You Don’t Need To Defend Video Games

You Don’t Need To Defend Video Games
Image: ABC / Four Corners (YouTube)

After months of work behind the scenes, the ABC’s Four Corners finally aired an investigation into the workings of the video game industry this week. You could almost set a clock to the inevitable reaction: accusations of poor reporting, misrepresentation, a lack of developer insight and balance, and a general lack of appreciation for the “good” video games have done for people.

Some of the complaints make sense, but it also fundamentally misses the main point.

video games
A loot box from Overwatch.

If you strip away the differences between the report and the original article — an abridged form of the Four Corners story that went live early Monday morning — the main cut and thrust is that a certain segment of video games has built its business model on an interlocking series of systems designed to convince people that microtransactions and micropayments have more value than they actually do.

The way Four Corners got to that argument was clumsy. The repeated motif of dark rooms only lit by RGB keyboards was an echo of the fearmongering mainstream coverage of the ’90s and ’00s. The innate nature of the Four Corners program has structural flaws, too. The story can’t progress without a direct quote, but sometimes those quotes feel a little forced. Why, for instance, was the cosplayer and streamer the one making grand pronouncements on video games and gambling when you have one of the academics responsible for presenting research to the Senate inquiry on microtransactions on the exact same topic?

But still, the fundamental argument is no different to one gamers and specialist gaming media has been making for years.

Loot boxes are designed to exploit us. Microtransactions are designed to get people to spend. Not all games and developers build systems in a predatory manner, and not all studios and publishers lean on technology to maximise their profits with A/B testing, manipulated values and other psychological tricks to extract “value” from “customers”.

But is the problem still there? Of course it is.

Much of this conversation isn’t new, either. When the Senate inquiry into microtransactions sprang to life out of nowhere, it was met with universal acclaim. Government oversight and regulation of video games is almost never welcome. The industry has weathered decades of knee-jerk reactions and scapegoating of all things from Night Trap to GTA 5. It is the entertainment medium that is least understood by older generations and the easiest to blame.

But the idea that even politicians had caught a whiff of the fury spawned by the excess shown by Star Wars: Battlefront 2, Middle-earth: Shadow of War or the ongoing casino-esque advertisements within the NBA 2K series? Finally, they get it, people thought.

The industry had danced around language for years, saying loot boxes were anything but gambling, including “surprise mechanics” at one point. Talk about “whales” had entered the public consciousness well before Overwatch popularised loot boxes. We knew there were stories of people burning thousands, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands on consumable items and virtual skins with no resale value. The nightmare surrounding secondary markets, skin trading and the advertisement of skin gambling — often to minors — had done the rounds for years.

I saw complaints on social media of people complaining about Four Corners linking microtransactions and psychological manipulation being unfair because they used the Assassin’s Creed’s feather collecting mini-quests, which had nothing to do with microtransactions or monetisation.

Entirely fair. But what if Four Corners had called out FIFA Ultimate Team instead? Or people spending more than $4 a pop to open CS:GO cases? Or just the sheer amount of games using loot box-like mechanics? What would people say then?

I want to digress, if only because some of the reflexive, hyper-defensive reaction from some quarters has reminded me of concerns in an adjacent, nascent industry that has a habit of reacting the same way.

A few years ago at PAX Australia, I was sitting on a panel talking about esports in Australia. Having done a few, one of the most consistent questions you could bank on from the audience (or panellists themselves) was concern over the “negative” portrayal of esports.

The fear was that esports was permanently reliant on the support of marketing budgets and sponsors, and any coverage of unsporting behaviour, or too much focus on covering the “bad” stories — without an equal, if not greater, number of “positive” stories — would be fundamentally detrimental to the future of esports.

We know what the worst parts of our community are, but if you shine a spotlight on it, everything we enjoy, all the good parts of this world will be taken away. That was the subtext.

At the time, and as one of the chief proponents of covering esports just like every other industry, my argument was simple. The industry was never going to go away because it was built, thrived and survived off the goodwill, energy and money on the players and fans within it. Those fans and players were the ones who funded tournaments that paid for, at best, half-price plane tickets for a national tournament. Those fans and players got older and then went into various companies who helped fund the licenses to then ensure that next generation could represent Australia in Sweden, Germany, South Korea, San Francisco, Italy, Shanghai, or wherever Australia’s representatives needed to be. Those fans have since gone on to help fund players and teams directly, investing in merchandise, direct Twitch donations, sticker sales in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, creator codes, Dota compendiums, affiliate links for peripherals, special edition mice, keyboards, and so on.

