Activision secures patent for software to trick you into buying cash shop stuff, seriously

Hey, gang, this is absolutely wonderful. Activision has filed and been granted a patent for software designed to push you into buying cash shop crappies through the most insidious means possible. The breakdown is fairly straightforward: Once you buy something, the game’s matchmaking software will push you to a match where that something would be very effective or where another player’s purchases would influence your purchases, thus creating positive feedback and inspiring you to buy more! Isn’t that grand?

For those keeping track at home, this is starting to cross the line from gambling over to extortion, which is not a pleasant road to be walking. If you thought microtransactions amounted to a cash shop wholly separate from gameplay and you never had to worry about it influencing anything else, you were wrong.

Activision’s official statement is that this was simply a patent filed for exploratory software and it has not been implemented in any games. Said statement does not include phrases like “will not,” of course, so draw your own conclusions about when and whether it will show up. You can also draw your own conclusions about how shady it is, but the answer is pretty decidedly “super shady.”

Source: Kotaku, Rolling Stone; thanks to OneEyeRed and Leiloni for the tip!
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Woetoo
Reader
Woetoo

There are so many subtleties to this, and they’re all full on dooshbag level of treating customers in such demeaning ways.

And sadly, it’s inevitable unless people can shine a big enough spotlight on it.

If you spend $60 buying the game and refuse to buy from the store – the game company still made $60 from their dooshbag game. But even not buying a game you suspect this sort of technique might be included in isn’t an option. There have been so many BAD triple-A games in recent years, yet apparently marketing seemingly beats honesty and any form of consumer self interest.

If those of us who consider ourselves informed about such practices aren’t managing to hold back the tide of this sort of anti-consumer practices… we clearly aren’t making enough of an impact.

What might work is mainstream news stories. Something to get shareholders asking “how come we’re in the middle of another shit storm of media attention?”

As to how insidious this is, just imagine it doesn’t even cross the P2W line (wherever that is these days)…

  • Player-B once spent 15 more seconds viewing an item on the game store than they usually spend looking at items.
  • Player-B is deliberately matched against Player-A, who has an MMR +200 higher than Player-B.
  • Player-B loses to Player-A, due to skill. But sees Player-A using the item they liked.
  • Player-B doesn’t buy item and is then consistently put against players with higher MMR (and sometimes the same item).
  • Player-B buys item and is then consistently put against players with lower MMR, including Player-C.
  • Player-B associates their new found success with their ingame store purchase (which is true, but not for the reasons they might think). And so is more likely to buy from the store in the future.
  • Player-C lost and did so to a player who at the same time is better, but not good.
  • Player-C eventually notices that most of the players they are losing to have the item Player-B was using.
  • Player-C feels obliged to buy the same item, knowing the game isn’t P2W – but at the same time wondering if there are balance issues.
  • …. and so it continues.
  • And that’s before you jump into the murky idea that players who know a system like this might be in use, intentionally buy items they don’t need or want, just so they can be matched against less experience players. In effect, P2W without item stats.

    And all of that presumes you even know systems like this are active within the game you’re playing. Because you can be damned sure there won’t be anything on the original store page or box art stating that the game uses patent #xyz.

    Reader
    Tithian

    This is simply diabolical. Can you imagine this system implemented to Battlefront 2?

    Reader
    shear

    Yes, I actually can imagine, not much of a stretch for EA.

    Bannex
    Reader
    Bannex

    Man, this is just filthy.

    Your children aren’t safe, they’re the ones that are getting exploited here.

    kjempff
    Reader
    kjempff

    Good or bad ?
    On one hand, if only one company can do this, it prevents others from using the same shit method.
    On the other hand, patents on software/design-methods is a messed up concept that should be stopped.
    Too harsh ?

    shibby523
    Reader
    shibby523

    They can always loan the system out for some extra cash. Say 5-10% of each loot box sold.

    Reader
    Robert Mann

    Meh. It would quickly seem P2W to me, and given research into things and/or playing before I EVER consider buying things from a cash shop… odds are that I’d note it was full of scumbaggery and get the heck out of gacha.

    Actually, I did just buy a game recently. It has no cash shop at all. Pure buy to play. Nothing else involved. It’s not a giant buggy mess so far (8 hours in.) It seems like a huge, completed game. Interestingly enough, there’s a few companies that do that, and I buy basically every game they make. It’s almost like so long as they keep making good games with fair business models I’ll be a loyal customer who appreciates it and gladly buys their products… amazing! Too bad it’s so few companies that manage this. :(

    Mewmew
    Reader
    Mewmew

    In other words the people who aren’t buying lockbox crap are going to be directly matched up with people who are buying it rather than each other – so that the paying people have someone to easily dominate with their pay to win loot and won’t get matched to someone who will instead beat them down – at least not right away. Until the game decides it wants to make you spend more money then it will start matching you to the people who will destroy you so that you’re encouraged to spend again.

