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If Videogames and Apps Are Addictive, Should Designers Worry about Liability? (socialgameslaw.com)
91 points by raleighm 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 125 comments

All things that feel good and releases dopamine ≠ equally addictive.

Video games have reached levels of immersion higher than other forms of entertainment, add real $ loot boxes to that and it's clear publishers should worry about this, smart ones already are - Valve tracks Anti_Addiction_Rating for users to notify/suggest they play within healthy limits: https://www.pcgamesn.com/dota-2/dota-2-anti-addiction.

I think the strange thing that’s happened with video games is that it used to be that you felt good because you were having fun. In this new era of micro transactions the games aren’t even fun anymore. There is only frustration, and then you pay to alivieate that frustration. You sometimes find yourself sitting there say, “why am I even doing this?”

I genuinely miss gaming. When I try to get back into mainstream titles these days I evtually hit some roadblock mechanic designed to extract dollars and I’m just like, “This shit again?” and bail on the game.

Some developers do it right. Most don’t. There are so many games or experiences that I just don’t think will ever exist again. I don’t know that there will ever be another Ultima Online or EverQuest, or another tactical shooter like Rainbow Six or America’s Army that isn’t pay to win. Or that we’ll ever see another decent RTS ever. It sucks.

> In this new era of micro transactions the games aren’t even fun anymore. There is only frustration, and then you pay to alivieate that frustration. You sometimes find yourself sitting there say, “why am I even doing this?”

This is one reason I've stopped playing most games that have any kind of online or multiplayer element. Ones that either have a really strong single player mode or don't engage in these kinds of tactics (see civilization games) have been the ones that I end up enjoying long term.

I've found that I end up preferring indie titles not for any philosophical reason, but because many of them don't have the teams needed to create these kinds of mechanisms (successfully anyway). Mobile platforms make it significantly easier to you see it there a lot more too.

>"This is one reason I've stopped playing most games that have any kind of online or multiplayer element. Ones that either have a really strong single player mode or don't engage in these kinds of tactics (see civilization games) have been the ones that I end up enjoying long term."

I've found that Darkest Dungeon is the game I just keep coming back to. No multiplayer, no micro transactions, just you against the game. And I also really like the dark fantasy setting and art style.

Plus it runs great on my X220i, which is nice.

Witcher 3, Nioh, Dark Souls, Elite:Dangerous, Dishonored, Dying Light, Kerbal Space Program, One Piece Pirate Warriors 3, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Yakuza 0/6/Kiwami, Bloodborne, Divinity, Gravity Rush 1/2, Hellblade, Monster Hunter World, Nier, Persona 5, Okami HD, Xcom 1/2, Wasteland 2, and more.

There are a lot of really good games that exist to be played for fun, and not just to suck your money and punish you. Avoid Ubisoft, avoid fee-to-play, and ideally wait for “complete” versions of a game.

I want to add Darkest Dungeon to that list, if you enjoy a dark fantasy/Lovecraftian horror setting and dungeons full of loot.

If you enjoy good games you're no longer the demographic of 'heavily marketed action game #472103' anymore than a person who enjoys good films is the target demographic of 'heavily marketed superhero film #235132345'. This isn't to say all heavily marketed games or movies are bad, but they are targeting a demographic whose primary motivation in purchasing these things has little to do with quality. Consider how mind bogglingly naive the notion of a 'preorder' actually is.

And now think about how publishers view this sort of demographic. This realization is what actually made me drop my disdain for companies like EA. Gaming has gone mainstream. When this happens to anything, the optimal means of monetizing things shifts radically. When you have people that will buy 'artistic products' (as opposed to e.g. - a coffee maker) absolutely blind and will even shell out money to buy products piecemeal, it's hard to be angry about companies taking advantage of this.

All this means is that you're no longer their demographic. In the movie industry this kind of sucks since there aren't thousands of amazing independent films being made. But in the games industry there are! We're undoubtedly going through a gaming golden age right now, so happily step away from the 'mainstream' and consider that the games that fit whatever craving you're having do exist, but it's entirely likely that you've never heard of them before. This is because they don't have those nice 8-9 figure marketing budgets of 'mainstream' games, but also even word of mouth is difficult simply because there are just so many great games.

Aren't there plenty of games that don't follow those pas patterns? I played PS4 God of War. It was amazing and had none of those features.

There are some. God of War, BotW, etc. but they are few and far between and there are entire types of games that don’t even exist anymore or get developed.

Wouldn't say they're few and far between. I mean, the current Nintendo Switch lineup is about 80% games that don't rely on pay to win mechanics, as are many games on other systems (especially indie titles).

The ratio of good games have dropped. I'm sure there are similar numbers, but the amount of crap has increased, esp. the mobile market.

Good games in the mobile market is far and few between.

The ratio of good games has dropped but that’s because the market is a lot larger now. You can still fill all your free time playing “good” games and completely ignore the rest of the market.

I daresay there are fewer than 20 mobile games that aren't ports from other platforms but are still good and high quality in their own right. There are plenty of decent ones that don't engage in scummy behaviour, sure, but I wouldn't even consider playing them on other platforms where there are much more complex, interesting, and immersive games.

I certainly agree that the money (publishers, funding) is going to likely chase what's making money. Games that are free with in app purchased are making way more money than games that aren't.

I don't know if Fornite has any scammy and/or addictive qualities. My understand is it does not and is making the most money of any game ever. Around 10 million per day at the moment. So yes, the funding will probably go to those types of games more than the GoW, BotW type of games.

What genres don't get developed anymore?

RTS. Used to be a very competitor genre. C&C, AoE, WC… every studio had an RTS or one in the works. Now there is only SCII left. I remember playing games of Red Alert and Total Annihilation they would last all day. Fuck, somone port Red Alert to the Switch pls.

MMORPGs. They get developed now, I guess, but it’s all pay to win garbage. It’s not even the same genre IMO.

