The team over at Extra Credits has taken aim at free-to-play games and microtransactions again in a new video about the effects government regulation could have on F2P gaming. To recap, EC has always supported the F2P concept, even if they don't always like how it's implemented.
This week's video makes two major points:
Despite what the headlines (like this one) would tell you, most people who overspend in F2P games aren't children. The larger percentage of F2P addicts, or whales, are adults with their own credit cards who make some questionable spending choices, often the result of larger personal issues. Seriously, see if you can listen to some of the horror stories the video describes without cringing a little.
As the video points out -- and as I've stated before -- it's only a matter of time before something similar happens in the United States under the guise of "protecting the children," and it would be better if game companies did it themselves than hope everything stays hidden and lets the government do it for them. Frankly, I'm a little surprised nothing major has happened yet. I suppose the American ideal of free enterprise has won out -- so far.
The thing is, for some action to be taken, this would require companies to stop relying on the whales to make their profits from. Mobile games derive 64% of their income from 0.23% of their player base, and even more core-gamer-friendly titles like Team Fortress 2 and PlanetSide 2 -- see this excellent article from a few years back -- have their huge spenders. It's something that's accounted for in the financial planning stages. Nothing will change until that's stopped, or change is forced upon developers.
I think "whaling" is similar to compulsive gambling. Many people can go to casinos and spend, sometimes heavily, within their means. For those who can't control their spending, who spend beyond their means because of the rush it gives them, assistance exists. There are phone lines, web sites, maybe even actual mental health professionals trained in dealing with gambling addiction.
Some similar structure might need to be enacted for F2P addiction, with developers banding together to make sure they're the ones dealing with it and not the government. It wouldn't have to infringe upon most gamers' rights to spend whatever they want; if you make $100,000/year and want to spend $1,000/month in F2P games, that shouldn't be disallowed. If you're a struggling single parent spending that same kind of money, then there's a problem. How to recognize that problem before it becomes a major financial burden... that I don't know. It's probably hard enough for a casino to recognize that someone's playing on tilt and burning away their life's savings when they're sitting at a blackjack table or slot machine; it would be tougher to recognize what's going on when someone's playing a video game from the privacy of their own home.
Yes, adults are free to spend their money however they see fit, and overspending can be a "victimless" affliction, like drug addiction or obesity. As long as it's not illegal and doesn't infringe on anyone else's freedoms -- such as a parent overspending and neglecting children as a result -- then government agencies probably shouldn't get involved. But they probably will, someday, unless some voluntary action is taken to minimize what can be a very real problem.
About the Author
Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.
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