259: The Player and the Pusher-Man

The Player and the Pusher-Man

The success of a game now seems to hinge on how "addictive" it is, not just whether a game is fun. Rob Zacny ponders whether the trend of such manipulative gameplay is ethical.

Read Full Article

Its a very interesting discussion as 'fun' is also subjective and playing a MMO game with real money might provide a real world 'rush' that playing with 'fake' money won't simply because the stakes are higher and their is a real life consequence (ie, if you loose you can't eat).

I also feel that ego is a big part of people who play MMO games that that beating millions of anonymous humans means that they are a better person because they have the '1337 skilz' or something similar and again pushes the 'reward button' within their own self esteem - even if they are never actually seen in game as the big hero or 'greatest player' etc they will create that image for themselves and feel good about their achivements.

As for the ethics of this type of game design or not I'm not sure if you can really say its right or wrong simply because its the responsibility of the player to manage themselves. Think about drink, cigarettes and gambling - all are legal and addictive. People who drink / smoke / gamble will all say that they gain pleasure from those activities so for us to get all 'big brother' on them and take it away because they 'might' abuse that activity would also be unethical because if done in moderation those activities can provide pleasure that can't be obtained by other activities.

Its not just MMO's either.

I remember reading a news post about Starcraft 2, and how Blizzard was tweaking the matchmaking system in order to try and get people to play longer.

If I remember correctly, they said the system was "too good", and people would have an epic match, but stop playing after an hour. So they said they tweaked it a bit to allow you to get crushed or for you to crush someone above your skill level or below it, respectively. They want you to play longer, so they're changing a fantastic matchmaking system in order to keep you on the game.

Its a pretty scary thing to think about.

One of the best articles I've read in a while. Blow actually presents a very good point. Games tend to have pointless additions that do nothing but give you a sense of pride for having them. Vanity weapons in online shooters? Is it worth playing for fifty hours just to get that gold weapon? Having enemies drop ammunition. Do you really ever even run out of ammo in most shooters? Pointless mechanics that give a player a sense of accomplishment.

Braid was very much in line with Blow's philosophy. There are no coins or power-ups. No scores or unnecessary elements. Everything could be done with the tools that you are given and there was no bulk. The only collectible unlocked the ending to the game and had to be assembled as a jigsaw puzzle. Coincidentally, I loved the design of Braid.

I find this to be an interesting article that makes some good points. However, I find it weakest when it discusses single-purhase games like Mario. Although their are definite questions about whether a games that has content that must be purchased or even subcription-based games should be including these elements, complaining about the reward systems in regular videogames seems to be criticizing them for adding something for extra fun.

Yeah I woke up and realized WoW was not fun.

Irridium:
Its not just MMO's either.

I remember reading a news post about Starcraft 2, and how Blizzard was tweaking the matchmaking system in order to try and get people to play longer.

If I remember correctly, they said the system was "too good", and people would have an epic match, but stop playing after an hour. So they said they tweaked it a bit to allow you to get crushed or for you to crush someone above your skill level or below it, respectively. They want you to play longer, so they're changing a fantastic matchmaking system in order to keep you on the game.

Its a pretty scary thing to think about.

Ugg, I hope that is not true. I would rather have a good match.

Sartan0:
Yeah I woke up and realized WoW was not fun.

Irridium:
Its not just MMO's either.

I remember reading a news post about Starcraft 2, and how Blizzard was tweaking the matchmaking system in order to try and get people to play longer.

If I remember correctly, they said the system was "too good", and people would have an epic match, but stop playing after an hour. So they said they tweaked it a bit to allow you to get crushed or for you to crush someone above your skill level or below it, respectively. They want you to play longer, so they're changing a fantastic matchmaking system in order to keep you on the game.

Its a pretty scary thing to think about.

Ugg, I hope that is not true. I would rather have a good match.

Found the article

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/99211-Battle-net-StarCraft-II-Matchmaking-Too-Good

I was a bit off when I said they're changing it to keep you playing, but its still kind of lame, and disturbing.

Why would you want to make something thats amazing slightly worse?

