MMO business roundup: Steam, toxicity, Kartridge, contracts, dopamine, and guns

What’s going on in the online video games business this week? Let’s dig in.

Steam, toxicity, and Kartridge

The Center for Investigative Reporting (via Motherboard) has a scathing piece out on Steam toxicity this week. Valve has traditionally maintained a hands-off approach with Steam groups, which means that the groups can easily become a toxic cesspit. The platform is accused of being loaded with hate groups, many of which support racist agendas or promote school shootings. Motherboard notes that Valve has refused to respond to questions on this topic since last October.

Meanwhile, Kongregate is launching Kartridge, a potential Steam competitor that says it will embrace indie “premium” titles and small-fry developers. “Our initial plan is that the first $10,000 in net revenue, one hundred percent will go to the developer,” Kongregate’s CEO says. “We’re not coming in just to build another store. No-one needs that. This is about building a platform that is focused on creating a very fair and supportive environment for indie developers” – as well as on social and community tools.

Parental contracts

China game conglom Tencent has announced a plan to create in-game tools that allow parents and children to set up a “contract” for playtime, complete with peer witnesses. The idea is that “children can exchange their playing time by doing housework or reaching certain scores” in school. As Gamasutra notes, Tencent already had time limits and age-restrictions for Honor of Kings, which apparently led kids to buy fake IDs to play longer.

Dopamine and AI

The Guardian has a fascinating piece out on how companies from Facebook to video game studios abuse human biochemistry to gamify every basic interaction (like likes, and yes, like gambling) into compulsion for profit. Highlighted in the article is California startup Dopamine Labs, which sells its proprietary machine-learning AI to various app-makers that want to ensure that using the app becomes habitual. It’s not all about randomizing loot tables to keep you grinding; it can be used for good, convincing people to go for more jogs for that little app-generated dopamine hit. But it’s worth a look to understand how the manipulation takes place.

Video games and guns

Finally, the video game lobbying body The Entertainment Software Association RSVPed to an invite from the Trump administration to meet with the White House to discuss spurious and ancient arguments that video games are responsible for gun violence; as VentureBeat points out, we’ve already seen this movie. This might be the only time all week we’ll be applauding the ESA, so enjoy it while it lasts. The meeting is scheduled for later today; representatives for ZeniMax and Take Two will also be in attendance, along with video game critics from the Parents Television Council and a similarly inclined congresswoman from Missouri. Everything old is new again.

With thanks to Sally. Comments will be strictly moderated.

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77 Comments on "MMO business roundup: Steam, toxicity, Kartridge, contracts, dopamine, and guns"

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Archebius

People get after Steam and Reddit and Tumblr for this kind of thing pretty frequently, and the fact is that they don’t have to allow this kind of thing at all. They could aggressively monitor it and purge it.

But they have no obligation or legal necessity to do so. This kind of talk can be spewed from any streetcorner legally; if you don’t aggressively weed out behaviors, as EVE found, you get a whole variety of people – good and bad.

We can sanitize our online environments, but I’m not sure that we should.

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McGuffn

This gained new urgency based on reporting on at least one of the Nazi groups. A few members or associates of the group have actually murdered people, and the murders themselves were discussed/celebrated in the group’s online communications.

On the surface it looks like “Oh, a bunch of Nazis have a guild, no big deal” but what goes on in them can be criminal.

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Wilhelm Arcturus

Do driving games lead to more traffic fatalities? Do Assassin’s Creed fans sneak around and stab people in the back more than the general population? Does playing a cleric make you more religious or less? If you weigh the same as a duck are you automatically a witch? I mean, you can make up potential cause and effect scenarios about anything you don’t like and stomp your foot and proclaim it is obviously the case. That doesn’t make it so.

I’d also like to know how many groups there are on Steam. If there are 5,000, that number of questionable groups seems like a lot, enough that Steam ought to notice. If there are 500,000 I’m not sure I’d expect Steam to catch them all.

