After leaving Epic Games at the end of 2017, UX expert Celia Howdent repeatedly discussed ethical and practical UX solutions with other representatives of the gaming industry. Howder is actively researching the effects of mechanics that contribute to player involvement.
The authors of Gamasutra talked with Celia Howdent, the author of The Gamer’s Brain: How Neuroscience and UX Can Impact Video Game Design , and asked her about the extent of game addiction, as well as why the industry should actively regulate itself in terms of lootboxes, seasonal passes and so on. . We have chosen the main thing from the material.
My last GDC talk was about ethics in the video game industry, in which I talked about addiction. This is something we don’t worry about when we create the game. The developers think about how lucky they are that the game came out – it makes money, but the studio does not close. Thus, we do not necessarily think about the opposite side of it all.
According to her, in fact there are not so many games that cause problems with addiction. Only when the title is very successful, we can say: “Oh, maybe we need to think about this game a little differently.”
And it’s important to understand that there is a difference between an addictive game and a real addiction. In the second case, there is nothing positive. Dependence usually arises not from scratch, but in conjunction with other life difficulties.
Anxiety, depression … we are still trying to figure it out, but the researchers cannot agree. The World Health Organization has the concept of “gaming disorder” … there are still some disagreements with this.
In most cases, when you have an addiction, it does not come from the game, but appears because you need to escape somewhere.
I am not an addiction specialist, but I can say that it is bad. Addiction is a disorder; some people are addicted to games, yes, definitely. But there is a difference between this and the phrase that “games are addictive.”
According to researcher Andrew Pshibylsky and his colleagues, if we compare the number of cases of addiction and the total number of players, it turns out that less than one percent of users have problems.
Howder believes that the industry is too simple to relate to this concept. Players can say, “Oh, I’m super addicted, that’s cool.” Perhaps you should move away from this concept. In addition, all this only confuses people who have real problems.
F2P games specifically try to engage users in order to monetize their product. If the title does not bring pleasure, then its profitability falls. This is the flip side of such a business model, which is now very common – developers reward for engagement.
If the title turned out to be quite successful, and a lot of people play it, then at some point you can think about how to encourage breaks. Or at least not punish users who do not play.
If you look at World of Warcraft, you can see that they are not punished for a pause in the game. For example, after returning, a bonus to XP appears. We need to think more about such elements so that people continue to play not out of fear of missing something.
When your game is successful, you can think about it. But most do not have that luxury, and they are just trying to survive. I fully understand this, and I think that we need to more rationally discuss the problem. Because there are a large number of parents who are worried about this, but do not even know how to put parental control!
Howdent also noted that, for example, in Animal Crossing , tasks sooner or later end, and at some point there is nothing more to do in the game. Therefore, the user has to wait a bit and then return. This is a good way to discourage ongoing participation.
According to Howdent, children may have poor control over themselves. Adults also do not always succeed, but children are simply terrible in this – they cannot stop themselves if they really like something. And parents need help in setting some rules.
But it’s important to understand that this is not an addiction, but simply time control, so that children do something else. The problem with Fortnite and many other games is that they have their own social life: in the virtual space you can meet friends and spend time together.
Parents need to understand what children do in the game and who they spend time with. If parents impose severe restrictions, the child will simply ask: “why can not I play with my friends?”.
Of course, sometimes a child can react … a little badly. We must conduct a rational discussion of this issue and understand what the problem is. It’s not enough to just say that video games are bad, it won’t make an interesting conversation about real problems.
According to Howdent, in most cases, developers do not want to do something bad for their audience. They are just passionate about making games and want people to have fun. The problem is that the F2P title model is such that studios have to go that way in order to succeed.
This is the attention sparing issue that Tristan Harris is talking about . For example, he said that YouTube has autorun, which is designed to keep people on the platform. If Netflix does not do the same, it will be an omission compared to a competitor.
And now Facebook is doing it. And everyone does it. The problem is that our industry is not self-regulating, we are not saying: “We have a certain ethics, let us all limit ourselves together.” If one studio does this, then everyone should follow suit, because good behavior leads to a loss of money.
Being ethical is not so simple because you acknowledge: “money is not so important, our ethics is important.” And not everyone can do this.
According to Howdent, the age of the players affects a lot, but developers are not always able to accurately determine this parameter.
We need to know how old our target audience is. But this can be a daunting task. We are not a casino and cannot identify people, so we are not always sure who is playing. We have several ways to deal with this: we can, for example, ask the player to give information about himself; we can use the help of a psychiatrist; we can use our data to look at patterns of behavior that lead to a strong passion for the game and spending a lot of money.
Howder believes that in cases where the government begins to regulate the situation with lootboxes, it is necessary to achieve equal rules for all. If we assume that there will be exceptions for companies with “big money”, then such regulation will not work.
If we self-regulate, then at least we can control the discussion around this. And we can make the discussion more reasonable, rather than wait for action from people who don’t understand the game industry or how it works. It may not be fair for some people if we ourselves do this. But at least we can discuss it. It is better to enter into a calm and less emotional conversation than to be imposed from without.
But if we do nothing ourselves, they will impose it on us at some point.