What Is Dark Patterns in Video Games: Are Game Developers Manipulating Players?

Dark Patterns in games that leads to frustrection

Have you ever felt like a mobile game was designed to trick you into making in-app purchases or spending more time than you intended? Then you may have encountered something called “dark patterns.”

According to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), dark patterns are deceptive design practices that manipulate users into making choices they wouldn’t otherwise make.

These patterns can be found in various digital products, including video games, and they’re raising concerns among players, developers, and even legal authorities.

How Developers Manifest Dark Patterns in Gaming?

Dark patterns in gaming can take various forms, ranging from psychological manipulation to monetization tactics.

Some common examples include:

  • Grinding: Making the free version of a game so cumbersome that players are induced to unlock new features or progress faster through in-app purchases.
  • Limited-time offers: Presenting countdown timers or “limited stock” warnings to create a sense of urgency and pressure players into making purchases.
  • Confusing interfaces: Intentionally designing user interfaces that make it difficult for players to understand or navigate, leading to unintended purchases or subscriptions.
  • Exploiting psychological vulnerabilities: Leveraging players’ emotional attachments, fear of missing out (FOMO), or desire for social validation to encourage excessive spending or engagement.

The recently released Dragon of Dogma 2 has also used similar tactics that have been heavily criticized by both gamers and the industry alike.

Lawyer Warns Developers about Dark Patterns?

The use of dark patterns in gaming has sparked debates about ethical boundaries and potential legal implications.

While some developers argue that certain tactics are necessary to sustain their business models, critics contend that these practices are manipulative and exploit players’ vulnerabilities.

In a recent interview with PC Gamer, Eric Weiss, a trial lawyer specializing in these kinds of cases, warns that game developers should exercise caution when implementing potentially deceptive practices.

He cites the $245 million settlement between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Epic Games as an example of how regulators are cracking down on dark patterns in gaming.

Weiss advises developers to be honest, and transparent, and consider how their decisions would be perceived by a judge or regulatory body.

Transparent communication and clear guidelines can help build trust with the gaming community and mitigate concerns about deceptive practices.

Developers must explore alternative monetization models, such as subscription-based services or cosmetic microtransactions too, which provide value to players without compromising the core gameplay experience.

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