    This adds a new dimension to pay to win, an evil dimension that shouldn’t be visited. It literally makes me sick. Remind me to never ever ever play any game that this system makes it into *if* we even are ever told that it makes it in.

    This is so much worse than pay to win, so horribly unethical, so downright devious. Did the team filing this patent all have cartoonish evil mustaches and dart their eyes left and right while rubbing their hands together and doing an evil little cackle?

    This seems unreal and this is something that we really *do* need some organization to step in and help regulate if this is the direction we’re going. I’m sad. I’m a usual defender of lock boxes (out of the realization there is nothing we can do so we have to accept it) but this makes me sad. Wow… My favorite hobby is looking a little dark today.

    Reader
    birini

    This is flat out evil. I haven’t bought from them in years. It may well be forever now. The industry badly needs new blood. The old Blizzard “For gamers by gamers” mentality instead of “For whales by accountants.”

    possum440 .
    Reader
    possum440 .

    The story goes…..If you are stupid enough to continue to play a game or buy from a company that does these things then you deserve your fate.

    The rest of us will simply move on to another company or game. Entertainment is a dime a dozen. They wont conform to the gamer, then we leave, well the ones with common sense anyway.

    Reader
    Kevin McCaughey

    I agree. It is imperative gamers stick together on this and vote with their feet – otherwise it will become the norm and gaming will be ruined. Fuck Activation for even thinking of this.

    Reader
    Sally Bowls

    This patent is about reinforcing the desire to buy the $50 shotgun by putting you in a match where that performs well – how is that different than just making the shotgun OP? The devs don’t have to steer shotgun purchasers into the “quail and dove” instance that suits them best; they can just make the shotgun do twice the damage of any other weapon. Then in every single instance you’re in, your fellow players will admire the performance and girth of your “weapon.”

    Reader
    Loyal Patron
    Armsbend

    It is different in this sense: You buy the shotgun. You are placed on a shotgun-centric map with 9 other players that don’t have a shotgun.

    In your scenario – if a potential 10 players all have the OP shotgun – then there is no apparent need for an algorithm and your OPness is obsolete.

    The patent implies something akin to making sure the buyer is OP.

    This is how I read it at least.

    Reader
    Kickstarter Donor
    Serrenity

    I read it the same way. The alg creates a situation in which you are OP, while still allowing to studio to make bleating noises to the contrary, saying that all weapons are carefully balanced.

    Reader
    Kevin McCaughey

    Fucking sickening. Sorry for the language but this is just on another level of disgusting practice. This is worse than ***ing sheep.

    Reader
    Dug From The Earth

    Well, if there was ever any doubt in the past, there sure isnt any now…

    When someone buys a video game today, the thought, “maybe the company set out to make a good, fun, quality game” should never cross their mind. The only thing that should be clear as day now is, “They just want my money, and will do whatever it takes to get it”

    Reader
    Loyal Patron
    Armsbend

    I wonder if coders/artists today were ever really gaming fans or if they are just seeing opportunity? 15 years ago you wouldn’t find a coder who didn’t get in because of gaming (more or less. Now I think it’s the opposite. They might have familiarity without passion. And all they have to do is look at the Garriot’s and Molyneux’s to see how the old guard are the scummiest of them all.

    Reader
    Dug From The Earth

    The “old guard” is mostly guilty of over promising and selling their game for more than it actually was. Over hyping, and for being unrealistic with their goals.

    Nearly every game from Molyneux gets criticized for this. Players buy into something (literally), only to find out that what they bought, isnt what was hyped or promised.

    To me, thats not anywhere close to what a company like EA or Activision is doing. Finding any way they can, to trick/con/persuade/fool people into spending more and more money on a game they already bought.

    Both can leave a bad taste in your mouth. However. I dont even have to BUY a game from Activision to smell and taste the crap they are spewing.

    Reader
    Kevin McCaughey

    They are toxic. I wouldn’t buy game from them either – unless it’s really cheap in a Steam sale (and there’s the problem ;)

    Reader
    John Mynard

    Don’t confuse the passionate development staff of a game with the MBAs and lawyers who think up crap like this. This stuff gets put in because the coders and art team get TOLD to put it in.

