02 August 2014

Mobile crap - daily login

This series of articles is a rant about mobile game design. It may extend to console and PC gaming, but I only talk about what I experienced through most games featured on the iPad app store in the past year or so.

Designers could invent new mechanics to improve the core gameplay, and thereby improve retention metrics in the long run. But they cheat: they invent new mechanics to immediately improve retention metrics, thereby ignoring or forgetting to improve the core gameplay.

Mobile games try to maximize various metrics: their number of daily and monthly active users (DAU and MAU), the average session length, and so on. To do so, they introduce game mechanics that encourage players to come back every day or play longer. In games like Clash of Clans or Farmville, the come-back mechanic is the core game loop, so it is not a problem. Waiting and coming back is what these games are about. But in traditional fighting, racing, or match-three games, the only reason why players would come back or play longer is because they like the fighting, racing, or match-three mechanics, not because they like waiting.

More and more games have been adding come-back mechanics on top of their core gameplay. In 2004, World of Warcraft started granting a rest XP bonus to players who do not login for a long time. Blizzard designers originally implemented the rest mechanic to prevent hardcore players to level up too quickly. Beta-testers hated it, so Blizzard made it a reward for casual players instead of a punishment for hardcore players. Nothing changed mathematically, but players prefer mechanics if they are framed as a reward.

More recently in mobile games, Plundernauts has been giving out a welcome-back reward for logging in. They also give out bounties which must be completed within 24 hours - an incentive to play at least a few battles during the day, most likely in one session. 24-hour bounties are great for metrics such as the average session length, but they do not make the game more fun in the long run.

Puzzle and Dragons gives two login bonuses: 1) a consecutive login bonus, with rewards increasing every consecutive day, and reset the day the player does not login, and 2) a cumulative login bonus, increasing every day the player logs in, and never reset. Also, there are 5 exclamation marks for 7 lines of text in the login bonus message. By abusing the exclamation mark they over-emphasize my login, and it looks very amateur.

And finally, mobile games such as Birzzle or Mother of Myths show a daily login calendar when the player logs in. Some calendars focus on the week (4x7 cells), others on the month (5x6 cells). The calendar resembles an Advent Calendar, except 1) nothing happens at the end, and 2) the calendar mechanic is not properly tied to the core gameplay (receive more and more gold, or increasingly better gifts). The only point of the calendar is to keep people logging in for the rewards, not to have more fun playing the game.

A lot of mobile games have mediocre and dull core gameplay. These games are often sugarcoated in happy-shiny graphics and habit-forming mechanics. None of those improve their core gameplay. These games remain shallow.

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