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Who Killed Videogames? 401

Posted by Soulskill
from the zynga-in-the-cloud-with-the-microtransactions dept.
jjp9999 writes "Video game developer and novelist Tim Rogers exposes the underbelly of free-to-play games that use real-world currency. They're not trying to entertain you — they're trying to get you hooked. Every minute you play is being analyzed by men in suits reeling you into a cycle of addiction so they can keep you coming for more, and hopefully opening your wallet to buy premium points here and there. To do this, they intentionally give you an hour's worth of gameplay dragged out over the course of a week to keep it on your mind, dropping coins here and there for you to pick up, and playing on your own sense of work and profit to keep you coming back."
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Who Killed Videogames?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    capitalism

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Its not capitalism its greed.

      • by maguxs (2350904)
        same thing
      • The core of Capitalism is the making of profit above all else. It has no morals, no restraints, and no humanity. The reason companies try to avoid major industrial accidents like Bhopal has nothing to do with not causing harm or death, it has to do with avoiding profit loss. If something improves profits it must be done, to not do it would be to fail those who own the capital. The reason for maximizing profits, is and can only be Greed.

        • by martyros (588782)

          The core of Capitalism is the making of profit above all else.

          The core of economics is people doing valuable for things for other people -- "creating value", to use a PHB word. I've had a bit of exposure to the business world, and discovered that there are basically two kinds of businessmen: People who want to get your money by giving you something valuable (i.e, worth the money), and people who just want to make money whatever way they can, preferably with the minimal effort (i.e., generally giving you no

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @07:31PM (#37727100) Journal
      More subtle than that, arguably.

      Consider this bit from TFA:
      "An ex-drug-dealer (now a video game industry powerbrain) once told me that he doesn’t understand why people buy heroin. The heroin peddler isn’t even doing heroin. Like him or not, when you hear Cliff Bleszinski talk about Gears of War, he sounds — in a good way — like a weed dealer. He sounds like he endorses what he is selling. When you’re in a room with social games guys, the “I never touch the stuff” attitude is so thick you’ll need a box cutter to breathe properly."

      With the traditional, boxed lump-'o-retail game, there was a certain necessary straightforwardness, possibly even honesty about the thing: You make the game and either get my $50 or not. Even if you are merely calculating, you still want to make a fun game, because you need me to buy it. If you are genuinely enthusiastic about games, you also want to make a fun game.

      Once you get into the world of DLC and MMORPGs and such, you are in a sort of intermediate position: There is still the upfront purchase; but you have a constant nagging incentive to see what you can get away with in terms of sucking me in for another month's grind, or making some downloaded component semi-obligatory.

      Once you get to "freemium", our interests are more or less at odds: I'm a net loss to you as long as I play for free, so you have an incentive to try every dirty trick in the book to 'monetize' me, and create a game that induces payment without ever overtly demanding it.

      It's ironic, actually, that the "casual" games would be the ones where this rather ugly dynamic is strongest. The stereotype(not 100% without supporting anecdotes, but rather overplayed) is that the 'serious' gamers are the ones where the hardcore addictions are; but that is the area where the publisher's incentive to create addictive gameplay is weakest: You already have my $60, you want me to enjoy myself so I'll buy the sequel; but you gain nothing from sucking away my life. On the casual side, you start with nothing from me, and you have to scrape it out one microtransaction at a time...
      • by msobkow (48369) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @08:13PM (#37727384) Homepage Journal

        I was hooked on Mafia Wars for a few months, until I realized how much time I was wasting for nothing. So-called "social media" games are anything but. There is no social aspect to them at all -- no in-game conversation, no player messaging support, nothing. Anyone with a headset and an XBox experiences more social interaction while gaming than on Crackbook.

        Once I stepped back from them, I realized you couldn't even really call them "games". There is no winning or losing, only perpetual grinding for enough points/items to accomplish a mission, after which you eternally move on to the next mission that they've added in the meantime.

