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Hi, I’m from the games industry. Governments, please stop us (positech.co.uk)
344 points by smacktoward on Dec 13, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 229 comments



> "We need to reign this stuff in. Its not just psychological warfare, but warfare where you, the customer, are woefully outgunned, and losing. Some people are losing catastrophically."

I strongly disagree with this statement. I am very aware of the psychology behind marketing and advertising, and anyone with half an interest in it has probably read Vance Packard's The Hidden Persuaders, which was released, oh, 58 years ago. People know what pushes their buttons, too, and we have a name for it: interest. Not "manipulation". Certainly not "psychological warfare".

Marketing and advertising might seem to be refined in this dopamine-heavy, short-attention-span social gaming age, but this shit has been around as long as humanity itself has existed. Some people have better impulse control than others; it's not the state's job to regulate the impulses of their populaces, or regulate systems that know how to manipulate them. It's a slippery slope that would take down the entirety of marketing and advertising as an industry, an industry which is pretty much necessary for the vast majority of the citizenry to even know what is out there to purchase.

Furthermore, how would one even decide where the line between manipulative consumption and social signaling is? Some people want to own all the capital ships; they have some social hierarchy in some subculture standing upon it. Should I regulate that, too, and force them to have the same consumption values and preferences that I do? Should we take this a step further and ban all vices? Let's see how fast American society would fall apart if we banned alcohol again.

FWIW, I hate consumerism and advertising. I block ads everywhere, I hate big branded items, I don't know the last time I bought something from an ad. Just because I feel this way, I don't go around trying to violently force that opinion upon others by begging the state to do it for me.


So in your opinion there's nothing a gaming or marketing company can do that's legal now, but really shouldn't be?

I'm also not buying that it's a slippery slope and banning, say, cross compiling profiles on customers from different, unrelated platforms would "take down the entirety of marketing and advertising as an industry".

In capitalism, companies will do everything within the legal framework to make more money. That's their job. Ours is to set and adjust those bounds to keep the whole system productive.


Take a look at someone who spent $30k on ships in Star Citizen.

http://www.pcgamer.com/meet-a-fan-who-has-spent-30000-on-sta...

He seems like a reasonable person to me. He's not in financial ruin. He doesn't seem to regret his purchase. He's just putting money into his hobby, the same way a different 40 year old would buy an "unproductive" boat or an "unproductive" Rolex.


I think both the original article's and your points are valid. Especially when you start to see games/virtual items as a "thing" (which probably started with UO/WoW) as opposed to a "fake thing". That said, as a thought experiment, I disagree with the fact that government and regulation have no place in the way a society consumes things like this.

If you accept that our knowledge of psychology, biochemistry, and neuroscience are improving and likely to continue doing so, and that calibrated external actions are capable of influencing our behavior, and that progress in the former begets progress in the latter, then either:

a) We will reach a point where we will stop making progress in those fields

b) We overturn the majority of our current social psychology knowledge and realize that yes, people actually do have absolute free will

c) We will develop techniques so sophisticated and reliable to influence behavior that it becomes unreasonable to expect an average person to resist them

As I (and the original article seems to) see it, the current free-for-all that is "freemium"/casual gaming basically targets all of capitalism's motivation and resources on arriving at (c) as quickly as possible. And... we're getting pretty damn good at it.

PS: Positech Games makes great stuff, btw! GSB had several free expansions just because Cliff Harris is cool [he == Positech]. He absolutely could have charged for the content if he'd felt like milking more money out of his users.


> we're getting pretty damn good at it

I'm not so sure. I play a video game, and invariably get bored to tears within 30 seconds or so.

It might have something to do with when I was a student, I had a job that involved play testing video games.

It's also true that my old game Empire was well known to be addictive. I'd play it myself, but would rarely get too far into a game before I'd go back to tweaking the AI, which was where the real fun was.


Ironic username, given the conversation topic. ;)

While yours may be a true experience: statistics. I'm not sure a personal experience poll on an entrepreneurial technology news site is the best place for a representative sample of people with low willpower. And social psych findings have born out that are a lot of easily manipulated levers to reliably influence people's behavior in an intentional way.

To me, it's not about the people with Fort Knox reserves of willpower. Say instead I'm born into the genetic/epigenetic/life lottery with a crappy ticket, what's fair? (And if you don't agree that that's possible, try volunteering at your local homeless shelter a few times)

Is it fair that everyone else gets to leverage my vices to transfer my wealth and the profits of my work to themselves? Or is there something morally not right about that scenario?

I agree it's easy to go overboard with regulation, but just because it's possible to addict babies to cocaine in utero doesn't mean that's the society we should build.


What's ironic about his username? His name's Walter Bright.


Ironic in the context of a discussion of vices and addiction, though now understandable (apologies for my lack of knowledge of 70s games & compiler names!)

echo "WalterBright" | sed 's/Bright/White/'


> my lack of knowledge of 70s games

Prepare for enlightenment: http://www.classicempire.com


Speaking of destructive social manipulation, your game destroyed my grade in LISP (or was it C++?) when I discovered Empire on a (Sun?) workstation in the computer lab.

But you probably already know all that from on the extensive profile you built on me.

Thank you. :)


And source available too! Thanks for the link.


>people with Fort Knox reserves of willpower

In my case, it has nothing whatsoever to do with willpower. It's that video games bore me.


You. Are. Not. The. Audience.

You are just one of the costs of doing a freemium business. Like the alcohol industry, the game is really targeted towards the psychologically vulnerable who represent most of the revenues.

The game is boring by design. Actually its just barely interesting enough to keep the target audience playing, but not so interesting that it stops them from paying to get their psychological reward. These games are basically crack which you can legally sell to kids.

There is a great south park episode that illustrates this phenomenon. Its very well done. You should watch it.

http://southpark.cc.com/full-episodes/s18e06-freemium-isnt-f...


Funny that they didn't make this particular episode available online.

Gee, I wonder why...


>b) We overturn the majority of our current social psychology knowledge and realize that yes, people actually do have absolute free will

Err... All current research suggests that you have almost no free will and are little more than a complex set of reactions to external stimulus.


Hence his comment. He's replying to people who claim all/most transactions in capitalism are willful actions by free, rational actors.


So there is no unexplained variance in behaviour and we have models that explain and predict it as good as let's say classical mechanics?

Free will is just a conceptual mistake based on metaphysics.


He is not putting money into his hobby.

If you buy $30k worth of golf clubs, you have $30k worth of golf clubs.

If you put $30k into a kickstarter project for some digital assets exclusively in a piece of software that isn't even written yet, you don't own that.

That's not putting $30k into a hobby, but giving $30k to someone without even a contractual obligation for delivery. It's exactly why the SEC won't let non-accredited investing into crowdfunded equity projects, but the reality is that people already think they're buying something without getting equity.


If I want to spend $100,000 on ephemeral virtual items in a video game that might never actually be released, that's my problem, not the government's. I'm the one that earned the money, so I'm the one that decides how to spend it. It's totally inappropriate for the government to insert itself between two informed and consenting parties.

A paternalist government is not compatible with a free society.


The reason we have "paternalistic" organizations like the FTC and SEC is because many parties make informed, consenting agreements, and don't obligate them. How are you going to enforce your $100k agreement without a "paternalistic" organization?

Consumer rights and protections are what creates scalable trade by enabling trust in our society.


Laws that arm people with more information are great. I'm a big fan. I'm not a fan of laws that prohibit certain contracts no matter how informed both parties are. It's sometimes necessary when there's a huge asymmetry in power, like in landlord-tenant relationships and in standard-form contracts that waive all liability (interestingly, this is something courts have recognized as a matter of common law, even in the absence of legislative protections). I don't think video game pre-orders, in-game purchases, and Kickstarter pledges by informed adults should one of the exceptions.

As for who's going to enforce my $100k agreement, the same people that enforce any other contract, the courts.


Except, you know slavery is illegal even if both parties are informed adults who could agree to such a contract. Same for indentured servitude, or selling organs. And these are just the most obvious examples.

There is a line that needs to be drawn somewhere in terms of what can and cannot be allowed in contracts, the question is where to draw it. The other obvious point is whether both parties are acting in good faith, which is why there are laws about fraud on the books (even if they aren't always enforced for some financial industries).


> Civil court enforcement

You had just said it's not appropriate for governments to insert itself between two informed, consenting parties, because it is paternalistic and not part of a free society.

Also what does market efficiency have to do with anything? There are always going to be asymmetrical distributions of power because information is asymmetrical.


Courts enforce consensual contracts between two people. That's a basic function of government and doesn't restrict your rights, except that you must abide by your word. What this discussion is about is legal constraints on the contents of those contracts.

A lot of what the SEC and FTC do is require appropriate information disclosure to protect consumers from deception. The SEC requires financial disclosures, auditing, etc. In the FTC's own words: "Federal Trade Commission has a broad mandate to protect consumers from fraud and deception in the marketplace". The idea is to make sure people have the information that they need to make informed decisions. Not to tell them what decisions they are and are not allowed to make once they have that information.


Which is still paternalistic intervention by the government as you defined it. Don't go no-true-scotsman on me by trying to redefine "true" intervention.

And to the contrary, both the SEC and the FTC dictate what types of transactions take place in respective domains - unless you're arguing that the prevention of MLMs and ponzi schemes infringes on your freedoms.


Actually, a free society is impossible without a paternalistic government. The government does a lot of work to craft the free and open society we all enjoy, and enforce certain norms of acceptable behavior; primarily to prevent abuse and exploitation in one sided asymmetric power relationships. Like the relationship between a consumer and a team of trained psychologists using everything they know about the human brain to maliciously manipulate people with mental illnesses into parting with their money against their best interests.


There is at least an implied contract on Kickstarter. They say as much in their TOS:

https://www.kickstarter.com/terms-of-use#section4


Star Citizen isn't through Kickstarter, though. At this point it's through themselves.


Has this ever been held as legally binding in civil court?


When you buy a boat or a Rolex, you own a boat or a Rolex. Now you can buy all Star Citizen's ship you will own nothing, if tomorrow they decide to close their servers you are pretty much screwed.


When you buy a ticket to a movie, a concert, or a theme park, after you're done, you have "nothing" by the argument you're making. Want to ban movies, concerts, and theme parks?

People get value from things that aren't tangible. Many of the most valuable things aren't tangible.


That's not the same. Some people spend thousands of hours and thousands of dollars to level up in some games, they have no recourse if the company shut it down.

For a movie you clearly know what you get into.


your conclusion isn't supported by your premise, which seems to be that it matters how much a person spends. Where is the line?


With a boat, you might spend thousands on consumables. All that you have left is the memories of driving the boat around.

Some guys spend $100k to go motor racing for a season in single-make cars. At the end of it, they don't own anything but any trophies they might have picked up.

If people want to spend money on digital goods, putting up walls to stop or make it harder is unlikely to be successful unless you outright ban it with heavy punishment for use.

