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Manipulative game monetization shows gamers no respect, says  Super Meat Boy  dev
Manipulative game monetization shows gamers no respect, says Super Meat Boy dev
May 7, 2012 | By Mike Rose




A large number of mobile and social gaming companies treat their customers with a complete lack of respect, with business tactics that are "a slap in the face to actual game design," says Super Meat Boy developer Edmund McMillen.

As part of a blog post discussing the upcoming mobile version of Super Meat Boy, co-creator McMillen discussed what he believes to be wrong with a large portion of mobile games at the moment, and how he plans to show respect to mobile players with his upcoming release.

"There is a whole shit load of wrong out there these days, from abusive and manipulative money making tactics, to flat out stealing," he says on the Super Meat Boy blog.

"To us the core of what is wrong with the mobile platform is the lack of respect for players; It really seems like a large number of these companies out there view their audience as dumb cattle who they round up, milk and then send them on their way feeling empty or at times violated."

He continues, "There is an ongoing theme these days to use a very basic video game shell and hang a 'power up carrot' in front of the player. The player sees this carrot, and wants it! All the player needs to do is a few very rudimentary repetitious actions to attain it, and once they get to it, another drops down and asks them to do more."

"But then the catch... instead of achieving these 'goals' by running on the treadmill, you can instead just pay a single dollar and you instantly get to your goal! Better yet pay $10 and unlock all your goals without even having to ever play the game!"

This approach, says McMillen, is one that Team Meat is looking to stay well clear of with the mobile Super Meat Boy, "not only by not manipulating [players], but also by understanding they want a real challenge and they want a real sense of fulfillment."

"Words cannot express how fucking wrong and horrible this is, for games, for gamers and for the platform as a whole," he continues. "This business tactic is a slap in the face to actual game design and embodies everything that is wrong with the mobile/casual video game scene."


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Comments


Mike Rentas
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The worst example I've seen of this so far is in the iOS port of Majesty, in which you can pay to refill your treasury, which makes the game completely trivial. Somehow this struck me as much worse than the Farmville-style click-and-wait genre.

Brian Devins
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I was pretty shocked when I was given the option in The Sims Freeplay to buy credits that will shorten the time I spend bathing in a virtual shower. I uninstalled the game immediately but the pricing model wouldn't be there if it wasn't profitable. McMillen is correct, though, that this will surely dissuade many first-time gamers from continuing with our beloved hobby.

Ben Grater
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From time-to-time I play these games to see if they have moved on yet and am consistently disappointed.

I keep track of how long I can play or how much I can do in the game before the only way to advance is:
a) Wait/return later (increase ad revenue)
b) Pay money directly
c) Ask friends for help (market their game)

When it reaches that point I never play again. These games often rely purely on juvenile stimulation and nothing much deeper to build up to this. When you break it down these games are shallow, deceptive and ultimately parasitic game design.

Jerome Grasdijk
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I have some faith that in the end game quality will win out, and there are some games which look like they are doing it right, like Red5's Firefall.

It may end up being a commercial reality to create these kinds of experiences though, much like it is part of the designer's brief to create experiences with a good UI and ones with spectacle and the right kinds of content for good marketing. On the pricing front, it is hard to argue with free, and there are always going to be some constraints on the designers job.

Steve Cawood
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I agree. I'm sick of seeing these tactics in games and generally it makes me get bored of the game quicker as I never buy the in app purchases and don't have the motivation to work for them when they can be bought.

Todd Boyd
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I'm irritated by this sort of thing almost as much as when the ads in "free" apps try to look like missed call notifications, Facebook messages, etc. - that shit is just downright crooked.

Bob Johnson
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Exactly!

Adam Learmonth
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This is so true it hurts. I'm about to conclude my work as lead designer on a new Facebook game for a small developer. It started off (in my humble opinion) as a fun, unique title, but the amount of subsequent alterations dictated to monetise the game, to get "players" hooked through viral acquisition, to switch off their brains and then tantalise them with financial shortcuts to the goals they have been slowly programmed to crave... it is simultaneously ingenious and saddening.

For a much more in-depth look, I highly recommend reading two beautiful articles by Tim Rogers, focused primarily on The Sims Social, which analyse and rightly attack this cancer of modern video games.

Bob Charone
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Firefox and Chrome are blocking the connection to that site, same things that happened when this site posted a similar article about Zynga.

I wonder if EA and Zynga are low enough to hack people who expose them?

Shea Rutsatz
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I was at a small developer a while back, working on a Facebook game. The team had so much potential for creating great games, but they drifted down this terrible path.

