Today, Neil McClarty (VP, Growth and Product Services) and Kelvin Plomer (Director of Player Experience) from Jagex appeared before Members of Parliament (MPs) of the UK Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. This is a part of the work our UK lawmakers do that looks in to certain key issues.
Jagex were appearing to discuss immersive and addictive technologies. MTX, as a form of gambling, has caught the attention of the select committee who are collecting evidence as part of an investigation into the practice. Jagex are one of the studios attending, which is good because some studios simply ignore the invitation and refuse to speak.
There are some interesting issues that came out as part of the session, detailed below. These are my rough notes of the proceeding and are not chronological of the discussion.
A full replay of the proceeding is available on the parliament live website (maybe just under 2h total). It is probably not as good as the Q&A transcripts!
Overall, I am disappointed in Jagex's showing. Addiction to gaming, specifically runescape, was completely denied by Jagex. The MTX amounts people can
spend (£5k/month cap) are ridiculous and do not offer any protection to those who may be gambling/MTX addicts.
Jagex could not provide evidence of what it is doing to proactively
address serious issues of addiction and mental health. In fairness, the collaboration with charities on mental health is commendable.
More needs to be done Jagex. Time to up your game.
- Jagex has a cap on MTX of £5k/month for players. 1 player has hit this limit in last 12 months. Cap is in place for fraud rather than protection because... 'choice'.
- It is up to the players to decide what they want to do.
- Average spend of all users is ~£45/year (edit: on MTX). When challenged on how much paying customers spend per year, Jagex refused to provide information, despite admitting that it knew the figures because of commercial concerns.
- One user ran up debts of £17k from MTX before his father had to bail him out. Jagex replied with a typical customer service letter ($11). Jagex insisted it had proactive protections in place but under questioning, this completely fell apart. Jagex could only provide evidence of it responding reactively to addiction/MTX. *(edit 2) Jagex admitted it is up to the addicted user to approach Jagex to admit they have a problem (gambling). No self-exclusion policy is available. No 3rd party intervention because.. GDPR.
- Jagex denied being a gambling company and denied overly targeting its users for monetisation.
- Jagex denied several times that runescape is addictive, rejecting the suggestion on many occasions.
- The above point was challenged repeatedly by the committee because there is evidence gaming is addictive and long play times have been linked to mental health issues.
- Jagex are writing to the select committee in the coming weeks to address points for which they did not prepare beforehand (e.g. longest 6h streaks, previous use of aggregated data etc.)
_____________________________________________________ Inquiry into immersive and addictive technologies
Jagex's answers are in plain text. Questions/comments from the committee are in italics. General
Regular players - 100,000s+ playing every day.
Average play time is 2.5h a day for those who play everyday.
Average player has played for 8 years.
Average age is 22. 2% are under age of 18.
Jagex reaches out to players who have not played in a long time (limited by GDPR for email). What is heavy usage, do players play for more than that?
Yes. Typically players go through phases of doing more or less. Quests given as an example for long term play. Game that 'never ends' - we have heard of people playing all night, are you aware of people playing 10-12h in a single session?
Extremely rare, infrequent and for a small section of community and usually around particular content (i.e. new releases). Large amount of tasks benefit short play time - dailies - so long play time is not rewarded in the same way as longer play. MTX (referred to as macro transactions once scale of Jagex's cap emerged) How much do regular users spend on MTX, annually?
Some hesitation to discuss 'business model' first.
200,000h of gameplay content in entirety of RS. 10,000s in F2P.
First thing people will pay for is members. £7/month ($11!). £84 a year.
Annual spend on MTX: 'no more than £50-£60 across all of our users'. For regular users, you know the figures, how much do they spend?
£45 a year average of regular users of the 2.5h a day people.
1/3 revenue is from MTX. 2/3 from subscription. The £45/year was an average across all players. What is the average spend for paying players only?
No details to hand and not something we would disclose. [Challenged on that answer] Do you have that information?
Yes but not comfortable sharing. Not public domain and is commercially sensitive.
[Damian Collins MP] Average daily user is £45/year MTX spend. That is 'commercially sensitive' too but you shared anyway. Why are you not able to answer the previous question?
There is a large difference between users and that particular number varies depending on the player. Is there a cap on MTX spending?
Players can spend upto £5k per month.
One instance of a player hitting the cap in last 12 months. Cap is only in place for fraud checks. How do you spend £5k a month in your game?
Cosmetics costing £4-£30 [N.B does not mention lamps]. What determines price difference?
Aesthetics/animation. E.g. a cape. Artists and designers work on this. How do you establish whether an outfit is more expensive of cheaper?
Amount of effort going into the creation (e.g. artists and animations). What is the most expensive item purchasable?
Pack of keys that allow you to open chests. How much?
£74. How many players spend £1k/month? Is it a lot?
No numbers to hand. Not a lot. Why is £5k the limit?
In-house fraud team. Those threshold largely in place for fraud. Why is the motivation for the limit only fraud?
