We live in a pivotal point in the gaming industry and we need to take this time to examine where the industry is, and work with lawmakers to ensure that it is redirected to an honest path with its customers.
With EA’s recent bashing of its use of loot boxes, lawmakers are taking notice. It is also worth note that the WHO is planning to include a diagnostic guideline for gaming addiction in 2018, giving lawmakers new tools for debate.
What these events offer is a highlight marker to just two lines of the full text of fraud being perpetuated on the public by companies in the gaming industry.
The fraud starts with advertising. Games like Mobile Strike, for example, spend millions on ads that portray the game totally incorrect to its actual game play. This is to get a player to download and start using the app by any means necessary. This has been going on for so long because of poorly written laws that place the burden on a consumer to make a reasonable judgement of the ad. You heard it right, the law makes it your fault as the consumer for not being able to make a reasonable assessment of the product from the ad.
The next step is advertising in the app stores, play stores, or other places you go to download the game. Usually none of the screen “art” actually exists in the game.
While you are there, check out the ratings, with virtually all actual reviews concealed from your view by publishers like the app store. This is justified as a means of protecting themselves from revealing their strategies of preventing fraudulent ratings, but in fact, foster fake ratings by hiding them from consumers. Game makers often pay click farms to post favorable reviews to boost star counts, and consequently downloads. Hard to prove when the actual ratings data is withheld, but from time to time, we catch them red handed.
The next part of the fraud is the game itself. Its actually a farmville skinner box, designed to create addiction. Most people will try it out unaware of what the game maker is doing to very intentionally foster addiction. Players start out unaware of the need to purchase to compete, but because of the games seemingly complex nature, push on to learn it. They are being manipulated into an addiction the same way farmville hooked millions of people years ago.
At some point like in farmville, you realize that it takes too long to progress with out using speed up items, and you run out. It’s at this critical juncture some players will buy the packs they see, at 5.99 and push forward.
When the $5.99 pack runs out of items to play with, you are now greeted with more expensive pack offers, with the 5.99 pack eventually becoming unavailable. In fact if using android, the pack prices go up to $299.00 eventually. You start to notice also, that many items you need to be a top competitor, are simply not available without buying them.
Now look back a for a minute, you downloaded a free game, it was nothing like the ads, and how much have you spent? Look forward for a minute and you see in order to continue to compete, you will need to continue to buy the new packs with newly released features. Many people will continue to buy under the false premise that this is an investment, and abandoning the investment makes it a loss. The fact is, its a loss already, but psychologists call this the sunk fallacy, and you are not alone in falling for this trap, that in fact is what keeps most cons going long after common sense would seem to dictate to run away fast.
Now there is another component to this con game, that gets a little more sticky. This component is the social component. It has three effects that are working against you. The first effect, is after you join an alliance you make friends, that you feel obligated to. You are spending less time in the real world, and more in the virtual, and these friends become your new social circle. Almost nobody wants to lose their friends or social circle. This drives you to keep logging in, even on days the constant clicking up farms and troops might seem more of a task than a pleasure. The second is peer pressure. Your friends need you, and you need to keep up with releases to help them. The third is perhaps the worse. Players make honor rules of not attacking lower players and resource farms the lower players use, to ‘encourage’ them to keep playing. You are now part of the con, even though you will never want to admit it. You are deliberately not attacking new players, in hopes they get hooked along with you.
The gambling component is the random loot boxes, gifts, and in many cases, out right virtual gambling mini games. The addiction created is identical in brain psychology to gambling addiction, and in fact drug addiction. The primary difference between drug addiction and gaming/gambling addiction is that drugs directly add in chemicals to the brain that gambling/gaming create via mental activity. The compulsions created by all three addictions are almost indistinguishable on brain scans.
In summary, we need lawmakers to hold these gaming companies accountable for the very complex and successful fraud they have played on so many unsuspecting people. We also need regulation. Regulation would best be served under current gaming commissions providing oversight to gambling. The addiction is the same.