Ethics in the Game Industry

In this 2019 GDC talk, UX expert Celia Hodent analyzes what scientific research says about the potential problems video games can create in terms of addiction, violence, loot boxes, and dark patterns (without the fear-mongering) and invites viewers to think about where the industry should draw the line.

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  • Her talk is much better and way more concise than her recent article about the topic (the article contains a ton of digression and political hobby horsing). While she is a highly successful UX professional, she seems to belittle the problem of game addiction and defacto in game gambling (dopamine addiction). This attitude may please a posh insider audience but when aimed at a broader public it is totally out of touch, Marie Antoinette grade out of touch!

    Stefan Bernet
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • bull

    Paper Color
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • Make lootboxes illegal, it's common sense. Lootboxes actually aren't illegal in the Netherlands, only if you can sell the items for money, which is BS.

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • very important issue yet so many thumbs down

    Kamil O
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • The title needs an addition, "Things that don't exist: Ethics in the Game Industry".

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • Having a talk on ETHICS in San Francisco?? That's funny to me…

    Lawrence Stanley
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • This talk was a good overview of current ethical issues in video games, with some suggestions for how to begin addressing them. At the very least, it is a reminder of staying conscious of the underlying issues while making decisions. The more we learn about human psychology, the more evident it has become that the old definitions for addiction and associated disorders, as well as regulations for gambling, need to be brought up to date. Also, thank you for bringing up dark patterns. It is an especially relevant topic now that we are suddenly waking up to the multitude of problems caused by an algorithm-controlled online environment.

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • The law defines gambling but psychologically defined gambling addiction and it is the difference between these 2 that has allowed abusive publishers like EA to be exlploative of its customers. Gambling occurs when you provide something of value in exchange for something that you will get based on some game, mechanism or similar system. Even if you guaranteed something it's still gambling because you're not guaranteed of what it is you will get. If every bet at the craps table was guaranteed a penny reward for every bet of $1 or more regardless if whether the roll provided a win would that mean they are now longer gambling?

    The industry like most unethical corporations that put shareholders over stakeholders, is using the system to provide legalized gambling to gamers regardless if ag35and that needs to be stopped bc these corporations are incapable of stopping or even moderating there abuse of customers. Just as the gambler us addicted to gambling the corporation is addicted to profit at any cost and you can bet they dont give a damn about ethics.

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • Can somebody explain me that trick with the ball
    it is 1$ how can't be it?

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • It's good that she's trying but publishers and devs already know all of this. They know it because they employ people with her expertise, not to avoid ethical dilemmas, but for the expressed purpose of implementing these things.

    Per Wrede
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • It's just random talking to me. The moment about lootboxes and then stick and a carrot. And all the time changing topics.

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • I'm gonna assume this is a retrospective?

    Ambivalent Ronin
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • Whether you believe that loot boxes are gambling or not (I say they are not only because when you gamble there is a chance you may win, where as with loot boxes you lose 100% of the time), you can't deny that their inclusion in a game makes it a worse experience. No loot box has ever made a game more fun, and plenty of games have been designed specifically to be worse so that loot boxes are more attractive. This woman should be ashamed of herself for advocating for this bullshit.

    Alex Brown
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • "Be mindful that despite ESRB ratings, minors might get access to violent games and feel distressed by them".
    "Again I'm not saying, oh my god, no violence ever".
     Well…. that's EXACTLY what that point is saying. Ratings are there for a reason. So you don't limit the authors and rather inform the audience because it is on THEM to limit themselves. If your rating gets ignored, that's not on you.

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • 2:20 Talk start
    4:50 Addiction
    17:20 Loot boxes & gambling
    33:00 Dark patterns
    46:30 Violence
    57:10 End / Questions

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • You are asking companies that EARN THEIR REVENUES by making people addicted to their games, to stop addictive behaviours inside their games. Sure. It will work. Go ask a vendor of pasta to limit the consumption of pasta of their clients. 😀

    Simone Pinto
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 lots of learnings to be had hear. Thank you!

    David Roche
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • Regulate loot boxes. Science shows that they are a problem.

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • No one forces anyone to play.

    Children are parents' responsibility, not yours, not society's, not mine.

    Just like with alcohol, cigarettes, weed, "violent video games" or gambling, punishing responsible adults because some other adults are irresponsible is called collectivism, it's judging you for other people's actions or potential actions.

    As annoying as loot boxes can be, they aren't immoral. Banning loot boxes on the other hand is, and it's as immoral as banning alcohol. We aren't China or Saudi Arabia, we believe in free individuals in the West.

