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Compassion in F2P
by Ramin Shokrizade on 10/22/13 10:25:00 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.

 

Last week I published my article Mastering F2P: The Titanic Effect, which proposed that interactive media could be used to put a consumer into an altered state of consciousness that could then be used to make them more vulnerable to spending money than they would in a “normal” state of mind. I also made this case before the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network summit in Panama the week before that. As with all of my articles, the comments are where rigorous debate occurs and my ideas often become more refined.

Two of the people that commented seemed to have a common theme, both proposed in very intelligent fashion, using very different words. One, a parent, felt that because she had very strict control over her children, due to her excellent parenting skills, that others should be just as good at parenting as she is. The other, a very promising scientist, eloquently argued that consumers should be responsible for their actions, especially if the knowledge they need for decision making is available, even if it is not explicitly presented.

The problem with both of these arguments, and the reason I am taking the extraordinary step of writing my rebuttal as a stand alone article, is that they lack compassion. Not necessarily lack of compassion as a characteristic, but the kind of lack of compassion I often see in Quants and highly intelligent people that is born of a lack of knowledge of how the human body and brain works. I want these people as allies so instead of arguing with them I am going to make my case here and hope we can come to agreement.

In 1989 when I was doing neuroendocrine research under Dr. Anna Taylor at UCLA, our research involved inducing fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in rats by exposing them to alcohol in vivo. We then did a number of tests to assess their response to stress, culminating in a water treading test that timed how long the rats would tread water before drowning. All rats died during this test, and I no longer do animal research and am a strict ethical vegan. We then extracted certain cells and marked their cell membrane catecholamine receptors with a radioactive marker so that I could measure them. This was a long tedious process but the results were that the FAS rats had about four times as many of these receptors on their cell membranes as normal rats.

Catecholamines are your “fight or flight” chemicals, adrenaline being one of them. They are released during periods of threat or stress to make you more alert. Too much can make your heart race and make you tire quickly. When exposed to stress the FAS rats overreacted and in the case of the water treading experiment they always died early. They were experiencing the same external stress and had the same serum catecholamine levels, but their body overreacted to these chemicals.

An example of how this might translate to humans is where you have people in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles (the office in the USA where you register your vehicle and get your drivers license). The lines are usually very long. Waiting in a long line is a stressor, but most people can handle it even if it is very uncomfortable. Someone with FAS probably would have a very difficult time in this situation and might be that one person that starts getting agitated and verbally complains about the wait. Sometimes they have to be ejected from the building.

These people have the same stress as everyone else, but they overreact to it for biological reasons. It is easy for the rest of us to lack compassion and just describe the person as immature, undisciplined, or weak. After all, we seem to make it through the line just fine. What we don't know, or perhaps do not consider, is that this person has a disability that is almost certainly underestimated statistically because it is nearly impossible to measure without very specific laboratory methods.

I am not saying I know what is going on biologically with every person in the world. What I am trying to communicate is that I do not know what is going on with every person's biology, but that I know there are biological variations that make some people more vulnerable to some stimuli or situations than others. To dismiss those that are not as good at handling some situations as I am as weak is showing a lack of understanding and Compassion.

If instead of the treadmill test I subject humans to a wait test like is used in Clash of Clans where they can wait a long time for a building upgrade to finish, or they can hit a colorful button and instantly get past the wait, some people are biologically bad at waiting. When I see statistics in games that show such mechanisms have 1 or 2% conversion rates, and hear game developers privately laugh that our industry survives on the backs of these “weak” people, I understand that some of these people are biologically “weak”. This category typically includes children since the part of their brain that is most relied upon during such decision making situations, the pre-frontal cortex, is the last part of the brain to mature (typically around age 25).

Now you can see that it is not a small slice of our population that is potentially biologically vulnerable to some of the techniques we use in F2P. When we lack compassion it is easy to laugh at those we see as mentally weaker or less disciplined than us. We know we are not supposed to laugh at physically disabled people, but often have no reservations about laughing at those we perceive as less intelligent. These people may be disabled too, it is just less obvious. In the case of those that have FAS or are children, how can you blame these people for their condition? Do you really want to say it is okay to prey on these people?

Sure they may only make up 1 or 2% of the population of our games, and we can get them to spend so much money that the other 98% of us get to play for free while laughing at the people that actually fund our game play. But I am asking you here today to stop, think, consider, and maybe even find it in your heart to feel some compassion when the time comes to decide how to make, sell, and possibly even regulate your games.

I'm not sure where to draw the line in protecting children and other “weak” members of society, but when I see a game like Marvel Superhero Squad Online (Marvel is a Disney franchise) that says “We recognize a special obligation to protect young children in our games” on the home page, I'm led to believe this is a product that I can trust to be on the right side of that line. When I see the tutorial training our children to use what looks like a roulette wheel that gives common and premium currency, and promotes their subscription, it makes me uncomfortable to think what we are teaching our children.


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Comments


Harry Fields
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Couldn't agree more. Treat your customer's the way you would want to be treated. Fair, ethical and transparent transactions that create a trust between the client and publisher are a win/win for everyone. You may be sacrificing the short term rewards earned through manipulation, but the goodwill generated will strengthen your customer base and build much stronger brand loyalty and positive word of mouth.

It's a shame ethics are not an innate trait to all put in a position of trust by consumers or their parents.

Ramin Shokrizade
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I was reading this article today showing research that economists are less compassionate than the general population, and those studying the field become more so over time:

http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20131021124625-6924407
3-does-studying-economics-breed-greed?trk=tod-home-art-list-large
_0

I studied nursing and exercise physiology first, and taught myself economics over decades before stepping into a "real" economics class when I was in my 40's. I was a bit shocked at the bias inherent in the material being presented by most of my professors, as described in that article.

While people in the real world accept inequity as inevitable in real space, they don't like to be reminded of it in their play space, and they certainly don't like to pay for that experience. This creates a lot of mismatches when conventional economists try to make game economies.

Brian Kehrer
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Great article, as usual. The fact that conversion rates are so low has always bothered me as a designer. I don't understand the people who make these purchases well enough to design a game for them. When asked about designing what I will henceforth refer to as compassionless free to play titles, I've had to demur, in part due to my own objections, but mostly due to a lack of understanding.

What troubles me is the executives deciding on monetization strategy don't really care where the money comes from - which is not only cold-hearted, but short sighted. It's a shame so much venture capital is going toward gaming startups whose executives don't care to understand their real customers. I miss the days of creating value for customers, or if you have enough capital, creating a game which allows players to create value.

Harry Fields
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Executives who like the economists Ramin refers to, see it only inasmuch as it relates to a P&L statement.

Damion Schubert
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There's a pretty easy way to figure out what free-to-play heavy users like - you ask them. Having your finger on the pulse of the people who want to spend a lot of money in your game is good for all sorts of reasons.

On SWTOR, the vast majority of our users spend either the price of the subscription or less. We have a very small number of heavy spenders, and we spend a lot of time figuring out what they want and how we can serve them better. These customers are, by and large, reasonably successful professionals who enjoy spending money on their favorite hobby -- which is true of most human beings, whether their hobby is knitting, rebuilding cars, coin collecting or what have you.

Our attitude is that retention is king - we are more concerned with being sure that we form a long-time, healthy relationship with both our free-to-play consumers and our heavy spenders, because we believe that once you decide that SWTOR should be your online home, you'll WANT to spend. We're not big fans of the whole 'cash out on players as fast as you can' mentality for a whole lot of reasons, the least of which being that MMOs need healthy populations to thrive.