The key word in every meeting and design change seemed to be "Monetize".

Very sad.

Rey Samonte
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@Shea...I am experiencing the same thing during our meetings. Frustrating when your primary goal and joy is to make a good game. I totally understand we need to make money, but if it comes at the cost of making a good game, then what's the point?

The opinion that always goes around is, unless it will make money like Angry Birds, then it's probably not worth our time. UGH!

Shea Rutsatz
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@Rey

Yeah, ours was "Take a look at how Zynga is monetizing in their new "____Ville" game. Lets do that!

This created a game that might have made some money on launch, but promptly fell in with the mix of bland games that don't offer much in the way of an actual game.

Very happy to be with a studio now that uses keywords like "Fun" and "Awesome", and is more than willing to hear everyones feedback and input.

Fernando Fernandes
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I can't agree more.

Rey Samonte
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I strongly agree. Unfortunately, the company I work for right now is taking this approach since we're just starting to get into mobile development. As much as I stress the quality of the game, all they care about is the $$$'s. I honestly don't see it as a model that will last long. For a company who says they want to make good games, they certainly don't support that idea through the decisions they are making right now.

One of the reasons they use to argue that this will be profitable is with the recent success of Temple Run and how this model worked for it.

Carlo Delallana
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Speaking of crappy ways people are monetized in games:

http://www.sacbee.com/2012/05/05/4468510/kompu-gacha-online-games
-with.html

"TOKYO -- The Consumer Affairs Agency in Japan has concluded that a system used by some online game operators on social networking service (SNS) websites constitutes a violation of a law that bans certain types of sales methods, according to sources close to the agency.

In such online games, known as "kompu gacha" (complete gacha), players can win a grand prize, a rare virtual item, after purchasing a certain number of required items.

...

The agency also plans to ask companies that offer such games to stop using the questionable sales method. If companies fail to comply with the request, the agency will issue a correction order with punitive measures in line with the law against unjustifiable premiums and misleading representation."

Fredrik Liliegren
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If you can do the game you like and still be able to make money on it, then all the power to you. But in short, WHY are the most profitable games all using this 'tactic' are the players you all crave to have buy your game that stupid, or do they have a different view on this? They are after all choosing to spend money this way, if they all hated it, then these games would all go away no? And they would all be flocking to the 'real' games right. I agree that some of these games seriously lack a good game underneath, but you do have to understand that 80% of all revenue from the app store today comes from In-App purchase, so you better find a way to add those to any game you ship today if you want to make money in the app store.

Michael Joseph
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The road to a free choice is paved with advertisements and propaganda and other forms of programming and conditioning.

http://www.yale.edu/acmelab/articles/Harris_Bargh_Brownell_Health
_Psych .pdf

It's a good thing that the majority don't view making money (and amassing power and influence) as the pinnacle goal in life. This would be a very scary world if it were true. Most of us probably would never have been born were it the case.

Harlan Sumgui
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your's is an overly simplistic overview. These games employ sophisticated psychological systems in order to squeeze money. It's not about creating a product with value and then selling it for a fair price; it's about hooking susceptible individuals, you know the <1% that provide 95% of these companies' income. They are on the same moral plane as tobacco companies and video lottery operators.

A healthy industry is one that creates products of value that enhance the lives of their customers. Those are the industries that flourish and grow.

Fredrik Liliegren
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So in short you want the game industry to be better than pretty much any other direct to consumer business that uses psychology as part of their monatization strategy? Its a really hard sale. I agree there is a 'nice' and a 'bad' way to employ some of these strategies. In our company we always look to make sure the added value is there for our users, aka if they give us $10 they should feel they got $10 of actual value. But that is in the end a perception issue, you might not think that what i am delivering is actual worth that, but the user that does pay do. So who's right, you or them?

Michael Joseph
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"So in short you want the game industry to be better than pretty much any other direct to consumer business that uses psychology as part of their monatization strategy?"

I don't think anyone expects the entire industry to do anything. I think we can all advocate and express our approval and disapproval at various industry trends or actions by any particular company. As for right and wrong, i think it's best to leave that as a matter of personal opinion.

nicholas ralabate
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This is the question of the year... I've been really enjoying Blumenthal's "This Business of Television" to get a historical look back at the never-ending tango between entertainment and commerce.

Alan Rimkeit
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This article is truth well spoken. +100 Internets.

Dennis Groenewoud
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I can't really say anything else than Well Said!