Esports was guaranteed to survive because its actual base never went anywhere. The number of players and fans was growing, and always expected to grow. Whether brands got on board, whether they were endemic to video games or not, was never the concern. The audience was always there. And where audiences lie, support will eventually follow.

Shadow of War’s loot boxes and paid marketplace, after much criticism, were patched out of the game entirely.

The fundamental point is not that games aren’t wonderful, or that most Australians have an incredible experience, or that the majority of the industry acts in good faith. The point is that good faith isn’t enough. Australian consumer law innately understands this, and so does the regulator that repeatedly reminds vendors of its existence. It’s not that companies seek to inherently skirt local law or abuse the faith of their customers, but that human nature and capitalism combined will always test the boundaries of any protective mechanism, and citizens expect their elected representatives and agencies to hold that line accordingly.

Unfortunately, the line doesn’t exist in video games yet. Gaming grew too fast, too quickly for anybody to draw the line. And gamers themselves have been calling for that line to be drawn for years.

When Valorant releases skins that cost $138 apiece, or mobile games offer “bundles” of in-game currency in the triple figures, people joke they would never make such a ludicrous purchase; anyone who does should be embarrassed. It’s their fault, the comments say. Shame on them.

But is that the problem? Or is the problem that we have joked and known for years that some people do make those ludicrous purchases — enough for developers to justify their inclusion and slowly creeping incursions on the boundaries of what people will pay? And that those purchases increase the likelihood of others making smaller transactions that they might otherwise avoid because of the perceived value?

At what point does a microtransaction just become a transaction?

Even the industry’s language these days indicates a willingness to accept stronger restrictions on in-game spending.

“But with the array of games, and publishers, and different actors within this market, there will always be those who aren’t as upfront as they should be,” Ron Curry, CEO of the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association, told Four Corners.

Put another way: there are always going to be bad actors in video games, the mobile market in particular, but beyond relying on good will, there’s not a huge amount anyone can do to stop them.

Consumer awareness alone, mind you, is never enough. Poker machines are a useful parallel here. We know they are designed to entice and appeal through conditioned responses, ambient music and visuals, random reinforcements schedules and multi-line betting. But it’s not just the machines or their creators, but the environments that house them: casinos, pubs, clubs which offer punters free coffees, drinks or snacks to tide them over and quell any distractions that might pull them away.

And we know, as Australians especially but society more broadly, that works. That combination of just all the right things doesn’t trigger me to sit down at a poker machine, not now, not ever. But I know that digital blend of art and psychological craft works on others. And it’s doing the rounds in front of increasingly younger audiences, who might not have had the life experience or safeguards to protect themselves.

A shot of the microtransactions available in Valorant, where you can spend $129.99 on 9750 in-game ‘points’.

Logical as all of this is, I still don’t think that’s the core of why the Four Corners report immediately triggered a reflexive, hyper-defensive, “what about the good in video games” response. The Four Corners story could have shored up all of its bases in written and video form, and people still would have complained that it wasn’t representative of their experience of video games.

That ignores the subtext of what’s being said about the experiences of others who are left scammed or caught unawares. Usually, the response is that it’s the players’ fault. They should have known better. It doesn’t touch on whether the industry needs to take advantage of people to that degree; it’s not like video games are suffering from an absence of cash. The combined revenue of the world’s largest platforms and publishers is equivalent to the GDP of some major Western countries. Analysts, consultants, psychologists and economists are paid high salaries by major publishers to maximise monetisation. And while it may not be effective, and many companies try to tow the line as ethically as possible, it’s also a reality that publishers are relying on microtransactions and their ilk to help fund the increased cost of selling video games.

So rather than trying to pick a fight about individual responsibility, doesn’t it make more sense to own the next, more meaningful conversation? If microtransactions are to be a permanent cog in the funding of all video games, premium or free-to-play, where do we draw the line? How do we draw the line, and who enforces it? Platforms? Governments? Individual regulators?

If companies are going to build and rely upon algorithms that draw upon the data on your mobile device, or a broader platform account, what rights do and should consumers have to see that data? Should gamers be able to wipe or modify their data profiles — not just to refresh their game recommendations, but so they can exercise some measure of control over how they are advertised to, and what that data says about them? If free-to-play development becomes vastly more complicated because of the change to the funding base, should there also be a cap applied to the cuts platform holders like Apple, Sony and Steam take?

The questions raised by the Four Corners investigation, when you get right down to it, aren’t that interesting. It’s not because they don’t matter; it’s because we’ve had that conversation years ago, multiple times, without any satisfactory resolution.