I believe that this will end up becoming more of the norm (I've already heard this cited by both facebook and iPhone developers as true in their genres as well), largely because in this day and age, executives are less thrilled with short cash infusions, and more crave having stable game populations and revenue streams.

There are fairly simple ways to limit children from overspending. SWTOR has both daily and monthly limits to expenditures (you can call to have these removed). Wizard 101 uses a 'family plan' approach - multiple accounts can be linked, with only one (presumably the parents') being allowed to buy their virtual currency.

Robert Crouch
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The design behind a game like Clash of Clans, and the design behind SWTOR is very different despite them both being free to play with microtransactions.

SWTOR may be a game that was built on a long term relationship. You built the game first on a subscription model.

Clash of Clans is a game built on using psychological tricks to trap players who exhibit certain behaviors and extract the most income from them.

Microtransactions aren't exploitative as a rule, and I don't think that's what Ramin is claiming either. Just that games can be created to exploit people, and those who do intend to take advantage in that fashion hold some responsibility.

I don't know that you could regulate it, or if you should. But the fact is that some people are causing harm intentionally, but try to justify it by saying it's not their fault, it's someone else's weakness.

SWTOR is a different experience, and that it's using some methods to limit compulsive overspending is kind of nice. However, not everyone wants to protect their players, and instead rely on them to be coaxed into acting irresponsibly.

edwin zeng
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Thank you for the article. Its been a wonderful read. I think I will be able to apply and uphold some of your concerns.

Julianne Harty
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I studied economics as part of my overall education and they tend to write off human behavior as "rational" and just leave it at that.

This article reminds me of the basic Marshmallow test I read about a few years back. A group of kids, I believe they were about 6, were given a marshmallow (or a cookie, I don't exactly remember, but marshmallow is more catchy). They were told that they could eat the marshmallow now or they could wait 15 minutes and get a second marshmallow. About a third actually delayed for the second marshmallow. I think the purpose of this test was delayed gratification but it eventually related to self-control. It makes me wonder if games could find a way to tap into the 2/3rds who don't like waiting without worrying about that group just closing the app for the time being and doing something else and whether that would be considered "ethical" - since every other retailer/consumer-selling-business also tries to do so.

Amir Barak
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Actually I'm pretty sure the experiment is about children's sense of time and understanding the concept of 'later' in relation to immediate/self gratification. It was mostly to do with trying to figure out the relative age where we 'update' our mental capabilities.

well, I guess if every other retailer/consumer-selling business do something then it's alright... here's another experiment I was frequently given as a kid; if all of your friends jump off a bridge, would you?

Christopher Enderle
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Didn't a follow up to the experiment also show that the children's motivation to eat the marshmallow wasn't so much due to that they "don't like waiting" but more about how they make judgements based on past experiences? That is, if they come from a background where those who wait get nothing, they were more likely to take something as soon as they could.

Eric Salmon
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http://www.rochester.edu/news/show.php?id=4622

It demonstrated that as a possibility--and while a good experiment, it's a little vague for my tastes. The experimenters explicitly broke a promise to the children in one test group and then gave them a second choice where they could risk relying on that same experimenter for a better reward by waiting or take what they already had in front of them. Trusting the exact person/group who just let you down is a lot different from trusting someone you've never met, so personally I don't think it's damning evidence that the original experiment was flawed.

Nils Pihl
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You are confusing compassion with paternalism.

First of all, starting somewhere completely different, you are blatantly misusing the term "altered state of consciousness", and by the frequency of sentences in your posts containing the word "I", I will assume that you are knowingly misusing the term to make yourself sound more credible and scientific. This is a recurring theme, as has previously been noted by commenters much smarter than me.

Second, I am amused to see that you FINALLY found a way to squeeze in the specifics of your otherwise irrelevant neuroendocrinology research to a Gamasutra ARTICLE, and that you have stopped calling your articles "papers".

An unusually large percentage of all sentences written by you on Gamasutra, in articles or comments, contain the word "I", or is in some other way self-promoting. I have learned more about you as a person than I have learned from you.

But now to the crux of the issue, the much more annoying misappropriation of the word "compassion":

After your rather lengthy throat-clearing (yes, I notice the irony) you give an example of people having different experiences at the DMV. You state, in a self-contradictory and/or linguistically sloppy manner, that people experience "the same stress as everyone else" at the DMV, yet have noticeably different reactions.

You are basically saying: Some people will be more stressed than others when experiencing the same amount of stress.

That makes no sense, but nitpicking aside, it cuts to a very important point: Not everyone EXPERIENCES the world the same way, and what is enjoyable or miserable for you is not the same as what is enjoyable or miserable to someone else.

I am in total agreement with you on that one point, but here's where you lose me, and anyone else that gives it a moment's thought: Your view of "compassion" rests on some VERY shaky ethical premisses.

If someone finds waiting in Clash of Clans unbearable, they are having a negative experience. For brevity's sake, let's just call possible negative experience tied to this wait as "discomfort", since we got here by discussing stress rather than impatience and delayed gratification.

The discomfort is very real to the player, and the player will reasonably want the discomfort to end. Her options at this point are to quit the game, wait or monetize. Three (3) choices. Within the player's attention scope at the time, the decision to monetize seems like an acceptable path to ending the discomfort. Giving them an option OTHER THAN QUITTING THE GAME is not compassionless, and designing a game that requires patience as a measurement of mastery is not cruel.

For 1-2% of players, your words, these kinds of waits are discomforting. Letting these players pay to remove the wait is no more immoral than it was to sell TiVo machines so that people could skip commercials.

If we correctly admit that not all men and women are created equal, biologically, then it does not follow that catering to immediate needs of the 1-2% is immoral. It is poor philosophy, poor ethics, and frankly a poor argument - and it was hard to separate it from all the blatant self-promotion.

Charles Geringer
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"you are blatantly misusing the term "altered state of consciousness", and by the frequency of sentences in your posts containing the word "I", I will assume that you are knowingly misusing the term to make yourself sound more credible and scientific."

That is a very big assumption.

I don´t see what is the problem with his use of "I" when he is relating his experiences and opinions in a blog plost. This is not a scientific paper, some posts are more personal than others.

"You are basically saying: Some people will be more stressed than others when experiencing the same amount of stress."

No, he is basically saying: When submitted to the same stressfull situation, people will be affected in differently ways"

You say that he misappropriated the word "compassion". Could you please, better explain what you mean?

however his is arguing that you should in your monetization design think about people who have some sort of disability you may not easily understand because it is hard to measure, and not simply treat this people as an extra money source.

Essentially to view people with a problem as people with a problem not as inferior or wallets.

I think that is type of compassion, maybe even empathy.

Nils Pihl
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"You say that he misappropriated the word "compassion". Could you please, better explain what you mean?"

I sure can!

Compassion, the sympathy and concern for the misfortune of others, is ultimately about empathy (more specifically, the vicarious experience of discomfort as others feel discomfort.

Most would say that compassionate behavior is behavior that recognizes a negative state of mind in another - if you see someone suffering, you suffer along with them, and perhaps even take steps to help them.

Ramin is confusing his paternalism with compassion. Instead of recognizing and suffering with the person who doesn't want to wait, he instead takes on a longer term perspective that the subject, due to her probable attention scope, does not have.

Ramin wants to say we should know what is best for these players - don't let them do what they want (pay), but rather, paternalistically design experiences that produces the kind of behavior that Ramin approves of.

Picture, if you will, you saw someone go through something a lot worse - heroin withdrawal. It would not be unreasonable to say that if you caved and gave them money to get one more fix, that would be a compassionate action. The addict would not be out of place saying to you "Have you no compassion?" if you refused to help her score more heroin.

