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Nintendo Asks Mobile Developers to Curb Microtransactions (wsj.com)
155 points by Reedx 47 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments



I grew up when games were entire games. I very much hope that this whole microtransaction racket will be over by the time my kids are big enough to get their own console (or whatever people game on by then). What a customer-hostile clusterfuck, these people ruined a totally good industry.


After a long-ish hiatus I picked up a Wii U two years ago for Mario Kart 8 and BOTW. And then last year grabbed a PS4 for Horizon, God of War, Spider-Man, RDR2, Gravity Rush, Uncharted 4, The Last of Us, Journey, and others.

Basically, there are a lot of high quality single player adventures to be had out there, and if you're patient enough to wait 1-2 years after release, you can a) focus on just the good stuff, avoiding duds, and b) snag complete/goty editions for very inexpensive, which will have all the DLC included. See the the price trajectory for Horizon Zero Dawn, for example:

https://psprices.com/region-us/game/1838981/horizon-zero-daw...

(And yes, I'm a grown-up with three kids; this is gaming done an hour or two at a time a few evenings a week— gone are the days of pre-ordering a new release and then pouring an entire weekend into it when it comes out.)


There's a community devoted to this:

https://www.reddit.com/r/patientgamers

I usually wait for most games to go on a Steam sale, unless it's Bethesda or a game that just looks exciting.


Yeah, some people there are really patient. You have to find the right balance. For me, I'm patient in the sense that I didn't get my PS4 until late in the generation, and probably won't get the PS5 on launch, but I also have some interest in industry trends and the spectacle of the latest-ish graphics. I also have limited time, so I'm not going to spend a ton of it digging through the game catalogues from last-gen systems (especially if the cream of the crop is available remastered for the current generation).

One interesting note particular to Nintendo is that other than the very limited "Nintendo Selects", their first party games basically never go on special. This means that if you want a deal on an older game, you have to buy second-hand physical, because the digital game is still $60. (Don't believe me? Twilight Princess HD, a 2016 remaster of a 2006 game, still retails for full price: https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/the-legend-of-zelda-tw...) Anyway, the consequence of this is that in general you just want to buy physical regardless for a Nintendo system because the retained-value means you'll have the option to trade it in for much longer than you would any other game.

This is in contrast to the PlayStation store, where there are weekly Steam-like sales with loads of great games always available at the click of a button for sub-$20. So much so that there are entire websites and subreddits that track these things and trade recommendations around, see: https://www.reddit.com/r/PS4Deals/comments/axn3f7/ubisoft_pu...


> One interesting note particular to Nintendo is that other than the very limited "Nintendo Selects", their first party games basically never go on special. This means that if you want a deal on an older game, you have to buy second-hand physical, because the digital game is still $60. (Don't believe me? Twilight Princess HD, a 2016 remaster of a 2006 game, still retails for full price: https://www.nintendo.com/games/detail/the-legend-of-zelda-tw...)

Actually, this is not particular to Nintendo if you extend it a little bit. Disney does the same thing with their classic animated movies. It's a statement from the company about the quality of their brand.


Yes, Nintento has always refused to dilute their brand value/cast doubt on their quality by lowering the pricing. You can see this all the way back in the NES with the "seal of quality," and how rare it was to find games for the system that released without that seal. They legitimately felt like bootleg releases even if they were from Capcom or something.


This is exactly right. Per-capita, gaming is terrible these days. But, most of the games that come out can be ignored. Articles like this one aren't necessarily wrong, but they forget that a user can simply ignore most of the releases out there and play the 1% that are worth their time.

It seems to be a necessary choice these days as media continues to be pumped out at historic levels. Ignore most of it, even if it's pretty good.


I remembered enjoying Kingdom Hearts as a kid so I recently bought a mega Kingdom Hearts bundle for ps4, which includes 2 separate bundles (I.5 and II.5 ReMix and 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue) as well as the brand new Kingdom Hearts III, all for $100.

I have so much content to work my way through at my own pace, I probably won't even make it to Kingdom Hearts III this year, much less need to buy any other RPGs.


The games you've listed are (with the exception of RDR2) ones which are able to be loss leaders. With Nintendo and Sony owning them, they're guaranteed exclusives for life and will therefore be key in shifting consoles.