But just as it will in 2021, the industry survived that harsh spotlight and hard questions unscathed. And that’s the key thing to remember: video games will be fine, irrespective of what I, you, Four Corners, government MPs, individual developers, or anyone else has to say about it. It is a veritable juggernaut of an industry of a size and scale completely unlike anything else before it. It can sustain the same criticism that other industries face every day, for the same reasons esports was always destined to thrive and survive. The fans aren’t going anywhere, and neither are the generations of creators powering it.

Video games will be fine. What it needs is an honest, mature, thorough conversation about what we want the industry to look like in five, 10, 15, 20 years on. And if we want that solution to mirror something we can all get behind, then we’re better served leading that conversation and building that solution before somebody else makes it for us.

Comments

  • Ironically served a large banner ad to the left of the comment box that says ‘How to loot?’ TRY!

  • Can you imagine if a Batman villain discovered a way to embed a hypnotism message in an otherwise innocuous, popular broadcast that caused its victims to empty their entire disposable income (or more) into the villain’s bank account. The hypnotism needn’t be 100% effective, more like 1-5% of those exposed, but just that amount is enough for the villain to collect tens of billions of dollars. Would Batman stop them?

    We don’t need to imagine the villain part, because that’s exactly what has happened in real life. The psychological manipulation employed by game publishers has been honed to a razor’s edge over decades, with literally billions of dollars incentive to produce a result that is every bit as compelling as hypnotism. And it has emptied a hell of a lot of pockets.

    I can only imagine Batman would have a fucking fit, but he would be powerless, because this psychological villainy is ‘very cool and very legal’.

    It needs reining in. The vulnerable need protection. Protecting the weak should never EVER require asking how the powerful or wealthy will fare, either, because they will always – ALWAYS – be just fine.

    No matter how much they threaten that ‘games cost too much to make,’ with the implication that they might not be as good in future if they’re forced to take a hit to their irrationally high income. That argument has always been proven to be bullshit when the increased costs just so happen to coincide with record-breaking profits.

    The point about the baselessness of the fear of ‘games going away’ is a very good one. There’s a cycle here, and we’ve SEEN it play out already, with the E.T. crash.

    1) Game devs make games, even unpaid, because they love games, and they love to create.
    2) Players love games, and they are willing to throw money at those games to get more of them.
    3) Corporate interests smell money being thrown around that they aren’t getting a share of, and big business steps in to make sure money goes to shareholders instead of devs (albeit in exchange for more capital for grander projects).

    If that last stage were ever to collapse again (and it won’t), we’d still end up with the first two stages, and they would inevitably draw the 3rd stage back like flies to shit.

    • So we have to treat everyone with kid gloves and like they can’t be responsible for their own actions? We have to regulate and limit everything just because SOME people might not be able to control themselves?
      It’s a bloody video game ffs. We’ve got an age ratings system. Do we now need to put “Warning: VIDEO GAMES MAY LEAD TO FINANCIAL RUIN”
      “Warning: VIDEO GAMES MAY LEAD TO SOCIAL ISOLATION”
      “Warning: CONTAINS MICROTRANSACTIONS. DO NOT BUY IF YOU GAMBLE.”
      Cigarette pack style warnings on games?

      Oh wait, digital stores typically do have notices like that on the purchase page ALREADY, which should be a warning sign to people who might have a problem with that.

      No one is FORCING you to buy a game. No one is FORCING you to pay for microtransactions.
      You know why EA makes Fifa and Madden every year even though the differences between each year are fuck all? Because it makes money.
      You know why companies introduced loot boxes? Because they make money.

      If people STOPPED spending money on that shit, then the companies would be forced to try a different approach to make more money. Shitty business practices don’t prevent people from voting with their wallets and disincentivizing those shitty practices.

      • I think you missed – again, repeatedly, as if you were fucking determined to, in the face of reason – the point that most people CAN control themselves but we have these limits for the people who can’t.

        You keep, still, repeatedly acting like this is a choice, like it’s just a matter of mind of matter.

        And again, I have to point out: this kind of ‘why don’t you just ignore the finely-tuned, heavily-researched psychological manipulation’ is like blaming mugging victims for being too weak to fend off their attackers. Or like telling people to ‘just get over’ depression. That attitude is fucking bullshit, man.

        • No, I didn’t miss the point, I just contend that your mugger argument is bullshit, because NO ONE IS FORCING PEOPLE TO BUY THINGS.

          Secondly, equating my opinion to telling people to “just get over depression”, quite frankly, is fucking grossly offensive. As someone who has gone through some shit, there’s still some recognition of “yes, this is an unhealthy behaviour, but I’m going to steer clear of these things that are unequivocally going to make it worse.” There is ALWAYS some capacity for self-control and self-restraint, even if it’s by simply avoiding that situation in the first place. And again, no one is forcing anyone to buy these games in the first place.

