August 13, 2020

Mobile Games

The Real Cost of Free 2 Play Mobile Games

How can free games earn $49 billion you ask? You got that stiff drink? you're gonna need it.
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by Badger Nimahson

Earlier today I wrote about how the House of Lords has issued a report into gambling that demands Loot Boxes by regulated by the Gambling Act 2005 and politicians need to act immediately to stop the damaging behaviours these predatory tactics are developing in our children. 

Now it easy to see from my previous articles that I am biased on this issue. And when we have an inherent bias it is incredibly difficult to report on a complex issue with honesty and integrity. 

Thankfully for me, the guys at Comparemymobile.com got in touch with a report they have just published into the cost of Free to Play (F2P) games on mobile devices.

The report gets quite numbers heavy and thanks to the way game developers have trusted games by introducing methods such as the “shard system” it can be extremely difficult to explain just exactly what is going on. 

If you are a gamer reading this you may be surprised by some of the figures cited in this report. If you are a parent who has no idea what is going on in that silly little game your kid is playing, grab a seat and stiff drink, you’re gonna need it!

Statistic of mobile phone gamers in the UK

Just How Big is Mobile Gaming?

When we talk about gaming we generally mean PlayStation, Switch, Xbox and PC games. We don’t particularly review mobile games here at Stoffel Presents but whilst mobile gamers are considered to be for “casual gamers” the figures coming out of today’s report are anything but casual.

The majority of mobile games are built on the F2P model. Which means exactly what it says. The games are free to play. Some mobile games are F2P but make money by including advertisements in the game. You can pay to have the adverts removed and this is a one-off payment that doesn’t affect chances of winning/progressing in the game. Today we are talking about the F2P games that have in-app purchases or as we used to call them microtransactions.

F2P games in the mobile industry were worth a staggering $49 billion last year alone and is growing exponentially year on year. How can free games earn $49 billion you ask? You got that stiff drink? you’re gonna need it.

When Free Stops Being Free

As mentioned above this games are marketed as Free to Play but once players get to a certain point in the game they find themselves in need of items to progress or in the cases of games the pit player versus player (PVP) you often find you cannot win without buying certain items and if you don’t buy that item your progress on leader boards will actually suffer.

Now you may think that’s fine you are a fully grown adult and are perfectly capable of making a decision on where you spend your hard-earned cash. And you would be right. But what about games that are classed as suitable for 3-year-olds hawking a £300 item? Think I am being hyperbolic again? check out this image below

As you can see Looney Tunes: World of Mayhem has an age rating that says it is suitable for 3-year-olds and an in-game item that cost £300! Can you show me a 3-year old that understands how much £300 is? Could you imagine the outrage if Cbeebies characters started hawking £300 purchases in their shows?

Two of the games on the list above are WWE and Star Wars. Two iconic and easily identifiable brands. Both games aimed at 12 and above and again both have an item at £300! free to play isn’t looking so free now, is it? And it only gets worse…

Grooming Children for Gambling

The outrage I feel coming out of the Comparemymobile.com report is not that children are hoodwinked into playing a free game and then slowly have their money prized away from them but it is the unethtical and highly immoral ways they introduce gambling mechanics to small children and decenitise them to the dangers of gambling.

Again I am not being hyperbolic or biased. The graphic above shows the game Coinmaster is aimed at 12 year olds and abve and has had over 50 million downloads (although wikipedia says 81 million) and has a £300 item as it most exspensive in app purchase.

CoinMaster is a slot machine. I am not joking. all you do in the game is spin the slot machine in the hopes of earning money, attacking other players for money and then spend that money on upgrading your “town”. Once you have bought all the upgrades you then move on to the next town and start again. I would love to hear what Moon Active, the developers of CoinMaster, have to say and how they defend grooming kids for gambling when their game is a slot machine with a rating of 12.

While Moon Active are obviously grooming to children mobile game developer Scopely is arguably worse. As they sell their in-game items in the form of Loot Boxes.

Loot Boxes, for those unaware, are when a player purchases a box with the hope of winning a featured item. The problem with UK Legislation is the developers don’t have to actually show the chances of winning the featured item.

The study from Comparemymobile.com finds that win rates for loot boxes were ridiculously low and would most likely be illegal under the UK Gambling Act 2005.

“The lowest win rate was found in a PEGI 3 rated game, with
players having just a 0.01% chance of winning the featured item,
one of over 40 different prizes. The cost to open the loot box was
the equivalent to £3.72 – meaning that, in theory, players would
need to spend a minimum of £372 just to get a 1% chance of
unlocking the character.

Of the 10 top games, we analysed that contained loot boxes (from
our total list of 45), the highest pull rate to unlock a featured
character was just 7%, with half of the games in our study
possessing loot box win rates of less than 1% for the featured
item.”

Paying real money, on a game of chance, in the hope to win a prize. Can someone tell me how this isn’t gambling? Thank Nimah the House of Lords stepped in today.

The Cost to Gamers

The cost to gamers playing these F2P games is not just a monetary one but it enforces gambling behaviours that can easily result in addiction. 97% of the gamers interviwed for the study this articvle is based off of said that they had purchased in-game transactions at least once. With a staggering 47% saying they had paid over £400 on a single player. 27% of those interviewed said they have spent over £800!

With these games set up to entice players to spend, no regulation to curtail their predatory practices and in some cases it takes just 8 seconds to purchase an item is there any doubt the industry is making $49 billion a year?

Conclusion

As I mentioned back in February, The betting industry has a legal responsibility to look after its customers here in the UK. If someone is showing problematic betting patterns, betting more than usual, betting higher amounts then the bookmakers are legally required to refuse that person service and inform other local bookmakers too. 

There are no protections like this put in place for gamers buying loot boxes with an even smaller chance of winning. 

Moving aside from adults with gambling addiction though. Anyone under the age of 18 is banned from entering any gambling establishment in the UK. In fact, I am pretty sure that venues can lose their gambling license if minors are found on the property. 

But it is fine for developers like Moon Active to market a literal slot machine to 12-year-olds! The House of Lords ruling that loot boxes should be classed as gambling is a welcome move today but it is only the start.  We need a movement or a campaign to shed light on the shady and predatory tactics these developers are using. 

We have age laws in place to protect children. It just seems we are willing to relax them when it comes to grooming them from the age of 3 for a lifetime of gambling.

This was a long and horrifying article if you are unaware of the practices involved. Thank you for reading this far, Please leave your thoughts in the comments below. And I bet you are glad I told you to grab that stiff drink earlier 😉