Inertia, a word that makes all the difference. We might be uncertain, the decision might be difficult or we might not even care, we simply follow the recommended or pre-set, and without understanding we are under the influence of default opinions. In a simplified way, default options are pre-defined or recommended courses of action established before any reaction from the decision maker. Even though it can look scary and invasive when presented in a more theoretical perspective, the truth is that examples of this phenomenon are immersed in our reality. They are in our phones in the form of strange ringtones, alarm sounds or even pulse notification lights, they are in the way we pay our purchases and even in the games we play.
The industry that will be subjected to a more detailed analysis will be the video-game industry which has been startled by an increasing concern with changes in defaults and the way it influences gamers as economic agents. Default, by principal, is all over gaming from subscriptions that renew automatically to more technical details – such as the way games adapt to the user’s individuality.
Nevertheless, the increasing concern is related to the way these practises have become more aggressive and privacy-breaking as a new, premium source of purchases. Since the past generation of video games (that existed and dominated the market between 2004 and 2011- Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii) the cost of producing games has increased in an almost exponential rate, tendency which has been aggravated by the required usage of more expensive technologies and techniques. Games are no longer pixelated images, they are fotogenic forms of interactive art and as such require more and more production time and impose proportionally complex cost structures to firms. This is illustrated by the almost unimaginable and gigantic production costs. Let’s use as an example 2015’s game of the year, “The Witcher 3” (Image 1). Its production costs were around 81 million dollars and it took about three and a half years to produce it. As reasonable as it might seem, it puts a lot of pressure on companies, and here is the catch, because of a strong and rigid market structure firms are not able to increase the consumer-end price of their product and so they have to find other ways to do it. They found that if they could incentivize their customers to spend more money inside the game having already purchased it, games would become more profitable. As a consequence practices, such as microtransactions, DLCs (downloadable content) and loot boxes, appeared. First they were used in mobile games – as “Candy Crush” – where users had incentives to spend real world money in the game in order to accelerate progression. Since they proved to be effective, they were moved to “triple AAA” games with high budgets and lots of marketing.
The most apparent way of how invasive it became is by comparing it to gambling. The most recent cases of such facts are EA’s games like “Star Wars battlefront 2” that had its progression based on loot boxes that could be purchased using real world money or “2k’s 2k20” that had explicit slot machines inside the game (the image 2 illustrates such practise). Recently, this practice has become so invasive that governments felt the necessity of intervening in order to understand if such behavior is not harming consumers. In the end, it all falls into the British government asking EA’s and King’s representatives about these practices and possibly unethical behavior.
To sum up, and making use of the EA’s representative words, “surprise mechanics” represent a shift in the default of this industry from a more consumer friendly to a more aggressive consumption, incentivizing industry, that in its attempt to overcome the pressure created by the market’s structure, has been moving closer and closer to gambling. Consequently, it has been accused of creating structures that focus increasingly more in getting money out of their customers and less in providing value added. As governments started to worry and fans stopped buying these games, the industry is again trying to adapt. Games as a service are proof of this reaction. But until when will we have to sustain and tolerate such economic behavior that set defaults that are no longer recommended actions and are now predefined payments?