Space/tech simulators. We used to have X-Wing, Descent, Freespace, Mechwarrior, Fighter Ace, etc. There used to be an entire SECTION in stores that contained joysticks of all different kinds. Now we just have train simulator with garbage DLC skins.

Realistic, tactical, team-based FPS games. Rainbow Six, America’s Army, etc. The “one shot” kind of FPS where you didn’t just jump around like a bullet sponge.

Steam has been GREAT for small indie games, platformers, and new concepts like KSP. But we’ve also lost a lot as the major studios have all converged towards mass market games.

Yup. I miss good RTS and spacefighter simulators. With the latter, I think FreeSpace 2 with its open-source community-driven remaster is still the best spacefighter sim available today. And it was also story-rich - which is something I miss these days too.

Somewhat related, I spent an ungodly amount of time recently playing Subnautica, and this reminds me that the underwater world has been pretty much forgotten by both games and sci-fi literature/movies. What was the last underwater game I played before Subnautica? Ah, Submarine Titans. A quite fun and beautiful (for that time) RTS. From 18 years ago.

I think Jim Sterling mentioned once that the only genres studios care about now are Candy Crush clones and COD clones. Although now it may be Clash of Clans and MOBAs. I don't know.

It's hyperbole but it also seems to be true enough - only a few bandwagon genres seem to get published nowadays. If you happen to like strategy games or action platformers or bullet hell or metroidvania or anything but whatever's hot this year, well, you're SOL outside of indie development and the occasional "spiritual successor."

That's true.

I played through X-Wing Alliance last year. It seems weird that they haven't even tried just updating the graphics and re-releasing them. Surely there would be a market.

True about Flight Sims too. That's dried right up.

It's surprising about RTS games, you'd think that's pretty doable for a fairly small team.

Space: Elite dangerous is great, and is not alone. That genre is especially popular with mid-level indie groups

Realistic team based FPS: There's ARMA 3 for your heavy duty liking, and Squad is incredible. I believe insurgency is also slightly realistic

One crossplatform MMORPG in development, not pay to win, is Project Gorgon.

All games that don't have a devs vs user-base monetization mindset.

In the end all games become what management considers a good game in its shark eats shark, one up in manipulation - world.

Then there is the fact that a inferior aiming tool (game pad) became the Togo for most modern shooters.

Its feels like a product who's producer mastered the complete mental manipulation of its user-base ages ago. Suddenly all your interests align every time and you wake up feeling used and abused while distinctly remembering having a different opinion before the good times. Gaming might just be ahead of the dystopia curve here. No wonder Yuri-industries pushes the narrative of the strong, self-controlled consumer.

You are entering the town of Rantsend.

It sounds like games are simply being optimized for monetization, not for making you feel good.

For example, someone discovered that 'stamina' (like arcade credits, but recharging over time even when you're not playing) was a great way to monetize, since people will want to open the app more and play and see ads because if you don't you're Wasting Hearts! That's leveraging frustration for sure, but it turns out frustration keeps people playing as much as fun does. And now you wonder why stamina systems are all over microtransaction-laden mobile games.

Welcome to capitalism :). The industry didn't change, it's still on the same trajectory of optimizing for profit. Getting ahead by making games more fun, and then making them prettier, were the lower-hanging fruits. We're past those indirect methods now - at this point, more direct methods of optimizing for profit are being applied.

This seems to be a pattern I see in every industry, and with every product. Whenever a market is created, things improve up to some point, and after that they degrade. I wish there was a way to stop this evolution at the peak of quality, before the decay and customer abuse takes hold.

Question: is the absolute number of high-quality games released every year going up or down? It's blatant that the average quality has been on a downhill trend since the advent of mobile gaming. But, are many pay-to-win games also good as works of art? Or just good drugs?

I have a feeling the power of contrast is at work, though I'm not really 'into' gaming enough to bring much evidence to bear.

You don't have to play mainstream if they don't make mainstream for you. You can play niche games or old games.

I still have fun with a lot of games, but those are usually indie games from Steam. I've more or less sworn off of AAA games, though. I already know they're going to be ruthlessly monetized, bug ridden, joyless Skinner boxes full of toxic assholes and I'm not even going to bother.

I worked for a time as a video game tester. It burned out every ember of interest in playing video games in me. I'd say that was a nice fringe benefit.

There are open source projects though trying to cater to this.. Spring-Rats and 0AD come to mind.

Open source games are kind of doomed to fail. At least they always have been.

Depends on the metric. They'll almost always fail in terms of market share precisely because they don't optimize for market share. They win by other metrics.

My family has been directly hurt by addicts who have lost their lives to tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs, gambling, and gaming.

Addiction is measured not by what or how much you do, but by negative impact it has on one's life.

It doesn't matter how much pot you smoke, or alcohol you drink, or how much coke you do, if it doesn't interfere with your life.

If you lose your job or steal from your family to hit the casinos, that's an addiction.

If you turn down a job because it's in a different city and you depend on a local doctor to keep giving you a prescription drug, that's an addiction.

If you flunk out of school and turn down any opportunity to be self sufficient because you spend all day smoking pot, that's an addiction.

If you flunk out of school and turn down any opportunity to be self sufficient because you spend all day playing Fortnite, that's an addiction.

I found I was 'addicted' to weed, but it was more like-

If I'm going to deal with another day of getting my front end auth to work, I dont want to deal with it sober.

I can deal with it sober, but its significantly more miserable. I drink way more coffee(which is still a drug) and lose probably a few extra hours of productivity.

I'm really not sure how to handle this, because if I'm on weed, its on 100% of the time I program. If I'm off weed, I dont crave it, except when I'm stuck for 5 days on a stupid issue with little resolution. Or I'll be at a party and not want to drink alcohol.

