Developers

Caught in the Cookie Jar : Developers

Destiny 2 has not been a favorite of mine for many reasons, and not going to rehash those at this time, but it was for purely game reasons. They have, unfortunately, stooped below the game-level issues I disliked. Literally slowing XP gains secretively on Bright Engram boxes. You know, those same boxes that you can also buy with real money, or grind for in game. Bungie has come out and admitted it – without admitting they did anything “wrong” of course – and are adjusting the practice. They are only admitting it because they were caught by the community as the community ran several tests to try and replicate the “bug” that made XP gains “inconsistent”.

Turns out it’s not a bug, it’s a feature. A hidden money making feature.

Trust is at a pretty low point with developers right now, I’d say. If it’s not for you, it should be.

Again – as discussed in this space previously – I don’t blame them, entirely. This is what a business is supposed to do. Profit. However, the pure dishonest nature of it all is what bothers me. When you program things in your game to affect the player’s expected experience you should come right out and say it. This is pretty scandalous, and should be treated as such. In fact, it is far, far worse than the EA Battlefront II lock boxes – at least EA didn’t lie about it or hide it. If you are going to slow XP gains to players to encourage payment you should just say so. If you don’t feel comfortable telling the truth to your customers about an internal decision you have made that impacts their gameplay dishonestly, chances are it’s the wrong decision.

It’s our fault, of course. We engage developers as if they are our friends, as if they truly care about the gaming communities we have fostered. We buy their games based on their past successes, even when we say we won’t.  I wrote about how I felt about developers and past successes back in 2009:

I am not  anymore a big fan of “rockstar designers” than I am of “rockstar CEO’s”. I believe their success is as much entrenched in timing and market conditions than their own personal contributions. Mark Jacobs, of DAOC/WAR fame is a great MMO manager for sure, but doesn’t have any unique or special vision. WAR is proof of that. Lord British had a great hit with UO 15 years ago but has been unable to follow up with any sort of recent success (in gaming – the man did make it into space – kudos). The Diablo team’s follow up had a short life span. Brad? – well, you read the above if you got this far. One success – no matter how successful, does not give you a design pedigree that you can fall back on – solely. Good business managers evolve – they do not rely on past successes and hope it carries them through. Even WoW has changed lead designers multiple times. Is it more important to have someone who knew what they were doing in the past, or someone who you think will know what to do in the future? Seems like a gamble either way

I am begging the industry to self regulate. The other two options – government regulation, or continue lying to the player base – are far worse.

Self regulation can be this simple:

  1. Any loot box style items will have the percentage chance of winning a specific item listed IN GAME before purchases (and companies will have their randomization code audited by an accredited third party)
  2. Any background/invisible mechanics in game that impede progress that can be circumvented through purchases are clearly outlined on the login screen.
  3. Any matchmaking mechanics that involve purchase history as a condition must be transparent

The first should have happened ages ago. Every company is lying about the odds of getting what you want by not sharing the chance. The second covers off hidden, dishonest grinds quite simply. I am sure there are several others the industry can agree to and if they don’t, anything the government(s) of the world could do could be much worse. Volkswagen programmed their cars to lie about emissions and fuel efficiency to incentivize you to buy Diesel cars. and avoid regulatory issues. Destiny programmed their game to lie about XP gains to incentivize you to buy boxes. They are in the same ballpark.

The only purpose of a gaming company – now more than ever – is to make profit. Once you start believing that and acting on that you will be far less disappointed. As consumers our direct ability to hold them accountable will shape the industry in the future – as it already has in the present.

 

UPDATE: Kotaku reports that when they adjusted XP gains to be consistent, they doubled the XP needed to level from 80k to 160k. No mention if this is a balancing feature from the increased XP gains, or a mistake. Nice article for other mess ups by Bungie. Consistent with my disappointment with Destiny 2.