As horrible as companies like Activision are these days, they don't have the same options in this regard.


Yes you're right, those are first party games and then are here to sell hardware.


I wait more than 1-2 years after release, simply because my backlog is too long. Same for books. Not so much for movies because there are a bunch I prefer to see in theatres. As you note, this strategy is definitely cheaper on the wallet as well.

https://xkcd.com/606/


A side benefit of paying less is that I don't feel the same pressure to get my money's worth out of everything. Or, I suppose, I can get my money's worth out of a $10-20 purchase in only a few hours and not feel that I need to complete something I'm just not enjoying.


It depends on the game I guess. I'm also an old-timer (39yo, started on C64), but there are some in-app purchase games that I like(d).

Team Fortress 2 was one of them. Even if you didn't pay, it was still fun and free. In the end, I did pay for a few things, so the business model seemed to work.

Now I'm hooked on Crossout, which is also free to play. Basically you can grind your way through it, or speed up the process by buying packages. The packages are extremely expensive though.

When you hear microtransactions, you (and I) immediately think of those nasty Facebook games, or annoying mobile games. EA pulling some nasty tricks is also part of that (Pay extra to play Darth Vader).

But there are games out there that are able to pull it off decently.

The real problem is that the original model was simpler: Pay X, you get the game.

Now the model is more complex, and you never know what you are going to get: Pay X, and maybe the game will be fun up to a certain point, where you have to pay again. But then again maybe not. You will find out once you sunk in a lot of money already.

So in the end, you will never know how much the experience will cost, and that is the real issue.


I paid for TF2 when it came out, and then they added micro transactions later. I wouldn't mind if I could still play the game that I paid for. For the first few years, TF2 had beautiful art direction; if you've launched it any time in the past several years all the cosmetics items are garish and clash with the original designs.

That's not even to mention the crate and key model introducing the lootbox garbage that has infested games today. I've paid money for cosmetic items I want in other games, but I'll never pay $2.50 for a 1% chance, or even 80% chance of getting what I want.


> if you've launched it any time in the past several years all the cosmetics items are garish and clash with the original designs.

True, there are quite a few items that do not fit in well the original aesthetic.

But nearly all of the items introduced into TF2 are designed by solo creators who get a percentage of the profits for any of their items sold on the store.

So yes, you now have a visually (not functionally) different game, but the upside is that talented designers from all walks of like can make a good living from the profit sharing model Valve has set up.


I'm 40 and likely same gaming history, however I'll disagree with you on TF2 and, while I have not heard of it, Crossout

I played the original QWTF very competitively. It was simply a mod for a Quake. Man, already I want to swoon about mods and how they brought so much life to games (Counterstrike for Halflife anyone?), but I digress! I loved TF2 originally, however once they started adding all of those items it drove me nuts. Now if you wanted to be competitive you had to grind out or buy some of the weapons. These things changed the game. Not in a dramatic way, but enough. If they had just stuck to cosmetic hats I wouldnt have cared at all. Those are just for looks/fun and do not change the game.

As for games like Crossout where you can either grind or buy to speed things up, those are the epitomy of how evil micro transactions are. It is preying on peoples addiction or lack of patience. Any game that has things you can buy to speed up the playing of the game is one I will never play.

Then you have loot box games, where they prey on gambling like addictions. Until I started reading about loot box laws and stuff I never really gave it much thought. I have purchased loot boxes in the past, but I did so out of support for the developers. Overwatch came out and I loved that to death. When they released some new content for free, I was like "here this is my support for your continued efforts".

The Darth Vader trick EA pulled was pretty terrible too. That would be akin to Overwatch releasing a character behind $.

The only kind of micro transaction I like/approve of are cosmetic ones where they do not change how you play the game. You are just buying stuff to look different/"cooler". Fortnite is a successful example of this. Tons of people play for free and are no worse off than those who purchase the Battle Pass.

EA & Apex Legends are crossing the line ever so slightly with the "Free Game" but having other characters be unlockable. So far, if you play just a little bit, you can unlock one for free using the tokens you receive, however many people will just buy to unlock. Also it is rumored their batttle pass will bring another character. I say ever so slightly since, for now, this is a team only game and neither of the unlockable characters are game breaking like a Darth Vader would be all powerful.