When we dilute the meaning of compassion to mean paternalistic concern for future consequences (Ramin's position), we actually move AWAY from the immediate empathy for the player.

The player that hates to wait is experiencing discomfort. Discomfort is not nice. 3 options: Quit, wait, pay. For some people, "pay" will certainly be the least evil of those options.

Who are you to say that that is an irrational behavior?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWtx-RBzzWk - 12 minute video on what "irrational" behavior actually means.

inb4 what about gambling addicts

edwin zeng
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Ramin did not refer to the "game" being compassionless. He is referring to developers having the lack of compassion during their design instead. Enough to make your entire post useless.

Curtiss Murphy
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My son would taunt, "You mad bro?" Your personal vitriol seems petty and takes away from what would otherwise have been an interesting counter-point, as Katy's comments do below.

Amir Barak
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The big boys' term your son is looking for is 'ad hominem' but I fail to see where any of it was. Perhaps you could point out some sentences that were not logically based observations but rather personal attacks without merit (ie. logically drawn conclusions)?

Bob Charone
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'ad hominem' is not the same as 'you mad bro'
you mad bro can implies overreaction or seemingly taking undue offence, like preparing a 100 page scientific rebuttal to a random Twitter post.

Amir Barak
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Let me expend this complete derailment of the 'article' since I'm bored; though I probably shouldn't do this.

The fact that he followed his "you mad bro?" question with a "Your personal vitriol seems petty" indicates that he clearly meant to accuse Mr. Pihl (if he's a doctor that's even better :P ) of carrying a personal distaste/vendetta. Hence misusing the sentence "You mad bro?".

To further elucidate (though I'm pretty sure I shouldn't) I'm going to draw the conclusion that his son is younger than him (time travelling mishaps nonwithstanding) and by using/misusing said quote is probably an 18 year old football player with the mental capabilities of a retarded monkey (see, this is an ad hominem, also to be read with the voice of Ben Corshew).

My previous statement (blatantly untrue for I'm sure Mr. Murphy's children are quite capable and intelligent as their father if not more) has perhaps elicited a somewhat angry response (which involves, most likely, lots of really inventive swear words, but I digress).

To which I could answer, "You mad bro?" (a statement on overreaction).

Thank you for tuning in to another fine episode, of who gives a f***.

Amir Barak
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@Nils
Hehe, my reading comprehension before my morning coffee seems to suffer somewhat; upon re-reading your posts, is it my understanding that you don't support the giving of the third option to players (ie. pay)?

'cause otherwise I've got, like, a blog-post worth of words to put up :P

Nils Pihl
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I do support the third option. You did better before the coffee, or I need more coffee before I write another comment!

My point is (hopefully) simple:

The "exploitation" happens when the player pays, which is one of only 3 ways for the player to end the discomfort. The other two are not necessarily lesser evils.

There is a hidden premiss in Ramin's argument - the player would be better off not having spent the money, so taking the money is immoral.

Write your blogpost, but direct it at the right person :)

Amir Barak
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I'll post it up later maybe but the tl;dr version goes something like this:
"There is no such thing as a good F2P model so please stop making them".

Amir Barak
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A slightly longer version taking your argument into account goes something like this:

"Discomfort is not nice"
You are absolutely correct. Discomfort isn't nice and we can all agree that people try to minimize their own discomfort (as they perceive it). We can all agree that the game in question (Whichever it is) has caused some of its players discomfort; they have to wait (either in line or for an item to regenerated). Furthermore, since it is OUR game (ie. we've designed/developed it) we have some hand in making an experience that has caused discomfort to someone (not entirely unlike the previous fictional DMV line where the office designers are responsible for making a space that is inadequate while management is responsible by not hiring enough people to handle the volume of customers).

"When we dilute the meaning of compassion to mean paternalistic concern for future consequences"
Paternalistic concern for future consequences is actually called responsibility and, accountability.

"we actually move AWAY from the immediate empathy for the player."
The conclusion you've drawn here is not supported by the evidence given since, at no point through your argument, have you proven that there was a dilution of the word 'Compassion'. We've not moved away from empathy, the OP simply confused the words 'Compassion' and 'Paternalistic Concern' (according to you). Both you and Ramin show compassion (under your own definition of it) by acknowledging that players are suffering in the game and wishing to do something about it.

"heroin withdrawal"
Is a pretty harsh reality and most people that develop a drug addiction will not break it (I'll source numbers later if you want). They won't break it not because they don't want to, by the way, but because they are unable to. Some games are not entirely unlike a drug addiction. This association cannot be lost on you since you're the one who brought it up.

So let's sum up our little discussion then move on to your 3 options.
We've made a game that produces discomfort (whether intentionally or not, though at this point most people do it intentionally) in its players (or users if you wanna go further with the addiction references). We are also compassionate (by your own standard) and wish to do something about it.

What do we do?

We allow players that have a low tolerance for "waiting" to pay us so that we (who are responsible for the state of the game) allow immediate play.

You call that compassion, good for you. I call it profiteering.

Like I said (and even you used the word 'exploitation'), there is no F2P model that is not designed to monetize on people's inherent weaknesses (mental issues, social issues and psychological loopholes) so to paraphrase a funnier man than me; "The best way to execute an F2P model is with a lethal injection".

Also, let's talk about your so called 3 options.
"3 options: Quit, wait, pay"
We could design our game to minimize waiting; or reward waiting or even just understand that some people are not going to play it. Let's make the game better by giving as much room for people to maneuver without raping their wallets. Why not design our mechanics to make people better at waiting, to help them overcome their discomfort instead of letting them pay their [easy] way out. This is the immediate empathy way and will lead to addiction and abuse.

Instead you've opt to disregard these options through various reasons (which I freely admit no knowledge but somehow I doubt contain ignorance).
These 3 options do not benefit your players, they benefit us as the people responsible.

In our fictional DMV scenario we're not only the guy on the side zooming in on the most stressed person in the crowd and taking his money, we're actually the guy who owns the DMV office trying to pocket a few more shillings (heck, why not) into our pockets.

Nils Pihl
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This would be a great discussion to have - let's have a Google Hangout or something and discuss. My email is nils@mentionllc.com

I'd reply now, but I'm drunk and celebrating my bday ;) (HELLO GAMASUTRA ADDICT)

Mark Venturelli
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Yeah sure, what nice guys we are, allowing people to pay us to end a discomfort that we have created ourselves.

Maria Jayne
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I tend to believe that exposure to such underhand tactics or trust damaging mechanics is as important in video games as it is in real life. We need to learn from our mistakes, we need to understand that things are not always what we assume and not everyone has the same values or beliefs that we do.

So when you see "We recognize a special obligation to protect young children in our games” you should know why these are just words, because you have that experience of being cheated or fooled into believing they mean it.

The only way we define what we believe and who, is based on our life experiences by being let down. I understand peoples desire to protect children or those who perhaps do not have the life experience to understand the concept of manipulation, but it is that desire to protect which creates the problem, because those people do not have experience of what you are protecting them from.

In short "Tough Love" sometimes really is helpful to life. You can only take advantage of people who have never been aware they are taken advantage of.

Hakim Boukellif
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I understand where you're coming from, but in cases like this the negative effects may not manifest in a way that's recognizable for the person involved for a long time and the damage could be much greater and permanent than can be chalked off as a learning experience.

In addition, while we shouldn't shield people from manipulation, that doesn't give anyone a free pass to act in a manipulative manner. It's not "Tough Love" if you're acting in self-interest.

