Building boundaries around addictive games

Photo by pan xiaozhen on Unsplash

Today, The Verge reported that Chinese company Tencent will begin limiting the amount of play time per day minors will be allowed in mobile game Honor of Kings.

Video game addiction has certainly been a topic of cultural conversation in the U.S. over the last decade. While it seems to affect people of all ages, children and teens can be especially vulnerable. Whether or not you believe it deserves a clinical diagnosis, the anecdotal stories are grim:

I’ll leave the psychology, and the discussions about what a private company can and can’t do, to the experts. I’m more interested in the ethical discussion around building addictive games.

Where is the line between fun and addictive? Who determines what is “okay” — and how? We still don’t fully understand the brain and why we do the things we do. What data can predict that a player will develop an unhealthy relationship with a game? After how many hours, after how many reward hits, after how many notifications?

And, if we did know those things, what is the responsibility of the team or teams that designed and built it that way? There is an assumption in tech that we know what will happen if we put this box here or put that button there; that we have more data than we actually do; that human behavior aligns enough with best practices that we can predict what users will do. In reality, the choices made to design an entire experience are often made across many teams, with varying amounts of data and disparate goals.

Clearly, I would love to know more about the conversations that happened inside of Tencent leading to this announcement. How did they weigh the potential impact? What data did they use? What do they hope to gain from instituting these limits? If nothing else, I hope this promotes discussion around making sure technology fits into our lives, not the other way around. And will other games and/or services follow suit?

What do you think: proactive, pro-user move or secret cover for a long-term marketing campaign? (You never know.)