Thursday, July 16, 2020

Ethical toward children too

Some games are clearly done for children, even if sometimes not officially. A lot of the worst freemium offenders are probably mostly installed by children.

Past the problem of selling unreasonable In-App Purchases, addressed by our Piggybanks, and the quality of the content, that is covered by the books, there is also some potential issues simply at being addressed at kids:

- if the gameplay is addictive for being addictive, transforming playing into a tedious and dumb activity,
- if the game encourages long sessions or enforces them, by example by proposing saves only at checkpoints, or only after some special task,
- if the game is multiplayer but does not safeguard the players.
- ...

As an illustration, we can use the very popular multiplayer, player-driven, game Roblox:

1) It would get no Piggybanks, as it uses a virtual money called Robux that drives pretty much all games, and does not do enough to limit its use reasonably. In our opinion, a game like Roblox should not be free, but maybe subscription-based, paid openly by the parents, without any In-App Purchase. To the defence of Roblox, the current landscape of supposedly Free-to-play games might make offering such option unsustainable: too many persons are used to get things for free, even if they end up not being free when we actually want to benefit from them, and often cost much more at the end.

2) It might get a Book, as a big part of Roblox is about doing its own game. Unfortunately, there are probably many players that only play without doing anything. And most games in Roblox, as we will detail below, are not very adapted

- games are made by players and are a way for their creator to earn Robux. Robux can also be exchanged for real money, though the conversion rate is not really favourable (which is good BTW). There are genuinely very good games in Roblox, and their IAPs are reasonable mostly, though many games offer unlimited purchase of in-game money. So virtual money (Robux) can be used to buy another virtual money...
In consequences, many games use classic freemium techniques to give a repetitive, addictive and rather tedious experience, the goal is to encourage buying different bits of help using Robux.
- It has two big problems with game sessions:
  1. it is a multiplayer game, so the children might want to stay because their friends stay,
  2. the save is managed by the game creator, so might not exist at all, be between tasks, ...
1) is very difficult to enforce, but should probably be linked by parental control. The parent set a limited time, and the game enforces this time. Which would work well with a solution to 2): make the save a default property of any game-> define a set of data proposed to build each game that is systematically saved, also when a player leaves the game.
- but it does quite a lot to safeguard the player: the in-game chat is limited (some words are not allowed), players can report other players, some assets, such as pictures, must be controlled by them before they can be used.

So there are 2 big problems with Roblox: it is addictive and encourages too much playing time, and it relies too heavily on In-App Purchases. But ironically, it is maybe one of the few games that have an excuse for it. The creation of content by the player is driven by their virtual money. Without this virtual economy, Roblox might not exist. So, what solution for such games: limits. As said before, Roblox should not be free, so the robux do not have any link to actual money, and the drive to earn them might still be there, but not as strongly. Also, having the virtual money decoupled from actual money will allow stronger regulation of it in-game. Players won't mind changes if they haven't spent actual money buying it.
Parents should pay for the experience, like the entrance of a park. It shouldn't be the children buying their money with real-world one.
So it is not only Roblox' fault: it would probably not exist if it had tried to be subscription-based or simply not free. Everyone, every parent, should expect to pay to get something.

And, what about a label for that as well? It would be great, but it is much more critical then the Piggybank or the book. There are many ways a game might not be adapted to children. To give a label, there would probably need to be some possibility of control...

Friday, May 15, 2020

An alternative to freemium - our games

What alternative offers to freemium?

One issue on mobile phones, mostly Android, is to be discovered. And it is even more difficult for premium applications. They are devices where persons want to try and can quickly go from one application to another. Of course, applications can be refunded, but it is not the same as being (seemingly) free.

So what about a free version?

When it is possible, there could be a small free version, and a bigger paid one. You can see what we mean with our THGE games. Both versions are fully playable, without ads or in-app purchase, but the free one has fewer levels and less music. It is a difficult game, so most persons will probably never need to buy the paid version. But buying the paid version could be a simple thank you after playing the free one. Also, the levels are not the same.

Sometimes it is not possible to have a free version. In that case, a demo could be proposed. Clearly not a full game, but giving enough of a taste of the full game. It is what we tried to do with our bigger game, NYAF. The full game contains a lot of music and hand-drawn graphics and is rather big. The demo contains one level of the main game, and one limited version of one minigame, but still offering some sizeable gameplay. Furthermore, the demo contains a code that gives the game for free for the first 20 persons that find it.

