Video Games as Slot Machines

Slot machines in a casino

I stumbled across this podcast the other day, TrailBlazers, while I was doing research about a related topic. The episode, titled Jackpot, that popped up first for me was about gambling, in particular slot machine.  I’ve actually written a fair amount about gambling in my series on lock-boxes so I was really interested in this particular episode and it didn’t disappoint. I highly recommend you give it a listen — I’ll cite a few quotes here, but the full piece is worth a listen.

What I found particular interesting was the parallels that I saw between Slot Machines and video games — and the synergy between the two. In particular there was one quote that stuck out to me:

WALTER ISAACSON: Dr. Timothy Fong is an associate professor of psychiatry at UCLA and co-director of the UCLA gambling program.

DR. TIMOTHY FONG: When you walk through any casino in America that has slot machines and, again, you’ll see things like favorite television shows, and media, and personalities branded in with slot machine.

WALTER ISAACSON: There are slot machines themed after Game of Thrones, Dolly Parton, and Judge Judy. Even the hit movie The Hangover has it’s own themed machine. And all that familiar branding is there by design. It’s meant to get your attention and get you to sit down. There’s something for everyone. With so many varieties, there’s guaranteed to be one to catch your eye.

This is theme we see frequently in mobile gaming. In gaming, it’s commonly referred to as “reskinning,” which generally means to take a game, redo the graphics but leave the gameplay unchanged and market it as a new game. I was confused when I first started noticing this trend in mobile games — why exactly would they reskin a game but not really make any changes? Originally, I thought that it was keep the money flowing by showing frequent releases and therefore landing on “New and Trending” pages on the mobile stores.

If we apply the same principle as with Slot Machines, it actually makes a lot more sense. People will play the same game with a different theme because they like one theme more than another. They will be more likely to spend money on those games. This means that mobile developers such as King, can release a game with a slightly different theme with little to no overhead, and generate additional income from those people who find one theme more appealing than another.

For me, this parallel further strengthens the argument that video games, particularly mobile and Free-to-Play games are increasingly borrowing tactics used in casinos to better part people with their money. Further, I think the psychological manipulation that games employ are driving them on a collision course to government oversight and regulation, because they don’t/won’t regulate themselves.

As of November 6, Candy Crush Saga, King’s flagship game (if such a name can be applied to this exploitative monstrosity), is the number one grossing game on the Google Play Store. Just a few steps down the top grossing is Candy Crush Soda Saga. The game is functionally the same, but has slightly different graphics, and therefore presumable targets a different audience than the original Candy Crush Saga. It’s also worth mentioning that Candy Crush Saga is 52nd on the Top Free Games, despite being the top grossing.

This reads very similar to the techniques applied by slot machines to appeal to everyone by using slightly different themes.  In software development, it’s incredibly easy and cost effective to make these minor cosmetic changes to the games. The ROI on any game past the original creation is significantly higher because the cost of the re-skinnned game is miniscule. The process of re-skinning a game isn’t quite trivial, but it is fairly small.

In fact, in King’s portfolio of mobile games on the Google Play store, almost all of them follow the same general “Match 3+” theme, and at least 7 of them have almost no difference in game-play, only a mild thematic difference. Interestingly, King has also released a single slots games. It’s obvious that King is using slot machine tactic of providing the same general gambling experience with thematic differences to appeal to different audiences and thereby increase revenue.

It’s also worth noting, that as of the same date, November 6 2018, 7 out of the Top 20 Grossing games on the Google Play Store are explicitly gambling. 6 out of the 7 gambling games are slots games, with a lone Bingo game. It seems silly to assume that mobile develoeprs aren’t applying the same principles of Slot Machines in their mobile games.

The issue here is that the policy hasn’t caught up with technology yet. As these games get more exploitative, there’s a greater chance they will end up with government regulation because they continue to use techniques from a highly regulated industry to manipulate people to spend more money. Their greed and inability to self-regulate will eventually catch the attention of policymakers.

Bringing it Home – The Lock-box Debate part 3

Now I’ve looked the what of lock-boxes and the potential increases in profit, whether lock-boxes are gambling or not, and finally what makes lock-boxes in games different? For all the parallels we can draw between gambling and lock-boxes today, they are still different and those differences shouldn’t be glazed over–they are definitely important.

Continue reading “Bringing it Home – The Lock-box Debate part 3”

Is it Gambling? The Lock-box Debate – Part 2

Poker Chips

We’ve established what lock-boxes are and how they are used in games. Next, I want to tackle fiercely debated topic in lock-boxes: Are lock-boxes gambling? After several hours of research through lots of court opinions, the answer is a resounding not yet. I spent an afternoon reading to understand the leg whats and whys of lock-boxes and gambling in virtual worlds.

Continue reading “Is it Gambling? The Lock-box Debate – Part 2”

Why EQ2 is Still Worth Playing (even under Daybreak)

I swore up and down that I wouldn’t support Daybreak anymore after the EverQuest Next cancellation. Last week, I caved and re-subbed to play EverQuest 2 on the progression server. The core game is fun and offers features you can reliably find anywhere else. While my druthers quiver in rejection, having fun is all that matters when it comes to gaming.