That hasn't worked so well for other items in a similar category, and digital goods are completely victimless.


I don't really buy into this argument. Regulating the sale digital goods works. Companies that wish to remain legal will refrain from the sale of digital goods in an illegal manner; mandatory company audits will be a vector governments use to enforce that.

The article and others in the thread have given arguments that digital goods are not victimless. Most societies acknowledge that gambling is harmful; digital gambling with fake money or with time spent in-game is presumably harmful as well.


Owning a boat can be a real drag, though, once the novelty wears off.


Literally a drag...


nice one!


> I'm also not buying that it's a slippery slope and banning, say, cross compiling profiles on customers from different, unrelated platforms would "take down the entirety of marketing and advertising as an industry".

It's also not clear that destroying the entirety of marketing and advertising industries is an obviously bad idea if you take the long view on humanity. (It's also not an obviously good idea. It's worth thinking about.)


How long a view are we talking about? On a time scale of decades, it sounds like a bad idea, and on a time scale of centuries I tend to distrust all forecasts. Care to present any argument in favor?


I don't believe that the original author is making the argument that "marketers sometimes do shady things with data." From its title and lede to the end, I read it as "some of these games are manipulative and use manipulative tactics and mechanics to suck money out of people, sometimes to their own demise. The government needs to regulate this industry to protect people from themselves and ban these mechanics." This is roughly as simple to regulate and ban as it is to ban any other type of mechanic. It is what leads to weird laws such as some of California's casinos having weird bingo-based slot machines, or pachinko machines in Japan needing you to trade a pseudocurrency for goods.

The point I'm trying to make is that it is impractical, costly, probably impossible and dangerous to attempt to limit the mechanics the OP is really pissed off about in a way that does not also impinge upon the freedom of the majority in order to protect those with poor impulse control.

I am capable of going to a casino and walking out of there without losing my shirt. I am equally as capable of going to have a few drinks at a bar without becoming an alcoholic, or to have sex with somebody and not turn into a raging sex addict. Should my ability to go to casinos, drink, or sleep with people be regulated too, just because some people's lives are ruined by these things?

You can project this argument into a thousand different things just because people like them. For example, I spend an absolute eternity on the Internet. The vast majority of my life is spent reading, writing code, or doing other coder-type things. Because of this, I have also had to eat the opportunity cost involved; I have missed out on some social gatherings, I have lost friends and also lost any and all experience I would get otherwise. It's safe to say, by some general decree, that I'm addicted to what I do. I'd argue I'm passionate. Should my work and passions be regulated because there is an opportunity cost to me doing so? Should I not be allowed to have the Internet at all because someone else has racked up inordinate amounts of debt at World of Warcraft?

I don't believe it is the fault of the mechanic that these people have poor impulse control, for some reason or another, and I also don't believe it's fair to limit the existence of these types of games because some people are incapable of walking away from them. If we should do anything regulatory down this path, it is building in proper harm reduction systems for these things versus taking a puritanical "ban it" approach to them.


Society already had this discussion and gambling is highly regulated for a large number of reasons. Some games have destroyed lives, and enabling that is not in society's best interst.

PS: We can fantasize about people being rational, but reality disagrees.


> PS: We can fantasize about people being rational, but reality disagrees.

I worry that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. That the less you treat people as rational beings responsible for their own decisions, the less rational and responsible they will be. It might already be happening, with victimitis in American politics being one of the most visible outcomes.


Worry all you want, but people have never been rational, even when governments didn't do anything about anything. And nothing will change that. Taking away the government regulations will only result in parasitic companies preying on others.


It's strange to me that a group of people that is sometimes stereotyped as being too preoccupied with logical fallacies will still invoke slippery slopes. Making good decisions now does not remove our capability to make good decisions in the future. Nor is it particularly reasonable to draw parallels between "don't fake users to befriend key targets" and "we may as well ban alcohol".

The status quo isn't as black and white as you've made it out. Advertisements and marketing have developed along with their regulations throughout modern history. Most countries restrict advertisements for prescription medicines. Many restrict advertising aimed at children directly. In the US, advertising is explicitly excluded from the first amendment.

A free market works only when people act rationally. That's one of the underlying hypotheses. Psychological manipulation and the Zynga Skinner box causes people to act out of alignment with their rational preferences.


It's strange to me that anyone believes humans are rational and that logic can be applied to their behavior. Esp in the face of innumerable studies showing that we are exceptionally irrational. It simply is not logical.


> FWIW, I hate consumerism and advertising. I block ads everywhere, I hate big branded items, I don't know the last time I bought something from an ad. Just because I feel this way, I don't go around trying to violently force that opinion upon others by begging the state to do it for me.

huh? this literally sounds like "fuck you, got mine" but spun as a benevolent positive, somehow. You had the education and the know-how to be able to learn to defend yourself from ads, and out of some sense of modesty, you're going to keep it to yourself?


> You had the education and the know-how to be able to learn to defend yourself from ads, and out of some sense of modesty, you're going to keep it to yourself?

I'm unsure how it is that you draw this as the conclusion. What am I keeping to myself? The OP's argument is about banning specific types of games because some people can't control themselves.

I believe there is a strong difference between asking the government to ban an action versus sharing information on the risks of an action. I've generally nothing against the government issuing required warnings on vices, assuming the information is scientifically accurate (e.g. the warnings on tobacco boxes, etc.)


The whole free-to-play market is premised on exploiting the psychology of a few people with cash and very little self control ("whales"). As a game developer, I think it's pretty slimy.


To put a slight spin on the aphorism: there will always be someone to part a fool from his money.

There's tons of laws to protect people from false advertising, fraud, and such. But if, armed with the facts and all of these protections, someone still spends their money unwisely, that's no longer the government's problem. To use another aphorism: you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.


> There's tons of laws to protect people from false advertising, fraud, and such. But if, armed with the facts and all of these protections, someone still spends their money unwisely, that's no longer the government's problem.

Laws hadn't caught up with progress in game industry yet. It's high time for it though. I understand the reluctance to regulate things, but when we have a whole industry which explicit purpose is figuring out the best way to abuse bugs in human psychology to part them with their money, I think some reaction is warranted.

> To use another aphorism: you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.

Oh, but modern marketing is all about exploiting horse's cognitive heuristics to make it drink.


> we have a whole industry which explicit purpose is figuring out the best way to abuse bugs in human psychology to part them with their money, I think some reaction is warranted.

The video game industry did not invent slimy salesmen. Learning to say "no" to salesmen has been a basic life skill for all of human history. Millions of people manage to do it every day. It's one of the things that parents drill into their kids heads as they grow up.

We're talking about video games, frivolous entertainment. If you spend all of next month's rent on in-app purchases, you've thoroughly earned the consequences of your actions. And those consequences will serve as a potent lesson.

And the law has already gotten involved with recent developments in the game industry. The FTC and EU have already forced Apple and Google to ensure that children cannot make purchases without parental permission. With that in place, it's now up to the parents to say "no" to their children. Another basic life skill, with consequences for those who ignore it.


This isn't about simple ads. This is about serious manipulation. Would it be okay for a car salesman to send people to follow you around find out where you hang out, then have a one of them casually start up a conversation at some restaurant or bar, befriend you, and then a few days later, after you've became friends, subtly suggest they really like the same type of car the sales person has to sell?

Maybe you're okay with that but it's that kind of behavior the OP is against. Not just simple sales tactics to say no to but full on manipulation.


You can apply all your same arguments to gambling, but society disagrees -- gambling is regulated.


So regulated that states, through the lottery, are collectively the largest pushers and profiteers.

Somehow I suspect that kind of "regulation" is not what OP had in mind.


Totally irrelevant. This is the logical fallacy argumentum ad populum (i.e. appeal to the majority). We settle our differences democratically, but the outcome could very well be the worse option.

And, by the way, there's plenty of places where gambling is legal, including parts of the US.


I'm no fan of these games, but is it fundamentally different from, say, Harley-Davidson?


Yes. When HD advertises to you, you buy a bike and you're done. And you have an actual, existent bike. And you could sell it later should you feel like you made a mistake. With whales, they spend and spend and spend - way more than a Harley costs them. And what do they end up with? Sweet FA.


I don't think that is his point; that's not what Harley does, at all.

H-D markets themselves as a "lifestyle brand". You don't just buy a motorcycle and you're done. You are aggressively marketed toward for a bunch of different pieces of clothing, spare parts, co-branded partnerships with automobile companies, et cetera, ad nauseum. You are effectively buying into a subculture.

Furthermore, Harley-Davidson has been known to use almost identical sales tactics. IIRC and I can't find it now, but sometime last year a sales guidelines book was leaked that actually did things like put attractive models at gas stations to tell the prospective buyer "nice bike" or the like on their test rides.


You make a good point, identity based marketing is, I think, fundamentally manipulative, whether the purchased product is physical or not. The "problem" is that it's just so damn effective. There's a void for identity sources (which one might claim was caused on purpose) and so anything that fits will be used to fill it. Then it's just a matter of effective propagation.


One difference I see is that H-D subculture is not ephemeral. If H-D decided to wrap up their business and disappear tomorrow, the bikes will still be there. The clothes will still be there. The brand, the culture created around it over the years, will still exist. Contrast with the "value" whales purchase for their games that could cease to exist the moment the game company decides to shut down their servers.


What about anything else where you are paying for the experience? While not a perfect analogy, Walt Disney World comes to mind: it's a place you take your family, and you are subject to potentially spending tens of thousands of dollars there, in the parks and the hotels, on food and attractions. Amusement parks, like casinos, are labyrinthine and optimized to take your money, and food/drinks are usually extremely overpriced for the quality. Leaving souvenirs aside, is this, too, something you are against?


I disagree with the way you compare memories and bonding moments with your family/friends to a game you are usually meant to spend alone and are unable to remember what you did in it last week.


Does that mean the fundamental problem is the inability to resell in-game purchases?


That, and if the game closes up for whatever reason (no longer making money, whatever), all of your investment into it can quickly vanish into literally nothing.


If you crash your uninsured Harley it's no different.


That's your own fault. The difference I see is that H-D stuff's value isn't entirely dependent on the company itself; they don't control it past the point of sale. They can't change their mind and unmake your bike, or your biker jacket, or your local H-D club.


That goes back to my statement above about the problem being an inability to resell.


It's not quite the same though. With digital things, the very existence of it depends on a third party who might close up shop whenever without warning. If Harley Davidson goes bust someday, all the bikes they made don't just vanish into thin air.

This is independent of whether or not you can resell them. Whether or not you're permitted to resell the items won't matter any more if they all vanish due to a company going out of business or leaving the game behind.


Can't buy Game Closure Insurance (yet)


Probably just because the stuff has no value in the first place. Add in a secondary market and insurance should be obtainable. (Not that many would or should obtain it.)


