Episode 487 - Citizen Sleeper Spoilercast

This week, Patrick has a very Dad weekend, Ren tries out sucking blood in V Rising, and we have an extended discussion around free to play monetization around Diablo Immortal. Then after the break, Patrick, Ren, and Cado go full spoiler mode to talk about Citizen Sleeper, a table top RPG inspired narrative game that got it's hooks in all of us with it's unique and fascinating systemic depiction of surviving with a disabled body under capitalism, and the ways community can be built in places you might not expect them to flourish.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://shows.acast.com/vicegamingsnewpodcast/episodes/episode-487-citizen-sleeper-spoilercast
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I am officially begging the crew not to do free PR and marketing for gacha game developers, especially the billionaires over at Mihoyo. Please do not assert things about its monetization that would be clearly false if you had played it.
It has some of the worst pull rates in the industry and is designed to get people to spend thousands of dollars. It aggressively XP and resource gated players from the beginning so that accessing later parts of the main story would be easier if you spent money. Until later you couldn’t even assemble a full party without doing gacha pulls.
It is fine to like the game (I played a lot of it) but please do not frame this stuff as OK just because Diablo Immortal is worse. You can simply not make false assertions about the game that has earned over 3 billion USD in revenue, they will be OK

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Echoing this. There were moments of recognizing that all these microtransaction systems are exploitative, but by and large I was pretty uncomfortable with the praise being directed towards how Genshin Impact handles its system of exploitation.

I’m not sure it would be a better world if Diablo Immortal’s monetization felt less obtrusive to the “average player.” Even if the majority of people could safely ignore the monetization and play it like a “normal” Diablo game, the system would still rely on exploiting a minority of players to make money. The main difference might be that mainstream outlets wouldn’t talk as much about that fact.

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I think something that’s happening is that we (the game playing population) have given up? There’s a general acknowledgement that F2P business models are here to stay, and games that are actually interesting and fun to play are going to have those models. This has led to what feels like an ongoing negotiation between critics and developers about what constitutes the bar for “acceptable”. I feel like Genshin keeps coming up because it is, supposedly, a game that would pretty much universally lauded by critics if it didn’t rely on gambling mechanics and exploiting people via dark patterns to make money. I get a sense that critics feel like if there’s a line Genshin might just be on the side of the line, and that they want it to be on the good side because there are things about the game that they enjoy. The Halo Effect might be doing some work here.

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I think it’s a combination of resignation and general place in the gaming ecosystem. I’m of an age/financial situation where I have enough paid for games to occupy my time and enough varied tastes that I never have the compulsion to just go all in on something regardless of the friction points. If something is rubbing me the wrong way I can bail on it immediately and move to something else easily. When it comes to FTP games, I’m of a similar mindset that I imagine the crew is where I feel like if I can “beat the game” or whatever that means and not either pay money or be left waiting endlessly for timers, then the rest of it is white noise. I’ll never buy a skin in Fortnite, Rocket League, whatever. I just don’t care. I don’t have any social pressure from friends, I really don’t care about flexing online, I grew up in an era where none of that mattered so none of it sunk in. Same thing with gaccha mechanics, I just don’t have the compulsion to collect anything, let alone digital characters so it doesn’t even penetrate the surface. For example I loved PSO for Dreamcast and when PSO2 finally came out on Xbox I was super excited, then I immediately hit so many systems and currencies and purchases that I ejected after maybe ten hours, five of which was just being hopelessly lost. For all I know PSO2 is a money vacuum, it just didn’t do anything for me.

It’s very hard to have an honest discussion about the exploitation of FTP mechanics because the bliss point is such a personal matter. All of these systems are designed and fine tuned to extract maximum cash, but take two different people and one will empty their pocket book and another will just walk away. A ton of modern games are literal endless money pits, even a full priced game like Gran Turismo can empty any bank account in the world. Even if you acquired every single thing in the game somehow you would still be capable of mashing the purchase button on PSN for more credits until you hit your credit limit.

Where does one begin a discussion on how exploitative a system like this is then? If any FTP game has a handful of people that dump in unfathomable amounts of cash are they all equally bad? Is there a sliding scale of the number of people a game has financially ruined before it crosses into bad territory? If one guy spent $10,000 in easy fatality tokens does that make MK an exploitative economy on the scale of CS:GO? I don’t have the answers to these questions, and I think a lot of other people don’t have a firm answer either. As long as people are coming from their opinion from a place of honesty in terms of personal perspective or a direct and honest comparison of actual mechanics, I feel like that’s fine.

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I think, as a base standard, no gacha game should be talked about in terms of being “more generous” than another. They’re all greedy motherfuckers. There are games which are worse than others, but no one is good. Their systems are built upon exploiting FOMO and more.