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Melissa McDonald

I know there are people who disagree, but as a student of psychology and theology, I can say with utter confidence and clarity in my own experience:

you become what you surround yourself with.

Surrounding yourself with violence breeds violence. It desensitizes you. Even healthy people, although, they are far less likely to act on it than someone who already has other behavioural problems. An awful lot of serial killers were fascinated by corpses, autopsies, taxidermy, and they started by torturing animals before they were compelled to make their fantasies about harming humans become reality. Surrounded by death, they eventually became death-dealers.

Even healthy people can become obsessed, and cross the line from fantasy to wanting to make the fantasy real. Blowing people away with guns and blood and combat is cathartic for some, dangerous for others. But I sincerely don’t think you can surround yourself with things like that and be completely unaffected and unscathed. Just my 2 pence.

That being said, as a now-American citizen, I own a Glock, and I prize the 2nd Amendment. It helped this country gain its freedom. Feel free to disagree with me, everyone is entitled to their own opinions.

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Wilhelm Arcturus

“you become what you surround yourself with.”

Your theory pre-supposes a single direction of cause and effect. Do people become what they surround themselves with, or do people surround themselves with things towards which they already have a predisposition?

That argument has been used to support any number of alleged cause and effect scenarios dealing with TV (violence, sex, and permissiveness), Dungeons & Dragons (satanic beliefs and violence), and rock and roll music (sex and drugs and violence). I’m sure you can find somebody out there who is convinced that being exposed to gay people will make you gay. We’re not still buying into that are we?

My personal experience in life is that people are not as easily influenced by their environment as we might like to pretend.

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Bruno Brito

An awful lot of serial killers were fascinated by corpses, autopsies, taxidermy, and they started by torturing animals before they were compelled to make their fantasies about harming humans become reality. Surrounded by death, they eventually became death-dealers.

You’re forgetting the normally tendecies to this behavior they have. Not everyone BECOMES a serial killer. They mostly are wired this way, and their upbriging doesn’t help.

Banalizing violence is a issue yes, but it’s not the same as being violent yourself. I have a shitloat of friends who are nihilists and hate themselves, and not all of them are suffering from terminal crippling depression.

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Sally Bowls

BR: That said, this is probably not the place to solve gun control today gang. Maybe we can try to keep it focused on the issue of whether video game violence is to blame.

At considerable effort, I have resisted explaining to y’all the correct – a/k/a my – position on gun control.

But my interest is not even “whether video game violence is to blame” as much as “how will this issue impact video games?” I.e., I don’t think the science/consequences of video game violence will have that much impact on many politicians (or even voters’ or parents’) opinions. More unpredictable is that my impression of the sentiment of the politicians, at least in election years, is for more regulation while the courts are still seeing video as having free-speech protection. Perhaps this means the limits on video games will come from countries without a First Amendment.

My analogy is there are certain extremes that are legal under the First Amendment (or 2nd) that the world would be better off without. But one just has to hold your nose and believe the benefits of not having effective censorship are worth the excesses. Even as I defend video game freedom, I can’t help having twinges thinking the world would be better without some of the more extreme examples in “entertainment,” including video games.

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McGuffn

The biggest impact on videogames it could possibly have is that the games Gamergaters love to play will be banned and all they’ll be left with is Cute Interracial Baby Simulator 2019.

In terms of specific videogame content, I don’t find all that much problematic, I’m more concerned about what players do with it with emergent gameplay, etc….

I’m still horrified by one of the DayZ (?) stories about players holding a player at gunpoint and making them strip and otherwise humiliating them and/or beg for their life.

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rafael12104

Gun control via videogames does not work. Just my two cents on that bit of it. Bet we can get a consensus on that here.

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Alex Willis

Bree’s got her banhammer work cut out for her with these topics.

Setting aside America’s gibberingly insane gun culture (no, really you guys — we are all aghast at what you do to yourselves), I think the focus here is on how much private enterprise (Valve) should tolerate this kind of behaviour.