Every other kind of micro transaction is essentially a pay to win mechanic, and why play games if you aren't trying to win?


We're at the forefront of "pay to skip the grind" in AAA single player games as well. The YouTube reviewer Skill Up has some really thoughtful commentary on this as pertains to AC: Odyssey in particular:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOrKtZsoy30

Basically, he argues that the game has a really strong start, and an excellent climactic chapter, but the enormously bloated midgame is full of arbitrary level-gates and other nuisances which force you to grind on cookie-cutter side quests. The concern is that this is an attempt to sell impatient players a real-money XP booster. And if it works out for Ubisoft and isn't adequately called out, that we'll see a lot more of this kind of thing going forward.


Yup, thankfully DOTA 2 only sells cosmetic items. I was also pretty disappointed in all of the new tf2 weapons... especially the phlog


You are 10 years my elder.

If you programmed on the C64, is there any lessons/insights that you would teach to someone 10 years younger than you are?

I have heard cool things, like an actual complete user manual, including how to program registers.

I don't think I would download a C64 emulator in my spare time and actually see how it worked for myself.


> I have heard cool things, like an actual complete user manual, including how to program registers.

I think that was the Apple II.

I should still have the C64's user manual tucked somewhere, but it didn't described the internal architecture. I recall there were a couple of examples in Basic to move sprites and to produce sound from the SID "poking" (the PEEK and POKE Basic instruction) values to a few registers.


ISTR there was a complete programmer's guide available from Commodore, but it was a separate purchase.


Indeed, the programmer's reference guide was needed if you really wanted to understand the machine. The user manual had an introduction to basic as far as I can remember :)

Some kind soul has scanned it: http://www.classiccmp.org/cini/pdf/Commodore/C64%20Programme...


I played games on the C64, but never programmed it. I started with GW-BASIC.

I guess it depends on the kind of programmer you are. I consider myself a top-down programmer, where I try to get functionality as easy as possible. If there is a lib, I will use it, and don't need to know what's inside. So for me, these times are way better where you can get crazy amount of functionality in a few lines of code.

But I know plenty of programmers that I label as bottom-up programmers. They love the technology first, and functionality comes second. So for these people, they were able to fully understand a system back then. I worked with plenty of such people in the embedded world.

So if you are into that stuff, I wouldn't waste my time with old systems, but get your hands on something new, but still simple enough to fully comprehend. Such as an Arduino.

But maybe better ask a "bottom-up" developer what they enjoy nowadays.


Cool advice, for me the analogue would be Raspberry Pi's. And indeed, I find it a great way of understanding most parts of the system.


The concern with pay-to-skip-grind revenue models isn't so much with any notion of "fairness" or "integrity" as much as the fact that it greatly incentivizes asshole progression design which typically manifests itself in the form of intentionally-way-more-grindy-than-necessary midgame/lategame progression pathways.

Designing the ideal rate of progression to keep a given game engaging is difficult enough as-is. Too little content gating and you risk burning through all the content too quickly and players getting bored. Too much content gating and the grind begins to feel punitive.

In this context, muddling the mixture further by throwing in this kind of incentive just feels like a recipe for shit-tastic UX/CX.


Its not like all microtransactions are equal. In Hearthstone this becomes very much a pay to win scheme, but in games like Rocket League microtransactions are optional, cosmetic and do not bring any real advantage.

In the end of the day, how you do microtransactions matter, its not an evil thing by definition.


You right of course, but Hearthstone is a card game. If it were an actual card game you would buy packs just like people did thirty years ago. There's not much to do in the way of cosmetics in a game like that.


Unfortunately, barring some major unforeseen cultural and/or technological changes, I don't see those days coming back. The issue is that back in the late 80s/early 90s the cost of a new game was $60, and the cost of a new game today is... $60. That is, despite decades of inflation and an increased amount of development cost/time, that price point is stuck. I am not in the game dev industry, but I'm guessing they have loads of market research data explaining why that is that have to do with consumer psychology. While the industry is in a big growth phase that fixed price point isn't an issue because you make it up with an increased volume in sales. Now that the industry is more mature and saturated however, and so one response to the fact that $60 isn't what it used to be is micro-transactions, seasonal DLC passes, and anything else some suits can dream up to get a couple of extra bucks. The other response is indie game development, a back to basics approach where you make a game with a handful of people instead of 60+, and with a clever design and a lot of luck you can have a game that gets a lot of attention and do well for yourself even if your game only costs $30 or $15. Unfortunately, indie games are also saturated at this point, so standing out in the crowd gets harder and harder as time goes by.