Katy Smith
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Ramin, while I appreciate your passion for the topic of Free to Play games, I have to say this article is overly simplified and borderline insulting. First, you seem to be conflating childhood development and personal responsibility in one article. It is easier to address these problems if the two are separated.

You seem to be implying that F2P developers are preying on children. While there have been examples of children buying copious amounts of Smurfberries, these are the exceptions, not the rule. To imply that the companies making these games are specifically seeking out children in order to exploit them for their copious disposable incomes is ridiculous. If these companies were specifically targeting children for exploitation, they would be in violation of COPPA (Children's Online Privacy Protection Act). I'm sure that the first time a game company was found in violation of COPPA, it would be all over Gamasutra, but this hasn't happened yet because F2P developers aren't doing anything that violates rules specifically set up to protect children in an online environment.

Looking at the OFT principles as proposed by the UK government, most of the F2P games (I've played) are either in compliance already, or need a few text changes to get there. You frequently bring up Candy Crush Saga as a game that is going to be heavily impacted by these new OFT rules. Comparing them with what is in the game now, there are exactly two areas in which they are not in compliance. The first can be fixed by changing the text on the game over pop up by adding the line "or wait to continue for free". The other is "principle 8" which requires changes from the platform holder (Apple, Facebook, Google Play). Even the OFT committee states that Principle 8 will probably not be enforceable against the game developer. If these principles, which are specifically designed to protect children, only require minor changes by a developer, I find it extremely hard to believe there is some nefarious child-preying going on in the F2P development world.

I've seen this number thrown around quite a bit about brain development not being complete until 25. This number is taken way out of context when it comes to F2P games. Child development theory states that children reach the ability to use formal (logical) reasoning somewhere around the age of 12-14. Even if you add 5 years for developmental differences, this means most people are capable of rational thought by the age of 17-19. It is not a coincidence that the age of majority in most countries is around this same age. This type of reasoning should be sufficient to be able to look at a pop up that says "buy more gold?" and say no. But what does that 25 years to get the brain fully developed actually mean? It's talking about post-formal thought. This is the type of thought that allows adults to sympathize with others who hold abstract beliefs that are different than theirs. In fact, some psychologists believe that a good number of people are incapable of developing extremely abstract thought. However, this is not viewed as a disorder or disability because that level of complex abstract thinking is not required to live a fully functioning, complete adult life. Hardly something needed when declining a purchase in Candy Crush Saga. If you look at where F2P game choices fall on the model of hierarchical complexity, this example scores on the low end of both the horizontal and vertical axes. In fact, it's not even abstract. These pop ups are literally asking a direct question (buy stuff?) with a dichotomous result (yes / no). So while it may be true that the brain does not fully develop in some people up to the age of 25, that number is completely irrelevant to the F2P discussion.

So let's look at adults and F2P games. Is it unethical for F2P developers to ask players for money? The argument you are trying to make is yes, because there could be people out there with physical disabilities that could be vulnerable to lowered impulse control. While this might be true, it's also true in every area of life. Are we to start regulating frozen food makers because they have pretty cool packaging and delicious chicken nuggets? Should we stop distributing coupons because people could see the savings as irresistible and blow all of their money on Healthy Choice pudding? No, this is absurd. There is a level of personal responsibility that you have to assume adults have. Otherwise, our personal freedoms would be so restricted, we couldn't do anything. There is a theory in psychology that states this hand-wringing over the safety and responsibility of others is actually damaging to people with diagnosed psychological and developmental disabilities. People need to feel like they have control over their lives. Regulating what they can or cannot spend their money on is not the way to do that.

I get that free to play is an easy target. Five years ago, games like Farmville and Mafia Wars challenged what "Games" meant. A lot of game developers were insulted that glorified spreadsheets and cartoon dollhouses were being called games. There's a lot of truthiness in what you are saying. It feels good, and it makes "real games" seem more legit. However, I haven't seen any suggestions on how to improve the situation from you. You call out a lack of compassion, and yet offer no suggestions. You say "think of the children!" but have not produced any examples of how you could do it better. Even worse, while disparaging developers who make games for kids, you have not given any recent examples of exactly how they are doing this. I've tried finding your papers, and while I have found copious blogs, I haven't found any academic works with your suggestions. Recently, you have said that you are working on World of Tanks. I can only assume this game is the result of your proprietary work on developing a new F2P system. Let's examine World of Tanks: It has premium currency. It has paywalls to exclusive content. It has premium items that give advantages to players who spend money. It has feedback loops that encourage constant play. In short, it's exactly like most good F2P games out on the market.

You are building a career on platitudes and disparaging other developers, while producing nothing that can be peer-reviewed. To say that a mother who clearly cares about raising her children and a PhD candidate are lacking in compassion because they disagree with you is rude, unprofessional, and damaging to your own reputation.


Sources:
http://www.business.ftc.gov/documents/Complying-with-COPPA-Freque
ntly-Asked-Questions

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piaget's_theory_of_cognitive_develop
ment
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postformal_thought
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Model_of_Hierarchical_Complexity
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_Adult_Development
http://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/psych406-5.
3.2.pdf
Ajzen, I. (2002), Perceived Behavioral Control, Self-Efficacy, Locus of Control, and the Theory of Planned Behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32: 665–683. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2002.tb00236.x
http://minerva.mq.edu.au:8080/vital/access/manager/Repository/mq:
6094

http://www.oft.gov.uk/shared_oft/consumer-enforcement/oft1506a.pd
f

http://wiki.worldoftanks.com/Gold_Economy

Ramin Shokrizade
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Katy, an adequate response to such a lengthy post, and attack on my reputation as a whole, would be so lengthy as to almost certainly derail my article into the direction you intend, which seems to be a judgment of the author rather than the actual article. That said I will address some of the misinformation in your post, briefly.

First of all, COPPA is a train wreck that is rarely enforced. Given the number of pre-teens on Facebook alone, if even 1% of these violations were enforced with meaningful fines then I think Facebook would be done as a company. I think Dr. James Bower made the case more eloquently than I could here: http://jamesmbower.com/blog/?p=52#!

All of the retailers you ask if we should regulate in regards to sales to children already are regulated in Europe, and in fact games are also, the EU is just struggling with how to implement them in the most effective way. So while this conversation might be useful in America where regulation is a bit more lax, you seem way too educated to be unaware of these facts.

I cannot take credit for the current design of World of Tanks. It is a great product that keeps getting better, but as I have only worked for its developer for six weeks my suggested optimizations have not yet been deployed. I would mention that Wargaming has already taken steps to remove premium items that give gameplay advantage by making the most obvious example, "premium" ammo, available with the common currency. We intend to extend that to all in-play consumables. It does have reward mechanisms that reward daily log ins, but not that reward constant play. I am recommending optimizations to our monetization design, and I would love to tell you about all the cool stuff in the pipe but you will have to be a bit patient.

So now that I am deploying improvements that DO show what I think are some possible ways to make our monetization models friendlier to consumers, in the coming months you should be able to peer review the changes as much as you want and I certainly hope you let us know what you think about them.

Joshua Dallman
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"First of all, COPPA is a train wreck that is rarely enforced."

F2P devs have paid enormous attention to compliance of COPPA laws ever since Playdom was fined $3 million by the FTC, even erring on the side of caution. There is no guarantee a game will even make that amount, therefore no serious company would sink their business by risking the fine. This has been my firsthand experience as a F2P professional working for top industry companies.

Playdom Hit With $3 Million Settlement In FTC COPPA Case:
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/34634/

Curtiss Murphy
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Wait, wait! Let me get my popcorn!

