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Post by Steve Farrelly @ 11:56am 03/05/21 | 17 Comments
See, we can be sensationalist too. This is called "yellow journalism". And while the inclusion of 'experts' in this 'study' rebukes -- in language -- our claim this Four Corners piece is yellow journalism, it's the sensationalist claims behind all the cited examples of addiction and developer exploitation of 'gamers' here that we have an issue with.

This is done so without acknowledging things like premium pricing over free to play, the warnings that come with that, player-intent or the level of intended investment in the first place (read: knowing full well you're spending real-world money on cosmetics and the like).

It's all disappointingly framed, to say the least.

In the article proper, Four Corners says one Kat McDonald "lost track" of how much money she was spending, glossing well and truly over the very loud acceptance of spending in the first place in her statement:
I had thought that it was around the $2,500 mark. I wasn’t sure how to work out an itemised account, because on your bank account, it just says Apple.

“I sat down with a notepad and pen and wrote out every single transaction and added it up to $4,000.”
While it is alarming Kat didn't realise just how much she spent, the fact she "thought" it was over $2K is as clear an acknowledgement on her part that she was spending not just real-world money, but a significant amount of real-world money on a non-premium product that would, by law in Australia, reveal the game/app features in-app purchases.

This is more commonly known as "buyer beware".

Problematically for this piece is the nature of its intent. In Kat's case, Four Corners is looking to lay blame on games for hiding these in-app purchases behind psychological design carrots; baited rewards that give the illusion of progression. And in her instance, it's the mobile app game "Legend of the Phoenix". However, Four Corners then follows up that example with one from Rob Leming, whose completionist attitude towards a game released in 2007 is used as another example of addiction, and in concert with Kat's experience, despite neither having anything to do with one another:
“I would wake up, I would do essentially the basics. Borderline get dressed if I had to, put a bit of food in my belly. Definitely make a coffee, usually a strong one. And sit down and start playing,” he said.

“At that point on, everything in the day revolved around the game.”

He sank deep into grinding as he played for hours on end.

“I spent days jumping around rooftops in some ancient land collecting feathers, and I’m sitting here now and I’m going, ‘Huh? What for?’ Maybe they gave my character a new sword or something, but the game didn’t depend on it. It’s not Assassin’s Creed Fight For Feathers.

“[These games] have a lot of busy work built into them that if you were to actually look back at them you start to wonder, ‘Why does this even exist?’”
There's a lot to unpack here. This section of the article rests under the subhead of "Pay to Win", which focuses on grinding. But Assassin's Creed's feather collection side-'quest' (activity, really) has no ties in any way, shape or form to 'winning' anything other than a Trophy or an Achievement, and you certainly can't pay to magically have all the feathers collected. These were included in the game originally as a means to show off its groundbreaking parkour gameplay, and its level design that promoted a new style of movement through a game-world. It was also released 14 years ago.

Disappointingly, Assassin's Creed here is also tagged alongside World of Warcraft -- a game that readily does feature grinding, but also no pay-to-win model. And these games are thrown under the bus in the article with no grounding whatsoever in what you actually do in them, or what the purpose of playing them is for. Both are also premium products.

We also finally meet Nae Jackson who has been "gaming since she was a child". Nae's problem is she was caught up in a guild on a quest in the game Rift, to complete a raid. Someone playing Rift and who has been playing most of their lives will know what they're in for in an MMORPG like that. Again, what's being sold here in the article is the idea that games are being designed to trick players into time and monetary investment, but the level of pick and choose, and anecdotal 'evidence' to back up these haphazard claims riddled throughout, is as misleading as I've read in over 20 years as a games journalist.

For example, this excerpt featuring Legend of the Phoenix player, Kat, is beyond clear in its intent to suggest there's a level of indoctrination buried within the social aspect of 'gaming' ('gaming' used broadly here in tone with Four Corners' language):
“I was definitely identified by the guild, because of my regular gameplay and the fact that I had increased so much power and that was by spending money,” she said.

Her husband Anthony McDonald understands why the guild had such a powerful influence on her.

Kat's husband Anthony McDonald says gaming should be fun, not a tool to exploit people who aren't able to stop.

“There was a bit of a community sense and an obligation almost that she had to maintain and help and support her guild pushing forward. And it was around that time that she spent a lot more time, and I’m assuming a bit more money, doing that,” he said.