          I do not play MMOs, simply because I recognise that they were a bad environment for me, so I just cut them out entirely. Do I miss out on some potentially great experiences? Sure. But I take that hit to avoid putting myself in a potentially compromising position.

          Marketing and advertising has been using psychological tricks on people for decades in all forms, yet somehow games are the special case which must be wrapped in bubble wrap for everyone? It’s the same BS core argument as video games lead to violence because they’re more interactive than TV/movies.

          It’s just demonization of video games because it’s cool to hate on corporate greedy shitty practices. I hate them too, but I’m not making up bogeymen of mass hypnotisation hysteria.

          • The science has already debunked your argument and at this point you’re just being disingenuous and ignoring the actual research done to show the negative links and that the current system isn’t working. Violence was never linked to video games, but gambling has been repeatedly and it’s clear in the data. No one cares about your ideology or your feeling that video games are being demonised when the numbers exist. The facts are the facts and this behaviour is harmful to vulnerable groups. The negative links are repeatedly demonstrated, which means it has to be addressed whether you like it or not.

            Legislation is a way of forcing the companies to be accountable, but guess what, raising awareness so parents can keep their children away from it is also part of the strategy to minimise problem gambling. Maybe if you spent less time writing essays in defence of them and more time researching existing approaches to the gambling industry you’d see why no one has an issue with the sensible, existing approach to dealing with this problem.

          • @louie
            Oh, so you’ve got a research paper that says how loot crates are equivalent to mugging? Or mass hypnotism?

            Then by all means, PRESENT IT.

          • Again being disingenuous, you were given the search terms on the other article since I’m not going to risk being spam filtered by dropping in links. You can be a big boy and type those in yourself and find the list that pops up on the front page, since you’re so genuinely passionate about the subject matter. None of the papers or the articles covering them are hard to find and you’d outright be lying if you said otherwise.

          • Funny.. you mention marketing has been doing the same “tricks” for years (remember marketing cigs to kids was a thing?) and that was exactly why they were all raked through the coals and we have standards for marketing and ads… advertising is fairly regulated (at least in australia) to reduce most of the predatory tricks.

            And yet now that we are directing the same expose to the same “tricks” are being used by another industry its “mass hysteria” and “demonization” video games? This kind of this stuff was innocuous at first heck i do gacha every now and then but its now getting to the point of some games literally just being a lootbox selling vehicle and unchecked stuff like this is normally a bad thing. Now if the industry as a whole decided to keep it innocuous as a small side thing instead of being completely going ham and unchecked we wouldnt be asking for regulation. Unfortunately greed happens and we are here today where even tuning a car in a racing game depends on you doing gacha and pray for tye right upgrade/parts..

            Which also leads into a slight flaw with your “its the same as video game violence” hysteria argument – whilst violent video games ae “interactive” they’re not created/developed to “turn you into a killer” its entertainment.

            Gacha mechanics and Loot Boxes? Those are mechanically designed to make you spend money. Their whole *design* is to make you spend cash.

          • @amstradhero clicks on story “You Don’t Need To Defend Video Games”

            @amstradhero defends videogames (badly and with logical fallacies)

          • @darren
            Supports argument equating loot boxes to muggings and nationwide hypnotism. Tries to claim moral superiority.

      • Reminds me of the old ‘don’t take my right to smoke’ arguments. Regardless of how you feel on the subject itself there’s a very important takeaway when you look at how the companies those people were defending, without a second thought, offset their losses as smoking rates go down by squeezing the people who can’t quit. They didn’t reevaluate their expectations, they didn’t accept a changing place in the market, they just saw the graph move and started throwing smokers under the bus until it stopped.

        Personally I believe in people’s right to make their own decisions but I’d have to bury my head pretty deep in the sand to think that predatory business models don’t exist/don’t need to be heavily regulated. I love video games but regulations wouldn’t endanger anything about games I like. If anything it protects the parts I like.

      • You seem very, very invested in an industry practice that literally kills people and sets children up for a lifetime of poverty.

        Like… it’s pretty amazing that you think you are immune to this stuff when you’re just parroting the exact message you’ve been taught to repeat. It’s almost like the propaganda worked on you. Almost like it works on everyone. almost as if we should all be able to live without the constant vigilance required to not be manipulated by media bombardment because it works on absolutely everyone to some degree.

        This is the power of propaganda in action. You’re performing it right now. You’re arguing that it’s fine for billionaires to fuck over children and addicts because they are too weak or stupid to not get fucked. You think the propaganda doesn’t work on you and that’s EXACTLY why it did. You got fucked just like we all do.