However there is an On and an Off. If I'm on, its every day, uncontrollable. It makes me significantly more productive, so much so that friends consider me the smartest person they know. (The reality is I just work 12+ hour days since I became addicted 3 years ago)

When I'm off, things that suck, suck without any help.

I am in no way an expert on these things. But it could be the case that you have anxiety. The 'weed' takes it away and allows you to program.

Maybe you could try to lower your coffee consumption and drink relaxing teas instead. You could also take a few days off work and try to figure things out.

What is your heart rate like? How much do you sleep? How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?

If you're heart rate is constantly up and you sleep very little (4-6 hours) and you drink more than 4 cups of coffee a day, my opinion would be that you're suffering from anxiety. If you treat the symptoms (without weed ofc :) ), the underlying physical stress might go away and you'll notice that you can program whilst not being under the influence.

Best of luck

Lol I'm exactly the same way. My solution is to not keep a lot of weed in the house and to make it a chore to do.

I cant believe you can program stoned.

I can barely order a pizza.

> Addiction is measured not by what or how much you do, but by negative impact it has on one's life.

I always found this odd, and it sounds more like a proxy because we don't have a good way to measure the real thing. Which raises lots of questions.

It kind of does measure the real thing which I'd define as "the strength of addiction" for which the only honest measure is to compare the addiction with what you're willing to give up for it.

If your actions show that you're willing to give up major things in life for that addiction, if you know that it's harming your life but still go on, then you're addicted.

If your actions show that you're not willing to give up major things in life for that addiction and you actually can and do put it aside whenever needed, then you're not addicted.

If you never really had to choose, possibly because it's not harming your life yet, then we don't know and can't know if you're addicted, as it's very subjective and talk/expressed opinion is not a reliable predictor of what you'd actually do.

Furthermore, that's in line with the general understanding of how we distinguish between "simple" conditions, behaviors and genetic differences versus diseases and disorders - the key factor is whether it's causing harm and distress.

When your definition of addiction is based on how often you do it, you end up with everyone being addicted to breathing.

Anything that gives you positive feedback can be addictive.

People get addicted to exercising to the point it can harm them. Yet Nike shouldn't be liable if someone runs themselves into the ground.

If nike knowingly sold products they engineered to drive running addiction then yes they would be liable.

Imagine if an organization recruited children to running-centric lifestyles to the point that it consumed their afternoons and weekends, dominated their social lives, threatened their academic performance, and routinely imparted injuries requiring long-term care by an associated cottage medical industry. I bet they'd be sued into the ground.

Oh wait. That's every high school athletics program.

Imagine if a majority of children actually participated in these athletic programs. Committed to physical fitness, had social lives with teammates and didn't have health problems because they were over weight.

Oh wait. Basically every first world country has an obesity epidemic.

Anecdote, but a lot of the kids that did sports all through my high school stopped playing when they went to college and gained weight from what I guess was based on their passed eating habits with high activity. However, the ones who didn't do sports all through high school mostly lost weight.

I'm not sure what the overall implications are of school athletic programs but I definitely don't think it is as black and white as you make it out to be.

In my opinion school gym/sport classes can be very good at completely sucking the living joy out of exercise.

Athleticism and sports should not be forced on kids. Let them run freely.

Eg. Just look at all the "free" street sports such skateboarding, rollerblading, bmx, parkour and so on. It doesn't have to be dull, boring and super formalized.

Oh, totally. My friends and I played tons of games of pick up ultimate frisbee, basketball, and football. Those games were 10 times more fun than any formalized sport I did.

There is 1 football game I especially look back to which happened after a massive rain storm. The entire field had like 2 inches of water perfectly spread across it which made it not too hard to run across but completely painless to dive and tackle on. You would be holding onto someone trying to bring them down while they would drag you across the surface just as if you were water skiing. So much fun!

Most kids don't do them. Most kids don't do them regularly even if they have a chance and do them freely.

There are classes and trainers for parkour and bmx. Free parkour is quite often done by people who did gymnastics or similar sport as kids.

Looking around me, there are many kids who enjoy formalized sport clubs they go to. It is not for everyone, but the idea that most find them dull is wrong.

Sure, I didn't mean that anything is intrinsically dull.

In my experience, clubs outside schools are much better because the kids actually want to be there.

However they often push some competitive agenda to the kids, especially when they become teenagers.

Many quit at that point because they don't have the time or motivation for it, and there very few clubs that only do "fun amateur league" at that age.

There shouldn't be any difference between someone selling something knowingly addictive like cigarettes and intentionally making something addictive imo.

Adding sugar to cake, then?

I'm saying that if we allow companies to sell cigarettes then it's silly to not allow other forms of additions to be sold.

If a study later comes out showing that they weren't actually addictive, what happens then? What happens if the initial study showing it was addictive was actually fraudulent because someone (who might now be dead) just hated Nike?

Are you saying that we shouldn't act on scientific research based on the possibility that the research will be disproven in the future? Or on the possibility that the research was done in less-than-good-faith? The latter would require the burden of proof, and the former seems pretty untenable/unreasonable.

But all that aside, let's talk big picture: does it really matter whether something ends up actually being clinically proven to be addictive if a company is taking action with the intent of making a product more addictive?

Let's say, for example, that I put a substance that I believe to be addictive into some new sports drink that I manufacture for the purpose of getting my users "hooked" on the product. What does it say about me, my intent, and the purpose of my product - even if it's discovered at some later date that the substance wasn't actually addictive all along?

All of that being said, this issue is a complicated one: the very question of what it means for something to be "entertaining" versus "addictive" is one hell of a deep question, and I think one that we're going to continue to evolve in our understanding of as a species as time goes on... and perhaps it's even something where the line is different for different people, or even the same person when in different moods/circumstances. But I do think that it's both worth it to examine intent when thinking about whether a company is doing something "wrong" or "right," and I don't think it makes sense to dismiss scientific evidence without probable cause for doubt.