And maybe you need to stay freemium. The game is done in a way that it is not really possible to offer a demo. In that case, the best approach would be to have support purchases. For instance, one purchase to remove the ads, if any. Or one or several cosmetics purchases (limited) that have no consequence on the gameplay. Eventually, a purchase to help the gameplay, making the game without this purchase the demo itself. It should be very clear that the game without this purchase is not the normal game.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

How much should I pay for a Freemium?

Asking for money in a freemium is not scandalous, if it is not mixed with too many advertisements, and within limits, which often are not there yet.

When you play something, you should always think that it is the result of work, so merits some support. Then how much is that game worth to you?
- Is that something that brightens your day for 10 minutes every day? Then think about it like a daily cup of coffee.
- Was it a great experience for 2-3 hours? Then it was like watching a movie.
- Is it something nice for your kid...

Then think about the limits. Big games on PC and console costs around 60-70 €/$ when they are released. Some freemium offer repeated purchases, for a one time use (if you restart the game you can't get it back), at 99€/$. That is much too much. That means that in just 4 purchases you could basically buy a console and a game for the same price. And you still haven't purchased the game...
Now some games offer one or several purchases giving or not bonuses, or simply removing ads, between 1€/$ and 10€/$. If they are definitive, it's perfectly fine.

And a tip for all parents: never allow your purchases on any phone or tablet to be without a password. When asked if you want to save your password to make future purchases easier, always say no. BTW it is also a good thing without kids, it gives you extra time to think about your purchase.

Guideline for studios and publisher

As written in the introduction, what we propose here are labels that can be claimed by publishers to guarantee their customers some quality. So basically everyone proposing a game respecting these labels can simply ask for them, and receive either the Piggy Bank or the Book, or both.

The Book labels are somehow easier to follow. If your game is simply a game and might deal with something not ethical, like fighting, without any ethical or educational response, simply don't use a label. That does not mean that your game is unethical, but simply not addressing any ethical aspects. That could be important for parents to encourage them to watch what their children play, which they should always do!

The Piggy Bank labels are either simple or not:

- free games and Premium games (so with an initial price only) without in-app purchase or ads gets automatically the gold Piggy Bank.
- the same with IAP that gives additional content which is not needed by the game gets gold as well.
- the same with reasonable IAP and/or Ads get either silver (the price does not change much and the ads are very reasonable and can be removed) or bronze.
- freemium games can also get the three labels:
  • Gold if there is one or several one-time purchases, that are definitive (i.e. can be restored), reasonable ads that are removed once a purchase is done,
  • Gold too if the IAP are for clear additional content, definitive,
  • Silver if there are more in-app purchase or ads,
  • Bronze if there are no infinite in-app purchases and the ads are not impacting the gameplay. 

Simply said, a commercially ethical game should not cost too much to its customer. And in all cases shouldn't have the possibility to ruin its customer, like too many freemiums do!

So what about games with in-game economy, like Roblox, or freemium games such as Fornite, that would probably be quite costly with another model? It is much less of a clear cut, but as most of them are now, they shouldn't get a label without some safeguards for their customers.
Roblox and Fornite are quite ethical, you can play pretty much everything without paying something, and the in-app purchases are mostly reasonable. But you can spend a basically unlimited amount with both of them, and we believe it is not ok. Especially are both are very popular with kids.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Ethical Workplace

Another aspect of Ethical Game is from the other side: how the game has been produced. Did its creation respects the persons that worked on it?
Video Games studios are well known for long hours, crunches, discrimination, mostly toward women, and various other issues.
Some of these issues, like the long hours, could be helped by having Unions, while some others, like discrimination, would probably need more involvement and responsibility from the companies' owners.
And maybe here a label could help as well. Not so much as a guaranty, as the others should be, but more as an engagement. So a bronze label would mean "we try to be a fair workplace", a silver label "we try hard to be a fair workplace", and a gold label "we make sure we are a fair workplace". It would be more like a "Fair Trade" label.

It could be for instance:

Bronze: "Coming from a fair workplace"
Silver: "Coming from a fair workplace - respecting all our employees."
Gold: "We engage ourselves to be a fair workplace - ensuring diversity, tolerance and respect towards our employees"

Then it might be something needing a different structure. So part of the Ethics of game, but not something that would be mixed with the other 2 types of label. And probably too much of a responsibility for the current small initiative.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

What it means for parents

Ethical-Game is mostly for parents. It is for you to be able to trust what your kids are playing. Depending on the age of your kid, the ethical aspect of the content might not matter that much, but for that, you should always check what your kids are playing: anything above bronze should be ok at most ages (at least from the recommended age of the game), anything without anything could still be ok but could be fully unethical.

