Ethical Design in Steel Seal

A lot of different factors come into play when designing a video game. Some choices you make may have social and economical implications that need to be addressed before you release your game. Steel Seal had a few of these decisions that were reflected in the shop and another large ethical decision was made in the art style.

The first decision was the art style. This was probably the easiest decision to make, but also could have had the biggest implications if ignored. Steel Seal uses a vector based art style, with bright colours, cartoonish animations and a kid-friendly feel. This design choice was done with intention, due to our target audience of ages 13 - 25. The way the art is presented, it comes off as a calm, kid-safe game, that a parent can trust their kids playing. While playing the game, you do have predators that are there to deal with the seal but the way the seal interacts with these enemies is simple and pleasant way. It would be unfitting to the art style if when the seal collided with a shark, that it was "eaten" with blood effects and gore. Instead, we went with something that matched our art style, and would keep the audience happy. When the seal collides with the enemy, it disappearsand bubbles fly out in all directions. This sends the message that the game is over in a pleasant way, without the need of gore which could have has ethical implications.

The second ethical design choice we made was how our game uses in-app purchases. Steel Seal has a shop where players can purchase skins for their playable character. These skins can only be bought using real money, and cannot be obtained in game in any way (with exception to special events such as the Christmas skin). It also has a place where you can purchase power-ups that can give you certain abilities at the start of a game. This decision was made in two parts, how much was everything going to cost, and how was the purchases going to change the gameplay.

Our team wanted IAP (in-app purchases) for our game, because after researching marketing methods, it seemed to be the best choice for our game. It was then the decision on how to incorporate them into our game, without it being 100% necessary to make a purchase. This is how we came up with our system. Skins, which are cosmetic items only can be purchased with real money only, and have no effect on gameplay. We wanted this to be the case because we didn't want our players to feel like they needed to spend money to get the full experience out of our game. If a skin was purchasable with real money only, but gave players an inherited advantage, such as a multiplier, or a shield for extra resistance, they would be earning higher scores than players that had the generic character. This would cause an unbalance, and mean that some of the players using the generic character would feel cheated, and no longer play the game, which is not what we wanted.

Instead of the skins giving extra powers, we integrated power-ups into our game. These power-ups spawn randomly during gameplay, or can be bought with snacks (our in game currency) or real money. The power-ups can spawn at any time during game play and give the player abilities. They also have variations that are bought through the shop, can be purchased with real money or in game currency and work slightly differently to the playthrough ones. They can only be applied at the start of a playthrough to remove any sort of pay to win aspect of the game. The reason they are applied at the start of a play through, and not activated at anytime is because it doesn't matter how many power-ups you have purchased, you can only use one paid ability each game. This means the person with a single speed boost, has just as much chance as someone who spent $10 and bought 20 of them.