Selling out the magic circle: free-to-play games and developer ethics


DiGRA/FDG '16 - Proceedings of the First International Joint Conference of DiGRA and FDG
Dundee, Scotland: Digital Games Research Association and Society for the Advancement of the Science of Digital Games, August, 2016
Number: 1
Volume: 13
ISBN / ISNN: ISSN 2342-9666

We describe a narrative case study of a free-to-play, massive multiplayer online role playing game through virtual ethnography inside the game as player and passive, participatory observation of the official game forum to understand the actions of both, the developer and the player community in relation to subliminal development changes of the game rules. We then show that players are able to claim agency and change the course of the game design while trying to allocate themselves as both, consumers within a heavily commercialized game model and invaluable members of the gaming community itself. We draw from studies on player agency, game co-creation as well as research on free-toplay game design to demonstrate how a developer constantly undermines player agency through an ongoing re-definition of the game rules disrupting the magic circle which is the main contribution of this study. Our discussion outlines the constant struggle of players to level the playing field within this damaged magic circle which is punctured by casino-like game reward mechanisms, in-transparent development notes, deceptive developer implementations and game modifications in the context of the freemium business model of game design.