It’s been over twenty years since Richard Garfield and Wizards of the Coast unleashed Magic: The Gathering, and despite the game’s reputation as a money-sink, the veteran game designer thinks gaming is out of control. In a lengthy Game Player’s Manifesto, Garfield details the ways in which “skinnerware” – games designed to exploit addiction – are a detriment to the industry in the long run. The two key elements of skinnerware, according to him, are when a game’s transactions target a tiny portion of the player population (whales) and that purchases are open-ended. He likens these kinds of games to bars serving free alcohol, then charging increasingly higher prices for drinks to the most alcoholic patrons. In Garfield’s assessment, these games are harming the industry because they put pressure on designers to create systems that maximize the whales’ buy-in over actual engaging and interesting gameplay.
I believe it is time to send a message to game designers and publishers. As a game player I will not play or promote games that I believe are subsidizing free or inexpensive play with exploitation of addictive players. As a game designer I will no longer work with publishers that are trying to make my designs into skinnerware.
It’s not the first such declaration from a game designer, but it’s an interesting statement from someone that many would accuse of creating one of the most well-known skinnerware systems in the world.