When a new addictive thing happens - people aren't adapted to it at first. Both individuals, and whole civilizations have to learn how to use the thing responsibly. Sometimes state control may help to limit the damage until natural adaptation occurs.

As time pass, people learn to use the thing without too much harm, and then it may be OK to lift the ban: completely, or for adults only (like with alcohol - notice that it's still controlled, just not outright forbidden for everybody).

There's no reason we have to think in absolutes ("state control in one case was bad = all state control is bad", or "particular measure of state control was bad at one point, therefore it was bad since the beggining and will be bad forever"). It's possible that a good policy in one circumstances became bad policy later. I think war on drugs is the example of this. And consider the harm strong alcohol did among native Americans when it was introduced. I think prohibition for a few decades would be net positive for them, if they could enforce it.

Slippery slope arguments are tricky, they often lead you to overgeneralize.

As for particulary addictive games (like ogame etc) - I think it would be beneficial if they were regulated similary to gambling. I am open to arguments.


> People know what pushes their buttons, too, and we have a name for it: interest. Not "manipulation". Certainly not "psychological warfare".

The same argument can apply to people who stay in abusive relationships. I'm not taking a side on whether you're right or wrong in the whole, but there is a danger here that people seem to have some sorts of action linked mechanisms that do not necessarily favour their happiness.


>Some people have better impulse control than others; it's not the state's job to regulate the impulses of their populaces, or regulate systems that know how to manipulate them.

Individual freedom part of me would agree but in reality governments do this all the time and I can't say it's all bad either.

A good example is drug control - while it's currently taken to the extreme there's no doubt in my mind that fully legalizing drugs would lead to a more volatile society - even if drugs were legal they would still cost money, as would other basic necessities - and hard addicts aren't in any position to be productive. At best they will be a burden on their community. At worst they turn to crime. Not to mention the increased number of psychotic breakdowns.

I value a society which is based on individual freedom but I don't like the idea of living in a society where I have to be afraid of a junky robbing me if I step outside of my house or dying in a random guns blazing suicide shooter spree.

>but this shit has been around as long as humanity itself has existed

Interesting and somewhat obvious point that gets overlooked a lot. For example the "mainstream media conspiracy" argument (which is rather accepted considering how implausible the argument is on the grand scale) of dumbing down the population and intentionally shoving superficial crap/shocking stories as a part of some coordinated conspiracy to divert attention from "important issues".

I don't doubt that there is plenty of media manipulation from political and private circles - in the grand scheme of things a far more plausible explanation for the media we have is that they cater to their audience and know which buttons need to be pressed to get viewership. And their profit model is not aligned with quality content either.


there's no doubt in my mind that fully legalizing drugs would lead to a more volatile society

Many hard drugs (including cocaine and heroin) were legal in the United States prior to the 1920s.

To the best of my knowledge, there was no massive social breakdown as a result.

The ultimate irony is that a major motivation for the criminalization of cocaine was, for poor rural whites, a fear that drugged up blacks would start raping white women. [1] Needless to say, this did not materialize and there is no reason it will if we lift the ban.

[1] http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/why-we-too...


The united States was very violent in the early 20th century and many blamed cocaine.


It certainly was a tumultuous period, but what reliable evidence is there of cocaine being a major causal factor? The USA was plagued by lots of labor-related violence, race rioting and organized crime (peaking during Prohibition, of course), but was cocaine ever anything more than a scapegoat?


Cocaine aside, environmental lead via gasoline and paint weren't exactly helpful either.


I'm amazed you're the first (or highest rated) one to mention addictive drug control. It's a pretty clear analogy.

And I think the point is more directly made by the effect on the individual themselves. The reason unreasonably addictive drugs should be illegal isn't to save me the safety issues of addicts: it's the respect the addict's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - qualities which are substantially helped by not having your behavior driven by feeding your addiction.

Ironically, side note I researched before this comment: we've apparently only recently (mid-70s) returned to the early 1900s/pre-Prohibition levels of ethanol consumption per capita. https://prohibition.osu.edu/brewing/consumption


Nothing like respecting individual rights by bringing the wrath of the criminal justice system on anyone who dares exercise their right to self-ownership by altering their state of consciousness.

The purpose of a drug policy is not to reduce consumption rates. Consumption is not intrinsically bad. My use of the dangerous and potent drug known as theobromine (translation: I eat chocolate) is not itself the problem. A higher rate of consumption of pure and unadulterated drugs with active health and rehabilitation initiatives is preferable to lower consumption but with autistically intervening in people's self-ownership through use of the police and penal apparatus, disincentivizing health treatment as a result, bringing about organized crime and making addiction more dangerous because of tainted drugs that are peddled by unreliable black marketeers.

Paternalistic and destructive nonsense through and through.

(You did say illegal, not criminalized. Latter would be more humane in being a fine, but still unacceptable.)


I believe you mistook my comment for support of the current drug control system in the United States, when I really said nothing of the sort. The purpose of a drug policy is (ostensibly) and has always been to reduce consumption rates -- look at any of the public support / speeches since the policies were begun (going back to Temperance / Prohibition). That that purpose is ill served by the current effective policy has nothing to do with the reason the public supports the idea.

> A higher rate of consumption of pure and unadulterated drugs with active health and rehabilitation initiatives is preferable to lower consumption but with autistically intervening in people's self-ownership through use of the police and penal apparatus

I'd absolutely agree with this, although I'd argue that a higher-rate of consumption is not in and of itself beneficial. If you're telling me that a teenager deciding to try heroine is "individual rights", then that's crap. Addiction differences between various compounds are well known ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Substance_dependence#Risk_fact... ).

Are you saying there's no potential at which a drug should be illegal? A 100% addictive drug? A 50% addictive drug? 25%? 5%?

Imo, there's a point where socially we can absolutely say, "No, that thing is too dangerous to let you have without precautions." I'd be in favor of allowing people to sample those substances if they went through a course to earn the right to do so. You want to try heroin? Fine, but let's as a society make sure this isn't an impulse action and is something you're sure you want to do (and are aware and willing to accept the consequences of).

If you're taking individual rights umbrage at my support of a drug control policy, then look at it this way: if addictive drugs were legal and fully unregulated, who do you think the majority of the profits would go to? Hint: Novartis, Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi, Merck...

Do you really trust them to freely market a compound that has 10%+ addiction capture rate?


The purpose of a drug policy is (ostensibly) and has always been to reduce consumption rates

I should have said effective drug policy. Focusing on consumption rates is indeed what most people do, and it's completely wrong.

Are you saying there's no potential at which a drug should be illegal?

Hypothetically speaking, no. In practice, all attempts at providing classifications for which drugs to ban and which to keep legal are based on purely subjective and unscientific slippery slopes. With such a variety of narcotics, it's practically inevitable to see such regressions.

My example of theobromine in chocolate is a good one, I think. Nobody thinks anything of it even though strictly speaking it's quite toxic (though obviously negligible in the dosages it's consumed).

As such, if not legalize everything, legalize some of the higher profile psychoactives and stimulants and just decriminalize (levy a fine for) all the rest.

if addictive drugs were legal and fully unregulated, who do you think the majority of the profits would go to? Hint: Novartis, Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi, Merck...

Oh, so you'd rather they go to Los Zetas and Sinaloa Cartel?

Do you really trust them to freely market a compound that has 10%+ addiction capture rate?

We already do so for a variety of psychotropics, analgesics and so forth. The difference is we think of it as "medicine" rather than "drugs" and as such our perceptions are distorted. Yet the cost of vulnerable people getting high off over-the-counter drugs is pretty negligible. It takes no effort for a teen to dose themselves off DXM in cough syrup.


>> Are you saying there's no potential at which a drug should be illegal?

> Hypothetically speaking, no. In practice, all attempts at providing classifications for which drugs to ban and which to keep legal are based on purely subjective and unscientific slippery slopes. With such a variety of narcotics, it's practically inevitable to see such regressions.

What?! There's certainly some misclassifications due to political meddling with the DEA (should be rolled into the FDA, imho), but how is quantitative addictiveness measured in animal models (and in humans!) a "purely subjective and unscientific slippy slope"? Cocaine is more addictive than acetaminophen. Ignoring that fact is just as bad policy as anything you're arguing against. And yes, I agree with the Controlled Substances Act that addictiveness + medical utility is a decent litmus for the social good or lack thereof realized by access to a drug.

>> if addictive drugs were legal and fully unregulated, who do you think the majority of the profits would go to? Hint: Novartis, Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi, Merck...

> Oh, so you'd rather they go to Los Zetas and Sinaloa Cartel?

Honestly, faced with two evils, yes. Mexican and South American cartels don't have the option of running media advertisements or legal protections for their organizations.

If my sources are correct, Novartis has about USD$50b total revenue in 2014. A rough estimate of the total US illegal drug market is ~$100b. If the US has political trouble with existing legal contributions from drug companies, do you really want to see what our system looks like when we deregulate the market and add that money in? (Yes, revenue would decrease due to availability and competition, but use would likely increase due to legality)

>> Do you really trust them to freely market a compound that has 10%+ addiction capture rate?

We already do so for a variety of psychotropics, analgesics and so forth [...] Yet the cost of vulnerable people getting high off over-the-counter drugs is pretty negligible. It takes no effort for a teen to dose themselves off DXM in cough syrup.

DXM hasn't been found to be physically addictive.


Unbelievable.

You have no problem with wide-scale organized crime networks who engage in brutal acts of terror controlling the drug enterprise, nope. It's the evil capitalist producers exploiting the stupid proles with their advertising. Horrifying. No, the cartels don't have options of using legal protections because the illegal ones are much more effective in terms of securing obedience, and destructive.

If your only criterion of a drug's adverse effects is addictive potency, then your criteria are critically flawed and next to worthless. Something not inducing a physical dependence doesn't mean psychological addiction does not exist, though of course I oppose bans on either grounds. Addictive potential is but one factor of many.

I'm becoming convinced your opposition to legalization is not at all based on a cost-benefit analysis of the public welfare, but rather on a kneejerk fear of capitalism and voluntary association. Your use of the word "deregulate" as somehow being a scary detriment seems to corroborate this.

It's quite disgusting that you denigrate and despise voluntary association between consenting individuals so much that you'd prefer cartels slaughtering and burning villages just so mean scary capitalists with their evil advertising rays of doom don't influence the opinions of the public, whom you clearly regard as morons incapable of critical thought. It is then unsurprising you advocate what you do if that's where you come from.


... you really took "Honestly, faced with two evils, yes." and ran with it, didn't you? If you want to misinterpret my remarks so I'm a better straw man to argue against, not sure there's much more to discuss.


