Modern video games often feel a lot like work. So it was only a matter of time before game makers faced player-led labor revolts over the perception of exploitation.
After Destiny 2 was released in September, players began to gripe about the game's progression system—essentially the way it rewards players for the combination of skill and hours played. The game, a cooperative online shooter with heavy role-playing elements, revolves around a complex system for advancing a player's capabilities, which is based partly on experience points, or XP. High-level players often play dozens of hours a week, and spend much of that time maximizing XP gains.
But users soon discovered the game was secretly providing diminishing XP returns for the same activities—cheating players by not compensating them enough for their work. In response to complaints, the studio behind the game changed the system, thus rewarding an uprising by underpaid video game laborers.
Player protests also drove changes to the progression system in Battlefront 2, a Star Wars–themed shooter involving competitive online gameplay. Like Destiny 2, the key to the game is player advancement.
But an early version allowed players to buy add-on packages granting bonus abilities in the form of "loot crates," or randomized virtual rewards boxes. This led to the accusation that the game was pay-to-win rather than play-to-win.
The controversy led the developers to alter the rewards structure. It also caught the attention of lawmakers around the world, some of whom suggested that the loot crates, which can also be obtained more slowly via regular gameplay, were equivalent to gambling and should be regulated as such.
Even where market pressure is clearly having an effect, it turns out, politicians can rarely resist intervening in private labor disputes.