At PAX Aus, a panel about microtransactions had to deal with some hairy (but respectful) questions from the audience.
Loot boxes dominated the discussion throughout. Matt Hall mentioned while he wasn’t completely against considering “whales” (large spenders, sometimes uncontrollably so) in a game’s design, Crossy Road was intentionally made to eliminate whale behaviour.
Every character is $1, so there isn’t really any way to overspend.
But the toughest questions came during the audience Q&A. The first of which was about how developers could identify players who spend too much, and prevent the game from being a loot box simulator.
“Obviously with Crossy Road being a game that’s played by kids as well, that’s super important to us,” said Hall. “With Crossy Road, we banned all ads for anything that looks like a casino, you’re not allowed to see those ads in our game. And we’ll shut down any providers who do it.
“For me, 10% of the population is going to be addicted to gambling. We don’t want to expose those people to it.”
He then acknowledged that some government intervention on loot boxes might be necessary.
“I think possibly government legislation would help in this case. Let people know per country what should and shouldn’t be allowed. And they’ve done it in China.”
“I think it’s coming,” concurred Artem Safronov. “And it’s a natural evolution as well. We’ve seen some games being banned in certain countries because it really is very close to gambling. And so far away from what a game should be.
“But it’s how you build it into your game design. And if you start building it into the core of your game design, then you’re getting into very dangerous territory I think.”
The audience clearly wanted to stay on the topic, as more questions along the same lines came in. Matt Hall was happy to talk about it some more.
“At Hipster Whale we’re not data scientists, like the most we know is that Skinner boxes help people play longer,” he continued. “The most detestable thing I find in video games is the slot machine simulators that sit atop the charts in Australia, because they are made by the same people who make gambling machines.
“But you can say okay, we’re going to make the odds here — where people can’t win money — really good. And when they take their skills to the casino, their life savings go away.
“I absolutely agree with you that government legislation needs to come. And I’m interested in having that dialogue with anyone who wants to talk with me.
“But those are just my battle lines that I’m drawing. Other people, like my uncle, says if people want to gamble away their life savings then good luck to them. But I don’t take that approach because I know some people absolutely can’t help themselves.”