My objections are a) there is so much more to a drug than how addictive it is, b) no one said anything about deregulation per se (you can have a regulated legal market), c) your analysis has an implicit anti-capitalistic and snobbish bias against the public to make its own decisions, d) it isn't even true that only huge corporate players will have a hand, especially in drugs that have a very low barrier to entry in cultivating such as cannabis, e) your argument from the ill-defined "medical utility" ignores that illegality hampers medical research to lesser or greater extent, f) you are ignoring regulatory capture is a significant issue in pharma company troubles and g) you clearly do not understand public choice theory.

Though I think it's clear you believe in copious use of intervention against individuals and have a hatred or fear of capitalism and free association in order to make such a batshit argument as arguing for cartel violence and regional destabilization because the prospect of corporate profits terrifies you so much.

EDIT: Scanning your post history, you make a reference to "the final solution to the capitalist bourgeoise swine". You might have been facetious at that time, but I believe it reflects a general attitude you hold that is spiteful. I hope you at least do not believe in discredited economic doctrines such as tendency for the rate of profit to fall, or labor theory of value.

EDIT #2: You also believe that free market players are purely profit-maximizing "with behavior only moderated by applicable government regulations". This is plain false, even by a left-leaning Post-Keynesian analysis. You also again do not understand public choice theory in the slightest and how endogenous regulations emerge by transaction costs and private property (e.g. Coase theorem).

You hold a lot of fallacies.


> you saying there's no potential at which a drug should be illegal?

You can also buy a knife and stab yourself. You can choose to do harm to yourself in numerous different ways. Some of those ways include manipulating your own mind.

You can also engage in other self-destructive behaviors that won't directly kill you, but will likely ruin your life to some degree. For instance, spending sixteen hours a day on Internet forums to the exclusion of all else. Or eating 6000 calories a day. Or never exercising. Or spending money you don't have on things you don't need. Choosing to exercise willpower in several of those situations involves combating intentional psychological manipulation to convince you otherwise.

Your life could probably be better organized, more productive, longer, and possibly even more fun for you if someone else made your decisions for you. Want to let them? Do you think everyone should be forced to?

> , there's a point where socially we can absolutely say, "No, that thing is too dangerous to let you have without precautions."

"And if you don't agree with that, then we'll throw you in jail". Doesn't sound as good when you complete the thought, does it?

If you harm others, or even risk harm to others, then absolutely. For instance, other people didn't agree to sharing a road with someone with impaired senses and reaction times.

If you want to go teach a course on how to develop and exercise willpower, and how it's one of the single biggest controllable factors that helps determine your success in life, by all means do so. I'm not being sarcastic; that would genuinely be wildly useful and a major improvement to society.

> if addictive drugs were legal and fully unregulated, who do you think the majority of the profits would go to?

Anyone capable of growing or synthesizing them. They're generics by definition. (Not that businesses wouldn't come up with "designer" versions, too.)

Do you see major drug companies flocking to states that have legalized pot?


>> you saying there's no potential at which a drug should be illegal?

> You can also buy a knife and stab yourself. You can choose to do harm to yourself in numerous different ways. Some of those ways include manipulating your own mind. You can also engage in other self-destructive behaviors that won't directly kill you, but will likely ruin your life to some degree.

The difference if we're using metaphors is that knives aren't addictive in the same way that some drugs are. I have no problem with people altering their mind using whatever substance they choose -- if it's below a certain addictiveness threshold. With threshold arguable as to what point is socially dangerous enough to merit special treatment.

>> Imo, there's a point where socially we can absolutely say, "No, that thing is too dangerous to let you have without precautions."

> "And if you don't agree with that, then we'll throw you in jail". Doesn't sound as good when you complete the thought, does it?

Yes, it still sounds pretty good compared to the alternative. Obviously, I'd prefer not to use incarceration as a penalty, as I think we (the US) have shown that as currently practiced it's a terribly ineffective way to promote social good.

But generally? If you feel that there are certain things that should be agreed and enforced via laws (I do), then there are going to be consequences to breaking those laws. And those consequences are going to be unpleasant.

I don't like incarceration or support it as a policy, but banned addictive substances -> illegal suppliers. I don't know of a magic bullet to solve that without a threat. :\

>> if addictive drugs were legal and fully unregulated, who do you think the majority of the profits would go to?

> Anyone capable of growing or synthesizing them. They're generics by definition. (Not that businesses wouldn't come up with "designer" versions, too.)

> Do you see major drug companies flocking to states that have legalized pot?

Really? :p Just like freely-growable tobacco profits don't accumulate with large corporations?

And no, I don't see major drug companies flocking to states that have legalized a substance that is still criminalized at the national level.


No drug should be illegal. People should be educated about drug effects. Addicts should get help, not be thrown in jail. Those of us who can handle drugs should be left alone. Is that so hard to understand? Regarding addictive games: Is it beneficial to criminalize players?


Why the death of advertising could be a bad thing? Its usefulness is way overrated when it comes to the common good.


Ads are inefficient, but are still useful as a information distribution method across inefficient markets. The perfect ad will lead to a mutually-beneficial transaction between a buyer and a seller.

There is also a cognitive bias with ads, where people on attribute negative ad experiences to advertising, never the good ones (except in super bowls or other outliers).


You can also extract water from feces, that doesn't make them a good thing.


Well I certainly haven't had a cognitive bias or enjoyable experiences with feces, but if you have then sure, that analogy works for you.


> take down the entirety of marketing and advertising as an industry

What would be wrong with that?

Anyways, I agree that there is no use asking the State to stop the marketters. It is not efficient. The State can only constrain people using laws, which are not suitable for limiting these kinds of evil behaviors.

So we need to call for morality. We need to make it so that anyone who has managed to sell something useless to someone weak should feel ashame to the level of seriously pondering suicide.

That's the only way it can work: I won't do this evil, not because it is forbidden, but because I am worth something, I have self-esteem. Evil here ranges from peeing in the neighbour's roses to participating in genocides, and this obviously includes stealing money from the weaks with unfair weapons of persuasions.


Funny that this comes up. Donald J. Boudreaux wrote an entry just earlier on the same topic in response to Akerlof and Shiller's recent book: http://cafehayek.com/2015/12/the-role-of-market-forces-in-pr...

There's also a bit of a double standard about how advertising is perceived. Banner ads, editorials and similar are frowned upon. Yet it's quite likely you'll interpret someone promoting a work in the comments section of a site you frequent as a friendly recommendation, never mind it's still signaling availability of something in a manner identical to many less invasive ads.


There's a subtle but critical mistake in the very first paragraph of that blog post. It doesn't create profitable opportunities for entrepreneurs to help consumers avoid being phished for phools, it creates profitable opportunities for entrepreneurs who can convince consumers that they're helping them avoid being phished for phools. This is an important distinction because consumers suffer from the same information asymmetries when deciding who to trust as they do when deciding what to buy.


> Yet it's quite likely you'll interpret someone promoting a work in the comments section of a site you frequent as a friendly recommendation

The difference is intent. People directly advertising in comments get downvoted, promoting something relevant as a friendly favour are upvoted, and people doing the former while pretending to do the latter are considered sleazy bastards and subject to being pruned from community if it is to stay healthy.

It really is simple. It's about trust.


The difference is actually subjective gauging of intent. Particularly your latter case of the "sleazy bastards" is often an intrinsic gray area and of course in the best case indistinguishable from a mere recommendation without special interests.


You should probably work out your contradictions before you froth like this. Consider:

> necessary for the vast majority of the citizenry to even know what is out there to purchase

and

> I block ads everywhere

So you are stumbling around unable to buy things you need, totally uninformed about what products and services are available? Poor kid. Want me to bring you a sandwich? If only you had access to some sort of information network that contained the collective opinions of a large and growing portion of humanity.

If we gradually banned advertising, nothing particularly bad would happen. Advertising is an arms race; most of it is done only because competitors do it too. We'd still find things to buy, and we might do it more easily if we weren't distracted by paid messages. As a bonus, we'd have half a trillion dollars of people's time and brainpower to spend on something that mattered.


To take your question a step further, and into legal territory, where is the line between social signaling and false advertising? Alcohol commercials also fall in this weird conflict space.


Some people have better impulse control than others; it's not the state's job to regulate the impulses of their populaces, or regulate systems that know how to manipulate them.

Out of genuine curiosity, do you feel the same about state intervention in other situations, away from gaming, that involve a more knowledgeable or deliberate party taking advantage of a less knowledgeable or deliberate one?

For example, what about full-on gambling where the potential exists to win big but players will probably lose, and having already lost, aggressive tactics are then used to get them to try again? Does it matter whether the person gambling understands the situation they are being steered into?

Is it OK for bars or clubs to offer a happy hour early in the evening to get patrons going, then turn up the heat and make it hard to find water so those patrons keep ordering more drinks and getting more and more drunk throughout the evening?

What about phishing attacks? If someone is ignorant of the possibilities for impersonating e-mail from someone else they know, should we turn a blind eye to those who would send such e-mails to trick someone who thinks they're helping a friend in need into parting with their money?

What about confidence tricksters who do similar things on the doorstep of old people who may not be familiar with what sort of credentials a genuine representative of their water or electricity supplier would carry today?

Or payday loan companies, who will offer what looks like a lifeline to those who have fallen on hard times, yet charge astronomical rates of interest that can rapidly lead into a vicious and sometimes devastating cycle of debt and despair?

How about law firms in jurisdictions where everyone normally pays their own legal costs after a court case, who send threatening letters alleging infringements of copyright and offer to settle for just less than it's likely to cost to go to court to challenge the allegations?

What about outright grooming of children or other vulnerable people for the purposes of sexual exploitation?

For these and many other similar reasons, I think it is appropriate for the state to regulate industries where one party may flagrantly take advantage of another. No-one can possibly be an expert on all areas of society, and laws exist to protect us all from those who would otherwise unfairly take advantage of those weaknesses. Of course there are sometimes grey areas, but the principle that governments should never step in to protect the vulnerable from exploitation seems a very bad one to me.

Also, I dispute your characterisation of the entire marketing and advertising industry as if everyone does these things. Of course all ads are hoping to engage someone in the target market and pique their interest, but IMHO that is a far cry from the kind of active and disproportionate exploitation we're talking about with some of these games companies.


Is it OK for bars or clubs to offer a happy hour early in the evening to get patrons going, then turn up the heat and make it hard to find water so those patrons keep ordering more drinks and getting more and more drunk throughout the evening?

You honestly believe we need a law against this? God forbid a restaurant owner offer any promotion whatsoever.


(Note that I am not the person you replied to.)

I do honestly feel that there should be a law against that in the society which I live in, since I find such actions taken by the restaurant owner to be manipulative and purposefully deceptive (excuse me for not coming up with better terms, I am not a native English speaker), knowing that many people -- not all of them, but many -- thus end up drinking far more than they would personally intend to.

I see no reason to promote such dishonesty, deception and misleading actions towards customers within a society, especially when the vulnerable ones are not vulnerable to it by choice, but by nature. It's the exact same thing which goes on with say gambling addicts or alcoholics. And no, I am not arguing for giving up the notion of personal responsibility, but I am arguing that these actions exploit vulnerabilities in people, which I see as no different from a ethical point of view than say committing a fraud against someone you know who has a psychological or neurological condition making them vulnerable for excess goodwill (or, someone suffering from e.g. dementia).