Continue reading “Why EQ2 is Still Worth Playing (even under Daybreak)”

DayBreak Games Cancels Flagship game EverQuest Next

Everquest Next

 

Russel Shanks of DayBreak Games took the interwebs today to announce the company’s cancellation of it’s flagship game, EverQuest Next.  EverQuest Next was to be the continuation of the EverQuest franchise, which ushered MMOs through their infancy into the genre that it is today.  Early journalist review said it was like nothing in the genre, with an interactivity and responsiveness in world AI that didn’t exist anywhere else. The news comes as a blow to MMO gamers, and raises larger questions about what the future of DayBreak Games is, if any at all.   Continue reading “DayBreak Games Cancels Flagship game EverQuest Next”

Pokemon Mounts Announced for Pokemon X and Y

Pokemon Mounts Announced for Pokemon X and Y

I’m ridiculously geeked for the new Pokemon games — and now literal pokemon mounts?! Multiple Pokedex’s in just one game?!  The collection addict in my just squee’d and wet itself a little bit.  Catch the video from the Escapist below.  The rideable pokemon featured is “GoGoat” cause it’s a goat …. that goes (as they so eloquently say in the video :-)).  Also, it makes me hungry for yogurt.

So is it October yet?  It really should be…

Anyway, check it out below.

 

 

Pokemon Conquest – Initial Thoughts

So I picked up Pokemon Conquest on Friday (since I actually managed to find it.)  I had stopped 4-5 other places throughout the week without success to pick it up (along with Theatrhythm, but thats for another day).   Anyway, I started playing the game and I’m probably 3-4 hours in–it’s actually pretty fun, though a little bit shallow at this point in the game — I’m not sure if the gameplay will deepen a bit more as time goes on.

From a pokemon perspective, it’s very much like pokemon lite — not all 600+ pokemon are in the game, instead only a subset of 100 or so.  As you battle other warriors and warlords and wild pokemon, you add their pokemon to your “Gallery,” which is loosely synonymous with the pokedex.

As far as strategy goes, it’s pretty standard far with how pokemon games with the pokemon types being more/less effective against other types.  In the beginning of the game at least, Pokemon Conquest goes out its way to make this easy for you to see.  The first couple kingdoms you conquer all play into this strategy to help drive the point home.

Overall, thus far into the game — it’s pretty fun. At this point, it’s not horribly complicated and the strategy at this point isn’t all that deep, but at only 4 hours in, that could easily change down the line.  At the very least, it’s a good addition to the Pokemon Universe.

Reviewed: Pokemon Conquest

Ouya has the potential to Change the Video Game Industry

I originally posted this article over at my personal tumblr, Loud and Pithy a few days ago and thought it might be good to have on here as well.  To see the original post- check out here. 

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So I saw this thing a few days ago, and thought “Huh, that’s a nifty idea…” and left it at that. I didn’t really dig into it because … I don’t know, it was interesting to me, but not overly much. I’m primarily an MMO gamer these days, and while I still rock out some other games, I spend most of my time in MMOs. I loathe mobile games. Not because mobile games are as a genre bad, but just because they never seem to think about the game beyond the quickest and sleeziest way to separate me from my money. Of course there are exceptions to this, but by-and-large, this is the primary type of game you will find on either Android or iOS. 

So looking at a console platform, built on Android, I immediately thought the same which is probably why I went “Huh, neat.” and moved on with life. But it happened to come across my feed that Ouya set a Kickstarter record. I thought “Huh, neat again.” and moved on with life. Then, a day later, I saw that it had made an ridiculous amount of money, to the tune of about $4million in funding, just 2 days after the project launched on Kickstarter. 

Ok, NOW you have my attention. I did some digging and some reading, and realized that Ouya has potential for more than just the stupid, give-me-your-money-NAO! GluMobile type of game (Full Disclosure: I hate GluMobile, so my perception of them will be likewise somewhat biased). Ouya is working to get some big name games ported over to the platform and with the amount of interest generated here, and a sizeable install base BEFORE launch, I think they’ll get some big publishers to bite. Simultaneously, new development will be a huge portion of the platform too, as each and every console will ship with the free SDK, and there’s no complicated licensing procedures to go through to get your game on the market for people to try. And everything has to be free-to-play (for a portion of the game, anyway — this piece makes me a bit nervous). 

Overall, the business plan seems solid in theory, but the actual implementation will be the deciding factor. I for one, think that this platform has a lot of potential to upset what is quickly becoming a stagnant industry. While it’s been brewing for a while, there’s been a pretty marked increase in the dissatisfaction with the game industry in recent years (more on this in an upcoming post). I think that if Ouya executes well, it has a the potential to sooth that pain point for a lot of modern gamers. 

As I read more information about the platform and it’s vision, I see lots of similarities between Ouya and Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, and Playstation Network (or whatever they call it now-a-days). Those platforms have been wildly successful because they allow development of games on much smaller budgets (and occasionally, astronomical profits). Ouya sort of bridges the gap between the console indie dev market and the steam indie market — it’s a console indie market, but instead of the licensing and exclusivity deals that comes with the current generation of consoles, it’s much more open and developer friendly – like Steam. 

They’ve got a ton of crowd funding, and as such, a ton of support from gamers. But gamers are fickle and demanding mistresses. I’ll be interested to see how they progress the platform and manage the gamer expectations over the next few months.