So I have an honest naive question. Simply put, why are people playing Pay to Win games to begin with?

I genuinely don’t understand where the dopamine release is? That’s what keeps people coming back, right? And is the dopamine release for some reason stronger than non-Pay to Win? Because if it’s not stronger, why do they play that rather than a flat cost game? Sunk costs? Trying to keep up with friends?

I game a ton, but have never given such a game more than a couple hours, and far more rarely money because I simply wasn’t having fun...

I’m not being judgmental, I’m trying to understand because I don’t. I’m assuredly the weird one.

I didn't know it was pay-to-win at first. I just installed the game from the app store and started playing it. It was somewhat fun. Turns out performing repetitive tasks in order to increase a bunch of numbers in a database can be enjoyable if you hide that fact behind some nice drawings.

Eventually I made some friends and joined a group of players. We started battling other people and winning. We got so excited we started buying stuff. We rose to the top pretty quickly. I was among the best. It's a nice feeling. It wasn't even that hard to keep this up, I just had to spend a few dollars a month for some items.

At some point casual players got tired of losing to us and quit the game. Eventually, the population of my server got so low they merged it with another one. This introduced more strong players into the server, making it harder to compete. It wasn't so easy to stay on top anymore. I started spending more money but I wasn't able to keep up with the best players.

Then they merged servers again and I realized I'd have to spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars a month just to keep up with them. That's when I stopped playing. It doesn't matter how much I spend, someone is always going to spend more.

Cause they are fun, at least initially, and cheap (free). You don't care about pay to win thing unless you are far in ladder and most people know they wont be among top anyway. I suspect that most people mind pay to win aspect much much less then noise about it would suggest.

Flat cost games have to be paid before trying which means that you cant just pick them up out of curiosity.

Unless you have a lot of friends to show you, it is hard to find flat cost game for you. Here I am projecting, I used to like games and they either ceased to make them for me or I was not able to find them for some reason. I was able to find pay to win I like and suit my lifestyle, after I finally actually tried them without bias (I was initially strongly biased toward the "mobile games must be shit" and "it is all pay to win crap" so I resisted long).

> You don't care about pay to win thing unless you are far in ladder

IME, P2W generally substantially effects gameplay and UX everywhere, because a P2W game is invariably designed to stress you into paying. Now, there's a big variability in the degree of impact this has, but it's pretty consistent with the degree to which a game is P2W, not orthogonal to it.

> Flat cost games have to be paid before trying

Limited scope playable demo/intro (including multiplayer) with pay-for-full-scope upgrade (or pay per feature which isn't P2W) have been around longer than P2W model, and F2P with pay-for-cosmetics is also a model which lots of games have succeeded with. The alternative to P2W isn't just flat cost games.

I never found them stressful. I don't even know which aspect is supposed to be stressful. The ones I played a lot were literally catered to people who cant or wont commit hours long stretches of time. I know about one stressful mobile game, but that was not pay to win and was not successful.

Limited scope playable demo/intro were pretty much non-existent for years. Creators argued that demo lowers sales. Which is possible, but I stopped playing games entirely, because too many turned out not what I expected and very disappointing after I bought.

I never understood paying for cosmetics, honestly. I would pay to support creator, but it is not something I ever cared about and perceive as waste of money.

Today, no.

Once health insurance companies start paying for video game addiction treatment, yes.

Porn addiction is a thing but I haven't heard of smut producers being successfully sued for enabling it.

There might be a difference that's worth noting. There are game designs that are clearly engineered to create either outright addiction, or at the very least, cravings. Porn, at least superficially, doesn't seem to attempt to engineer addiction in a similar way, maybe because they don't need to?

While the end result might be the same, there seems to be a much clearer intent to create addiction in some parts of the game industry, especially where gaming and gambling meet.

I'm not sure that distinction is as clear as you're describing it. Pretty much anything that creates positive feedback has the potential to create addictive behaviors, and (most) porn certainly isn't going for a realistic depiction of a healthy sex life. The design of porn sites, like most content websites, are oriented around continued usage. Trying to get people to use your product more doesn't seem technically distinguishable to me from "engineering to create addiction", and it's not clear to me what you think makes the two examples you describe distinct from each other.

Cigarettes, at least around WWI when they originally gained wide popularity, weren't engineered to create addiction. It was just a built-in property of tobacco, enhanced by the instant gratification of pre-rolled cigarettes. Would you make the same argument there?

That's a controversial opinion. Neither porn addiction nor sexual addiction is in the DSM-V, so it's not "officially" recognised as a real thing, and many researchers and experts believe it is not. There's not even any real agreement on what "porn addiction" would be (or if it's the same thing as sexual addiction). What little research has been done is inconclusive at best, showing that people do react to porn (well, duh), but that when, eg, brain imaging is does, the reaction doesn't really look like the reaction to drugs.

It's not surprising lawsuits about porn addiction aren't going ahead when it's so easy to get an expert witness to (truthfully) testify that the psychiatric profession doesn't recognise porn addiction as a real thing.

There's certainly people consuming porn who'd like to consume less, and who believe their consumption is harming their lives. That doesn't mean addiction is the correct model for what's going on, and to date, there appears to be little-to-no evidence showing that it is.

Article that talks about some of the theory behind mental disorders:



> Carlat: How did you decide on five criteria as being your minimum threshold for depression?

> Spitzer: It was just consensus. We would ask clinicians and researchers, “How many symptoms do you think patients ought to have before you would give them a diagnosis of depression?” And we came up with the arbitrary number of five.

> Carlat: But why did you choose five and not four? Or why didn’t you choose six?

> Spitzer: Because four just seemed like not enough. And six seemed like too much.

Sorry if I was unclear, I meant "a thing" in the same sense as parent, in that people seek treatment for it.

I don't understand what makes people disdain freedom so much that they'll deem this sort of state overreach as reasonable.

