Tinker Steampunk Metal Meeples

Our dear friend Tesh is Kickstarting again, this time with metal gentleman meeples. They have top hats and vests. As I type this, the project is past 600% and will soon be adding metal lady meeples, although that will add a bit of time because the molds for them do not exist yet.

If you are curious about any of the previous tinker steampunk projects, most of them are available as add-ons.

: Zubon

Pathfinder Monetization

I have almost finished Pathfinder Adventures (as much as has been released). I have completed story mode on most of the characters and most of those stories on the highest difficulty, along with a strong stable of quest characters. I have done this without paying a cent, and I already have enough gold to buy the rest of the adventure path. There was a little early grinding, but for the most part just trying out my new cards has generated enough gold to get the next cards.

I have enjoyed Pathfinder Adventures, but I do not really have a reason to pay them other than to donate. Just playing gets me the RMT currency I need to keep playing. I will soon have reached escape velocity and have nothing to do with my imaginary gold except buy imaginary treasure chests for a few more random cards. I could easily have all the gold needed to buy the next story path of adventures before they get done coding Rise of the Runelords.

Having enjoyed the game, I would like to compensate them, but I do not see a reasonable increment (or benefit there from). $25 for the whole thing is not unreasonable, if you do that at the start. At this point, the remaining content I could buy costs less than the gold I have on hand. There are smaller increments of gold available for purchase, including a daily gold offer that makes sense for a regular player, but again I generate my own gold by playing. The only thing I cannot acquire that way is the promo card pack, which seems available only with the $25 “box purchase.” And I already own almost everything else in the box.

This seems to be the fate of most F2P — either games are designed around monetization in a way that makes them not worth playing or the monetization is an afterthought and there is little way/incentive to reward good developers for the game. Many of us in F2P games have made regular purchases as a de facto monthly fee (Kingdom of Loathing) or buy a package as a voluntary “box cost” for a game we like (Team Fortress 2). In both of those examples, what you can spend money on is neither necessary nor sufficient to motivate a purchase, but instead the game falls into a pleasant middle where you chip in a bit of money for a bit of fun, decoration, or non-required power, where you do not begrudge the money because you are getting great value for the game. That is what I am looking for in Pathfinder Adventures, a bonus to encourage me to chip in but not one that feels like a P2W wall nor one that feels like idiotic benefit-cost. It is a narrow eye to thread.

: Zubon

Yes, I know that TF2 became a hat sales operation after that initial pack, but I maintain that there was a lot of pent up demand to pay Valve for the great value TF2 was in the Orange Box.

RMT Currencies

Sites and games establish their own currencies to help distance you from your intuitions and inhibitions about money.

A small purpose is to get you to make fewer, larger purchases. You might flinch from putting down $0.99 every time you want to get a pack of imaginary cards. Buying five of them is five separate pain points. Getting you to buy 250 gems for $5 is one pain point, and then it is a lot less painful to buy 5 packs of cards for 49 gems each.

Once your players have converted their real world currency into your game currency, they are committed. It is not hitting their wallet anymore, and it is not as though they can spend those gems on anything outside your game. Why not pick up that shiny mount or xp booster? And might as well round out that shopping cart with something to use up the last few gems, no point in wasting them.

Soaking up those last gems at the edges is the minor gain, a few bonus nickels and dimes. Because you got as close to zero as you could, and now there is a new shiny mount that you do not have enough to get. Maybe you should make another purchase? Or make all the purchase amounts add up badly so zeroing out is not reasonably possible. The $25 gem pack comes with 250 bonus gems, taking you to 2750, but most (good) things are in units of 495. Maybe you should buy another $25 and round that up?

The main purpose is to put psychological distance between you and your spending. It is not just that five small $1 flinches are worse for sales than a $5 flinch, but that a $5 flinch is worse than a 250 gem flinch. You have decades of experience with money but very little with gems. Setting your emotions aside, you need to do arithmetic to figure out how gems relate to dollars, the horror. And “100 gems” looks closer to $1.00 than $2.00, doesn’t it?

You can see sites and games combine these. I have played Spellstone on Kongregate, where the main currency is gold and the RMT currency is gems, but Kongregate has its own currency of Kreds, which you buy with a credit card instead of physical bills. Your hours at the workplace are way over there, behind your paycheck behind your credit card behind the kreds purchase behind the gems purchase behind the gold conversion. And didn’t they give you some gems and a few kreds? This might be a free pack of imaginary cards! I saw Spellstone on mobile, where there are some actual dollar amounts, and I got sticker shock in a way that the prices in kreds never caused.

