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

We were so certain we had this.

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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