Holding Tobacco producers liable is paternalist & wrong, this is almost totalitarian.

Tobacco sellers failed to educate the public of the dangers of smoking, and in some instances advertised it as healthy. To a point that society considered it beyond ignorance and into disingenuous. Are you saying that designers != studios?

Why is it the job of the tobacco seller to educate the public on the dangers of smoking? Why would they invest their money in such an anti-marketing campaign?

Advertising with factually inaccurate information, of course, should be punishable by law.

Consumers need to be educated from an early age on how to identify legitimate sources of information. That is becoming more apparent every single day.

> should be punishable by law.

That's exactly what happened, e.g.:

'For example, Pennsylvania brought suit alleging a "conspiracy in concealing and misrepresenting the addictive and harmful nature of tobacco/nicotine[,] . . . industry control and manipulation of nicotine to foster addiction and thus profits[,] . . . intentionally attracting and addicting children to tobacco products," and "targeting African Americans" (complaint in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Philip Morris, Inc.). These claims encompass civil conspiracy, willful and negligent breach of a special duty, fraudulent misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment, negligent design, strict liability, unfair trade practices, public nuisance, and negligent and intentional entrustment.' [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tobacco_Master_Settlement_Agre...

But the terms of the Master Settlement Agreement apply to all tobacco companies regardless of whether they existed at the time. You can't argue that a new tobacco company did anything wrong. But they're fully as liable as the old ones, somehow.

It's also hard to see how the punishment for misconduct, even misconduct that actually occurred, can be a fine paid every year for eternity.

If your product is hazardous, it should at the very least include warnings on the package. We require this of medication, why not other products like tobacco. It's unrealistic to expect consumers to be able to thoroughly research everything they buy. Warning labels are not paternalism, they're a way of correcting information asymmetries.

> Consumers need to be educated from an early age on how to identify legitimate sources of information. That is becoming more apparent every single day.

Absolutely right. And a huge part of that involves rooting out those who publish misinformation and pay money to get that misinformation published in what is otherwise a reliable outlet for information. Like in the case of tobacco.

Ironically this radical conception of freedom is in itself totalitarian in the literal sense of drowning out all other values but one.

Health both on an individual and social level is a precondition for deeper freedoms that go beyond simple choice. Choice without restriction is paralysis, and there is nothing empowering about leaving addicts to their own vices and the guilty parties unpunished.

> Holding Tobacco producers liable is paternalist & wrong,

Wasn't what they did with studies basically fraud? (Not sure that was what they were held liable for though)

I haven't heard a good defense of tobacco producers. For decades they suppressed evidence that their product caused lung cancer, which seems a rather bad thing to do. Even ultra-libertarians seem to agree that dangerous products should be labeled as to how dangerous they are, so that consumers can make an informed decision.

Can you summarize or link to an argument that tobacco producers did nothing wrong?

I don't think the solution is to ban tobacco/sugar/alcohol/weed/opioids/new-drug-of-the-day, and I honestly think they should all be legal.

The plain packaging law instituted in Australia and other places is a good way to do it. Plainly state what product is inside the pack and the dangers it presents. No "hip" and enticing designs to lure the impressionable, but let people make an informed choice for themselves.

What would the average pay-to-win game look like without the hip packaging? Basically just a collection of buttons to click with cooldowns before you can click the button again and a way to pay to click it sooner?

Something like that, yeah. (I know you're being sarcastic)

I'm not sure I buy the idea that pay-to-win games are anywhere near as addictive as tobacco or alcohol or opioids or similar substances.

Crazed libertarian an-cap here.

When your product damages people, you should be responsible to label it as such.

I'll even say the government was one of the reasons they have been immune up until the recent few decades.

Please. They knowingly sold harmful products and paid tons of money to miseducated the public about the harms. They are 100% liable.

I don't see much discussion of the actual contents of the article on this thread, but in case anyone else read it, this passage stuck out to me:

> Gambling is a highly regulated industry. For example, in Indiana, regulatory agencies have set up voluntary exclusion programs whereby “any person may make a request to have his or her name placed on a voluntary exclusion list,” and casinos “must have procedures by which excluded individuals are not allowed to gamble.” Courts in Indiana and other states agree where such exclusionary programs are in place, casinos are only obliged to exclude compulsive gamblers who self-identify through the programs. Casinos are not obliged to “refuse service to pathological gamblers who [do] not self-identify.”

I generally fall pretty heavily on the "let people make their own choices" side of the spectrum[1], but I'm always open to the argument that the individual isn't the most effective lever with which to minimize harm. The above is the kind of regulatory step that seems like it could do a lot of good while avoiding a lot of the pitfalls of the approaches on both extremes.

There are some important finicky details though: how is removal from the list handled, if allowed at all? Who bears the liability if the exclusion list is violated, the provider or the user (in the form of criminal penalties, as with voluntary gambling exclusion in some states)? If the latter, is this likely to be run into the same pitfalls as criminalizing drug addiction? In the case of videogames, is it a reasonable burden to make the user provide ID (privacy implications and all), and if not, how do you prevent them from setting up a new email address to circumvent their voluntary exclusion?

This is just one of the potential solutions, which IMO illustrates that there's a lot more nuance to the discussion than many here are approaching it with, and a lot more potential for out-of-the-box solutions, instead of simply having to resort to pitting the values of personal responsibility and paternalism directly against each other.

[1] For example, responsible use of certain illegal or formerly-illegal drugs is as much (or more) an enriching part of my life as the regular consumption of the legal drug known as alcohol is for most people. Thank god I live somewhere that's civilized enough to avoid a heavily-enforced punitive approach to drug use and generally fosters a treatment-oriented approach to addictions.

I think the best case for not having another law/regulation is the future.

If we regulate this today, what will this country look like in 200 years?

Will we have regulations on water consumption, posture, etc...

