It's not often that a game will make me angry. I mean, righteous in my guts angry.
Technical incompetence isn't enough. I understand and identify with incompetence, and understand how good ideas and noble intentions can get utterly mangled. Lazy annual iterations don't bother me either, and I remember thinking the on-disc DLC for My Beautiful Katamari was quite convenient, all things considered.
Even if a game is openly offensive, I can usually find a way to enjoy it. I can use the Poe's Law reversal, and assume it's just a clumsy parody of "that kind of thing". Or I can invoke the "I've got an idea for a sketch" cliché - can you imagine the boardroom meeting in which this absurd decision was made? Then you just populate the boardroom with loads of hooting idiots, and make them fart between sentences. This approach really helps you deal with the world.
So, yeah. Thanks to not feeling particularly oppressed, I'm capable of enjoying a lot of obnoxious shit. So it takes a special blend of cynicism, abuse of status, a total disregard for the entertainment and welfare of your players, and the fact that nobody else seems to give a shit to get my dander in a flap. It took something I fell across after looking around Windows Store in vague gratitude for the Windows 10 upgrade. It took the fruit machine simulator, Microsoft Jackpot.
I was brought up in a pub. Fruit machines have always been a part of my life, along with prawn cocktail crisps and the grim suspicion that fun is inseparable from alcohol. I care about fruit machines in a way that's lost me a lot of money. I mean, that's the definition of caring, isn't it? Pumping money into something in the hope some good'll come of it? I care a lot.
(Aside: it's sad to me that most of the fruit machines you'll see in pubs today are versions and variants of Deal Or No Deal. There are more pictures of Noel Edmonds in the Wetherspoons of Great Britain than there are in Noel Edmond's own home. If you think AAA video games are iterative and bereft of creativity, think yourself lucky. Pub gamblers get tossed into an infinitely recursive tunnel of Edmonds.)
There are two kinds of fruit machine, both ruining you in slightly different psychological ways. Genuinely random machines operate on a purely mathematical house edge. The only thing stopping you winning five consecutive jackpots is the fact that it's unlikely on a cosmological scale. The only trick to playing these is to go in knowing how much you're happy to lose, play for a short time, and hope that your time on the machine exists on one of the many short up-ticks on the zig-zag to zero.
The longer you play these games, the more your optimistic, but rational, belief in a brief window of luck must be galvanised into the delusional conviction that you are innately a lucky person. You must think you are special, an exception. You have to believe that statistics and the universe will bend to you because... because you really want this. (This is, incidentally, not entirely unlike Noel Edmonds' own philosophy of life. The man's a bell-end.)
Then, there are fixed payout machines. Play these, and you're not playing against the bland cruelty of maths. You're playing against a human-designed, pre-programmed pattern of take, take, give. A payout becomes more likely, the more money goes in. This knowledge changes the mood. You're now playing against everyone else in the pub.
The man in a football top watching you play is a vulture. The older woman losing on another machine is a mark. The businessman who leaves an unplayed credit while he goes to the bar? He's an entitled quidblocking bastard who's standing between you and your rightful inheritance. The closest thing you have to a friend in this situation (apart from your actual friends, who tolerate your behaviour and carry on drinking without you) is the indifferent fruit machine, diligently following its pattern. You and the machine. There's something there.
The payout on these machines is usually much lower, around 72 percent of what goes in. That's like playing roulette on a table with 14 green zeroes. But that doesn't matter, because you've been watching it for hours, and you know it's about to pay.
Both of these options make simulated fruit machines, with no actual stakes, bewildering. On random machines, you're being whittled away with no real reason to stop when you're winning, and no reason to care when you lost. Simulate a fixed payout machine, and you're asking me to play against myself. The only reason to play a fruit machine simulator...
... well, it's because your brain fires the same reward chemicals during a well-simulated meaningless victory, or even a celebrated near-miss, as it does during a real one. I get it. But still: you're celebrating coming up for a gasp of air in an endless drowning simulator. It's perverse.
So it's against this backdrop of fundamental, paralysing futility, that we have in-app purchases. If you want to play Microsoft Jackpot for free, you can watch up to four adverts an hour. But no more, greedy eyes! Save some adverts for the other potential profit units! But it's the If you want to side-step ads, just buy one of the larger coin bundles. You can buy a 2,000,000 coin package for just £154.99!