Yeah this is the case, has been for years. But games are not the start of it, mmo's are not the paragons of this underhanded technique, why, it has been used far before the scientific research was done, and perfected, to much the same result.

The manipulative art of addictiveness has a firm grounding in the realms of literature. I will use as an example the author Alexandre Dumas, known widely to have been a self-agrandising egotistic ass with a toungue of solid silver, able to pen stories that would enrapture the nation (France) and the world.

Some of his notable works were published in pieces in the papers of the day, where they built up fanatical attention, the people enraptured were set clamouring for more week after week in what I believe to be one of the biggest examples of a finely executed "addiction" behaviour.

This technique proved sucessful was prevanlent in televion, books, and comics (the weekly hooks) and has been for now over a century an art perfected. Games are in the introductory phase of this at the moment, the system to be completed, the rules to be written and finalized.

Well written Rob.

This is why I consider "online persistent gameplay" to be somewhat similar to "donkey porn" in my personal lexicon.

Aw hell no! Blow did not just go after Mario!

Seriously, if you come across a life, it only takes six seconds to get, and they are not the point of the game.

internetzealot1:
Aw hell no! Blow did not just go after Mario!

Seriously, if you come across a life, it only takes six seconds to get, and they are not the point of the game.

No, but it makes a pointless activity not look pointless by giving it a fake reward (here's a life, now you can play for longer before you go back to the title screen and then can continue to play normally from there).

Although in that particular point I do disagree with Blow. Games need some sort of thing to keep the player interested if they have a lot of small challenges to offer. Most offer experience points, or money, or some combination of both. Mario is too simple to have either, so it has lifes. I realizes lifes were pointless when I was twelve and playing Banjo-Kazooie, but sometimes a little pat on the back is all you need.

As I (think I) said when this article was first published, the whole deal here is that 'fun' is hard to quantify. If centuries of medical work can't come up with a definitive way to describe the level of pain one is feeling, what hope does fun have?

I think the only ethical issue present in the gaming world is when real life money is exchanged by the user for something to get ahead of another person opposed to something that is acquired through the playing the game normally.

I see no issue in collecting 100 gold coins to get an extra life in Mario, it is a sense of accomplishment even if it is not required. It is harmless, it is a small ploy that might help shift games or maintain interest/create fans which developers/publishers need to do.

A more recent example would be for the call of duty: Modern warfare franchise. I think it is perfectly normal and acceptable to unlock new weaponry, be it purely aesthetic or something that is far superior dependent on achieving something, i.e. attaining level 30 or getting x' many heads shot or w/e. It is a computer game after all, you should be rewarded for working at the game.

However, I deeply oppose paying for content to get ahead of the next player as it is deeply exploitive and companies know this. This is where it becomes unethical; exploiting the knowledge that players want to get one up on their competition by getting them to part with their money.

Again, using CODMW but on a lesser scale, I think it is deplorable to charge an additional 10-20 quid when purchasing the game to get a code to unlock a weapon in advance. The reward is to have something that other people don't have and it is a really small example that shows how F2P models have their place and could be commercially viable.

On a more sinister scale would be any one of the many MMO's or Muds out there that allow you to play for free but require the user to pay for additional content be it weapons or armor etc. Perhaps the average user won't expend vast quantities of their money but enough do to make this payment model successful and worth doing- DnDO stated that they are finding people spending more money on the F2P model than the usual 6-15 pounds monthly subscription charges. This model exploits those who wish to better others or have the new shiny and will endlessly pump money into the system to yield better weapons, crops, orbs or whatever is on offer.

I'm really against this as I've experienced it for many years, essentially since the first fully graphical MMO's appeared, examples being Final fantasy online and world of warcraft. Prior to their arrival, the MUD scene (text based versions of MMORPG'S) was incredibly popular. Several games I played were frequented by excess of 100+ players (this was a lot specially back in the AOL days of paying for the internet per the minute). Upon the arrival of MMO's, many players left MUD's behind and alot of MUD's died due to a lack of population. A lot of MUDS's could no longer continue to develop the game and monthly charges were often waived in favour of F2P; users often had to pay money to receive buffs or new equipment.