Alex Nichiporchik
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I have enormous respect for Ed, but am probably going to be the first person in this thread to question the statements. .

Look at Tribes Ascend.

It's a free game, it's awesome. I can play it for long enough to unlock everything, or I can pay a bit to unlock stuff faster. This way the developer can make the game free and still make actual money on sustaining/developing the game further -- while giving it exposure to huge amounts of people.

I strongly believe the same model extends to multiple platforms. You can make your game free, and add a monetization method for those who want a quick cheat.

Definitely NOT saying that the game should be designed around the concept, however if it is possible within the (fun and great) game design, it is a great option to give your game huge exposure and monetize it as well.

What we're doing with some games is unlocking the last "worlds" only if a player has a certain high score (cumulative # of coins) from previous worlds. This will act as the core monetization mechanism -- hardcore users will play through all of them, while those willing to pay will be able to do so to unlock content faster.

What other option is there if we want to maintain the game with it being free? Put annoying ads into users' faces? Nope.

Michael Rooney
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I have been ninja'd :(

Good points.

Lou Hayt
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I play tribes a lot and enjoy it, but I don't think they got the free-to-play just right - like leagues of legends did. For e.g. you can upgrade to have better weapons - that makes it plain unfair, I would even consider it to be "lazy design".

Shea Rutsatz
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How about Team Fortress 2? They have a pretty good system going.

You can unlock anything and everything by playing or paying, but paying gives no actual advantage.

The way they balance the items, no item is really any "better" than another, but instead is an "alternate", so you can pay to quickly get a preferred load-out or new aesthetic, but a paying player won't have any more advantage than someone who is playing for free.

I like it, personally.

Kyle Redd
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@Alex "I can play it for long enough to unlock everything, or I can pay a bit to unlock stuff faster."

Eh... No. That's where your argument falls apart. Go ahead and do the math and tell me how long you would have to play Tribes Ascend to unlock everything without paying a cent. I did some rudimentary calculations a while back and figured it would take a minimum of 50 hours of free play to unlock a single 100,000 exp-cost weapon. Now consider that the total cost of all the available weapons at this time is a couple of million or so.

Tribes Ascend is not actually a "Free to Play" game as HiRez would have you believe. Eventually, you're going to have to pay money if you want to actually compete. F2P is just another way of saying "This game has an extensive demo."

Alex Nichiporchik
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@Kyle - so? Yes, it will take me a while to unlock everything.

That's the business model. It's not unfair.

If I have a wife and kids, I'd rather pay the small price to unlock stuff faster so I can enjoy stuff there with my limited time.

If I'm in high school and have all the free time in the world, I'll spend it on unlocking everything and leveling up.

Don't see any evil here.

I like how people also mentioned Team Fortress 2 here, and that's more or less similar. It's a fantastic game with a genius monetization scheme. What's the evil in giving paying players access to stuff faster? If it doesn't mess with the balance, why not?

And remember, we are talking about FREE games, those where you don't pay for the initial game.

On the subject of paid games with in app purchases -- that's not necessarily bad. As long as the developer has a way for the really committed/loyal/hardcore players to get everything free by investing time & skill, it's not evil to have a recurring income stream from the people who don't have the time or patience.

You invest that income stream into further developing the product, it's not just shipping a game and giving it a couple of updates -- it's about creating a brand, a product and having a business model to justify continuously developing it.

I understand the hivemind positioning of "in-game purchases are evil!" as there are companies that shamelessly milk players. That's true. But you have to remember that if it's done right, it benefits both the industry and the players.

Just make your main goal keeping the game fun, and within the "fun" find a way to monetize. Be it a single install payment, a freemium model, anything. As long as it's fair. Just steer away from ads.

Jim Anderson
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@Alex, I think that's exactly the sweet spot for "freemium" games. Somewhere past it you get to a place where you have pay-to-win gear, and that's where it really starts to sour for a lot of people.

@Kyle, I hear what you're saying. At the same time (I'm trying to make a living with a freemium game myself, so this is pretty heavy in my mind) the developers of a game do have to make money from it in order to keep making games. Tribes Ascend has a good model for this, where players who don't want to play aren't locked out of anything - they simply have to spend more time playing in order to get to the same place. Compare it with, say, Shadow Cities, which is a location-based iOS game where you're running around being a mage. You spend mana to do stuff, so your pool of mana dictates how much you can actually play the game. Once you run through your initial pool of mana, it recharges excruciatingly slowly. You can spend money to buy more and keep playing, or you can play free but only occasionally. That's pretty far over my own personal line, and it makes a fun game into something I'm not willing to play.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Trent Tait
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"I'd rather pay the small price to unlock stuff faster so I can enjoy stuff there with my limited time."

