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Game Design Ethics

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by AndrewGrayGames, Aug 17, 2015.

  1. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    In light of the "Do you fake online players?" topic (and, where that's going), I was curious about how other members of the community approach game development from an ethical perspective.

    The way I was taught was composed of three basic tenets:
    1. The developer is responsible for providing their audience with a game that they enjoy.
    2. The game will not prevent the player from living their lives.
    3. The game will be clear about its rules, state, and conditions, that the player may better enjoy it.
    In short, the ethical framework I learned boils down to, "We make games to enrich our audience's lives." The only reason I don't boil it down, is because each part is important - games are at their best when they cause positive emotions, and not negative ones. Games should be humane in how they treat the player, as games are recreation. Finally, in order to do any of those first two things, we need to be honest with the player about what's going on with the game.

    What was your understanding of the ethics of game development?
     
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  2. hippocoder

    hippocoder

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    Mine are exactly the same: I am here to take care of the audience's request for entertainment. I want to fill their spare time with something great. There's no way they can respect what I've worked so hard on if I do not respect them first.
     
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  3. ironbellystudios

    ironbellystudios

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    I have a different set of ethics entirely. Like, on a whole different level of importance. I've not put it into words ever, so don't think this is some kind of set in stone policy:

    1) Don't create a game as a tool of subversion (IE: brainwashing)
    2) Provide the maximum enjoyment (regardless of if it violates some silly rule like faking players online or showing all the math behind attack power)
    3) Don't harm the player physically, emotionally, or socially. (In part, see #1)

    So basically my ethics revolve around the mental and physical well being of the player. As long as you don't harm them and still are providing them great entertainment, everything else is fair game.

    Just one theory mind you :)
     
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  4. Teila

    Teila

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    I find these to be very broad rules and very easy to get around. So while "faking players online" might seem to increase the enjoyment for others, it is most often used to subvert the players, make them believe something that is not true. Being honest about it and making it part of the game does increase the enjoyment...but if I find out after playing a game for a few days that I was lied to, then my enjoyment sinks drastically. Not only that, but I will make sure everyone knows. :)

    I would love to see rules that are more refined..although I am not sure what they might be. A few that come from my past experience with games might include:

    1. Provide an environment that is safe. This means set up the means to protect players from other players or from content that might be disturbing. This could be done by warnings so if you are including a scene with a horrific rape or portray discrimination, make sure it is necessary to the story and warn the players before purchase. If your game is multiplayer, make sure you have a system where players can report harassment.

    2. Create the game for the players, not to fulfill some fantasy of yours. This means do not use the game to humiliate or punish the player. You would be surprised how often this comes up, especially with newcomers to the game creation industry.

    3. Surprises should be in-game, such as the unexpected villain or a discovered cave full of dragons. They should not be something you use to fool players into playing your game...such as bots that act like players, or a trailer that fakes features that are not in the game just to sell more copies. Players are more than just little consumers, they are people. Never forget that.

    4. Guide the player but do not use punishment to force a player to play the way you want them to play. If you want them to use the bridge rather than swim across the water, make swimming slow. Do not make them drown. Honestly, some do this.

    5. And this sort of ties all the others together...Respect your players. Not only is this ethical, but an angry player who feels cheated or ignored could really hurt your game's image. No amount of money spent on advertising can undo what a spew of angry players can do to your game.

    I am sure there is more.....
     
  5. Pavlon

    Pavlon

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    I think there is only one rule "don't lie".
    I mean games are art and art is up to the artist and it is up to you what you do with it just don't try to make other like your art with lies or false promises the rest is up to the player
     
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  6. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    So, it's OK to create a nested series of skinner boxes to get your players to endlessly play your game to the exclusion of their real lives? We do wield psychological tools in this trade, y'know. Also, deception isn't necessarily a bad thing - read that design dissection of Chrono Trigger, to see how it's not.
     
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  7. Teila

    Teila

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    Asvarduil, I am pretty sure he did not mean deception as a means to game play. Much of the deception in game development comes from before the sale, not after. That is where it can straddle that ethical line.

    Deception in game play can be interesting...but if you use it to make people play your game in the first place, then it could be an issue. Of course, with Steam's refund policies, many of those games will not survive.
     
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  8. SpaceMammoth

    SpaceMammoth

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    Great topic.