On that front, I’ll say this (and it might be the only time you hear me say this): corporations have shown a higher sense of moral conscience than have American governments, or even its population, for that matter. Sure, companies can be more nimble than governments when it comes to making executive decisions. But many of them have a global brand or audience to consider. And speaking exclusively as a non-citizen of the US and a consumer of products made in that country? I will happily and without hesitation boycott a company that affiliates itself with the NRA or advocates the industrialized, hopeless slaughter of innocents. Which American gun culture does. Just this week I canceled my Amazon Prime subscription because Amazon hosts NRA TV. Am I naive? Maybe. But I’m not alone.

Does this mean I will stop using Steam? That will be hard for me, since I own 126 games on it. (Argh! It pains me to write that out.) But I’ve made bigger decisions based on principle before. So would I stop using the service (read: stop buying games on it) until such time as they cracked down on toxic cultures? Yep, sure.

The rest of the world is watching. And while we can’t vote in your elections, we can vote for your companies with our wallets. And they know it. And they’re scared. And they should be.

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Armsbend

A strict gun law in a county doesn’t mean anything when you can cross the county, go buy a gun and then cross into your home county unchecked.

Do you know what people in dry counties who like to drink do? Drive to the next county, get booze, drive back. It’s the same with guns until it’s federal law.

I suppose your alternative to using tragedy to gain awareness is to continue to let them pile up. Prayers and platitudes should do the trick. Something something mental health razzle dazzle bricks and shovels kill too not guns. fucking yawn.

“well funded effort for decades”
Not quite as well funded as the NRA lobby group but it’s a nice idea anyway.

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Skor

Guns exist. They forever will. There are millions upon millions of them. This is the reality. If you are a criminal, you don’t care about laws. If you are a criminal you are going to be opportunistic. If you are a criminal you will go where you get the least opposition (they just love gun free zones). The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

The NRA doesn’t sell guns. They teach responsible gun ownership and safety. Aside from that they protect our 2nd amendment. Not one mass shooter has been an actual NRA member.

The money that the NRA puts towards lobbying and fighting for 2nd amendment comes from millions of members. It is the voice of millions of people and truly grass roots in nature.

The money lobbying for gun control and anti-gun propaganda comes from a handful of billionaires.

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Bruno Brito

The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

What’s the difference? They both got murder tools on their hands.

I never seen so much appeal to hold a murderous artifact and i’m brazilian. This shouldn’t be a novelty for me.

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Alex Willis

Guns exist.

At least you got one thing right.

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Armsbend

I have a solution to your criminals with guns “problem” – an easy one.

But I made Bree a promise I intend to keep.

*throws away mouth key*

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Bruno Brito

That’s not a solution.

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McGuffn

The NRA is an attention seeking organization these days. That’s why they take sides on net neutrality and post lunatic web videos about smashing televisions with sledgehammers and related junk week after week when they could be producing stuff about responsible gun ownership.

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Alex Willis

The whole Net Neutrality-NRA axis is so insane I don’t even know where to begin. I usually laugh at Tinfoil, but that shit is 100% real.

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rafael12104

I have no faith in the ESA. Did you guys see the guy they sent to Hawaii?

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Armsbend

I like the guy he was with decided to wear the hawaiian shirt he picked up at the airport to a meeting.

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rafael12104

Lol. Yeah, its the other guy with the “I don’t give a damn” white hair and haircut that is the ESA rep.

Hmm… maybe I should get a job with the ESA. Lol.

Not sure who the guy in the Hawaiian shirt is either, but he had no love for the ESA or ESRB. He was very knowledgeable though with regard to their policies though. Sounded like he was with a consumer advocate group.

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Jack Pipsam

Despite our past reputation, we also have the exact same violent video games in Australia, just as many as anywhere else in the western world really. Games no longer get banned for gun-violence and haven’t for quite a while, even when games were being sometimes banned, the vast majority of violent games still were released just fine. Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Gears of War, ect.
(Seriously Fallout 3 was modified not because of any violence or gore, but for drugs lol #priorities).