Dr King said guilds were a powerful way to keep players online.
Four Corners will run this as a report on the ABC tonight from 8pm, and while we know the representation of games is going to be a cringe to watch based off the language and misdirection leveled throughout this article, we implore you watch and then offer constructive feedback. This is a ridiculous time to be throwing gaming under any bus, let alone one being driven by unlicensed bus operators.

I can probably best highlight the nature of this piece with this little nugget featuring psychiatrist Kim Le:
“I have had paediatricians refer children to me who have been soiling themselves … the child will come to my office, I’ll ask them, ‘What are you doing when you are soiling yourself?’ They’ll tell me they are playing a video game and they can’t stop.”
The alarm bells here are loud -- there's zero mention in this addition to the article of proper parental guidance when it comes to screen-time and game-time management with kids. I have a nine-year-old who, naturally, has more access to games than 99% of other children his age in the country due to the nature of my job, but managing his screen-time and game-time across myriad moving image options is my prerogative. If I let him go, he would 100% play games all the time -- that's the nature of most kids. To ignore parental obligation here in this article is, frankly, dangerous. Especially for the misinformed, for whom this piece is clearly written.

It also skirts on inflammatory topics in games, like loot boxes, which have admittedly been a hot topic for gamers and non-informed gamers for a while. Here though, their inclusion is contextually lost and, honestly, useless. Another jigsaw piece from a different jigsaw box...

The games industry defends loot boxes, saying they’re no different to a Kinder Surprise.

“I don’t think they’re similar to gambling. With the loot box, you are investing money to get something back. You’ll always get something back,” Mr Curry said.

“Now, whether it’s something you really wanted or it’s something that’s less than what you wanted, it’s still something you can play in your game.”

Dr Sauer rejects this comparison.

“I think when somebody buys a Kinder Surprise, by and large, they know what they’re getting … some chocolate and they’re getting a little plastic toy,” he said.

“In loot boxes … you don’t buy the game for the reward mechanism but the reward mechanism is there. You purchase access to this … and you get a random outcome, that might be very valuable or not at all valuable.”
Thank you to Ron Curry (head of IGEA) for involving himself here, though it's clear his points have been used entirely out of context. But I've left you with the above as an example of the misleading nature of this feature. If loot boxes exist in a game, then it's your choice to buy them. They're an impulse item. But then so is a Kinder Surprise. If you visit a shop, which is pretty much the only way you're going to be exposed to the option to purchase a Kinder Surprise, no one should be surprised at you buying it, or in what you get out of it. The same can be said of loot boxes.

Unfortunately there's no real delineation of the points mashed together here to make a case for gaming 'addiction'. Or for how developers and publishers utilise things like loot boxes to maximise profits in any academic form. Instead what we get is something as reaching as suggesting the Earth is flat because you've never seen it yourself from space, despite all evidence to support that it is, actually, not flat.

I appreciate the hopeful intent of the report, but the way in which the authors and producers have framed this is embarrassing and frustrating all at once.

I honestly thought gaming and alarmist views like this were largely behind us, but that is apparently not the case.

abcaddictionvideogamevideo gamegamingigea

Latest Comments
Steve Farrelly
Posted 12:40pm 03/5/21
I honestly can't believe the Assassin's Creed example. Not only because of the game's age, and therefore its (ir)relevance to an argument in gaming now, but also in 'grinding' for feathers (not a thing), and how that fits at all in with "pay to win" (it doesn't)...

Swing. Miss.
Posted 02:17pm 03/5/21
Loot boxes are basically behavioural psychology, weaponised against gamers, to trick you into spending money. I think there are levels of loot boxes that are acceptable but I disagree that it's simply a matter of choice to buy them, especially for children - if this was a simple issue we'd have solved gambling addiction!

So, possibly an unpopular opinion, but I think gaming platforms, most notably Apple and Google because mobile gamers seem to be more susceptible to this, but also the console and PC platforms, probably need bigger guardrails when it comes to default settings of what you're allowed to spend before it triggers huge massive warning signs. I still think people should be able to override them, but the default behaviour should be to not let users spend thousands of dollars on a single app.
Posted 02:47pm 03/5/21
I've more or less mastered the art of completely ignoring microtransactiony scammy bulls***, but that doesn't mean I don't notice how much of it there is. What I truly despise are games pausing while online connectivity is established. Why can't it do that s*** in the background while I navigate the menu? Tangentially related to skinner box gameplay, but I've noticed it more in the age of microtransactions.

