That is clever. I feel like one of the reasons it doesn't get better in certain games when they try to monetize them through microtransactions is because the designers of that content don't like the model that much themselves. I feel like there's some reluctance that leads to not really thinking about it as one might otherwise might.
JS: Yeah, I think there's some of that. And part of it is it's hard to think about, it's hard to get right, and there are so many ways to do it that feel disrespectful to the player. Because in a real way, bait and switch does work.
It's like, "Come on here, this thing is awesome -- oh, by the way, you need to pay this money." It works, but it feels slimy. It used to be, in the old days, slimy people sold bad games. They gave you an awesome box. This game is awesome. It's amazing. Check it out. You pay the money, and you're like, "This sucks, you slimy jerks."
Now you can't do that. You can't have a bad game, because when you've got free-to-play, it's like, "This is a bad game? I'm out of here." Now, to be slimy, you have to have a good game, and that is incredibly frustrating to game designers.
But you can still do a little bit of that weird bait and switchiness. I was watching a talk at GDC China where they were talking about how easy it is to make and remake collectible card games on phones that are microtransaction-based, where you pay and get a random card.
It might not be the card you want, but you're just going to keep paying for it. And they're like, "These games are fantastic to make for developers because they're so easy to monetize. All you need to do is change the art, and you've got new things."
This stuff is hard to think about. What's interesting is people are making surprising advances all the time, taking it in new directions that somebody hadn't been thinking about before.
Ending on a more positive note, you've spoken about utopia in games -- what do you mean by this?
JS: I realized that the thing everyone in the human race has in common is that everyone is always striving for something better. They're always striving for, "How can I get to a better place? How can I make my life better, and the life of people around me better, and how can I make the world better?"
I found it a very hopeful thought, and I think it's very true. I think it really is the motivation for most of what people do. And so as I found myself kind of playing with that idea, it made me realize the way that game development fits into that because that's what game developers do. They make worlds.
And if the world is looking for utopia, why not go to the people who make worlds? I think this is an important perspective, because normally game developers think, "Oh, I need to make a good game, a game that has good qualities and is good and has all these good things." But they don't think so much, "Based on where people are now, where do they think utopia is, and how can I provide something that's on the path?"
I think so much of the way game audiences seem fickle, and they pick things up and they put things down, isn't because they're fickle; it's because they're on the road to utopia. Someone says, hey, check it out, the Kinect. People say, oh, wow, my whole body in this virtual world. I've go to try it. I want to see. And then they try it and they see. They're like, okay, I get it. I'm ready for the next thing. Because this didn't quite get me there. I think this notion of people... Using as a perspective of what does the audience want, they want to go to utopia, how do you bring it to them, is very helpful to me.
Do you think that utopia can exist in a game world where, traditionally, most fiction has been about conflict?
JS: Well, I mean, you have to have conflict. The whole idea of conflict is there are opportunities between you and utopia. So, yeah. I think those go hand-in-hand quite naturally.
So, it's not so much that games would be an escapist utopia, but they would provide routes to it.
JS: I think now things get very complex and multi-layered. Games often have in them a picture of some utopia that you want, that you're trying to get to. And that's one layer of it. But another layer of it is that people really want to do something that feels meaningful. They want to have meaningful accomplishment, right? Part of my life would be better if I had meaningful accomplishment in it.