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Opinion: How 'Checklists' And In-App Purchases Can End Up Extorting Players

In a new blog post on Gamasutra, indie developer Adam Saltsman argues that checklist-style achievements and in-app pur
In a new expert blog post on Gamasutra, Canabalt and Gravity Hook developer Adam Saltsman takes aim at many of his fellow iOS game makers for combining checklist-style achievements and in-app purchases into what he calls "unethical and unacceptable design practice." Saltsman's main argument is against games that include long checklists of relatively meaningless in-game achievements that simply require extra play time, rather than skill or clever play, to unlock. Such lists create a "subtle and slight psychological effect... on players," Saltsman argues, "a subtle push, a barely detectable need to 'accomplish' everything on the list" that encourages players to compulsively play past the point where a game is "inherently deep and engaging." Even worse, this kind of checklist is often "very deliberately designed to ensure that not only do you need the checklist to succeed, but in fact successfully completing the checklist is prohibitively slow and/or annoying to do," Saltsman says. The problem is exacerbated when the developer adds in-app purchases that let players progress through the checklist faster than they can for free. Saltsman compares the effect to that of a mafia boss offering to help you out with a problem if you pay him under the table. "This is extortion in the worst way; this is extortion of the time we have left until we die, the sole resource of consequence for human life," he says. "Developers who deliberately engage in this kind of design should be ashamed of their creations." Saltsman's blog post addresses specific examples of this kind of unethical design, and also points out examples of developers using these kinds of features more responsibly.

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