I have been playing computer games for about 10 years. In some ways that is sad as it means I have been playing videos games for half of my life. One good thing about it though is that I have been able to analyze and study many games. Not just how to ‘beat’ them, but why they operate how they do and why this game does this that way and that one does that this way.
Over my decade of gaming I have noticed some things that most games do at one point or another in their lives. Some do certain ones worse than others and some barely do them, but almost every game has done at least one of them.
These are in no particular order as it is hard to choose a hierarchy between them.
Catering Only to High Levels and End Game
While it’s good to have great endgame content (and games should), a very important thing must be remembered: The majority of your players are not at endgame! If most of your players are at endgame then your player base is not growing, and if it’s not growing than it is ultimately shrinking. Most games should have most of their player base be in the middle with about 25% being at endgame and 25% just starting. If this ratio is kept then you know you are retaining players well and drawing in new players.
And if this is the case, then only about 25% of your player base can even do endgame activities. Not all of those capable of doing so will be interested in it. Thus focusing too much on endgame and high level content actually wastes development time. It will also force (or forcibly encourage, which is not good) players to reach high levels quicker thus ignoring the actual game design of low and mid level content (ignoring well thought-out storyline because they feel they HAVE to reach high level to have fun and do well in the game). If players are just rushing/grinding through the mid levels and it feels more like a chore to them then all the time put into developing good graphics, sound, story, and game mechanics for those levels is a complete waste of the developer’s time.
The ultimate goal of any game should be for the players to have fun.
Adding Too Much Currency
When I say ‘Currency’ I am referring to the main currency in a game, whether that be gold, dollars, GP, Coins, Fancy-Named-Item, or ping-pong balls – you know what I’m referring to.
There are multiple reasons why a game can have too much currency, it is not always because the game Devs give it away like candy (although that is the most common reason!).
The Game giving away too much either from shops, loot, or dailies is the usual cause. These numbers need to be carefully set compared to the Cost of Character Advancement for the relative level of which you would be acquiring this currency.
A Question comes up though, “What is Cost of Character Advancement”? Cost of Character Advancement refers to how much in-game currency it costs each character to advance through the game. This is a required game mechanic because it innately and passively controls how quickly a character advances. Characters need to advance at a moderate rate, you don’t want to force people to redo areas constantly to get better gear or resources but on the flip-side you don’t want to let them breeze through areas too quickly.
In most games, CCA encompasses food/healing items, mana/power restoring items, and of course new and better gear. Ideally a character will be able to have enough currency to upgrade some gear at each new gear tier while still having enough to acquire the required amount of staple items (healing and power restoration items). If a player wants to be wearing top of the line gear for their level, then they should have to redo (or ‘farm’) a previous area or activity to get enough currency or resources to upgrade all their gear. On the flip-side, you don’t want your players to always be using trash compared to their level.
Giving away free currency always creates problems in a game economy(and in a real economy too, go figure). If you give away too much currency for free then you have to remove the same amount somehow, this is almost always done with moneysinks.
Moneysinks are a permanently flawed game mechanic that is unfortunately present in many games. They are permanently flawed because they cater to the assumed majority and are usually designed to be forced onto all players instead of just those with lots of currency.
“What do you mean by this?”
For a moneysink to work you have to force players to use it, otherwise everyone will avoid it and keep their hard(or easy) earned(or free) currency. The problem comes with the fact that not everyone will have too much currency. If you steal a flatline amount from everyone then those who have a normal amount of currency will now have less than they should and those with too much will now have a normal amount(or more than likely still have too much as most moneysinks are only 25-50% effective).
Another problem with moneysinks is that they are rarely, if ever, implemented in a way that makes sense. The Construction skill in Runescape is a prime example of a moneysink with illogical implementation. Either the Fletching or Crafting skills should be required to make planks, not a price-gouging NPC. If Fletching or Crafting worked then this would add value to those skills thus increasing the reason to train them. It would also be good for the economy because players would be trading with each other; Woodcutters would sell to the Fletchers/Crafters and people training Construction would buy them from the Fletechers/Crafters.
As much as possible, players should rely on players, not the game, for their equipment and resource needs.
That is how you run an effective economy.