The problem is how quickly it consumes people. It is like smack, not everyone does it but enough do it that is warrants a whole illegal drug trade to appear.

It is a horrible system which not only consumes people and their wallets but also ruins the games atmosphere and community. F2P Muds games suddenly become less about achieving something in the game as a group, i.e. slaying a certain difficult monster as a group or having a amazing role-play to what I could only describe as a, my dick is bigger than your dick competition. It got to the point in certain games where you were literally forced into buying new items/weapons to progress or to have a chance to compete with another user and in doing so one could easily spend more than the previous monthly subscription.

F2P has developed so much as it is now mainstream and it will only further worsen the gaming addiction. F2P is essentially the latest Heroin.

Irridium:
Its not just MMO's either.

I remember reading a news post about Starcraft 2, and how Blizzard was tweaking the matchmaking system in order to try and get people to play longer.

If I remember correctly, they said the system was "too good", and people would have an epic match, but stop playing after an hour. So they said they tweaked it a bit to allow you to get crushed or for you to crush someone above your skill level or below it, respectively. They want you to play longer, so they're changing a fantastic matchmaking system in order to keep you on the game.

Its a pretty scary thing to think about.

Not surprising. Blizzard are the Bowser of addictive bullshit. Of course they are gonna incorporate that everywhere they can. What I don't understand though, is what they have to gain. As far as I know, SC2 will have a fixed retail price. Who the hell cares what the players are doing after they've bought it?

*Edit* Remember when games were made by passionate people who wanted others to enjoy their hardwork, and that was the main motivation? I don't, but I know there was a time like that. Nowadays, what determines how a game will be is an equation where you try to squeeze out as much cash as possible. YAY for capitalism.

Also, we humans are suckers.

in other words: the games are now business, and as such they get the worst treatment,just enough so they can produce income.

I'm quite curious as to what the article defines "fun" as. It seems pretty adamant at drawing a line between fun and "accomplishment", but what if they're one and the same? The sense of accomplishment exists in every game, whether it's completing a level, getting a new weapon or finishing the game. In my mind I would say there's two things that makes games fun: "being challenged" and "overcoming challenge". These two are obviously connected. For instance in a boss fight, it's fun because I have to use my learned skills and concentrate to beat it, which is fun on it's own. But it's also when it's over and I can say "Hell yeah, I owned that bitch.". And there's nothing wrong with either. Humans are meant to seek victory, to seek to advance and challenge ourselves.

In that light, I would say it becomes unethical when you take out the challenge aspect. When there is something to overcome, but it only takes mindless repetition or monetary input to overcome it, it's not a challenge.

"The core value proposition of that game, without that reward structure around lives, isn't valuable enough to people to sustain their time playing the game. So what's happening is that the reward system is being used to get players to play much further through the game than they normally would."

Is Blow really suggesting Super Mario Galaxy 2 would fail to engage players enough to finish the game without the life reward structure? o_O

Difficult topic.
For me most times I feel when games are trying to make doing me boring things just to reward me with something. The reward can be seen as fun and as akomplishment ... it is a part of every game and isn't particuallary a bad thing. It's more about the balance of actual conetent and gameplay and rewards. For instance at the end of an singleplayer game you get the reward of the end of the story and the realisation that you helped doing it (even though it isn't real).
In MMO's I don't like the reward system because all you get are ingame items. New shiny swords, lasors, guns whatever. Many people apeal this and I can see why. But others don't and I think that's the main reason of some people don't liking MMO's. I play for the experience. Things like lvl's weapons, gear I'm not really interested. The immersion, story and you acomplishing something in your owen way is far more important.
Rewards are a part of life and how we work. But if you really play games just for the reward ... for the thing that makes you feel good after akomplishment and not the way you do it then it's your decision. People know how they feel and they should also know when they have fun and when not. If the game feels like work and you don't like the work your doing ... then you better decide if the thing you get afterwards is really worth it.

Also ... we aren't as manipulative as some people may think. This video shows some things about our motivations -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here