        There is no skill involved, no choice involved, and no thought involved. Just keep clicking long enough, and you'll get to the "next level."

        I'd call them Ponzi schemes, except you were never promised anything of use or value if you choose to spend real money on them.

        • Meanwhile, you were passing the time doing something that interested you.

      • by Tom (822)

        Once you get into the world of DLC and MMORPGs

        Not necessarily. There are a couple MMOs out there that are genuinely fun and if they are built on the principle of addiction, it is very well hidden. Guild Wars is still one of my favorites for that very reason. They already had your money (it had no subscription, you paid once and then could play), so their goal was to make you want more (expansion packs), but I never got the feeling that the game was a "trailer" for the expansion packs. Maybe because they did things so differently from everyone else in t

  • by intellitech (1912116) * on Saturday October 15, 2011 @07:20PM (#37727036)

    This summary quite literally illustrates exactly what is driving away gamers, and which nothing to do with the games but instead the various companies behind it and their various little pay-as-you-go niches (map packs, songs, excessive subscriptions, etc.). It's all about the various companies involved in the development and marketing of a game, who nearly always turn out to be greedy little pigs. Take, for instance, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and their Double XP Promotion [pcgamer.com]. This really pisses off real gamers (the ones who play a lot and get better through time and practice), and especially pisses off those who had to work hard for their last prestige. One mere example, but, regardless, they really need to knock it off.

    • by oakgrove (845019)
      One of the main reasons I stopped playing games is I couldn't stomach the level of intellectual insults I was enduring anymore. And I moved to Linux. That too.

      I keed. I keed!

    • by Dunbal (464142) * on Saturday October 15, 2011 @07:30PM (#37727088)

      You don't have to buy their games. Fortunately the games market - at least for PC's and smart phones - is fairly easy to get into. Yeah ok if you want to talk retail distribution then it's harder if you're not doing it online - getting your game into brick and mortar stores around the world is next to impossible unless you sign with a major publisher. But even the major publishers are moving to online distribution, so the independent has no excuse. The market is coming to expect to be able to download games and apps now. And many, many independent games have achieved surprising success.

      Therefore there will always be some game genres that don't follow the mainstream trend - if everyone is monetizing, at some point they are not going to be getting new customers because everyone will be busy playing the non-monetized games. Apart from the occasional idiot who never learns, you can only take people for a ride so often. Eventually people are going to get a feel for these cash-sucking parasites, just like people get a feel for telemarketers or infomercials and instantly switch off, and this "industry" will extinguish itself. I think good games are never going to die because human creativity is never going to die.

      • by TechLA (2482532)
        Team Fortress 2 is a great example of a well done f2p game with microtransactions. It feels far from crap game and because you can get those items by just playing, crafting or trading, you don't feel like you're constantly pressured to buy something. However, many people do if they really want some item now, providing the developer with income. I have also used the store a few times when I wanted a specific item for the spy (to complete a set and improve it how I wanted to play), but don't feel like I was p
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sonicmerlin (1505111)

      I was actually about to comment on how surprising it is that it took this long for the games industry to mutate to this model. Games have always been ripe for psychological manipulation of the customer, but for the most part until recently game developers had focused solely on the "pure" goal of providing a great experience. Eventually this led to publishers milking franchises to maximize profits, but usually those sequels (like the Elder Scrolls and Fallout) were actually quite good. Now we have "achiev

      • by Culture20 (968837)

        Now we have "achievements" and "trophies" and other bizarre and meaningless "rewards" mostly unrelated to the actual game experience.

        When video games started out, we had points and high scores with three-letter winner boards featuring winners like ???, TIT, and POO. Those were pretty meaningless. Then we moved on to computer games, and they kept the arcade style leader boards, which were even more meaningless, then the "send in a letter to the publisher in care of 'I won!' with a self addressed, stamped envelope to receive your certificate of completion of the game. Congratulations!". And then that went away too, so the end cutscene

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        This has been done in MMOs since the very start. Companies have evolved this over time but from the beginning there have been micro-managed quests doled out in bite sized pieces to provide quick periodic positive feedback.

