It’s called “contract”

Azuriel is pessimist about the future of video games: “in the US, where money is speech, the voice of the guy spending $15,000 on Mass Effect 3 multiplayer loot boxes drowns out everyone else.” and “The problem is that the more we support the small developer, the more likely that they become corrupted by the siren call of monetization. The company gets bigger, they become publicly traded, and suddenly they have a fiduciary duty to rig games and implement gamble boxes. Success consumes itself.”

The solution for these problems are long found: contracts. When I rent a flat and sign a contract for 1 year, they can’t just evict me after 6 months because they’ve found a whale. If they’d do it anyway, I could sue them for serious damages. Similarly, if I buy a car, they can’t just remotely shut it down to force me to buy the new model. The cable company can’t suddenly remove the channels I’ve paid for and add channels I don’t like but others do unless the contract says so.

There is nothing – but the dumbness and non-organized nature of gamers – that stop the gaming from being run by contracts. The terms of service is actually a contract, but usually they only declare the rights of the publisher and no obligations. Any other industry would be laughed off offering something like that. For some reason gamers accept these “I do whatever I want” contracts. Well, we shouldn’t.

However, it’s an opportunity for companies who want to build on return customers and longevity instead of short term predatory business. They can offer their contract as selling point: “look, we don’t just promise that we won’t add P2W later, we wrote it in the contract. If we’d add P2W, you could demand refunds”. By doing so, the company not only gets the non-P2W gamers, as their promises are now trustworthy, but they protect themselves of future execs going greedy and burning the game for a few good quarters. They can’t add P2W as it would mean lots of refunds on that quarter.

This is the only way without government intervention on the gaming field. A company that offers a good contract to the customers to catch them in the sea of scams and ripoffs.

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Author: Gevlon

My blog: https://greedygoblinblog.wordpress.com/

15 thoughts on “It’s called “contract””

  1. “Any other industry would be laughed off offering something like that.”

    But this isn’t “any other industry.” It’s the software industry. And they can just unilaterally dictate terms. All the ‘contract’ can force is that they make the new terms available to you if you are in good standing. Unless the terms say otherwise. Which they always do.

    The word you’re looking for here isn’t contract, it’s reputation. And what will drive game companies to care about their reputation is for players to vote with their dollars and say no to the scammers.

    But I’m not holding my breath. As long as humans are not an enlightened species and will gladly pay for advantage, this will continue.

    Oh! Hilarious prediction! To keep the free playing fodder around for the whales to kill, they’ll start rewarding you with stuff from OTHER games they make too… to keep you in. “Earn enough free play points and get a free download of premium DLC from our other game! It’s the best deal!” Heh. Wait. Blizzard already went there. (You CAN buy Destiny 2 with tokens, right?)

    Eventually, enough people will quit, though. And enough devs will get sick of it. Who knows how long that will take. I expect it will get worse long before it gets better.

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  2. @Smokeman: my point is that a company can get serious advantage by offering a better contract. They aren’t forced by law to offer it, but they can get players by advertising their contract. “Hey, we are the company who won’t rip you off, ask a lawyer if you don’t believe us”. And lawyers will indeed tell that they can’t rip you off without huge financial risks.

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  3. The downfall of SimCity gives me hope. The developer decides to push an artificially limited product on the market with the goal of fleecing the customer with micro-transactions. This opened a window of opportunity. Cities XXL took that opportunity and the market was changed forever.
    Likewise Diablo III, where viable alternatives are available in Torchlight and Path of Exile. Or the Witcher series, outclassing various AAA games while developed in Poland (lower cost base and less SJW-crap).

    I refuse to buy any game with season passes or DLC available at launch (indicating that the game was neutered). I’ll happily torrent them.

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  4. I think you overestimate the ‘demands’ of gamers that these companies are flocking to supply. You’re assuming the customer base is 20-30 y/o men, when the reality is that the whales are 13-19 y/o children with access mommy and daddy’s credit card.

    15,000 dollars on loot boxes for a mediocre game is totally unreasonable for a grown ‘responsible adult’, but for a child with no clue about fiscal responsibility (and the time to click enough to spend that much) it makes perfect sense. The reason these schemes are successful is because they are designed to tap into instinctual tendencies that children simply have no ability to resist (like real gambling). To suggest that those same children would care about the validity of their ability to ‘pwn’ (by way of credit card access) is absurd.

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  5. @Trees: why should I care? If the responsible adults are moving to contract-protected games, the children with credit cards can do whatever they want in their games.

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  6. This situation is maintainted because being lazy with your private data doesn’t yet cost enough for people to stop being lazy.
    I don’t expect this situation to change until privacy becomes an actual issue in social circles outside of conspiracy nuts. It is slowly happening, to be sure, but i don’t expect a major shift on this front for at least a decade (maybe two).

