A Dark Pattern Reveals Itself During the Zombie Apocalypse
I found out on Facebook about this really neat event called Zombie Apocalypse Live. Basically, you get to walk through a maze armed with a fake M4 while zombies are attacking you. Each zombie has an infrared headband which is set off with your gun. Pretty much a live-action haunted house event, and sounds incredible.
Here’s a teaser trailer:
I went to the event website and saw that tickets don’t go on sale until March 30th. But then I noticed that in the bottom left corner, a small popup notification appeared. It said that “GREG L from Chicago just purchased 3 tickets.”
Which was odd, since… tickets weren’t on sale yet. I waited a little longer, and saw another popup. And then another.
Being a curious developer, I opened up Chrome’s dev tools to do a little digging.
I did a search for the word “purchased” and found a reference to a single JS file.
Specifically, this JS file.
From what I could tell, it was a script that dynamically created notifications, using a pre-existing set of names.
I’m not 100% on the terminology, but I feel like this qualifies as a dark pattern.
I was awed to learn that the site was showing notifications about fake purchases, in the hopes that it would spur a visitor to purchase a ticket. It’s bad that someone thought to use this approach, and also bad that the site’s developer agreed to implement it.
Slightly more bad is the fact that this was implemented in a sloppy manner, as the notifications are currently showing during a time when tickets aren’t even available to be purchased.
Doing a little more digging, I learned that this is an actual WP plugin called “Herd Effects.”
Originally, I was thinking that the event promoters rolled their own fake notification system. Now, I find that they’re using a pre-existing plugin. Discovering this, I became even more depressed.
The shame of it all to me is that this looks like a really awesome event. It’s a cool concept, and something I was really considering. Live zombies and fake automatic weapons with recoil? Shut up and take my money!
But now that I see how they’re managing the site… if the organizers are willing to intentionally deceive potential customers in this manner, how will they treat customers in person (after they already have their money)? Will they do other deceptive things on-site?
Maybe someone at Massive Noise initially suggested the fake notifications. Maybe the event organizers insisted it be implemented, against the developer’s protests. Maybe the event organizers had nothing at all to do with the promotion. I have no idea.
What I do know is that what started for me as an incredibly cool concept/event, quickly soured.
I was prepared to go and create a calendar reminder for myself to buy tickets, when I saw the first of many fake notifications. I feel totally turned off. When I think about the event now?
It feels dead to me.