The micro-transaction thing really is a sad turn of events though because it is not a content neutral change to games. Certain types of game mechanics are more amenable to to micro-transactions, and it creates an incentive to create artificial difficulty spikes in a game.


> The issue is that back in the late 80s/early 90s the cost of a new game was $60, and the cost of a new game today is... $60

You also mention in your comment that this is not an issue because sales volume has more than made up for it.

If the industry is just now becoming more mature and saturated, "inflation over decades" is not relevant.

Companies are moving to micro-transactions simply because it is now very easy to setup and a guaranteed way to increase revenue. And that's what companies do (optimize for revenue/profit), regardless of inflation.


I think it's important to distinguish between types of microtransactions. For me, where I draw the line between ethical and unethical is when the microtransaction is built to act like a slot machine, with variable ratio schedule rewards.

If a microtransaction provides a clear indicator of exactly what you're buying and its cost - or even if it doesn't but provides an honest and upfront maximum ceiling for how much you will have to pay to get the item(s) you want - then a consumer can make an honest cost-to-value analysis and decide whether or not to buy the product. And I'm fine with that - though the latter example I'm less fine with, it at least provides a mitigation: an avenue for doing that analysis in a rational way and creating a maximum amount of spend that prevents open-ended cycles of addiction and spending.

A loot box or other fully randomized model has no such financial ceiling, and calculations of expected value have to be performed by users entirely like measuring odds in a casino. And casinos, like video game companies, take advantage of the fact that humans are intrinsically bad at that: and that people can easily become addicted to systems that provide rewards randomly and intermittently. And unlike a casino, we ask both children and adults to try to make that on-the-spot assessment when we talk about loot boxes, which as a society we have found unacceptable for other forms of variable ratio schedule-based transactions.

My thought process is pretty straightforward. If, in order for a product to survive, it has to/tries to trick a user into misunderstanding the cost-to-value of their financial transaction, then the product can't actually stand on its own merits and doesn't deserve to exist. Or the product should admit that it is a casino game: and as such it should be heavily regulated, kept out of the hands of children, and I want nothing to do with it.


Back in the late 80s/early 90s the cost of a new game was only $40, if you were part of the glorious PCMR. Now we're just subsidizing the console plebs.


Throw DLC's in there too. I liked Expansion Packs that are worthwhile, but they've been replaced by DLC's. If your game's not yet ready please, please, just delay the release. I want to see a good game. I prefer to pay good money for good games. I don't mind Bethesda doing DLCs cause they're usually fun little expansion packs, not... in game items (with some exceptions like preordering). In game items shouldn't be the only part of a DLC.


I've made a promise to myself that I will never buy any game with microtransaction. If that means never buying another game, that's fine. I've got like 600+ games on my Steam account, I'll live.

Some games do get microtransactions added after the fact, but that's mostly in multiplayer modes (like GTA Online vs GTA V), and thankfully I've never been much of a multiplayer fan.


As someone who has bought all of GTA games and the extra episodes and add-ons over the years it saddens me that there hasn't been at least one single player expansion for GTA V. I have absolutely zero interest in GTA Online but have completed the single player story multiple times both on Xbox 360 and PC.

I imagine it's far too late in GTA V's lifecycle for them to announce something now, and it's a real shame.


> I grew up when games were entire games.

And they were usually mostly made by one individual. Now, the expectation for larger AAA games is much, much more. People expect more out of graphics, voice acting, and music. Games have budgets greater than many movies. And this is expected.

Micro-transactions aren't unique to games. They come from normal business, so hoping they go away is hoping for businesses to pass on making money. That's not going to happen.


>I very much hope that this whole microtransaction racket will be over by the time my kids are big enough to get their own console (or whatever people game on by then).