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I disagree to an extent. I think there are ways to include that style of mechanic and be infinitely less exploitable than others. I would say that a mechanic where you have a 1/3 chance and you cannot get repeat draws is drastically better than something like Mahjong Souls, a game which has so much bullshit you can get through money that the pay mechanics are somehow MORE intricate than the mahjong itself. A game that rains free rewards on you all the time is better than one that hands them out slower than pitch falls. A game that will genuinely let you get everything you want through a modest amount of play but allows others to fast forward is better than a game that would take longer than a person’s natural life to achieve the same thing. None of these are GOOD but there are certainly shades of evil between mildly greedy and a black hole of currency.

I play Pokémon Go daily and have for almost since it came out. In those five years I’ve maybe put a grand total of $30 into it, and that included a $15 go fest pass as it was during my vacation and I’d be walking around a lot. It’s a game where there is some baked in FOMO, but they always eventually loop around to giving those things out, there’s damn near no real reason to have them other than personal satisfaction, and all of the money in the world can’t fix certain things like your location or how many people raid near you. It can be an endless money pit I’m sure, but I would say that it is dramatically easier to get the Pokédex of your dreams without ever paying money than it is to fill out your World Spinner roster. I don’t feel that it’s wrong to say that Pokémon go is less exploitative than other, similar games even if there are absolutely whales out there dropping money I can’t imagine spending.

I’ve been typing and retyping this comment all day but screw it. I keep coming back to something someone (maybe Gita) said on twitter a while back, which is that games are already designed in very specific ways to extract a player’s time, and gachas/F2P games take that further to extract a player’s money. I think there’s something useful there regarding how to actually talk about the morass of issues around games with microtransactions.

I think i’ve talked about my experience with Stardew Valley around here before so apologies for only having like five different stories, but there’s a design choice that game makes that is incredibly successful at extracting time from players. The game limits the players ability to save to the end of the day. Days in Stardew are about 20-30 minutes of real-world time, and most of the game is about setting in motion various processes that will take several days to complete. There is also randomness in Stardew — weather events, certain resource spawns, random rewards, etc. — that makes each day feel unique. What this creates is a feedback loop: at the end of each day you have to choose to either save and quit, putting off whatever rewards you’ve set in motion until the next play session, or commit to another 20-30 minutes of play before you’ll be able to save again (and thus lock in anything particularly good that happens the next day).

What this means for me is that I just cannot play that game. When I did, it took over my life. I did nothing else for several days, got to the “end,” and called it. It’s a great game — I really liked it, and enjoyed the time I spent with it — but the level to which it hacked my brain felt deeply unhealthy.

I think this is a roundabout way of agreeing that this has to be a conversation about game design, not levels of spending, and that it’s unhelpful to treat games with microtransactions as a monolith (or a couple of broadly defined monoliths) because the design choices that they make actually do affect how easily and efficiently they extract players’ money. This is something people tend to do very broadly already when drawing a line between cosmetic-only microtransactions and gameplay-affecting ones, but I still think it’s worth getting into the minutae on both side of that line. I’m also coming into this conversation as someone who plays a gacha game entirely because Waypoint covered it last year, has put enough money into it that I could have bought quite a few AAA games instead by now, and generally feels fine about that. I think there should be a way to talk about these games without having to preface every conversation with “this is bad,” but this has also always been the biggest blindspot for every iteration of the Waypoint crew, to the point that it seems like we have some version of this thread every 6 months or so. Bleh.

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Well, more specifically then I don’t think levels of rot should be discussed in an offhand manner, or as in this episode on second hand information when Genshin Impact is brought up.

But I stand by that none of it should be framed as neutral or good, even in relation to one another: they’re all aiming to extract as much out of players as they can. No, that online poker site that gives you a $10 signup bonus and unlimited play is not better than the one that gives you nothing, it could actually even be worse. It’s a complicated topic with serious consequences for people.

And I also actively play and enjoy some of these games. Arknights, currently. I don’t want these games to never be discussed (at this point that’d cut out a huge part of the modern gaming landscape, including any game with a battle pass), but monetization itself should be treated with care.

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I think the nuances of how things hook people are interesting, and worth studying from a psychological and ‘consumer’ perspective… but I do also think that at a certain point, if a game could allow you to spend $1,000+ on it unimpeded, the relative ethics of how they try to do so are mostly semantic. It’s all evil, some games are just better at it than others.

Even the most generous gacha games wouldn’t have the option to dump hypothetically infinite amounts of money into it unless they hope somebody will. And if enough people play them, somebody definitely will.

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