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[Gamesbriefers] Is alcohol-enhanced spending a problem?

By on March 13, 2013
Flickr CC image by Atila Kefeli
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Nicholas Lovell

I’ve been playing Hay Day and enjoying it. Level 32 if you’re interested. I’ve even spent money (2 sets of £2.99, which I spent on upgrading my production buildings and storage so they could do more while I was away).

That’s where it gets troubling. I don’t regret spending the money but the only time I have spent money, I had been drinking. Not a lot, just a couple of small bottles of Kronenbourg at home. But I have played the game a lot and only spent money after alcohol.

Should I be troubled by this? Is this a sign that F2P is as exploitative as the critics say, or am I worrying over nothing?


richard firmingerRichard Firminger Flurry

Yes definitely a spat my coffee back out moment

Chill Nicholas, drink a-plenty and let loose a little – if spending less than £6 on storage is all you do I’d say things are fine and dandy in the Lovell household

You might recall years ago a cricket fan fell asleep after a big night out with a premium-rate cricket score service live on his phone and racked up over a £1000 by the morning…

Otherwise a visit to the psychiatrist might help cure you of your addictions!

eric seufertEric Seufert Head of Marketing and Acquisition at Grey Area

Impulse e-commerce isn’t unique to F2P games; I once bought a set of
skis on Amazon, sight unseen, after a few beers. I think you’re
worrying over nothing 🙂

Mark SorrellMark Sorrell Development Director at Hide & Seek

I do find it amusing how much F2P people tend to be so utterly ashamed of spending money on F2P games. Shouldn’t we be proud of it?

I’m not so sure that this means the games are manipulative so much as your feelings suggest that you think they are 🙂

For the record, I’ve spent £10 on Clash of Clans, and I’m happy to have done so. But I still feel the need to justify it. Like I just did.

andy payneAndy Payne CEO of Appynation

Try going Racing Nicholas. Always best never to drink, but there is no correlation in my world between not drinking and picking a few winners.

‘Everything in moderatio, including moderation’ could apply to F2P.

ben boardBen Board Senior Product Lead at Boss Alien

No correlation.  Any forthcoming deal to cross promote CSR Racing with Special Brew is purely coincidental.

Teut WeidemannTeut Weidemann Online specialist at Ubisoft

I am sober. And I spent way over €500 on World of Tanks.

nicholasbwNicholas Lovell Director of Gamesbrief

Just to be clear, I am not worried about how much I spent, or spending when I’ve had a bit to drink.

I’m more worried that I had to have the “social permission” to do it that alcohol provides. Whether this is an ethical issue, a marketing issue or a design issue, it’s something I’ve observed and hence wanted to discuss.

But I’m pleased that you all think I should just relax.

Martin DarbyMartin Darby CCO of Remode

This happens a lot.  I have lost count at the amount of dubious food I have eaten over the years after drinking.  However once I found out that my colleague (Tech Director) bought a £3k Macbook pro after a boozy evening I suddenly felt very tame.

Stuart DredgeStuart Dredge Journalist at The Guardian

I am seeing some kind of educational poster-ad campaign to warn against drunken IAP with Nicholas slumped on a sofa ;o)

I think alcohol can be a loosener for all kinds of things you want to do but haven’t, for one reason or another. I bought my Fitbit gizmo in January after a couple of pints of cider, for example (and ironically it’s helped me stop drinking quite so much cider since). I wouldn’t worry about it.

Talking of IAP though, I paid some money in Real Racing 3 this weekend, but have you noticed a DRASTIC decrease in the timer lengths? It was 6hrs+ for a full tune-up at launch, but now it seems to be 15mins tops.

Classic responding-to-feedback/activity, I sense. Either that or the huge timer lengths are only on the first section, which seems unlikely.

PatrickO'Luanaigh2Patrick O’Luanaigh Founder of nDreams

I wonder if there is an underlying point here:

How many people feel guilty or slightly disappointed with themselves when they buy a traditional paid game from a store or from Steam?

How many people feel guilty or slightly disappointed with themselves when they’ve made an in-app purchase in a F2P game?

I know quite a few people who play F2P games with an internal challenge to ‘try not to spend any money’, and I suspect the second answer would be higher than the first.