(You can buy a Deal Or No Deal fruit machine for around £200.)
Of course, you level up. And the reward for levelling up isn't just new fruit machines: you unlock the ability to raise your maximum bet. To dress this up as a privilege is audacious. It's like making the last round of a quiz worth a million points. All this stake increase does - all it can do - is reduce the value of your coins. It's being flash for being flash's sake. You dressed up as a whale, then stayed in, with no-one to admire your beautiful blow-hole.
Reach level 70, and you can bet 50,000 non-redeemable coins per spin of the reels. That's forty spins for £154.99. That's £3.87 to replace the coins you just spent on a single spin. For a 0 percent chance at a meaningful win. That anyone might buy this is astonishing. That it's offered at all is just... maddening.
You can't cash out. In a move no doubt designed to avoid gambling regulations and accusations that Microsoft is behaving like a common bookmaker, you can't win a God-damned penny. You can buy (or earn) clovers that imperceptibly boost the overall payout rate, but to let you spend money on one fake currency that allows you to lose your other currency marginally less quickly? That boardroom sketch I mentioned earlier just descends into a prolonged and vigorous 69 between Ayn Rand and The Sheriff of Nottingham. Collect 50 cherries, a random process that will take you hours of solid play, and you will earn 50 coins. That's so impossibly cheap that I've just added Scrooge McDuck to that Ayn Rand sex scene. He's currently fluffing the Sheriff with his beak. It's surprisingly hot.
But even then, it's not the cynical profiteering and abuse of human frailty that makes me actually angry. It's the reviews. This is a game where the vast majority of the time, your only interaction is an Autoplay checkbox that stops you having to press the Start button, and a Fastplay checkbox that makes the reels go faster. There's no hold, no nudges, not even the delusion of interaction where you can gamble a win.
"Recommend you play it, go on download it."
Stop trying to drag everyone down to your level. I won't validate your sickness.
"Great game. Easy to play."
A review written by someone who managed to find the start button, there.
"Nicely presented. Makes me want sweets though."
Congratulations, you're easily manipulated in multiple ways. Check this man's demographic, and and if he's ABC1 send him to the marketing enhancement suite.
"Great game, not easy to score high"
Yeah. In the same was that it's not easy to flip heads a thousand times on the trot. Keep practising, though! You'll get it in the end!
"A nice game to pass the time and it's free, good graphics and some nice FX"
This is like a dream. Like I'm watching The Doors live, and I'm the only person in the audience who realises Jim Morrison is a prick. "It's not poetry, it's bollocks," I scream. "Well, we're having a nice time," the audience all reply. "WELL... MAYBE YOU SHOULDN'T BE. I WANT TO WAKE UP NOW. THEN THERE WON'T EVEN BE A DOORS CONCERT BECAUSE YOU'RE ALL IN MY HEAD."
"I am enjoying playing jackpot and like it very much"
This reads like a mother forced her child to write a thank you note to Microsoft. But that just made me worry that this is a grooming parlour. It could be the petri dish containing the next generation of pallid Ladbrokes roulette ghouls. Microsoft Jackpot has a 12+ rating in the Windows Store. The £500 jackpot machines it is simulating are 18-restricted. What next? Filling primary schools with free-to-play sex dolls that've had their payout slots sealed shut? Shooting games where no-one actually dies in real life? I think at least one of these situations is quite obviously the very next thing.
"Very good game to keep you going"
Bleak review, man. You just said "this game was like sunlight to a lizard. It allowed me to move."
I don't trust my own anger. I've a treacherous brain. I worry that this is like trying to convince an Ed Sheeran fan that he isn't actually that attractive. In a world I feel entitled to inhabit.
-No-one's forcing you to play it, you recovering addict-style bore
-Stop press - business in trying to make money shocker
-Ew you white-knighting nanny-state babyman, who are you trying to save this time with your Nazi censorship
And I think: yes, the people who'd say those things are almost certainly awful people. So I'm probably right to be angry. Then I imagine my mum's likely response:
-I'm enjoying myself, leave me alone. I don't have many pleasures, and I enjoy this.
And I realise what a colossal preachy douchebag I am. But still, if you payed for that two million coin package, I'd love to hear from you. Let's go on holiday together. Your treat.