Ultimately - we recognise most audience is of adult age and we believe for the extensive retained audience that has been playing for so long, the current thresholds are sufficient and provide freedom for people to do what they want. Accounts are secure and safe. People have freedom for how long, and how much they want to play. You know the average spend per paying user. Do designers have a monetisation role to make people invest more funds?
Team of 80 on RS full-time, mix of artists and devs. Products broken up so small satellite teams that work on individual pieces of content. Limits on spending, is this standard across the industry?
Not comfortable commenting on that. Market is so diverse and many ways to monetise audiences and foolish to say what we do works for everyone. Paul Farrelly MP - questions on £17k debt from anonymous evidence received by committee
A player - the son - racked up debts of £17k from RS. Included a bank statement of £247.95 spent in one day.
The father wrote the committee about how he had to bailout his son with his life savings.
A copy of reply from Jagex customer services which is very much a reply that says 'we cant engage with you because of data protection unless your son comes to us, these are the tools for him to do things if he wishes to.' What happens in the Company from Jagex's side in this situation, the father has a point. What does Jagex do?
I think Jagex provide the means by which an individual can request help and we can do do that. Are there any facilities, for people to block or limit themselves, that gambling companies implement that Jagex could learn from? As a best practise?
Jagex is not a gambling company. Service provided are only within the game and cannot be cashed out. That wasn't the question.
Jagex has not looked at gambling limits or best practice. Gambling is not our business. Are you obviously trying to extract money from your players?
Large purpose is making content to justify sub price (£7). Majority of time is spent providing content. Some teams do work on the additional services. Very much see ourselves as sub game. You say categorically that you are not a gambling company, but people are clearly gambling away their money. Parliament has brought down Fixed odds betting (N.B UK roulette machines allowing £100/spin that dominate(d) the gambling industry profits). Do you fall into that category?
No - items people are purchasing are exclusive to the game. Addiction / playtime / mental health What feedback / complaints from players and others around MTX, how is it dealt with?
25 complaints where players reference addiction.
If a player got into debt, Jagex is bound by GDPR and cannot discuss a user with a 3rd party (i.e. a parent) who might intervene. Jagex would need to verify the ID of someone making contact. Cannot speak with 3rd party without breaching GDPPrivacy.
Approach to corporate social responsibility - Jagex has invested in mental health with staff and charities. Events in-game about awareness (e.g. from local MIND organisation). When individuals are struggling, we have been pro-active. In addition, very pro-actively, by way of chat moderation and screening. Looking for references to self harm/suicide. Players can report and it is manually reviewed by members of staff. All chat reviewed 24/7 for all triggers. Escalated to law enforcement if necessary. Jagex was challenged on mental health. There is a huge potential scale of users with problems. Is there a limit on gameplay time? Can it be bypassed?
6h automatic log for all players. Can log back in immediately if a player wants to. How many players play 6h and get cut off?
Do not have figures to hand but happy to share after. Why 6 hours? What harm is it intended to prevent?
Used to be auto log outs on 4h. Community didn't like forced log outs. In response, this was relaxed to 6h. Why force log out at all?
Players should take a break. You are suggesting if players extend their presence in your game, that there is a potential downside to long periods online that you are worried about?
Not limited to screens of games, even reading a book for 6h people should take a break. Not sure bookstores have that concern. The committee has heard evidence about long periods of time spent and a link to mental health consequences. Is that why there is a time limit on your game? Do you accept there is evidence of mental health consequences from addiction, or is it entirely coincidental you have time limits and links to mental health charities.
Time limits have been in place for several years. We acknowledge anything done for long period of time needs a break, some users will always over-engage, our responsibility is to make sure people take breaks and have a sensible lifestyle. Do you believe 6h to be about maximum reasonable time someone should spend uninterrupted on game?
We are comfortable with that limit. RS is a passive game, large amount of time you can do other stuff alongside passively. Can watch Netflix alongside as an example. Do you prompt players to come back or make a purchase if they haven't done so in a while?
Focus is on getting people playing again, giving relevant content for them to engage in. Provide different options. Might make an offer for them to engage to make a payment. Would not be used to make someone engage with something they haven't done in the past.
Focus is on getting people playing again, giving relevant content for them to engage in. Provide different options. Might make an offer for them to engage to make a payment. Would not be used to make someone engage with something they haven't done in the past. Are people treated differently depending on how much they spend? If someone has sent on MTX/members would there be an offer?
Not across the board, but there are situations where it is done. E.g. 50% discount on membership or MTX purchase. You said game data is used to make offers to get players to engage with certain content. What triggers you to contact a player in this way? How long off game before you directly contact them with an offer?
Isn't a hard and fast rule. large amount dependent on if they have given permission for us to contact them. 1-2 months after not playing we might reach out to them. No point contacting a player about content they cant engage with. If i play for 6h. Stop playing for 1h. is it possible I receive email from you in an hour's time with an offer to play again?
