Shop Heroes: Portable Pro-Sociality

At Tobold’s suggestion, I have been trying Shop Heroes, and I think Recettear converts to a mobile/social media game nicely. Why be an adventurer when you can be a shop owner selling things to adventurers? In the inverse of normal MMO mechanics, it is the adventurers who buy random crap, and they buy a lot of it because most of it has a 5-10% chance to break every adventure. Strangely, they do not actually use equipment you sell them, but rather you sponsor their adventures by equipping them with goods from your shop. Those items they break.

I would like to highlight the game’s City upgrade mechanics. I am not high enough level to see what it does in the late game, but it immediately seems to encourage players to be pro-social in a variety of good ways, while also making the high-level players’ drive for advancement subsidize the low-level players’ development. It does undermine the permanence of social bonds, which may be a good or bad thing depending on your view of this sort of thing.

The City is the equivalent of a guild hall, and it starts with a few buildings. Some of them help you get resources, like a mine for iron. Upgrading it increases the rate of iron provided. Upgrading your town hall expands your City, both in terms of population and getting new buildings. New buildings provide bonuses like new adventurers, bonuses to them, crafting bonuses, and raising the level cap on your crafters and adventurers. Those bonuses are effective for a limited time after anyone invests in building upgrades, 30 minutes for a minimal contribution up to 24 hours for a full upgrade bar. City members’ contributions are broadcast to all members, with an overall contribution rating on the member screen.

While there is an obvious anti-social incentive just to leech off others’ contributions, there are a variety of pro-social incentives here. If you want to raise the level cap for yourself, you contribute to the team. If you want to activate bonuses for yourself, you contribute to the team (even minimal contributions add up). Beyond mechanics, there is the social incentive of receiving public credit for contributions, along with the implicit social obligation to contribute to the team embodied in that members screen. That can turn nasty, in the way some MMO players consider a low gearscore to be leeching, although it also promotes reasonable stratification by player type if hardcore players who contribute a lot end up in cities with other hardcore players who contribute a lot. I would also expect to see social cities, where a few workhorses power their casual friends.

The last detail: your contributions go with you if you change to a new city. Wow, that’s big. Have you ever contributed to a guild only to be the last surviving member? Given it your all and had to abandon your sunk costs? Shop Heroes has no guild sunk costs. If you want greener pastures or to switch to a friend’s guild, you bring your investments with you. If you kick someone out, s/he takes her/his investments too. That might make someone hesitant to kick a toxic but rich person from the city, but I have yet to find how to be toxic in this game. Chat is hidden by default, and we are all off in our own shops.

: Zubon

Hay Day

While we were waiting or working around the matchmaking problems of Boom Beach, I went looking for a similar sort of game that did not involve blowing up other folks’ bases. I am more interested in building than destroying. “Hmm, but without something like combat, you end up with Farmville.” Lo and behold, in my recommended games from the makers of Boom Beach: Hay Day, their take on Farmville.

Hay Day starts with the time-based mechanic you expect from a farming game (plant seeds, wait) but grows to be a fair crafting game. You grow wheat and corn, which can be used to make chicken feed, and chickens produce eggs, which you can combine with more corn to make cornbread. Sugarcane becomes syrup, cherries can be crushed into juice, and then combine those two in your ice cream stand to make cherry popsicles.

This remains somewhat shallow. There is no deep “tech tree,” just more devices that you set to convert Good A into Good B, with an increasing number of options competing on each. Occasionally Good B can also be used as an intermediate good on the way to Good C, but that is about as deep as the dependency tree gets. There is no Theory of Fun fun to be had here, just resource management.

The economics of what you do with your goods can be interesting. There are five different ways to sell your goods, with different reward schemes in terms of cash, experience, alternate currencies, and alternate advancement. There are also periodic events and competitions to promote the sinks.

Game monetization is minimal. Most of what you would pay for is expanding your capacity: more storage, more farm space, bigger queues on production devices. You could also pay for money or to speed production, but at that point you are paying to skip what gameplay there is, so why bother? Almost everything you can buy with the real money currency, you can also get slowly as a rare bonus while harvesting or crafting, and you get a steady trickle of real money currency. Spend it on bigger queues and expansion materials.