Having struggled to find a perfect harmony on multiple F2P titles, I'm glad to see these kinds of well reasoned discussions to help push our industry to explore this area more thoughtfully. If this evolves into a GDC panel, I might suggest the title: "Smart Business Or Failed Ethics? The Great F2P Debate."

Ramin Shokrizade
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Now that you mention it, I was invited to be on the F2P monetization panel for GDC yesterday :)

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Katy Smith
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...Yipes!

I got a good chuckle out of being called unempathetic. Let me explain a little bit about my background and why exactly this blog post from Ramin elicited my response.

In undergrad, I was in the honors psychology program. As part of this program, I did research on how media portrails of idealistic forms impacted unhealthy behavior in adolescents and adults. Because of this, I am acutely aware of how "big media" can influence consumers of that media. It also makes me a stickler for accuracy when it comes to psychobabble and developmental claims. If a person is going to state something that goes against what current research says, I want to see data backing that up. It's not personal, it's because I'm a pain in the butt when it comes to academic claims and proof.

However, I'm not only an academic. In my Masters' pograms, I studied mental health counseling and rehabilitation counseling. After grad school, I got post-grad certifications in addictions counseling and marriage and family therapy. My first job was teaching people with traumatic brain injuries how to function in society again. My second job was as a mental health, family, and addictions counselor in a maximum security juvenile detention center. That's why I'm incredulous when it comes to the "won't someone think of the children!" hand-wringing. I've got some experience working with the damaged / addicted / adolescent mind. Unless I see proposed results, I'm going to take that opinion with a grain of salt.

I've spent nearly 10 years in the games industry, and another 20+ before that as a game player. I've had to defend it against people like Jack Thompson, who hate video games on principle. I see the same arguments coming out against F2P as I did when the anti-games campaign was in full swing. There's a lot of passion there, but Thompson had no results to show that games were actually harming anyone. I've also worked on several F2P games, two of which were completely independent of a publisher. As a team, we never sat around and thought about how best to manipulate people out of their money. We thought "lets make an awesome game, for free, and let people pay us if they think it's worth it".

Ramin's blogs frustrate me because clearly he is passionate about F2P. He seems like a smart guy, and I like having someone challenge the status quo. However, the frustration sets in when I don't see any results or research, or even worse, half-researched inaccuracies. Reading Ramin's blogs is like watching a trailer for a movie that will never come out. I can't examine his theories because he hasn't released them yet. There are no papers to peer-review, and he hasn't made any games that use his theories yet. That being said, I am very interested in seeing what he's planning on doing with WoT. If he has a way to make F2P feel less "creepy" to its detractors, I'd love to see it.

The reason I felt the need to respond to this particular blog is because it was a personal attack on two other community members. Honestly, I found it rude that instead of addressing them directly in the comments to his other article, he felt the need to lash out at them and call them uncaring in an unrelated post. If he were to release any suggestions on how to improve the situation, even in the short term, I probably would have a different response to the blogs. Because I have no results or theories to examine, I'm forced to be "hyperskeptical" as you put it, Matthew.

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Ramin Shokrizade
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Because I am not a top expert in the areas of neuroscience, public health, addiction, psychology, etc. I rely on experts to vet my papers that cross over into such fields. For instance my Children's Monetization paper where I first made the claims about children's brain development that Katy is objecting to, I had Dr. William McCarthy at UCLA vet my assertions there. This is an area where there is probably a lot more need for verified research, but if it passes Dr. McCarthy I feel comfortable publishing it.

So while Katy may make some counter claims, I think that debate, if there is interest in it, would probably warrant a separate article and thread.

As far as my industrial work in the public space, it is not that I don't want to disclose this, it is that I am legally prevented from doing so. I have transferred my technology to two companies larger than Wargaming before I joined Wargaming. I am still under NDA with both companies and the products using those technologies have not yet gone retail. One of the products has been released from NDA for all development staff except for me, due to the nature of what I do.

Now at Wargaming I am attached to a top notch business intelligence unit. We have a lot of great data. I think the chances that we will be able to share it publicly are remote due to reasons of competitiveness. I think you will be able to make qualitative judgments when the changes go live.

I would add that I also worked at the Betty Ford Center for 3 years and know something about addiction, but really my original article is not intended to be the start of an academic pissing match. I have an opinion I feel strongly about, many people value my opinions, and if you want to disagree that is fine. As far as discrediting me on academic grounds, I think this would be a great topic to have a balanced PhD level debate on, but I doubt any one person on the planet can give us the truth on the subjects we are discussing. I certainly am not trying to bash anyone over the head with the Truth Bat and I find it comical when people try this in an area where we, as scientists, know so little.

As far as responding to people in other threads, I did this. Some of their assertions had a common theme that required a response of length that I found impractical as a comment. This is why I made a separate article here, which I explained here up front. To complain that I did this, and then say I was acting unethical in doing so, really perplexes me. I made it clear in the other article that I would write this paper, on what day I would publish it, and why. I begin to lose interest when I see so much effort used to troll me for so little common good.

Harry Fields
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What in the crap is with the hostility in this chain of posts and articles? From a simple non-PhD layperson's perspective, this has gone from constructive and useful information and turned into some malformed academia pissing-contest. And unfortunately, that really detracts from some of the excellent points presented by each party involved in said contest.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Harry, one of the things I told ICPEN regulators was that there is a trend rapidly building where scientists, such as psychologists, behavioral economists, data scientists, marketers, and neuroscientists, are flocking to our industry. This is because optimizing the Titanic Effect and business models that take advantage of it lead to unprecedented opportunities for business.

It seems reasonable that some of these scientists are going to find it uncomfortable if the "ethics metric" is shined on their work, because this is not a metric they are measured by in their place of employment. If it was, it could reduce their value in the work place, and no one likes having their economic value reduced.

Harry Fields
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How would you quantify or qualify ethics via a metric, though? Sure, I've taken a business ethics course in my life, but when you get to such a high level, to measure something that is inherently somewhat subjective with objective metrics... It's a tall order.

I suppose that's why I still cling to my love of old business models. It seems like much simpler times. And it makes me incredibly uneasy to see games that are "free". I will forever cherish the production values, artistry and technical achievements that are associated with the AAA boxed retail or direct download space. I was just getting comfortable with the idea of a subscription model for everything and now that's seemingly passe'. F2P brings with it incredible opportunities for increased revenue sure, but players must receive or perceive value if the industry is to thrive with these newer models.
I'm interested in seeing your work deployed in WoT. I enjoy the game, but I cannot help but cringe at paying for experience boosts or advantages over other players.

Ramin Shokrizade
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I completely agree that it is hard enough to qualify ethics, and even harder to quantify it. This is why EU regulators have taken 4 years trying to figure out some way of at least qualifying what they want, even if they cannot quantify it. Still, saying that having standards is hard, is not really a proper excuse not to have standards. It IS a good reason to take more time crafting them, which is exactly what the EU has done.

In the meantime, our industry has become comfortable with the idea of operating without oversight, without ethics, and the longer this goes on the more they will resist such oversight. Think of it as these companies have been investing in new technologies (F2P) for the last several years, and even the labor pool has adapted. A new standard that would mandate a change in technology would reduce the value of all of these investments.

This is why I urged regulators to at least take some small step sooner than later, because then at least the ethic metric would enter people's consciousness in our industry and the shock of considering it later would not be so great.

TC Weidner
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Nice article once again. I tend to agree with you. The Golden rule of treating others is a good yard stick everyone should measure themselves with. Just because you can do something, doesnt mean you should.