Campaigns are manual. It is possible but unlikely. Are devs encouraged to monetise the game?
No but if players choose to, they can engage with content and go further they can buy items. Do you think games can be addictive?
Any entertainment media can have an immersive side and it is naive to think otherwise. Is Runescape addictive?
No. Not at all?
Very cognisant of addiction and we address. 0.05% referenced the word 'addiction' in correspondence to Jagex. Do you reject that RS is addictive?
Neil - I reject that.
Kelvin - we are not psychologists. Experts in a successful community focused game. Tribal alignment like a football or rugby club. People are passionate about the game. Not psychologist but you have to accept you have a responsibility - people are running up colossal debts - you cant be a passive bystander can you?
I don't think we are. We do a tremendous amount to try and educate and provide info to playerbase. 2x in game events focused around mental health. 100% funds to go to mental health charities. 3 charity partners have npcs in game. Is the industry acting quickly enough to address addictive nature of gaming or are you denying problem exists?
We have a F2P game. People talk with their feet. If players are not happy they will not play. Not if they are addicted? People drinking don't particularly like it but they still drink. Industry doesn't recognise the problem maybe? Do you think you are doing enough to identify the difference between a loyal customer and someone who is addicted to the product?
There is evidence there are players addicted to games, and on other hand evidence that this is not the case. Jagex are in the middle and are not the experts. We do a lot to engage with the playerbase and do the corporate responsible things as a business. If you design a product you have to look at safety. What do you to look at the risk your product creates?
Focus is around chat moderation. Pro-actively looking for inappropriate conversations. There is a risk and there are situations where we escalate to police. Focus is on safeguarding?
One element. Other is on data protection of user data. You mentioned you are not psychologists, would you be willing to share information with academics to carry out empirical research into this issue?
Wholeheartedly, yes. Cooperation is a responsibility. We have a sense listening to your evidence that everything you do is reactive, and not pro-active. Would be helpful if there was clear scientific research for new products to take risk element more broadly into account?
Yes. How much can you identify about a player from what you collect about them?
Large amount of data is game data - progress, content engaged in, payment for MTX. Is not shared/sold to 3rd parties. When reviewed, it is on aggregated basis not individually. Does it not concern you that as a business you feel the need to give out mental health advice?
Event business needs to do that. Mental health is a growing problem. You think you are not part of the problem?
No - 1m players and they are representative of society. Whole range of positives and negatives, including minorities with problems. There are positive aspects to gameplay - social skills, cognitive behaviour, how economies work, setting goals and achieving them - valuable life lessons.
We regularly survey players re. why they play. Top answer is - a way to relax / escape. 6h limit on gameplay. What is the longest streak of back-to-back play?
Don't have figures to hand but happy to share with committee afterwards. In terms of addiction, it is about time spent playing surely?
Can't comment on that - not an expert. Genre of game is there to be intentionally immersive - it is a RPG. You can *AFK*. Game is like radio noise in background. Maybe you should be experts - this is what you do as a game designer. Why in your capacity you don't feel you need to be experts in this?
We are experts in areas and we do a lot to make sure we are aware of consequences. Individuals have submitted evidence that long periods of time online have a negative mental health impact. Is the value of your company based on numbers of participants or how long they spend? Financial interest for players to play for as long as possible, for as many years as possible. Does that conflict with your comments that you made about caring about well being of players. On one hand you wanting to make a profit, conflicts with responsibility of negative health consequences of the longevity that produces the profit.
Aware of consequences. Debatable that there is the addiction there. If individuals do have problems, we are supporting players. It requires them to come to you, rather than a concerned relative because of GDPR, you can't react until a player contacts you. You don't really know how many players are in that slot do you?
No. That is fair. Game data / player bans etc. Job of data team is analyse behaviour. Commercial value is for you to make most of data to improve game (as you aren't selling it)?
Yes - game retention / engagement is key metric. No-one will pay for something they do not want to engage with. Do you work with academics looking into analysing meta data on game (psychology/addiction/social gameplay). If Cambridge psychometric centre reached out, would you engage? Have you shared data before on aggregated basis?
Not pro-actively, we have done on individual cases at times. GDPR responsibilities might get in the way. Even pre-GDPR we wouldn't have shared individual dated. Will write to committee to explain if any aggregated data has been shared before.
Kelvin - Data used for detection of cheat programs too. Abusive conduct towards others in game. Do you have ability to pro-actively pick up on bad behaviour or do you rely on others reporting to you? Do you deal with complaints within 24 hours? Are players blocked?
There are trigger popups for bad behaviour. 96% of time complaints are dealt within 48h. There are sanctions for players. How many bans issued?
No figures off top of head. Daily offences are ~23,000. Vast majority is related to cheating (99%). [probably botting
Community safety - <200 cases/year are escalated to law enforcement
Jagex will write to committee to state how many have been banned as a result of abusive behaviour.