Paid loot boxes in paid games are bad for game design, bad for the industry and bad for players.

When the topic comes up the argument frequently made is that the items are cosmetic, the thinking being that as long as the item doesn’t effect the game then there is no problem. Unfortunately that’s bullshit and here’s why.

Firstly – cosmetic items ARE important. People seem to think its ludicrous that someone will spend £1 on an in game hat but do you have the same response when someones buys a real hat? I have an R2-D2 hat which keeps my head warm but ALSO says things about me.

However – with loot boxes I argue that we’re not buying cosmetic items at all.

Getting to know us

To understand my reasoning you first have to understand why we play games. It’s not always the same and we play different games for different reasons. But the games I am looking at, and the ones that work with paid loot boxes, cover the ‘work -> reward’ pattern. We play them because we feel an achievement which we’re rewarded for. That reward might be a new area, a twist in the story or a random item.

People refer to random items as ‘Skinner Boxes‘ referring to the experiments by B. F. Skinner who showed that a rat could be induced to perform the same action over and over again by rewarding that action randomly rather than consistently. I don’t necessarily see this as bad. As a game designer I want my game enjoyed over and over again. If it is a short burst or repetitive game randomising rewards can give your game some longevity and a reason to replay.

But if you combine this with association you get a potent psychological cocktail.

What the deal with association then?

Association is the marketing technique of linking two unrelated items together. Just as Pavlov’s dogs associated being fed with a bell – so could be made to salivate on command, advertisers associate brands with sunny days, luxury lifestyles and happy beautiful faces. You feel that buying the brand is, on some level, buying the feeling.

This means that if you change your game-play loop from ‘work -> reward’ to ‘work -> box -> reward’ the player associates the box with the reward. And this is where the problem is. You can now effectively sell the reward – the reason for playing the game.

This will have three outcomes.

1. You buy the paid loot boxes to get the feeling of winning. The game stops being important as you can get the reward without it.

2. You find the game has lost it’s appeal. The joy of getting a reward has been diluted because you could have just brought the same thing.

3. You aren’t affected at all and you laugh at the poor suckers in 1 and 2 (you are also deluded and advertisers love you.)

Whatever the outcome the reward, and therefore playing the game, is now meaningless. The reason for playing the game is being held for ransom by the publisher.

And that’s why ‘It’s only cosmetic’ is a poor excuse for paid loot boxes.

Hey, how have you found games this year? If you hadn’t guessed I’m gonna get just a little philosophical about them. That’s, uh, why I’ve called it “Philosophy of Game Design in 2017”. Also I’m going to get a bit grumpy, I don’t mind showing that side of myself. I’m rarely grumpy IRL (honest, just ask Rich!) But the subject of some game’s design properly gets me down sometimes. First let’s rewind a bit.

I hate Candy Crush.

Oh we’re starting grumpy are we?

Yeah so I hate Candy Crush, but not because it’s a match 3 game. I like Match 3 games (Zoo keeper ftw) and I can appreciate CC’s slick casual design. But the technical genius, and it is an evil genius, behind it’s “1 less go than you need” algorithms irks me. It really pushes people into buying additional turns or special items. Incidentally the revenue that game still generates is just frightening.

Ok so that’s hardly talking about Philosophy of Game Design in 2017, it’s getting on a bit these days.

Alternatively I have a vague hatred of games like Criminal Case. Again not of the genre but of the monetization design these titles often employ. Paying to speed things up appeals against the other negative human trait; impatience. I have an allergic reaction to games telling me I have to artificially wait while a progress bar fills up over the course of a day. Or that I don’t have enough “energy” to continue.

That’s a trait used in other casual games – I tried one seriously this year based on the ever popular Final Fantasy series. The best part of this one in particular was the “community” events, but aside from that I would have rather had paid once and then all rewards would have been effort based rather than time or money based.

Effort vs Time/Money for rewards

And that’s where my problem lies and the reason I’m cross about the state of the games industry and what it’s doing to my beloved genres. Nothing is safe! RPGs, building games, platformers – they’re all fair game.

My son has loved the Plants Vs Zombies games since he was old enough to steal my iPad away from me. While he loves PvZ2, he very much dislikes the adverts. He would much rather continue to play tricky levels for rewards rather than sit through another Gardenscapes advert to get to them. He often asks me about buying “premium” plants in the game. I was shocked to see that many of these cost more than what I paid for the first game! Hows that for philosophy of game design in 2017?

Often I’ll be talking about this and many other games which are considered to have “gotten it right” in terms of microtransactions. The consensus is nearly always “but you can play the main game so that’s ok” – and I can’t help but think that’s the wrong way around. I’d rather that the old shareware model was re-introduced. “Hey, play the first few levels then pay for the rest.” Of course this isn’t what they want players to do, they’d rather you paid 12x $4.99 for plants rather than $9.99 for the whole game.

I’m picking on EA here, I know I am. The demise of Popcap still hurts me! However they’re obviously just one of many of the instigators of this new way of thinking.

