Can a Game Design be Unethical?

By on May 21, 2013 8:14:36 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Burress

Join Date 06/2006
+15

The game I am going to use as an example is Diablo 3. For those of you who are not aware, Blizzard put a real money auction house in to the game where they take a 15% cut on all money cashed out of the system and an extra 15% cut on any commodity transactions in the game (also $1 on all transactions). This is within a game designed around addictive tendencies, where the goal is to get people to play a 10 hour game for hundreds of hours through loot and numbers greed as mobs with ever higher numbers are presented to be killed in replays, all put in a shiny, wondrous visual and aural package that a slot machine designer would admire.

The RMAH (real money auction house) puts a whole new spin on the formula though. Apparently, Blizzard claims they didn't think many people would use it when they released the game, but now a game designer has come out and said it is a mistake that they would "turn it off if they could." (link at bottom) Most players use the auction houses (there is a gold-only one as well). Items can be and do sell for as much $250, and can be resold over and over again.

There was recently a scandal with the RMAH where a few hundred people were able to exploit a bug in Blizzard's code to duplicate gold, which has cash value in the game. Blizzard confiscated all the money involved in transactions associated with the fraudulent activity and donated the money to charity. They came out with a publicly righteous stance condemning the exploitation of the bug in their programming for personal gain. I find it ironic though, since I see Blizzard as exploiting a bug in people's programming to make billions, since their games target psychological mechanisms for addictive behavior like no other I have seen.

I would think many people consider game design a profession with the potential to enrich people's lives through artistic expression and intellectual challenge. But do some developers exploit people's psychological vulnerabilities in the same way a casino does? Is it wrong that they do? People have literally died from addiction to Blizzard games, should the game designer bear responsibility for the consequences of variable rate reinforcement working too well? Are there any ethics to game design?

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/122980-Blizzard-Admits-Diablo-III-Auction-House-Was-a-Mistake 

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May 21, 2013 10:37:04 PM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

Not when it comes down to choice ... you don't have to play the game, you don't have to use the auction house. 

I'm sure that Bizzard didn't make the market to 'exploit' someone, more likely they understand that some players like a market base mechanism to sell items. They are just catering for users. 

Played the game for around 10hrs, it's not that good and I can't see myself going back to it. At least Path of Exile has very good game mechanics, now if only I can find some more Exalted Orbs ...

 

 

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May 21, 2013 11:01:47 PM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

Why would anyone think there were 'ethics' which applied to a game?

There's certainly none in other games which revolve around the spending of money [eg. all forms of gambling].

Anything which exploits a person's weakness for addiction - for commercial profit has no room for 'ethics'.

Never had....never will.

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May 21, 2013 11:39:20 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

One game off the top of my head that was:  Street Fighter X Tekken

 

 

 

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May 22, 2013 3:30:40 AM from Sins of a Solar Empire Forums Sins of a Solar Empire Forums

15% is pretty good.  Millions of idiots throw away their money buying government run lottery tickets that pay out half of what goes in and tax two thirds of the payout.  All things considered, hosing people for 15% so they can pretend they don't have a life isn't so bad...

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May 22, 2013 3:44:11 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Do you consider McDonald's and Wal-Mart unethical?  How about casinos or the Stock Markets?

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May 22, 2013 3:51:45 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

If you want to ask, "Can game designers be guilty of questionable conduct" and then detail that conduct, I'd say the answer is yes--because though it may at times seem otherwise, game designers are very human. But I can't wrap my mind around the concept of a game design itself being "unethical." Ethics is a question of intent, originating in a performer/doer. A game design is by definition a thing being created, acted upon. It has no ethics. Its creators do.

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May 22, 2013 11:06:59 AM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

Whether ethical misconduct requires intent is a philosophical matter, and I do love those, but suffice to say there is at least one camp that considers intent irrelevent (consequentialists/utilitarians). I don't think it is an important issue here though.

I think a design can be unethical, let's say if we saw stadium plans that had extra concession stands where fire exits should be. Maybe the designer forgot about them and there is no intent to endanger people. It is a matter of language and convenience to me. Game designs of multi-million or billion dollar games tend to be diffuse, so focusing on the object seems appropriate. In this case the purpose or effect of the design (depending on what you want to focus on) is to trigger reward mechanisms in some players to engage in shallow, compulsive behavior for hundreds of hours and even spend considerable sums of money to get the effect of hundreds of hours of grinding.

I think casinos are unethical, in that they bring more harm to the community than good they produce. Stock markets are a mixed bag, but there are practices which are legal but have the same effect of enriching few at the expense of a great many (like the practices that led to the recession). 

I think games can be enriching activities and I don't think it is wrong if they are designed to be a good way to waste time. I think it crosses the line when they exploit vulnerable people for gain, like casinos do. I see this kind of design in the App market on the Ipad a lot. There will be a game, often free to play, which will try to stoke desire for in-game resources, to the point it is not playable without them. Then they will have in-app purchases which range from a few dollars to a hundred dollars for in-game resources (all repeatable). Are they trying to get fair value for their game, or are they trying to exploit people with addictive tendencies to bleed them?

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May 22, 2013 11:40:59 AM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

Quoting Burress,
I think a design can be unethical, let's say if we saw stadium plans that had extra concession stands where fire exits should be.

That's not an ethics option...it's covered by legislation.  Exit design/location is designed to a standard.

The only question for that is whether or not the standard is sufficient....and if not then that raises a question of ethical conduct on the part of the standards 'committee'/author/s.

Quoting Glazunov1,
If you want to ask, "Can game designers be guilty of questionable conduct" and then detail that conduct, I'd say the answer is yes-

Yes.

Quoting Burress,
I think casinos are unethical, in that they bring more harm to the community than good

Yes.

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May 22, 2013 1:15:13 PM from Elemental Forums Elemental Forums

People are responsible for their own behavior.  If blizzard is honest with their system, the numbers add up, then there is nothing wrong with it.  Don't like it, don't use it.  

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May 22, 2013 1:47:23 PM from WinCustomize Forums WinCustomize Forums

Quoting Lord Xia,
People are responsible for their own behavior.

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