Yet… oh that’s funny, we don’t have a school shooting every other day or… at all even. Hmm, that’s interesting, I wonder if there’s another aspect of our society which is notably different to that of the United States which has some kind of effect regarding this mysterious lack of mass shootings.
It’s almost as if, something terrible happened in the 90s, the government did something about it and then the problem was fixed. Like removing something core to the attacks.

Beats me what that thing could be though, maybe we’re just all too dizzy from riding around in Kangaroo pouches that we’re unable to aim straight… yeah, that’ll be it.
So America, get some Kangaroos (which are totally a legitimate form of transportation if you haven’t heard) and bing, bang, boom! Problem solved ^_^

Your President can call it an early day and help himself to another well earned cold refreshing Diet Coke™.

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styopa

Would you prefer just to throw snark, or maybe discuss some facts instead?

You assert that the lack of guns in Australia has caused it to be so much safer.
Really?
First, an establishing fact: homicides in Australia from 1996 (the gun event & banning) to 2007.
comment image
This shows that essentially, the homicide rate in 2000 was the same as 1996 before the buyback/ban.
This sets up the next chart:
http://theconversation.com/three-charts-on-australias-declining-homicide-rates-79654
This shows what?
1) Australia’s murder rate with guns was ALREADY ~2 per 100k population, when the US was triple that…
2) after the gun ban/buyback, it declined slightly over the next 16 years.
3) the US’s rate – with those damned guns! – declined over that span at almost exactly the same slope.

Logically, then, the widespread banning of guns in Australia has had little to no impact on homicide rates.

Next, while I really hate to interrupt your frothing rant, perhaps you don’t understand that:
1) US gun homicide deaths are DOWN 33% from a peak in 1993. 1993 was about 18,000…last year was about 12,000. This coincides with a massive expansion in gun ownership in the US and expansion of conceal-carry rights in every state in the US.
2) School shootings in the last 25 years have dropped by 3/4ths. In the early 1990s, around 4x the number of students were shot in school situations than 2017, with a steady decrease since then.

Is the situation good? Of course not.
But let’s be clear, your primary point – “Australia doesn’t have guns so we don’t have all these shootings” is complete hogwash. You don’t have the homicides because you’re a different culture PERIOD; guns have nothing really to do with it, no matter how much your politics would be validated by wishing it so.

There’s something fundamentally at issue with American CULTURE, I believe. Again, guns have little or nothing to do with it.

Perhaps I’d suggest to set aside the hysteria and virtue-signaling and recognize that violence in the US has fallen dramatically and continues to, despite 24/7 news coverage and a society primed to overreact on command.

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Jack Pipsam

Sure we still have violence, but it isn’t random violence as much. It’s mostly targeted, if it be gang violence or domestic violence. Even the terrorist attacks here are limited in scale compared to that of overseas.

We don’t have school shootings, we don’t have movie theaters being shot up, concepts being shot up. You won’t get randomly shot for going for a walk, these things don’t happen at random here.

And it’s not like we’re above it, only a couple weeks ago a school-girl was caught attempting to poison one of her classmates (thankfully stopped), so what if she had a gun hmm?
I think it should be perfectly obvious by now the “good guy with the gun” doesn’t mean whack when it comes to mass-shootings.

I fully believe if we had more access to guns then we’d be like America and that’s not something anyone here wants.
We are safer for it. There used to be mass shootings, now there aren’t.

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Bruno Brito

Have you seen the same graph as me? Because it clearly went down after the ban, in a steady rate.

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Armsbend

Gun homicides have fallen 22% since the ban to 2014. It went from roughly 2 per 100,000 to 1 per 100,000.

http://crimestats.aic.gov.au/NHMP/1_trends/

So our country – the most violent in the free world could not benefit from a 22% decrease? All things being equal of course.