    I had a friend at school who wrote a football management game. He did the interface (text) and all the buying and selling of players and training etc, be he didn't know how to create a football game simulation so he made it entirely random. No player choices made any difference, you just won or lost at random and got a random score. Everyone loved it, people saw patterns where there are none, and were discussing strategies in the playground.

    Was this ethical?
     
  9. Pavlon

    Pavlon

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    You can do so and it is ok no one forces some one to play a game they only do it when they like it i mean wow is in my opinion a series of skinner boxes sure there people who get addicted to it but it is not cause wow is a bad game it is cause some player have problems that have nothing to do with the game...

    There is aktually only one thing that can force a player to play your game and that is a good story but this is also with movies books and what ever can get your mind some where else.

    I mean you should realy not limit your self do what you want there 3 things that can happen.

    1.no one play your game
    live with it not every one share your dream.

    2.they play your game and after some time they say "great experince but i am done here"
    well done people like what you create.

    3.people cant stop to play your game
    well done people like what you create.
    Sure i am sorry for those without self control but is this the fault of the game ?

    @SpaceMammoth

    And no one realised that even for example a one star team have the same win ratio like a ten star team ?

    In any case if he showed numbers/bars or indicators for team strength and did just a if(rnd > 0.5) it is a lie.
    Normaly players realise things like this fast and stop playing the game and tell other to dont buy it....
     
  10. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    Sorry if my tone came off as...harsh. Stuff's going on elsewhere that has me a bit on-edge.

    I was trying to refute the simplicity of just having a rule, "Don't lie." While you appear to be understanding it to refer to advertising more than the game, there's plenty of other things that are just as bad or harmful as deception at its worst, that aren't themselves lies at all. Only having the rule "Don't lie" doesn't mean it's unacceptable to do those things to the player.
     
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  11. tedthebug

    tedthebug

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    Mine are hard to verbalise as I try to do them without thinking (& thinking about it afterwards may cause me to realise I stuffed up) but basically they're the old religious/nagging parent ones of:
    * Treat others how you want to be treated
    * Try your best not to cause harm to people (this is overt harm, you can't do much to limit self inflicted harm where players may have addiction issues & you have tried to limit harmful addictive things like gambling/iap's etc)

    If I make a game that interests me & is one I'd want to play & others then want to play it then I have indirectly met the first.
    If I ever manage to make one that has an income stream then I will have done my best to ensure that I have maximised the income while minimising the risk of causing financial harm to the player (can you implement a player imposed cap for iap's similar to what some gambling places do where gamblers set a limit before they start & once they reach it they are blocked from more?). If possible any ads would exclude ones to online gambling apps or pseudo poker machine apps that normalise gambling in children.
    As to violence, if I made a bullet storm game it would be so over the top that it couldn't be seen as normalising violence. If it was a story driven game then the violence would need to be in line with the story & not gratuitous. Rape would be a difficult issue as it does happen in real life but it wouldn't be one I would be comfortable showing & I hope I can avoid using it in a game.
     
  12. hippocoder

    hippocoder

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    I don't have a problem with violence or characters which aren't politically correct. I don't think PC will ever be a part of my games. That's not important. What's important is I don't single out any particular group. If I do it to everyone alike in the same manner, then it's just celebrating human stupidity. If I cross a line, then I do.

    But this isn't anything to do with lying to anyone.
     
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  13. Teila

    Teila

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    Players will know that going into your game. The problem is when they do not know...and it has an big impact on someone who has suffered trauma. That is why it is on my list. It is something we can avoid, quite easily, without taking anything out of our games. Ethically, we should disclose such traumatic issues to our players.
     
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  14. Gerald Tyler

    Gerald Tyler

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    I had once written a very long code of game design ethics, and posted it on an online forum (Which will remain anonymous). I asked if people would support a company which actually followed those, rather than just paying lip service. The overwhelming consensus was "I don't care about ethics / morals. I don't support companies, I support products."

    That's the reason why skinner boxes are still so common, the average gamer doesn't give a damn. You see this constantly with companies like Activision. They can use whatever shady practice that they want, and people will buy the game anyway, complain about the shady practices, and then 6 months later buy the next Activision title.

    While I think it great to have a dialogue on ethics in game development, only a very small minority will care enough that it makes or breaks the decision to purchase the game.