Anecdotal as f***, but I've noticed that people who enjoy microtransaction mobile games show signs of problem gambling in particular poker machines. With gambling addiction being such a major problem, I can't see how childrens' games with similar elements to gambling aren't seen the same as say alcohol or smoking being clandestinely repackaged and marketed towards children.
Steve Farrelly
Posted 04:08pm 03/5/21
Agree with there being problems around a lot of gambling-like practices being a part of gaming ecosystems like mobile games, and a need for some regulatory practice there
Posted 11:38pm 03/5/21
Steve. Thanks! A nicely presented argument on your part.
The ABC are clearly being provocative. Creating and directing discussion is common in their world. I read, watch and listen every day to the ABC. I imagine it's a method enphasized in Communication courses these days. And I think it's a pity. I see it on Fox, RT, BBC - it's common.
However, I do feel a lot of parents need a push towards more responsibility in parenting. Maybe it will have good side effects with some parents. If they tell their kids no more games, then maybe they will learn to interact positively with their kids. In my area, full of white utes, there are a lot of parents that dread school holidays.
Anyway, I have a game to play with my kids.
Good Luck!
Posted 06:14am 04/5/21
highly recommend microsoft family and google family link for managing kids screen time.

i got my kids locked down so tight.
Posted 02:30pm 04/5/21
highly recommend microsoft family and google family link for managing kids screen time.

MS screen time thing is gold

Also f*** microtransactions. VALVE is hiring psychologists to work on game development. I want to believe that its about creating the most engaging and rewarding gameplay rather than extracting coin from players but I'm old and cynical these days.
Posted 02:30pm 04/5/21
highly recommend microsoft family and google family link for managing kids screen time.

MS screen time thing is gold

Also f*** microtransactions and companies that monetise addictive behaviour. VALVE is hiring psychologists to work on game development. I want to believe that its about creating the most engaging and rewarding gameplay rather than extracting coin from players but I'm old and cynical these days.
Posted 06:44pm 04/5/21
some of these games must be making insane amounts of money.
Posted 10:40pm 04/5/21
I totally understand the annoyance of typical “mainstream” journalism getting their feet wet in a field like gaming, which takes some substantial knowledge to be able to dissect and present layman’s concepts to the public. However, your argument against the presented “yellow journalism” is one that actually ignores the significant damage being caused by unchecked gaming microtransactions, systems that are utilising psychologically warfare in order to hook a interested party and essentially bleed them dry with no remorse.

Yes the Four Corners article has its flaws, like any investigative discussion piece that doesn’t go far enough due to limitations in just how much your average joe will understand. Does it still raise valid concerns about an industry I love and work for? It sure f*****g does. I’m in a company now that has pledged to ensure they maintain ethically constructed games that do not prey on the weak, that don’t intentionally bury addictive cyclic measures to hook continued purchases and that simply deliver a game as it should be.

I respect your opinion piece Steve, but your ignorance in just how damaging gambling addictions are when it comes to games that devise tactics on how best to squeeze a dollar out of a customer is quite frankly disappointing. We can both celebrate and criticise this fantastic industry, but we should never simply accept face value what companies say they think is best for everyone. A great example is Ron Curry’s comments, which come across in the context of the article as dismissive and frankly protective of loot box gambling systems. When you’ve got the EU flagging these mechanics, you’ve clearly got more than just a gameplay element that can be ignored.

I do agree on the parental restrictions point though. I’ve dealt with a range of parents and many are content with handing a device over and not securing it in the slightest, which is obviously idiotic to then have them complain when Timmy has purchased $6k worth of microtransactions. I’ve especially made it clear how easy parental controls systems are yet there is always push against such measures, instead a reliance pushed back into schools.

Overall, gaming addiction is real and a valid mental health concern. It is not some attack on gaming to register that some developers in particular are crafting games to be addictive on purpose. That alone has some real world implications that can not be defended.
Posted 08:20am 05/5/21
Also f*** microtransactions and companies that monetise addictive behaviour. VALVE is hiring psychologists to work on game development. I want to believe that its about creating the most engaging and rewarding gameplay rather than extracting coin from players but I'm old and cynical these days.
I basically just play Dota, so my only experience with loot boxes is the random item drops you get in Dota. I have zero interest in dressing up virtual dolls so I ignore this aspect of the game entirely - I pay attention to the drops just to see if they are marketable, because then I put them on the marketplace immediately, usually for $0.03-0.05. I've made something like $20USD selling Dota items!