I am not arguing for giving up the notion of personal responsibility, but

But you are.

When you get to micromanaging such trivialities, there's no limit what a planner's mentality will settle on next. A ban on restaurants that offer salty free lunches with every purchase of beer because they're relying on the customer to make up for it by ordering drinks.

It is absolutely not fraud. A happy hour was advertised, and the contract was heeded.

The property owner may deliberately arrange the environment so as to maximize an expected consumer end. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Supermarkets are architected to encourage higher shopping. Clothing retailers will arrange their luxurious brands to have a higher aesthetic appeal inside their stores.

Taking your logic of needing to regulate any "misleading action" to its conclusion will only entail the abolition of the market economy. There's no way around this. Anything and everything can be shoehorned under such flimsy logic.

(Moreover, expecting that consumers are morons who cannot regulate their own behavior will generally lead to policymakers drafting proposals that assume as such and end up fulfilling the prophecy on their own, since the resulting bureaucracy will be internalized by consumers in their expectations.)


> But you are.

No, I am not. You're seeing binary where there is none. My point is not to abolish the notion of personal responsibility, but to acknowledge that there is more to human behavior and decision making than cold, rational free will.

> When you get to micromanaging such trivialities, there's no limit what a planner's mentality will settle on next.

This is a slippery slope argument.

> It is absolutely not fraud.

And I never claimed it was a fraud, why would you interpret it that way? Or do you feel I communicated my point regarding fraud poorly?

> The property owner may deliberately arrange the environment so as to maximize an expected consumer end.

This is where we disagree at. I do not believe that the property owner may do whatever they wish within their property. I believe there should be laws limiting what and how the property owner may arrange their property -- to defend the customers from themselves, just as there are laws limiting for example gambling, or selling of alcohol and other drugs.

> Taking your logic of needing to regulate any "misleading action" to its conclusion will only entail the abolition of the market economy.

Sure, if you take it to the extreme, and in that case then perhaps and if so, I am personally fine with that. I have no personal stake -- or ideology -- in free market economy. It is a mere implementation detail, not an end in itself.

> (Moreover, expecting that consumers are morons who cannot regulate their own behavior will generally lead to policymakers drafting proposals that assume as such and end up fulfilling the prophecy on their own, since the resulting bureaucracy will be internalized by consumers in their expectations.)

It is about acknowledging that among consumers there are individuals who are vulnerable to various lures (in lack of a better term, but consider alcohol as an example), and that I do personally view exploiting such vulnerabilities as unethical and hence I propose regulation. And I am speaking as someone with social problems due to not having enough control over my own actions regarding certain matters. Thus, I greatly fail to externalize this matter to "them" who "can't control themselves".


I do not believe that the property owner may do whatever they wish within their property.

Then you don't really support property rights. I mean, certainly, property owners must be within the bounds of the common and civil law framework of their jurisdiction. Limiting how property is internally arranged is a wholly different matter, it's a direct veto on how someone schedules their production structure for no reason but the failings of people who they have no stake in. By protecting customers from "themselves" and thus also protecting owners from customers, you are curtailing rights of both to engage in voluntary contract.

It is a mere implementation detail, not an end in itself.

Not free market economy. Market economy in general. It's not at all an "implementation detail," it arises quite organically out of interpersonal exchange.

hence I propose regulation

You know what I loathe?

Let's take everything you've said at face value.

You provide a case for perceived suboptimal behavior of markets, but then by proposing regulation you completely ignore the prospect of suboptimal government action! That is absolutely disingenuous. Your proposal exists outside of reality and assumes a hypothetical benevolent exogenous regulator that doesn't actually exist (as opposed to real states which are complex institutions).

You'd do yourself good by reading up on some public choice theory.


The salient point here is the massive disconnect most people carry around in their heads. If presented with a problem, the automatic response of most people is to get the government to fix it. If you quiz the same people on something their government does well, you're unlikely to get a clear answer. Anytime you propose a private solution to a problem, people will get upset and say 'you can't make a profit from that'. But again, what are government employees than people making a profit on the trade of their time? We are all aware of government employees who have traded their way into highly paid, unsackable positions. Are these people more or less moral than a small business owner who takes home a similar amount of pay?

I don't know when the knee jerk of 'regulate it' came in, despite decades of evidence of failure and unintended consequences from that same instinct.


> Then you don't really support property rights.

Or we simply disagree what rights and liabilities the property owner should have in the context, which I define as business property. I see no problem with this as there are many countries with extensive liabilities and regulations when it comes to property and business practices one is allowed to conduct.

> By protecting customers from "themselves" and thus also protecting owners from customers, you are curtailing rights of both to engage in voluntary contract.

Oh I indeed am, or I at least am not opposing regulation in this matter from any ideological perspective. I don't see such regulation as inherently bad, as it seems that you see.

> It's not at all an "implementation detail," it arises quite organically out of interpersonal exchange.

Many things arise "quite organically" from individual actors acting for their own benefit, but in many cases it can be argued for that there are places and times where regulation (governmental or otherwise) does indeed improve the society and the lives of the people within it.

> You know what I loathe?

I suppose I don't despite having some suspicions, but please, don't assume I care either.

> You provide a case for perceived suboptimal behavior of markets, but then by proposing regulation you completely ignore the prospect of suboptimal government action!

How couldn't you say this exact same about any form of regulation within markets? And if so, to me it seems that you oppose regulation out of a principle -- and really, how you come off as suggests the same.

> You'd do yourself good by reading up on some public choice theory.

Oh, always, though I am almost certain our differing views lie somewhere else completely. I suppose you have recommendations though?


Actually my opposition to regulation isn't an ideological default. It's borne out of my analysis weighing endogenous regulation (contracts signed by actors with judicial assistance to enforce them) against exogenous regulations, like that of a collective body of action, i.e. government. There's been a lot written on this subject.

(To answer your statement, if there is a stalemate such that both government failure and market failure are inevitable, I would prefer the latter, for the simple reason that it entails less layers of indirection and that it doesn't impose any upper bound on heterogeneous consumer preferences.)

That said, I do have some reading recommendations.

James M. Buchanan was an eminent economist and political theoretician. I'd recommend his classic The Calculus of Consent co-written with Gordon Tullock, supplemented with his own The Limits of Liberty and Costs and Choice.

William A. Niskanen wrote Bureaucracy and Representative Government presenting a budget-maximizing theory of government akin to a utility-maximizing theory of an economic actor. Both have limitations, but it's worth reading.

Don Lavoie wrote great primers such as Rivalry and Central Planning and National Economic Planning: What Is Left? which equally apply to a mixed economy.

R.H. Coase formulated the Coase theorem in his paper "The Problem of Social Cost," demonstrating how private property rights plus low transaction costs lead to endogenous self-regulatory actions.

Oliver E. Williamson wrote a technical work on transaction cost economics entitled The Mechanisms of Governance. Another technical writer was Lester G. Telser, particularly his work on the "core theory" related to cooperation, coordination and collusion.

Essays and papers by Armen A. Alchian, Harold Demsetz and Yale Brozen are also worth examining.

For a bare introduction, see Government Failure: A Primer in Public Choice, or a recent paper using behavioral theory to analyze public policy [1].

[1] http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2015/...


It absolutely is dishonest, and quite possibly fraud. There is absolutely no reason why we should allow this to happen, either.


I think we probably do need a basic principle enshrined in law that prohibits exploiting the vulnerability of someone who, for whatever reason, is not capable of making reasonable decisions or of acting to protect themselves in a normal way.

What follows from that principle, and where any lines or grey areas are drawn, obviously depends on the specifics of the situation. I'm not generally in favour of having lots of overly specific laws. I think in most cases, responsible adults will agree on whether any particular action has clearly crossed the intended ethical and legal line anyway. Where there is more room for reasonable disagreement, that's what courts are for.


As a counter point, I've never even heard of that book. I may go read it now though.


> how would one even decide where the line between manipulative consumption and social signaling is?

The mean amount of money spent and time played per week per user would be a good place to start. If any user is spending more than $40 USD/week on a game or more than 20 hours/week playing a game, it's a problem.


> If any user is spending more than $40 USD/week on a game or more than 20 hours/week playing a game, it's a problem.

A small handful of surprisingly successful people spend a significant amount on games, record themselves playing them for 40+ hours a week, and make money getting others to watch. Problem?


That's an occupation. Similarly, athletes in school may spend that much time or much more playing games of one sort or another, and there's nothing wrong with that. But, if a game or its marketing was created to be addictive and that is causing harm- that's a problem.


> If any user is spending more than $40 USD/week on a game

So, we'll ban all professional sports events because some people pay more than that to go to every game for their team? Or pay more than that to be able to watch lots of sports on TV? I know a fair number of perfectly normal people that pay thousands of dollars for season tickets.

I'd rather see the government help people that have a problem, rather than put limits on people that don't.


> People know what pushes their buttons, too, and we have a name for it: interest. Not "manipulation". Certainly not "psychological warfare".

So if people are interested in Ponzi schemes or magical remedies, the state should not interfere, right?


Ponzi schemes and magical remedies promise you something in exchange for your money and do not deliver. If they were advertising a game in which for $x you get A and B and you don't in fact get it, then yeah, intervention is required. That is not what the article is supporting, though.


There's plenty of legal Ponzi and pyramid schemes out there right now. Amway and plenty of other multi-level marketing enterprises, for instance. As long as you're (sort of) honest about it, it isn't even fraudulent to run one.

"Magical remedies". I assume you mean alternative medicine. Does this mean you're going to ban various herbs, or what?


I would be in favour of anyone selling homeopathic "remedies" being banned from calling themselves a health professional.


I don't think this relates back to the topic at hand, though. Disqualifying these games as "games" probably wouldn't have much if any impact.


It was in response to the parent question about what to do about alternative remedies.


You base your argument on authority. If an actual health professional sells homeopathic remedies, then according to your argument, they are allowed to.

A product should be legal, if it really does what is it advertised to do. How is this validated? That is up to the lawmakers, as long as someone handles it, unlike now.


There's a massive difference between fraud (promising impossible returns or cures) and advertising.

Game makers aim to addict you, but they don't lie and they do give you exactly what they say they will.


What part of making a fraudulent Facebook account and friending users to get their information isn't fraud?


That's hearsay and I highly doubt it happens on an institutional scale.


Yeah, this seemed like a clear line if ever one was needed. My company builds F2P games that are ad supported, but my god that is some disgusting crap right there.


I'd say it's a difference of degree, not of kind. Generally, fraud is a deliberate deception to secure an unfair gain. Advertising is this too, but usually it's harmless enough that we don't mind. Sometimes though it crosses the line.