    JC Penny took an "Ethical" approach some years back. Their profits plummeted as a result. People want things to be overpriced, so when they get it on a sale they can feel good about paying the price that they would've paid anyway under the "Ethical" approach. They don't want to buy a $40 pair of pants for $40, they want to buy a "$50" pair of pants for $40, even though it's the exact same pair. They WANT somebody to lie to them and pretend like the pants are worth more so that they can get the satisfaction out of the illusionary deal.

    Ethics are great, and one of the reasons I love game development so much is that you can make a profit without exploiting people in third world countries. You're not harming people to make money. Yes there is still an environmental impact, but it is very minimal compared to other businesses.

    At the end of the day though, the gamers simply don't care. If they did, people wouldn't still be paying for horse armor DLC, color palate swaps for their favorite characters, or to reduce the timer in their freemium game.

    I'm glad that there are people on this forum as least who care as I do. Though ultimately it is just wasted energy as the customers just don't care.
     
  15. Teila

    Teila

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    We are not JCPenney or Activision. We don't have shareholders. We can follow a set of ethics even if it impacts our sales. I think you might be surprised though...some gamers do care.

    The common "kill everything in sight and then kill everything else in sight" might not care. But there are plenty who do. Gamers come in all shapes, colors, and mentalities...we are mom's, grandmothers, dads, kids, brothers, etc. We play FPS games, but also puzzle and card games.

    As a mom, I often have discussions with other mom's about the games they buy for their kids or the ones they allow them to play. They care and they have an impact on the market.

    It is not a wasted energy. We don't do this because the player's care. It should be something so common that the players don't even know that we are doing things to protect them from trauma, or disclosing information to help them make an informed decision, or that we are playing fair with them with regard to their wallet.

    Everyone says ethics don't matter..but a world where everyone feels that it is a waste of time would be a very hard world. :) I am not ready to go there yet, sorry.
     
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  16. Gerald Tyler

    Gerald Tyler

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  17. Teila

    Teila

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    Gerald, I see why you thought that but I meant simply a reporting system within a multiplayer game so one can protect others from harassment. Harassment is a truly nasty thing that can ruin the enjoyment of the game. We are not discussing using proper words in order not not offend, we are discussing our own person ethical views when it comes to creating games.

    Having been harassed in games and having watched my teen daughter go through the same thing, from perfect strangers, who I guess felt it was okay to verbally attack another player character who happens to look female (the words were very obviously pointed in that direction), I believe even more strongly that every game that is not a single player game must have some sort of way to deal with these situations.

    As for disturbing content, if you use the rating systems in your country (if you have them), then you are already revealing the content for rating purposes. It is pure kindness and common sense to make sure others know if you have something in the game that is super disturbing, and I don't mean run of the mill violence. I can't see why someone wouldn't want to reveal unless they feel it would hurt sales, which is silly because in this day and age it would probably help sales. ;) Hopefully, the majority of us would also reveal if something has flashing lights that could trigger an autism seizure.

    The dictionary is our friend. Before we use words like ethical we should know what they mean. Same with any other words that might change the topic and turn it into some controversy. Ethics is subjective, each person's view of what is right or wrong...and it should not be controversial. Nothing said so far are things one MUST do (well other than the ratings in some countries).

    I would love to see us respect each other's personal views rather than feel the need to tell them they are wrong.
     
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  18. Gerald Tyler

    Gerald Tyler

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    "Gerald, I see why you thought that but I meant simply a reporting system within a multiplayer game so one can protect others from harassment."
    That's my mistake then. I thought you meant protect people from offensive content within the game's story / plot.

    "I believe even more strongly that every game that is not a single player game must have some sort of way to deal with these situations."
    Slightly disagree. In M rated competitive shooters, talking trash to other people is part of the fun. Beyond that though, yeah people really should tone themselves down.

    "As for disturbing content, if you use the rating systems in your country (if you have them), then you are already revealing the content for rating purposes"

    Well yes...but it really isn't that well done. It'll just say like M for blood, violence, adult situations. Something along those lines. It doesn't give any specifics such as racial discrimination, attempted rape, etc.

