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.

12 comments / Add your comment below

  1. What about background/invisible mechanics in game that impede progress that *can’t* be circumvented through purchases? Like EQ’s hell levels or GW2’s diminished returns?

    ANet documented theirs but Verant/SOE didn’t own up to them for years. Everyone griped about them at the time and yet yesterday when I was playing EQ2 there was a long discussion in general chat about “the good old days” during which several players (myself included) reminisced enthusiastically about hell levels. We hated them at the time but now they’re a badge of honor.

    I also think they are all the more memorable for having been kept secret so that no-one was quite sure how they worked or even if they were imagining it. I believe we need more mystery in these games not less, so I’m not keen on anything that shows the machinery behind the curtains.

    1. I think the hell levels might have been honest mistakes in the formulas used to calculate exp progression, at least that was the rumor at the time.

      1. I remember that rumour! As Bhag points out though – by the time it was figured out I think both players and devs celebrated it. Probably a good early example that MMO players are all masochists somewhat =)

  2. I believe it’s only when direct payment is involved and not otherwise disclosed. That’s a dishonest practice that wouldn’t fly in any sort of consumer market – so why allow it in digital gaming?

    I hated hell levels because it meant your friends got further apart, but that was of course in an era where friends were important to getting by in EQ. So yeah, I have that badge of honor but doesn’t mean I have to like it! =)

  3. This is one of the reasons I prefer good old single-player offline games without any microtransactions (or couch co-op, or some form of online co-op that I have more control over like Borderlands 2). With those titles, no one has any incentive to change the rules so that you continue to spend money on the game.

    This is a terrible game mechanic straight from the pus-filled maggot-ridden bowels of mobile gaming and it needs to go back to where it came from.

    1. Fear here is that many of those are going away. The new Star Wars single player RPG was cancelled because, well, no loot boxes. Mass Effect Andromeda was put on mothballs. Single player games are expensive to make and there is little chance for money afterwards if it isn’t a huge hit. I am afraid for Fallout 5. I am afraid for Skryim 2. I am worried that the massive, single player RPG is now dead, unless they can find a way to monetize it better.

  4. The main problem is that the customers are keep being customers. There are no refund demands. There are no chargebacks. There are no class action lawsuits. Hell, there are not even “I uninstall this crap” protests which doesn’t need any kind of organization and hit them instantly.

    Players just whine and keep playing. I know the feeling. I whined about EVE for a lot before I quit. Hell, I quit only half year later a dev personally harassed me. It’s not like I’m some sage here. But I’ve stopped believing and quit now at the first sight of evil (quit Albion long before it imploded). I wait for games to be properly published before jumping in (dodged Fortnite) Players should learn this. Quit if you don’t like the way they exploit you.

    1. I didn’t dodge Fortnite but that was the first example that made me decide to not buy early access ever again. And my objections to Destiny 2 are well detailed here. I skipped Battlefront 2 (although i am a huge SW nerd) so I am feeling very confident in my personal ability to vote with my wallet. I hope more are becoming that way. (I was the customer you describe for many years, sadly)

  5. I lot of these games start to feel more like they belong in Vegas – like the house always wins and if you’re entertained while losing your money, well, that’s incidental.

    1. That is my go to argument with Casinos. I go in with $200 expecting to lose it. The slower I lose it, the better, but that is the cost of entry for me. The rare times I actually win – if I hit the $200 mark in winnings I put that in my pocket and continue to play with the remainder until it is gone. My first investment is always the amount I am willing to lose.

  6. 🙂 Googled Star Citizen lately?

    “Cloud Imperium Games has rolled out a new way to throw money at the crowdfunding colossus known as Star Citizen: The ability to pre-purchase plots of land. UEE Land Claim Licenses can now be had for $50 for a 4km x 4km “lot,” or $100 for an 8×8 “estate,” zoned for commercial, residential, or industrial use. ”

    Yea, the lastest from Chris is they HOPE to release ‘3.0’ by Dec 20th… a mere 366 days past his original ‘guesstimate’ of Dec 19th 2016.

    They also blurbed that they are going back to the concept phase, to ‘rebuild’ one of the original ships they were selling during the kickstarter.

    1. I’ve been ignoring them. It’s getting to pyramid level, ponzi scheme shit now. I hope it releases and is the best game in the world OR Chris Roberts goes to jail for lying to everyone. Both outcomes would be interesting.

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