I’m not sure one can go so far as to recommend a game like this, but people who like this kind of thing will probably like this one. I played several comparable games when social media games were becoming a thing, and this was one of the better ones. It reminded me that I have no Harvest Moon experience in my portfolio of gaming literature, and I probably should.

: Zubon

Expensive Means Rare, Rare Means Powerful, Therefore P2W

Dawn of the Dragons had a rather exceptional developer post that circuitously but explicitly said they were planning to balance content by making powerful things more expensive. It has always implicit that you buy power, as in many cash shop-supported games, but the circumstances and the PR-speak involved surprised me.

DotD has always had a lottery and recently added lockboxes. Lockboxes were somewhat controversial, even if they were functionally almost identical to the existing lottery. Notably, the lockboxes contained some rather powerful equipment, as you might expect from a cash shop lottery, particularly a “premium general,” which non-DotD players can understand as “powerful pet.” Premium generals have a special place in the game’s power curve, and this one was only available through the lockbox lottery.

The developers responded to controversy. The line of argumentation was roughly my title above, although replace “P2W” with “it’s okay.” Gamers generally accept that rare = powerful, so they are going to make this powerful thing rare by making it really expensive. They originally did that by making it a 1% chance in a cash shop lottery, and soon they will make it available as a double-priced cash shop premium general.

They presented this as “everyone wins,” and as near as I can tell, players largely accepted that. The lockboxes stayed, just as before. The expensive premium general will not be nerfed. They are taking the opportunity to let the players just pay them directly, in addition to the lottery. More options for the players, more money for the developers, and they promised to be willing to take more money like this in the future. Tell me if I’m wrong, but it seems to have reduced the controversy from the original lockbox release while keeping the lockboxes and adding cash shop revenue.

That’s a PR coup. Find out who was behind it and recruit him/her to your AAA game.

: Zubon

Discrete Units

Ever have one of those days where you will not commit to watching a full movie, but you end up watching five television episodes? My gaming has been like that lately. If it takes longer than a half-hour, I’m probably not motivated to commit to that, even if I might still sit down and play things for a couple of hours.

Casual games have been helpful for that. You have a break point every few minutes if you want to decide you are done, even if you keep playing “one more round” for an hour. Pixelo? Great. Match-3 games? Stellar. It battles against my intentionality in that I did not sit down with the need to play 20 rounds of match-3, but once I’m in, I’m rolling and having a good time.

Which is the goal.

: Zubon

Social Media Linkbait

You are familiar with sites that regurgitate content with provocative headlines as linkbait. You see them on your Facebook wall or as the “related content” gnawing at the edges of web pages. They are fond of lists, gifs, splitting small amounts of content across multiple pages, and generally working their content-to-ad ratio as much as possible.

They are now getting over the headlines of “You won’t BELIEVE what…” and “this one WEIRD thing” that will change your life/pant size/gender. Which is sad, because folks were working on a browser extension to get rid of them. This month, you instead get five dozen headlines advertising a list of similarly AMAZING regurgitated content where some random number is cited as totally worth clicking the link to see their ads. “12 postcards from CHILDREN that will INSPIRE you to be a better person! #6 is a must-see.” “31 Sandwiches that will CHANGE how you see CILANTRO. #17 will REARRANGE your SOCK drawer!”

Comments are open for your bets on the next viral headline template.

: Zubon

Exciting Gaming Weekend Ahead

Steam has the Batman franchises (Arkham and Lego) 75% off, so I now have Arkham Origins. Is it worth springing for the Season Pass or any DLC? I have the Millennium skins from a Humble Bundle.

New Humble sale, so I have a few new indie games to try. I already have and enjoyed Defenders Quest.

Plants vs. Zombies 2 released its future world for the Android, so I have more things to try there. So far: fun! We shall see whether the new content addresses the issues I have been complaining about or pushes further towards monetization. PvZ1’s Zen Garden is back with an altered implementation. It still produces coins, and it now produces one-level plant buffs. The game immediately dumped about 80 plant sprouts on me to encourage me to buy the new gem currency that unlocks more plant slots. I support “here is a lot of free stuff you can use over time or right now if you pay us” as solid F2P design. (Or maybe that was a bug.)