As the quote goes, "Any sufficiently advanced business model is indistinguishable from a scam." (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8227941)


Perhaps, but if we're going to go that far we should also start regulating fashion to protect whales from themselves. It also depends immensely on a small number of people being manipulated through advertising to buy a lot.


Those are fraud, not just "manipulation".


When the game is released I think there would be a better case for 'not fraud'.


Well Said.


Hmm this is a tough one. Firstly I should make it clear that my wife works in the games industry. She works on PC, Console and Mobile titles. She has mentioned several times how there is a lot of pressure put on developers and publishers to "catch the whales". They employ psychologists and gambling specialists to make games, mostly mobile but it is also creeping into PC and Console, super addictive.

Personally I am of the opinion that people should be able to do what they want* but my wife is genuinely concerned about just how they go after certain types of people. They do want to get the gambling types. They are the people who spend money. Lots of money. I have seen numbers where people who obviously have more money than we can imagine spending $50-100k on IAPs. Some games even have "limited" IAPs that were designed for just one player as they spend so damn much.

However I can't help but feel there is something else behind this post than what the author seems to spin it as. What I am not too sure but it seems quite the ramble and he doesn't actually have any solid sources or data to back up his claim. Of course neither do I outside of what my wife tells me :)

* Okay so there has to be some limits.

Edit: I would like to make the point clear that while I think people should be able to do whatever they want, I do find this kind of predatory game design unethical. As does my wife. Thankfully nothing she has had to do so far has been totally deplorable.


The original article is bad. It can be summed up in a key phrase the author used 3 times: Governments need to "save us from ourselves". I'm sorry but that's not the role of government. "Protect us from each other" as well as "provide us necessary public services" is closer to the actual design of government.

I wish that instead of running around screaming "think of the children", the author actually respected his audience and their very real free will, rather than just wave his hands, claiming that free will does not exist, except when we use our political will to save people from themselves, or something.

I wish the author addressed people like your wife, who is dealing with an ethical dilemma at work. These are the people who have the choice to stay or to leave their jobs--an incredibly hard choice for someone who has a family to think about.

Let me offer my respect to your wife who is dealing with this issue first-hand. Whatever choice she makes, it will not be without much anxiety and it will not take a small amount of courage.

There are other jobs out there, and I'm thankful that I live in a country where I have the freedom to choose where to work. Such a freedom--the expansion of my free will to include the needs of my conscience--was enabled by the work of men who came before me, men who used their free wills to establish a system that protects this freedom. I am grateful for this system, and I reject any attempts to pervert this system towards poorly conceived ends in the name of "saving me from myself".


> I'm sorry but that's not the role of government.

That is a very american point of view. The author of the article is british.


Thanks. It is a problem for her but thankfully not to the point where she feels she should leave on principle.

The games industry is small though and it is all going in a similar direction. Ideally she would change industry but after more than 10 years doing games and now in her early 40s she is anxious about making such a change.


Regarding "think of the children", there's a reason casinos have minimum age requirements. Gambling is an addiction and many of these games exploit the same principle that makes us addicted. At an early age it can mess you up for good.


I think you've defined the problem better than the original post: what to do about whales?

Most people would guess that these are people with psychological problems who need help. But do we know that? Maybe they're billionaires and they're okay with it. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to work for anyone who is targeting whales, though.


Classify micro-purchase games as gambling.

The whales aren't much different from the gambling addicts who are drawn in by the blinking lights, noise, and adrenaline shots from winning at chance.

The only difference with these Skinner-box games is that people are conditioned to repeatedly put money into a machine that isn't giving any monetary payout.


That's the rub isn't it?

If we let Congress decide then we'll likelier get what we have with gambling where the biggest players are still getting people hooked on the high of winning but the smaller folks are the ones who get tossed out. Then you got genres and approaches which shouldn't even be considered equivalent (like DLCs and expansions to single player games and the like) being regulated the same way. Frankly, at this point I'm going to say let the suckers get hung out to dry and let some class action suit form to deal with this problem. At least then the question of liability will be settled by case law w/o the concern of Congressional overreach.

I hate saying that too since I do genuinely believe this matter should be under regulatory review, but Congress is too ham fisted and idiotic when it comes to technology (their current nonsense regarding encryption proves that right all too well).


As someone who worked in the customer-facing ends of the gambling industry (hell, I haven't been able to totally let go, I just ordered a true casino machine for my home... for reverse engineering and pentesting)... that online shit is far worse than "offline" gambling.

With gambling offline, well you have to leave your house, gonna dress up, and people will notice if you fuck up your life by gambling every day. Also, maximum losses per machine and hour are usually regulated and you can have yourself banned from gambling venues.

Online gambling - and online playing of the "free to play" or "pay to win" sort - however, does not offer any of these advantages. Instant pay-ins of five-figure sums (and instant pay-outs, publically shown)... or just the pleasure of 0wning an opponent because you paid for the "by-cash-only" battleship.

No limits at all, disgusting. And no one will see you going down and down, except the pizza delivery guy and the coroner when it's too late.


Yes, and it's amazing how blind freemium game developers are to this. I'm a game developer, and I've done well off of freemium games, but no one wants to have this conversation.


I wouldn't call it "blind". From a capitalist POV, they're doing their job very well.


Well, devs generally admit that there's a spectrum of coerciveness and intrusiveness. It's just that all the devs I've talked to generally believe themselves to be on the "not as bad" end. So it's not purely A) devs don't think they're doing anything wrong or B) they don't care. It's the usual cognitive dissonance of "those other guys are doing something wrong, but we're not as bad, and we need to pay the bills."

There is a real problem -- 98-99% of people will play your game but won't pay for it. So, that other 1-2% has to subsidize everyone else.

Some other points that I rarely see discussed...

Game developers don't have some inalienable right to make games AND be financially successful (unless we as a society decide they do and regulate them and the market).

Here I'm drawing an analogy to other jobs that HN readers may be less sympathetic to, e.g. cab drivers or fishermen. They got disrupted. There's no reason why technical creatives are immune to disruption.

Second, there's a black-hat / white-hat argument. Humans shipped with mental bugs. Many of these are exploitable. The gambling and game monetization industries basically identify, study, and exploit these bugs. Individuals have a choice to make -- do I work for the black-hats, or do I work for the white-hats? What about studying these mental bugs and inoculating users against being exploited? I know there are some resources for this out there, but this post is long enough and I'm getting too lazy to link.


A lot of people here seem to be missing the main point of this post. It's not about crowdfunding or advertising, it's about using hugely manipulative tactics within the games to get people to basically throw money at them.

The reason they're called microtransactions is because they're small, usually priced at a point that's negligible. Using these tactics, they entice people to buy over and over again, each time the spend is a negligible amount but over time it adds up to hundreds or thousands.


That point is really undermined by putting so much attention on Star Citizen, which raises all its money outside the game and raised a crapton of money before there was any game - trying to link crowdfunding to micropayments confuses the issue. Crowdfunded games don't exist yet and thus can't raise money soley through the sort of psychological manipulation he decries. The whole piece is either scattered and incoherent or fundentally dishonest. Or both.


The gambling industry has had a term for this sort of exploitation via microtransaction for a long time: "cherry dribbling".

First came across it in this New York Times article from 2004:

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/09/magazine/chrome-shiny-ligh...

[The Price Is Right video slot machine] is what slot pros call "a cherry dribbler," a machine that dispenses lots of small payouts while it nibbles at your stash rather than biting off large chunks of it.


The problem is that there is nothing that can be done due to the fact that its all opt-in and is based on ( as the article points out ) psychology. Free to play has gamed the inherit structure of the world wide web.


Gambling is the same yet there are a whole host of things that governments have done to try and help protect consumers.


Gambling isn't the same because the money users spend isn't used as a bet for a real-world money return. That is why when this stuff goes to court it gets thrown out.F2P relies on pure psychology and large sums of marketing dollars.


what about the gambling apps that, from top to bottom are exactly a slot machine with the only difference being that you can't get money out, only facebook trophies?


As I said, the reason these things get thrown out of court is because it isn't gambling since no money is expected by the user. If you're asking me a legal opinion I'm not a lawyer. I'm just telling you what I've read. I'm not advocating free to play.


This post is a bit rambly and doesn't make its case particularly well.

I think the case is better made implicitly by reviews of games like Game of War: Fire Age. They are designed to be addictive and get players to spend literally thousands of pounds (or dollars) on microtransactions. They have ruined lives.

Particular attention should be paid to games which advertise microtransactions to children.


I agree. It starts with Star Citizen but then moves to "Free-to-Play" games and does a drive-by on sexism in advertising.

I think all of those are different things.

I don't see how people spending tons of money on a game that hasn't been released yet has anything to do with using sex to sell or with trying to get people to spend more money than they should. And it is very light on evidence. It mentions studies and a story that mentions something but doesn't give any evidence that this is a big problem.

Maybe I'm just cranky from grading too many papers but when I read something that makes lots of claims with no citations, I find it hard to believe.


< Particular attention should be paid to games which advertise microtransactions to children.

Particular attention should be paid to the parental controls available in every mobile OS out there.


Even with parental controls, why should companies be allowed to advertise expensive microtransactions to children? Certain types of advertising aimed at kids are already banned in various countries.

Companies are well aware of the power of making kids nag their parents to spend money. But now they have an even worse tool: many kids have almost direct access to their parents' wallets if they borrow their devices.


Because parents can just turn parental controls on. I'm sorry, but it's not the state's responsibility to make sure my kids don't nag me for shit.


Most western nations impose age limits on drinking and the purchase of cigarettes as well as limit advertising targeted at children. If it's addictive and potentially habit-forming, it should be regulated.


Not particularly helpful if the whale is a grown adult.


“We take Facebook stalking to a whole new level. You spend enough money, we will friend you. Not officially, but with a fake account. Maybe it’s a hot girl who shows too much cleavage? That’s us. We learned as much before friending you, but once you let us in, we have the keys to the kingdom.”

Discussed previously https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10239931


I was totally and completely addicted to WoW for two years. Almost lost my girlfriend, friends, etc. When I finally quit I had the shakes. Literally.

One thing though is I've never saved more money than when I was playing WoW because I never went out. These newer games do seem to have a different financial model that exploits addiction in potentially a much more dangerous fashion.


"These newer games do seem to have a different financial model that exploits addiction in potentially a much more dangerous fashion."

It's mostly that they're "casual" and, most importantly, primarily mobile. Which means they follow you everywhere as you conduct your life.


Was this before or after Blizzard turned WoW into the semi-F2P crapfest?

Because I'll admit I love MMOs and certain other games (single player mostly) where I can spend most of my weekend stuck in front of my PC clicking away like a fool (Damn you, Minecraft!) but I've never had 'shakes' or anything close to a withdraw symptom. Maybe I'm the odd one out here in this regard.


I appreciate your honesty.