 A disclaimer: always watch what your kids are doing. And educate them on what they do. If you let them play games with In-App-Purchases (IAP), explain to them how it works, and the worth of it. Unlimited purchase of a virtual currency is not worth much (or anything), but costs actual money. The earlier they understand that the better. The same attitude is probably helping with everything digital: give them the tools to deal with them themself. As there will always be a time when you will not be able to control what they do. Make sure they are in control before!

But for the ethic of the product, everything from bronze means that the game will not bankrupt you. A bronze game could end-up quite a bit more expensive than the initial price but to a limit. Any game with unlimited IAP, so typically in-game money, will never get any badge. A silver badge means that the game will not cost much more than the initial price, but the initial price could be an unlock full game IAP: so the game will typically be free, but an IAP unlock the full game or remove the ads. A gold badge means that the price of the game is clearly known initially. IAP should be for significant additional content, not needed for the initial game, or small cosmetic/fun IAP if the price is low (especially if the game is not expensive too).

Of course, some different cases could occur. But the product badges means that the product is honestly sold. Examples would be:

Free game with IAP for removing ads, plus IAP for x2, plus IAP for skins: probably bronze. Silver if the IAPs are very cheap and/or very limited
Paid game with Ads and IAP for removing ads: bronze or nothing depending on the price.
Paid game with Ads: nothing.
Paid game without Ads or IAP: gold.
Paid game with DLC adding significant content but with some premium edition containing most of the DLCs but not all: silver or bronze, depending on the different prices.
Free game with unobtrusive ads: silver.
Free game with support IAP: gold, if the IAP is a one time purchase. Nothing if the IAP can be indefinitely bought.
Any game with in-game money (or diamond/ruby or anything) that can be bought indefinitely with actual money: nothing. Actually in the unethical category.

Introduction to Ethical Game

A Short Synthesis: everything from Bronze is good :). A game with Bronze (for buyers) and Bronze (for content) will not take all your money (but could quite a bit, still be careful!), and will not convey a bad message. But also a game with the bronze Piggy Bank will be ok in most case, the lack of Book label only means that parent supervision might be needed to some extend.

And a Disclaimer: to show up a label is at the responsibility of the seller, game publisher/studio/individual. To be allowed to use a label, the following rules for each rank of labels must be respected. If it were to not be respected, the label should be removed. If anybody finds a game with a label but not respecting it, please report it here. We will try to enforce it or add the game and the seller to the Hall of Shame.
As such, we cannot be held responsible if a label is misused. We don't want them to be misused but don't allow it, but we are not all-powerful to enforce it (yet :) ).

Hello all,
     Welcome to a new tentative of increasing the ethics of games. In the first time, it would concern customers/users/gamers side: if a game is not there trying to take all your money/time/energy.
The ethical aspect of the content is of course much more difficult to address, but we will try to some extent.

So, to help customers and support honest game builders, we propose a kind of label, actually one label about how the game deal with the customer, one about the content. In both cases, the existence of the label proves that this game is ok in that concern.
We define three levels of labels:

(All drawings by S├ębastien Lesage, font GlametrixBold by Gluk)

Dealing with customer/player/user:

- Bronze: no In-app purchases that can be repeated (so any buying of "game money"). Reasonable use of ads: they do not prevent playing the game. It is possible to remove the ads if they are a tiny bit obtrusive.

- Silver: In-app purchases are only cosmetic or offer a valid extension of the game for a reasonable price. No ads or very unobtrusive.


- Gold: In-app purchases offer a valid extension of the game for a reasonable price, or are cosmetic as support for the game, with a reasonable price (together). No ads.

Ethical content:

 - Bronze: The activity is neutral and the game does not show anything that could be unethical or address eventual unethical content with positive or educative answers.

- Silver: The activity is quite positive/educative and addresses eventual issues with ethical answers.

- Gold: The activity if clearly educative and allow the player to learn about ethics in the game's domain.

Furthermore, we define the opposite categories, where the games can simply be listed here (as I doubt they want these kinds of labels):

Dealing with customer/player/user:

- Okayish: In-app purchases can be repeated but are of a low amount. They are not presented very prominently. Ads are not too present and do not prevent a fluid usage of the game.
- Not nice: In-app purchases can be repeated and can go quite high *or* the ads are quite obtrusive. Removing the ads is offered but only partially remove them.
- Unethical: the game is barely playable without paying: In-app purchases go unreasonably high and are needed to play. Ads are very obtrusive.

Ethical content:

- Okayish: the activity is not quite ethical, but the game is rather neutral about it, or present it in a way that makes it better (like a cartoonish representation of violence).
- Not nice: the activity is not quite ethical and the game is fully going with it.
- Unethical: the activity is not ethical and seems to be fully ok with it.