"Today's Digital Entertainment Ecosystem Is an Online Gauntlet for Children"

"Today's Digital Entertainment Ecosystem Is an Online Gauntlet for Children"

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | A Republican senator's loot box and pay-to-win legislation has the support of Democrats and the industry shows itself in various states of preparation for the coming fight.

You know when gamers are really upset about something, companies always stress that they hear the feedback loud and clear? Sometimes they even make changes in response to that anger. Like when BioWare redid the ending to Mass Effect 3. Or when the Sonic the Hedgehog live-action movie producers pledged to redesign the protagonist of their movie after they released the first trailer. Or when Riot Games and ArenaNet fired employees after people online called for their jobs for not being sufficiently deferential to the gamer masses.

For years, there's been no shortage of gamers telling these companies that many games-as-a-service monetization models use shamelessly exploitative mechanics to cultivate compulsive player behavior and maximize revenue in unethical ways. It would have been nice if this had been one of those times where the companies hear the feedback and cave, but they've got a lot more spine when it comes to protecting their revenue streams than when it comes to anything as difficult to put a number on as ethics. So aside from the occasional company stripping particularly onerous systems out of a few premium games, there's been essentially nothing done to curb the worst abuses of the practice, and many of the big players in the industry have been denying there's a problem in need of addressing to start with.

That has naturally led us to the prospect of government legislation, and U.S. Senator Josh Hawley this week introduced a bill that would put a serious damper not just on loot boxes but also on pay-to-win mechanics and time-savers (which arguably are far more important to the health of the industry than loot boxes). As this week's quotes show, some of the big players are starting to wake up to the seriousness of the situation, while others don't seem to have considered it at all.

Hawley's bill has problems, as you'd expect any attempt at government regulation of loot boxes would. But it's hard for me to feel the industry is being treated unfairly or unjustly here given how predictable this all has been, how its own customers have been sounding the alarm on this for years, and how embarrassingly unresponsive it has been to those cries.

QUOTE | "Today's digital entertainment ecosystem is an online gauntlet for children. Inherently manipulative game features that take advantage of kids and turn play time into pay time should be out of bounds." - Democrat Senator Ed Markey explains why he is co-sponsoring a bill banning loot box and pay-to-win mechanics in games for children that has been introduced by Republican Senator Josh Hawley.

QUOTE | "We feel—at Xbox and Microsoft—that we have a huge responsibility when it comes to the healthy gaming lifestyle of the players on our service overall. We have an on-going commitment to constantly evolving that tool set around things, like screen time, content restrictions and spending controls... because some people need help. Parents especially, it's not easy being a parent in this modern age." - Xbox head of operations Dave McCarthy answers a question about gaming disorders being added to the World Health Organization's International Compendium of Diseases.

QUOTE | "Our goal is to provide entertainment to our players and learning from our players," Kim says. "We actually walk into the building every single day and there's a huge sign that says, 'What do our are players thank us for?' That is what we're focused on, which is bringing fun, engagement, and it also has the incredible effect of connecting people. Yesterday we had Garth Brooks in our building and his whole message was around positivity and connecting people. That's something that's super inspiring.

"I love video games, and it's part of my daily life since I was ten years old and grew up in a very strict household that actually forbade games. But over time, I was even convincing my parents that this is something that's productive and it's fun and can have a really great effect of connecting people and that's something we think is really fantastic. All of our forever franchises have incredible mechanics where people can meet people and also build relationships as you're going through something together. In the case of Empires & Puzzles, it's a PvP raid or taking down a boss together is something that's really fun and connects people." - Zynga CEO Bernard Kim "answers" a question about gaming disorders being added to the World Health Organization's International Compendium of Diseases.

QUOTE | "In short, poker won't be available in countries where online gambling is restricted or illegal. We apologize if this had caused any inconvenience." - A Rockstar representative explaining to a user in an email why Red Dead Online's in-game poker is unavailable in certain regions.

QUOTE | "We've got 25 years of game development experience and that's created 25 years of great games, franchises and stories. We feel that now is a good time to look at other media opportunities across streaming or film or television to give our worlds life in another spectrum." - Sony Interactive Entertainment chairman Shawn Layden talks about the launch of PlayStation Productions, a new internal film studio established specifically to bring Sony's gaming IP to the big screen.

QUOTE | "Detective Pikachu's commercial success opens a lot of doors for other creators and other IPs." - GamesIndustry.biz's Rob Fahey says that as Sony sets up PlayStation Productions, it should learn from what others did right (and wrong).

QUOTE | "If your teams all look the same and act the same, if they all share the same history and the same point of view, your products will not evolve and will eventually become lackluster and unimaginative. Sameness is the death of innovation and creativity." - Sony Interactive Entertainment chairman Shawn Layden stresses the importance of a diverse team.

QUOTE | "We're now at a point where China is absolutely the most major market for Three Kingdoms. And it's definitely hovering around in that Top Six collection of territories that we have for all of our games that we're selling at the moment." - Rob Bartholomew, Chief Product Officer at Creative Assembly, talks about Total War: Three Kingdoms' (perhaps unsurprising) popularity in China.

QUOTE | "With the applications of machine learning, worlds in the metaverse will react to you. Entirely new imaginary dreamscapes built on your settings, your stories, your interests, and of course your friends. And I believe within the next 10 years, this will be very real." - EA Chief Studios Officer Laura Miele lays out her optimistic view of the future of gaming.

QUOTE | "While I had massive pride for what the studio had achieved and the titles we had worked on, I also felt incredibly guilty for how we just kept doing the excessive hours, how I failed to change that pain for the team." - Former Rockstar Lincoln studio head Mark Lloyd explains how he came to regret things about his dozen years overseeing a studio notorious for crunch.

Leigh Alexander is a writer on Reigns: Game of Thrones and Reigns: Her Majesty. | Nerial/Devolver Digital

QUOTE | "I don't like games to do whatever I want. I like games that enable me to have interesting experiences I can't have through any other medium, and I simply find it more interesting than when my desires are complicated, or where there's something to complicate the player's objective." - Reigns: Her Majesty writer Leigh Alexander explains her current thinking around narrative in games.

QUOTE | "Not all players and playstyles work well together. To help keep your team chemistry balanced and fun, we've added an experimental Avoid Player list that guarantees you won't match with a player again." - Valve, introducing a feature for Dota 2 players could use to avoid toxic players, but it's only available to people who purchase the game's $10 seasonal battle pass.

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Brendan Sinclair

Managing Editor

Brendan joined GamesIndustry International in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at CBS-owned GameSpot in the US.

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