Are Gambling Business Models Beginning to Target Children Through Video Games?
Being what you could call an "avid gamer" and immersing myself in video game culture, I am a good source to touch on for what your children are being subjected to on a daily basis as it concerns the media you allow them to consume. Now I'm not here to tell you how to raise your kid, nor am I here to tell you not to let your children play video games. I am here to make you aware of the refinement of predatory practices that used to be kept within the casinos of Las Vegas and related territories, but are now making their way to the forefront of children's gaming for the sake of profit.
Predatory Practices Targeting Children
June 19, 2009, the day that the game Farmville came out, was the same day that big business decided to take notice of the profitability of the gaming industry outside of gambling at casinos. Before said game's inception, video gaming was mostly innocent and designed solely for the entertainment of children and adults alike who would like to delve into fantasy realms and take on roles that they could not in real life. After its inception, however, a system now deemed as "microtransactions" began to take hold within the industry as the norm. This practice of shoehorning microtransactions into video games is becoming the status-quo and many strategies are being developed to make the more predatory variants of such systems seem more appealing for children and their otherwise unaware parents.
The most worrying aspect of these microtransaction systems are the model they tend to base the system upon. This model is sometimes referred to as the "Interest, hobby, habit, addiction" model. In this model of business as it concerns video games the goal is to attract children and adults who could be considered "whales" or those with money to spend on video games that they already paid for where others can't afford to spend so much. When a whale takes interest in a game they play it to the point it becomes a hobby. The system of microtransactions make the game easier, or otherwise faster, solving issues that the creators of the game put there to make you feel coerced into paying more for the game, and these microtransactions you pay for often have flashy rewards that create a feeling that you need to buy them habitually. Once a whale is sucked into paying for these microtransactions, microtransactions that often don't guarantee getting what you want like a slot machine denies matches, they become addicted to them much like a gambler gets addicted to risk and reward games at the casino.
Mechanisms for Predatory Practices
It is human nature to find the promise of reward with your risks to be enticing, and when you finally get the payout that your risks were going for then you get a big rush of dopamine and feel gratified. The gaming industry takes advantage of this with a microtransaction system now most commonly called, "loot boxes" with "surprise mechanics" in which you pay for something like a mystery box with probable chances of containing what you want, but with no guarantee that you receive anything useful unless the creators decide you can. The creators offering something you don't need, that will require purchase of further loot boxes later, as a guarantee is how they avoid calling this system gambling. Yet, it is most accurate to call this system a gamble.
These systems are available in games such as Fortnite, Star Wars Battlefront, and Call of Duty and regularly trick kids into thinking that they have to buy them by purposefully slowing down progress and offering meager rewards with regular play where once games rewarded you for progress within them. When a child goes to buy them they quite possibly have your card information already in the console and if you haven't put a password on it in the system settings they can spend freely. They will then drop money into the virtual world they are choosing to play, and like a slot machine they have no guarantee what they are getting, and upon the flashy reveal they will either be gratified or encouraged to gamble again for what it is they want.
To further propagate this toxic mentality that you need to speed up progress, have all the cool gear, and be better than everyone else through spending real money, the gaming companies often do not enforce rules around disparaging language concerning the use of the systems. Language such as the derogatory term, "Default" which refers to someone who doesn't buy into microtransactions in order to get better gear; and this term could be equated to modern day hate speech if more people were aware of such systems. Many people are now moving to cyber-bullying activism due to terms like, "Default" being considered commonplace bullying tactics, but no respite from the onslaught of the abuse ever comes due to the tacit compliance of the developers.
Escaping the Rightful Criticism
With every good marketing scheme comes the defense for it and the gaming industry has some of the best defenses in the book. The most common defense from the game industry is that since most games are now "live services," a problem the game industry designed itself to build around predatory microtransaction models, they need ongoing funding to support the game and that won't come without the predatory systems themselves. Fact of the matter is that games used to cost sixty dollars for a full product at release, and they now cost over one-hundred dollars at release for highly anticipated titles and include the microtransaction system as the only working piece of the game like in cases such as Fallout 76 and Ghost Recon Breakpoint.
It is understandable to want to put microtransactions into your games, it is a very profitable model, but most large companies claim they need more money to support their development costs while running on a virtual skeleton crew and performing mass layoffs after their biggest earning years in history. Take Activision Blizzard for example, if you haven't heard of this scandal then I advise you click that link and go stand in awe of their horrendous practices that are ongoing and becoming worse. Wouldn't it be best to have a one time charge at a higher price, for the full product with no microtransactions, just like CD Projekt Red? CD Projekt Red has a net worth of over eight-billion dollars and rarely practices these predatory models, effectively proving and even speaking out about the lack of necessity for such predatory practices.
Protecting Your Wallet and Your Child
When it comes to protecting your child from the "Interest, hobby, habit, addiction" marketing style for the gaming industry it is a pretty simple solution. Do not let your child be fooled by the current industry trends, and teach them what it is the industry is trying to get out of them and for what purpose they do it. Children understand much more than we give them credit for and getting them to understand also takes you, as the adult, understanding things on a much deeper level first.
I know it is difficult but you must set time out of your day to sit down and play video games with your child. If not for entertainment, then do it for their safety. When you go to buy them a game make sure you look into what sort of microtransaction system is within the game for yourself, do not hope for the law to be on your side nor the salesman to give you the truth about what the game contains.
Countries such as Sweden are already making moves to outlaw the predatory practices that are now the norm within the gaming industry, and the United States is moving slowly to adopt their own laws concerning underage gambling in video games. Don't be caught off guard by your child's sudden addiction to video games and the microtransactions therein, be proactive and take the time to avoid creating the problem in the first place.