The more behavioral science knows and predicts, the more it can be used for good and bad. Often its bad unfortunately. Everyone is vulnerable, I love how I see people saying it could never work on them, meanwhile they sit their drinking their $1.50 bottle water. oh brother
Even those of us who know the game arent immune, For example, I know why they put the milk in the back left corner of the supermarket, I know why end caps are done as they are, I know why certain lighting is found on certain items, and yet it still works on me. I still buy stuff on occasion due to marketing/merchandising manipulation.

And that is exactly what we are talking about, its all manipulation. So as you point out, how do you want to proceed with the known use of manipulation. That is the crux of the whole F2P debate. Do you want to be honest and straightforward as possible while still attempting to make a few dollars, or do you want to be a dick and manipulate the hell out of anyone and everyone you can.

As always thanks for bringing the deeper subject matter and science into the debate. Well done as always.

Ramin Shokrizade
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In the last few years our industry has adopted a "metrics driven" design philosophy. The idea is that this can boost productivity like it supposedly does in other industries. But the problem as I see it is which metrics are used. "Metrics" often just becomes a euphemism for "profits", and even "profits" often is just a euphemism for "short term or real time profits". This makes the math extremely simple. This also allows people to say they have "proof" or "data" or "results".

The problem is that consumer behavior, especially over the long term, is not so simple. I would argue that it IS predictable, but that the amount of complexity added when you try to accurately model long term consumer behavior is not desirable to companies with short term goals. When you make "ethics" or even "consumer perception" or especially "societal perception" part of the metrics, it all gets much harder to measure. This complexity is not welcome in a metrics driven design studio. These studios, and those that populate them, are going to move aggressively to stop what they see as "metrics creep", and they certainly don't want another agent telling them how to run their business.

If I happen to be that agent, the risk is relatively low. If I happen to have the ear of consumers and international regulators, then the risk gets higher. If the agent is actual regulators, then the risk becomes very high. I just interpret these posts as risk mitigation. The hope is that if they can discredit me, the risk will drop back to zero. I don't think the people attacking me consider that when they attack me when I suggest we should be more compassionate to our consumers that consumers and regulators might actually read these posts and feel a bit alarmed at where things are going.

Mark Morrison
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Hey Ramin, the games space has been metric driven since Metacritic and NPD, a la 2000 console transition, and much longer for other media products. This isn't new, and I would again highlight your professional knowledge but caution that you often sound like you are preaching, directing or here to save the game industry from evil. I love that you address that which most of us in the industry ignore or find unimportant. You have my support any day of the week in addressing the tough issues!

In the above, I have to argue that I think you are 100% wrong. What we are seeing since the mobile renaissance is an evolution in the way traditional long tail P&Ls have to address short term expectations and a shift in business models. A monthly sales chart is no different than a daily one, except it is more frequent. IMO, a sales data point is no different than a non-sales data point in today's Flurry, Playnomics, etc. because the metric isn't measuring who is buying only. It's studying a wider swath of data, both quantifiable and qualifying.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Mark, when I use the term "metrics driven design", the emphasis is on design. What I mean here is the actual game design. That seemed to get lost in your response since I didn't see any discussion of that in your reply. The industry as a whole has certainly been metrics driven for some time but the inclusion of that into game design has been a relatively new phenomenon.

Mark Morrison
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that's an interesting point that maybe i missed here, sorry. i agree with the fact that more mobile and casual design takes real time end user behavior more into account than ever, but is outcome actual metrics or revenue here? ;) i need to think about this one more though. i like the direction you are going, but again I find it unnatural to think that struggling studios and time dated execs. are even onto this as a means to make more money, which i feel the "crowd" helps dictate very well these days. the changes we see in today's game space, related designs, metrics, biz dev. intel, etc. are very in line with the last 25 years of evolution in the game space IMO. we live in a much more competitive, and unfortunately greedy world where the insights you and others here can share get lost more easily than ever, but here we are....sharing our thoughts ;)

TC Weidner
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its just sad that wealth extraction is finding its way even into this industry. Its the whole reason I left Wall street many moons ago, and hell its only gotten 1000x worse there, and now its spreading its tentacles into all sorts of industries and practices. I guess building wealth became to much work.

Mark Morrison
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Hi Ramin,

I have come to appreciate your knowledge sharing here. Thanks so much for this and understanding that with sharing your opinion, you will aggregate other opinions, often in disagreement. This is par for this course. I really don’t see personal attacks here as much as people who absolutely disagree with your opinion, and they make some valid arguments I think. That being said, there may be more diplomatic ways to help you understand that your opinion isn’t necessarily other peoples realities, but it very well could be related in many game industry situations.

I do understand where Nils, Katy, and the last article's responder, whom you address as the "mom" who suggested you might not understand what kids are really dealing with, are coming from. Gamasutra is not only a great outlet for contemporary landscape understanding, but it's also a launch and voice pad for many in the related industry who don't have this opportunity elsewhere. You have used this forum to your and the communities advantage. How else will people virtually be engaged in this conversation? Thanks to Gamasutra for providing this ongoing forum as well. There are very few game sites willing to host serious business and technical discussions/arguments like this.

I do think you are sharing an opinion here that is highly subjective. Are you a parent? If so, then your qualifying remarks might also be quantified to a stronger degree with some specifics. Can you share? If not, then it might feel intrusive for a parent to be hearing your assumptions you are making without parenting experience. Even teachers who don't have kids might not understand exactly what goes through the child's very personal and evolved minds when presented with tough F2P decisions. These are things we parents have to deal with 24-7. Unfortunately, most parents these days are not able to devote 24-7 to parenting. That's another story.

Most importantly, in the context of creators (aka businesses) being compassionate, and IMHO, the candy at the shelf in the grocery store, the gift shop that traps you at the end of the Aquarium tour, and the non-stop barrage of ads and media in our kids faces is no different than the virtual "for pay" carrot that Candy Crush dangles in front of your face after 51 failed attempts at level 29. Not unlike the game scenario, there IS plenty of emotion in that store line with my son and I standing there faced with a purchase decision. He wants that "stuff" and has emotions and a story to validate his need.

Additionally, the point of your economists analogy is an obvious one to me, much the same way as a politician falling out of his or her constituents reality, and more obviously soldiers who have killed in battle and now become less sensitive to life. I guess we are lucky economists are not game designers here ;)

The fact that you are now working your theories into practice (ie. WOT) is a great step in the direction of sharing some of your wisdom within the industry for actual change. It's one thing to point, blame, etc. when you are not in the center of the problem, but more than not, people tend to just bash that which they don’t accept or know. This is where I read into some of the people disagreeing with you so passionately. If "compassion" has any place in our society it's going to happen first at a much simpler level than in F2P games IMO.

Currently, I see almost no compassion in any part of our public lives or society. How can we introduce that emotion into one part of our day (ie. games or entertainment) without it existing in the rest of our day? And, why does the CEO who doesn't even play games have any intent on being compassionate on his customers wallets? That goes against the entire game industries strong roots to profit, just like every other entertainment media globally. Maybe we need to build game content that teaches compassion (and its falllout) more?

We live in a world where hunger and garbage are acceptable every day sights in a country that is easily capable of feeding and caring for it’s own. Look at the US govt. these days. Some representatives actually campaign against the most basic compassion (ie. health and wellness) for human beings in the US. There is so little compassion in the world today IMO that applying it here in some pre-requisite game design or game philosophy feels totally impractical to me. Currently, I would say it's actually unnatural to expect this in a world devoid of compassion as a whole.

You working your theories into games and us seeing the outcome is absolutely a great work in progress though. I wish you the best of luck in this effort!