    That said, Warframe, once again, is showing how a cash shop can be operated positively. I’ve probably spent $250 on Warframe this past year, but it was for stuff that I legitimately wanted or improved my experience somehow. Almost all of it cosmetic. Capes, colors, alternate skins.

    It just goes to show that if you make a quality product and engage with your player base instead of treating them like garbage and giving them garbage fires to play, they’ll support you in return. You don’t have to be underhanded and manipulative to get them to pony up.

    Reader
    Loyal Patron
    Armsbend

    I am now confusing the two. Only because the lines truly are confused. Who comes up with scams like Peter Molyneux and Richard Garriot? Lawyers and suits? No, it is the lead developers.

    Reader
    Kickstarter Donor
    Serrenity

    Generally not. A lead dev (often synonymous with architect) generally specs out the low-level architecture for a given feature or game.

    Someone else (generally someone with more MBA classes than sense) has decreed that something must work X way. Then you have someone in product owner/ business analyst role who creates the high-level architecture, ensuring that all the features are present and work they way the MBAs think it should. Then that person works with the lead developers to ensure they understand the high level architecture and the ask from the suits, then create the low level architecture (the nitty-gritty implementation details). Then the lead developer communicates how the work should be accomplished to the development team/teams and ensure the implementation is correct and that the outcome meets the business objectives and the high-level architecture.

    Bad ideas, like exploitative monetization, almost always come from people far removed from any actual work on the game (or any software really). In this case, the suits and the MBAs. Everyone else just likes to eat and have a roof over their head.

    FWIW, I have the pleasure of working with some ex-industry vets from a well known (and beloved) MMO. They left because of the terrible conditions, staffed treated like absolute shit. One told me, “You don’t go into game development if you want to enjoy your life. There’s no more toxic and abusive environment and you get it from all angles–management, your teams, the community. You literally catch shit from every direction, all the time.”

    Reader
    Stropp

    It’s generally not the coal-face developers and artists that have any say over the way a game is monetised.

    Guys like Garriot and Molyneux (stated without knowing them personally) have been in the industry at the C level for so long, some of the ‘evil’ has probably rubbed off.

    Reader
    Kickstarter Donor
    Bhima Jenkins

    I’m just not that cynical yet. Coders and artists for the most part, work in games/entertainment because they love what they do.

    Honestly, for the amount of hours artists/coders put in, they really don’t get paid that well in the gaming industry unless they are the absolute lead art director or head of development. Otherwise, they make MUCH less than they could just working for any other private industry that needs their services, and they wouldn’t be as overworked.

    Reader
    Ittybumpkin

    This is very true. I am a software developer and I love video games. I would never ever consider working for a company to make video games. The reason is simple, I would get paid way less and I would have to work way more. Anyone who willingly walks into a job to make less money and have things like 70+ hour weeks at crunch time are not there for the money. They are their because they love what they do and the industry takes advantage of that

    Reader
    Kickstarter Donor
    Greaterdivinity

    They’ve always wanted money. The rose-colored nostalgia glasses about the “good old days” when publishers made games for the passion of it are bullshit.

    Developers make games because they’re passionate. Publishers make games to make money. Both are in constant fights and have been since the gaming industry sprung up. They’ve always wanted your money, always. Hence the ludicrous prices for a lot of the older hardware/software over the years, hence all the terrible shovelware (sup LJN!) that was always pushed out.

    Reader
    Dug From The Earth

    Its important to acknowledge the difference between

    “I want money, so im going to create something good that people want”

    vs

    “I want money, so im going to stoop to manipulating people into buying things, regardless of if its good”

    Reader
    Kickstarter Donor
    Greaterdivinity

    Uh…you realize almost all those games had marketing campaigns associated with them…and the whole purpose of marketing is to convince people that something is good, regardless of whether it is or not, and get them to buy it >.>

    Reader
    Dug From The Earth

    Again.. its important to acknowledge the difference

    “Marketing something thats actually good”

    vs

    “Marketing something that isnt good, but making people think it is good”

    Reader
    Kickstarter Donor
    Greaterdivinity

    Except that in most instances of the latter, the folks will legitimately believe their product is good. Sure, sometimes everyone knows it’s going to be a stinker (Aliens: Colonial Marines is a good example) and they go through the motions anyways, but more often than not everyone honestly believes they’re working on and marketing a great game.