      • by TechLA (2482532)
        It has always been popular model in Asia.

        And I don't really agree about achievements.. I think they're nice addition to games, if well done. For example in TF2 the achievements grant you items which you can then use in gameplay, so they're a bit like quests. It also provides more objectives in games - Defense Grid is awesome tower defense game, but I've finished it long time ago. I am, however, still playing it to finish all the missions to get gold medals out of them, or play with specific style (no upgr
    • There's something wrong when you use "working hard" in a sentence about gaming. Gaming is supposed to be fun, it's not supposed to be work.

      • by TechLA (2482532)
        How does work mean it can't be fun? I enjoy both games and my work. In fact, I kind of take my work as a competitive game, and I'm satisfied when I beat my competitors. There's real world rewards too.
    • by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @07:55PM (#37727260) Journal

      Take, for instance, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and their Double XP Promotion [pcgamer.com]. This really pisses off real gamers (the ones who play a lot and get better through time and practice), and especially pisses off those who had to work hard for their last prestige.

      Sure, but you'll still buy it, mate? [penny-arcade.com]

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      It's up to the players to recognize this and just avoid what they don't like. This attitude of "omg they just want money!" is naive and stupid. They've always wanted money, they're no more or less evil than they were 10 years ago. The game companies have never been their pals.

      If people don't like it they should vote with their wallets. Support good games with good replay value.

  • Silly. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kamapuaa (555446) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @07:24PM (#37727060) Homepage

    Video games have been about making money since the beginning. Arcade games used to last approximately 26 seconds a play, and you put in a quarter every game. If you want I guess you could couch it in really loaded terms: "business men in suits crawl out of the gutter and analyze player behavior to get more and more quarters into their greedy hands."

    And are there actually businessmen in suits looking over the computer-generated databases on player behavior? If there are, is this a bad thing? This whole article is bullshit with some kind of weird nonsensical anti-establishment bias. Perhaps you'd be better off occupying Wall Street.

    • Re:Silly. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Osgeld (1900440) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @07:30PM (#37727090)

      I was watching a old computer chronicles from 88? anyway there was a game designer talking about arcade games

      "Its almost like inventing a drug, and finding that balance between letting people play forever and not frustrating them so they keep dropping the quarters in, is the key, just give them a big enough dose that they cant stop"

    • Video games have been about making money since the beginning.

      Well, so what? You could say something similar about music, film, and literature. Fine - that doesn't mean that the increasingly focus-tested, mass-appeal garbage we're getting in all of these media isn't worse than it used to be.

      Find me any 1950's equivalents to Justin Bieber, like Elvis for example, and I will guarantee they will have more artistic merit than the Biebs.

    • by Dunbal (464142) *

      Video games have been about making money since the beginning. Arcade games used to last approximately 26 seconds a play, and you put in a quarter every game

      And as a direct result of this, home video consoles like the Fairchild and Atari were born, as parents figured out it would be cheaper to pay $180 and buy one of those for the kid for Christmas instead of feeding him $10 bills every weekend...

    • by Twinbee (767046)

      Not all arcade game producers were like that. Many games such as 'The New Zealand Story', 'Pang', 'Super Wonderboy', 'Strider' or 'R-Type' would last quite a while, especially if you were good. These games were created out of a love for their craft, rather than purely just money.

      Sure they made them tricky, and often short. But in any case, often I wish more games these days had more quality over quantity like that, where you get a better run in a shorter time frame.

      So you're partially wrong in 2 different w

    • I shudder to think how much money I actually fed those old machines, a quarter at a time.

  • Well...yeah. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by chemicaldave (1776600) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @07:29PM (#37727080)

    They're not trying to entertain you — they're trying to get you hooked.