    • But, but, Bobby is already taking a 50% pay cut this year, so he will only earn just under a million (plus $200 million in stock/bonuses!). Think of poor Bobby and how he will pay his maids/gardeners/chauffers/butlers/servants v& afford his 34 McMansions if you take away all that MTX/lootbox phat loot from Activision and the other games company big boys…? Poor Bobby…*sniff*

  • The fundamental mistake in the debate is comparing lootboxes to gambling. It’s irrelevant. Are some microtransaction mechanics and marketing gimmicks harmful to some consumers? Yes.

    Just write a video game industry consumer protection law about Microtransactions… you don’t need to once ration the word “gambling” to do that.

    • Tying it to gambling
      a) gets it into the minds of people who have no idea what a micro-transaction is they will trigger to gambling but not other things they don’t understand.
      b) we already regulate gambling stringently, by factoring it into gambling you can easily create stricter rules, even limit it to people over 18 because it has been classified as gambling. Similar arguments are made about vaping vs smoking

    • The fundamental mistake in your argument is implying that something is not gambling that in every meaningful respect is, in fact, gambling. This is pretty much the basis upon which the industry has been able to get away with the whole scam to date.

      It’s not gambling, it’s surprise mechanics! It’s not gambling, it’s randomised purchases! It’s not gambling, it’s a virtual trading card! It’s a Kinder Egg!

      No, in fact it is actual gambling with actual money for actual prizes that have significant perceived and actual value.

      • I agree with this, because what’s happening with lootboxes etc. is basically the plain English understanding of gambling and the law is meant to embody plain English meanings. All this would mean in reality is a change to the definition/deeming of “gambling” in the Act and maybe a new schedule on how it works for video game company obligations. They already have a framework for dealing with gambling, all they need to do is expand it and hire a few more people at the department for oversight.

        It’s not the end of the world for these regulations to exist. Crown’s owners just got done for breaching its gambling license and now needs to sell the casino to more responsible owners. That’s a good thing, because it means the oversight works and it can work for video games too.

      • I actually have to agree on technicality that its *not* gambling..

        And I do mean on a technicality… this is because gambling usually requires a game of chance for a tangible gain. In a traditional sense its getting more money than you have put in or in say kinder or trading cards another item of equal or higher worth such as a rare card or limited toy.

        Gacha and Loot Boxes? They zero value outside of the game… and doubly so for online games which have a limited life span where your purchases will disappear when the game ceases. So its “technically” not gambling..

        Coz its far more worse and insidious in my books (and this is coming from someone who knowingly does gacha) because you are sinking money with no way to get any value back…. but labelling it gambling mechanics makes it easier for the commin folks to understand since they function almost mechanically the same.

        • A great many loot box rolls self evidentially DO have tangible value outside the game, CS:GO, for example, anyone? Indeed, anything tradable in the Steam market is effectively exchangeable for cash dollars that can be used for buying games. There are other examples.

          Notwithstanding the above, even loot box rolls for items that are neither tradable outside the game nor to other players are still exchanging actual cash (see that word again) for actual items that people actually value. That’s what capitalism is.

          A piece of broken asphalt is a tangible thing that is worth zero. Winning a dance class, or dinner with a celebrity, a VIP tour of the zoo, or even a NFT token, these are virtual things – you can’t put them on your wall, you can’t touch them, for the most part you can’t even exchange them for cash. Further, these are things we know actually do have value literally because people are willing to pay for them, indeed, to gamble for them.

          You can’t seriously be suggesting that just because dinner with a celebrity is not tangible, or exchangeable for real cash dollars down at Cash Converters, that a raffle in which this is the prize is therefore not gambling.

          Buying an in-game item is literally no different from buying the game itself, both are intangible items exchanged for real money. What if the poker machines at your local leagues club awarded Steam keys? Is this no longer gambling? How about if some of those keys are for DLC? I mean, Steam could be shut down one day, the servers can be turned off, right? After all, you don’t actually ‘own’ these things, you just have a license to use them.

          Hell, cash itself nowdays is largely a virtual, intangible thing. It’s just numbers on a screen, must not be worth anything, right?

          Gambling is giving small amounts of cash up front in exchange for a small chance of winning something with high perceived value. In capitalism both tangible and intangible things have value, we don’t live in a barter economy here.

          And further to this, it is trivially simple to quantify how much a gatcha item is worth to someone by the number of rolls of a loot box one is willing to stick a coin in the slot for in order to get that item.

          It’s literally completely irrelevant whether an item is virtual or ephemeral as an ice-cream or as concrete as a brick.

