Reading Time: 3 minutes (ish)
I had an interesting chat with my eldest daughter recently. As with many chats with her, I was left thinking about the choices in my life… yeah, she’s reached that age!
- O: I really want this shark in my game. It is only 500 crystals!!
- Me: And how much do 500 crystals cost?
- O: Well, I’ve got £10 in my purse and I would pay you back as soon as I can?
- Me: So it’s more than £10?
- O: It’s £20, but…
- Me: £20!?!??! Of real actual money for a [email protected]#king shark graphic in an iPhone game!??!?!?!??!
- O: Yes, But, it is a special deal that I can only get today, normally it would cost £60
- Me: (Words I am too polite to use her)
- O: Yes, But…
- Me: No. Absolutely not, no way, no how.
- O: (Almost in tears) But I will never have this chance again, it is only today and the shark is new and it is a special deal just for me and and and and…
- Me: Sweetheart, it isn’t. The developers are just trying to get money from you. They are using psychological tricks to make you come to me and tell me what a great deal it is. They are making you feel special and like you are being offered a once in a lifetime, exclusive offer.
- O: (Crying) Oh.
- Me: These are the sorts of things that gamification often uses to encourage people to do things.
- O: (Shouting) Well, you’re just as bad as them then aren’t you!?
- Me: (Spluttering slightly) Yes, but I am usually trying to encourage peole to do important things, like complete important safety training or learn things that will help them at work.
- O: Yeah, tell yourself that (Storms off).
This really hit me hard. It got me thinking, “am I as bad as them?” Does what I do equate to greedy devs trying to screw every last penny out of parents, players and children?
For example, one F2P game she had involved making milkshakes. To complete level 1, you needed an orange straw. However, the orange straw only came in straw pack 1 that cost £1. Level 2 required a blue straw. However, the blue straw only can in straw pack 2. You can see where this is going. It was an expensive lesson for me as a parent on how low game devs will go. The worst was on one of the Talking Tom games though. Here, at the point they wanted you to pay, they showed a graphic of a child handing the phone to their parent and asking them to pay!!
I get wanting to make money, but manipulating kids is pretty low.
Anyway, back to the question, am I really as bad as that. The answer is no. Whilst I know all these tricks and manipulations, I have the choice not to use them. If I do use anything that could be considered as a trick or a manipulation, it will be for reasons that are beneficial to the user, not me or anyone else. It is always about what is best for the user.
Consider a fitness tracker. The core reason for the user to have one is to exercise more. If the app or the device uses methods that feel like tricks or manipulations, to encourage the user to do exercise – is that a bad thing? After all, they got the thing for that exact reason.
It is often down to pure intent. Is your intent to control or to help? You could even call it ethics (nice plug there, see what I did?? Oh and here is my ethics page… :D)
Are you evil? I’m not, and my daughter finally agreed yesterday… for now!
Also published on Medium.