Ramin Shokrizade
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Mark, I've raised a lot of children in my 47 years on this planet. My point is that I should not judge other parents based on my experiences, because all of us have different methods and means of trying to do our best to raise our children. My point was that just because I may be able to tell what games are going to be a better experience for my children, this does not mean that lay people with no game experience are going to be able to make the same decisions just as effectively. It is tempting as an expert to be a "gaming elitist" and this is part of what I am warning against.

Now, on the issue of compassion in society in general, I am in agreement with you that we are a bit short on supply, especially here in the USA. I think this is a learned trait, and only rarely a genetic trait. We are an inherently social species. The lessons we teach our children can have a profound effect on their development. Because of the interactive nature of interactive media, I am of the opinion that the effects of a game on a child's development can be greater than that of a common grocery shelf item like a piece of candy.

To treat the two the same I think is a bit reckless. Yes I know there is very little research on the subject due to the newness of the medium. Game developers are more careful with what they let their children play than non-game developer parents. They are not waiting for scientists to tell them to be careful with the medium, they seem to sense the potential risks.

It is not the game environment, or free to play, or even the pursuit of profits that makes these products risky for children to use. The technology we use is changing so fast, and the means we use to communicate changing so quickly, that this is the first generation in the history of our species where our children are teaching their parents how to communicate. Our scientific methods can be helpful in giving us "facts" (and even these are becoming increasingly unreliable: http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21588069-scientific-researc
h-has-changed-world-now-it-needs-change-itself-how-science-goes-w
rong). But they can be painfully slow and technology is not waiting.

I know my company is not waiting. I doubt yours is either. I am "all in" on the future of interactive media. I want us all to make great games, get rich, and maybe even make our people smarter in the process. I meet people by the hundreds and thousands (if you count e-meets) that question our current methods. They are afraid to speak up because they worry they could get fired. I believe strongly enough in my abilities that I am willing to walk across that minefield while expecting to make it across alive and employed.

Now I am not expecting you to all walk across that minefield without help. I just want to get you thinking about the fact that at some point you may, and ask yourself why that minefield is there in the first place. If I can demonstrate some better practices at Wargaming that the rest of you can use without the risk being perceived as too high, if they are proven commercially viable, then I realize this is what a lot of you are waiting for. Thus for me what I'm doing now is a lot more than a job.

I just hope that you all can be a bit patient because I am new here, and I don't speak Russian or Belarusian and the concepts involved are a bit tricky to explain in an untranslated email to our executives. I do believe that I am working for the best game company in the world now and that we do have the opportunity to lead by example.

Mark Morrison
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to be brutally honest Ramin, you're not going to save me or anyone else here with your efforts. i would suggest you not carry that banner...for me at least ;) your call to arms are something that seem to be very dependent upon your own experiences and attitude and do have some good relation to the topics. this isn't intended as any insult. on the contrary, you're clearly a very smart guy with a lot to offer the world. but, if you cannot get your message heard, then it's not really going to have any impact IMO. i'm not quite sure you have made any arguments yet that are actionable or that even accurately sum up a F2P phenomenon let alone something the game industry is doing on it's own or can repair itself. you share some great insight, a ton of opinions, and even some of your own sniping (re: your "reckless" comment to me). so, again, I think you have a lot to offer us, but I think you should step back and maybe re-position your opinions and responses to speak to a more common denominator audience (including the Katy's and Nils here who really know this industry) so that you can get your point across and have a more meaningful discussion versus one where you are only right or wrong. i think it's neither for all of us here btw. onward...

Jeff Alexander
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To the commenters referring to the Golden Rule, please note that the gist of this article is that there's a non-negligible chance that it won't be good enough.

Jared Larsen
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Just wanted to pop in and talk quickly about Marvel Super Hero Squad Online, which you mentioned at the bottom of your article. The prize wheel in our game has never used real money, ever. You spin the wheel using tickets that you can freely and easily earn in the game and the vast majority of our players have hundreds of tickets in their banks sitting unused.

I know it’s easy to think of most developers using the F2P model as evil arch-villains who only want to wring as much money as they can out of players, but there are some of us that do really stop and think about how our decisions will affect the kids (and adults!) that play our games.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Jared, the tutorial for the game, which only seems to cover movement, the prize wheel, and shopping in the microtransaction shop, does mention that if you "become a Jr. Shield Agent" then you will get better rewards on the wheel. It doesn't explain to the child player that this costs real money even though it does.

Jared I just went into the game to spin the roulette wheel until I ran out of tickets to see what would happen. When I run out the window turns read and tells me "YOU'RE OUT OF TICKETS! Get more tickets playing game activities or buy tickets in the goodies shop." I'm still waiting to see how much they cost in the shop (which is still downloading...).

Jared Larsen
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Ramin, the prizes that you see on the wheel itself do not get better if you become an agent (read: a subscriber), but the gold spaces do refresh faster (long-term reward versus short-term impulse reward). In either case it does not cost money to spin the wheel, which was the original statement.

You can buy tickets in the store using the premium currency, but the last monetization report I did revealed that no one had purchased tickets in 6 months (because they are so readily available in game).

(EDIT: tickets are actually sold with silver, the non-premium currency in the game. It's been so long since I looked at them I misspoke, forgive me)

Ramin Shokrizade
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Yea I just saw that the tickets can be bought but they are the last item in the goodie shop so they are hard to find unless you are looking for them. The reward system for them is a bit weak if people have unused tickets and don't bother to use them. Still, it is an awkward device to have in the game and tutorial. If I was you I would consider just removing it if it does not drive monetization. I would think parents would see it and be made a bit uncomfortable.

I have edited my article, thank you for correcting me.

Jared Larsen
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Thank you, much appreciated. I always welcome thoughts on monetization and how to do it right which I completely agree needs to include the compassion you mention in your article.

Christian Kulenkampff
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Thank you for this nice opinion piece.

Unlike you I eat meat. I think it is pretty unethical, but I do it nevertheless.

I think it is up to social consensus (and legislation) to decide where people cross the line of being too unethical. I guess you think that too, so you wrote this article to affect social consensus.

I think many F2P "hacks for game monetization" are unethical (just see http://blog.betable.com/roger-dickeys-hacks-for-game-monetization).

A friend of mine recently outed himself as addicted to gambling. He works at a fast food restaurant and does not earn much. Yet he piled up ~10k EUR debts in an insanely short time span. In terms of gambling den language he is probably a whale. When I witnessed his breakdown and the following drama first hand, it really challenged my lax view on F2P. Most F2P mechanics are simply too close to gambling mechanics.

Now I think monthly spending caps and warnings about how much you've spent should be mandatory for games with RMT. Such a cap would be active per game account and could be changed individually by written consent (advertising this would be prohibited). The cap could be aligned to the age rating/target group of the game. There are ways to circumvent this, but I believe it would prevent much misery.

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Ian Uniacke
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I really like this line "To dismiss those that are not as good at handling some situations as I am as weak is showing a lack of understanding and compassion." I think that it underlies the whole point you are trying to make. But further I think it underlies the problem with many arguments in our society, not just freemium gaming.

Joshua Dallman
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"When I see the tutorial training our children to use what looks like a roulette wheel that gives common and premium currency, and promotes their subscription, it makes me uncomfortable to think what we are teaching our children."

You call out Marvel/Disney for implied unethical behavior (oddly you omit the direct words and only imply this). My question back to you is how is Superhero Squad's "spin the wheel" any different from simple carnival games which have been played by children for the past hundred years? Are those evil too because they "train" children to gamble and have bright lights and colors that knowingly attract kids? What does Marvel do that carnival games don't that makes them uniquely evil?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnival_game

All I see is scare-mongering in this exact statement: "it makes me uncomfortable to think what we are teaching our children."