          • I’m sorry – but what was your point? The question is – can I transfer this item to another? I get your point… it has personal/sentimetal value, rather than economic value. No one can buy your memory of sky-diving, but everyone would be happy to accept those memories are priceless (and that you paid money for them).

            The point is not whether you enjoy the experience – the question is, do publishers generate an unhealthy environment where those that are more vulnerable are being abused. We regulate gambling, alcohol consumption, pornography, and pretty well every other ‘personal pleasure’ because those personal habits tend to impact on others.

            The idea that microtransactions are no different than initial purchases is IMHO fallacious… because the incentive for abuse IS the community and the social environment that are created around it, or even simply the fact that the game artificially slows progression in order to reward purchase (and inherently punish non-purchase). Anyone who has seen how/why people purchase microtransactions inherently knows this. For most people, this isn’t a problem… but for many it is – and for some of those, it is a serious problem that can ruin lives.

            If however you think it’s all up to the individual, that’s fine.. At the end of the day, the regulation is part of the rights and responsibilities social contract. As long as their is social problems caused by behaviour – especially those that are aimed at the most vulnerable (including children) then we will need regulations. That’s a societal decision ultimately – so your (and my) opinion doesn’t mean much outside a friendly online discussion.

          • @OzMomotaro you clearly don’t get my point, because my entire post is making the case that in-game goods have economic value (I mean, you buy them wish cash ffs), not just personal/sentimetal value.

            And I have no idea why the question is “can I transfer this item to another?” Umm, why is that the question, exactly?

            You seem to be arguing that I am somehow defending microtransactions, which suggests to me that you perhaps need to read a few more of my posts in this thread instead of jumping to straight to conclusions.

      • Your second paragraph is the issue… the argument “Its not gambling” is a stalling tactic. The argument is irrelevant and can be completely side stepped

        Why does it need to be labelled as gambling to be a consumer protection law?

        A Microtransaction Act hereby regulates the purchase of digital items in online services, entertainment and software products… you could write a whole consumer protection policy about randomisation, odds of rewards, payments, licencing, not selling to minors, in-game marketing regulations, all products reward by random mechanics must be made available for individual purchase, banning pay to win mechanics. Including auditing and compliance clauses, and reinforce the right to refuse microtransactions… without once mentioning gambling.

        Stop the comparison, and just treat microtransactions as their own thing.

        • Correct. “it’s not gambling” is a stalling tactic. Writing a completely new act for something that is readily covered under an existing act with a few minor amendments is also a stalling tactic.

          It’s also worth noting that calling loot boxes not gambling is all part of the process of making the practice seem less exploitative than it actually is. Just like “shoplifting” makes stealing from shops sound like not stealing. Or “Vaping” sounds like a chill thing to do with the mates and not at all smoking, which sounds like you’re consuming an addictive, deadly substance.

          Words have power. Changing the words also changes how seriously we treat the issue.

          • The power of a word, is good for a spin doctor or a politician on a podium… it doesn’t make for good law making.

            Just look at Hawaii, they got centre stage in the Star Wars battlefront II with their own government calling it a “casino aimed at children”… but all their amendment bills got killed.

            The whole “lootbox = gambling” was so confusing for our own government agencies didn’t even know if it had jurisdiction or power to do anything. The Senate Inquiry highlighted that in its closing comments (then gave the agencies no formal recommendations).

            Minor amendments, maybe, but honestly I think at this point a law has to be clearest step to remove ambiguity. Also would also like to see microtransation revenue being financially audited, they are not paying revenue tax in Australia.

          • A few minor amendments? No. But otherwise I generally don’t disagree. Loot boxes should be as regulated as a pokie machine. They are capable of significant harm to vulnerable parts of our community.

  • Its sad that it needs saying, but looking at the responses on the other article on the show, it definitely needed saying.

    While I’m one of those people that regularly spends triple digits on gacha of sorts (that could probably be better thrown at artists) I can definitely say that the triggers of FOMO or ‘Just one more spin’ are strong with them. And I’m firmly of the belief that everything should be unlockable without throwing money at it.

    Of course, the side view would be that those that disparage and disclaim those that spend on gacha more that likely have their own vices that is just burning money.

  • This article perfectly summarises the problem with the response to Four Corners. Was Four Corners perfectly accurate? Not necessarily, but with so many people unaware of what’s happening it at least helps raise awareness so that politicians do get involved and hire the experts to review the situation. Someone has to start the conversation and educate the broader community on these sorts of predatory behaviours and if the industry doesn’t want any accountability, then it’s going to fall to people outside of the industry to put their foot down. What’s happening isn’t acceptable and there’s too many negative consequences associated with it to ignore it as a problem of “personal accountability” when the activities themselves deliberately target the vulnerable.

