I uninstalled two of my mobile games. That gives me some openings if anyone wants to recommend more.

Pathfinder Adventures has always been buggy, but occasionally you forfeit a game because it gets stuck and cannot advance, oh well. I started seriously playing through Story mode after Quest mode was stuck with that sort of bug: if you hit level 30 in Quest mode, the game offered the wrong reward, so the first time I hit that I just stopped Quest mode at the victory screen until the next update; fixed, right reward, move on. I happened to play that character again this weekend and hit level 31 in Quest mode. That is the level where you can select a role, a specialization with different power options, for example whether to make your rogue a thief or an acrobat. That role screen is just unclickable, with no way to accept the reward, which is strange because I have done that with every character in Story mode. That makes this the second time I cannot advance past the reward screen due to a bug, locking down one of two game modes. I am out.

Pokémon Go is notionally interesting but in a couple hours of play I have done literally everything there is to do in the game. I have not caught ’em all, but there is no gameplay difference between catching Pikachu and catching Rattata. You move your finger in a straight line to flick a Pokéball. That and tapping on the screen for gym battles is the entire game. I played Ingress, so I have already played this game with a different theme and deeper mechanics. Sadly, even that might not have been an “uninstall” dealbreaker, but the game has been plagued with server issues, and apparently the plan is to remove features rather than fixing bugs. Frankly, I only installed it because I had friends who were super into the game, and some are already grumbling about Niantic and Nintendo and I do not care enough to read third-hand about developer drama on Facebook. I am out.

: Zubon

Tabletop Games: Storage and Mobility

Storage solutions interest me. As you accumulate games, how do you make them conveniently available, visible (or not), and portable? For small collections, stacking up a few boxes in a closet works perfectly. Over time, collections become not-small, and there is no consistency on box size between companies, so you can easily end up playing a cross between Tetris and Jenga every time you take your games out or put them away, and then some games are packed so perfectly you forget you own them for months because you cannot see the box.

So what are we looking for in storage? Size standardization is a great thing, with the notion being that we will take the games out of the original boxes (trash or carefully store in pristine condition, according to your gamer type) and put them in something conveniently modular. The modules need to be of different sizes, because some games are large with lots of bits while others are very small, but most boxes have a lot more air than you need. Boards and rules usually need to be stored separately from game pieces because of sizing issues; indeed, the large boxes are usually because of one large board and a few tallish pieces, so you need large overall dimensions. Game pieces should be able to be stored separately, again needing different sizes of compartments for different games. Transparency and space for labeling are great, because you want to know what is in storage (and find it). I would also want to be able to pull out one game without upsetting the whole apple cart, and for larger collections you want to be able to take some subset of your collection along in mobile storage. Bonuses include if the containers for pieces are also functional during play.

Pausing to note that audience participation is encouraged, please discuss your storage needs and solutions in the comments. Continue reading Tabletop Games: Storage and Mobility

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