    Moreover, if your child is addicted, the problem is you as a parent, and not having created any actual connection with your child during early childhood, whether it is by dropping them in kindergarden or imposing your will on them with no chance to negotiate. It CERTAINLY is not other adults' fault, and others should not be punished for it, like Belgians that have been BANNED from buying loot boxes on Hearthstone, probably thanks to some "genius" PhD somewhere and politicians of all sort who need publicity and attention.

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • I had low expectations for this talk, but it turned out very good. It stays informative and factual, rather than veering into propaganda for any position. The part about us following unconscious biases is not accurate, from what I know of the scientific literature. Not faulting the speaker, she might just not be aware of the recent research showing problems with this idea.

    Jay Green
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • This goes hand in hand with this…

    Thanks Jim Stirling for pointing to this.

    Vincent Presseau
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • I love and agree with everything you are saying. But EA, Activision, and Ubisoft couldn't give less of a fuck about what you are saying. If we get them to listen, I'd feel more confident in the possibilities you are discussing.

    Jake Hays
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • Torulf Jernström down voted this video.

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • Wait! The video game industry has ethics?

    Norbert Csorba
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • Saw the title and thought it must be Happy Hour at the Ha-Ha Club. Morality of the games, or the games industry?!?

    Jonathan Gibson
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • "maybe you should not exploit their weakness"
    activision blizzard/EA: it's free real estate

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • I think I might be seeing where the dislikes are coming from: the puzzlingly benign, naive approach to the issue of the talk.

    The things discussed here are being put into games PRECISELY because psychologists studied that it works, and designers acquired that information. Regularly asking "But think what it does!.." is plain stupid – they KNOW what it does: it increases profit, that's why it's there, everything else doesn't matter.

    This talk is not only "preaching to the choir"; it's also at least, like, 5 years late. Overall, it sounds like something an outsider would write about in their blog today after stumbling upon several cases and compiling a mish-mash of observations. The fact that it's a GDC talk actually makes me wonder if the whole thing was disingenuous, with the talk aimed at making the ubiquitous unethical practices in gaming look like something of an unfortunate accident coming from lack of knowledge, and not direct malicious intent which they most obviously are.

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • So a PhD is saying that loot boxes are only gambling when you can sell your loot. Which is right from legal standpoint only, while totally wrong from any other. Because "real world value" is not limited to just monetary value.

    Roman Markoff
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • Absolutely unbelievable that this talk is getting so many downvotes, what is wrong with people??

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • Lol

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • Released the same day that Jim Sterling highlights these very mechanics.

    Daniel Dubien
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • Why are people down-voting this video? Did they even watch it?

    I'm on the other end of the spectrum on some of the issues, but she presented her point in an extremely unbiased and uncontroversial way! Also the first person in the Q&A was universally insulting and even made me question my position on gender bias.

    Oliver Reads
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • A good point that gaming addiction is likely rooted in external stressors and psychological issues. Ignoring the problems within games themselves is no better than treating them as a scapegoat, though. It doesn't sound like you want to ignore those issues, but it's worth noting.

    Not using "addictive" in marketing will not change that many games are designed to be addictive. Concepts like "Hook, habit, Hobby" and intermittent rewards are all about promoting addiction. Renaming it will not change that (ahem-ahem, "surprise mechanics").

    Monetization is really the root of many of the current problems because it incentivizes developers/publishers to abuse the mechanics that have always existed, but before were neutral or even beneficial to avoid. Rewarding players for taking a break in WoW was fine and dandy when it didn't result in a drop in revenue (not a real example, far as I know, but I believe it demonstrates the situation).

    Thank you for noting human's poor understanding of probabilities.

    I'm going to point out that the basis of capitalism is the assumption that people act rationally in their best interest with full knowledge. When the monetization systems rely on tricking people and taking advantage of heuristics failures and gut reactions, it probably is not ethical, and it undermines peoples' faith in the system overall.

    I want to stress that while children are more vulnerable, they are not the only people targeted, and tricking and taking advantage of people is not ethical regardless of age.

    Violence in media I do think influences people. But I also believe that it endemic to modern pop culture, and to single out video games is just disingenuous. I think that, just in general, the problem is not violence is media per se, but the trivialization and glorification of violence.

    I like your point about the actions available to the player, with the prostitute example.

    "No such thing as neutral design." Thank you. Every action and decision says something.

    A good talk.