Equipment Repair is probably The Single Most effective and logical moneysink. It makes sense that your gear would get damaged, and it is only logical for the blacksmith/merchant to charge to repair your gear. Unfortunately Runescape doesn’t have a very good damage & repair system. Runescape either needs to remove all repair costs and make all armour indestructible OR make everything degrade based on the damage the player takes/does and have the items be player repairable for resources or they can choose to have an NPC repair it for a cost without needing the resources.
A player is using Mithril armour. After fighting for awhile it gets damaged (it’s Durability is worn down to 5/50 or so). They can repair it with 50 Smithing and 1 Mithril bar. Or they can pay an NPC 4,500 to repair it.
This is of course just a rough example, but you understand what I mean.
Ultimately, An Economy that is running correctly never needs to steal money from players via moneysinks because there is never a drastically offset In:out currency ratio.
Making Things Too Easy
Admittedly, we all like doing things easy at times, but if everything is always easy, where is the challenge? The fun of most games comes from the challenge (puzzle games especially!).
“Things too easy” is a very broad term, but in most games it refers to being able to kill monsters without a thought, complete a quest without any work, or solve a puzzle by picking the key up off the floor in front of the door. Are those things fun? Maybe once. But will that keep you playing day in and day out? Not likely.
Inversely, if you think something is too easy and then try countering that by doubling or tripling its strength/power/difficulty/etc, you will more likely than not create something that is too hard! That’s what Alpha and Beta (as well as in-house) testing is for – not just bug finding but also for true balancing, creating a good challenge that is not impossible.
Focusing on One Game Aspect Too Much
Most games are guilty of this at one time or another. They upgrade graphics in a new area and are like, “Wow, that looks REALLY good! Let’s redo ALL the graphics that way!” and then they spend the next 6-12 months on graphics and mostly ignore the other parts of the game. They may produce some really nice looking graphics, but if they haven’t kept up the rest of the game(new content, story, quests, additions) then is it really a good thing?
Graphics aren’t the only thing that this can happen with, focusing too much on upgrading audio or adding a new type of audio content can do it. As can focusing too much on adding new quests or one specific quest line. Little dailies and mini-game features as well as new gear – pretty much anything – can become a problem if it is being focused on so much that other areas of the game’s design are being neglected.
Keep your focus on the game at large, not just the fine details(do not neglect these though, any of them!).
Over Amplifying Numbers
Ehhh…could probably say a lot about this but I’m going to try to keep it short.
If you have 34,000 hitpoints and the monster does 8,000 damage, isn’t that the same as if you had 340 hitpoints and the monster did 80? While larger numbers may look more impressive initially, they become annoying because it is harder to calculate and keep track of. This is not just for hitpoints, damage, and statistics, but for other things as well. If you need 1,000 Kewl Points to buy something or 52,000 Kewl Points to buy something else wouldn’t 1 Kewl Point and 52 Kewl Points work as well? Make each point worth more and you don’t need as many. The goals also seem much more attainable to players if they know they only need 10 points rather than 10,000.
Why make numbers more complicated than they already are?
Over Promoting Membership, Subscription, Or Micro-Transaction Stores
As players, I think we all agree that advertisements for Becoming or staying a Member/Subscriber and advertisements for things you can buy in the Micro-Transaction stores get annoying. Real. Dang. Fast.
As the gaming company, I can understand the desire to advertise these things in the hopes of increasing revenue. The thing is, if people want to spend money on a game, they will. They don’t need to be told every ten minutes that they can. If they want to spend money, then they will look for a way to. If they don’t want to spend money, then they likely don’t want to be annoyed by advertisements constantly either.
Let someone know the option exists, and then leave it alone. Don’t force the water down the Horse’s throat.
Shafting Veteran Players
This is one of the things that irks me the most in games, but specifically Runescape. I have been a loyal member for nearly 8 years (I started playing at the release of RS2) and have stuck with them even when they made bad choices I didn’t agree with. My reward? A worthless cape. The cape should at least be one of the best in the game (stat-wise) or provide a benefit that makes it worth using (+5% experience, infinite teleports to useful locations, etc). Have the benefits increase over the years of loyalty automatically. Make the 10 year cape always be the 2nd (or 1st) best cape stat-wise in the game and give it experience bonuses and/or other useful features. I don’t think that would be unfair considering how long a player has to have played to receive the cape(5 or 10 years).
