If you have an exceptional memory, you might recall that a couple of months ago, Crowfall and Star Wars Galaxies designer Raph Koster wrote up a blog post on the cost of making games. The MMO expert followed that up this week with a much, much more detailed presentation that attempts to show hard data to back up his claims.
Koster said that he used industry contacts and other research to assemble data from over 250 games made from 1985 to today that shows the development cost minus the money spent on marketing. He even goes so far as to break down the cost of dollars per developed byte of information, which is where he sees costs for game falling. He said that when you look at it this way, players are getting a “deal” for games these days.
“Lots of people have made the observation that in terms of raw purchasing power, players pay around half of what they used to in the ’80s,” he notes.
“It’s as easy as one, two, insert your credit card number here!” So begins the parody at the beginning of the first of two recent Game Theory videos all about 2017’s favorite-and-least-favorite topic, lootboxes. Rather than overtly picking a side, the vloggers attempt to sort out how lockboxes work – whether they’re just annoying business model glitches or deliberately manipulative end-runs around gambling laws, all by examine the science.
Now, contrary to the first video’s claim, lots of people are indeed talking about the science of lockboxes, but it nevertheless contributes a funny and clear-headed angle on the psychology of lockboxes from skinner boxes and dopamine to loss aversion, the sunk cost fallacy, and the illusion of control. The chilling idea is that we actually get our dopamine blast from opening the box – not from getting what we wanted. Lockboxes, like casinos, exploit the crap out of that, adding deadlines and exclusive loot to ramp up the pressure.
At the tail end of last year, we caught wind that the World Health Organization is planning on classifying gaming addiction as a “gaming disorder” its update of the International Classification of Diseases, which caused multiple academics, self-regulatory bodies, and education advocates to preemptively reject the plan, pointing out both the lack of research to justify the classification as well as the potential for harm.
“We do not support WHO in this classification scheme in the strongest possible terms,” the Higher Education Video Game Alliance (HEVGA) wrote earlier this week, arguing the WHO is “jumping to premature conclusions” that will scapegoat and stigmatize gaming. The ESA flat-out called it reckless. An academic in games research whom we’ve consulted with in the past suggested to us that the news came off as “moral panic-y.”
But WHO appears to be sticking to its guns. GamesIndustry.biz spoke to a representative for WHO, who reportedly claimed to the publication that “there is increasing and well-documented evidence of clinical relevance of these conditions and increasing demand for treatment in different parts of the world.”
Is gaming addiction a thing worthy of its own classification? The World Health Organization is thinking about saying yes in its update of the International Classification of Diseases. The Electronic Software Association, predictably, says heck no. Now, the Higher Education Video Game Alliance has weighed in with a big no too, expressing “dismay” at the WHO’s stated intentions and suggesting that the classification won’t actually “combat cases of abuse rooted in individual behavior” but will “stigmatize a pastime that billions of players enjoy without issue around the world” and “warp continued research.”
“We do not support WHO in this classification scheme in the strongest possible terms,” the group’s press release says, suggesting classifications amount to “jumping to premature conclusions” and willful “scapegoating.”
“We’ve watched as games are repeatedly blamed in today’s world for violence, childhood obesity, failures in educational policy, and a host of other contemporary issues, despite both a lack of evidence and careful consideration of other, often far more powerful, systemic forces that contribute to societal behavior. Games are commonly referred to as ‘addictive’ despite numerous conflicting studies and a clear lack of consensus from the scientific and medical communities.”
Most MMORPGs have the core sandbox problem: Whoever gets there first, controls all the toys and has the power to drive everyone else away. Even in a themepark, the “richest” players, whether they control the gold or the dungeons or the gear or the PvP, eventually help kill the game.
That’s the subject of a Raph Koster blog that recently popped back up on my radar. Koster, known for ecosystem-oriented virtual world MMOs like Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, is subtly making the case for MMOs that end, even if that end starts a new beginning. It’ll sound familiar to A Tale In The Desert players, surely, or anybody watching Koster’s latest MMO, Crowfall.
In the service of his argument, he references a blog post about the age of the world’s best tennis players, which just keeps rising. Is it because the olds are innately better at tennis? Nope. It’s because the “winners” are entrenched in a rich-get-richer situation that ensures “the typical person in the system ends up below average.” The more the winners win, the more money they have to ensure they win more, whether that’s with better coaches, better equipment, better medical treatment, or just plain more time to train, which makes it progressively more expensive (on all fronts) for newcomers to compete… until the newbies stop trying and the olds start retiring.
And then? The whole system collapses.
We here at Massively OP can’t get rid of lockboxes, but by gum, we’re not going to roll over and give up on fighting them. At the very least, we can help to educate the gaming public about the insidious nature of these gambleboxes.
In that spirit, we want to share this post on the psychology of lockboxes and gambling and how both casinos and video game studios use the same techniques to manipulate players into spending far more than they ever should. There are five tricks listed: the gambler’s falacy, the sunk costs effect, the availability heuristic, the illusion of control, and the near-miss illusion.
“Casinos long ago discovered that if they let a player make some kind of meaningless choice or tap a button to potentially ‘nudge’ a slot machine reel into a winning position, they would love it and gamble more,” author Jamie Madigan notes. “Even when the odds of winning are held constant. You could totally do this with loot boxes, too. Instead of clicking on a loot box to open it, let them choose between three boxes, all of which in reality have the same contents.”