I lol'd right here. So what you are really saying is that the game is not enjoyable until you have those items, and the game is not fun enough for you to play it until you get those items. More importantly, you view these items as necessary to have fun with your friends, but take far too long to unlock with regular play, indicating they are core items for gameplay and have been designed to make you want to pay to get them.

Michael Rooney
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I think this article is poorly targeted. Some games that employ these tactics are manipulative, but others are great. Look at League of Legends and Tribes Ascend. You can put in money or you can put in time; this is essentially the problem illustrated, but I don't find either of those games to be that manipulative. They're actually both fairly up front with telling players they can choose to put in time or money.

I think the difference is how significantly it impacts the core gameplay experience. Tribes and LoL can both be enjoyed without any money/time in, for example, because the gameplay is still fun regardless.

Robert Boyd
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League of Legends is still manipulative though. The most obvious example is how it gives you bonus points for your first victory each day. This is a blatant example of how they're trying to get you hooked on playing the game every single day in the hope that once they've gotten you hooked, spending money to unlock things becomes more and more appealing.

Max Moroz
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Michael Rooney - completely agree with you on LoL. I wouldn't touch a competitive game that provided any advantage in exchange for money. LoL does not - and so I have no qualms against its monetization model.

Robert Boyd - respectfully disagree. Yes, LoL does give you more free in-game points if you play regularly. But this has nothing to do with microtransactions or its free-to-play model. Any old MMO (say, FFXI or WoW) gives you far greater incentives to play regularly (e.g., through the enormous pressure to raid regularly and repeatedly, or else be left behind in gear).

Furthermore, the amount of this advantage is so tiny that it's dwarved by the retention-psychology elements in the majority of the games. You don't play LoL for the in-game points, you pay it for the ELO rating, which cannot be bought for anything. The only remote impact of in-game points on your performance is the ability to buy runes; but assuming you spend your points on champions and runes in a reasonable balance, you will always have enough runes for the champions that you own.

E McNeill
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Did Edmund claim that ALL in-app purchases were manipulative? Hint: No. It's still worth calling out.

Michael Rooney
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To make the blanket statement that in app purchases that result in saving the user time is manipulative is incorrect (see examples). He should refocus and present the actual cause rather than blaming a successful and desirable business model. I'm a consumer as much as I am a developer, and the two games I've played the most recently are f2p (LoL and Tribes), and I don't feel manipulated in the slightest.

edit: While he didn't say explicitly all in app purchases were bad, he labeled a scheme used by both LoL and Tribes as manipulative and bad because it is used in questionable ways elsewhere. Just like any tool, it can be used in good and bad ways. One could easily label a hammer as destructive if you only pay attention to it's ability to smash things.

E McNeill
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Michael: I interpreted his attack to be on games that were primarily about acquiring the "carrots". For example, I've been playing a game called Tap Zoo, in which the entire goal is to get more coins in order to have more stuff (and, of course, you can buy coins). There is no further gameplay unlocked once you get these things, and in that sense you are paying for the privilege of not playing the game.

I understand your more broad interpretation, though. I'm more undecided on that point.

I'd like to thank you for your tone, by the way. I'm pretty passionate about this topic, and I worry that I tend to slip into moralizing. You've been very respectful (more than me), and I appreciate being able to have such a conversation.

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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Max Moroz
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I hate the "pay instead of play" games probably more than anyone on this thread. But I haven't seen any real reason why developers should not be making these games.

Here are the arguments I've seen so far:

1. "It's unethical." The ethical arguments are highly subjective. In fact, I think appealing to ethics in this case is the same as saying "it's against my personal preference". True, but not persuasive.

2. "It's not sustainable in the long run." Where's the evidence? Addiction businesses (alcohol, tobacco, drugs, some types of religion) are doing great thousands of years after they were invented.

3. "Pay-instead-of-play games are of low quality". Why should the quality of the game be judged by a few people? 100 million people playing Farmville would disagree with my rating of 0/10 for that game.

Keith Carpentier
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While I agree that there are examples of mobile and/or social games that go too far down the path of "monetize to win", what bothers me about the sentiment of this article and the majority of the comments is that they are coming from a core gaming audience which simply is not the target demographic for the vast majority of the games in question. I would like to see comments from people who actually play these types of games and hear what they think about the "abusive and manipulative" tactics being leveraged against them.