    " I can't see why someone wouldn't want to"
    Well....it is possible that the trigger warnings themselves are doing more harm than good. It's hard to say, since psychology isn't a real science (Lack of clearly defined terms, unquantifiable, not possible to have a control, etc).
    How much harm will people experience without one? How much harm will people experience with one?
    It's easy to want to immediately perform an action which at the surface appears to help, but reality unfortunately isn't that simple. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    "which is silly because in this day and age it would probably help sales"
    Given how vocal some groups have been about it, I'm sure these companies have already looked at the data and found that not to be true. If they've been given any evidence to support it, it would already be an industry wide practice by now.
     
  19. AndrewGrayGames

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    Congratulations; I see this discussion has found the weeds. You'll want to take 10 steps back, turn 45 degrees to the left, and be sure not to miss the right turn at Albequerqe - that will steer us all back to the topic of ethics as far as video game design, not ESRB ratings, nor online interactions. It's possible (albeit difficult) to make an M game that is still developed in a way respectful of the player.
     
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  20. Teila

    Teila

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    Ummm, I am not talking about trash talking in a competitive shooter.

    No, they don't. Which is where doing the right thing comes in, aka ethics.

    Online games are games and ethics still apply.

    As you said....

    I play online games to enjoy them. Rules are created to make sure all players enjoy the game. So therefore, it is part of what I see as important ethics to apply to games.

    You may not design online games or play them so it is not important to you. But you asked the question. If you want narrow responses, then please make that clear. Do you mean only game mechanics or story? Do rules for engaging the player apply? What about in-game methods of dealing with issues and problems? How about false advertising and marketing of games?

    I guess I went broader than you did, but you said GAME DEVELOPMENT, not just game design.

    You dug yourself in, Asvarduil. So lecture yourself, not us. :)
     
  21. Gerald Tyler

    Gerald Tyler

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    Original post:
    " I was curious about how other members of the community approach game development from an ethical perspective."

    My reply was that approaching it from an ethical perspective is pointless, because most customer's don't care about it. The industry keeps giving people "Unethical" practices because that's what the people want. If it wasn't what people wanted, they'd stop buying those games, and the industry would stop doing it.

    You may be inclined to design your game based on what you personally want. There's nothing wrong with that.
    Other people will prefer to design based on what the market wants. So in that regard, respectfully, I do not believe I am off topic.
     
  22. Teila

    Teila

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    If you think it is pointless, then why post here? I an genuinely curious. I always wonder why people go to threads and tell others that what they are saying is pointless...and then after saying it, stick around. lol

    Will you stay and try to convince us to agree with you?
     
  23. hippocoder

    hippocoder

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    I think the whole furore of the internet on youtube at the moment about ethical practises ie asset flipping and developer scamming on greenlight might have sailed over some people's heads.

    Now, more than ever is a good time to understand that your gamers aren't cattle to be lied and manipulated to. Sure, some people might make a business doing it, but I never will. I have a deep respect for people who might try games by Simian Squared. I think respect is a two way street.
     
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  24. Teila

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    Personal ethics have nothing to do with the type of game you make or the audience you target. I happen to be targeting a niche market, one that is ignored by those who ride the waves of popular demand. It is the choice we made. Absolutely nothing to do with my personal choice....I would have made an entirely different game given the choice. :)

    Very good point, Hippo, and a good place to go with this discussion maybe.

    I am sure those folks who do the asset flipping, who put out trailers that fake features, and take money from pledges without the intention of actually finishing a game do make money off their endeavors and in some cases, get away with their behavior.

    The fact that these are getting more and more popular on YouTube as well as the new Steam refund policy makes me believe that there are many who do care. Maybe the pendulum will soon swing the other way as refund requests rise and Youtube personalities call people out right and left.

    Sadly, it harms all of us though. Indie gamers get a bad name from a handful of bad apples who have no scruples when it comes to taking money from other people and give little in return.
     
  25. Gerald Tyler

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    As I just said, some people will prefer to design based on what the market wants. I'm letting those who are interested, know that the market doesn't care about "Ethical" practices. If it did, clearly the maelstrom of unethical practices would've died out by now. If people cared about this, then they'd stop supporting the people who are doing this nonsense.

    I hop back in because I get notifications and see that people are still addressing me.
    Am I supposed to leave and never come back even if people have questions? If you don't want to continue the conversation with me....then don't continue the conversation with me.