    In your latter example anyways, that’s not accurate. You can market something that’s good, but that will also encourage and push for consistent longterm monetization from players. I’ll throw Battlefield 1 up as a good example. The games damn solid, I’ve enjoyed the hell outta it. But the marketing was absolutely designed around pushing folks to purchase the DLC/season passes and both the marketing and game were designed to encourage purchasing the lockboxes in the game. That’s not an entirely bad thing, and while I’ve spent nothing since purchasing the game have still enjoyed the dozens of hours I’ve spent in it immensely.

    Reader
    Brother Maynard

    Thankfully, there are exceptions.

    Jump to 18:00 if you don’t want to watch the whole video (it’s well worth it, though)

    Reader
    Dug From The Earth

    You’re right, i generalized. Its easy to do considering the ratio of good games from good studios is such a small number compared to the mass horde of bad games out there. Patents like the one mentioned in this article, are only steering things in the wrong direction.

    There are still, and probably will still be the rare “diamond in the rough”. With the rate the industry is changing though, thats not enough to add much hope.

    Reader
    Brother Maynard

    Yeah, I get that – with too many developers these days it’s just like you wrote… But it’s good that we’re still having a few whose philosophy is the complete opposite, like CDPR. They’re always worth the wait.

    miol
    Reader
    miol

    Sorry to break it to you, but sadly they’re also not an exception! :/

    When not both, if this industry isn’t exploiting consumers, it’s exploiting their employees:

    In essence people were feeling overworked, underpaid and as though there was little organisation or they weren’t being heard. …

    But these were often people who had been there less than a year and had come from other big studios organised in other ways, maybe better ways. How do you convince all of these new people that your bruteforce way of facing the tidal wave of work ahead is the best way?

    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-10-16-cd-projekt-red-this-approach-to-making-games-is-not-for-everyone

    Reader
    Brother Maynard

    Yes, I knew about the article.

    a) It has nothing to do with this discussions, i.e. how developers treat their customers

    b) Glassdoor reviews have the reliability of the wikipedia page of Casey Hudson 2 weeks after ME3 released.

    To base an article on a site where virtually anyone can post their ‘review’ is not journalism. It’s like judging a game that has just been review bombed on Steam.

    Also, the low pay complaint is pretty amusing – the average wage in Poland is less than 50% of the western Europe’s average. Presumably, the interviewed ex-employees did not do their homework when applying for their CDPR jobs…

    I do not give this article much credence… No matter how many times people bring it up.

    miol
    Reader
    miol

    a) Compartmentilizing the positive of only one part of a whole studio, doesn’t help any discussion, as consumers have the responsibility to be concerned of exploitation of any form that comes with a product!

    b) The felt obligation of CDP to answer to such an overwhelming feedback and the actual content of said CDP own official response, only underlines these expressed issues!

    Since the actual article is based on the official response, taking up more than 60% alone with quotes and a huge image of the whole statement in the middle of said article’s space, let alone the elaboration on it, saying “base an article on [Glassdoor]” is simply wrong and arguably deceptive!

    Not to mention. the jounalist’s own interviews with employees confirming those overall issues. is actual journalism!

    Blatant attempt was just too blatant! :/

    Reader
    Brother Maynard

    as consumers have the responsibility to be concerned of exploitation of any form that comes with a product!

    That’s just your opinion and you’re stretching it to the extreme (“exploitation”? seriously?) based on random internet allegations. I certainly feel zero obligation or responsibility to be concerned with anything.

    I have my years-long experience with CDPR as a consumer. It has nothing to do with their HR practices and which are absolutely irrelevant to the former. An anonymous rant in a youtube video, followed up by an article basically saying “yeah, I spoke to a guy, he pointed me to a Glassdoor review and said he agrees with it”, is not going to move me.

    Not to mention. the jounalist’s own interviews with employees confirming those overall issues

    Really? “But these were often people who had been there less than a year and had come from other big studios organised in other ways”. To me there is zero credibility to this kind of ‘journalism’. For all we know, the guy interviewed 2 ex-employees terminated for good reasons within their probational period. The point is, the article does not clarify anything. It does not investigate, it does not go deeper than the very surface of an allegation against CDPR. There have been significantly better in-depth articles on gaming issues – this one does not even begin to compare…

    Do I say CDPR does not overwork its staff? No – I have no way of knowing that. I certainly won’t formulate an opinion based on a random superficial internet article. And especially if one of the main arguments is Glassdoor reviews.

    miol
    Reader
    miol

    ^ Purest ad hom right there!

    I spoke anonymously to people who had worked at CD Projekt Red in the past and they pointed to negative Glassdoor reviews as being accurate of the situation there.

    Reader
    Kevin McCaughey

    Which is why we need to NOT BUY these games.