The reality is that "hardcore gamers" no longer have the gaming market cornered. It is only natural that developers try to leverage this new, huge pool of potential customers. Maybe this is making it harder to find the quality games in a diluted pool, but I would argue that many developers have been disrespecting players with the quality of games they have been releasing for far, far longer than the length of time "monetize" has been a buzz word.

Megan Swaine
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Agreed.

Shay Pierce
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If The Daily Show can be taken as an example of the mainstream and non-gamers, then the contempt from the mainstream (at least, by people who think about these things for 5 minutes) seems evident:

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-december-8-2011/video-game-
dealers

I love that segment. "Are there any other mental deficiencies of these kids that we can...... profit from?"

E McNeill
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Keith: This is not about hardcore vs. casual territory-claiming. This is about the ethics of subconscious manipulation. Key word there is "subconscious"; asking the players themselves is hardly foolproof.

I would recommend Jonathan Blow's excellent talk "Video Games and the Human Condition" for a persuasive case against this sort of manipulation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqFu5O-oPmU

Keith Carpentier
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@Shay I would consider John Stewart to be about as far away from "mainstream and non-gamers" as it is possible for a news media outlet to be. I would be willing to guess there would be a very large cross section if a poll was done to find the overlap of Daily Show watchers and gamers.

Keith Carpentier
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@E McNeill: "Subconscious manipulation" as you call it is the reality of a capitalistic economy. It is the "end game" of marketing; to ingrain a product so deeply in a person's mind that they do not need to think when they see the product in the store, they simply buy it because they were already trained to do so. What are the ethical considerations of traditional marketing operations? What are the ethical considerations of a capitalistic society?

That is not a topic I want to get into here. It is not a door I recommend opening at so low a detail level as this, as investigating it logically just leads down much higher level ethics questions.

I think we are not giving the players of casual/social/mobile games enough credit. This entire conversation is more disrespectful to them than the development practices in question; it undermines the intelligence of the players making these spending decisions.

E McNeill
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"That is not a topic I want to get into here. It is not a door I recommend opening at so low a detail level as this, as investigating it logically just leads down much higher level ethics questions."

Are you serious? That's no good reason to refuse to question the ethics of your actions!

Personally, I have no problem supporting capitalism and rejecting predatory psychological manipulation. There's plenty of ethical trade to be had. It's the responsibility of individuals to resist the unethical elements.

"I think we are not giving the players of casual/social/mobile games enough credit. This entire conversation is more disrespectful to them than the development practices in question; it undermines the intelligence of the players making these spending decisions."

Not at all. None of the designers who sound the call against this type of design have blamed the players. Do you blame the tobacco company, or the smoker? The scam artist, or the victim thereof? This criticism is aimed squarely at the companies and designers who create these games.

Michael Rooney
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"'That is not a topic I want to get into here. It is not a door I recommend opening at so low a detail level as this, as investigating it logically just leads down much higher level ethics questions.'

Are you serious? That's no good reason to refuse to question the ethics of your actions!"

I think you misunderstood his point. The topic of ethics in marketing is an enormous and surprisingly deep topic. It's cheapened by representing it so simply.

There is a difference between, "refusing to question the ethics of your actions," and realizing a venue is not conducive to any sort of meaningful inspection.

E McNeill
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"I think you misunderstood his point. The topic of ethics in marketing is an enormous and surprisingly deep topic. It's cheapened by representing it so simply."

I understand, I suppose, though of course I'm not really satisfied. I hope Keith will devote some more serious thinking time to this topic.

I don't think that the issue needs to be raised to such abstractions, though. I doubt that we need to go beyond any point of common, intuitive philosophical agreement. As I said, I found no reason to question capitalism itself in my own internal debates. There's plenty of ground to single out manipulative practices without going there.

Keith Carpentier
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@E McNeill: I actually spend, quite literally, the majority of my time thinking seriously about this topic. Apply your statement regarding "personal responsibility" to consumer behavior as well as to developer practices in order to find a more balanced perspective on this issue.

@ Michael Rooney: Thank you for understanding.

E McNeill
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Keith: I apologize for getting snarkier than I intended. It's a passionate topic for me, and I sometimes let that get the better of me.

I'm naturally left a bit off-balance when you pose interesting questions and then don't point towards an answer; I assumed it was a question you were avoiding, rather than one you just wouldn't prefer to address in this particular forum. I'd appreciate it if you'd elaborate more about your "consumer behavior" point; I don't understand quite yet. (And you're welcome to carry on the conversation via email if you prefer.)