If more people say yes in the second instance, is this because we’re not doing it quite right yet?

Are we sounding too much like a salesman, so people feel like they have ‘given in to pressure’ when they purchase? Are we selling too many things that don’t have an immediate in-game benefit/reward? Maybe we need to congratulate people on their purchases more, or be less sneaky and more open about them? There seems to be a psychological difference spending money in a F2P game, and I wonder why…

Ben Cousins1Ben Cousins Head of European Game Studios at DeNA

I generally don’t get into discussions about the ‘purchase regret’ issue with regards to free to play games, because;

1. F2P game design is partly about marketing and marketing is about persuading/enticing/hyping people to spend money

2. Purchase regret isn’t any more prevalent in F2P games than any other consumer product or service

3. I have personally bought an incredible amount of console and PC games over the years that I absolutely regret buying. This is partly the reason for the existence of piracy and the used games business

For me there is no argument or discussion, beyond a general conversation about purchase regret in all products and services.

harry holmwoodHarry Holmwood CEO of Marvelous AQL Europe

Speaking as one who once spent £500 on a pantomime horse after a few drinks, and who hasn’t regretted it for a moment, I think we can relax. If we needed to regulate things you regret buying after a night on the lash, kebabs would have been banned years ago.

In terms of buyer regret of IAP – selling IAP that people regret buying is unlikely to last long as a business. The best F2P games will give people memories, social encounters and collections that will continue to give them pleasure and value.

Emily GreerEmily Greer  SVP Product, Marketing and Finance at Kongregate

While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your purchases I think there are a couple of interesting things going on here that do suggest that we are doing it wrong to some extent. One issue is that you had just enough mental resistance to the idea of purchasing that relaxing your inhibitions helped. Even though I absolutely have no philosophical objections to IAP, and have bought things in many games, I still start out with the idea/intention that I want to try to achieve what I can without buying anything to the extent that I resist purchasing even when the amount is trivial and I value the good.

The other issue is that after every purchase the buyer should feel good about what they bought or they are unlikely to spend again. While no one is going to refuse your £6, small impulse purchases like that are not adding up to significant revenue for the developer, I doubt that they get more than 10% of their revenue from people who spent less than $10 lifetime. The real money is in repeat purchases from players who engage heavily with a game over a long period of time. When we break down high revenue games on Kongregate nearly all of them have high ARPPUs that are driven not by high prices but by high # of transactions per buyer. That’s not possible unless the player feels like they’ve invested well, and that it’s worth spending again.

There’s a lot that goes into leaving a player feeling good after a purchase: what’s the social context? If other people are spending (and the player knows it) that helps a lot with the first problem, probably more than anything else can. But how they feel after the purchase is very much about game design & balance. They need to feel like the purchase made a concrete difference in their position in the game or it doesn’t feel like a good value. But if it makes things too easy, makes too much of a difference, that’s also a problem.

I bought some items in Bloons TD 5 on Kongregate while working to get the hard badges and felt fine about it at the time of the purchase (I’d calculated out exactly how I would grind to get those items, and decided that it wasn’t worth my time and felt comfortable with the time/money trade-off) but felt terrible once I actually used them because suddenly the game was too easy. I got the hard badges in one run but felt disappointed, that I’d taken a short-cut. To prove to myself that I could have done the same without buying I even went and earned the hard badges on an alt account without the purchases, just to show I could. And that’s the worst possible state to leave a player in post-purchase. Not only am I not likely to buy again in BTD5, I’m unlikely to buy anything when BTD6 (inevitably) comes out.

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  • Anthony Hart-Jones

    I think, as a developer, that Emily Greer makes the more important point that there is a resistance to IAP which required a lowering of inhibitions.

    We are on a slippery slope to regulation, which started with children using parent’s credit-card data on iPads, but I think the cut-off point at which consumer-responsibility kicks in should be reached before we have to start worrying about inebriated players and buyer-remorse. In the UK and perhaps the whole EU, I suppose I can see the potential for requiring a ‘cooling-off’ period for IAP (as we already have for many other internet sales), but even that seems more like a worst-case scenario.