You write: "These people may be disabled too, it is just less obvious. In the case of those that have FAS or are children, how can you blame these people for their condition? Do you really want to say it is okay to prey on these people?"

The implications this article makes about humanity and a person's ability and freedom to self-govern including statements like the above are among the most patronizing views I have ever read someone's serious views on humanity to be.

"Sure they may only make up 1 or 2% of the population of our games, and we can get them to spend so much money that the other 98% of us get to play for free while laughing at the people that actually fund our game play."

I have worked as a monetization and game designer for top social game developers and I can honestly say that not ONE of those companies has EVER had a meeting where players and payers were discussed with anything but the utmost respect and consideration. We want people to enjoy our games, enjoy them so much they pay, enjoy them so much they tell their friends. That is good business, good profits, and good karma. And it's not rocket science.

The statement about laughing at our customers clearly shows to me you have almost zero actual experience in the trenches of F2P. Nobody is laughing at our customers. We are professionals. I am hugely insulted but more importantly, this is patently inaccurate.

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Joshua Dallman
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Matthew Shafer-Skelton: Yes, I understand that carnival games are physical and mini-games inside of F2P games are virtual, one is delivered by a person in person for real world toys the other is for virtual currency and feeds into a meta-game, and other obvious differences etc.

What I am saying, is what is the difference between a child in 1913 playing a wheel of fortune carnival game, and a child playing a wheel of luck inside a Marvel game mini-game. Both are abstracted games of luck like "flip the coin" with variable prize rewards. If the crux of this GamaSutra article is, "Disney/Marvel has broken my trust because they put a lucky wheel in a game for kids" (a game mechanic used for 100+ years), then I question that argument as I find the mini-game in question inoffensive.

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Eric McConnell
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I have worked almost exclusively in F2P mobile games. F2P gets too much hate for no reason at all.

Read about game design during the arcade days where games were specifically designed to make players put in quarters every 2 1/2 minutes. Think about the ethics of Street Fighter where two players, who both pay, fight each other with only the winner staying and the loser having to deposit another quarter or else admit defeat. Take it all the way to modern AAA games where the advertising budget regular exceeds the game development budget. They could care less if about ethical design and only wish to recoup their budget in those precious first 2 weeks (and will likely lay off a majority of the staff in doing so). You can paint anything in a bad light this way.

Checking out your linkedin you have a lot of game industry experience, specifically in monetization. I have to assume you write these articles to gather a following and gain attention to yourself. After all, you work for a F2P company and it would be extremely tacky of you to start pointing fingers at your peers (specifically mentioning Marvel SHSO) as if you are someone much more ethical than anyone else in the field.

It's business people. We make products and the consumers decide where their money goes. If you want to end the "evil" of free to play, produce a better model/product/company/anything and bring the consumers to you. Otherwise you are just crying "I don't like f2p design and I can't think of anything better so we should recognize how evil it is and ....blahblahblah".

Amir Barak
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"You can paint anything in a bad light this way." and indeed you have. If the shoe fits and all of that.

In case of Street Fighter, both players paid, both players played. If one player could put in an extra dollar and get a better (in the context of the fight) character then it becomes a fixed game.

"Read about game design during the arcade days where games were specifically designed to make players put in quarters every 2 1/2 minutes." This argument is ridiculous; we used to burn "witches" and stone gay people. I guess these practices are still acceptable? One would hope that we, as a society, become better [ethically] not worse.

"It's business people".
Yup, drugs are also a business. Child slavery is also a business. Child pornography is also a business. War is also a business. What's your point?

"I don't like f2p design and I can't think of anything better so we should recognize how evil it is and ....blahblahblah".
Better is a misnomer. It has no meaning without context. It'd be hard to think of a better model economically since F2P models are successful. There are many, better, models for ethical business practices but unfortunately stealing is always easier than earning an honest living.

Eric McConnell
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This is business. Yes, all of those are also businesses in one sense or another. For this purpose, we should stick to only discussing legal businesses, such as drugs and war, and leave the child slavery card out of it (this isn't fox news).

There is not anything unethical about f2p. I love Daniel Cook's article https://plus.google.com/105363132599081141035/posts/Cyi2Am8gqGq on exposing the evil of pay to play. Although it is part satire, he makes a lot of great points.

"Earning an honest living". Once again, you are just acting high and mighty when, in reality, you are admitting you cannot adapt to current business trends and want to throw a pity party claiming business ethics.

Consumers (and the government) will dictate the market. In 10 years, another business/design model will reign and all the f2p guys will be writing articles on the "evils" of this new model. It's the cycle of business.

Eric Salmon
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It's legal... for now. Until more kids rack up $1400 bills and a largely game-illiterate ruling body decides what to do about it.

Whether you think it's unethical or not, it seems like it's clearly good business to limit this kind of bad press--even if you have to pretend to care.

Ramin Shokrizade
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My boss just handed me some non-proprietary data saying that the number of children playing mobile games doubled from 2011 to 2012, and that the average age of heavy spenders in F2P games is 6.4 years less than the average age of non-spenders in mobile games. This seems to give evidence that our "whales" are increasingly children.

It also states that 22% of children spend on mobile games without parental permission.

Actually, there are scarier numbers in this report. I am going to speak to the source tomorrow and verify because if true what I'm looking at is profoundly damning evidence.

Nils Pihl
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Non-proprietary, so why don't you share it so we can see, Joseph Smith?

Nils Pihl
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Also, it does not seem to give evidence that our whales are increasingly children - it gives evidence that one of the fast growing user segments is older players - new players that still don't have a habit of spending on games.

Mark Morrison
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Ramin, do you know who the whales really are at this point? They are mainly Video Game Executives who get their internal peers (other Executives) to play alongside them. They each spend $5K> monthly individually within groups of 10+ at a Microsoft, Qualcomm, EA or elsewhere. They probably expense their purchases as industry related.

Your above statement is guess work at best with the help of a 2nd party report IMO. And, I would guess too that kids doubled on mobile game play between 2010-2012 because that same growth appeared in phones that were in young peoples hands.

Why do you introduce conjecture and speculate on data that deserves much more quantification and valid use case evidence in the continuous furthering of your position? Are you really just trying to promote yourself here? That's what it genuinely feels like to me at this point.

Rather than grow contention here, as none of this is intended to insult or demean you, why don't you and I catch up offline sometime soon. I'm happy to connect on LinkedIn and have some reasonable dialog.

What you are doing here is counter-productive to your efforts and more importantly, our industry IMO. I am willing, like you, to stand up and voice my opinion. I like a lot of your energy and opinions, and I would love to see them involved affecting change.

We have far too many newcomers in this industry that count on discussions like this for education. In this case, I think it's fair to share the above as well as others here who question your info, tactics, and motive.

Ian Griffiths
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Interesting that Ramin's belief in a lack of agency appears to be a very new thing. Not long ago this was just ill-advised 'whale hunting' based on a false premise that they can't control themselves:

"Ramin Shokrizade 15 Feb 2013 at 10:05 am PST
[...] EA seems addicted to whale hunting though, making prices super high on the false belief that only a few percent of players are willing to pay, and that those that do are totally lacking in self control. It is a perverse view of their customer base."
- http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/186779/EA_tones_down_Real_Raci
ng_freetoplay_elements_after_user_backlash.php

I think the odd narrative of the mentally incompetent gamer has run its course. Relying on anecdote simply isn't enough, you need to show credible statistics and reasonable causal links.


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