12/04/2019 Video Games, Ethics, and Society – Part 2
I recently had the pleasure of being on a panel at Oz Comic-Con in Sydney, discussing ethical game development. The panel was dense with discussion, with a previous post covering the earlier part of the discussion whilst we pick up the latter half of the panel here.
To briefly recap, the panellists were indie game developer Mathew Lucis, AAA game designer Emilie Poissenot, games journalist and cosplayer Adelaide Naylor, and myself Andrew a developer at The Project Factory and games podcast journalist. The panel was moderated by Thomas Kuzma.
We were asked about Free-to-Play games, are they “evil, or just casual fun?” I refuted both of these terms – while it is entirely possible to create a free-to-play game in a manipulative manner to coerce people to spend as much money as possible, this isn’t inherently the case with free games. Nor are they necessarily “casual” – for example, “League of Legends”, one of the world’s largest games has a massive fanbase and one of the largest sets of esports tournaments globally. Given it reportedly made US$2.1 billion in 2017, I would hardly call such a game “casual”!
On a more general note, the discussion about Free-to-Play games centred around trying to strike the balance between providing a compelling experience that customers want to pay for, and not manipulating or forcing them into this. EA’s “Dungeon Keeper Mobile” was called out as a great example of how not to do this – they display their shop to you very quickly upon playing the tutorial, and the game itself is tedious to play without spending money to “skip the grind”.
We unanimously agreed this is one of the most egregious uses of microtransactions in Free-to-Play games – the idea of “pay to win” and felt it important that developers avoid this.
A question that was posed directly to Adelaide and Emilie in particular about how to make women feel more welcome and represented in game development and games journalism. Their answer was simple “hire more women”. Elaborating on this, they pointed out that in general, having more diverse points of view in development (specifically) would grow the community and help more interesting stories to emerge, allowing suggestions and idea to bubble up that perhaps wouldn’t be thought of by a group of people who are less diverse. Life is Strange is an excellent case in point of female-driven story development.
As most of the panellists were or had been current game developers, we spent some time discussing how to develop mindfulness and “maintain our sanity” during this process. The overwhelming takeaway from this was to take breaks as a developer – the temptation to overwork is strong – particularly in the indie development space. Just as important is to make sure your coworkers also take breaks!
A question was asked about meetups in the indie developer community – specifically what these are like and how supportive they were of both game dev and mental health. All panellists who were familiar with these meetups (Emilie, in particular), felt they were this and more! Some of the meetups are focused around getting feedback on the games and showing them off to other developers, while other meetups are just to get together and hang out. Meetups are run on a fairly frequent basis as well, which is quite positive!
Finally, we were asked how we would like to see the community grow and develop. Almost unanimously, we echoed many of the prior answers: aim for more inclusivity; make more cool, unique and interesting games, and enjoy playing!