How much responsibility does a game developer have?

Hello dear community,

this is not a JME related topic but maybe you can help me.

For university, I have to write a homework whose topic has to have something to do with games and ethic. Since there are already a few students who are going to write about violence within games and how it transfers to behavior in real life, I thought, I could write about what kind of responsibility game developers have when it comes to ethical questions. Maybe religion is a good point here.(?)

It would be nice if someone could post some reference articles they know about, preferably e-Journals. But of course you can post your own statement here too. I just wanted to ask if someone had to do something similar and could give me some hints about this topic.

Best regards
Domenic :slight_smile:

Hiya Domenic,

so… games and ethics, huh? and responsibility of the game developer… hmm.

hehe… he… hehe. if “ethics of philosophical presentation” is what you are delving into, then the wisecrack channel on youtube might be a lead. In which case, you are merely doing a “games and ethics” subset of the more general “media and ethics”, and it should be pretty easy to roll with it from there with the whole “art is a reflection of reality”.

example: Philosophy of Fallout

if “ethics of quality” is what you would vary upon, then you could just run a wiki search on the collapse of the video game industry in the 80’s. Or for a more recent anecdotal approach, you could analyze the tendency for misleading potential consumers on the E3 hype train. The good thing about this approach is that folks also can relate to the good examples of quality.

example: Rabbid Luigi’s Dishonestly Marketed Games

However, if you wish to truly drop bombshells in the classroom for that essay gold, you would probably just do an article on the “Business Ethics and games” side of things which could easily engulf the previous topic, and also add in the disturbing trends of: Microtransactions (Hey, use real money to win/play faster/buy lootboxes), oh right… Lootboxes ( gambling in some circles. lol.), Day One DLC (You paid for a game, but… ), XBox one’s camera always on and must be connected to internet (PS4 says thank you, btw). So, in this case the development team is being instructed by business to implement shady practices.

In my opinion, though, when you speak of developer responsibility for anything… It’s a topic that can be speculated heavily, after all, There Are Legally Enforced Instructions On Packages Of Toothpicks For Proper Usage.

Game On,



Anyhow, I second Relic724 point of a presentation on how the “ism” (socialism, pacifism, liberalism, fascism etc.) brainwashing of the “participation trophy” generations has made them easy prey, for those who know how to take advantage of it, to get rich as hell through gaming using micro transactions.

Vanity and compulsiveness are expensive and easily exploited. Especially when the target is trained from their youth to be a victim, i.e. not responsible for their own actions.


What about actual ethics? Like, how half the game developer articles for a long time seemed to be about how best to exploit peoples’ addictive behaviors for profit. The whole F2P model is pretty much based on this concept and essentially takes advantage of every kind of human weakness to eke out another few cents.

Which rereading it is somewhat the message that mitm is hinting at.

Be careful of stereotypes, though. I’ve heard many millennials point out the fact that they weren’t the ones giving out the trophies or even expecting them. An argument could be made that those particular stereotypes are even less susceptible to a whole variety of F2P schemes simply because they expect to never have to pay for any of it ever.

But anyway, there were articles out there about how to exploit them, too.

Exploiting human weakness for profit. Big ethical hot button issue.

I know I personally have a handful of “make money fast” ideas for if my soul is ever completely rotted away. The “match three gems” games of the world would probably call me a chump.


Yep, +100 to what Paul said. The fact that game developers deal with a human urge is the most important and specific thing about „game ethics“. I mean what Blizzard does is the equivalent of high grade heroin.

Otherwise the whole discussion is totally overblown - computer games add nothing new to the table that hasn‘t been discussed hudreds of years ago already. Even though some groups and bored media outlets try and boil something up every now and then (metal makes our children satanists, role playing games too, horror movies make them kill people etc etc).


And remember folks, if correlation == causation then global warming is caused by a lack of pirates. Arr…


Alright, thank you very much for your statements. It’s always very interesting reading your posts :slight_smile:

By the way my cousin has a degree in media paedagogy - the data clearly points at the fact that there is zero correlation between playing games and actions in real life. Theres a lot of papers on the topic, the most cited paper that DOES show a connection has been refuted since.

Edit. Dunno why I replied to Paul’s comment. It wasn’t meant to.

Mixing ethics with business is probably why the majority of people don’t become as rich as they might want. It is an ethical minefield. To be a billionaire you have to be ruthless, heartless, narcissistic, satanistic and all those adjectives that describe singular achievement. Business by definition is survival of the fittest. Competition. War.