    Additionally, I don't want it to be pointless. I would prefer a market that cared, because then it would collectively raise the quality of games as a whole. I would prefer a market where people didn't buy CoD's annual release, but spent that money on innovative and creative indie games. I would prefer a market where people didn't come to the defense of developers and publishers who flat out lie to make a sale. I would prefer a market where devs weren't allowed to show trailers at E3 running on computers far superior than what the consoles can hope to replicate. I would prefer a market where indie devs aren't floating amongst a sea of shoddy ripoffs and clones of the most popular games. I would prefer a lot of things, but my preferences do not redefine reality. I hope that the day the market gives a damn about ethical design comes much sooner than later.
     
  26. Gerald Tyler

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    I agree, though they may not all be bad apples.

    A thought occurs to me. While I have a business degree, surely the majority of people here don't. While these forums are great for discussion on how to create games, I see that there is no thread for "Business."

    I would imagine that many of these people are well intentioned, but because of their lack of experience with business, they have unrealistic expectations when it comes to how far the money they raise will go.

    Perhaps the Unity forums would better serve the users by having a thread dedicated to the business aspect of game design, along with some estimates on how much money, and how much time things will really take. I'm sure that many people don't realize that raising the money as an individual means that it'll get taxed at a much higher rate than if you do it as a business. As an individual, I get taxed first, and then I pay my expenses. If you set up your corporation the correct way, you pay your expenses first, then pay taxes on what is left. When raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, it makes quite a bit of difference.

    While it wouldn't help everybody succeed, surely it would reduce the number of kickstarters which fail to deliver due to unrealistic expectations.
     
  27. Teila

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    Great idea, you should start one. :) I am sure you will have folks join interested in the subject that you start. I would love to learn more about the business side of it.

    On the other hand, I really love pointless, intellectual conversations like ones about ethics. So really..I would love to see it continued and I will be happy to learn all about the business end of it from you on your thread.

    Sadly, I end up ignoring too many people because I really like focusing on cool topics, one thread at a time. :( I don't want to ignore your business stuff so please take it to your thread.
     
  28. AndrewGrayGames

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    Fair point. I'm batting 0 for 100 today. I'll just go to sleep. Have fun y'all.
     
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  29. tedthebug

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    Unless your game beats players over the head with overt ethics most won't notice, but that isn't to say that they won't be impacted by it. It's like being a parent, you can yell at & lecture your kids all you want but eventually (usually when they have moved out & formed their own family unit) you notice that they are doing what they saw you doing & not necessarily what you were saying.

    So, that said, make the game with your own ethics clearly in mind & you may influence your players without them noticing
     
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  30. TonyLi

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    I made the mistake of sleeping overnight and missed a great discussion. :) Pavlon's rule rings true to me. There are games, mostly in the mobile space, that attract new players with the idea of "free to play," keep it free long enough to hook them, and then abruptly change the nature of the game so they're punished if they don't constantly pay upkeep to maintain their time investment. And this would be fine -- if the design made it clear from the beginning that the game will change its nature. Respect players enough to let them make their own choices about whether to play. Some people will knowingly and happily play a pay-to-play game if it's fun for them and they have the disposable income to support it. In a similar vein, perhaps it's okay to make a rabbit-hole of Skinner boxes, or an ultra violent bloodfest, or whatever, so long as the player knows ahead of time that that's what they're getting into. That's how I read "don't lie" -- give the player the information to make an informed choice, and trust them to make their own choices.
     
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  31. Master-Frog

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    Actually I think that guy was pretty clever... the outcome of sports competitions is basically random... you know, if you don't look at statistics. BUT the fact remains that nobody really knows who will win.

    He basically deconstructed that phenomenon, where people try to figure something out that is unknowable and made fun of it. He could have made goos players add like 0.01% chance of victory and stuff, but even at that... a team with 48% chance of winning vs a team with a 52% chance of winning... that's still worthy of betting
     
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  32. Teila

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    It didn't hurt anything or anyone, the players enjoyed it, they felt as though they were in control, they were not punished or used in some grand experiment...just a guy who didn't know football made a fun, random game. :)

    I prefer random myself...I am not good at strategy games so always lose and always get bored. Random has that delightful chance that no matter how bad you are, and how good your opponent is, you might win.

    So..ethically, he made a game that people enjoy, whether that was his intention or not. Could be that someone like me played it and won...and thought..wow! I must be smarter than I thought to win this football game! :D
     
  33. Gigiwoo

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    Ethics?! In reading this thread, I realized what a cool topic this is. Might be fun for the Podcast, if I can first figure out what I might say!