But I do see my mates buy in-game stuff all the time. Usually it's just a taunt or something for a few cents. They f***** love it. I wouldn't say they're addicted to it - they don't spend vast sums of money, but instead tiny sums every so often - but whatever it is about the game it is clearly hitting all their pleasure centres to buy stuff and use it.
Steve Farrelly
Posted 03:24am 06/5/21
I'm not being ignorant of the damage gambling addiction has, and I never broached that in my retort, I took issue with how the article first was presenting its cases and the pick and pull practices it was using to highlight issues that it didn't wholly realise.

So in the first instance, I was (and am) frustrated again with reports like these not doing the full nuance deep-dive they deserve.

That being said, the actual video report was a tad better, and gave a lot of context to the quotes from the article, all of which were presented differently in that initial release. But that again highlights how damaging it can come across if you mishandle information, reports and opinions around hot topics like this.

By all means explore bad practices games companies are using to get more money from punters, just pick that lane and give it full measure. And I'd love to see regulation around this, I never said I wouldn't.
Posted 12:01pm 06/5/21
So in the first instance, I was (and am) frustrated again with reports like these not doing the full nuance deep-dive they deserve.
Maybe there's something to be said for some alarmism here, if it stops parents using video gaming as a baby sitter and wakes them up to the issues of addiction and over-spending. There's probably a good opportunity for a "videogaming: a modern era guide for parents" kinda thing that simplifies these things down and puts the risks and benefits in context.
Steve Farrelly
Posted 02:58pm 06/5/21
It's a good shout Dave.

Half the issue is we sit on a side of the fence where we shout into an echo chamber, but using this side of the fence's voice to infiltrate the other (mainstream) in a meaningful and educational way seems to be super-difficult.

More often than not, approaching those platforms (and I've done this) is met with needing an alarmist hook that paints games in a negative light. Which is fine, I guess, as long as those negatives are met with ways to combat them, and productively discuss them rather than using Mrs Lovejoy levels of despair at them.

I might try and reach out again in the wake of all of this. We did a chat on Byteside's High Resolution podcast with Seamus Byrne and The Junglist after we had all watched the actual episode you can listen to below:

last edited by Steve Farrelly at 14:58:53 06/May/21
Posted 12:44pm 11/5/21
Loot boxes are basically behavioural psychology, weaponised against gamers, to trick you into spending money. I think there are levels of loot boxes that are acceptable but I disagree that it's simply a matter of choice to buy them, especially for children - if this was a simple issue we'd have solved gambling addiction!
I agree with this. Kids in particular get 100% hooked on the excitement of opening loot crates. The highs and lows have many parallels with types of gambling like pokies, and it is really messed up. I consider it grooming myself to condition them into a gambling mindset, not so much for gambling, but rather to get them hooked on in game spending. Its deliberate and insidious. I personally believe when you're exchanging real money (or in-game currency bought with real money) for a randomized chance a random pick, it should be classified as gambling and treated as such.

The 4Corners piece itself isn't great, but I think this can be forgiven to a large degree. The topic is complicated and if you want to engage with your viewers you need to simplify everything. There are flaws, but the overall message is coherent to me, there are predatory developers taking advantage of people's addictions or the suggestive minds of kids, be it for in game purchases, or to monopolise your time. I think the argument that you should supervise your kids more is irrelevant. Yes, you should supervise your kids, but that doesn't absolve companies of the responsibility to try do the right thing.

Lots of us are old gamers who have been going since the 80's or before, and to see how practices have changed since them to now, its a real shame.

* Games released unfinished.
* In-game purchases to keep you engaged instead of good content.
* Applications that charge you for the privilege of mining your data on mobile devices.
* Pay to win...f*** pay to win.
* Psychological techniques being used to trick people or suck them in.
* In game advertising.

Where did it all go so wrong...

Would have been nice to see the 4Corners piece go more in depth, its a bit meh. But I get the point.
Posted 12:43pm 11/5/21
When people stopped insisting their games had dedicated servers, I reckon
Posted 03:55pm 17/5/21
God I hate 4 Corners!
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