On Monday, 8/12, IGN reported that a potential bomb threat was being looked into at the US offices of Bandai Namco Entertainment.
Today, there’s been an arrest for a separate incident when someone threatened Square Enix. According to Kotaku, forty-year-old Kenichi Hiratsuka has been arrested after threatening Square Enix in a message via their inquiry page on July 23rd stating:
“Gimme my money back for your sh*!!y game. Want me to do a repeat of Kyoto Animation?”
The message refers to a chilling and horrific incident in July when a man entered an animation studio in Japan, poured gasoline on everything and started a fire that resulted in the deaths of 35 people and 36 injuries. But the reason for the threat at Square Enix? A mobile game.
And that speaks to a greater trend.
There’ve been multiple stories about individuals threatening games and game media in recent months. Last week, police investigated a threat against Twitch’s offices and back in March, a death threat was sent to Square Enix over someone who had purchased roughly $1,878 in in-app purchases and didn’t get the item they wanted.
But the concern is two-fold. One, we’re increasingly living in a world where things like this occur. That, in and of itself, is concerning and frustrating enough. But the second concerning piece of this story is the motivation and entitlement people feel when they’ve put so much money into a game and lose progress or don’t get what they wanted.
Gacha games are built around this lottery concept. You spend loads of money on opportunities to "roll the dice" on digital items and, with enough rolls and money spent, you get a higher chance at rarer and rarer items. But these items are virtual, they’re hardly a "possession". It would be easy to lose a phone with an account after not having backed it up, or for a technical glitch to cause items to disappear, or currency purchased to vanish into thin air.
And the emotion tied to this type of loss can be visceral. It justifies nothing, of course. Threats of any kind are absolutely unacceptable. But it does provide insight into how people feel connected to a cell phone game.
It’s a feeling that some game studios weaponize against the users. They open a game with smaller incremental in-app purchases and as the game progresses, new “pay walls” emerge that force users to pay, pay, pay to keep up. And at a certain point, the user feels “pot-committed” – that they’ve spent too much to look back now and they just need to make sure they can maintain their position at the top of the competitive environment in the game. They’re essentially paying just to keep up with their friends.
It’s creating a new landscape. Because it’s far easier to take that game you paid $59.99 for and set it down to never play it again when you find yourself faced with a level or a boss or a challenge you couldn’t complete (whether it be the player's lack of tenacity or the studio's insurmountable challenge) – far easier than taking a game you played daily for a year on your mobile phone and spent $1900 on and realizing you’d lost all your progress.
Whales (those who spend lots of money on digital products) are changing how games are made and how they’re monetized, and it may not be for the better. While the best solution is simple – don’t spend money you don’t have, don’t make in-app purchases, don’t threaten people over anything ever, be good to others, etc… perhaps we need to also take a good hard look at the business model of in-app purchases and the whales who get caught up in them and consider changing the model. Because when people are spending more than a car payment or more than their rent or more than a house payment on in-app purchases, it doesn’t feel like “just a game” to them anymore.
And it should be “just a game.” It should be fun. And nobody should be threatened, ever, or feel unsafe going to work, just because they created a game.