Mike Lopez
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"Roahr," said the Dinosaurs. "We don't need to adapt. We'll never be extinct."


Freemium is here to stay because it works for the masses (now 95% of all Top Grossing apps). It is not for most of the hard core gamers on this thread. As others pointed out there are ways to be less evil and still have good gameplay and be successful.

E McNeill
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Edmund did not attack freemium as a whole, only manipulation. Characterizing him (or most of the commenters) as "dinosaurs" is mistaken.

Luke Quinn
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Phew... About time somebody mentioned dinosaurs, my brain was beginning to shut down with all this whinging and complaining going on in here.
Got it in one, Mike; You can argue all you want about ethics, but it is a business so at the end of the day ethics only applies to how evil one can get before a prison sentence.
I agree whole heartedly that there are some downright nasty tactics in play here, but can you really chastize someone for seperating a fool from his money?
How about, instead of complaining about what's wrong with the industry, we discuss how to approach fixing it.
The way I see it, if enough games use these same models for monetization, but instead of using the psychological advantages of 'inpulse buy' tactics on compulsive gamers to simply milk them, offer a reasonable amount of real value in-game content (ie. not just trinkets like furniture or clothing, which usually amounts to paying $1 for a crappy .png file) these customers will suddenly have a new set of expectations for their in-app content purchasing behaviours.
Finally, I'd like to say "Roahr", because dinosaurs are awesome.

William Johnson
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@Luke Quinn – "How about, instead of complaining about what's wrong with the industry, we discuss how to approach fixing it."

Government regulation? If we cannot police ourselves the government will be more then happy to oblige. That's my greatest fear at the least. Lets just say there is a reason the ESRB and the Comics Code Authority came in to existence.

Is that when we should draw the line? When Congress is having meetings about micro transactions in games? Do we really want politicians dictating our ethics?

Matt Cratty
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I personally, cannot agree more. And I think the meat of what he's saying is "don't make a crap game just to try and make more money". The add on clause of "don't shorten the experience at all because it cheats gamers" works for me, but I understand a specific purpose for this.

My buddy is a doctor and we play DDO every Sunday. He purchased his (insert some really hard to accumulate item here) instead of running around so that he COULD play the game as he wished. I asked him why, and he said "I've got more money than time and I want to enjoy the game now." Now, DDO is one of the very few games that (at least at first), did FTP properly. It was a game that the DEVS loved passionately and needed to reach a certain level of revenue before the parent would okay the great stuff they wanted to provide. FTP was a perfect answer. It saved the game and made it stronger.
Unfortunately, everyone saw this and said "holy fruit bats! We can ship anything with quests and make millions!"

The real crime in this is something he threw out there as an afterthought. "If it doesn't make as much money as Angry Birds/Modern Borefare/etc.. its not worth our time." That to me is what has led to the darkest period of the gaming industry I've ever seen. Just because you couldn't sell a trillion copies of Baldur's Gate 3 doesn't mean there's not a market sufficient to support it. But, I'm probably a lone voice on that one.

Bob Johnson
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I think most of these F2P game designs are just bland las vegas slot machine designs. What can we do to get the player to cough up their next nickel. These games all feel really grind-ee to me. Not much different than sitting at some nickel slots for 5 hours and pulling the lever every 5 seconds.

All for that momentary cheap thrill.

Yes overpaying for gaming experiences isn't new. This model is much less transparent than in the past. And doomed to more bland design and bilking the consumer. The game is free after all. They can just fall back on that line if they get any complaints.


E McNeill
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That's funny; did you see last week's top-grossing iOS games?

http://gamasutra.com/view/news/169656/Slotomania_is_the_topgrossi
ng_App_for_both_iPhone_and_iPad.php

Bob Johnson
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lol. Nice. Might as well drop any pretense on what you're actually playing.

Robert Mac-Donald
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I think I've made these comment a thousand times already: I really wish the app Store and android market/google play would categorize games into paid, free (real free), and with in app purchases. It would be a lot more fair to consumers.
And when you are selling a reward (items, less waiting etc.) instead of the actual game, you are preying on a strong psychological factor from a cognitive psychology/behaviorism point o f view. It makes games closer to a feeling of a casino, like some people mentioned here.

I wish people would be more careful and realize when they are supporting an item billing game and when they are actually just buying gameplay shortcuts.

Brian Stabile
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You can tell which games have in-app purchases at the top of that app's App Store page, where it says 'Top In-App Purchases'

Jeremy Reaban
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Well, this happens when the price of games has dropped to the bottom. Companies need to find a way to make money off of games if they won't pay more than 99 cents for them (or nothing, on Android).