In case you missed it over the holiday break, but the World Health Organization announced it would be adding “gamer disorder” and “hazardous gaming” to the latest edition of its International Compendium of Diseases, a move many academics treated with skepticism. According to WHO, “Gaming disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour, which may be online or offline, manifested by: 1) impaired control over gaming; 2) increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
The industry isn’t taking this classification lightly, with the Electronic Software Association predictably pushing back against the move and saying that it misrepresents a hobby billions enjoy.
“The World Health Organization knows that common sense and objective research prove video games are not addictive,” the ESA said in a statement. “And, putting that official label on them recklessly trivializes real mental health issues like depression and social anxiety disorder, which deserve treatment and the full attention of the medical community. We strongly encourage the WHO to reverse direction on its proposed action.”
Over the last couple of years, we’ve redoubled our efforts on our science-related articles, as you may have noticed from our roundups in 2016 and 2015. Last year, we even hired on a staff writer specifically to cover gaming science, especially as it relates to MMORPGs, and we’ve been collecting all of his work along with our other science posts in their very own category.
Read on for a recap of our best science-related MMO articles from 2017, from EVE Online’s real-life hunt for exoplanets and the economics of MMO monetization to how lockboxes use psychology to manipulate us and the math behind the gamblebox phenom. Dr Richard Bartle even announced a new gamer matrix this year. Don’t worry; there won’t be a quiz at the end!
We’ve previously discussed that according to the Manual of Mental Disorders and the industry standard Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, gaming addiction isn’t a thing.
But new research says otherwise. The Independent is reporting that The International Classification of Diseases, last updated 27 years ago, may be throwing in with a “yes” in its update. Part of the reason appears to be a 2016 University of Oxford study in which fewer than 2 out of 3 participants indicated signs of addiction. Lead author Dr. Andrew Przybylski particularly noted that the issue is an “internet gaming disorder” but admitted that “the study did not find a clear link between potential addiction and negative effects on health.” The researchers themselves concluded that their findings’ “evidence linking Internet gaming disorder to game engagement was strong, but links to physical, social, and mental health outcomes were decidedly mixed.”
It doesn’t end there though. The World Health Organization will also add “Gaming Disorder” to its 2018 international classification of diseases.
How does a “great series get driven into the ground,” eroding player trust? That’s precisely the subject tackled in a recent edition of the always-awesome Extra Credits. EC argues that a quality video game with solid sales is frequently followed up by a lower-quality game with solid word-of-mouth and heavier marketing, that tramples its much-deserved criticism with stronger box sales and strong profits. Rinse and repeat that process enough and the playerbase loses faith in the developer. Sound familiar?
“Now obviously, not all franchises are going to see that sort of linear decline in quality, but in this scenario where review scores are slowly falling despite rising profits, if you only look at the things that you have hard data for – skimming the surface level of [those] data rather than aggressively digging down into all of [their] root causes – you won’t see the real damage that diminishing quality is doing until it’s too late.”
Don’t agree that lockboxes, lootboxes, and gambleboxes were the biggest story of the year? We’ve collected so many news tidbits just on that over the last few days that we’re resorting to rounding them up rather than spamming. To wit:
First, Merrill Lynch analysts have now lowered their expectations and profit estimates for EA thanks to the performance of Star Wars Battlefront 2, which the analysts believe will fall short of the 14M sales estimate by 2.5M. At least in big box stores, the game also performed relatively poorly on Black Friday.
On point: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gambling is under $1 on Steam. “Do you love opening loot crates, but hate the tedious gameplay sessions in between? Our marketing department has the game for you! Unbox random items! Get stuff, but not what you really want! Skate legal and ethical lines! Remember kids, it’s only a video game, so grab your parents’ credit card!”
Getting five batches of 100 gold feels better than one batch of 500 gold, and being forced to spend three separate 100 gold fees feels worse than one 300 gold fee. And that fee is likely to make all that 500 gold not feel like it mattered. You probably know all of that just from experience, but perhaps you’d like to see it in action with a new piece from the Psychology of Video Games blog discussing how grouping results (or intentionally not doing so) produces a different valuation of rewards.
To summarize quickly, we tend to prioritize losses as more important than gains, so losing 100 gold has a bigger impact than gaining 100 gold in our brains. However, both losses and gains have a certain point where we stop noticing them, so losing 1500 gold doesn’t feel much worse than losing 1300 gold. Thus, from a psychological standpoint, it makes sense to have losses come in big chunks and rewards come in several smaller chunks, so that each individual good thing gets evaluated separately while the bad stuff gets shuffled off faster. Read through the whole piece for a more thorough overview of why it works; it’s pretty interesting.
Who would have ever thought that something so mundane and everyday as city urban planning would be of immense inspiration to a game like EVE Online
Develop has a fascinating interview with CCP about how the studio uses strategies from urban planning when developing its space MMO. Citing “unproductive” development around 2004 following the game’s rise in popularity, CCP drew its community into talks about what it wanted to see for EVE Online, which in turn led to the formation of the Council of Interstellar Management. Through all of this, CCP started seeing the game’s growth through the lens of city planning.
“EVE is more like a city than it is a game,” said CEO Hilmar Pétursson. “If you are doing urban planning in a city, getting feedback from the inhabitants is important. You might have to bulldoze away some houses to make a highway, or you might have a garbage collection problem, and it’s impossible to know all this. We have no way of knowing all the things in EVE Online that the hundreds and thousands of people who live there every day do. They have way more information about it. So factoring in all the information about the game, their input on where the game needs improvement, putting those two things together is what the EVE team does every year.”