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  7. @Maxim: I’m not sure how privacy comes to the equation. Video game companies aren’t too bad in handling privacy and most of them accept totally anonymous customers.

    It’s that they promise actually nothing for our money is what annoys me.

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  8. @Gevlon

    “I’m not sure how privacy comes to the equation. Video game companies aren’t too bad in handling privacy and most of them accept totally anonymous customers.”

    It’s not about “privacy”, it’s about how the developers “use” said data. If a developer can gain insights into your playing habits that allows them to make game elements that “target” your playing style and thereby menetize it, they are under no false assumption that offering any kind of “contract” will give the player any benefit. They will still be peeing on the players shoes and hinting that the sunny day rain is the actual culprit.

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  9. “And lawyers will indeed tell that they can’t rip you off without huge financial risks.”

    No, they’ll laugh in your face. The “Financial risk” they take is that you choose to stop supporting them. That’s not a contract, that’s a EULA. A CONTRACT would specify damages for breeching it. And that isn’t going to happen here, ever. A contract is a two way binding agreement, a EULA is one way.

    Imaging trying to ban hackers who have an actual, swear to god contract. You would literally have to go to court, with it’s attendant costs, to ban a cheater that claims they were banned unfairly. I’m visualizing a judge doing the “Picard face palm” when told of the docket.

    But… It’s not a bad idea! Just change “contract” to “reputation.” and try again.

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  10. @vv: but they will play with the next game of the studio – or not, if their last experience was “I lost $100 to those bastards for a shitty game”. Do you think if CCP would release some new game I’d love, I would even consider trying it out? Or touch World of Warships after I learned WoT is rigged?

    @Noguff: they can screw my paying habits if they agreed in a binding contract that they won’t sell anything but subscription for $20/month

    @Smokeman: yes, I’m talking about a real binding contract with elements “if our studio implements microtransactions, all previous subscription and box money can be asked for refund”

    No, you don’t have to go to court. You just ban the cheater. And if the cheater goes to court he better can prove he’s innocent (which case he deserves compensation for unfair ban), because if he is fairly banned, the contract already has $10K damage he has to pay for cheating and he did the favor of identifying himself by going to court.

    I doubt if any judge would do a Picard face palm, because he’d know that the RMT industry is several billion dollars a year. You are still living under the impression of games being fun stuff created by enthusiasts for kids instead of one of the largest entertainment segment, with trillion dollar global income. Cheating in a video game isn’t smaller issue than pirating a movie before release or players rigging a professional football game.

    “Reputation” is nothing. It can be changed with PR, or if lost, by closing the studio and opening a new one next day.

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  11. @Gevlon
    >“if our studio implements microtransactions, all previous subscription and box money can be asked for refund”

    Able Studios wants to implement microtransactions, but they’ve signed a “subscription only” contract. Able Studios ignores this fact and adds cosmetic lootboxes to their game. Customers sue. Customers soon learn that Able Studios only handles *development* of the game. All of the capital, copyrights, brands, and IP are owned by Able Holdings LLC (headquartered in Bermuda). The game servers are managed by Able Online Operations, which is a totally separate entity. Able Studios declares bankruptcy and all of its assets (e.g. office furniture) are liquidated. Angry customers receive a few pennies.

    A new company, Baker Studios, is created overnight. Baker Studios hires all of the Able Studios personnel. Able Holdings generously grants a license to Baker Studios, so that they can use the Able IP and continue development of the game. The servers remained online throughout the whole debacle. The flow of revenue (subscription and microtransaction) continued without interruption. The broken contract is moot because the counterparty no longer exists. Baker Studios sets up a new contract with its customers: “all purchases in our game will be cosmetic; we will *not* add P2W gold ammo.” In order to save time, a junior executive begins filing paperwork for Charlie Studios and Delta Studios.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollywood_accounting

    Has the publisher suffered any harm? Their reputation has been damaged, but this same effect would occur if they had simply made a public pledge and then broken it. The existence of a legal contract didn’t add any weight or significance. Jim Sterling will tell everyone not to play the game because of the shady business practices. Most people will ignore Jim and buy the game (or not) depending on whether it looks fun and whether their favorite streamer plays it.

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  12. @edwardqjones: the industry can pull this once. After that the internet will be on the watch and next time Fiona Studios publish a game, the forums and blogs and videos will be out with “watch out, as Fiona Studios doesn’t own the game, so any contract with them are void” and they won’t get any subscribers/buyers from the “I want contract” people AND bad press. They would be better off to just publish without a contract.

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