    From my perspective as a consumer, what's the difference? It's all the same to me as long as I'm satisfied.

    • Well the nice thing about terms like 'addictive' or 'psychological manipulation' is that it makes people blameless 'wasting time'. TV went thru this nonsense too.

  • I play plenty of video games on consoles and the PC, and have for over 30 years. You know what? I don't see any difference (beyond all of the technological innovations) because there are just as many *real* games out there as there have always been.

    So a bunch of middle-aged homemakers are now sucked into Farmville - these are *new* customers who have never played the "traditional" video games that existed before the glut of free-to-play Facebook crap, and will probably never be a part of that market.

    Face

  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @07:32PM (#37727112) Homepage Journal
    How is this fundamentally ANY different from what video games have been doing since the dawn of time?

    Shareware games->designed to get you hooked on the first few levels so you buy the game

    Those little SNES consoles they set up at stores back in the day->designed to get you hooked on the game so you guy it.

    hell even a lot of arcade games were intentionally designed to be really easy for the first stage or two so you would get hooked and feel compelled to pump more quarters in. This guy has some serious nostalgia goggles, the model has, and always will be to get gamers to spend money on the game by tempting them with a little taste of what is in store if they do spend money on the game. Free to play has just added another method for achieving the same objective.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by sakari (194257)

      How is this fundamentally ANY different from what video games have been doing since the dawn of time?

      It is fundementally different, because of the design objectives. They are designing the game to hook the player in by putting monetary gain as the primary motivation of design, not playability or making the game fun for the players. Monetary gain is the objective of this game.

      This creates very different kind of games than those that were originally designed for just the love of making videogames!

      • by edremy (36408)
        You never played Gauntlet back in the arcade days, did you?

        Yeah, it was a great game. Yeah, the guy who wrote it probably loved videogames. But damn, did he like quarters just as much, because there's never been a wallet vacuum like that game.

    • If the game is decent or gives me some enjoyment for a few hours at a time then why is it wrong for them to try to get me to spend money on it? Still cheaper than going to the movies in most places and more fun than watching TV.

    • by vitaflo (20507)

      How is this fundamentally ANY different from what video games have been doing since the dawn of time?

      Shareware games->designed to get you hooked on the first few levels so you buy the game

      Those little SNES consoles they set up at stores back in the day->designed to get you hooked on the game so you guy it.

      hell even a lot of arcade games were intentionally designed to be really easy for the first stage or two so you would get hooked and feel compelled to pump more quarters in. This guy has some serious

      • Yes I did, and guess what, the author still offers 0 evidence to say how these games are fundamentally different from what has happened in the past. What is your point other than trying to be a smartass?
    • by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Saturday October 15, 2011 @09:50PM (#37727882) Homepage

      How is this fundamentally ANY different from what video games have been doing since the dawn of time?

      Ever played FarmVille? No? Give it a try. Within the first few minutes you will learn that that games works quite different from anything you played in the past. Among other things:

      * based on realtime, forcing you to revisit the game to not spoil your crop
      * regular calls to spam your friends, for in-game reward
      * regular calls to exchange your real world money for in-game currency
      * randomized in-game reward whenever you start the game
      * essentially free of challenge, all the game requires is clicking on stuff to get rewards

      None of those elements have been present in that form in traditional games.

      Certain elements of course overlap a bit, Civ has some of those addicting elements, Diablo had them, etc. But the way they are directly exploited and analyzed in free to play games is quite a different thing then what you had in the past.

      Arcade games where of course somewhat similar in trying to exploit the player, but they where limited by needing an expensive arcade machine that could only serve one or two players. Online games not only no longer have that limitation, they also allow regular changes to the games to optimize them for maximum revenue.

