To the abovementioned small man and to others like him, to all the craftsmen of these mommy’s-credit-card-number-snatching games like Tap Zoo and Tap Pet Shop and Top Girl and what-have-you, I offer this lesson from the annals of economics:
“Monetize” is a fucking stupid word.
The idea of a business is to make money.
“To do business” means “to monetize something”.
A “product” is something a business makes.
To speak of “monetizing a product” borders on ridiculous.
If your product is not “monetized”, you’re not in business.
In the modern sense: the only reason to actively talk about “monetizing” is when part of your plan is to trick the user into believing they don’t actually need to pay.
“Monetize” is a word that is nearly synonymous with “to do evil”: to “monetize” a game means to promise the user a “full experience” for absolutely no cost, and then scheme, and devise, and calculate reasons for the user to pay anyway. Then you make them pay anyway. Albeit gently (and shrewdly (and without use of violent force)), isn’t that the same as stealing from people?
-tim rogers. “The Sims Social”
Well I think it’s been too long since I wrote about something tim rogers wrote on this site. I finally got around to reading his review of The Sims Social (linked above). It’s long, but it’s vitally important to read going into the future. I’ll wait while you read it.
You back? Okay.
He wrote a companion piece at insert credit too. Read away.
(My favorite bit)
A silence. Now the larger man pointed at me. “He’s run all the numbers on our product.”
The older men looked at me.
“I’ve run them all,” I said.
“It’s totally solid,” the larger man said.
“It’s solid like a rock,” I said.
“It’s unsinkable,” the smaller man said.
“It’s an unsinkable rock. An unsinkable, solid rock.”
-tim rogers. “who killed videogames? (a ghost story)“
Ok, we’re back. Do you feel vaguely sick yet? I know I do. Heck, I threw up in my mouth a little. How did we get here? More importantly, how do we fix this?
I don’t think that microtransaction-based gaming is evil. All you have to do is look at Valve and Team Fortress 2. Everything you want to do in TF2 (minus item trading) is absolutely free. Not a dime has to be spent to improve gameplay. Weapons are distributed to you randomly, but at fairly regular intervals and they can be used to construct new weapons. Most importantly, while buying weapons increases your arsenal, they are, overall, not necessary. You can play the game for free and have an equal success as someone who paid for anything. This is fundamentally different than Farmville or The Sims Social where you can pay to have a leg up on completing the game’s goals (loosely defined as those might be).
Sometimes I think, “Who am I to judge the ethical merits of what other people do/create for a living?” I mean, glass houses, right? Then I read a line that is certainly meant to vilify, but also rings hauntingly true:
An ex-drug-dealer (now a video game industry powerbrain) once told me that he doesn’t understand why people buy heroin. The heroin peddler isn’t even doing heroin. Like him or not, when you hear Cliff Bleszinski talk about Gears of War, he sounds — in a good way — like a weed dealer. He sounds like he endorses what he is selling. When you’re in a room with social games guys, the “I never touch the stuff” attitude is so thick you’ll need a box cutter to breathe properly.
(also from “who killed videogames? (a ghost story)”
For all the misinterpreted glamor of Mad Men‘s cast, most viewers seem to miss the point that undercuts the whole show. People despise ad men. Most non-advertising characters in the show despise ad men. The characters sweep racism under the rug, openly lie to customers, and present that life as vapid and meaningless. When Betty realizes that she has been manipulated by an ad in Season 2, she is horrified, insulted, and hurt. She knows how the ad men speak of their marks and is resentful of the manipulation.
People look at the gambling industry with scorn because they operate under the same principles that tim is decrying in his articles. I argue that it’s worse than that. At least in a casino you have a (low) chance of winning money back. This kind of human manipulation just feels dirty. It’s not addictive, in the drug sense, but it preys upon human tendencies and impulses in such a naked way that it is horrifying.
It’s not hyperbole to call social gaming, as it stands, a bane on humanity. The kind of thinking that leads us to develop these systems is inherently selfish and greedy. The companies that are pushing these games are filled with people stealing from you with only two or three layers of abstraction between their hands actually entering your wallets. That’s without dwelling on the kinds of behaviors that these models of play encourage.
There’s a way out of this (or maybe not), but it’s not easy. Don’t ever spend money on those games. Don’t give them their fabled White Whale. Then again, you should just do what you want. Just consider yourself informed now.