Zynga Tries Charging Random Prices For DLC, Fails

Letty's Sting Ray from The Fate of the Furious showed up as a premium microtransaction in CSR Racing 2 earlier this week. It cost $US4.99 ($6) to unlock. Or $US14.99 ($19). Or $US34.99 ($45). According to Zynga, prices for the premium vehicle were set to random as part of a feature test. Really.

The situation came to our attention via a Reddit thread, in which a player posted the response given them by Zynga support upon realising that they were being asked to pay $US14.99 ($19) for a vehicle one of their crew mates had purchased for only $US4.99 ($6).

Image via smhallguy on Reddit, and whichever poor support bastard had to type out that response.

Other players chimed in with the prices they were seeing, ranging from $US4.99 ($6) on up to $US35 ($45). Logging into the game on my iPad, I was offered the car at the lowest price.

It had to be some sort of fluke. Surely a mobile game company would not randomly assign prices to a piece of content to test whatever it is the feature is supposed to be testing. How much people are willing to pay? That's what coming out at a high price and then slowly lowering it over time is all about.

I reached out to Zynga, who told me that the CSR Racing 2 team was testing a new event, and that testing had led to different players being "surfaced" different versions of the event containing different prices.

So was it a mistake born of testing, or a deliberate result of the testing? A post on the Zynga support page this morning clarified the situation.

From time to time we test different features in the game, and on this occasion the price of the cars was set randomly as part of a test. While the test has been completed and everyone should now have the same experience in CSR2, we want to acknowledge that we heard from many of you that this test created a poor experience.

I cannot imagine a test like this being implemented without the expectation that many people would be angry. Hell, I'm angry and I didn't even want the car in the first place.

We apologise for any frustration this test may have caused and want to assure you it was done at random and not based on player history. Testing features is an important part of game development but we're sorry this test missed the mark and disrupted your game experience.

Well at least they apologised.

The car is now set at its intended price of $US14.99 ($19), meaning folks like me who could have purchased it yesterday for $US4.99 ($6) but were too confused about the whole pricing situation to pull the trigger on it missed out on saving $US10 ($13).

Players who purchased Letty's Sting Ray at the highest price of $US35 ($45) will be receiving a special in-game compensation package within the next 24 hours, which sounds a lot like not getting the extra $US20 ($26) back. I'd suggest going through Google Play or iTunes and requesting a refund, linking to the support page as evidence that this is some bullshit.


    Exhibit 500 of why Zynga are a scumbag company. 'Testing' is such a bogus excuse, any rookie software developer knows you don't test features on customers without theri consent or prior knowledge. But even that aside, randomised prices can't believably by tied to any actual feature or actual test other than "how much will suckers pay for this just because we ask for it", which is manipulative, exploitative bullshit. Par for the course from Zynga.

      Or you know, you do test with live customers in the form of A-B testing to see what people go for.

    They were testing which price point nets the best profit. Just don't support these scum mobile developers by downloading their pay to win games.

    They're hardly the only free to play game running A/B tests on pricing of in-game purchases, and it is probably premature to call it a failure.

    The purpose of the test would have been to determine what people were willing to spend, and presumably they successfully collected that data. The final price point they picked for the item was probably even derived from the results of the test.

    It is good to see customers comparing prices and kicking up a stink about things like this though: without that there would be nothing stopping the publishers from presenting everyone with individual prices tuned to the maximum they can bear to spend.

      You don't A/B test on live users with no declaration or consent, that's an ethics violation. Facebook's news feed A/B testing back in 2014 stirred so much outrage for that very reason, it wasn't declared and it wasn't consensual.

      That aside, purchase volumes are too statistically insignificant to gain meaningful information from A/B testing, and alienating customers tends to have a demonstrable negative effect on revenue.

        A/B testing is best done on live users, and without telling them. Google Play supports A/B testing on the store front for different Icons and store text. A game I worked on had a random mini-game as the first tutorial and we used the analytics on that to pick the best one.

          No, it absolutely is not. It's broadly considered unethical to conduct research of any scale on anyone without consent, especially if that research leaves any lasting effect after the end of the test (eg. taking people's money). If Zynga had bothered to consult with the Institutional Review Board their test would have been rejected as unethical.

          Behavioural research is regulated, whether you're a company or a scientist. In the United States that's covered by the National Research Act, which includes principles to maintain respect for participants, including:

          Respect for persons requires that subjects, to the degree that they are capable, be given the opportunity to choose what shall or shall not happen to them. This opportunity is provided when adequate standards for informed consent are satisfied.

          In Australia, the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Research Involving Humans provides detail on what constitutes ethical research for both institutions and organisations, and includes:

          Before research is undertaken, whether involving individuals or collectivities, the consent of the participants must be obtained

          I don't know enough specifics of your test to be able to comment on it, but the principles of ethical testing on people are clear: you must respect the people you're testing and that respect includes obtaining their consent. You don't have to tell them what precisely is being tested, many subjects rely on blind testing, but you absolutely should inform them that you're conducting a test, the broad nature of that test, and require their consent before continuing.

            You can quote all the ethics research you want, but you are naive in the extreme if you think this isn't happening across pretty much every industry out there without that consent.

              People also lie, cheat and steal. I never said it isn't happening, I said it's unethical. If you want to run an ethical business you always obtain consent. If you want to be scumbags like Zynga, feel free to toss ethical business practices to the side.

    mobile games have a long way to go (posting again to get my moderation back)

    I wouldnt touch anything Zynga with a 20ft pole, this is just another example of why.
    Even just googling 'Zynga' resulted in dozens of hate pages against them by disgruntled customers.

    One would have to think it's against the consumer law to randomly charge people different prices.

    Also, damn. Is mobile gaming more expensive than PC gaming? $19 bucks for a car?

      Also, damn. Is mobile gaming more expensive than PC gaming? $19 bucks for a car?

      Call me Ishmael.

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