    Regulation will be the result of outliers anyway, rogue companies who go too far, rather than the state of the industry as a whole. It is rarely about trends when the government get interested in our industry, but about specific cases in the media that an angry mob can latch onto.

    Ironically, I think the most thought-provoking point in your discussions will be the resistance in the minds of players, but the enduring message will be yet another reason to consider the ever-present fear of regulation.

  • KoreanWonders

    Good question, not ridiculous at all. I’ll try playing Clash of Clans after getting drunk and see if I finally spend real cash on it. Something’s telling me it’s not going to happen, though (“spending money on the game”, not “getting drunk”), because my goal is to see how far I can go without spending on it and still enjoy it.
    However, I guess in your case you you were never against the idea of spending on this game, so in this case alcohol might have helped initiate the transaction.

  • Sik

    The problem with that article is that it’s mixing in fictional currencies while I was talking exclusively about spending real money, which is where the real issue arises (the former is just a game balance issue, the latter can screw you over in real life).

    I don’t really care much about spending the gold in RPGs (which is fictional currency), although I admit I usually don’t run out of money and I know I can get some more by just grinding a bit, so that may explain why. I do sell back weapons and armor I don’t need anymore though (although I don’t sell back items, those can always come in handy, for some items I even overbuy, e.g. healing items, so I don’t have to worry about running out of those in the middle of a dungeon).

    As you can see the above is pretty much the opposite of what I just said I’d do with real money. I still try to avoid getting useless items and such but I won’t hoard gold like crazy.

  • rupazero

    I wrote a thing about this a while ago on the Borderhouse, though my mind still isn’t made up:

    The comments on that piece are interesting. I think they show how far your unique personal relationship with virtual currency can be a core part of your game experience, in a way that game designers are still failing to skilfully harness to their advantage.

    I certainly find I’m thrifty in games with both real and fictional currencies, although Dota 2 might be reprogramming me to spend as much as possible (by the way, that’s a super clever emergent narrative for a F2P game to engender – spend all your gold now because life is short!). Generally though, I resent having to spend even fictional money in order to get on in a game. That’s why I couldn’t get on in CSR Racing – in the tutorial it demands that I spend money, even though I’d rather just wait out the ‘delivery time’ for the car than see my gold balance drop.


    Thanks Nicholas, this was a interesting observation. I dont think you are overworrying here, by nature we try to figure out the things that are different this and this was a interesting one 🙂

  • Sik

    I think he’s more worried with the fact so many people claim F2P takes advantage of people who can’t control themselves that now he’s being paranoid there may be some truth to it just because he drunk some beer (when in reality it pretty much depends 100% on the game).

  • Really? You don’t think this opens an interesting set of questions about design, ethics and the risks of regulation in our industry?

  • wtf is this? why concern others with your lack of self control?

  • Interesting topic with some insightful observations from Emily that match what I have seen myself.

    Nicholas clearly doesn’t have “payer’s remorse” here but perhaps he has (or had?) an issue with “pay-to-win” that required reduced inhibitions to engage in what he might have seen as “cheating” on some level?

    As an aside, I thought it was funny to see that the value Marketing brings by understanding player’s needs is still largely misunderstood in certain circles.

  • Sik

    Before completing the transaction please solve the following simple math question to prove you’re sober: 13x⁴−7x³+(2÷3)x²−5x+3

    Seriously though, I’d be more worried about considering two bottles of beer to be a little than spending £6 in a game 😛

    A random thought I was having yesterday is that how people perceive money may also affect how much they spend. I had mentioned Steam sales in my comment yesterday, and I know that I still wouldn’t buy the games on sale unless I pretend to actually try them. OK, in part because I don’t like wasting disk space, but mostly because I don’t want to spend money on something I won’t bother using – I already struggle trying to make it to the end of the month with food (and yes, I did go without food several times).

    On the other hand, I wonder if those who never had to worry about whether they’ll have enough to survive see money as something cheap without much worth – I assume that kind of people won’t doubt on making impulse buys on games they didn’t really want to try since, well, they never had to worry about running out of money in the first place. I assume that kind of people also are more likely to purchase microtransactions which they could have at least put some more thought before clicking the “buy” button.

    Dunno. Food for thought. Unless you’re so drunk you can’t remember well what was going on I’d say the above may have a bigger influence.