    Video games are worth multi-billions and are often the same companies who create casino games, like poker machines. They’re not innocent, sheltered oppressed flowers that need hand holding by us, they need to be held to account because they know exactly what they’re doing since the majority of them already work for the gambling sector. Either they can take responsibility, or a far less sympathetic person in politics will drop the hammer on them and that’ll be all she wrote.

    From EA’s behaviour alone in countries that banned lootboxes, I’m well beyond caring if the government does drop the hammer because the behaviour is disgusting and they’ve earned it. They had the option to cooperate and they didn’t and now they’ll reap the consequences.

    • ^ When you go to comment on an article but at every point in the thread, louie has said everything you wanted to say but more articulately than you could have.

      • nah mate, follow what’s happening in the conversation above this one. Just repeat the message but WITH CAPS

  • I would like to see someone make a poker machine that on every pull spits out a card, item or coupon. It doesn’t have to be worth much. Duplicate items can be exchanged for 5 cents over at the counter so you can redeem another pull when you exchange enough.
    Then say to the regulator you don’t need to regulate this as people win something every time.

  • I have been sucked into the microtransaction method in Genshin Impact. The slow trickle of gems is too slow, so I inevitably spend the $7.99 each month for bonus daily gems.

  • It’s not about defending video games, it’s not about defending loot boxes or predatory practices. It is about the clumsy, biased and misleading report that was published by Four Corners and how they constantly blame “Game Developers” for these issues. The majority of games that rely on these predatory practices to milk money from gamers are giant entities, Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, and King Games to name a few.

    These are publishers, vast billion dollar corporate entities that have to increase their revenue every quarter to sate the ravenous avarice of their investors.

    What about all the studios and game developers that are not part of those corporate enterprises, the developers and studios that just want to make games that entertain people? Well Four Corners just painted the entire industry with and extremely wide, very tarry brush and I for one object to that.

    There were many developers that were happy when there was a government inquiry into loot boxes, most people realise that loot boxes are a gambling gimmick to get people to commit more money into the 0.5% chance of getting that one item they want. We don’t want the entertainment medium of our games to be turned into a giant casino, it’s meant to provide entertainment not drain people’s wallets and bank accounts.

    So hows about we let Four Corners know that the culprits are not Game Developers in genral and we don’t deserve to be placed in the company of evil corporate practices.

    • The article itself pointed this out and made the clear indication that if the industry doesn’t want this sort of reporting then they should be leading the charge on regulations to ensure that it’s dealt with accurately and appropriately. Instead we have big companies like EA saying lootboxes are “surprise mechanics” and picking fights with governments trying to regulate. It’s a self-inflicted wound and they only have themselves to blame.

  • As one peruses the comments and articles in reply to the episode of Four Corners, one becomes aware that it appears the point of the episode went over the heads of most gamers, the author of this windy article included.

    The episode deals with three elements of the gaming industry; addiction, microtransactions and loot boxes, and does so both separately and appropriately interrelated. The biggest theme throughout however was the trend of some users towards addiction, and the exploitation and indeed willful creation of these players by some developers.

    Whether one likes it or not gaming addiction is a real, recognised mental health disorder that has consequences on the lives of those who suffer the affliction; even if they aren’t consciously aware. The episode was careful to explain it was a segment of the industry engaging in poor practices the every game, but also importantly that whether a developer intended it or not, any game could become addictive.

    We see it all too often, players in steam reviews who rack up hundreds of gameplay hours inside months. But in health we also see the toll it has on people’s lives and relationships. Sleep problems, nutrition issues, heart disease, eye problems, stroke, broken relationships with spouses or children. These are real, tangible outcomes that we see in noticeable numbers every day in Australia.

    Perhaps sometimes clumsy in it’s delivery as it struggled to fill out 44 minutes with limited interviews, the Four Corners episode was definitely fair. If anything it didn’t go far enough at exposing the stinky underbelly of gaming. It is further important for one to remember this wasn’t an episode to inform gamers on an issue. It was an episode intended to let those with legitimate concern, alert those not in the know to the situation.

    At no stage did the story claim Assassin’s Creed feathers were part of a microtransaction system. What one player discussed was his personal struggles with gaming addiction, and how the ultimately pointless pursuit of gathering such in-game feathers was a symptom of that addiction for him. The point was to express the mundane, tedious and wasteful nature of such game mechanics that lose people weeks of their lives for no tangible or proportional reward.

