Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Yes, the Future

Remember how I wrote a while back about how games with microtransactions are inherently ruined, because the desired player state is not engagement and satisfaction, but purchasing?

Here we go.

A presentation given to gaming companies was leaked (by someone terrified by our dystopian future, I assume). Here's the setup:
The paper's slide-deck and signed papers (with corrections) were leaked to the web by an unknown source, with bits of information (names, brands) redacted. It has too much information to be dismissed off hand for being a prank.

Yeah, it's definitely not a prank.

Here's a link to the full presentation (don't read it in the dark), but let me extract a few particularly sleazy moments for you.

Previous dynamic pricing models caused backlash because customers viewed selectively increased charges as unfair. Our [pricing] models go under people's radars by disguising dynamic prices as rewards instead of indirect taxations.
... We show how a customer is targeted by our Reddit AI Chatbot H.A.N.K. and is persuaded to return to a previous product they had otherwise publicly disavowed. Those responses are not generated by a human! They are created out of AI's problem set being to resolved our stated goal of manipulating the customer into reactivating themselves. H.A.N.K.'s targeting can extend to additional social media platforms.
... The AI was able to determine when a user was laying down and had the phone in their lap in their bedroom based on GSM data. After a few minutes, users were being targeted for many "free bonus", non-revenue generating gameplay ads, and the AI severely discouraged premium ads. The AI found a correlation between this specific sitting position and increased revenue in the following days. 
... The AI has a subroutine specifically for high value distraction events. A distraction event is something that a user will prioritize attention to over the game... for example, is a user is in their home and 100% of the time a child crying ends a game session, that is a high or maximum value distraction event. The AI begins a new testing lifecycle that starts when the game session closes. It will patiently lie in wait for the high value distraction event to end, then it tries to learn what actions it can take in order to create a new lucrative gaming session from the user. 
... This Artificial Frustration Event pattern was built off this player's personal frustration past. Frustration was induced during a natural gameplay event. Specifically, this user died while they were attacking an enemy human player in an arena that had the characteristics of being higher level than them, had very low health at the end of the fight, had shown to hit their random critical strikes often, had an above-0 spectator count, and ended after more than triple the time an arena fight normally takes...The AI then loads a new goal to increase revenues...After it finds a pattern, it will introduce premium solutions we've preset to each of these problems. For example, level boosts, Critical Strike booster, and other pay-to-win avenues. In this case, low health victory was the main cause of frustration. The AI recommended an MVA to the player, with the player bought. The player was then paired against other people who were vulnerable to the same target vector (Frustration Quick) and the MVA caused frustration to the new player during their natural gameplay event.

Well, I guess you need to go take a shower now after reading this. Go ahead, I'll wait.

The basis of this foul beast is a monitoring program that the user can choose to opt out of, but they have to opt out.

If they don't, then the program collects audio data from their cellphones and analyzes it to identify thousands of possible sounds that indicate a user's current state. They can also use data from wifi and GPS to construct a model of the user's environment.

Oh, and there's a social media AI to manipulate the user into engaging with a game or returning. Incredible.

Most incredibly, and this is so far off the Known Chart of Evil that I have no frame of reference, it's manipulating the outcome of user versus user competition in games to influence the purchase of premium in-game items. Then, when the poor sap has purchased the premium item, they match him against another poor sap who HASN'T purchased the booster yet.

And so it goes.

Man, it depresses me so much to even by typing this shit out.

It seems like it's time to face some ugly truths:
1. This will get more evil and insidious, because there's so much money to be made.
2. Any game with micro-transactions that are not purely cosmetic is probably pure evil to some degree. There is no innocence here.
3. Any game with competitive multiplayer that also has pay to win mechanics is infested beyond hope.

Based on the presentation, Orwell was an optimist.

Is there any way to protect ourselves from this? Well, never buying a game with micro-transactions seems like a good place to start.

All those "free" games? Nope. Apparently, freedom is never free, as the saying goes. Or something like that.

Also, if a game has competitive multiplayer, but offers pay-to-win in any form, no matter how seemingly mild, run away. You are being manipulated beyond your ability to conceive, at a level of intrusiveness that is downright terrifying.

Big publishers? They're all doing it. If they don't say they're not doing it, they're doing it. And what they're doing is very, very dirty.

Fortunately, we're in a very bipolar era in gaming. Excellent little indie games are everywhere, and they're mostly wonderful, and because of that, we don't need to put up with any of this crap.

Not one bit of it.

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