And the new GW2 WvW event is going, so I must try that out. Although, as I type this, I don’t really know why: WvW content has not changed, and I guess we’ll see whether the match-up algorithm for this event is better or worse than Season One or the usual week-to-week system. [Update: nope, us vs. FA and SBI. GG, see you next week.]

: Zubon

Find the Exploiter on the Graph

Munchkin cheat with both hands My alliance was winning the current war in Game of Thrones Ascent, but it turns out that an estimated quarter of our victory points came from exploits. It was possible for players to instantly craft an expensive item using no resources, which could then be sold for silver — an infinite money exploit limited only by how fast one can click. And here I thought our camps were getting repaired quickly because we had allies sending us repair actions. The alliance was docked those points and four players were permabanned.

Folks on our team talked about whether the whole alliance should be penalized for the actions of a few, how much could it really have affected things, and weren’t people in other alliances using the same exploit? And then the developers posted this graph. phase_5_exploiters There is no scale on the left, but you can pretty easily pick out three of the four people using the exploit. One of them seemed to realize that keeping it on the down low was a good idea. The other three contributed about as much silver to the alliance war as the next 97 people combined. Once the developers knew what to look for, that kind of stuck out.

In a previous alliance war, our alliance was also severely docked points because some players were using a modded interface. It did not give anyone special abilities, it just let you perform actions quickly rather than clicking many times to launch 1 attack.

Because Hear Me Roar is one of the largest alliances in the game, we are still safely in second place, and the new first place alliance is allied with us (yes, the terminology there is unfortunate). I noted previously that my part in the team is sending help to our allies, who send us help in return. On the developers’ accounting of our victory points, it notes that our allies gave us enough aid to repair 234 camps from “destroyed” to “fully operational,” so the support squad feels pretty good despite the devastating setback.

: Zubon

On the Benefits of Coasting

I have trouble letting go. For long periods of time, I have games that I am not interested in playing but for which I expect to regain interest later. For single-player games, that means shelving them, and I can play Civilization again when I have the free hours. These days, most of my games are online multiplayer games with incentives for frequent play over binging, so I spend a fair amount of time “coasting.”

Efficient use of dailies is a core example. Most MMOs have dailies now, and many have rested bonuses, once per day rewards, etc. You can cash in several of those quickly and call it a day. Most social media games have a daily login bonus, a process you can productively reset every 24 hours, etc. You can bounce off a half-dozen of those while reading your RSS feed. Games with updates frequently have festivals and events, and you can get 50% of the reward in 5% of the time if you just log in, pick the low-hanging fruit, and accept that you are not going to grind enough to get the top tier reward.

This is a reason why I have never run out of karma, money, laurels, etc, in Guild Wars 2 and why I have 600 levels of characters despite having been “on break” for about half the game’s lifespan. In less than 30 minutes, I can get a small stack of rewards. I don’t need to do that every day to have a huge stockpile when I get seriously interested in playing 3 months later. I have a routine of visiting a half-dozen games, seeing if there is anything new, getting double rewards for whatever strikes my fancy, and wandering off.

Because I am exactly the sort of player who likes to play in binges, and nothing fuels that like coming back to a stack of gold pieces, 20 points to assign to abilities, an entire screen of unlocked rewards, a new festival…

: Zubon

Alarming Prospects

Roast Pheasant Bringing together the topics of design slippery slopes (particularly with cash shops) and Game of Thrones Ascent, we have this frightening picture. It may be a little hard to see (it is grayed out because nothing in-game calls for it), so let me explain what you’re seeing there. This is the sort of game where you send a knight on a mission and wait for him/her to finish. A Roast Pheasant is an item that will speed that by 28 hours. They do not have anything in-game yet that takes 28 hours to finish, but they have already built the infrastructure for it. And you can auto-complete a 28:05 mission for just $9.50 (or a 56-hour mission for just $19). And hopefully you succeed, because you can fail those things, and I have failed three 80+% chances in a row.

: Zubon