PC Gaming certainly isn’t safe either

At least not yet.

Obviously as a game developer myself (be it part time currently) I understand more than most that games cost money to make. Tribloos 2 cost £3600 to make and Tribloos 3 has cost over £6000. Small numbers when you look at most budgets – but I’m just one guy paying for everything myself.

So I’m not opposed, in any way whatsoever, for people to be compensated for their work in the way that they choose.

That doesn’t mean we
a) Have to or
b) Have to like it and
c) Can’t do anything about it.

But we’ll get to C in a bit.

In fact it needs to change course!

PC Gaming is heading the wrong way currently. Loot crates are the thing currently. Lovely, lovely boxes of skins and sprays and stuff which they give to you totally at random from playing the game. Or, y’know if you wanted to pay even more money. Overwatch, I’m looking sternly at you…

This in-game gambling is a pretty strange thing. I’ve been playing PUBG in the late evenings after my Tribloos 3 work. To date I have made back 1/3 of the cost of the game by selling items I’ve gotten for free. I’m not entirely sure how to feel about this. I don’t feel super great about it, then again I’ve almost paid off the cost of the game. Some people I know have gone further and made a profit just by selling the crates.

Side note – what if PUBG was free though?

Part of me wonders if this would have been possible if the game was free in the first place. I don’t think it would be. My belief is that a sense of exclusivity is felt by those that earn these items and, let’s not forget, randomly receive the higher priced items. I sold an in game shirt and tie for £3 the other day. Last year I bought a real shirt for less than that. I do find it interesting that paid for games seem to be doing as well as free games with their marketplaces, if not, in many cases, better.

Gambling? Is it though?

I’m not going to do anything pretentious like bring through the Wikipedia/oxford dictionary definition of gambling. But I think we can safely assume that if you’ve paid money for entry and you are given a random prize then that is a form of gambling. If you get in for free and are given a random prize then that is gambling. That’s because it’s likely someone will be standing near by with their hand out asking “want another go? It’ll cost ya”.

I’m not going to go into the moral quagmire of whether or not gambling is cool or not. That’s a personal thing for each of us and I walk the line a little. I’ve done some with friends and online, but you won’t find me in a Coral shop and I don’t have Betfair (or any other) on my phone. To be honest I far prefer to gamble with serious things, like my career for example!

But yes, any system where you get a random prize, especially when the potential rare prizes are dangled in front of you? This is gambling and most of today’s top titles participate in it. Make up your own mind on that one.

Ok let’s move onto what we can do.

Philosophy of Game Design in 2017

So we’re all creators right? I always think it’s great when I discuss problems with creators from other disciplines.

It usually goes like this; I’ll raise a particular issue… My YouTuber friends say “Make a video!”, my blogger friends say “write a really interesting blog post!”. My dad says “write a song about it!” (both my folks are musicians by trade). As a game designer I think “Let’s do something about it in our own game design!”.

So I plan on doing all 3 of these things. You’ve been reading my blog post about it, and now I’m going to describe what our current ongoing philosophy will be when selling our games.

A new Philosophy based on the old one!

First off – If we introduce randomised loot crates, which we’re not planning, they won’t be game affecting. It’ll be cosmetic stuff and you’ll also be able to pay for specific items directly.

Secondly – No trading. We don’t want you to be bothered by other random players pestering you to see your inventory for some potential swapsies.

Finally – Free to play means just that. You’ll get the whole game for free, including any updates. Pay to play will be one time entry only, those games won’t likely be suitable for pay-for-items for various reasons.

Our service promise to you…

Oh man, I don’t like how that sounds. Makes us sound all corporate. Look there’s only two of us in the Bumpkin Brothers. We hire other very talented people like Catherine Bennett and Jon Dunn to do lovely artworks for us but otherwise that’s all there is.

We want people to play our games and enjoy them. Not to sit in goal asking to trade, as seems to be the ongoing Rocket League trends these days.

Unfortunately it means we won’t be touching mobile, for a while at least. there’s no way to make headway on that space without Candy Crush style tactics and we’re just not into that.

So when it comes to releasing Tribloos 3 and, eventually, Space Farmers 2 on PC and Mac, we’ll be doing our very best to keep you building houses, shooting chompy robots and solving puzzles rather than examining your loot collection for things you’ve got more than once. It’s a philosophy we’ve always held close and will continue to do so because we just floopin’ love games.

On Friday the 13th Nintendo ballsed up their Switch launch event. They did so by focusing on things we already had and are bored of (motion control), introducing new things we don’t want (IR sensors) and forgetting that the device already has an awesome selling point – you can carry it around with you.

Add that to a very lackluster games line up and many are declaring it will follow the trend of Nintendo’s ever decreasing sales of home console.

I’d like to argue that this may not, and hopefully will not, be the case.
Continue reading “Nintendo Switch – What I think.”

Because it’s Christmas party season we’re not both available on Friday or Saturday this weekend.

