|Come with me now, as we stare unflinchingly into the face of Ultimate Evil.|
My piece received rebuttals that were worth addressing, and I want to do a little of that now, because I have a new game coming out soon, and I could use the clicks. So.
Most free-to-play game profits come from a handful of compulsive whales who spend a ton of money. These games use a wide variety of psychological trickery to force players into being addicted and spending outlandishly. This is unethical.
The first two sentences of the previous paragraph are unquestionably true. The big question is the third sentence. Are these games unethical?
And trust me, the techniques these games use can get really shady. For example, a game might offer you the chance to spend money to win a tough level. If you do this, you may well find that the price to do it goes UP. Once the game identifies you as an easy mark, it will start milking you for cash.
Is this sort of thing morally wrong? If you answered quickly, you might want to rethink it. It's a hard choice. A gray area. Internet debates tend to deal really super badly with issues with gray areas, but we might as well dig in a little. Indies developers tend to want to see themselves as moral people, so the question is how we feel comfortable getting money away from people is an important one.
|"Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err and even to sin." - Mahatma Gandhi. So you see? I'm right and you're wrong.|
We used to handle all of my company's sales ourselves. We could charge credit cards, and people would call us to talk on the phone to an Actual Person. Yeah, it was a total pain.
Every so often, we'd get a person who just had bad credit. They'd give us a credit card number. It would be rejected because they were at their limit. They'd give another. At their limit. Again and again, until they finally found a credit card that they could squeeze another $25 credit out of to buy our game.
Whenever this happened, we'd think, "Dude, you are in a lot of debt. You're in trouble. We don't know what you need, but it's not our game."
We could have refused the order from Mister Way-In-Debt. Or, we could have given the game away for free.
We never did either. We took the money.
So you tell me. Was that the right thing to do?
|Doesn't the mere presence of this image make my arguments feel more right? (Yes. Yes, it does.)|
And Who Cares?
Every so often, someone will think, based on my work and writing, they can nail down my political views with a simple label. This always makes me laugh a little. My political views are a dog's breakfast of points of view from all over the spectrum, shaped by a lifetime of experience. Much like yours.
(The United States is in a situation where it seems like each half of the population thinks that the other half are idiots and jerks and their beliefs are utterly wrong and indefensible. Which would mean that 100% of us are wrong.)
One of my points of view is that we must always place great value on personal responsibility. If person A wants to sell something at a given price and person B (freely and without coercion) wants to buy it at that price and the exchange does no clear, measurable harm to any person C, then that exchange is fine. It should be allowed, and any busybody D who has an opinion about it should probably go bother someone else.
This is a really rough philosophical position to take. Is running a casino ethical? Is the state selling lottery tickets ethical? Is selling meth ethical? Is selling tobacco ethical? (My personal answers: No. NO. No. Just barely yes. Though I might change my mind tomorrow.)
And, even if these four things are not ethical, should they be prevented? Because preventing them has a cost: Infringing on the freedom of the people involved to do what they want with their limited time on this Earth.
If I refused to sell a game to Mister Way-In-Debt, I am taking away his freedom. If I give him the game for free, that infringes on my freedom to make a living and buy little trinkets like food and shelter.
And who knows? Maybe selling the game to Mister Way-In-Debt helped him. The $25 price isn't crippling, and our games are huge. They might have kept him out of trouble for 40 hours. Or gave him a few moments of peace from his quite possibly considerable troubles.
The point is that you shouldn't judge. I shouldn't judge. Mister Way-In-Debt is a free person. That freedom is of far bigger importance than the game, or the debt, or your opinion.
This is even true for entertainment products. Remember, I come from a country where the right to "pursuit of happiness" is enshrined in the second sentence of our founding document.
|"The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities. But even the strongest, most free individual cannot find the proper mana cost for Starving Buzzard." - Ayn Rand|
I know, right? That's what happens when you start tossing around trivial little words like "right" and "wrong".
So Answer the Question. Are These Games Right or Wrong?
I don't know. I change my mind about it every other day.
Look, the facts are that these games are almost entirely subsidized by taking the brains of some compulsive, addiction-prone "whales" and cracking them wide open. They spend literally ridiculous amounts of money, and the rest of us get games for free. And yes, this makes me feel icky.
But if I went out of business and had to look for work and the only job open to me was working on a game like that? I'd probably take the gig. I wouldn't feel super-awesome about it, but I don't think it's so objectionable that I'd starve for the principle.
Ethics can be muddy ground. Even on the Internet.
|"Here I go with the timid little woodland creature bit again. It's shameful, but ... Ehhh, it's a living." - Bugs Bunny|
Gee, Jeff. Thanks For the Wisdom. Would You Like To Close This Out By Getting REALLY Pretentious?
If you don't mind.
I AM SO OUT OF HERE.
Oh, hang on just a second. I'm going to get all bedrock ethical ethos with you.
I don't think it's safe to drink alcohol, or smoke, or gamble, or become a stuntman, or climb Mount Everest, or blog on social justice issues, or do drift racing, or ride horses, or fight in The Octagon. But I have to respect your freedom to do those things, as long as the only person harmed is you. Which means I have to allow people to provide the ability to do these things, because forbidding them would infringe on your freedom to have them.
This isn't kooky libertarianism. This is a fundamental principle of my country.
So think what you want. Say what you want. Try to direct compulsive spenders to more reasonable alternatives. (I think it's bonkers for anyone to spend a ton on Candy Crush when so much cheaper equivalents are available.) And that, I'm afraid, is the end of the issue. If you, with the pure power of prudence and rationality on your side, can't convince the lost to play a different game, maybe your viewpoint wasn't as indestructibly self-evident as you thought.