I wouldn't count on it. Look at the "gacha" market on mobile. These are fairly simple games with relatively small budgets and some of them are pulling in near $100 million per month on microtransactions.


> I very much hope that this whole microtransaction racket will be over by the time my kids are big enough to get their own console

On mobile that will never happened. Consoles are becoming a smaller and smaller slice of the pie. If anyone can hold back the wall it is Nintendo. The mobile market is just insane and has been for over 10 years now.


>What a customer-hostile clusterfuck, these people ruined a totally good industry.

Don't be fooled. Most software is made this way now. Everything from upsells in apps to web services is the pay as you go model.

Racket or not, there's obvious economic reasons everything has been pushed this way and games did not lead the charge.


Some games still do give you the full game, and even for free but still have microtransactions to support. With them using the microtransactions for only cosmetic stuff and not to change the game itself. That's a model that's appearing for some games now.


Games now with MTX are bigger than your games from 15 years ago.


I would appreciate the Netflix model. 10 dollars per month to have the latest and greatest experience. No ads, no extra costs.


Doesn't work for most games though. Nearly every "WoW killer" in the last decade has gone free to play because subs couldn't sustain them.


Nes / Snes mini?

Well I got one with that intention, (not for myself at all).


Or a Switch. My five year old loves Mario U on mine. I also built him a raspberry pi console with NES, SNES, SG, and PS1.


As a life-long gamer, I was almost ready to give up on the fun kind of gaming experience I knew as a child, thankfully the Switch came along and it even got my wife back into gaming, who hasn't gamed since N64.

I hate micro transactions with a passion, because I _know_ they exist to keep taking money off of you just to get an enjoyable experience.

The only game I buy micro for is PoGo because my wife enjoys it and it's something we can do together, outdoors, but PoGo doesn't even need you to buy them if you're in a well populated area.


Good. They're a plague on fun. This kind of thing is part of the reason I keep buying Nintendo products.


I don't have time to grind games anymore, so I simply don't play games that have microtransactions, if a game has good and complete DLCs, that's still okay, but I remember fondly the times where games came complete when you bought them.

Also, they are predatory, so that's other reason for not support them, companies that try to sustain themselves using addicted "whales" deserve to fail as soon as possible.

By the way, the most downvoted comment[0] on reddit history so far is exactly one when a big company (EA) tried to stuff a lot of microtransactions in a big brand name (star wars), fearing the backlash, disney intervened and told EA to remove them.

https://www.reddit.com/r/StarWarsBattlefront/comments/7cff0b...


Interestingly, a lack of time brought me to a different conclusion, and I'm certain this is the reason why "uncreative" and "unfun" microtransaction-heavy mobile games are still popular (the game in question is a mobile game). Note that I'm not defending microtransactions themselves, but the low-immersion simple and grindy mobile games that typically implement a microtransaction monetization model.

Conventional games require a certain commitment of immersion and structured time. But when I have the energy to immerse myself in something and the available structured time, there are certainly more important or interesting things I would rather pursue than a traditional game.

This is where mobile games come in. If I'm in an uncomfortable place when I'm prevented from or unable to do anything interesting, such as in public transport, it is comparatively pleasurable to grind a bit on these games. And there are quite a number of these slivers of time in my everyday routine. Mobile games are typically designed so that they are near-frictionless to hop in and do something without a heavy context switch. They fill an entertainment niche for me, and probably many others, that conventional games cannot provide. Previously, light games like Minesweeper or Solitaire filled this niche, but mobile games are of superior value since they offer a semblance of progression and community. Of course, among microtransaction-heavy games there are those that are more frustrating and exploitative. What I'm primarily playing is the game in question in the article, Dragalia Lost (DL), and I've had a pretty positive experience in the free-to-play and dolphin-friendliness monetization model of the game. Monetary purchases are typically priced out of the range of people who have little discretionary spending, and spending more money gives diminishing returns. It might be troublesome for someone with poor control, but for me I get as much of a kick calculating expected values of their different virtual goods on sale (and end up not buying them anyway) as playing the game itself.