    Gigi
     
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  34. digiross

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    The heart of the matter as asked in the previous thread about faking players online and this topic is....

    If you are a indie dev or very small team that has a multiplayer game, what can be done to help the game?

    No one wants to play an empty game, and we don't have large budgets for advertising (most peoples default answer to solve the problem)
     
  35. Teila

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    That is an entirely new subject or rather the old post moved here. I would be happy to respond on the former post, if you like.

    Or we can turn it back to a comment about ethics.

    I understand your problem..it is one I struggle with as well. We are also making a multiplayer game with a very small team. So..how does one ethically make a small multiplayer game fun even with few players?

    Be honest. I said this in the other thread but make the Bots part of the game. I would call them Computer AI instead of Bots though since Bots remind people of the ones in Archeage, out there stealing land and resources. :)

    So in your game description you can say: "Chose your opponent from among challenging Computer AI characters or other Player Characters." Or whatever suits your game..and then show a UI where the player gets to pick his/her opponent, including some AI. Whether you want to distinguish between player and AI in the UI is up to you, but at least the player knows he may be battling AI instead of a player upfront.

    I would imagine AI could be more fun in some ways because you can set them as challenging as you wish, having easy ones or even extremely difficult ones to battle, with much more variety, especially at start of the game when everyone is the same essentially.

    We will have AI in our game too, partly to flesh out the world so it doesn't look empty and also as part of the game mechanics. The players know ahead of time and it is listed in our features list as well as our FAQs. I don't think anyone will not play our game because we have AI and in fact, some might play because we do.

    The fear if you do not tell players is that they discover it and realize that they have been fooled. People hate to feel foolish and it will cause anger...which could lead to bad reviews or worse, a YouTube personality doing an feature on your game, telling everyone about how you fake online players with AI and attempted to make your game look better/bigger/more important, etc.

    Being honest will avoid all that, possibly attract folks who want a more challenging interaction, and not get you bad reviews...for that anyway. I wouldn't want to take the risk. All the work to build the game and then have it crash down because you lied to players..not worth it to me. :) And not fair to the players.

    So...to tie in Asv's ethical rules...if you tell the player, you are giving them a game they can enjoy, you are not building in features that cause players to ruin their lives, and you are being up front about the rules, states, and conditions.

    You might even post on your game blog a bit about the struggle to find an ethical way to do this...it shows respect for your future players and that it is something you thought deeply about. Not many do, you know, and that already puts you ahead of the game.
     
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  36. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    That's what this thread is here for. Glad to be of service.

    As for me? This is shaping up for an interesting week, so I probably won't be around. It occurs to me I've done lots of talking and not a lot of making games lately, so I'm gonna fix that.

    As far as what you should say, I would only ask this: ask each person to take some time out of their day to ask themselves, what lines they will and will not cross in the creation and marketing of their game. Ethics are a personal issue above all else, and each person has their own code, or lack thereof.
     
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  37. Steve-Tack

    Steve-Tack

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    Personally, I would not be comfortable telling a player there are more people online than there actually are. It's just not in my nature. There's also the more pragmatic risk that player's will discover you're lying to them and the backlash could be bad.

    That's a slippery one. The goal of game design is to give players a compelling experience. Often "replayability" is seen as a positive. If a game is fun and replayable, some players *will* get sucked in. Clearly if playing some MMO too much is destroying your mental and/or physical health, that's not cool, but that's an extreme and obvious example.

    To get more specific, lots of people have spent too much time playing World of Warcraft. Is that because the game design is unethical, or would those people have gotten into something else self-destructive anyway?


    I disagree with this. There are games that explore dealing with family members with cancer, facing phobias, PTSD, depression, etc. You could say that games are at their best when they can help you through real-world issues, which aren't always about happy-happy fun times. Games are not necessarily about recreation.
     
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  38. Gigiwoo

    Gigiwoo

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    What does it mean to be ethical? Wikipedia says Ethics is "the branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of RIGHT and WRONG." Though I consider myself to be highly ethical, I'm not really sure what that means exactly.

    Where is the line? My early Indy projects helped to improve the human experience for others (see Gratitude Habit, Great Marriage, ex). Gratitude Habit monetized with a hat-in-hand approach - seems pretty ethical. I've also created Indy games. Given they are free, these seem pretty ethical. And now, I'm creating podcasts. It's educational content, for free, helping others - clearly ethical.