With every regulation you need regulators to enforce it and people to write the laws.

Now you created cronyism to pay for it... When there is profit, profit feeds itself.

Isn't that pretty much a textbook case of the slippery slope fallacy? Just because we want to regulate something harmful, does not mean we will regulate EVERYTHING harmful

Your logic seems flawed

Look at how roman politics evolved.

The use of violence to kill one political opponent spiraled into private militaries taking over the city.

I think you either misunderstood slippery slope or my point.

I was an alcoholic for over a decade before I found my recovery.

But I couldn't turn around and tell a distilleryman that he has to brew his liquor a certain way.

Maybe the world would be a better place without booze. I would've had an easier childhood, maybe. I don't think addiction is necessarily the fault of production.

There are certain exceptions and scenarios, like cigarette marketing to minors, marketing in lower income neighborhoods on purpose, stuff like that.

Regulation is and always will be a very slippery slope. Even a small step down the slope can eventually compose into cataclysmic effects. It also makes it easier for regulatory bodies to make their case fallaciously once the first steps are taken. "You trust us with your credit card number, why not give us your location info now?"

I'm rambling, but the video game industry could be irrevocably injured by trying to regulate addictive content. Maybe that's not a bad thing, but we should aim for fairness when possible, I think.

Maybe awareness for individuals that are already more vulnerable to addictive behaviors? Like a surgeon general warning or something.

Alcohol poisons the body, so there are natural limits to how much one can drink. How much one can game is limited by how well one's meeting their own needs, eg. food, water, sleep, connection, etc.

Point being alcohol probably can't be designed to be more addictive, while games can.

As a recovering information addict & software developer who has studied dark designs, I can confirm people are intentionally making things with the intention of creating addicted customers. Information and gaming of various types is also freely available at most libraries, not to mention on all smartphones.

Information & games are way more ubiquitously available than alcohol. They're not comparable & recovery for behavior addictions that don't contribute to social skills the way substance addictions often do can be a bit more complex. Substance addicts usually learn to navigate society well; behavioral addicts typically don't. Social connection is really important for recovery & requires skills the addict may need to develop. I know I had to do LOADS of work on connecting, as well as developing my emotional intelligence, since I started addictively avoiding my emotions around age 9.

People designing things to be addictive are absolutely liable to some degree.

So I've heard of dark patterns before, but wouldn't it be a logistic nightmare to try and describe, and therefore regulate, design patterns that dont actively injure users? I'm using injure to mean induction of the addictive behaviors. Design is something I'd consider very subtle, and with lots of moving parts.

Here's an example. What if Google decided that when you pull down for notifications on android, items originating from DoubleClick should be prioritized to the top, regardless of user settings? A lot of people who have apps that generate advert-ifications wouldn't immediately notice the difference but the effect would begin to work in their brains as that consumption impulse is triggered more and more often.

Or what if they decided that same thing for the lock screen notifications? Eventually you're fending off consumption impulses everytime you touch your phone.

These are patterns I trust independent users, like bloggers and columnists, enthusiasts, those sorts, to keep me informed about. I remember hearing about the search engine nuking years ago when it actually was committed. That sort of media is in my eyes, a decent way to inform people that they need to mentally condition themselves to subvert the patterns.

But many never become aware of these things, and of course those are the people usually more vulnerable to the effects of psychological conditioning in the first place.

I'd love to hear some moonshots about how to safely and fairly try and regulate something like design.

Pulling down for notifications is a form of addictive behavior in itself, much like pulling the arm on a slot machine. You might get nothing, you often get something boring, you rarely get something great. Perversely, they can taper off how often it pays off which makes it more addictive (deep instincts tell us to keep trying when we know the odds are bad), which is a pattern that's easily observed in a lot of games.

Sorting ads to the top is, as far as I know, not a mechanism for increasing addiction so much as a way to try to monetize it. It's more likely to run into anti-trust regulations than public health concerns in my opinion.

But as to regulation, it's likely to run behind the technology but it's not hard to document dark patterns and write laws against them, just like bait-and-switch and various con jobs that were well known before the Internet age.

My moonshot: end capitalism & figure out how to give everyone what they need in a sustainable fashion.

Disincentivize exploitation. Capitalism never got my consent.

I'm working on this by developing an understanding of human needs, learning to reduce the financial cost of my life, and learning how to ask for what I need.

Of course.

People can get addicted to anything. But when a company makes a product that they know is not only addictive but harmful. When they go out of their way to make the product more addictive without any regard for the harm being done. When they go out of their way to specifically target those who are the most addicted. Well, then you run into some very clear-cut ethics problems.

And that's the state we are in right now with a sizeable number of games. Certainly far from all, but those who are right now being the most exploitative are probably going to face a lot of scrutiny in the next several years.

I agree. This entire industry needs to take a good, long look in the mirror and ask ourselves whether the ends justify the means.

Now, I'm not saying it's a clear-cut issue. There's a lot of murky grey area in the land of "what is entertainment?" versus "what is addiction?" And I think culpability on a moral level - though perhaps by necessity not a legal level - will ultimately end up being determined by the product's intent.

If you ever want to bum yourself out, go down the road of asking yourself why you really find the things you do for entertainment entertaining. I don't know if it would be for everyone, but it was certainly sobering for me. As a species, we like to think that we have many of the answers about how our brain works and what certain things that feel intuitive mean - things like "entertainment." But I think we're actually a long way off from truly understanding these concepts.

There's a big difference between producing something that's addictive by accident vs. engineering the addiction.

Even in the former situation, it's reasonable to ask researchers to detect and flag accidentally addictive mechanics.

Yes, exactly - I totally agree. That's why we both need to have an introspective moment in our industry - where we think about what the things we're making are really doing - and why intent is so important when talking about this issue. I genuinely do believe that a lot of companies have - for lack of a better term - stumbled into addiction.