    For a medium intended as an escape from the mundane and tedious, it is indeed apt to include criticism of game mechanics which encourage or require grinding. Go hack just a decade and how many gamers were opposed to the idea of games with grinding mechanics? At the very least one must concede that alone is a monumental position shift of the fanbase, and such a shift in such short a period of time requires at least some behind the scenes manipulation of the community.

    In an industry where Rockstar have made $14Bn from GTA Online microtransactions alone, acting as though they’re rarely used by anyone flies in the face of reality. Retailers literally stock microtransaction vouchers for GTA Online, and just to get you over that initial spending hurdle Rockstar will happily sell new players a bundle of the game and a microtransaction voucher which you pay full price for.

    Zynga made $7Bn off of housewives playing FarmVille on Facebook. Games like CandyCrush, World of Tanks, Fortnite, they’re all making huge returns despite costing nothing to download. That you personally may have never spent a dime on any of these games is not a coherent or logical argument against the hordes that do.

    What would have been nice to see exposed in the episode are the enforcement demands of companies like Rockstar. Let us not forget the Melbourne based developers now imprisoned for making cheat software which got around or simply disabled the microtransaction system. Or the 3 European developers now going through the process of suffering the same fate. Some of these “cheat” systems literally just turned off the microtransaction element of the game, nothing was taken from Rockstar in the process the player just couldn’t spend any money on microtransactions.

    I think most Australians would be outraged to learn that our government is depriving two citizens of their freedom over something like that at the behest of Rockstar and parent company Activision. It plays into the topic of microtransactions and really should have been exposed.

    So to should the trend to release half finished games at full price and expect players to purchase DLCs to acquire the remaining components of the core game. This tactic plays into the same gamblers fallacy that loot boxes use to keep you spinning. In terms of a half finished core game, you’ve already purchased the game and so for many they feel they’re already invested enough so they have no choice but to purchase the DLCs to complete the game.

    Further still the desire to ever increasingly isolate the player as a tactic to drive hardware and game sales.

    These are all predatory behaviours by the industry and I can’t think of any AAA studio that isn’t engaging in at least one if these practices, other than perhaps Nintendo. It’s important that they’re all exposed and dealt with through regulatory reforms. Regulation isn’t scary, it doesn’t make an industry go away. Indeed it legitimises the industry and ensures longevity, and right now there are enough studios engaging in predatory practices to be a threat to the long term survival of the industry, so all genuine gamers should be calling out for regulations to bring the industry back inline and return to sustainable practices.

    • The problem with what you’ve said is that “gaming addiction” without the financial component simply isn’t like alcoholism, drug or gambling addictions. Scientifically, it’s already been demonstrated to not have the same root causes as typical addictions and needs more research. In the interim, we can at least deal with the parts linked to gambling which are serious and well understood.

      For gaming itself, how many of these so called “gaming addictions” are people who retreated into playing games after a life changing event like a close relative dying or bullying? I remember a story run where a mother was complaining that her son did nothing but play video games, while treating her husband’s death like it was a minor influence on what happened. In reality, her son was unable to handle school due to grief, the relentless bullying and retreated into the world of video games where he had both escape and control. With grief counselling, would he have this “addiction” or did his mother’s failure to engage grief counselling directly lead to this kid’s situation? We’ll never know, because not once did the person reporting ask why the mother didn’t engage a mental health worker, when she could go to a TV station instead, exposing her child to even more bullying.

      tl;dr: Gaming addiction itself is a completely different topic to gambling addictions and there’s a far larger human component to how it happens.

  • I understand the passion for this issue – however, as I was reading this article I just kept getting subliminal TLDR responses… It could have been covered in 1 paragraph. While the video article has some valid points, it has simplified the argument to the point where there are serious issues with it. The red-herring of the $138 Valorant transaction is pointless… in that 99.99% of people will never buy this… the issue is a cultural one where games are translated into a social media environment, where perceived peer pressure can be transferred to financial investment. I don’t want to be appear to be a noob – so I pay money to make me stand out less.

    Why did you suddenly pivot to a data question?… microtransactions have little to do with data (by themselves) but have everything to do with entrapping user experience into as small a space as possible (eg Fortnite making itself a platform for events), and milking that for all it’s worth. We are generally time-poor these days, so it becomes a battle for your time, and the sunk-cost-bias is the current exploitation method for publishers. If this was a ‘program’ based argument, you might want to explain, as I didn’t watch it, and your article made very little sense as is. I totally agree that the point of making sure that popular media is held accountable is worthwhile – but that should also go for social media commentators too.

    To be honest with you – I still don’t actually get what you were trying to say… perhaps more editing would help.

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