    What if we flip things though? I totally grok the psychology of games. I know how to use Skinner reward schedules to manipulate players. I know how paradox of choice works, how best to use the zeigarnik effect, and even how to promote addiction. I know enough to know how to design so that high-end consumers will be motivated to spend a LOT of money.

    Since some of that might fall under the heading, "Dark Arts" - it leads to a lot of hard questions.
    • What if I use that knowledge to build the Safe Surgery Trainer (a game that helps doctors make fewer mistakes)?
    • What if I build a game that's so fun, people play for HUNDREDS of hours? Maybe causing harm.
    • What if the game is free?
    • What if it's expensive?
    • Does it matter whether the cost is up-front vs IAP?
    • Does it matter what I do with the money I earn? (i.e., providing for my family or donating to a Children's Hospital)
    • How is it different if someone stumbles upon these dark arts by accident?
    "He tricks us! He's tricksy!"

    Gigi
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2015
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  39. Teila

    Teila

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    I think, Gigi, that your own person ethics when it comes to game developing and marketing will determine what you will do with your games and the money you earn from the games.

    Personally, I am not comfortable with manipulating players to buy my game or spend money...although, as you said that is a hard question. I have a son who has a serious addiction with games, so I have seen how it can almost destroy a young person's future so while I love psychology, I certainly will be careful with what I do with it, based on my own personal story. So that one is an easy question for me.

    Here is what I want to do...provide a game that will service a niche group of gamers that I believe are undeserved in the gaming community. I want to give them a chance to tell their stories and provide them with the stage, the props, and the mechanics to do that. This means tying into what they want, not what I want, and not what every tells me I want...which seems to be common in the game development community.

    By listening to them and trusting them to take what we give them and use it for good rather than bad, which means telling their stories, no matter how much conflict or gooey sweetness their stories might contain in a way that will entertain and maybe have a positive impact on themselves and others. My role in this is to set guidelines and use in-game mechanics to make actions and consequences seem natural rather than punitive.

    Yeah, my game is multiplayer so it is a bit different than a single player game. Sorry, but that is my focus at the moment. lol

    All games must make money to survive, whether it is to cover current and future development or to pay for equipment and servers. Asking folks to pay for your game or subscribe to your game is expected, at least with PC games. I wish it were the same with mobile as well. :) If I know a game is "freemium" I can make a choice to play it for free with the idea that if it is good, I will pay for it when needed. I almost always pay for mobile games that I like...although I don't have many. I don't like paying for bits and pieces, like a $1 here and a $1 there. It is annoying and breaks immersion. If I am playing a sims-like game and have to stop what I am doing to pay real money to feed my sim, I would be annoyed. I also don't want to be forced to play for hours to get points so I don't have to pay for food for my sim. But....I don't think that is manipulation....not really, or at least in current times. It has become the norm so players expect it. They get to play for free until they reach a point and then pay..sort of like a demo of the game, like we used to have, and then pay when you know you want to keep it.

    As for your other "dark arts" and "voodoo", only you know if they are right or wrong. I won't judge. ;)

    Edit: On the other hand, maybe I won't let my kids play your games. LOL
     
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  40. hippocoder

    hippocoder

    Digital Ape

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    The definition of the word game implies they would be. They're not games by any dictionary definition however if interactive and graphical.

    The responsibility for something identifying as a game would be for entertainment I guess?
     
  41. Martin_H

    Martin_H

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    I prefer the definition of a game being "a series of interesting and meaningful decisions".
     
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  42. RockoDyne

    RockoDyne

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    And yet historically most games had some intention to raise and train a person, usually for war. At best a definition might address that a game is performed in a safe environment, but I've never heard a definition that outright says that there is nothing to take away from it.
     
  43. Gigiwoo

    Gigiwoo

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    CAUTION! Trying to define game is a neverending journey down the rabbit hole.

    Why, oh Why, didn't I take the blue pill.

    Gigi
     
  44. TonyLi

    TonyLi

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    Doing little to get back on track regarding ethics, here's a link to Warren Spector's recent article: Another Narrative Fallacy: Games are About Choice. It's a good read. The gist is: "Choices without consequences are meaningless." (Hence @Martin_H's "meaningful" in "meaningful decisions".) I like Spector's focus on the revelation of consequences rather than the choices themselves.

