While reading up on Gamasutra, I came upon an article by Michael Fergusson, Playing with Fire: Ethics and Game Design. In it he referenced another article which talked about exploiting human weaknesses to monetize games.
Teut Weidemann from Ubisoft studio Blue Byte believes that “We are monetizing all the weakness of people”
He then gives 7 examples, linking the 7 deadly sins of Vanity, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed and Sloth and how each of these particular human weaknesses can be exploited.
You can read an exerpt of his talk from GDC here.
How does that relate to Farmville and social based games?
The word “exploiting” initially seems very harsh. The Merriam-Webster definition of “Exploiting” is “to make use of meanly or unfairly for one’s own advantage”. That doesn’t really seem to be the case for those game developers of social games right? The terms and conditions are all written out, you don’t have to pay if you don’t want to. I mean, they are not pointing a gun at your head while you enter those credit card details right?
Yet, we hear of horror stories like these:
These games somehow managed to seep into peoples lives and encouraged them to spend time and money, sometimes excessively and obsessively. So are those game developers evil for using our human weaknesses for their own gain?
My answer is YES…and no.
Let me explain.
As game developers, we NEED to use human psychology. In fact, our human weaknesses are what makes us enjoy games so much. Playing games allows us an escape into a controlled environment where we can INDULGE in those weaknesses without hurting ourselves or anyone else. At this point, I’d like to rephrase “human weakness” to” human behaviour” so we don’t imply negativity.
As I mentioned, a good game developer needs to know human pschology. If not, how would he/she know how to make a game fun? A game developer who understands how we work will then use these aspects of human behaviour to create a game.
Now, Weidemann pointed 7 aspects of human behaviour: Vanity, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed and Sloth. He forgot to mention other aspects intrinsic in humans such as exploration, intellectual challenge, skill acquisition, community, fantasy…etc.
Why? Because those 7 behaviours are easily MONETIZED while the others are not.
The problem is not that game developers use knowledge of human behaviour in order to create games.
The problem is that with that knowledge, some developers have ONLY used those aspects with which they can make money.
Making money is not wrong, but when the very basis of a game is to target our money making weaknesses, that is a line that I will not cross. That is also why other games do not have this stigma of being money making machines, because they also appeal to other aspects of our psyche.
Nintendo’s games have grossed millions upon millions, but because their games include fantasy, exploration and challenge we treat them as legit forms of entertainment. When a game lacks any other element but those with which its developers can coerce its players for cash, its like going to a casino. Once you start, you can’t stop.
That’s why I don’t play Farmville.