Playfish: Responsible devs should monitor player spend

"It's not good for anybody to spend 1000 in game then be caught by their mum" - Segerstrale

Playfish boss Kristian Segerstrale feels it is unlikely that social games will take excessive advantage of consumers prone to over-spending.

While admitting at the Evolve in London conference today that there was a risk that a small minority of gamers could spend troubling sums on virtual goods transactions, he said that "it's so obviously in the self interest of the industry that I'm not too concerned about it."

In reference to this week's controversial BBC documentary about gaming 'addiction', he stated that "it's not good for anybody to spend £1000 in their game then be caught by their mum and end up on the front page of the Sun.

"[We need to monitor that] to ensure that you don't end up in situations that are ultimately no good for the welfare of the player.

Referencing an earlier argument on various social game credit card and privacy scandals he said that "if we try and over-optimise by betraying consumer trust we're going to be less successful as an industry," and claimed that social games should resist temptations to exploit players as much as possible.

"I think it comes back down to responsibility. Responsible developers across the board need to be monitoring their players' spend levels."

Again in reference to the contentious Panorama investigation, he also argued that social games themselves should continue to evolve. "I actually think that part of making games social is also about making games a better pastime, a more social pastime as opposed to becoming more addicted and solitary."

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Latest comments (11)

Des Gayle Director & Game Producer, Altered Gene Limited10 years ago
Ok, so say we do monitor transactions. What should we do with the data? Prevent the user from buying anything once he / she hits a limit of X?

If I suggest that to my boss, I'll most likely be using my P45 as a parachute as he kicks me out of our 3rd floor window...
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Mark Hill Studying Computing & Networks, University of Abertay Dundee10 years ago
As a company you want to be aware of a player spending that amount of money, and yes, perhaps even put a limit on it - extreme spends quite likely indicate card fraud, or a child not aware of the money they are spending.
The player who spends several hundred pounds on supposed 'micro'transactions in one day is, I would hope, a rare enough occurance to merit special care.
I don't imagine that the 1000 spent above was the child's own money.

Didn't the Smurfs iPhone game recently take flak for allowing extreme spends by the target user group (kids) without parental authorisation, due to a bug in the iPhone's apple store authorisation procedure?
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Ryan Danz Senior Software Engineer, Raven Software10 years ago
Then there's Zynga's "Platinum Purchase Program"
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Show all comments (11)
Galen Tucker Owner, Convolution10 years ago
I agree it's important to build checks and balances into in-game purchases, and in the name of good buisness, our customer support policies. There's a couple of main issues floating around in this topic that should be looked at for our own sake.

1) understanding - be it child or adult, online (especially in-game) purchases are an abstract concept. in-game we (naturally) make it all too easy to buy (hey, isn't that what makes Apple's iTunes store the money maker it is). But the player can get easily confused, especially in games where dual currency systems exist (like RPGs where in-game real currency purchases can "feel" very similar to character - NPC vendor purchases.

2) kids - money management isn't one of their strong suits to begin with, neither is purchase restraint. Add that to a virtual experience designed (if done correctly :) ) to immerse and drive the player to excel at gameplay, and the picture isn't pretty for parents, who often give their kids credit card numbers to access online game content, or put the information in themselves, without understanding if that information is stored, and can be re-used at the click of a button.

3) perception - for whatever reason, people have a real problem when it comes to certain entertainment forms, including games, movies, tv shows, etc... in certain genres or formats (like fantasy, Sci-fi, and anything resembling cartoons). I've seen parents of toddlers happily cart their kids into "lord of the rings" and proudly tell me how they let their very young kids play WoW and GTA... Those same people will quickly turn on game devs, movie makers, whoever the first time they get a $1000 micro-transaction bill or their kids stop sleeping for a month.

the answer to all these, however, seems simple... do what good e-commerce sites (and most credit card companies) do:
1) flag and investigate unusual purchases and purchase volumes
2) Define (and remember to build into the game :) ) a good returns/refund policy... if it isn't right then make it right, and you'll have a much happier customer base! Your boss doesn't get that? Ask them to get back to you when their 14 yr old decides they desprately needs to buy $1000 of virtual goods ... they can't return! Or their "friend" adds another couple grand to that total. ;)

to that short list, let me add my own thought to this pool:
3) break immersion... make real currency exchange purchasing a clearly "not" game thing. Yes, yes... I know, your marketing and sales people want my head (get in line... my wife's at the front :) ). It's only a suggestion after all... but it does clearly let the player know something more traditional is going on.



ps. Oh... and for those not using a hosted CC service (like iTunes in-game)... do a quick search on PCI compliance before you jump on in-game credit card processing *shutter*

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Galen Tucker on 8th December 2010 3:52pm

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Ryan Duclos Code Monkey, Double Cluepon Software10 years ago
"I think it comes back down to responsibility. Responsible developers across the board need to be monitoring their players' spend levels."

Um no.

Responsible people should be um, responsible?

Parents giving their kid a CC and not monitoring them = developers fault? ... I'm not going to comment because the words will not be appropriate.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Ryan Duclos on 8th December 2010 6:27pm

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Christopher Goodno Community & Network Manager (HAVAMedia) 10 years ago
Yeah, this is completely the fault of poor parenting (and money management to say the least) rather than the need for developers to monitor who is buying what from them.

Though, companies should always look for methods to improve and reduce the act of accidental spending on items. In the end, though, it's buyer beware, not provider prevent.
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Jeffrey Kesselman CTO, Nphos10 years ago
Is it really the job of the merchant to police their customers' spending habits? Certainly ive never had a car dealer tell me, "Im not sure you should spend so much money on this..."

If you dont want you 10 yr old spending $2000 online in a day, then don't empower him or her to do so! And if its an adult spending their own money, isn't that free will?

What ever happened to personal responsibility?? I knew it was dead in the US but I am disappointed to hear its also dying in Europe.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 9th December 2010 4:11am

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Florent Castelnerac Managing Director, Nadeo10 years ago
to people who say that it is the parents responsibility, I believe it is more subtle than that

if you want children to be able to buy your games, but for the parents to feel comfortable with your service, you should provide tools, information, warnings and everything that could help them to be aware of any exaggeration.

if you say that parents should be responsible, there is nothing against helping them to be. Doing the contrary could even be seen as acting more for your business than your beliefs.
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Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator 10 years ago
How can a responsible mum let their kid spend a grand on a game anyway?

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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game10 years ago
Whether or not you believe it is a parent's full responsibilty, not yours as a developer/publisher/merchant, it does the industry no good if you allow certain practices to damage public perception. Is it really what you want for parents to feel their only option is to stop kids playing your games altogether.
Saying, "It's not our responsibility," my be a valid point of view, but it's also a valid reason for those responsible parents you crave for to flag up your company and make sure their kids avoid your products like the plague.
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Emily Rose Artist 10 years ago
Hmm I think we're coming at this from the wrong direction, maybe devs should give better rewards for a bigger spend so that 1000 isn't such a waste.

Send them some plushies :p
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