I was momentarily good friends with someone who went on to become a well known entrepreneurs in this space. Right before he got his business off the ground he emphatically told me :"I am going to exploit the living fucking shit out of these people". He wasn't just talking about his users, but the investors and the entire silicon valley ecosystem. It kind of blew my mind when he actually did it. He went on to be extremely successful in the free-to-play space.


I really don't understand the opening rant against Star Citizen. This is a game that quite literally would not even have started production if it weren't for crowd sourcing because the big boys are too busy cramming the next Call of Duty down everyone's throats than taking chances on interesting new IPs. If Star Citizen never materializes it will still have done the gaming industry a huge service by signaling to the other companies out there that a huge, verifiable demand exists for that style of game.


Star Citizen employs microtransaction, you just pay them in advance. There are also whales, like the guy who paid 30000$, and many more who pay between 100$ and 1000$. In comparison with other mentions it is even worse, because this game isn't even completed yet. It fits in the narrative.


Yeah, pretty doubtful of the author's initial claim of being "not a big fan of government regulation in general" and "not a friend of regulation". I can only imagine the views on gambling and drugs of anyone who proposes regulation for video game advertising.

Suffice it to say this guy is a friend of regulation if he's making this proposal. It's a nice little rhetorical device but most of us are smart enough not to be fooled by this.


Almost seems like he's... advertising it? Doing some mild "psychological thing" on the readers.


He has two titles at his company called "Democracy 3" and "Big Pharma". He's probably the biggest government regulation fan I've ever seen; at least in the way that you'd imagine somebody who makes games about trains might fancy trains.

For reference, here is some of the marketing copy of Democracy 3: (yes I know it doesn't mean he wrote it)

>*Ever wanted to run the country? Have you ever wanted to be president? or prime-minister? Convinced you could do a better job of running the country? Let's face it, you could hardly do a worse job than our current political leaders. Crime, Unemployment, National Debt, Terrorism, Climate Change...Have you got the answers to the problems that face western industrialized nations? Here is your chance to find out...”


I think what some are missing here is whom the regulation (of gambling, alcohol/tobacco advertising, lending regulation etc) is ment to protect.

Pulmonary physicians didn't need regulation to cease smoking[1], people with basic financial schooling probably won't get tricked by usury (which, interestingly, has been banned since medieval times but is now permitted in many countries), and so on.

If you're an educated, conscientious person you don't need this (and are sometimes needlessly constrained by it, which can be frustrating). But it was never for you.

It's for the struggling single-parent who would otherwise burn their paycheck on an online casino -- and get through the month with 300% payday loans.

[1] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.3322/canjclin.36.1.2/p...


OP is rolling two separate claims into one.

The first claim is that there is a problem.

Yes, I agree. There is.

The second claim is that the solution is prohibition.

The results of applying that solution to alcohol addiction and then drug addiction were... 'more harmful than beneficial' is much too mild a way to put it. 'Society-wrecking catastrophe' would be more accurate. Given those precedents, any argument that another round of prohibition is the right answer here requires far more justification than OP gives.


The solution is to teach people to be savvy consumers, to have a skeptical eye to the world, to be able to sort out fact from fiction from opinion, to understand incentives and identify ulterior motives. This skill will never become obsolete. The government can never protect you from everything, but politicians are happy to take your freedom away while they convince you that they can. No consumer protection law can ever supplant caveat emptor.


This idea to stalk customers in Facebook is scary, but why don't other companies (let's say the home appliances manufacteres) do the same trick? Is it effective only for some niches?


Regardless of the other reasons a customers is trained to expect a dryer last them, with minor repairs, for thirty or more years. Anything less and you lose those customers.

I had the unpleasant experience of trying to get people to buy smart Appliances w/ App integration. Quite a few times I was flat out told that their current model works fine and that they couldn't see a use for the feature. NFC/Wifi Controlled dryer settings and timers are a failure point that many are uncomfortable with.

In other cases I was told that reliability is or could be an issue. I actually spoke with one person that bought one of the units but was concerned with recommending it to a family member because it failed after two years and required a warranty replacement.

Compared to this games are a disposable commodity.


This level of offense is not possible but for the fact that these "games" have access to your Facebook. If Maytag had a plausible justification to stalk people this way, they would.

Considering that games outside of Facebook are a lot less terrible (in lots of ways), this is a "Facebook needs regulation" not "ganes need regulation" problem.


Nest tries to increase your emotional engagement with your thermostat, a tough sell at which they've had some success. Then they can sell you a home monitoring system and additional home automation.

The gambling industry is scarily good at this.


You can potentially do cool things with cloud connected home control/monitoring devices. In short, I would never ever buy a cloud connected home control/monitoring.

Why?

Suppose you have an IoT device in your bedroom that uploads CO2 values (of course it may also do something useful too such us showing this data to you or regulating the ventilation).

Now the rate of CO2 production depends on bodily activities. More activity means more CO2 production. I suppose that you agree that having this information you more or less are capable to deduce when a couple has sex.

This means that we could calculate a metric how much sex is going on and relate it to a specific user.

Suppose that we detect that the rate of sex has gone down by 20 (a made up number dependant of our model). We can now sell this information.

This information is for example useful perhaps for a psychologist who wants to sell you counselling.

But it is even more interesting for the divorce lawyers who now could prey on couples having period of difficulty in their sex lives.

Even more, this information could be made more valuable by some additional influence. For example feeding the user with articles related to marital happiness and sex life.

The same thing could be probably aslo implemented within a thermostat with a precise enough temperature sensor.


because customer engagement in paramount in gaming - it's about attracting whales and getting them to stick with your games / app platform. you want your whales to be playing the game multiple times per day and buying stuff almost daily. that benefits from constant reinforcement advertising.

in comparison, even the most engagement demanding 'traditional companies' don't need that same level of saturation / customer understanding - if you buy a home appliance, you will buy another in (say) 5 years.

CLV > CAC baby


Could it be that older industries haven't "got" Facebook yet? Hell, lots of companies can barely manage their Twitter accounts, let alone pull off complex online advertising campaigns.


Presumably the difference between 'just one more' $2 microtransaction and a $1000 refrigerator is too great for this kind of psychological warfare to work via social media.


I'm glad someone called out this "addicting" as a positive adjective nonsense. First of all, the word is "addictive". Second, how is this a positive for the user?

I got addicted to Clash of Clans after starting to play for market research. I spent $400. It didn't hurt me financially, but it was very interesting to observe myself engaging in classic addict behaviour.

"I can buy another gem pack because I'll just come in by transit tomorrow, so I won't have to pay for parking."

"If I bring my lunch tomorrow, then that will cancel this other item."

... of course, knowing that I wouldn't do any of these things...


I might be reading this wrong but this gentleman's problem seems to be that some companies make way more money than he thinks is "fair". Because all his sources are about who made how much. If this was similar to gambling he might be able to show a story or two of somebody mortgaging their house and/or losing job, taking a loan from mob and unable to pay it etc. etc. over addiction to Candy Crush as we have plenty of such stories about gambling.

I have never seen anything similar about f2p games. At most you learn about kids dropping out of school to play DOTA/LoL/WoT/etc but this had been happening ever since there had been video games. Same kids dropped out over EQ/UO/WoW, which are not f2p. Heck, a dude dropped out of my school over a single player PC RPG (was either one of M&M or Wizardry games). I never heard of anybody becoming homeless trying to get their Farmville's dog to lv85. All there is are stories about somebody spending thousands of dollars at once to by some magic crystals in some stupid cell phone game. While it looks pretty stupid it does not seem any more danger to society than people buying pieces of painted canvas for millions and even tens of millions at art auctions.


That this person is putatively in the games industry does not bolster the point of the article, so I have to assume that used as a manipulative aid to help sell the idea therein. Mildly ironic, I suppose, but it's okay to manipulate when you are doing "the right thing" in some minds.


> have an incredibly fine tuned and skillful marketing department bent on psychological manipulation.

This.

This is not specific to games industry. In fact they are rather late bloomers and amateurish. This is consumerism. This is production driven economy (in which goods are produced and post facto demand is manufactured). This is inevitable in any market with unequal ownership of resources (that is any market system were it's possible to profit or "get ahead", i.e. all of them).

All advertising is this. Almost all marketing is this. It only varies in it's sophistication and subtleness.

I can not fathom why people watch commercials, don't ad block, read advertising based periodicals, go to shopping centers, etc. Why people willingly participate in being psychologically manipulated into beliefs, decisions, and actions.


I think they mostly see the ads (read: products) as things that will influence their life positively. While this is true in the short term, brief entertainment in compensation for their money, it makes the life less significant in the long term, because their time was wasted not improving themselves. You are not the car you drive, you are not the contents of you wallet... Most people are short sighted.

(I'm not pretending that this fully answers the question.)


I'd draw the line at the point where the user/consumer can't easily recognize advertisement as advertisement.

For example, paying people to write blog posts or to friend your client on social media without making the "I'm being paid to do it" part explicit should be illegal.

I know nothing about US law, but shouldn't that be some kind of fraud crime or "confidence trick crime" already?


I have talked in front of rooms full of my peers about abusing the vulnerable with predatory IAP's. Rooms full of artists (and students) applauded me. While rooms of more 'professional' developers booed me. I found more often than not, the 'professional' people that have a family to feed defended there moral very strongly. I could boil their argument (unfairly?) down to this, its ok to trick the vulnerable out of their money because I need to make money to feed my family. Where the more idealist artisans where more interested in the craft of games and earning the right to make money with good content. Its a weird rational to base your moral actions on.

I count myself as an idealist, I care about people before my own ability to buy things. I don't think I have a right to make a living at what I love, an opportunity for sure, but thinking you have an entitlement to make money at making games seems to lead us to a dark place for us all.


I wonder how i is that South Park did a great episode[0] on this subject of addiction to freemium games, and neither the post nor anyone in over 100 episodes mentioned this. Is South Park completely passé?

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freemium_Isn%27t_Free


It is becoming more and more current and relevant. I'm assuming you saw the current 19th season. If you didn't see it, or at least the last three episodes that form a "trilogy" or sorts, and talk about online ads and ad-blockers.


I think there would be a better case for regulating in game purchases. Some kind of limit, or a at least a warning at the beginning so people know what they are in for. "This game contains purchasable items. You may spend more than 10 000 dollars in this game."

Marketing on the other hand is a different story. We cant really ban that.


And why not?

There are cases over the world where advertising was banned with success.

http://www.worldwatch.org/node/5338

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/1125...

This is just the first step.


Random related question then; how do smaller companies and individuals starting out in business for the first time compete? Because as much as advertising and marketing can be sleazy in its execution, it's also potentially a way that smaller companies can compete with incumbents. Remove that, and what's left? Brand recognition and word of mouth. The former is great for multinational corporations, but kind of bad for anyone trying to dethrone them. The latter can be good for smaller companies and individuals, but can take decades to become effective.

