Just yesterday in the MMOBomb Skype — while Magicman was anguishing over not being able to find the Final Fantasy TCG in his area — I jokingly referred to CCGs as “doing pay-to-win random lootboxes and courting whales since 1993.”
1993, of course, was the year Magic: The Gathering was released, and, if you stop to think about it, its random, multiple-rarity schemes are the exact sort of thing that modern video game players hate in their free-to-play games. Still, they’ve gone on for over 20 years — and sports cards for much longer, with similar “random rarity.”
So today I discovered a manifesto by no less than the creator of Magic: The Gathering himself, Richard Garfield, who weighs in on the abusive nature of cash shops in gaming. Written a few weeks ago, Garfield’s screed covers ground that is mostly familiar to long-time gamers: how many games, especially free-to-play games are thinly concealed Skinner boxes designed to extract the most possible money from a tiny percentage of players looking for that adrenaline rush of unpackaging that newest goodie. He draws a few broad comparisons, to alcoholism and gambling, and says that the biggest whales were “people who couldn’t afford to be spending that sort of money” without much evidence to back them up, but the general sentiment is something we’ve heard plenty of times before.
Garfield doesn’t condemn free-to-play games or cash shops entirely. Instead, he lays out a notion of how they could be fair and how that could be baked into the game design. He also brings up the notion of a “hard spending cap,” something I’ve explored, and seen as not the greatest idea when put into practice. And, of course, he comes up with an explanation as to how CCGs can fall under the category of a “fair” gaming experience.
In the end, he vows not to invest any more time or money into games he considers abusive in their monetization practices and urges other players to do the same — while recognizing that the people likely to buy into that way of thinking are probably not the ones who will have any kind of significant impact on a game’s bottom line.
In any case, it’s an interesting read from a notable voice in gaming’s history, even if it doesn’t cover much in the way of new ground. Give Richard Garfield’s manifesto a look and see if you agree with it.