It's too bad our society has moved away from the person who chose to do something bad being liable, towards blaming people around them:

1. bartenders are at fault for the drunken actions performed by people who bought the booze

2. Seattle just passed an ordinance where gun owners are liable for gun crimes committed by people who steal those guns

3. Employers are liable for crimes committed by employees

4. Homeowners are liable if people do stupid things and hurt themselves on the homeowner's property

5. Drug makers are liable for drug users' actions


Some amount of liability, though not completely liability makes sense for all these things though.

1. Its reasonable for the public and police to expect you to regulate and secure your establishment and keep it from having a negative impact on the community.

2. Weapons are very dangerous and not everyone is licensed to distribute them. Its fair of society to expect you to take reasonable measures to keep them secure.

3. They are liable if its found that leadership haven't taken reasonable measures to make sure employees don't do bad things. You cant benefit from a company's output just to turn a blind eye to what might be illegal activity.

4. If your property isn't reasonably safe, you shouldn't be inviting people onto it, its not fair on those people might be injured, who don't know what to look out for.

5. Your saying Big Pharma has nothing to answer for the opium crisis in in the US right now? A requirement for responsible marketing and prescription of harmful and addictive substances makes complete sense.

Your post pretty much exemplifies what I was talking about. It's the notion that if an adult decides to pull the trigger on the gun he stole, it is someone else's fault.

Consider 1. This an overreaching and hopelessly vague statement. It could be interpreted to mean pretty much anything.

Consider 2. I bet your home is full of dangerous things. Have you taken steps to secure them all?

Consider 3. This is why ex-cons cannot get jobs. It's because there have been successful lawsuits against companies who hired ex-cons, and then some of them committed crimes. The idea is that the employer "should have known" the employee was an ex-con and shouldn't have hired him.

Consider 4. I know of cases where a painter set his ladder incorrectly, fell off, and successfully sued the homeowner.

Consider 5. Recently there was an HN discussion where doctors have been pressured to simply stop prescribing opioids, thus sending their chronic pain patients to hell.

I guess we're talking at different levels.

Yeah some of these examples are extreme. But I think we can probably agree that there is a balance between accepting gross negligence, and having overzealous legislation.

Should we start holding food chemists accountable for weight gain and obesity?

Rhetorical question aside, there's a lot of stimuli competing for our attention in any given day. Since we've created this brave new world, I think it makes sense to educate people growing in this society to combat that. If you're into that sort of thing. I'd liken measures against this to soda taxes and cancer photos on cigarettes.

I think education is fine, but anything that impedes on personal agency is annoying. I understand addiction ruins lives. But imposing blanket measures, like soda taxes or whatever, seems like punishing others because of someone else.

There are two newer, disheartening trends in game development that feed on people’s enjoyment of games: pay-to-win and forever-early-access. Both are marketed as a way to support the game’s development, and in some cases that may be true. If it’s just cosmetics that are on sale (no loot boxes) or the developer is genuinely taking community feedback then both are bearable evils, but so often players are taken for a ride with the cost being their money, time and mental well-being. Companies should absolutely be held accountable for these practises, particularly because it’s often children and adolescents who are the victims.

I dont quite understand how this problem started.

Do people not know about Steam sales?

Pay to win is such an awful concept, I wont touch it. Especially since there are literally 30 years of games and emulators to play.

For 'forever early access', you really need to be sucked into the marketing to waste time and money on an unfinished game.

I dont want to imply I'm some sort of stone wall when it comes to marketing, but I dont understand why people would do either of these. I've put 15 hours into Mount and Blade since the Steam Summer Sale and I dont think I paid more than 5 or 7 dollars.

Is this an issue of uninformed consumers that dont know whats available?

A lot of pay to win games are free to play, so casual gamers get sucked in and before they know it they’re shelving out more than they would on a AAA title just to buy some imaginary cards (I’m looking at you, Hearthstone). Drug dealers have a similar tactic, hah.

As for buying an unfinished game or preordering before reviews are out - it’s got to be marketing. New is more exciting than old, even if old is proven and cheaper. There are plenty of analogies for that one out there!

You cant buy mobile phone game on steam. You cant download steam sale game whenever you want to and try for free.

I cant imagine playing mobile phone games.

Shitty controls and I'd rather use emulator and play full games on my phone.

Nevertheless, that is what most people play and enjoy.

15 hours for 5 or 7 dollars (plus PC and same for xbox etc) is pretty expensive per mobile standards.

Through that is not the only reason I guess, steam has nothing form and had nothing for me for years. Or at least I could not find it there, which amounts to same thing. See, I knew about steam and spent a lot of time trying to find game I would like, only to be frustrated. I ultimately succeeded on mobile.

Different people like different things. And yes, it is possible that many don't know about steam or did not found there anything at the first look. Mobile playstore is right there on device everyone owns. Steam is something you have to know about, search and download on device not everyone has. Plus, you still cant try games for free, so you are list in catalogue of expensive games you have low chance to like. So if parents dont support gaming habit, kids are out of luck to even try.

Interesting distinction. Genuinely curious of examples from either group.

Pay to win: collectible games (Hearthstone and Gwent), lots of free mobile games that let you pay to skip the grind (the newest Dungeon Keeper), blockbuster titles that let you buy content that is included on the disc but locked (Star Wars BF2), and a host of other shady business models.

Forever early access: 7 Days to Die, Stonehearth, Star Citizen. Lots of games that were Kickstarted but couldn’t manage their scope well.

Good timing!

I would not say that apps are addictive. Some of them are be but not all.

Yesterday I was running a thought exercises around what makes Facebook, Instagram and Twitter so popular and why people keep flocking there despite their negatives - I certainly don't understand it. I reached to several conclusion but the most important one was that just like cigarettes there must be an addictive element that makes it into a rewarding experience for many people. Think of the likes count, sharing count, comments and even scrolling the news feed - you get a small doze of dopamine by just doing things and I would imagine, eventually it gets so addictive that you loose perception of time and you just get stuck in.

