Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Future of Us

I think we all knew stuff like this was going on, but it's still disheartening to see it spelled out:
Activision Researched Using Matchmaking Tricks to Sell In-Game Items.

They have a patent.

A few excerpts:
"For example, in one implementation, the system may include a microtransaction engine that arranges matches to influence game-related purchases," according to the patent. "For instance, the microtransaction engine may match a more expert/marquee player with a junior player to encourage the junior player to make game-related purchases of items possessed/used by the marquee player. A junior player may wish to emulate the marquee player by obtaining weapons or other items used by the marquee player."

..."In a particular example, the junior player may wish to become an expert sniper in a game (e.g., as determined from the player profile)," according to the patent. "The microtransaction engine may match the junior player with a player that is a highly skilled sniper in the game. In this manner, the junior player may be encouraged to make game-related purchases such as a rifle or other item used by the marquee player. "

...The system can also drop players into matches that will make use of an in-game-related purchase, according to the patent. 

"Doing so may enhance a level of enjoyment by the player for the game-related purchase, which may encourage future purchases," according to the patent. "For example, if the player purchased a particular weapon, the microtransaction engine may match the player in a gameplay session in which the particular weapon is highly effective, giving the player an impression that the particular weapon was a good purchase. This may encourage the player to make future purchases to achieve similar gameplay results."

The patent also makes it clear that while the examples used in the patent are all for a first-person-shooter game, the system could be used across a wide variety of titles.

Yeah, that's brutal. Activision says they're not actually using this yet, but it's just a matter of time, and we all know that. And every other AAA gaming company will be using variations of this same strategy, along with anything else they can devise to skim even one more penny from us.

Basically, games from big companies have become elaborate Skinner boxes, nothing more. I'm not sure some of them even qualify as games.

We all used to kid ourselves that in-app purchases didn't affect the gameplay experience. That's what they kept telling us, anyway. It was all about "consumer choice" and "optimizing gameplay time".

I think we all knew that wasn't true. I'm not sure any of us, though, realized just how bad it would become.

Every gameplay experience in these games is compromised now. The percentage of gameplay that's affected by pay walls has gotten higher and higher. Many of the big publisher titles only exist as a way to optimize additional purchases inside the game.

Games have turned into the casino experience.

I linked to this book a few years ago: Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas. It explains, in significant detail, the incredibly complex ways in which casinos create environments to manipulate our behavior.

This is what IAP games have turned into, and I strongly suspect there are plenty of "casino behaviorists" on the payroll of big gaming companies now.

That all sounds quite bleak, but in a very satisfying way, it's not.

Sure, the AAA titles have devolved into this nightmare. Somehow, though, this robust, wonderful layer of indie games has supplanted the need for AAA games, at least for me.
[Important exceptions: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. But Nintendo generally doesn't employ the crapjinks that these other companies do.]

Golf Story? Fantastic. For the King? Unbelievably fun (I'm writing about it next week). Instead of spending $60 on AAA games and having content locked behind paywalls, I can buy 3-4 indie games, at least, for the same amount of money, and I'll have much more fun.

In some ways, gaming has never been better. You just have to know where to look.

So AAA publishers, go ahead and continue putting out what are essentially more and more complex versions of Candy Crush.

I don't miss you at all.

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