I’ve written quite a bit on here about how oppressive I find the techniques and progression systems in computer games – particularly, but not restricted to those found in ‘free-to-play’ games. Last year I wrote about the a Call of Duty game, a £50 game which among other purchases lets players buy random awards to improve their chances in competitive play. There are lots of oppressive systems at play to get gamers to part with extra cash in the Call of Duty games, but what worried me when I was writing the original blog was that while the game was an 18 – the series is known for being very popular with gamers much younger than that. A particular concern of mine was that the series is rated 18 because of the violent content and parents often think that their children can handle it since it is ‘only a game’, however, I paying real money to gamble for power ups that give you an in game advantage is a just as valid a reason for it getting an 18 certificate. I think that if you wouldn’t let their children watch Saving Private Ryan then they shouldn’t let them play Call of Duty, further to that, would let your child free in a casino with your credit card? If not then games with such gambling reward progression systems should be off limits too.
There are lots of games with these systems, the latest Star Wars game being one. I wanted to write about the game because it contains a system that makes the game very difficult to those that don’t pay (That’s don’t pay extra. The game still has a base price of £59.99). It also locks away content and hides it behind a gambling system that encourages users to pay to unlock content by purchasing virtual crates of goodies known as ‘Loot Crates’. This locked content isn’t simply just a new gun, it also contains character directly marketed at children such as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. I have decided that I am not going to write a post about it here because the backlash has been far and wide and well documented. I really recommend reading Alex Hern’s description over at The Guardian.
Alex points out that this isn’t restricted to Star Wars Battlefront II, the popular Fifa games hide players behind a similar system. When I think about it, it seems absurd to make a football game an 18, and as such we don’t really think about it but these other oppressive systems that should attribute to its rating. Battlefront II seems to have struck a different chord and upset people more, I am not sure why that is, but I don’t think that the fact it is aimed at children that has caused the initial outcry. I think perhaps the system was just too restrictive and expensive for adults and upsetting gamers has put the spotlight on the gambling systems in general. The backlash has led to it being raised in various political context – such as Labour MP Daniel Zeichner raising it in parliament.
Historically gamers have actually been very good at self-regulation – on the back of gamer pressure Sega used to have a voluntary rating system to give their games an official age rating – so while senators argument about games like Mortal Kombat needing age restricting. The industry had spotted the problem and created a voluntary system for an unofficial rating. An issue is that gamers have been quite good because it impacts them directly. Playing the ‘we don’t want gambling systems aimed at children’ or ‘we want rating systems’ cards means that a solution can be put forward with them involved in the conversation.
I have written many posts about learning technology glamour (or gamification bullshit). We might see gamification and the fuss around loot creates as separate things, gamification is often described as the addition of game like activities to non-game context. We might not worry because it doesn’t necessarily mean we ask them to gamble money on random rewards. The game industry is currently having a conversation with its community and lawmakers about what is and what isn’t acceptable. People who play games are involved because it affects their hobby but it is an important discussion that education should also be aware of too. In parallel to this discuss the games industry is having a discussion about selling to education the tools and techniques that gamify learning experiences and activities. The conversations and research in to gaming progression systems and how people respond them is really important and will affect the tools, laws, systems that gamining companies use and will influence what we as a society find acceptable.