I would not say that the Web is addictive in general. There are some places which could turn into an addiction but I highly doubt anyone would get addicted to checking the forecast or searching with Google. These are very popular utility services. The same applies with many apps and games which provide utility: spotify, iTunes, notes recording, etc. But some apps are specifically exploiting our addictive nature. Social networks which rank the top lists are good example. Even this forum can be addictive in a sense that although it provides a function it also has the concept of ratings through the karma scores. It is gamified and that is what makes it addictive.

The sad fact is that many people in this forum are in fact in the business of making people addicted. We measure success in terms of how well and for how long we capture the customer's attention and if that has something to do with emotional responses I would say it is nothing but machine for making people addicted. Why would anyone spend 2-3 hours a day on Facebook or Instagram? What function these platforms provide that is useful in day-to-day life? Yes they are useful to connect with friends but this is not what they are used for mostly. You will put effort into making great posts and shares and the reward is the likes which I am sure is as addictive experience as it gets.

So worrying about getting customers addicted to your app or game is counter to the goal of making the same app or game very popular and I will say that it is also business prohibitive. You could however concentrate on ideas that are utilities (all of SaaS) but you should also be aware that you will probably have much tougher time ahead to make your idea into a successful venture.

To be fair, for something to be addictive, it needs to get better before people get bored of it.

Apparently facebook is collapsing as people are using it less. Even with every data on a human, they couldnt keep me around.

I actually really enjoy instagram. I have learned a lot on it.

I'd be worried if I thought video games were substantively more addictive than TV is, for example, I dont think it is.

You should read about loot boxes. If you think gambling can be more addictive than TV, you'll feel the same about (some) games.

Well, there is old TV and new TV.... old TV you watched what you were given, and I don't think that is very addictive compared to how addictive games can be

Modern TV where you can 'binge' series, can be addictive (I've certainly ended up staying way later than intended because of an exciting series ). It seems like this is a bit more addictive than old TV.

Then there's games, which I think for many have around about the same addictiveness as Modern TV. But some seem to get incredibly addicted, with extreme cases like http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/asiapcf/04/01/korea.parent...

No more addictive than not being able to put down a good book.

thing is, books end. For a long time, most games end. But now there are lots of games that are reptitive play games. They don't end. Books also don't tend to have the same andrenilin rush, there are no time contraints, no other people. I think books are very different and don't seem to lead to the same level of problems as gaming does.

You mustn't have played World of Warcraft, or Candy Crush. They are very addictive.

Probably the worst example out there are the 'poker machine simulators', which you can see many in the App Store's top grossing apps. You can put in real money but you can't take any out, and they are completely unregulated unlike real poker machines.

Everything is addictive, they should look into junk food / sugar for once.

Really just comes down to a argument what side of the fence you're on. Are you the addict? (then its bad), if you're the dealer (then its good).

Mostly comes down to switching the burden of responsibility.

I'd say it comes down to sharing the burden of responsibility. The addict & designer are both liable for the addict's addiction.

I think a similar system to what the article mentioned in Indiana where you can opt out, or more ideally set a time limit will become the norm sometime in the 20s

I mean, if they did, think about how much greater the risk would be for people like PornHub.

That depends on how much the industry can spend on lobbying.

This is basically what I thought.

Regardless what happens I feel like the consumer will lose.

There are way too many video games out there that are essentially casinos. In fact, I'd say some of those games are even worse than casinos. At least in casinos you have the chance to actually win some money. Some mobile games I've played were literal spending competitions between players, and we got essentially nothing for it. After a while it's not even fun anymore but it's pretty hard to quit because my friends and me invested so much time and money into it.

The mechanics were well disguised and hidden behind several levels of indirection. There's a game component which gives you resources and generally improves your standing in the game's community. You can't just play the actual game though; you need "stamina" to play, which is just a fancy way to describe a timer. If you run out of stamina, you can't play again until it regenerates. One of the reasons this timer exists is to rate limit the game. Your progression in the game can only happen at the fixed rate dictated by the timer. The timer resets every 8 hours or so and this acts as negative reinforcement, creating a log-in habit: people feel like they're losing progress and falling behind if they don't log in 3 times a day. The timer should always be running to ensure maximum gains; every second it sits at 0 is a second wasted. Lots of people wake up at 2 AM just to do some game tasks that became available because the timer reset. It's insane.

What makes it a spending competition is the fact you can pay to reset the timer. This means non-paying customers are stuck with a fixed progress rate while the whales pay to amass ridiculous amounts of resources quickly. The casual players who don't pay money only have a chance in the beginning. They simply can't compete over the long term so they quit the game. This leads to a constantly decreasing player base.

The game operators usually create hundreds of different servers. They stabilize over the long term, with small groups of powerful players dominating it. Eventually, they merge stable servers in order to make players compete with each other for dominance once more. The more merges a server's been subjected to, the harder it is to compete with the other top players and the more money you must spend just to keep up. You might have been a top player in the original server, but you fall by hundreds of positions after a merge, and you're pretty much forgotten after two merges. Unless you start spending increasingly ridiculous amounts of money, of course.

If they just merged old servers, eventually there'd be only one remaining. That's why they create at least two new servers at the same time. It forms a beautiful cycle. It would be perfect if every server started off with the same amount of players every time, but games lose popularity over time. Eventually, it will die.

I once thought the traditional PC/console video games industry would never design money traps like these. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is slowly becoming the norm in online games. They're not as extreme as the mobile game I described above, but these ideas do seem to be slowly creeping into modern online games. If this is what the future of video games looks like, I won't shed any tears when governments regulate it.


Anyone who does anything sufficiently valuable to society should worry about liability. Addictive or not, tons of value = tons of $$ = tons of envy = tons of political points to be had by taking you down a peg.

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