Hungry And Lazy Developers

Read this morning an article entitled “Hacker Exploits iOS Flaw for Free In-app Purchases.” First thing that struck me is the language being used to describe what this guy has done. He’s a “hacker” who is “exploiting” something called a “flaw” to get something for “free”. Inadvertently (or not?) the writer has cast this character as someone who has done no wrong, only what’s natural given who he is and the environment he lives in. It’s somehow considered normal that a weakness in the system can and should be exploited for gain and reported in such glowing terms. Think about it for a second – this is like justifying a mugging because the victim didn’t know kung-fu. Or patting a bank robber on the head for finding an ingenious way to circumvent security systems and loot a vault filled with other peoples’ savings. Under other circumstances the headline would be: “Thief Steals From Unsuspecting Victims.” What’s going on here?

In the article the hacker, named Borodin, is given a chance to explain his motives:

So why did Borodin do this? “It’s my hobby,” he said. “And it’s a challenge to CSR Racing.” That’s an iOS game with a freemium model; though the game is free to download, it offers a slew of in-app purchases to unlock extra in-game options and features. Borodin disapproves. “I set this up due to hungry and lazy developers … I was very angry to see that CSR Racing developer taking money from me every single breath.”

This makes absolutely no sense – the developer doesn’t force anyone to play the game. They don’t unilaterally extract money from Borodin’s savings account. In fact, it’s Borodin who has himself become a literal thief: downloading a product, circumventing the payment channel and spreading the word on how others might do the same. Not only a thief, a theft enabler.

Hacking doesn’t bother me – white hats (hackers) are known to assist companies in strengthening their security by hacking then sharing gained knowledge with developers and the community. Borodin is given a soapbox that he then uses to justify his actions not because he’s trying to be helpful, but because he was “angry” at “hungry and lazy developers.” Let’s examine his motivation for a moment.

I’ve not actually played CSR Racing, but I did take a look at some game-play footage, screenshots and reviews. From what I can tell it’s a high quality offering with a slew of valuable licensed content (BMW, Audi, etc). The app and license content literally scream “hard working developer”. This is not the product of a lazy development team. Hungry? Maybe so. Certainly after Borodin shares with the world how to steal food from their table. Since when does someone being hungry justify stealing from them?

Anyway, I have a point to make here. Or more to the point, a question to ask: Why this anger towards developers? What’s happened to create the idea that it’s wrong to be hungry, build something of value then hope to monetize it? This isn’t an isolated event and I’m not trying to call out Borodin for what he’s done. He’s a small part of a larger problem. The environment in which we (as developers) live is comprised of players, media and developer/publishers. Players and media are frequently heard categorizing the freemium, F2P, item-based, business models as “taking money” AKA stealing. And when actual theft takes place the thief is given space to vent his anger and justify his actions. It’s backwards and crazy.

Now that Spicy Horse is getting into the F2P space I’m seeing a fair number of comments related to our product that sound similar:
“Free to play? Fuuu you!” “Rental system on items? Fuuu you!” “I have to earn tickets to purchase stuff? Fuuu you!” “I have to spend money to get valuable items? Fuuu you!!”.

You get the point. The entire F2P model is derided from top to bottom. Imagine the same thing being posted in the comments for a grocery store:
“Free sausage samples on isle 5? Fuuu you!” “Rental system on carpet cleaning machines? Fuuu you!” “I have to collect coupons to get discounts? Fuuu you!” “You mean I have to pay for the items on the shelves? Fuu!!!!”

The backlash against F2P games should look and feel as ridiculous as my grocery store analogies. Not the case in the West. Meanwhile, in China, Korea and other countries where F2P games are the norm, railing against in-game stores, weapon rentals and other aspects of the model would seem as pointless and silly as complaining that a grocery store doesn’t take kindly to shoplifting – no matter how elaborate and crafty your method for doing it.

I believe we’re in a transition phase and that people will, eventually, accept F2P as a consumption model for their games. In the meantime the industry as a whole is fighting against perceptions and positioning. My feeling is that developers and the media both have a responsibility to educate players on the virtues of the model while dispelling the myth that virtual item theft is somehow anything other than outright robbery. Call it what it is.

Would love to hear opinions in response to this – on either side of the argument. Maybe I’m ignoring a critical flaw in the F2P model? Maybe I’m overreacting to what’s “just” a virtual theft? Let me know! If possible, please refrain from arguing, “Just because! Fuuuu you!”

2 responses to “Hungry And Lazy Developers”

  1. well..what he did is his choise after all (I’m not on his side:) but I think it’s really a bad thing to tell the whole world of his “heroic” attitude to game developers.If he is such a good hacker then why he is screaming of this to the people ?
    I think you’re overreacting…of course he’s a jerk, but..he’s not the first and for sure not the last one (that’s bad)
    BTW what are the benefits of the F2P model ?
    I’m starting my own game ideas (some wicked dreams that I want to illustrate through games) and was wondering what model of distribution to choose.

  2. I’d like to mention that the analogy between free sausage samples in the grocery store or rentals for rug cleaners are a bit different than entertainment media. I’ll try and explain my thoughts.

    Rug cleaners and food are naturally temporary things. Rug cleaners are used typically rarely if ever by people who have carpeting in their homes. They rather not pay 300 or so dollars for a decent one to use maybe once or twice a year if that plus its’ maintenance. Food of course is naturally eaten and eliminated.

    Games however are a hobby, an item for collector’s to fawn over and things to be shared and revisited later on.

    The model of paying for items as you go turns a game from a semblance of “take this skill, apply it here and receive a reward”, to “You need a new weapon or access to the newest level? That’ll be 5bucks each.”

    It defeats much of the sense of accomplishment (as false as it is) you get from playing a game. Like a FPS that has weapon unlocks based on level, leveling that’s based on kills and achievements. Only to throw in a caveat of “If you don’t’ want to unlock the weapons, perks etc… just give us some money and it’s yours.”

    The other method is the Facebook game style. Create a non-replenishable resource that takes small amounts of money to earn and expect people to be pigeon holed into buying it. It weaves into the fabric of the game itself, tedious non player based mechanics.

    I find others and myself included to also prefer the sense of paying for something and getting what it is worth. So to speak I wouldn’t want to buy a 60 dollar game knowing full well that I’d have to spend a few dollars a week to play it or to get items in it. DLC is another matter and some companies do it well while others seem to mail it in. Micro transactions however in my experience are the nail in the coffin in terms of longevity for a game. Every MMORPG that is on its’ death bed for instance resorts to it because they lose staff and subscriptions.

    Before that though games like EverQuest survived quite well with small staffs and subscription based formats. Perhaps there’s to much competition now? or perhaps everyone is trying to copy the other? In essence creating WoW clones and not putting out a product that draws people in itself, then resorting to money based incentives.

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