      • by syousef (465911)

        * based on realtime, forcing you to revisit the game to not spoil your crop = PAIN IN THE ARSE - If I can't automate that, not interested!
        * regular calls to spam your friends, for in-game reward = HELL NO. I want to keep my friends
        * regular calls to exchange your real world money for in-game currency = FUCK OFF, I don't buy virtual crap. If you sell me the game that is a real world item. If you start trying to sell me in game items I walk away
        * randomized in-game reward whenever you start the game = WOOOHOOO write a script to start the game daily ;-)
        * essentially free of challenge, all the game requires is clicking on stuff to get rewards = Same as any video game I've played. Just gotta click the right stuff.

        No wonder I've never been interested in farmville.

  • I think what is lost in this conversation is that the game industry HAS been here before. Does anyone remember arcade games? Play Time Crisis and try to tell me with a straight face that that series was a well made, complex strategy shooter that you could play for more than 5 minutes on less than $1 of coins. I agree to an extent that the pay-as-you-go model is getting pretty pervasive and it should be implemented in more moderation. Just don't try to sell me that this will take over the WHOLE industry. It
    • Regarding arcade games, for me that is why it is so nice in recent years to be able to play games of my youth via emulator + roms without having to spend anything! Back in the day it really galled me that to even get a little bit proficient I had to spend a lot of money. In hindsight I see that the 'cool' guys who were really good at the games spent crazy amounts of money and in my experience, these were usually not the sharpest tools in the shed. Back then, arcade games, while fun, always did seems like a
  • "...The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?"

    The indie game scenes is still out there creating some wonderfully beautiful, challenging, and meaningful games, and making money to boot. The universe remains in balance.

  • The name of the site hosting the article pretty much says it all: "Insert Credit". Free-to-Play models harken back to the coin-eating arcades of our youth. Why did you have a limited number of lives or continues? Why was there a time limit to clear a board? To get you to pump more coins into the machine, to make money. Enticing you to keep paying to play is nothing new. Some companies have simply discovered a new way to develop a sustainable revenue stream from modern console and PC games.

    As much as
  • Except instead of a computer virus that is trying to optimize users so that they supply a steady input of data, it's businessmen trying to optimize users so that they supply a stead input of cash. In both cases, through trial and error the would-be optimizers eventually discover the secrets to getting users to play over and over and over until they're absolutely drained.

    Gosh, when I put it like that it also sounds like the golden age of video games. Pong, Space Invaders, Q*Bert, Pac-Man, etc. were just big

  • He wasn't kidding about being 'The Worst Journalist In The World'.

  • There was an awesome Extra Credits video exactly about this issue, very worth watching: http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/metrics [penny-arcade.com]
  • A fool and his/her money are easily parted.

    The rest of us get a surprisingly good entertainment return on video games compared to movies/cable/clubs/whatever even with DLC...

  • by sjames (1099) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @09:24PM (#37727798) Homepage

    There seems to be a confusion about the games. TFA is talking about the games that have been distilled down to discard all elements of skill or even luck. All that's left is the Skinner conditioning, mechanical grinding and an offer to skip the grind in exchange for real world cash.

  • by rbanzai (596355) on Saturday October 15, 2011 @10:28PM (#37728040)

    If you expose a product to at least 100 million people you're going to collect some of those who have addictive personalities. If you think it requires modern marketing analysis to create an addictive game, replacing "real" content with material designed to addict then you must have missed out on the late 1970s/early 1980s when kids were glued to arcade games. Space Invaders, Pac-Man et al were drawing children intro scrounging for every last quarter just for one more play. This happened worldwide, with none of the benefit of the cold, computer-aided fine-tuning that we're told is luring people in.

    Can they make a video game more addictive? Possibly, but the idea that only specialized work on a title is what makes people addicted to it is not accurate.

  • by Buzz_Litebeer (539463) on Monday October 17, 2011 @09:48AM (#37739094) Journal

    If you ever want to read an interesting book on this subject, For The Win by Cory Doctorow.

Programmers do it bit by bit.

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