Your numbers assumes they made the law and poof! All guns gone. Of course that isn’t the case. It takes years to get them from the criminals. It takes dedication and moral perseverance – which I’ll agree with you the United States certainly lacks at this point in our history. Ripe for the picking if I were an enemy set on breaching the shores – but that is another tale.

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styopa

Might want to check the linked article in my post, showing that gun homicides in the US have *also* fallen at the same rate over the same span?

Without a gun ban, btw.

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Bruno Brito

Now imagine with a gun ban.

styopa
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styopa

Australia post gun ban, dropped from 1.9 homicides per 100k in 2000, to 1.1 in 2012.

The US has dropped, in that same span, from 5.5 to 4.6, simultaneous with gun ownership increasing by about 100 million in the US.

Pretty much exactly the same rate of fall.

Please explain how Australia (without guns) hasn’t improved any more than the US?

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Skor

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Jack Pipsam

Feelings like what, Sandy Hook being a false flag operation?

Seriously, after a primary school of children was shot-up, ya’ll did nothing. That’s outrageous.

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Jack Pipsam

Oh sorry, Thoughts and Prayers were given ^_^

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Bruno Brito

Feelings?! How many mass shootings your country had LAST YEAR? C’mon. Tell me of hysteria.

If you’re protecting a right that keeps killing people, you’re the insane one.

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Skor

So your solution is to just remove all the guns from lawful citizens and tell the criminals that it’s illegal to own a gun now so don’t? All your doing is taking the guns out of the hands of people who can and want to protect themselves, family, friends, and others while letting criminals have free reign as they choose.

And what about those who would be over powered in any kind of physical confrontation or outnumbered? They don’t deserve the opportunity to protect themselves?

We aren’t even talking about oppressive govts yet and the real reason the 2nd amendment exists:

comment image

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Armsbend

In the first decade of the 2000s the NRA used to run television spots highlighting guns being confiscated and subsequently destroyed in Australia – “THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU” was the tag line more or less.

Not surprisingly they have abandoned that strategy over the years as there is an absolute and direct correlation that the gun ban was incredibly successful.

The level heads here would like to keep the pistols, the shotguns and hunting rifles – just get rid of the military weaponry.

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Bruno Brito

I would avoid the pistols just because of the concealable status. If i were someone who would support any civilian rights regarding weapons, i would only agree with hunting rifles and shotguns. Weapons you keep home or use for something else than killing people.

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Armsbend

You still have the right to defend yourself so a pistol in the home is not a bad idea ever. The pistol I have is for critters in the woods at night. Snakes, charging boars, that kind of thing. So personally I would not be eager to give up pistols.

I cannot wound 500 from an elevated position at a concert in Las Vegas with a pistol. I likely can’t murder 17 kids with a pistol either – like I could with a semi rifle designed for war activities.

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Bruno Brito

True, but it’s still a concealable weapon, so it offers quite a bit if you wanna do shit with it. But this treads on the more subjective camps. My father has a handgun. I can’t say i feel safe around the thing. I don’t think he ever needed it, either.

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styopa

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Jack Pipsam

Ironically that was about the last effective thing our government did.

I wish we had the strong leadership now like we had then.
Maybe we’d have internet faster than 700 kbs, an attempt to save our environment or trying to help our struggling industries against cheap overseas competition.

Or… let’s spend a whole month politically talking about nothing else other than our deputy PM having an affair with his own staffer :^D

*sobs internally*
We are still trash though.

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McGuffn

Oh for the good old days of 3 months ago and the dual citizenship scandals hitting parliament.

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Jack Pipsam

A part of me wonders if that is even entirely over.

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Armsbend

Every time Tencent swallows up another developer I think something bad will happen (because big equals bad most times?)- but the company really seems to do more good (or try at least) that harm.

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deekay_plus

eh online game play time for minors is limited by law in china already.

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Armsbend

As children find ways around the law and their parents so must companies find new ways to thwart them. I am sure Chinese children have become quite adept in finding ways to circumvent protections.