10 January 2010

January Challenge #10:
Ethical Considerations

Reposted on new blog at http://dynamitochondria.blogspot.com/2010/01/january-challenge-10-ethical.html.

I had planned to make an entry about ethics in game development, so I've been reading and brainstorming the topic on and off for a week or so. What I've discovered is that no single post could ever do the topic justice. Depending how far you stretch the definition of the word Ethics, and the word has seen some serious stretching, the topic is HUGE.

I'll probably make some more focused entries on the subject later in the month. Today, I'm running down a partial list of the areas of ethical concern in game development, with a few words about each. I won't try to get any depth on any of it, just a view from 50,000 feet.

Early in the process of making a new game, even choosing your target audience is potentially an area of concern. There may be a conflict between what demographic your marketeers are selling to and the age-appropriateness of the content envisioned by the designers and artists. What rating are you going to aim for? Will you choose to push the boundaries of your target rating? Will you sacrifice your artistic vision to make your game a better fit for the rating?

What will your revenue model be? If you're going to experiment with micropay, where do you draw the line between driving legitimate traffic to the company store and predatory marketing tactics? Are you determined to see that players get good value for their money, or will you resort to whatever it takes to get their cash?

Will your game collect personal information about players? If you have their credit card on file for subscription or micropay, there are legal requirements to both collect and protect this information. How far will you go to keep this information out of the hands of potential stalkers and pedophiles?

How rigidly or loosely will you define harassment and griefing? What will the penalties be to the player who engages in these behaviors? What recourse will the victim of these activities have within your customer service system?

What recourse will players have when they feel they have been treated arbitrarily by your customer service department? Will this recourse be handled within customer service or from outside the department?

How will you handle credits to the team? Egos and careers are at stake here. I've spoken to an industry professional who was left out of the credits after working for 18 months on a project, but an admin assistant at the publisher that no one at the studio has ever met, and probably did zip-nada, made the cut.

Will you pursue the latest psychological research into engaging gameplay, engaging to the point of addictive? What about using your game to express an opinion, maybe an opinion that you think is important, but parents might object to?

Law enforcement rears its head from time to time. How would you handle a subpoena to release a player's private information? From a foreign government? That is known to engagement in political oppression?

Where do you draw the line between homage and derivative? Willingness on the part of the IP holder to sue is just part of the equation. Some IP holders will sue over non-enforceable similarities. Some IP holders are happy to see very derivative homages in other media.

How about production values? Are you knowingly creating shovelware to get boxes onto the shelf? Do any of your managers hide problems from test to make a milestone date and end up shipping a shoddy product?

Are you out to make a difference or make a buck? Are they mutually exclusive? Will you tackle issues of gender or minorities head on in your game, or find a way to whitewash them?

I've drawn from the top page of my notes on the topic to make this post. I've barely scratched the surface of the relevant books and articles I've found. There's a lot to say on the topic, and I don't know how much of it I'm up to. Watch this space, and maybe we'll find out.

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