may be inevitable (WoW excepted because its great revenues support vast amounts of new content?) that online games with creator-provided content run out of steam, just as so many single-player video games are "beaten" and then cast aside.

For that matter, many of the most popular tabletop games started with small print runs - your start small - and are then reprinted, growing slowly. In a way, EVE follows the tabletop model, not the video game model.

Ivee Feria Padua
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"I've found it's helpful to give models a chance to test themselves versus reality before summarily dismissing them. I hope your own algorithm is given a similarly fair hearing."

I agree with Bart on this. It's quite an ambitious but nonetheless admirable feat, and I honestly want to see success in its application.

The algorithm seems sound in terms of concept, but of course, its application will be different for every game. As Ramin had mentioned, "Every game is unique, and every game experience is unique. To make things even more complex, that experience changes over time as the game is being played."

While we are all human beings and are subject to biological chemical reactions as well as our psyche, I would say that the triggers will be different depending on a lot of factors, e.g., how the game is designed to be consumed (and how it is actually consumed), the territory it is released in, the culture of its market, and so forth. I would figure that the model would have to be able to accommodate other variables, but with so much to consider, how does one know which variables truly matter?

I understand that this is very different from retail marketing, but as a living case - marketers are already using neuroscience and behavioral economics (among a lot of things), and the information could either be used to create more valuable products or to design marketing campaigns that exploit our innate weaknesses. In a similar manner, does one use the insights from the algorithm to create more engaging games or as a determinant of how a firm could effectively milk a player before they churn (and the best way of doing it)? I find this to be a scary territory to tread - I imagine that as a potential user of this algorithm, I am faced with a number of morally-challenging decisions to make concerning its use.

Christian Philippe Guay
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My biggest concern is that the video game industry is becoming as corrupted as many companies in other industries, including governments.

Let's take a look at how big companies and governments currently monetize energy. We already knew how to use efficiently free energy 50 years ago and guess what? Free energy would mean, you buy the equipment once and everything that would run on it. But those companies don't like that, because they would much prefer to have you spend money every month or for every uses. That's why we still have oil, diseases, game consoles without backward compatibility, etc. And they will do everything it takes to prevent anyone from making Free Energy commercial. The FBI and other agencies would go knock at their door stating they are trying to overthrow the current economic system, they'll confiscate their project and from that day will watch them until the day they die - literally. If that person persists, it's either jail, death or else.

If our video game industry do not change, we could very soon reach a point of no return in which all games created will be all about monetization and the satisfaction of the player will be the least of our concern. We will pay to play multiplayer, to create content, to have a clan, to change our settings, we already pay to unlock crap sooner, etc. Then someone will be about to release a game with cheap initial price and that's it, with free user-generated content tools and guess what? The FBI and other agencies will knock at his door and state that he is trying to overthrow the economic system of the video games industry, will confiscate his project and look over his shoulder for the rest of his life.

Unless there is a crash causing gamers to boycott all those stupid games produced only to take their money by trying to exploit weak psychological traits, that could well very happen and be applied to our industry in years to come. Now people don't see it coming, because we have alternatives. We aren't forced, yet, to pay monthly to play let's say Call of Duty multiplayer, but at some point we won't have that choice anymore and it's likely going to be a point of no return. Think about it. What if next year all the big AAA multiplayer game requires us to pay monthly? Bam! Done.

Jonathon Green
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"... is becoming as corrupted..."?

From your EAs, to your Realtime Worlds, to your WarZs to your thousands of mobile and (anti)social cash cow clickers and games with better designed item malls and aggressive micro payment schemes... to poor working conditions, gross mismanagement, blatantly morally bankrupt contract agreements between huge publishers and small studios.

It is long since corrupted by any respectable measure, in many (not all) places. But this is less of a Industry reality, and more of a Human one, corruption and immoral business practices are everywhere and the games industry is no exception.

From the perspective of the industry. This is why, not just online games. But games in general are tanking more often and often more spectacularly lately. There are many specific regarding this, and I'd risk saying that everyone of them is documented on this site to some level through the posts and feedback of people that care enough to talk about it.

From the perspective of online games. There are many examples of games that survive, despite their less than savoury or effective business practices. Yes this negatively impacts the experience, causing a negative feedback cycle that over time decreases the willingness of gamers to inject money into the experience, rather than encouraging them to do so without the perpetual release of new content to drive income rather than develop the experience itself (say hello to the cosmetic item!).

