Video games are a big part of my life, and I wish I wanted them to stay that way.
As an avid gaming activist and all-around gamer, I take the finer nuances of the gaming industry very seriously. The more time that passes, the better the industry is becoming at hiding their, "Interest, hobby, habit, addiction," business model. Despite their many attempts to brush off guilt with vague apologies that equate to nothing more than spitting in the consumers' faces, they cannot hide the fact that what they are doing will be deemed illegal so long as everyone remains aware of the industry secrets.
Do not let the industry continue to poison itself and its consumers; keep yourself up to date with all the latest schemes and terminology used to hide them!
Recurrent User Spending
This is a phrase that you absolutely must keep in mind as it concerns the goal of most business models in the gaming industry these days. Recurrent user spending is the idea that you have to design a game around a system that ensures that the consumer continues to buy into the game after they have already bought it. This does not mean they keep gamers playing consistently by making a fun game, no, this usually means keeping gamers addicted to the microtransaction systems in the game. Another way they like to hide this practice is calling it, "player engagement."
Dulling down the fun in a game in order to shoehorn a microtransaction system into the final product is regularly practiced, and the overall goal is to create a sense of addiction to that system within the majority who decide to take part. Developers whose main focus is recurrent user spending have devised all types of nasty tips and tricks to include in games so as to encourage recurrent user spending artificially. These tips and tricks include, but are not limited to:
- Artificial progression throttling (slowing XP gain to promote microtransactions)
- Artificial time walls (timers you can surpass by paying real money)
- Loot throttling (denying loot through progress, making you pay)
- Skill point throttling (level-locking skills that can be unlocked with real money)
- Providing exclusive cosmetic items for real money (then promoting bullying for "defaults" who don't buy into predatory cosmetics)
- Adding loot boxes that require purchase of more loot boxes
- Adding level meters that require XP, money, and timers for each one
- Charging for substandard DLC (features added after game release), and promoting the "missing out" feeling for those who don't buy into them
- Making games "always online" solely to promote predatory practices as necessary evils
There is so much more I could list but I think the point is clear, and if you have played any game produced from the early 2000's onward then you have experienced some form of these predatory mechanics.
Have you ever gone to a store and paid a certain amount of money that then allots you a certain amount of points in one of their apps, which then you can put toward a future purchase? How about rewards on credit cards, free money at the casino for being a loyal member, or even promotional items you won that fall apart the first day you take them out of the package?
Digital currencies are essentially valueless numbers that you pay real money to increase, to buy valueless objects that cannot ever be redeemed for real currency again. These are not necessary to any facet of video games except to take part in a system created solely for profit at the expense of the consumer's bank account and sanity. This idea was first brought forward in casinos, where you pay money for chips or tokens, and it is the first step in promoting gambling, both legal and illegal.
If you don't know already, the introduction of digital currency is most likely the first trigger for increasing rates of adolescent gambling!
Once digital currency came around, and the industry saw that everyone was naive enough to pay for microtransactions despite their inherent value being zero, they decided it was time to step up their game. Marketers everywhere were asking themselves, "How do we get people to spend more?"
Their answer to that question was promoting a gambling system called loot boxes. These loot boxes are regularly bought with premium currency and even more commonly do not offer you a guaranteed item that you want. Essentially, you are rolling the dice or puling the lever, and simply hoping that you get the desired outcome; just like what we see in the casino, what a surprise!
The industry has mostly evolved away from loot boxes, but only because the law stepped on their toes and made it mostly illegal to use them. Rather than avoid practices like this, they refined them and began to call them surprise mechanics.
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Surprise mechanics come in many shapes and forms, if you have ever bought a pack of baseball or other game cards then you are very familiar with the idea you are paying for a complete surprise. Where once this was innocent, non-destructive behavior that people did as a pastime and all the objects were of greater value down the line; now the gaming industry has made it as addictive and worthless to the consumer as possible.
Just like in a casino with all the flashy lights and loud noises any time you win, promoting your further gambling, this is what they are doing with you and your childrens' games! How lovely, right?
Personally I'm against adolescent gambling and the gaming industry's regular promotion of it.
Contact your representative today and make them aware that the industry needs stricter regulations!
Always-Online or Live Services
There is no practice more shady, more detestable than this new trend to make games always-online; the more technical term being live services. This means that if you want to play you have to have an internet connection, you must always be connected to the developers' servers, and at any point they can deny you access to the product you rightfully own. Always-online, or live services, means that you no longer own the product you buy, and that you are simply paying to rent server space and gain access to their game.
Most people are still unaware of that facet of the always-online feature of most games, because they go out of their way to hide it in the thousands of pages of terms and agreements, but I'm happy to expose it. Along with being always-online, the main motivation for holding your purchase hostage like this is to get away with claiming that they need predatory systems to support such features! An issue they created to prey on you is the same thing they are using to call themselves the victim!
Sure, always-online allows for larger worlds but with games like Anthem we can clearly see that they aren't out to utilize the extra capability for fun, they just want more profit and to get away with bleeding the consumer dry.
Never forget that corporations aren't people, and they will use people as shields to protect their disgusting practices. Let the few take the hit for the many, we can't save everyone in this war they are instigating.
