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Is the Coercive Monetization of free to play games like Candy Crush Saga unethical?

Stashed in: Zynga!, Candy Crush!, Addiction, Monetization, Gamification!, Games, Bad Dog!, Gamers!, Psychology, Addiction

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Rebecca Greenfield writes:

The free-to-play video game business model depends on the deep addiction of people like Chris, who spent his entire savings playing a game that most people play for zero dollars. These people also known as "whales" single handedly support the business model of games likeTeam Fortress 2, which sell themselves as "free" games but charge for extras — just like Candy Crush Saga or Tap Fish, as documented by The Daily Show. Spending money, from $20 to$5,000, in these games is easy, as chronicled by various addicts. But in a gripping, detailed account from Gamasutra's Mike Rose raises a question for those making these addictive casual games: is it unethical?

Rose spoke with various "whales" he found who had spent more than their means on free games "I'm in a position where I'm living paycheck to paycheck for the moment as the result of that spending -- beyond incurring overdraft for my rent (for a few months in a row starting in January this year and a couple other scattered times)," said one gamer, Kyle.

The spending sounds like its tied to some sort of addiction — for these people it's not about winning, per se. Kyle, for example, was hoping to get a certain "keys" in the hopes of getting a specific, "unusual" item that he just liked. Chris said he did it just to "feel a bit richer" than I really am. "I might have an older car and a bit of a run down apartment, but online I've got all this nice swag that lots of people aren't willing to spend on. It's a nice way to make yourself feel special."

In fact, addiction is built into these games with what's called "coercive monetization,"according to a separate Gamasutra article. For example, many free-to-play games have their own currencies, which makes buying things a lot easier. "Research has shown that putting even one intermediate currency between the consumer and real money, such as a 'game gem' (premium currency), makes the consumer much less adept at assessing the value of the transaction," writes Ramin Shokrizade. Games like Candy Crush arguably use these methods and certain games, likeBattlefield Heroes, have attempted to perfect this model so that people buy more.

"F2P games are essentially similar to slot machines in their game design: they cater for a very specific narrow 'zone' of engaging play, and make you pay to enjoy it, incrementally," Miguel Sicart, author of The Ethics of Computer Games, told The Atlantic Wire. These companies hire psychologists to build "sticky" games that the consumer will spend as much money and time as possible on them.

"A fool and his money are soon parted." -Thomas Tusser

not sure if capitalism is ethical in its pure/native state...

Pure capitalism is not ethical because it cares more about money than people.

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