Video game developers are using crude experimental psychology and behavioural economics to make simple games that get you hooked. One professor used satire to fight back, but not everyone got the joke.

This week’s guests: Ian Bogost, Jason Tanz, Adam Scriven, Nicholas Lovell, Ramin Shokrizade, Jamie Madigan, James Ivory, and Richard Smith.

 

Bibliography

Where can I find out more about Ian Bogost and Cow Clicker
Read Jason Tanz‘s great 2012 Wired article, The Curse of Cow Clicker. You can also check out Ian Bogost’s website and his game, A Slow Year. It’s basically the opposite of Cow Clicker.

In the podcast we mention a talk where Ian compares Cow Clicker to a Nigerian prison. The blog post version of that (called, Shit Crayons) is a great read.

Jason Tanz, “The Curse of Cow Clicker: How a Cheeky Satire Became a Videogame Hit,” Wired, December 20, 2011.

Does anyone actually buy stuff in games like League of Legends?
Yes.

How Do Free to Play (F2P) get people to pay up?

In 2013 Ramin Shokrizade, Wargaming America’s economist, wrote a blog post on the great video game website, Gamasutra. It’s called “The Top F2P Monetization Tricks” and–like the title suggests–it methodically details the ways that the most popular F2P games get a small percentage of their gamers to pay for digital goods. Ramin says that he did his best to stay neutral: to not outright condemn or praise one game mechanic or another. But you can read his work as one of the first stabs at a code of ethics around internet monetization coming from inside the industry.

Ramin Shokrizade, “The Top F2P Monetization Tricks,” Gamasutra, June 26, 2013.

Are Free to Play games addictive?
 There have been some horror stories of “whales”–an industry term for the 1-4% of players who financially underwrite most F2P games–spending all of their money on Team Fortress 2. Or neglecting their children to play Mafia Wars. Some people blame the game developers, who put in hooky mechanics that compel people to keep playing (and spending). The Japanese government actually banned one particularly controversial game mechanic called “complete gacha.” (Another great Gamasutra article explains why).

But James Ivory–a Professor of Communications at Virginia Tech–says that we don’t fully understand the relationship between game mechanics and addiction yet. Are the horror stories aberrations? Are most “whales” freely and happily buying entertainment? Or are FTP companies mostly profiting off of vulnerable people. We still don’t know.

Mike Rose, “Chasing the Whale: Examining the Ethics of Free-to-Play Games,” Gamasutra, July 9, 2013.

Julia Kneer, Diana Rieger, James D. Ivory, Christopher Ferguson, “Awareness of Risk Factors for Digital Game Addiction: Interviewing Players and Counselors,” International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction 12:5 (2014): 585-599.

Credits

Produced by: Gordon Katic and Sam Fenn.

With research and production help from: Sophie Comyn, Amy Do, Mel Resoso and Rebekah Parker, Kamil Somaratne, Jane Young, Cherrie Lam, Eric Bing, Hailey Froese and Kerria Gray.

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