The responsibility of a monetarily successful games company is to make money. To develop means in which to encourage spending. Micro transactions. Jealousy through textures and models you can’t afford. DLC that should have been in the game anyway. And so on.

Make no mistake; this is not software development, this is business. And you will be faced with ethical decisions routinely. Your sole objective is to make money, for that is the only reason in which one would create a for-profit company.

Unfortunately most of us aren’t like Donald Trump or Theresa May. We don’t have the balls or the heart to rip every penny out of peoples pockets. But those that do are what we now call “global software companies”. Welcome to the world of business.


Well done, everything that I could have say and then some has already been said by somebody else in this thread.

I want to add Just one thing:

If everybody was to behave like this, humanity would be extinct long ago…
And in fact, “preserving the Life” (in every form and meaning) is the whole point of ethics.


I think the fact that the population of socio- and psychopaths never grows above a certain “sustainable” level strongly points to humans being compassionate by default. You have to “meta” the whole proceeding so that normal humans exploit others. Make them animals in the peoples minds or numbers in an Excel sheet.

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Don’t forget the questionable ethics of some participants… selfish loot distribution, trolling, stealing from guilds, spawn camping, … Arguably some of these are assisted by poor game design.

Yes, and while I tend to fall on the side of “people will always find a way”, thus limiting the culpability of the developers themselves… the developer ethics come into play when they drag their feet closing those design loop holes that are making them extra money.

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Such an ancient subject… I remember some religious authorities claimed that Doom was something sort of satanic propaganda. Somebody (was it Romero?) responded to that something sort of: “Well, they claim annihilating Cyberdemons is evil. By that logic, if we’d made a game about annihilating churches and priests - THAT would be good”. I can only second him. Ethics - well, most of the time - is so weakly formalized (while highly personalized) thing, so practically any possible point of view has its own pro and contra. And endless speculation possibilities. IMHO.

Technically, nothing about that has anything to do with ethics.

I think a large percentage of people don’t really know the difference between ethics, morals, and offensive.

I would be pleased if you’d point me to definitions of those that you consider enough scientific and well separated. What I can see in dictionary, for instance: “Ethics - the branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles.” So ethics is defined through moral, and moral is defined as “principles of right and wrong”. To me that looks too subjective. And in my native language I never saw a resource with much more than that, unfortunately…

We have a more or less strong definitions about what is wrong (and “how wrong” ) called laws. To me, these are the only rules a developer MUST obey. Anything extra is up to him, entirely. And this part can vary a lot depending on huge number of factors both external and internal to him. I doubt we can do much more than that unless we develop some fundamental convention on the subject, and fundamental means strong definitions at first.

Not to be too abstract: consider trolling. If you’ve made a game where trolls can compete in overtrolling each other - will it be right or wrong? Some people will enjoy it, others won’t just play it. Plus, that in theory could clean up (perhaps, not completely, but still) other places where trolls are considered definitely evil. On the other hand, such a game would be a place to develop and polish trolling skills… so we can add more and more abstraction levels to that and every next one will present a new dilemma, “right or wrong?”.

…goes into it pretty deeply. I tend to reject the idea that “ethics” is interchangeable with “morals” for two reasons: 1) it means there is no reason to have both words, 2) because I had a professor who drilled into us the differences. At least from his perspective… and they all made sense.

The classic example was the case of a woman who had her children kidnapped. In order to get to them she had to cross a river. The riverboat man said he would take her across if she slept with him. So she did and he took he across. She paid the kidnappers and got her kids back.

We went into great and lengthy discussions (debate even) on who was immoral and who was unethical.

What is “right or wrong”? In this case, I would say it’s ethical as long as the players know that’s why they are playing. It’s only when some player signs up and pays money thinking it’s a regular game only to find himself endlessly trolled with no way to get his money back… that would be unethical.

precisely what I’m talking about. I’d be glad to hear that you ended up with one common conclusion. According to what you said, you at least had a common terminological basis. Until we have it, and everyone knows the differences, this is nothing more than different points of view and merely a speculation.

Agreed, but human languages weren’t designed by software engineers, so in fact have great deal of redundancy…

Yes, well… also I have to take yearly ethics training for my job and there are strict “ethics laws” surrounding anything to do with our government.

Surprisingly… no such things exists for “morals”.

Too often, “morals” means “right and wrong because God said so”.

Ethics tends to be “this is right and wrong because it’s based on a fundamental base ‘logic’ of what is good/bad for society itself”.