How Free-to-Play Games “Persuade” You to Pay

At Gamasutra, app developer Ramin Shokrizade outlines some of the ways free-to-play game developers persuade, coerce, and trick users out of their money. There is a reason why 9 of the 10 top-grossing apps are “free” to download and play, after all.

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The same goes for Facebook, where nearly all games are free-to-play.

According to Shokrizade, people aren’t paying more for these games because they are amazing; the game-makers are using some devious tricks to trick them out of their cash. Especially those who are biologically more vulnerable to their tricks, as it turns out. Children, in other words, and young adults whose ability to make smart financial decisions remains undeveloped.

Note that while monetizing those under 18 runs the risk of charge backs, those between the age of 18 and 25 are still in the process of brain development and are considered legal adults. It seems unlikely that anyone in this age range, having been anointed with adulthood, is going to appeal to a credit card company for relief by saying they are still developmentally immature. Thus this group is a vulnerable population with no legal protection, making them the ideal target audience for these methods. Not coincidentally, this age range of consumer is also highly desired by credit card companies.

The tricks aren’t illegal, just … tricky. They all use a “premium currency” instead of dollars and cents, so you don’t realize how much money you are spending. They extort you by giving you powerful items, then threatening to take them away if you don’t pay up. They start out as skill games, then convert to money games, where your ability to advance is primarily determined by your willingness to spend money:

King.com’s Candy Crush Saga is designed masterfully in this regard. Early game play maps can be completed by almost anyone without spending money, and they slowly increase in difficulty. This presents a challenge to the skills of the player, making them feel good when they advance due to their abilities. Once the consumer has been marked as a spender (more on this later) the game difficulty ramps up massively, shifting the game from a skill game to a money game as progression becomes more dependent on the use of premium boosts than on player skills.

If the shift from skill game to money game is done in a subtle enough manner, the brain of the consumer has a hard time realizing that the rules of the game have changed. If done artfully, the consumer will increasingly spend under the assumption that they are still playing a skill game and “just need a bit of help”. This ends up also being a form of discriminatory pricing as the costs just keep going up until the consumer realizes they are playing a money game.

There is a lot more in the article, which you should definitely read so you know what to look out for.

(via Daring Fireball)

MERS Has Infected 77 People in the Middle East

The coronavirus, I mean, not the huge mortgage clearinghouse that “owns” half the mortgages in the United States and basically invented robo-signing.

cf “Santorum”

Sherrod Brown’s Recommendations for Improving the FDCPA

From insideARM, the recommendations include:

  • Require that debt collectors, whether primary creditors or third party collectors, hold all relevant documentation before issuing their first debt collection notice to the consumer.
  • Require that information on prior collection attempts travel with the debt.
  • Prohibit the sale of unverifiable debts.
  • Eliminate the sale or collection of time-barred debt.
  • Issue updated guidance for consumer dispute procedures reflecting the new technological possibilities for documented consumer disputes.

New Phone Book!

Nobody cares.

(via BoingBoing)

Frontline: “The Retirement Gamble”

I watched Frontline’s “The Retirement Gamble” with my wife tonight. It starts with the shift from company-managed pensions to 401K funds managed by all of us — or our financial planners. It is not a feel-good documentary. Many Americans are losing huge chunks of their retirement savings to fees, possibly for little or no benefit (well, not to the savers, anyway; the fund managers are getting plenty of benefit).

This was not a problem in the roaring 90s, when a monkey could make money in the stock market, but it’s a big problem now, when many Americans have seen their retirement accounts fall off a cliff, or at best, go flat.

What’s the root of the problem? According to Frontline, it’s not so much the fees, but the fact that financial advice is mostly doled out by salespeople whose only ethical requirement is to sell you something “suitable.” In other words, the financial products they sell you just have to sort of resemble the kind of product you want. They can’t sell you an insurance policy if you’re looking for a mutual fund, in other words.

Few financial advisors are fiduciaries, a word that means they would be required to put your interests ahead of their own. (Not salespeople, in other words.) It doesn’t seem to matter that most Americans have no idea what that word means or how to identify a fiduciary (hint: ask).

Are there good, well-meaning financial advisors out there who are not fiduciaries? I’m sure there are. I think my financial advisor is one of them. But whether you go with a salesperson or a fiduciary, you need to ask yourself (and your financial advisor, fiduciary or not) some important questions:

  • How much of your retirement savings are going to fees?
  • How are your funds performing compared to lower-fee index funds (hint: probably not any better)?
  • Does your financial advisor have a fiduciary duty to you?

Above all, be involved in your retirement planning. If your investments aren’t growing, find out why — or find someone else to help you manage your investments more effectively.

Trader Ming’s Peanut Satay: Box v. Contents

I picked up a few “Trader Ming’s” noodle boxes at Trader Joe’s the other day, thinking they would be good for a quick lunch. And the image on the box looked pretty great. The product inside does not really measure up to the cover art, though. Check it out:

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I can’t say that I am all that surprised. Most food packaging is like Glamour Shots for the contents — which are, in this case, 600 calories and nearly 25% of your fat, sugar, and salt allowance for the day.

Do Taxes Really Need to Be So Complicated?

The way we file taxes has got to be the least-efficient way possible. Every year, millions of Americans dig through a year’s worth of receipts, year-end statements, and their memories to assemble millions of stacks of paperwork that are processed by hand by an army of IRS employees and contractors.

This is ridiculous, and I’m not even talking about how complicated the tax code is.

Keep reading

The Difference Between Assets and Liabilities

We all assume that having things is the same thing as having wealth. You see someone driving a Mercedes, and assume he or she is wealthy. More often than not, it just means that person has a huge loan payment to make each month. Cash flow is not the same thing as wealth. Wealth means having assets — money in the bank, valuable investments, and things unencumbered by loans. If you owe money on all your things, you just have liabilities.

You can have a lot of things and still own nothing. Like the founder of Michigan Brewing Co., who just filed bankruptcy and listed $3,236 in assets and more than $8,200,000 in liabilities.

Very few people are truly wealthy. You cannot judge a book by its cover, and you cannot judge wealth by the number of things someone has. (via Daniel Gershburg)

(image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/danmoyle/5634567317/)

Should You Trust Your Lawyer with Your Data?

When you work with a lawyer (or a financial advisor or accountant, for that matter), you almost certainly hand over a lot of confidential information. It may include things like account numbers, birth dates, your social security number, family members’ names — in short, everything necessary to steal your identity.

This could be a problem.

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Famous Last … Tweet?

Last words are automatically interesting, but not automatically significant. This goes double or triple for last tweets, since tweeting is rarely the last thing anyone would think to do before expiring. All the same, The Tweet Hereafter archives last tweets of famous people, just in case they are significant, like the last tweet of Oscar Pistorius’s girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, the day before he killed her:

What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow??? #getexcited #ValentinesDay

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