From the perspective of an online gamer. Online games tank these days because they've lost sight of a simple truth. An online game is about the shared experience, about facilitating an environment in which people can interact on some level whilst the game elevates/heightens that experience.

Online games used to be simple fun repetitive mechanics that allowed players to develop personal stories amongst the people with which they played - as simple as, "Omg! I hate that person because they keep beating me. My personal goal is to beat them!".

Then online games became about developing worlds to allow players to continuously develop those stories together in more complex ways. Your Tibias, Runescapes, Everquests and notably your Ultima Onlines.

Ultima Online happened and what ALWAYS happens when a new market is discovered. It's a gold rush; people with lots of money, who want to make more money, refine and refine the market to optimise their potential to make money. Honestly I would link this process of refining the experience of online games into a money making endeavour to the birth of the social gaming market.

In the Online gaming scene, you have mechanically refined games that you can often play more successfully on a personally rewarding level solo than as part of a social group. Guilds and Clans have become more about feeding off of the success of other players, helping them level, or increasing social standing via association - rather than helping them enjoy the game. The social experience that games allow with their refined mechanics elevate the worst parts of the social experience, and this is a simply regression, a step back to before online games created worlds or tangible environments where social interaction directly impacted the environment - giving people a sense of responsibility rather than handing them the freedom of irresponsibility without having them directly making that choice or the creating an environment in which consequences apply - because your refined locked down mechanics just don't support it.

And the social element of online gaming...? It's being bled dry and marketed to typically a younger generation on the back of social networking, because the majority of online games today don't provide for the social scope of gaming beyond poorly managed (if at all) forums.

I strongly agree than things such as user engagement, and as Bart mentions, the delivery approach are in part the cause of online games tanking. But, as the opinion I've given above delves into, when it comes specifically to online games there's a critically overlooked flaw in modern game development that doesn't account for the necessary social elements and devices (within the scope of the individual game) both in and beyond the game itself, which should be addressed first and help define a games engagement factor and help specify deployable models for releasing these games successfully. As having a game that is engaging, or deployed in a suitable manner does not on its own offer a solution to bettering what I see as the troubled "Online" nature of online games that are failing to make use of their online elements beyond putting someone else's avatar in your play space with mechanically limited scope for what happens next.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Christian, I'm all about free to play. Honest, non-coercive free to play. I believe, by understanding the neurochemical and sociological foundations of gaming, that I can make games that players will WANT to purchase and stay in as long as I can provide content to them. I'm tempted to say I don't charge for content, ever. I charge for *context*. I'm sorry to be cryptic, but I need to hire a secretary to help me fill out all the NDA's I'm signing these days.

Christian Philippe Guay
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''Honest, non-coercive free to play. I believe, by understanding the neurochemical and sociological foundations of gaming, that I can make games that players will WANT to purchase and stay in as long as I can provide content to them''

And that's precisely what I'm trying to warn you about. We understand neurochemical and that's why some people are currently enjoying games such as Call of Duty that attempts to flatter their ego to bring them a form of statisfaction. But neurochemical is a flawed science, because a conscious player who actually understands what is really exciting about competitive games wont get any form of satisfaction whatsoever if the game doesn't reward his skills and mindgame.

So in your study, I recommend you add as well ''consciousness'', because that's going to let you understand much higher needs. Use all 3 (consciousness, neurochemical & sociological) and you'll get the data that your are looking for.

The biggest mistake most people do is think that humans think with their brain, so that neurochemical is the ultimate science. That's wrong, we think with our soul/spirit/consciousness first and then if the brain is still uncontrolled (which is the case for most people), then intentions and thoughts are then affected and deformed. The uncontrolled brain is what we tend to call ego and can be easily manipulated as in the example of Call of Duty. The problem is that people get results, are successful and do not realize that it is not because they made something fun, it's because they are exploiting gamers as a majority, because... most people aren't conscious to begin with.

So every game company that is currently attempting to flatter the ego of players are like literally raping 12 years old girls and we accept that as a society. It's pretty disturbing if you think about it. The majority of players are currently totally inexperienced and cannot see how they are being exploited. As game developers we have the responsability to not do that kind of stuff and prevent it from happening. We aren't doing our job.