Portaying Nintendo a kind of example to follow is a pretty poor choice though. They have created a lot of unethical business practices as well.


they do. and some of it has been curbed by the japanese government (a somewhat effective block on gacha games, for instance), which nintendo then supports anyway in other markets (though at far, far more friendly rates than competitors, from my experience).

but compared to the other consoles or mobile? PC might compete and win, but it's a bit of a different beast in this respect.


Historicaly Nintendo has always been consumer hostile going all the way back in the 1980s when they invented region locking. I suspect this is more of the CD vs. cartridges thing, where Nintendo remains stubborn for a generation and then follows the trend anyway.


yea, region locking is why the hardware I've personally bought was ds lite and then switch. region locking is abhorrent.

that said, they've been pretty good about maintaining quality, both in hardware (durability) and software. switch is changing that with a ton of 3rd party stuff, but thus far their track record is dramatically, orders of magnitudes better than PS, PC, XBox, or mobile.


There is a flipside to this. In the last few months I have started playing two new games - Apex Legends and Rainbow 6: Siege. Total cost for those two games is £8.50. They are both supported by microtransactions for cosmetics, leading to no cost for Apex, and a low price for R6 (which is admittedly also a 4 year old game).

As someone who has gone from a significant income to a non-existent one due to founding a company, I quite like that my gaming is subsidised by those who are willing to spend lots of money on cosmetics.


Don’t you need to pay to unlock characters in Rainbow 6? Not sure that counts as cosmetic. Definitely seems like paywalling game content.


Yes, did oversimplify the situation. Both Apex and Rainbow have additional characters that aren't initially unlocked. In both cases, they can be unlocked through a currency earned in game, and you don't have to pay cash.

Apex launched with 6 unlocked and 2 locked. After a couple of weeks of play I almost have 1 more unlocked.

R6 you start with none, but can get the 'original' 20 operators unlocked pretty quickly (~15 hours of play). There are another 40 or so that take much more 'renown' to unlock, and I may spend some cash on some of them if I continue to play the game. There is enough learning at the moment that I feel no need for that.

The result is I think a beneficial incentive. It's not '£50 whether good or bad, 5 hours or 100 hours' classic purchase model, the profits there are a result of marketing as much as game quality. Instead it's 'low or no barrier to entry, and money will only continue to come in if I continue to be engaged with the game'. I may end up spending more money on a game (over time), than I would compared to a purchase price, but that will only be on games that are rewarding me for a decent duration.

To me, this means developers are incentivised to make engaging, interesting games that are worthwhile in the long term!


Somewhat ironic, considering that I just saw their own 3DS Badge Arcade, which costs $1.00 for 5 plays of a highly luck-dependent claw machine game, to win icons that you can decorate the home screen with (and sometimes custom themes.)

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nintendo_Badge_Arcade


As someone who played a lot of that game I can tell you it was not luck dependent at all. Entirely skill based, there was even a daily practice mode which would net you free plays. If the claw grabbed the piece it wouldn't drop it unless it got to the end. Most boards could easily be done with 5 plays.

Nintendo has kept scummy micro transactions to a minimum for as long as I can remember. Even Pokemon Picross had a maximum spend on micro transactions (after $40, any further premium currency was free)


The first and only time I tried it, 3 of my 5 free plays resulted in the claw dropping the better badges after picking them up, before reaching the end.


Which was released in '14, so possibly corporate position has evolved.


I think Nintendo corporate position has evolved a lot in the last 10 years. As is typical in the console industry, the breathtaking success of one generation, the Wii, gave Nintendo a bad case of the swaggers and they made a lot of fairly arrogant decisions for a while. The breathtaking failure of the WiiU restored a lot of humility to them, and you can see that in their Switch performance.

It seems a console maker can sometimes survive one generation of significant success without going too crazy, but I'm not sure there's ever been one that has survived two without getting bitten by their own arrogance. We'll see if Nintendo's humility survives the Switch.



Also get rid of ads that get kids to click on them as they play...


People complained about Mario run costing 10$ for the complete game. Quite frankly, i enjoyed it a lot and feel that 10$ was a good price and there was no grinding or waiting. It was focused on fun. But i think people are just not used to paying for phone games.


“Nintendo is not interested in making a large amount of revenue from a single smartphone game,” one CyberAgent official said. “If we managed the game alone, we would have made a lot more.”