Gamers have brought this on themselves, by choosing mobile games over traditional handhelds in part because of the cheap software, and for falling for this way of payment.

Jeremie Sinic
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Love the article, love the comments!

I don't think "choosing mobile games over traditional handhelds in part because of the cheap software" is the issue.
Actually more and more people naturally get a smartphone. Most of these people are not necessarily gamers, which means they are not ready to spend a lot on games.
At the same time, many more people own a smartphone than a handheld, so the market is still attractive for developers even at lower price points thanks to higher volumes.

The race to the bottom of apps' prices was provoked by the increasing discoverability issues as more and more non-curated apps inundated the app stores and with pricing being one of the very few levers to impact sales (besides heavy promotion budgets that are usually not an option for most indies).

Then people (both gamers and non-gamers) got accustomed to cheap pricing and most are not showing signs of changing their habits (just look at mobile game forums where users are waiting for a "sale" on 3-dollar games...)

So I have to agree on the fact people playing that kind of games (unethical freemium crapware) have their share of responsibility: I mean, why on earth people play this kind of game? Is it because they really don't know better games exist? Is it because they have no self-respect?

Ramin Shokrizade
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As an applied virtual economist, this is what I do and it makes me sad to see the path the industry is going down now. When I met with a recruiter for Blizzard in 2009 to talk to him about virtual economies and monetization models, he said "I have no idea what you are talking about". In three years about all that has changed is that people know what "monetization" means now, and it has become a dirty word. When I talk to end users (gamers) about monetization, they are immediately on guard and see me as "the enemy".

The hacks doing "monetization" now, especially in the mobile and social network spaces, really have given my art a bad reputation. Even though you can monetize games in a way that actually *increases* player enjoyment, it will be a long time before these models are embraced because right now if you propose anything that doesn't look like Zynga or a Chinese microtransaction model, then "you don't know what you are doing".

William Ravaine
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I don't think the free-to-play model is inherently bad. When it's made properly and ETHICALLY, it's actually quite convenient and enjoyable, as you can get plenty of time to decide whether or not you want to invest your $$ in a particular F2P title.

Now, the the evil part that makes me want to throw up and punch some greedy suit-wearing scumbags in the face is the completely unethical use of various psychological levers that very few of the average player population is aware of. If you know these psychological manipulation tricks, you can literally sell a big pile of monkey turd to someone and they will walk home smiling, thinking they made a great deal.

There's a difference between selling genuine entertainment and outright psychological exploitation of individuals for profit.

Cody Scott
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I was actually saying something similar to an old class mate at the ECGC a few weeks ago. The mobile platform is full of these "free apps" and some are not where you pay to achieve everything. I'm all for small cash incentives for something like a re-skin, or something that adds no real change to the game, but for vital items for the game their should be no waiting times of a couple of days, or pay $10 fro 1000 tokens.

Ernest Adams
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Pope Julius II runs into the Sistine Chapel. "Michelangelo! Our MAUs are down, and re-engagement is terrible! Most people only come here once in a lifetime. You'll have to replace Isiah with a hot babe. How about Mary Magdalene? She was a hooker, she'll do nicely. And you're going to have to stay up on that scaffolding and keep changing things once a week or so. Also, cover up Adam's private parts, the Americans are complaining."

Not every game has to be a world-class work of art. But for those who aspire to that lofty eminence, this is not the way to go about it.

Timo Tolonen
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I think Mr. McMillen is talking about what Jonathan Blow has mentioned a few time: monetisation should not be put ahead of game design. The goals and 'tread mill' should be, first and foremost, fun in and of itself. Monetisation shouldn't help you bypass parts of a game or make the boring bits more bearable. It boils down to this: if a player has to buy their way to fun, the game has already failed on a fundamental level.

Mathieu Rouleau
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Fact 1: Marketing games in this flood of content is hard.

Fact 2: People are only willing to try new games if they don't have to pay for them.

Result: Selling points are offset to the game's content.

You can't really fight this model, it is here to stay and is soon to be expected by the market.

In the real world, you need to offer value for what you sell, it is basic marketing. The fact that developers are doing exactly that, is a mark of respect towards the player's intelligence. To me selling useless stuff to players in the game is far more offensive.

Using psychology to improve these processes is inevitable since corporations have no ethics.

Joe McGinn
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Hear hear! Well said Mr. McMillen.