I urge every parent to look for this in every review of a game before they allow their kid to play it. Pay-to-win games are games that offer microtransactions that will, essentially, make anyone willing to pay for them stronger than other players. Mobile games are the biggest culprit, you know the games that most children are playing, and you need to keep your eye out so your child doesn't fall into the addiction of winning through paying real currency.
Star Wars Battlefront II, the inferior remake, was actually the first huge title aside from the Halo franchise to incorporate a pay-to-win system into an adult-esque game that I enjoyed. Granted, in order for the system to be pay-to-win you actually have to have skill, but any time I put a few dollars into the system I stomped my competition at every turn. It offered me an unfair advantage that, in turn, made others have no choice but to pay real money if they wanted to beat me.
This leads me into my next point, the target audience for gaming is no longer gamers, it is a demographic we like to call whales.
Whales and Defaults
A whale within the gaming industry is the consumer with pocket money to blow on microtransactions. Some people spend upwards of $10,000 on microtransactions in a relatively short period of time due to adolescent gambling addiction. The industry loves and promotes this sort of disastrous behavior regularly.
You may be asking yourself, "How the heck do you promote this sort of behavior and get away with it?"
Well let's take a look at Activision Blizzard, the company that laid off a vast swathe of its workers after a year of record breaking profits. You wanna know how they get away with it? Any time they get called out for evil practices, such as when they took away a Hearthstone player's freedom of speech to appease China, they make a half-hearted apology that is then followed by a huge announcement. Granted, they do pay a lot of their crowd to attend their shows via incentive and they heavily vet the majority of press they invite so as to keep things in their favor, but that is no excuse to go along with such disgusting trickery.
Now that was just an example of how they directly promote their own terrible practices, but it is the indirect support of hate-speech such as the bullying of those who cannot afford microtransactions.
In countries such as Japan and China, it is common practice to disparage people of lower income. Their entire culture is based around moving upwards in life, and this is extremely prevalent and bleeding into the cultures of other countries at a rapid pace. This is no more immediately apparent anywhere else than in the gaming communities we and our children are a part of.
All too often I hear kids, kids no older than thirteen, harassing each other with hate speech of all different kinds. The most concerning of this speech comes in the form of wealth discrimination, and calling people who cannot afford cosmetic microtransactions defaults. I'm sure that doesn't seem so bad, but until you are at the receiving end of hours upon hours of this bullying you can't claim to know anything about it. Fortnite is a game where this hate-speech is regularly heard and supported as normal.
I've been in games where children are harassed so bad, being called default and poor among other hateful language, that they get off the game in tears. Just because their parents cannot, will not, or shall not buy into the predatory microtransaction systems of a game. What happens when you report it to the game developers? Nothing, they appreciate the harassing and hateful term default because it promotes spending.
You need to be the change for this sort of behavior, these sort of practices, or else we as a gaming community are doomed.
Predatory Mechanics Will Dominate the Industry
If we as a united community of fun lovers, and even further a world full of consumers, do not unite against these terrible practices then we are only going to see them deeper ingrained into the fundamentals of society. Make no mistake, this type of business model isn't just practiced in the gaming community. No, these practices are beginning to be used even within common interactions in daily life.
Grocery store chains, fast food restaurants, credit companies, insurance companies, and even children's arcades are all trying to adapt and evolve their own version of the, "Interest, hobby, habit, addiction," business model. If we cannot get out in front of this before it is too late, then we are going to see these predatory mechanics take root in every facet of our lives.
The only thing that stops a corporation from abusing you, because corporations are profit generators not people, is the law and people's willingness to stand up for justice. Encouraging childhood gambling addiction, adult gambling addiction, and sacrificing innocent fun for profit is not something we should ever promote!
Are you going to be the voice for change, or are you going to let these evil practices take hold of the world?
Kyler J Falk (author) from California on May 20, 2020:
It is very unfortunate to hear that DA may be a live service. I know much like the "Mass Effect" fandom, DA fans will bleed for their love of the game if they have to. Something I failed to mention, "live services," are the view that games are a service and not a product. This is eventually going to allow them to demand recurrent user spending rather than just promoting predatory practices.
A crazy world we live in where we will no longer own our games, and be forced to pay for them every month rather than own them once we buy them. Alas, we can all stand up to the profit monsters by contacting our representatives. You are in the UK where they already take these disgusting practices more serious; contacting them is doing more elsewhere than here in America.
Keep up the fight against greed, keep making "Fortnite a bad word, and keep the gaming industry alive!
Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on May 20, 2020:
Excellent hub, Kyler.
I had been aware of stuff like this happening but I didn't realise it was such a widespread practice. I get that companies have to make a profit but there is no excuse for taking advantage of players in this fashion. I am fortunate that my kids never fell for this.
Dragon Age fans began worrying about the next instalment when the words 'live service' came over the horizon. Thing is, no one is really sure what that entails because Bioware are being vague. I dearly love DA but I would sooner walk away than be a benign contributor to this practices.
By the way, Fortnite is a dirty word in my house and is never uttered. lol
Have great day, Kyler.