Loot boxes and microtransactions have been in the crosshairs for the past couple weeks, as debate rages about the real-money purchases that were originally planned for Star Wars Battlefront II. What began as outrage over a single game’s questionable implementation of loot boxes has since spiraled into an industry-wide debate about the ethics and necessity of what some people consider predatory profit models.
Why consider them predatory? In part, because discussion of topics like how best to coerce players to spend through psychological manipulation, and what markets are most vulnerable to that manipulation is rampant in some industry sectors.
It’s very much an ongoing debate, but developers from one studio have decided to take themselves out of that conversation. As Waypoint reports, Playsaurus has publicly announced that Clicker Heroes 2 will be a premium game. Players will pay up front instead of paying for optional purchases in the game’s real-money shop — the model that’s been very successful in Clicker Heroes.
Playsaurus CEO Fragsworth shared the reasons for this change, getting frank about the discomfort that comes with balancing a game for compulsive purchases.
Games are inherently addictive. That alone is not a bad thing, until it gets abused. In Clicker Heroes 1, we never tried to abuse players with our real-money shop, and for the most part we designed it without the shop in mind so that you never have to purchase rubies to progress. Despite this, we found that some number of players spent many thousands of dollars on rubies. I can only hope that these people could afford it, and that they were doing it to support us, and not to feed an addiction. But I strongly suspect that this is not the case.
We made a lot of money from these players who spent thousands. They are known to the industry as “Whales”. Great. If you’re rich, please be my guest. But we don’t want this kind of money if it came from anyone who regrets their decision, if it made their lives significantly worse as a result. Unfortunately, those who have a problem are usually in denial about it, and would be too ashamed to ask us for a refund. We would give the refund in a heartbeat. It’s not like we have artists drawing each ruby by hand. It costs us nothing but payment processing fees.
We really don’t like making money off players who are in denial of their addiction. And that’s what a large part of free-to-play gaming is all about. Everyone in the industry seems to rationalize it by shifting the blame, assuming way too much cognizance on the part of their victims. People can make their own decisions, right? But it just doesn’t sit well with me. Despite very few of our players having complained, it felt wrong when we started doing it and it still feels wrong now.
While it’s laudable that Playsaurus wants to take better care of its players, the company will continue to use free-to-play monetization strategies in the original Clicker Heroes. This is an experiment in what the studio considers more ethical game design, and it will be interesting to see how it turns out — and whether other developers will reflect on their own profit models and come to similar conclusions.