Therefore Rich will be doing some crazy PS4 stuff on Friday night. I’ll (most likely) be playing a couple of hours of Deathwing and/or Paladins on Saturday night. Both will start around 10pm ish.

Follow our Twitch channel now ready for the weekend or for when it’s *not* Christmas party season and we’re both around!

You can also check out previous streams as we’re recording them all on the site.

See you at the weekend.

Today Andy reviews Amol Wagh’s book “Market your indie game like a pro” and compares it to his real life marketing experiences. You can get the book on Amazon via this link.

Can you market your indie game like a pro?

Marketing is a constant struggle for Indie Devs.

I’ve got my own views on marketing which are slightly opposed to conventional “wisdom” banded about the community. So when I was messaged directly on twitter about this book I thought I would compare it to my own experiences and see what matched (or didn’t).

Before I get started I will say I’m in no way stating I am some kind of marketing god. Clearly that isn’t the case. But Rich and I have been doing this for a few years. We know what’s worked for us and we know….we really, really know what doesn’t.

Also I won’t cover every chapter in “Market your indie game like a pro”, just the ones that stood out for good, or bad reasons. So, let’s get stuck in.
Continue reading “Review: “Market Your Indie Game Like A Pro””

Blitzmax has been my development tool of choice for over 10 years now. But I’m about to move permanently…
andysopinion
Back in 2005 a very exciting thing was happening in my world.

I’d been using Blitz3D to mess with 3D game development for the last 2/3 years. It had even helped me get my first programming job. I’d finished a couple of basic games in it and was pretty well versed in it’s eccentricities.

However the creator of this famous development tool had announced something very special: A new version of the Blitz tools: BlitzMax!
Continue reading “Moving away from BlitzMax”

Hey, do you know us? Or, alternatively, should we know you? As we’ve restarted our blogging efforts we thought we should restart our link building efforts.

We’ve now got a links section in the side bar showing 5 random links from our collection of, well 5 links at the moment so they’ll all be the same! But we’re hoping to add many more in the near future.

Link building, as in, with you!

We’d like to do some kind of building links exchange with as many of you as possible. Currently we only have a few categories so far and we’re sure that’s not enough so as long as what you do is vaguely related to what we do give us a shout.

What we need from you is:

  • Your name or organisation name (obviously)
  • The URL you want us to link to
  • A 100x100px logo we can use (or we can just put a blank square there if you’ve got nothing)

A few additional points:

  • Please no betting sites. No, not even if you’re offering money.
  • It helps if we know you or know of you at least
  • It’s an exchange so if possible we’d love a link back to us!

So get in touch either by adding a comment below or by tweeting Rich or Myself or maybe Facebook if that’s you’re preferred network.

The links we currently have will appear below here – thanks for joining in!

Awesome Indie Developers (2)

Great YouTube Channels (2)

In tonight’s Livestream we’ll be playing “Scrap Mechanic” amongst other things. Read below to find out what else we’ll be getting up to!

The Kitchen Livestream
The Kitchen Livestream

The Rough Livestream Schedule

So as we said, first up will be us exploring “Scrap Mechanic” an early access game on Steam. It’s the first time we’ve played it so that should be…interesting!

Next up there’ll be a discussion about our “disagreement” over pre-orders from earlier in the week. We think this is a really interesting subject and will be looking at your chat while talking and taking your points on board.

Oh, I want your opinions on one of my new Tribloos 3 levels, it has moving parts and I want to get the speed right!

We’ll also be talking about cool things we’ve seen over the last few days and if you really, really want me to I’ll play a horror game of your choosing (I’ll even install the Outlast 2 demo in preparation, just in case).

This time I might even remember to record it so we can put it on our YouTube Channel later in the week!

So come along to stick your oar in and have a laugh with the Bumpkins!

Our stream will occur here at 10pm tonight: https://www.twitch.tv/andybumpkin

Hey you. Are you thinking of pre-ordering a game, console or peripheral? Then stop, breath and consider if it might make you a dick.

I’ll offer a bit of background for my theory that pre-ordering can cause dickishness. I’ve spent a lot of time studying magic and working as a magician, so have spent a lot of time learning about misdirection. Many people assume that misdirection is simply making the audience look the wrong way while you do something sneaky. It’s actually a lot sneakier than that. A true master of misdirection makes your mind look the wrong way.

Continue reading “Why you should worry about pre-ordering games.”

andysopinion

In this week’s “A Bumpkin’s Opinion” Andy gives his personal thoughts on the growing voice against game preordering in the light of publishers not providing pre-release review copies of their games.

It’s one of the bigger issues at the moment – big game developers are holding off from sending out review copies to review sites and Youtubers. Bethesda recently allowed the public to preorder a game and receive it the same day that the press got their copies.

I’ve seen a few review sites complain about this and I’m not unsympathetic, but the advice they’re giving you is completely wrong.
Continue reading “Stop worrying and preorder games!”