Banning certain types of advertising is a good idea, but trying to ban all of it would kill competition.


> We cant really ban that.

Why not?


He brings up a bunch of things, only one of which applies to Star Citizen: the "addictive" element of collecting things. Star Citizen is a game with genuinely exciting concepts and visuals exhibited in their marketing. The "addictive" thing that appears to have driven part of their $100M fundraise is prepurchasing cool-looking spaceships.

But how would you regulate that? And what would be the impact on Lego kits, Star Wars action figures, Beanie Babies, coins, stamps, and other real-world collectibles? They have the same issues with OCD. Wouldn't it be arbitrary to limit it to software?

If found it interesting that the author left the most potentially regulatable thing about Star Citizen untouched: consumer protections for crowdfunding investments.


I don't think I've ever thought of "addictive" as a positive attribute to a game. Reddit and HN are addictive, I want entertainment that I can leave when I want and that has depth.


I don't play games, but my roommate does for several hours every day. I asked him about it and he said he loves being immersed in it, and finds it much more engaging than other forms of entertainment, such as watching a movie. I wouldn't call him "addicted" though. We hang out all the time, and I never see the sort of desperation that the author describes.

...

Are there specific genre's of games that have the sorts of traps the author describes? A giant achievement screen sounds like it could be in any game, but I'd be curious to hear of any patterns recognized by others.


>Are there specific genre's of games that have the sorts of traps the author describes?

Free-to-play games are the obvious example. MMORPGs are another, though I would say they are somewhat less sinister as — while they use many psychological tricks to keep players coming back — they are at the core generally an attempt to produce an interesting or enjoyable game world, which is generally not the primary goal in F2P games.

I feel one of the worst (or at least most interesting) offenders for gambling is Valve, through Team Fortress 2 and Counter Strike. In those games people can buy "keys" to open randomly dropped "chests" which may or may not contain valuable items (valuable in the sense that they can be traded to other players for sometimes hundreds of dollars in Steambux). They are essentially running a lottery. I will concede that it's quite similar to Magic: The Gathering's business model (small chance to find something valuable!), but something about the exact implementation (perhaps the ease of trading and valuation of items, or the heavy use of Steambux which can only be redeemed in a Valve store?) Valve uses feels a bit more skeevy.


As a former MtG player, I remember the gambler's high I'd get opening every booster pack. But while my cards are sitting in a dusty box somewhere, it sounds like there's a lot of recirculation that happens within the Valve community.


There also a big difference between Magic cards and the Valve items -- Valve items are only cosmetic, while Magic cards derive their high value because they can make your deck stronger.


MMOs/FPS/MOBAs are repetitive and addictive because of the fact that each gaming session could be unique.

Blizzard completely stopped making single player games (until Diablo 3) because of WoW's unprecedented success (quite a few other games were cancelled to keep this machine running).

LoL and DotA 2 are similarly addictive since each game nets you drops, some seasonal exclusive cosmetic items, couriers, etc. They also have challenges to keep you coming back.

They're explicitly designed to draw the player back and get better, a fallacy since a player is only as good as his (current) team. So these games usually have a bunch of people who hate the game (Griefers) yet keep playing to grief others with relatively better success.

I'm of the opinion that games without intellectual value must be avoided. And I was a semi-professional gamer (COD & DotA) for a while. One of the best games I had played that were short yet memorable would be the Age Of Empires series, Braid, Hotline Miami.


> So these games usually have a bunch of people who hate the game (Griefers) yet keep playing to grief others with relatively better success.

Sounds eerily similar to a ponzi scheme.


There is a difference between most games and "whale hunting" games, generally a game will be an interactive experience with a slightly addictive edge to it, but these games are generally between 15$ and 80$ and are a one time buy.

Whale hunters are often free to play games that have an ingame shop where you can buy either cosmetic or game boosts. Examples: Mobas are on the small scale here, they profit from whales but could do without them while facebook games, mmo's or phone games are generally a little more shameless about it.

But nowadays, the line is thinning due to expensive games starting to offer more and more minor downloadable content, which isnt priced high, but can quickly accumulate.


I'm always wary of people who beg for more government control .


"You think you are not manipulated by ads? Get real, read some of the latest books on the topic."

Any book recommendations? Sounds like this would be really interesting to read about


Try Hooked, by Nir Eyal


Terrible article, but raises some good issues. Would like to see a better discussion of those issues.

One problem that I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere is that in my experience a large proportion of people in the games industry are essentially game addicts.

They've forgone other opportunities, higher pay, IRL social interactions, family duties, etc. due to their passion for games.

It's hard to have a serious conversation about games and addiction without examining this further.


If they've foregone other opporunities, it might well be because working conditions in the games industry are (apparently) pretty awful, especially in large development houses. There seems to be an attitude going around that endless crunch is somehow a 'good' thing, so you get massive amounts of overtime and ridiculous working hours.

Presumably, this then selects for people who like games so much that they're somewhat able to give up just about everything to make them. If the conditions were more stable and... normal, then you'd probably get a more 'diverse' group in the industry and likely also better games in general.


I've been in the game industry for 20 years and I don't recognize this image you've painted at all


Glad to hear it.


Where do erotic web camera sites that allow tipping and rake money off the top fit in?

I'm pretty sure lots of people are addicted to these shows.


Look, this is just commerce at work. People are going to use whatever edge they can get to make more money. These edges only go so far. If you think the only reason Game of War is popular because of the million dollar ads, then why isn't every single product, everywhere using these ads?

These games fulfill more than just some need to mindlessly click on shit. Just because doesn't do anything for you, that doesn't make the people it does work for stupid or rubes. As soon as something better comes along, all of these games companies are going to be toast, way, way deader than disco.

Assuming that any massive success is due to nefarious attention-gaming is pretty much categorically wrong. Video gaming, by the standards of global commerce, is a ridiculously tiny niche. There are billions of people who have never played a video game in their entire life. Game of War is the largest player in a sub-niche of this small niche. Big enough to buy ads on the Super Bowl, sure, but that says a lot more about the declining power of television and advertising in general than it does about the size of the gaming market.

That this market needs political attention to curb abuse is utterly laughable. How about we fix oil drilling, or pharmaceutical production first?


>Look, this is just commerce at work.

And? Oil drilling and pharmaceutical production is just commerce at work. As is child labor, sex trafficking, drug trade, and slavery.


So they are. Are you really equating them?


Nothing is "just" commerce at work. This is also a prime example of the naturalistic fallacy. Just because these things happen to be legal doesn't necessitate that they should be.


When did I say they should be legal?

The political process has limits. There's such a thing as political capital and there's only so much of it at any given time.

Most people seem to think that shit is unlimited, that we could just fix everything all at once if the politicians just knew what it was.

That's emphatically not the case. Issues all get their time in the sun, and the political fix is almost never perfect. The issues you compared social video games to, slavery et. al. all were banned, rightfully, a long time ago.

When I say that this is "commerce as usual" I mean that the market will sort out the complained-about issues itself, without the need for a law. Legislation is a complicated, tortuous affair. Society needs many, many individual events to draw on in order to draft effective legislation. Someone has to study this stuff in order to write a law, someone has to convince others to vote for the law. None of this is free, it all comes at the expense of other issues needing attention at the moment. Votes get traded like horses.

In this case, political attention isn't needed, at least not yet. There are way too many other issues that beg attention.


The article the author links to is more revealing:

http://toucharcade.com/2015/09/16/we-own-you-confessions-of-...


Only if the regulation get 90+% votes.

I am so waiting for the future when one can switch (mobocratic) government like a house.


> "I guess at this point we could just say ‘A fool and his money are soon parted’"

Yep.


NSFW tag would help.


Cliff's comparison of Star Citizen's preorder process to gambling, painted in royal we, is obscene.

I don't like to be dismissive, but it sounds like he's mostly upset that their slimy marketing actually works; while meanwhile people haven't even heard of his company.

For kicks I looked at his company's website, and their top two titles are "Democracy 3", and "Big Pharma". i.e. he makes video games about regulation and a highly-regulated industry. After seeing these titles, the attitude makes a lot more sense.


I think he picked Star Citizen since you can spend close to thousands of real dollars (US) on items that don't physically exist. It's really no different than running an unregulated lottery since you can't be sure if Star Citizen will ever reach published state (It's been alpha close to two years IIRC). So, I think his comparison is close enough to question the validity of at least Kickerstarting projects like this.


Perhaps there's a new product idea for Cliff: opt-in self-regulation. Whenever your urges become too strong, phone-a-friend for in-game counseling. Fight the pernicious Facebook-stalking fire with healthier Facebook-stalking fire.

Alternatively, a new game called Slimy-Game-Developer, which simulates mind-control of millions of players while you optimise your revenues using too-effective psychological techniques.


This has absolutely no sources. And if you compare what "an anonymous developer" says he does (which may as well be made up) with what a company that spends $40,000,000 in an ad campaign does, you see how this is delusional.


This is jealousy, at the core of it. Not just the gaming industry uses these tactics. I work in an industry that does that all the time (I hate it).

Certain kinds of games shouldn't be regulated, though I would agree that creating fake profiles on social media in an attempt to gather more information from users should be regulated to some extent.

At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, are you in favor of people having a free will, or do you want to mitigate what a person can and can't do with their free time because in your opinion, it's bad for them?


Well there is actually a middle ground, where society (through te government) can make changes so that people are nudged to a better direction. (Check out UK's nudge unit.)

So even though people can smoke, drink, gamble - there should be some form of policy to limit or reduce the harm that comes from these activities.

This actually goes double for such free-to-play games with IAP as in some ways they are no better than plain old slot machines - or "pokies" as we call them in Australia. But since they are just "games" on "phones" they are not treated with the same rigor as other pure gambling machines.


I don't see any problem with games or any other product spending that much on advertisement if it's beneficial for them. I don't understand what people have against targeted advertisement? So what if the advertisements are tuned for your interests. Wouldn't you rather see relevant ads, rather than the something completely irrelevant to your life? I actually wish, they had more information and were better targetted. Right now, the ads really don't have much of the right information or enough intelligence at all.

Also, since when is it to much to ask people to spend responsibly? I mean, we have licences for driving and licences for fishing. Should we also have a licence to spend? Perhaps, all these so called 'victums' you speak of, should go to the a financial therapy class and their spending should be limited by the government.

If you dont know how to spend your money, you shouldn't be allowed to have a wallet or money.

People need to be responsible for their own spending if they want to grow up and live on their own.


> Wouldn't you rather see relevant ads, rather than the something completely irrelevant to your life?

Absolutely not. The cost to my limited time & attention span is not worth it. If I feel there is a problem in my life that I can solve with a product, I am perfectly capable of finding it using sources I trust.


I don't understand what people have against targeted advertisement?

Because you make naive, almost childish assumption that you would be targeted by the products and services that are (most) beneficial for you.




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