Raymond Ortgiesen
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For someone who seems to promote the idea of keeping ego in check, you sure seem to be an expert on a wide range of topics and telling other people what they should do.

"We already knew how to use efficiently free energy 50 years ago and guess what? Free energy would mean, you buy the equipment once and everything that would run on it."

I would love to see your evidence that free energy was mastered 50 years ago. You then go on to claim, based on the principles of economic suppression of this technology, that free video games would one day be met with FBI prosecution. A bold prediction, but I doubt it will happen anytime soon.

"The biggest mistake most people do is think that humans think with their brain, so that neurochemical is the ultimate science. That's wrong, we think with our soul/spirit/consciousness first and then if the brain is still uncontrolled (which is the case for most people), then intentions and thoughts are then affected and deformed."

I didn't know the biggest mistake most people made involved the complexities of trying to debate a dualist position. You're making a HUGE claim about the nature of conciousness and the physical brain, again with no justifications for your statements. These are things that should be debated, but not in the context of a Gamasutra comment and certainly not used off handedly as justification for ANY claims about the video game industry.

"The problem is that people get results, are successful and do not realize that it is not because they made something fun, it's because they are exploiting gamers as a majority, because... most people aren't conscious to begin with."

You associate any form of psychological considerations in design with manipulation. If a coin in Mario is placed so that it invites the player to jump to a higher platform, is that evil manipulation of the unconscious sheeple? Or is it just good level design? Human psychology is so complicated you get nowhere by making blanket statements like this.

"So every game company that is currently attempting to flatter the ego of players are like literally raping 12 years old girls and we accept that as a society."

I'm just going to put this here again because holy shit you should re-read that sentence very carefully and maybe look up the definition of the word literally.

"The majority of players are currently totally inexperienced and cannot see how they are being exploited."

Again, you're just coming off as an egocentric jerk who looks down on the people you're somehow trying to advise. You say these manipulative games are all about stroking the player's ego without developing their mind. That is the perfect description of your post. Egotistical unjustified ranting against the government, the businesses, the developers, and the gamers themselves. Any legitimate point you may have made is lost in your self-congratulatory bullshit.

Enjoy your enlightenment, oh Bodhisattva of the game industry. Perhaps someday I can be as "conscious" as you are.

Ramin Shokrizade
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I just want to say that while it is my profession to model gamer behavior and find ways to optimize the game-gamer interface, this does not mean I am a monster. I am trying very hard to improve the gaming experience in an honest and genuine way. A big part of the reason I am not publishing my algorithm prematurely is because I need time to address what happens when people find a way to get the engagement curve to go to infinity. This is inevitable, and could ultimately be used to turn gamers into thralls. I would like some time to better consider the ramifications and possible counter measures.

Christian Philippe Guay
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@Raymond Ortgiesen
About free energy, Nikola Tesla was born on 10 July 1856 and died in 7 January 1943 (aged 86). During his life, Tesla worked for J.P. Morgan and created a free energy machine. Then, J.P. Morgan told him that if he couldn't put a meter on it, he had no interest in it. Now, I'm not taking this information from a random website. Tesla had a protégé named Otis T. Carr, so that if Tesla was to die, Carr would take over his legacy. Otis T. Carr during his life later worked with Ralph Ring who became his protégé and it's him who said what I wrote above about Tesla and J.P. Morgan and Ralph as well tried to make free energy commercial. He went to General Motors telling them they could have vehicles based on magnetism/free energy. Those cars would float and wouldn't collide with each others. That means, no more oil and assurances needed. General Motors told them that if they launched an antigravity vehicle “we’ll shoot them down.” If you look for interviews with Ralph Ring, he tells the story a lot.

Then what I said about the FBI knocking at the door, that's what happened to Tesla, Otis T. Carr and Ralph Ring as well. Ralph Ring also brings that up in many of his interviews. And same story with Dr. Patrick Flanagan who invented the Neurophone in 1958.

And free energy is older than most people believe. In the following video it is explained how both the Great Pyramid and a tower made by Tesla worked on free energy. A beam from the sun hits the water, then humans make the water flow in zig zag under the desired structure and it brings free energy to it; implosion energy. That claim was made by Dr. Abd’El Hakim Awyan, a wisdom-keeper of the Ancient Egyptian Mysteries, he is the one talking in the documentary and he passed away in 2008.

http://youtu.be/S3-PqMNSYzQ

An egocentric jerk would keep telling how great he is, how much he knows and how others have less value than him. And if you read my last comment properly, you'll find none of that.

