Engi Census

Playing the Steam free game of the weekend, I have come to wonder: how many games have an Engineer that builds a turret; how many games have an Engineer that does not build a turret; and how many games have a non-Engineer that builds a turret. (I think I will avoid counting Warhammer Online’s Magus and units/classes that “summon” rather than “build.” I’m unclear whether the Raven builds, summons, or do we count “deploy”?) Was there some first game that set the standard that Engineer = build a sentry gun? It feels like engineers and self-directed turrets have become a standard game item, but perhaps exploring some examples will reverse this. I keep finding near-hits, where perhaps they consciously avoided calling the turret-builder an Engineer in recent games. I wonder if non-builder Engineers are also intentional aversions? Inventory below the break, please contribute in the comments.

Edit: let’s see what happens if we add in enemies that do the same, some of which may mirror heroes. Continue reading Engi Census

The 20-Hour Day

The little things matter. One of the solved problems in multiplayer online gaming is that 1/day timers should use an 18- to 22-hour day rather than a 24-hour day. I call this “solved,” but I still see many games using 24-hour timers. (Feel free to debate the merits of individual timers versus “everyone and everything resets at midnight.”)

If you play everyday, you probably start around the same time, usually before/after work/school. A 24-hour timer gradually shifts your activities unless you are clockwork-perfect and can consistently complete X exactly 1,440 minutes later, and may the server gods help you if some blip renders the timer slightly off. More likely, you cannot begin whatever quest or instance has the timer until the old timer resets, so if it takes you an hour to complete it, you effectively have a 25-hour timer. There might be some merit to keeping people from building up a daily routine (use a 28- to 32-hour timer in that case), but these games tend to encourage that daily habit. The best mechanics are invisible, not pulling the players out of the game world to check whether the group is waiting on Bob’s reset timer because he hit traffic on the way home last night.

Some examples:

  • City of Heroes alignment missions reset every 20 hours.
  • League of Legends gives you the “first win of the day” bonus every 22 hours.
  • Spiral Knights (from the makers of Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates and Bang! Howdy) refills your “energy” every 22 hours.

: Zubon

Referral Benefits

Word of mouth is nice, but bribing your customers to bring their friends is a stronger way to improve your network effects. Your customers like it too — free stuff for them and it can make it easier to get more of their friends into the new game. Of course, nothing is truly free, and it must be paid for somewhere, but the customer sees no incremental cost, and on the developer side, you can get people recruiting by offering surprisingly little. Just look at all those games on Facebook that offer you 50 imaginary bananas for inviting your friends to help you farm! Friends recruited me to two games over the holidays, so I am pondering their referral benefits. Both are free to play with paid components. When do you offer people stuff and what do you offer them?

Blatant shilling, my referral link: League of Legends. League of Legends counts referrals at level 5, no money paid. Level 5 is basically free in your first night or two of play; the XP curve is reduced so that it costs more to get from 5 to 6 than from 1 to 5, so if you are not level 5, you have not really tried the game. (Of course, if you have played DotA, you have already played League of Legends (I think LoL is too cleaned-up to ever go back to DotA, which is another post), so you may have tried it that way.) It is a minimal hurdle to keep people from mass-referring themselves for benefits. What do they offer referrers? You get a boost to earning in-game currency, the value of which I estimate around $1 (lots of fuzziness there), and then tiered benefits for inviting more friends. My friends seemed rather impressed by them, but personally I found them most decorative except for the 10-referral free champion ($5-$10 value?). At 100, you get the box that costs $20 in stores; at 200, you get $76 of their real money currency; and everything else is decorative titles and skins until you get to 4 digits. You can look, the rewards in 4+ digits are very fancy, and I promise to ask for “Zubon’s Trousers” if I somehow get to 1,000, but I imagine few people will claim those unless popular website operators link their many readers … which would be really great advertising for the game, if someone with a million-reader site got 1% of his/her readers to try it. So my friends have become motivated to recruit based on a free champion and a $1 (in-game currency) referral fee. Pretty efficient on the developer side, and the players seem happy with it.

Global Agenda (think Borderlands with better match-making, less silly, and less run-down; again, another post) counts referrals once your friend spends money (Guild Wars model, no subscription fee). They have the wisdom to make referrals in-game achievements, so if you want to check off those boxes, recruit your friends. They are less aspirational, offering benefits up to 50 recruits, with special hats for the first 5 then pets at 20 and 50. Again, my friends tell me the pets are nice, but what do I know as a newb? If there is a referral link, I do not know how to find it, but Global Agenda instead gives coupon codes for friends (half -off the box cost). (Shilling: if you want one of my 10, GACOU438265797100 through …104 and GACOU438265776370 through …374.) Do you get new ones, with only 10 codes to create a false sense of scarcity? Global Agenda offers more to people being referred (real cash discount versus nothing) but less to people making referrals (fewer and smaller benefits), and the referral system is less intuitive (“sign up and enter this code while buying” versus “click this link”). I do not think it is working as well for them; with two friends encouraging me to join them for occasional play, neither bothered to send a code.

At the moment, I do not have many thoughts beyond which seems more productive (give to referrers, not to the referred). You already know many other plans, from WoW’s zebras and triple-XP to the CoX free half-month per referral (for both, a large benefit I see less chatter about). Consider these data points for future ponderings. Impressions of the games forthcoming, and if you want to find me in either, I am Zubon as usual.

: Zubon

League of Legends: Free

You know how rarely I link to game companies’ press releases. This is an interesting announcement: League of Legends (DotA: the next generation) will be free.

RMT shop? Yes, of course. The stated intent is that the paid-for options will be cosmetic, convenience, or quicker access. You pay for options to be unlocked that you would otherwise need to earn. This could be done perfectly properly. This could also be done by making the non-pay option a ridiculous grind. City of Heroes intended the paid-for packs to be mostly cosmetic; each has included a very nice but not overly devastating power, and you mostly pay for costume pieces and travel convenience there. I reserve judgment until we have details (some to come Friday).

The most important developer quote:

Yes, the person who plays a lot and pays us $0 will have everything that the guy who pays us money but plays a moderate amount does except:
1) He will be missing some champion SKINS (not champions, but goth annie, black minotaur, plus more to come).
2) He may be missing a few minor convenience features.

What they will have in common at that point is:
1) Access to all champions
2) Access to all runes (the hardcore guy who pays $0 may have access to more realistically)
3) Max level summoners
4) Access to the new maps, matchmaking modes, etc as they come available.

: Zubon