Gaming’s greatest con artists

gabe newell

Gaming is a business. A big business. And like any big business, there’s people looking to make money off the ignorant, the weak and the naïve.

I’m talking about us, obviously. When it comes to gamers, we’re the easiest mark there is. We’re the type of people who believe every Half-Life 3 rumour, or believe publishers when they say the customer is their first priority (lol). In celebration of our hopeless optimism and overly trusting natures, I’ve compiled a list of some of the greatest con artists our industry has seen. Or at least, the ones I could remember when I wrote this. 

Candy Crush Saga

One of my favourite articles I’ve written for NAG was on free-to-play games, and how they’re psychologically engineered to take every cent from you. If you haven’t checked it out, you should, it’s still very much relevant today.

One of the key distinctions made in that article is the difference between a skill game and a money game. A skill game allows you to progress based on ability, whereas a money game is essentially impossible without sinking cash into bonuses and boosts.

What makes Candy Crush the greatest con of all the mobile games is that it straddles the line beautifully. It is possible to beat the game without spending money, it just takes a lot of perseverance and a lot of luck.

Patience that people don’t have, so they’ll give themselves just a “small” boost with one of the premium micro-transactions, but still feel like they were enough a part of the process of winning to get that sense of achievement. Which is why they feel the need to tell you they’ve reached level 657 on Facebook, which means they are either unemployed or spend most of their day on the toilet.

As a bonus, Candy Crush creators ripped off the game from someone else, as they’ve been known to do with pretty much all their games. Lawyering up won’t help you either, as they have enough money to bury you in lawsuits that you’ll never afford to see through. Damn man, I haven’t been this depressed about something since Eddie Murphy’s career.

What the hell happened to you Eddie?
What the hell happened to you Eddie?

The Counter-Strike Punisher

This one I love, because it’s not some scumbag taking money from innocent people, but rather a hero taking money from scumbags. He’s like a really nerdy Robin Hood, minus the stupid hat, the sidekick and the woman fawning over his mad coding skills.

This one is super recent. A couple of weeks ago a dude going by the handle AndroidL posted on Reddit how he released a free hack on a popular website for such clandestine shenanigans, a hack that would get you instantly banned. The so-called hack was purposefully engineered to trigger Valve’s VAC system harder than a neo-feminist at a Men’s Rights parade.

Our hero got the job done, but he was slicker than your average hacker – he actually released three hacks. The first two would trigger the VAC system after around 24 hours, and the last one just dispensed with all that nonsense – the instant you joined a game the mighty banhammer would ruin your day faster than Melissa McCarthy can ruin a movie.

AndroidL also got all his friends to flood the board with praise for the hack, drowning out the voices that mentioned it got banned. The key here is that people tend to only read the first few posts in the thread, which all said how great it was.

The hack racked up 5,500 downloads in total, which shows a somewhat alarming number of people desperate enough to cheat that they’ll pull a free hack from an unknown user and risk bricking their game. Still, this is some top-shelf justice porn.

Peter Molyneux

Ah man, how much do I hate this freakin’ guy. The fact that this bozo is celebrated as some kind of gaming industry icon makes me spontaneously break out in haemorrhoids every time I think about it. It would be like Oscar Pistorius getting out of jail and murdering people in public toilets and we all just keep referring to him as an “inspiration”.

Aside from being an enormous asshat, Molyneux is also severely overrated. I’ll admit the Bullfrog stuff was cool (Dungeon Keeper, Populous, Theme Park etc.), but he didn’t even work on their sweetest game (Theme Hospital).

Then everything he did at Lionhead was overblown garbage. I know there are some diehard Fable fans ready to ravage me in the comments but the early games were good, not great and he ran that franchise into the ground with broken promises and bad design. As for Black and White, well, that was fun for about five minutes before everyone got tired of slapping around a giant, anthropomorphic cow and hurling villagers into the sea.

What Molyneux does do, however, is continually lie outright about what his games are and what they’ll be. And yet, for some reason, we all buy keep buying his games on the basis of these promises, and laughing it off when it turns out to be total crap. “Oh that’s just Molyneux,” people say, as if he’s your senile old grandpa that keeps making racist comments at the Christmas table.

"Oh dear Pete, did you forget your name again?"
“Oh dear Pete, did you forget your name again?”

His twilight years, however, are the most egregious. He somehow got a bunch of people to tap away at a f**king cube and call it a video game. It’s like Minecraft, except without the ability to do anything at all except scratch dicks on the side of the thing.

That entire game was based on the premise of a mind-blowing, life-changing prize that not only turned out to be totally overrated, but also wasn’t even delivered on. It’s like getting socks for Christmas and then finding out they’re too small.

Now this buffoon has one game in Early Access, and released another game in Early Access as well (Godus and Godus Wars, respectively), with no real hope at this point of ever finishing the first one, which no longer even has a Steam page. On top of all that, he tells everyone that it’s what he planned all along.

God, I f**king hate you Peter Molyneux.

Early Access Games

Whatever happened to demos? Anyone remember those? The things that used to come on NAG CDs?

I feel like Early Access has replaced the demo, and it’s a shitty replacement. Everything about EA stuff is shitty (ho ho you see what I did there?), it literally sucks by definition. Instead of actually finishing a product and delivering a quality game, they’re going to give you a half-assed, bug-riddled pile of crap now and ask you to pay for it, with a vague promise of finishing it in the future.

A study done back in 2014 showed that only a quarter of Early Access games had actually been completed, and plenty never get finished at all. These developers might have the best of intentions, but who the hell are you really giving your money to – you have no idea most of the time. We all have that friend from High School who calls himself an “Entrepreneur” and lists himself as CEO of his own one man company. That’s cool, I’m also actually founder and CEO of Sitting On My Ass Inc., take my card. Plenty of people have big ideas, not everyone can actually deliver.

The problem with this is that once people have the money, they lose the motivation. When you’re trying to get a game together to make rent money you probably work pretty damn hard; when you’re swimming in all that sweet, sweet Early Access money, suddenly working on your game for 12 hours a day doesn’t seem quite as appealing as watching Netflix in your underwear.

I think we need something that’s a cross between demos and Kickstarter. Demos are cool because they’re a full game, just with minimal content. A demo is polished, the engine is properly constructed, and things work and look as they should. People should be releasing demos, and then asking for crowdfunding to deliver a full game. At least then we know they can deliver.

Make people prove that they’re actually worth giving your money to in the first place. Ugh, don’t even get me started on pre-orders. If I had more space, they’d be in here too.

P.S. Of course Gaben is the header image. Let’s not pretend we don’t all spend far too much money twice a year on games we’ll never play. I’m not even sure the games I get on the Steam sale even exist, I never end up installing them.