I stated how and why neurochemical wouldn't provide all the answers that Ramin was looking for. I quickly explained why it was flawed. Then I gave an advice to Ramin that he would get more accurate data by adding consciousness at the top of neurochemical and sociological foundations of gaming, so that he can cover all skill levels. If I actually was egotistical, I would have kept that knowledge for myself.

''You're making a HUGE claim about the nature of conciousness and the physical brain, again with no justifications for your statements.''

Actually I'm not. There are a lot of researches on those subjects, but I'm clearly not here to get into those things. If that subject is of any interest to you, then you are free to look for the truth and make your own research. But it could accelerate your research to know that our universe is holographic, it doesn't actually exist and that includes our own body or the brain.

http://youtu.be/vnvM_YAwX4I

That means literally that we are spiritual beings experiencing a physical reality and that's precisely what the oldest native american tribes believe and teach. At the top of that, we can find a various traditions (Tibetan Buddhism, Yoga, etc.) and ancient texts teachings about a state of mind in which we wake up from the reality as we would do in this one from a dream and in that state we are a formless mind floating in infinite space, have access to all knowledge and from there we should be able to travel to other dimensions/realities. Now, I'm not trying to convince anyone that it exists, but I've experienced it for myself (by accident) and sincerely hope that such claim can at least be thought-provoking, because that means we are playing the most advanced video game ever made right here, right now.

''You associate any form of psychological considerations in design with manipulation. If a coin in Mario is placed so that it invites the player to jump to a higher platform, is that evil manipulation of the unconscious sheeple? Or is it just good level design? Human psychology is so complicated you get nowhere by making blanket statements like this.''

That's really not what I said. I stated that many games recently released attempt to flatter the ego of a player instead of providing satisfying gameplay mechanics. That includes how Call of Duty constantly tells you how great you are even if you die or betray your whole team. Or it could be a game like Diablo 3 in which to find new gear is always exciting, but once you reach Inferno you might realize that in reality it's all about having a sufficiently powerful gear and not about skills or strategy (smart character build and tactics). Loots are geat, but skills should also be part of the formula otherwise there is a leak. Or we could talk about multiplayer games with tons of unlocks, so it will take you weeks or months to figure out if the game is actually good and balanced with everything unlocked. Those methods are superficial and they usually only work on less experienced consumers. Unfortunately, the current majority of players are new comers/less experienced and those games were tremendously successful.

''Again, you're just coming off as an egocentric jerk who looks down on the people you're somehow trying to advise. You say these manipulative games are all about stroking the player's ego without developing their mind. That is the perfect description of your post. Egotistical unjustified ranting against the government, the businesses, the developers, and the gamers themselves. Any legitimate point you may have made is lost in your self-congratulatory bullshit.''

I'm sorry, but I hardly see how stating that those methods used to exploit psychological traits of the mind work on less experienced players who also are the majority, that some big companies are taking advantage of them, then I claimed that it is ethically wrong, that it is our job to prevent that from happening and that video games shouldn't be tools to exploit humans... make me in any way an egocentric jerk who looks down on people.

@Ramin Shokrizade
''I just want to say that while it is my profession to model gamer behavior and find ways to optimize the game-gamer interface, this does not mean I am a monster. I am trying very hard to improve the gaming experience in an honest and genuine way. A big part of the reason I am not publishing my algorithm prematurely is because I need time to address what happens when people find a way to get the engagement curve to go to infinity. This is inevitable, and could ultimately be used to turn gamers into thralls. I would like some time to better consider the ramifications and possible counter measures.''

To the contrary, I think you are doing a fantastic job with your algorithm and that your research will benefit a lot of people in a good way.

I just gave you the advice that to add consciousness at the top of the neurochemical and sociological foundations of gaming could help you get more accurate data, mainly because neurochemical can be misleading.

And if I came off wrong with the way I wrote my past comments, then I definitely apologize.

Rodolfo Rosini
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Because they did not spec healing or DPS?

THANK YOU I'LL BE HERE ALL WEEK.

Bob Johnson
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Interesting. And you see shot term vs long term thinking even with retail games.

There are many retail game franchises that would benefit from taking a longer term view and having fewer but higher quality releases. And in turn build up the company reputation which will only help it sell other games in the future.