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • I'm at the last bullet of the presentation and I'm tired.

    The game industry kept pushing, and pushing, and pushing with monetization. They went to far (SW BF2 storm, but also other games). They had time to think about how to change their business models, but this one with recurrent spending is cheap, simple and works. So instead of searching or at least considering alternatives, showing a bit of good will they pushed so far that now governments might be forcing regulations. (I'm not in favor of this solution as politicians usually have tendency to mess up things)

    And I'm not even sorry for these companies.

    The presenter obviously have not seen the tactics (as she is not talking too much and not saying directly that they are wrong) as turning players into payers, or any talk on mobile convention about psychological manipulation.

    You have brought it on yourself game industry!

    Good for us gamers that there are still companies with an old school business models – we make a game, we hope you like it, we hope it will sell to earn us money.

    Clean and simple.

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • While I think she is generally correct, I think she misses one part on the lootbox argument. There is only 4 games currently that have a marketplace to resell items gained through variable rewards but the issue extends far beyond those 4 games and hell those 4 games are often the least talked about(Counter-strike Global Offensive, Dota2, Pubg, and Team Fortress2). It begs the question that if the only criteria of gambling that is missing is receiving something of direct monetary value back, is the definition correct?

    Why does the definition of gambling exist as far as law goes? To protect the people. Does the current definition reach that goal? Not if were considering companies being the victors of the peoples addictions. There is some exemptions for gambling like raffles, bingo, etc depending on what happens to the funds received although those are generally to good in a community. The fact there is exemptions does not make an addict any less addicted though.

    The fact you receive "something" does not preclude lootboxes from being gambling unless the something is always guaranteed to be something that someone wants. In overwatch lootboxes you get what 5 items? 99% of the time you would trade any given item you get for something you actually want. How many people really care about that random voice line that goes unheard, the avatar you will never use, the skin you find unattractive or the spray that goes unseen? If the main reason you are opening a loot box is to chase a high where MAYBE you get something you want then you are gambling and if you are using $$$ you are doing so in way that breaks the law on behalf of whoever is selling.

    Chad Noneo
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • ohhh come on….
    Card packs and comparing them to lootboxes is not right!

    first you get a physical object (not a virtual one). secondly you can sell it (with a loss or a gain). Which you cannot do with a lot of things from lootboxes.
    Sure there might be some items you can sell but in this case the lootboxes should be divided in categories.

    I might be wrong here but I think there are 3 types (4th is a bit of a grey zone):
    – the one you buy and items that are in them you cannot sell

    – the one you buy and items that are in them can be exchanged with other players – when you get XP or in game currency or something that you cannot cash out.

    – the one that you can – trade in the maket place (like steam) and convert them to money in your wallet.

    – also there are 3rd party sites allowing to cashe out digital objects. But most of them operates a bit outside terms and conditions from games.

    Such a generic comparison is not even scratching the surface.

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • I haven't watched this, but does this talk mention crunch?

    Iride Lombardi
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • if you are wondering why the dislike ratio is so off for this video, its because youtube is filled with awful people. dont let these ratios fuck with your beliefs or opinions.

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • Gaming Ethics Rule number 1.
    make more money by any means necessary.

    Side Effects

    Child Gambling.
    Huge CIO Bonuses / Not paying workers a living wage.
    Canceling payed products.
    Fake advertisement.
    Banning players for finding bugs the developer's created.
    Selling different game release dates.
    Paywalling half the game.

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • Coincidentally Jim Sterling published a very relevant video on the same day as this. I just came from that one.

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • I don't know if I can watch the entire thing now. 9 minutes in and facts are already being skewed and manhandled. "there's no consensus", but there is consensus enough to put it into the DSM-V. Then suddenly "This one paper I found fit my view on the topic. So research says it's not real".

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • Interesting talk. But telling somebody with a degree to look at some online articles of a random guy was… Awkward. Especially as he's just rehashing what behavioural psychologists know anyhow.

    Posted July 29, 2020
  • At the start of the talk I was really worried she was going to pull her punches based on her past employers being big exploiters of these practices. It was a good talk though.

    Tyler Webb
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • Part of the difficulty here is that capitalism itself is opposed to ethics.

    Amy Dentata
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • If you're interested in this topic see Jim Sterling's Jimquisition for today ( 1st July 2019 ), highly recommended viewing

    Liam Ryan
    Posted July 29, 2020
  • So many downvotes for such a useful and informative talk…

    Posted July 29, 2020

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