    Speaking of choice, framing is another ethical pitfall that's especially pernicious in media such as games that solicit player input. Say you're playing a game with a conversation tree, and you're given these choices:
    • You can't blame population X. They're inherently weak.
    • You can't blame population X. They're inherently stupid.
    And those are your only two choices. You're framing population X as being either weak or stupid, with no other possibility. This example is really blatant, but you can probably imagine more subtle distinctions that, by omission of more balanced answers, can influence the player's perception of population X. What responsibilities do game writers have in this regard?
     
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  45. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    Yeah. Now you get into an interesting area: propaganda. Shaping beliefs. Not all propaganda is necessarily bad propaganda, but is using your game as a platform to promote some set of ideals an ethical use of game design?
     
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  46. ironbellystudios

    ironbellystudios

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    @Gigiwoo As far as your podcast goes, I think its safer ground to talk about specific ethical actions or unethical actions in games.

    If I recall correctly the US court system uses the phrase "We know it when we see it" for certain things and ethics violations are likely one of them. The problem with creating a concrete set of rules is simply that the more rigid the structure, the more unwieldy and illogical it becomes (We can decapitate someone on TV but we can't show a nipple, blood can't be red in Germany, etc). Rather a more flexible approach to your overall ethics under the guidelines of your own judgement are stronger.

    Therefore, in a podcast, and in life, it is much easier to talk about specific ethical problems that games face.

    Some examples of these items include (for your potential podcast)
    1) Paid for promotion via youtube and other non-journalist outlets that are treated by the masses as journalists
    2) The use of tools that knowingly addict your users to your product, especially government sanctioned gambling machines.
    3) The use of entertainment games to recruit to causes. Whether or not you agree with the cause aside, is there ever a situation where it is ok to use a game to recruit people?
    4) The gamification of non-game products. What impacts will it have that everything has little games embedded in it? From Gamedev.net's "points" system for forum posting to the fact you can grow a digital tree in your hybrid car based on how much gas you save. At what point does the line get drawn between using these game tools to engage people and using it to manipulate their behavior.

    There's plenty of others, but that should be MORE than enough to get you started :)
     
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  47. Teila

    Teila

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    Would people really take the time to make a game to use as propaganda in this day and age? It would immediately narrow the number of people willing to buy or play the game. I can get using a game to push an agenda, such as saving wildlife or cleaning the environment or a civil rights issue...even promoting one's religion.

    But propaganda is spreading falsehoods.

    Full Definition of PROPAGANDA
    1
    capitalized : a congregation of the Roman curia having jurisdiction over missionary territories and related institutions
    2
    : the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person
    3
    : ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect

    While one could, based on their beliefs, consider a game based on religion, such as the one where the Christians kill all infidels at the end of time, can't recall the name, propaganda, it is also a game that is based on one religion and their "prophecy". And those who made the game actually believe this is true. (hope no one sees that as a reason to get into a religious discussion..) So if one believes something, is it propaganda?

    Propaganda is not exactly hard to spot, at least by someone out there so while a game on hunting and killing members of a political party would be popular among the opponents of that party, a lot of people would be disturbed...and they would probably make up the majority of gamers.
     
  48. AndrewGrayGames

    AndrewGrayGames

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    Oh yes. Extra Creditz has done episodes on propaganda games. Here you go:

     
  49. ironbellystudios

    ironbellystudios

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    Always remember that if you recognize something as propaganda it has failed. If you don't recognize it, then you'll be unable to use it as a reference for an argument.

    Or, maybe, if you believe that there is no truth in the universe then everything we experience is propaganda and we simply pick which propaganda to believe. Of course you have to believe the first tenant for that to be true :)
     
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  50. tedthebug

    tedthebug

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    As a (potential/future/aspiring) game dev I'm looking ahead at the ethical issues (& struggling atm) of monetisation as well. It covers the gamut of addiction to get whales to spend, having nasty iap's to continue playing, pay to win etc through to how do you use advertising so it works without putting players off, through (in my belief) to how can you sign up to ad packages that don't push 'non-gambling' slot machine games (what a crock, as if it isn't gambling or normalising it in kids) & trying to balance that with what I think is right with what might actually make a dollar or (hopefully) three.
     
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