: Zubon

The $1000 Omelet

You may have heard about the Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata a few years ago. That was its primary purpose — to be heard about. It was a successful little publicity bit that let a restaurant stake its claim on being the high end of the high end, where the richest of the rich dine. The richest of the rich pay more than you do.

Restaurants and games both tend to include a ridiculously high-priced items because it makes everything else look reasonable by comparison. Very few people will ever buy a $1000 omelet, but it makes a nice conversation piece while dining on $30 omelets. The cash shop for almost every game includes a $100 package, and occasionally higher. This is partly bait for whales, who might actually buy it. It is mostly an anchor point to make the $25 package “middle of the road” amidst $5, $10, $25, $50, and $100. The developer will nudge you towards $25 by making that the point where “and 20 FREE silver floogles BONUS!” starts. And hey, somewhat reasonable player, if you think you might end up buying the $25 package a few times over the next few months, why not just get the $100 package now and get the 200 FREE golden floogles BONUS? Developers want their customers dreaming big.

You can also nudge people upwards a bit by including horrible deals. That mid-range package looks much more reasonable when you place it next to something intentionally unreasonable. Say you offer three packages: Basic, with 3 features for $20; Champion, with 5 features for $40; and Legendary, with 10 features for $60. If you are going to spring for the $40 package, you might as well spring for the $60, right? Magazine subscriptions do this with “digital plus paper” packages that cost slightly more than the paper.

You can combine these. Disney World has $5000 trips, which are pretty nice but mostly serve to show you all the things you might pick when building your own package. And aren’t you smart, to get 75% of that premium package for less than half the cost? And when you are dining at the Beauty and the Beast castle, do you really want to let your kid order the $14 bowl of cereal? Sure, the $24 eggs are pricey, but they look much saner next to that cereal, and it makes dining on the meal plan an even better deal. Aren’t you smarter than those people buying $30 eggs while talking about the $1000 omelet?

: Zubon

Pokémon Go in Three Sentences

Some people seem to be mostly using it as an excuse to socialize outside with people, others are the classic uber-dedicated kind of nerd who needs to collect all of a thing regardless of how unreasonable the effort involved is. I’ve played a bit of it and I agree that it’s fundamentally boring because there’s nothing different about the mechanics of catching a ratata in one place and a meowth a block away. On the whole it seems like a force for good in the world.

Incentives and Locations

Where Ingress was structured almost entirely around portals, Pokémon Go has incentives both to seek out those same locations and to head away from them. This is healthier on several levels.

Ingress’s portals are Pokémon Go’s gyms and PokéStops. Gyms are the PvP spots, and PvP seems much narrower in Pokémon Go. You can control gyms for your team, and there are moderate incentives for doing so. PokéStops provide items, notably the Poké Balls you need to collect Pokémon and the recovery items to heal after gym fights. Contrast with Ingress’s portals, where the same locations are your PvP control points and your source for items, with large incentives to control networks of them. (PokéStops dole out items every 5 minutes, like portals, but they do not “wear out” after 4 uses in 4 hours, so living or working at a PokéStop can let you refill pretty conveniently. “Never runs out” encourages camping a bit, but you only get your dose every 5 minutes, so that is pretty suboptimal unless there are also a few monster spawns.)

But you are playing Pokémon, so you probably want to catch some monsters. Where are they? Out in the world, go for a walk. If you sit on a spawn point, they do keep spawning so you can collect a fair number … of the same general type. Want something other than a 20th Rattata? Go for a walk. (I presume rare spawns are not easily farmable by hanging around the same spawn point, percentage chance? I’m not an expert here.) That is also a good way to level up, because you get a lump of experience points every time you capture a monster for the first time.

Eggs are the other reason to go for a walk. In classic Pokémon faction, you hatch eggs by putting them in an incubator and walking so many kilometers. You find eggs at PokéStops, up to a capped number. Want to hatch them and get more eggs? Go for a walk. Maybe you will find a new type of monster while you are out there.

I have friends who are now walking miles per day to look for Pokémon and check their gyms.

: Zubon

Portals and Pokéstops

Pokémon Go released last week. You probably already know this.

Pokémon Go comes from Niantic, makers of Ingress. All that data Ingress players collected was then used as the basis for a new game. People are laughing about how many churches have been tagged as Pokémon gyms. All those Ingress portals are now gyms and PokéStops, so the historical district of your town is probably full of Pokémon trainers collecting Poké Balls. The re-use of location data is efficient and sometimes surreal as some Ingress portals are misplaced, non-existent, tagged with Ingress RP, or otherwise inappropriate. Any stories you heard about Ingress players in a bad part of town or getting questions for lurking around the police station are now multiplied by the vastly more popular IP and the number of younger players.