Yes, they would have made more, at the expense of the entire industry.


When we see a statement like the one that CyberAgent official made, I can't help but think of the Banality of Evil. We're so focused as a society on economic growth - and surely, these employees have financial targets and objectives they've been given that add to that on a personal level for them - that thinking about the ethical implications of an exploitative business model seems unnecessary, and even foolish. "There's no time for that," one might say, or "that's not under the jurisdiction of my job title."

Well, bad news: it's not under the jurisdiction of anyone's job title. And not considering it brings us to... well, where we are today.


I'd be much more willing to pay $10 for something that resembles an actual game than get some branded gacha crap that's free to download but really has no gameplay beyond being a slot machine that doesn't put out money. Its hard for a lot of people to fathom that those types of games actually make a lot of money. Even for something like Pokemon Go, which in my opinion is pretty playable without paying money, I have two friends who put over $100 into the game. Microtransactions prey on people who lack self-control, I guess I'm just lucky I'm not predisposed to that kind of thing.


Nintendo tried it both ways. FireEmblem Heroes, micro-transaction (gachapon) based, made more money than Super Mario Run ($10, one time only buy).

I'm amazed that they are still very careful with their experimentations, and not switching everything to the free-to-play model. Let's hope they continue this way.


Great to hear. So are they going to start by removing slot machine microtransactions from games like Fire Emblem Heroes?

I would love to see big, AAA studios step forward and be brave enough to say that variable ratio schedule-based microtransactions are morally objectionable, and that - even if they've used them before - they have changed their minds and are no longer willing to normalize the practice in the industry. But then they have to put their money where their mouth is and actually stop using it.

(To note, thanks to the paywall I can't actually read this article. I read another site's summary of it. So if they are removing variable ratio schedule microtransactions from Fire Emblem Heroes and other games that they control, good on them!)

Here's a telling quote from the summary I read:

“Nintendo is not interested in making a large amount of revenue from a single smartphone game,” an official at CyberAgent told the Journal. “If we managed the game alone, we would have made a lot more.”

THAT speaks to the heart of the conflict that exists in the industry. There are some people who genuinely don't see the use of variable ratio schedules in microtransactions as ethically compromising, and see not using them as "leaving money on the table." It is this attitude that we need to be aware of: not just as consumers, but as creators of products. Software engineers, designers, producers: we need to think carefully about how the products we make can affect people, and how it can harm them. Creating a product cannot just be about maximizing profit. Software Engineers, at the very least, are bound by a duty to think about and attempt to mitigate the harm brought about by their creation. (See IEEE and ACM code of ethics) "If we managed the game alone, we would have made a lot more" makes me glad that they didn't manage the game alone. It implies that no one in that company is asking themselves about their ethical duties as the creator of a system designed to take advantage of common human psychological weaknesses.

When we boil the question of variable ratio schedule microtransactions down to just "did we leave money on the table," we are saying something about what we picture as being our duty to those affected by our products. And it's not a pretty statement, even if it is unintentional. I'm sure that the people who made that statement don't consider themselves to be "bad people," and I won't even go so far as to say that they are "bad people:" but it does make me think of Hannah Arendt and "The Banality of Evil." It's very easy to get so caught up in what you're assigned to do, what your business/organizational/state goals are, that you lose sight of your other ethical duties.

Doing what's right isn't about justifying whatever you can think to create, or even whatever people won't happen to notice or complain about (i.e. what you can get away with). It's about doing an honest evaluation of the ways in which the products you make can hurt people. It's about expressing some level of empathy - thinking seriously and honestly about how you would feel and what would happen to you if you were one of the people that were to fall into harmful cycles that the product encourages. And it's about accepting that - even if you believe that the person falling into it had a "choice," that you were intentionally injecting yourself into and influencing that choice through techniques that we as a species know to be psychologically manipulative. (and indeed, we know they are effective as tools of psychological manipulation because if we didn't, we wouldn't be using them)


This is a wonderful post. Video games are my favourite hobby, and I still love them even as I get older. The more knowledge the general public has on the harm of these methodologies, the better.


Url changed from https://variety.com/2019/gaming/news/nintendo-mobile-microtr..., which points to this.




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