Sunday 16 February 2014

Free mobile gaming forces bad game design.

With the rise of mobile gaming on phones and tablets, there is a very strong market for games that contain microtranactions. A ‘microtransaction’, is when a player buys a virtual product to be used within the game. It could be anything from a continue, a new character to play as, or even passing the time quicker (as in the case with some farming games).
This stems from the marketing technique of providing the game for free, or for very little and the company makes their profit from people buying things within the game for the game.
Continuing on from some of the criticisms I levelled at Sonic Dash, I am going to aim my sights at Activision.  I know, I know, it’s a pretty easy target, but here it provides a pretty good example of what I see as a rather significant fault in the microtransaction model of gaming which I think is having a detrimental effect on mobile game design and to a lesser extent home gaming.
Note the blacked out continueFor the purpose of this argument, I am going to focus on mobile gaming. I first encountered this problem when I started playing the endless runner version of Pitfall! I enjoyed the game quite a bit with its simple controls, nice music and casual gameplay. However since I have been playing it for a while, I have encountered an odd situation.
As the game progressed, it naturally gets a bit harder and when you fail at a challenge and ‘die’, you either have to continue by using a ‘macaw token’ or start from the very beginning of the game. Now when I first started playing, I had access to some tokens and was also able to gather some during gameplay. Naturally being new to the game I was a bit bad at playing it and therefore used my tokens up.
Which brings me to an odd situation now. I am able to get quite far into the game, but have not been able to acquire anymore tokens to continue at all through the game itself. In fact whenever I die I am reminded by the game that to continue, I should go to the store to buy some. I am therefore stuck with having to start the game from scratch every single time I play.

Shopping death Screen

Which then brings me to the point I wish to make, have we started seeing games that are designed to unfairly hinder the players to the point that they are forced to purchase items for the game? Sonic Dash in particular had a terribly bad setup of obstacles that just seemed impossible to predict or react to, thereby guaranteeing failure at that point. If this Pitfall! game had the same impassable setup, one would be forced to buy the Macaw tokens to pass that section. Unscrupulous game design. As it is in Pitfall! the section I often get to has an obstacle that I often never pick up on. In fact I believe I have yet to pass this obstacle as my attempts to pass it have failed, from either not seeing it, or my swipes were not correct. It is not obvious what the motion to do to pass is and that is part of the problem as well as the obstacle being hard to see.
In this type of simple game, everything should be easily recognizable and the solution obvious. After all mobile gaming is aiming for the casual user. Easy pick up and play is the key to this demographic.

DuckJump (it's all in the mind)
In this case success is not and I wouldn't be surprised if it was designed to be this way, just like the “dot-point-death-combo” of Sonic Dash, it could well be to coerce the player into buying tokens to pass a deliberately impossible section.

The shop Screen for Pitfall! Note how expensive the Macaw tokens are.
If this is the case then that equates to bad game design, which I think will hurt gaming in the long run if it catches on as it will turn people away from games, or even worse, become the norm resulting in having to pay for the game as well as having to pay to finish the game.

Gameplay should be challenging, but it should also be able to be passed without external aid. Once a player has succumbed to buying ‘items’ to pass a section that can only be passed with the aid of those items, then the game becomes pointless as skill is no longer needed and lacks the most important ingredient, fun.

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