Also multiply any positives, as one Pokémon app has done more in a weekend than a decade of obesity and exercise public service announcements.

: Zubon

Bug Zapper: Turbine Edition

As you may have heard, Turbine is transitioning out of the MMO market and into mobile. I am somewhat surprised that mobile F2P is still a growing market, but maybe that is where the social media gaming money went after Zynga did its thing. Mobile devices are certainly a huge and still growing market, and you have many casual players in that space. It feels like a lot of people are competing for a few whales.

It makes me downright mad to see a studio that used to show such passion and talent for MMOs to be groveling for the scraps of mobile gaming.
Asheron’s Call, a game hovering on the edge of “not officially canceled” for a surprisingly long time (but certainly not under current development). Kill Ten Rats was effetively a LotRO fan blog for a while with all the active writers playing it. Ethic, chime in here if the dream lives on, but I’ve killed that goblin a hundred thousand times across a dozen games over more than a decade, and I can scarcely muster the energy to read about how it is being re-skinned as a different shade of orc in whatever the next WoW expansion is.

In the Western market, WoW is the juggernaut that carries on under inertia, able to print millions of dollars with any significant update but unable to further expand the market. EVE Online remains in a category by itself, seemingly quite sustainable within a comfortable range. Everyone else seems to be a hanger-on and/or niche market. I have nothing against niche games, and my dear love A Tale in the Desert is now up to its Seventh Telling under new management. Good for them. People love their games and create great communities, and they can keep going indefinitely so long as someone pays to keep the servers up. That is an advantage to players of smaller games: no big studio to decide that resources can be better invested elsewhere. You can even launch a new one of those like Project: Gorgon as a boutique game and get enough interest to make it worthwhile.

The title of this comes from the GU Comics running joke. MMO flies circle the bug zapper, and while LotRO lives to see another year, would you renew that contract in 2017? If Turbine is exiting the MMO space, wouldn’t you expect the MMOs to be sold to someone who wants that as their market segment?

But maybe your corner of the MMO space is vital. I imagine the Eastern market marches on? I cannot recall when I last logged into an MMO. I don’t know if I ever installed one on my new hard drive. My MMO era finished, and seeing Turbine do the same provides a sense of closure.

: Zubon

Cook, Serve, Delicious!

My thanks to Jeromai who recommended Cook, Serve, Delicious! I have spent only an hour in this game, but it was one of the most intense hours of gameplay I have had. 75% off during the Steam summer sale.

I tend to be suspicious of cooking sim games because I have hated the entire Papa’s (Pizzeria, Burgeria, Pancakeria…) series every time I have tried one. So far, CSD! knocks out the annoying things like precise placement of mustard in favor of intense time management. Intense! With just four prep slots and four dishes, I am facing off against an array of demands with lots of time pressure, along with the chores that add more time demands. The game days are bite-sized increments of gameplay, and you need to be on for those days. If you want to get a perfect score for the day and the bonus, at least; I imagine you can play more relaxedly and have a pretty solid restaurant.

Filleting fish is surprisingly satisfying.

I am looking at the screenshots on Steam and thinking that the later days must get a bit more dicey with many options. My recipes right now are basic with limited variation. Do you want sugar on your sopapillas or not? There is exactly one way to prep fish or chicken. One of the screenshots shows 13 different toppings for nachos. Which: realistic, fair, but that is a lot to customize per order, as opposed to the six possible toppings on starter salads.

I do not know how long the thrill of cooking will last, nor whether it will still be fun at the higher levels, but even an hour of intense, quality, enjoyable play makes this worthwhile at 75% off.

: Zubon

The Room

This is not about that movie.

The Room seems to be the best thing I picked up on the Steam summer sale, and you can still get it for $1.24. It is a not-terribly-long puzzle game (, starting with a puzzle box and unfolding from there. Most of the puzzles are enjoyable, although sometimes a little too far into “A leads to B leads to C, push the button” or “what are they thinking?” but where things fall on that continuum will probably be idiosyncratic based on what you find intuitive. When in doubt, try looking through the lens.

Even when it is not at its best as a game, in that you are basically pushing buttons to watch a fancy mechanical box whirl, it is a cool fancy mechanical box. It also leads to some enjoyably phantasmagorical imagery as the story of the game develops.

As a bonus, the sequel launches on Steam July 5, so if you like this one, there will be another one this week (and 2 and 3 are already available on mobile).

: Zubon