Instead most just want to get as much product out as quickly as possible for fear the hot franchise will soon be cold and they will leave money on the table. OF course this just hastens the demise of the hot franchise.

Tyler Shogren
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How does your algorithm's criteria explain WoW/SWTOR? Also, since you brought up neuroendocrinology, which pharmaceuticals might best help a free to play game succeed?

Also, can you point out your peer reviewed publications?

Maria Jayne
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I feel there has been an negative shift in what mmos are for over the last decade. Originally when I began playing mmos things took a long time, usually because of slow progression, punishing death recovery or very rare and random drops. Over time this has evolved into quick progression with little punishment and guaranteed drop rates. Downtime is a forgotten concept and socializing beyond whatever minimum is required to kill something, is a lost art.

If you are an mmo player, ask yourself this question, when did you last group with people beyond the immediate objective? There was a time you grouped with strangers, stayed grouped for hours and left with some additional friends on your list. Now you would be hard pressed to stay grouped with any mmo player beyond the immediate reason you group, which is never "just to get xp and have fun".

We swapped the primary benefit of an mmo i.e. to socialize with people while playing in a persistent world. So that we can leap ahead of everybody and stand around in cities complaining there is nothing to do and we don't know anybody to do anything with anyway.

The evolution of the genre seems to have made it more accessible to people with shorter attention spans and created a content wall for more traditional mmo players, who simply run out of content quickly. So now what you have is a game made for people who don't intend to stay for long and those that would don't have anything worth staying for.

In an attempt to "grow" the market they have simply spoiled the market.

Lewis Pulsipher
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It may be an inevitable development of F2P games that they become reward-fests rather than challenges requiring the player to earn something. The creators want people to play the game long enough to begin spending real money. Evidently this is especially obvious in online games/MMOs. You cannot lose, you cannot fail, every action is rewarded - and sometimes the game even tells you what to do next. Obviously that doesn't describe all games, but describes an increasing fraction of them.

Lewis Wakeford
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Yeah they made MMOs more accessible to people like me that don't like slow progression or being forced to work with other people (well it's more organizing the group that I hated). The problem is that my type of gamer either burns through games very quickly or gets bored and abandons then, which is not really the type of customer that an MMO needs.

Eric Salmon
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I agree that the problem is the monetization scheme. I dislike subscription schemes for a variety of reasons:
*Holding your accounts hostage (your accounts will be deleted if you stop playing even temporarily on most games, so you can't just play whenever new content is released or you'll lose years of progress.)
*Related to above: there's generally not enough content/play time to justify a monthly subscription.
*Makes an experience that should be fun, frustrating. You're constantly timing yourself, trying to get your money's worth, and scheduling grinding/etc. It sucks and I won't be roped into it anymore.

To be honest, I don't like free-to-play schemes either, but at least they just annoy me rather than extort me. Free-to-play can be done well, but it (as has been said) mostly degenerates into manipulative design or pay-to-win garbage. The worst of it is pay-to-win with a large chance of failure or setback, where you're essentially being manipulated into gambling. Maplestory is awful for this, as the prime example I can think of.

My ideal monetization scheme as a customer would be modelling after the phone industry as a service like others have suggested... I'm just surprised I've seen no one else mention pay-as-you go plans. They solve most of my problems as a customer because I can play when I want, feel as if I got my money's worth, and not really be pressured into playing when I don't want to. It'd also allow us as developers to encourage balanced server loads, say with cheaper rates for off-peak hours (again, in the same way as phone companies).

I was working on a write-up of various practices I feel are really damaging the game industry from a consumer's point-of-view, but it was a bit too much of a rant to put up.

Derek Pardoe
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I'm curious - Can you list some of those subscription based games that delete your account if you stop playing temporarily? That sounds like a terrible business strategy.

Eric Salmon
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Sorry it took awhile for me to reply.

This may not be the case anymore, but Final Fantasy XI used to after 3 months of inactivity. I was under the impression that they still did (probably from the ToS or a notice when I disabled my account the last time), but from reading on forums, they apparently don't delete characters for inactivity anymore. I know did at one time, though--probably when storage was more costly?

As far as I know, WoW guarantees characters for 6 months of inactivity (but in actual practice also never seems to delete them).

Seems my comments on that were a bit archaic! My bad. I'm considering logging on to FFXI to see if my characters are still around, now.


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