Jeremie Sinic
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"the player sees this carrot, and wants it!"
Isn't it where players should ask themselves: is this worth my time/money/self-respect?

Tam Dang
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I can't agree more

Marc-Andre Caron
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In my opinion, aggressive monetization in free games is to the games industry what CDO's and CDS's were to banking not that long ago. As long as it's working, the people making mountains of money from these schemes will not allow them to be criticized.

The reality is that in the long run, it's detrimental to the health of the industry. But we are human, and we typically overvalue short-term gain.

As a consumer, you only need to get burned once by a piece of software designed to exploit you, then you to become distrustful of all games.

What applies to used cars salesmen, realtors and plumbers applies to games as well.

Dave Hoskins
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This happened in the arcades in the late eighties. Games became money grabbers by making the players lose all of their lives to the game's boss character or some other impossible bullet ridden area. So to see the end of the game they simply had to shove buckets of change into them!
The worse part of the current situation is when a child asks an adult if they can do an in game purchase, and they say of course, probably to shut them up, then they find out later it was £70.00? This is the 'doing as much evil without a jail sentence' scheme I believe.

Geraldo Xexeo
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Playing a game used to be not only fun, but also a very enjoyable and safe way to learn important life lessons. Not only the basic message that taking part is more important than winning, but also that victory derives from attention, work or preparation, and a multitude of ethical lessons.

These lessons were repeated during all evolution of human race, from the ancient mancala gamers in Africa to the postmodern WoW players in Korea. Every game has a lesson. Chess teaches reasoning and patience, Monopoly teaches about investment, even tic-tac-toe teaches that sometimes it is impossible to win.

Although it is common to divide the world in gamers and not gamers, most people play games all their lives. Of course playing is more frequent in childhood, and it is in childhood that the most important lessons are learned: don´t cheat, wait your turn, lose and win with elegance.

Nowadays, new and monetized games are attracting millions of new and old players. Monetization, however, teaches the wrong lesson. It teaches that money can buy anything, including health, and power. It teaches that “work” is not important if you have money. It teaches that the ends justify the means.

This is bad. Actually, this is evil. One could easily invoke a conspiracy theory where a liberal cabal is trying to wash our brains, but it is easier to use Occan´s Razor: it is purely stupid.
Transforming games in a market where you can buy any victory is to destroy games. Games are not about winning; they are about trying, and trying really hard, and harder, to win. Games are not about “having”, but about “conquering”. If it comes easy, it is not fun.

This segment of the game industry is making money, but it is not making games. People will follow the trend, but one day they will notice that clicking with you credit card is not fun, and is expensive. They will look at honest games, sold at an honest price, which provide honest fun and say “I´ve been swindled, those pseudo-games took my money and gave me nothing”.

At that point we will hear a loud crack. Market analysts will say video game market is doomed, since very profitable companies will suddenly see their shares plummet. Don´t be scared. Video games are not a fad. Games have always been there and will continue to be there. Video games is just another way of playing. They will stay. Monetization will not.

http://gamedevtech.wordpress.com/

Dave Hoskins
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I'm not sure that ALL games get harder as you progress, with a sense of conquer. What's wrong with just enjoying play, why do they increase difficulty? It's not a rule, it's probably a result of repetitive game play, born out of old fashioned game design - The old 'let's add more bullets' syndrome. I prefer the sense of adventure in games myself.
Montisation will always stay, as long as it's a business.

Sergio Rosa
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I have to say Edmund McMillen is very right and very wrong about the F2P model, and mobile platform in general.
On one hand, many devs indeed abuse the F2P, trying to get money off anything that can be purchased in game (like the example of paying so your character takes a faster shower).

On the other hand, him saying that "not only by not manipulating [players], but also by understanding they want a real challenge and they want a real sense of fulfillment (like real games do)" shows that McMillen may understand "hardcore players" but doesn't fully understand the mobile platform and F2P. If he did, he'd know that not every game fits the mobile platform (because many play at home for hours, but many play games that offer quick plays, like Fruit Ninja, which to me is far more compelling that SMB), and not every game can use microtransactions in a way that actually makes sense, and I'm surprised to see him not realize that SMB is not one of them.

So, as many have already said, this model can be good if used in a way that actually makes sense, and some abusing the model doesn't mean it's bad. While he makes good points about such monetizing models, he should read more about it, unless his sole intention was to try to sound cool in front of his players. After all, he also once said he doesn't consider Facebook games "real games," and after what I've read here I wonder if he also considers mobile games "real games" considering the majority of them are not that difficult and don't make you die every 10 seconds.


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