In general gaming, Veteran and Loyal players are rarely given any recognition. When you think about it though, Veteran players are the ones who built the game. Even if they haven’t been subscribers their whole career, they have given suggestions, bug reports, encouragement (by just playing the game), and more. They should receive a small thank you. For most games this would be an extremely cheap thing to add that could potentially raise veteran morale dramatically. Even if it is just an awesome looking cosmetic(designed to make others jealous). The point is that it is exclusive only to those who have been around a long time, you can’t buy it, you can’t buy loyalty.
Also, listen to the Veterans! Being around 4-5 years or more gives you a lot of time to observe things whether it be a skewed game mechanic or a graphical approach that just doesn’t work(or perhaps a thing that works perfectly but the designers don’t think it does). Veterans have seen multiple ways of doing things and know which works best from a game mechanic side as well as a player side.
Don’t kick dirt in the faces of those who encouraged and supported you before you hit it big.
Uber Buffing or Super Nerfing Items
Y’all should all know what that means.
Jagex is guilty of doing this quite a few times, but many other games are also guilty of it. They add a new item and make it 3 times better than the previous best weapon. This may be because of more damage, more accuracy, more speed, or just an all-around combination of the weapon’s stats that cause it to be many times better than the previous best. This new weapon is now ‘OP’, or Over Powered. Either it will become the new norm and become a high cost prestige item that becomes a win-all if you possess it which will anger the majority. Or, it will be nerfed down to being worthless.
Like with Moneysinks, having to Buff or Nerf an item after release shows the game designers failed in the design. As a Game Designer myself I hate this feeling but I have to admit when I fail on a design, and then re-design it! Making sure to take take note of why the previous design failed.
Game designers must do this when releasing any content, but specifically equipment. Ok, this is a sword, it will be used in melee. What level do we want it to be for? Ok, it needs to do roughly this damage. We want it to have this awesome-cool ability. Ok, lets give it that and these stats and test it on the average character that could acquire it. Hmm, it seems fair on them. What about on the absolute lowest character that can use it? What about the highest? How difficult is it to obtain this item? To continue using it?
There are many mechanics that must be considered when adding a new item, the most important and poignant being:
Is this new item even needed, will it benefit the game at all and if so, will it be for good or bad?
Targeting the Wrong Player Demographic
I guarantee you this will kill any game. You could have THE most AWESOME game in the WORLD but if you try to sell it to the wrong crowd, guess what? It will flop and you’ll think there was something wrong with it when in fact the game itself was perfect, but your targeting wasn’t.
One game comes to mind specifically when talking about Targeted Player Demographic: Lego Universe.
Lego Universe, or LU. Was built by The Lego Company. If you don’t know who or what Legos are then I’m sorry, you must have had a terrible childhood. Legos were one of THE toys back in my day. Little plastic bricks that you could build almost anything out of. The best childhood toy brought onto a computer game – yea, that was pretty much destined to be one of the best games of the decade(if not century).
Lego Universe had a 12 month beta and was launched in October and closed permanently the following February.
LU did not fail for lack of graphics (they were pretty good, though somewhat laggy on some machines), nor did it fail for lack of story, nor even fail for lack of advertising.
Lego Universe failed because it was targeted at an 8-10 year old demographic.
Lego Universe cost $40 to buy the game and a further $15 a month to continue playing. Now tell me, what 8 year old do you know of that can afford $180 a year + $40 up front? Now, if they had targeted that at a 15-30 year old demographic, it would have been a huge success. They could have also launched it as Free to play with a Micro-Transaction system and they would have done better as it is more likely for the 8-10 year old to get $20-$50 for his birthday or a LU gift card from a distant relative. Then the kid could buy what they wanted.
Lego Universe didn’t fail for lack of resources nor inspiration, it failed for lack of appropriate target demographic marketing.
Giving Experience Too Easily or for Free
Y’all know my thoughts on this, but they’re true!
Think about it, what one, single game mechanic does almost every game have in some way, shape, or form?
The goal is usually to gain experience somehow. This is exemplified very much in Runescape in that every skill requires experience. What if someone could join your favourite game today and get a large portion of your total experience, just because they logged in? That doesn’t sound very fair, does it. You worked for your experience, and yet they get a large amount for free?
Aside from being unfair to those who work, giving away experience for free or too easily devalues both the thing being advanced by the experience and the thing that would normally be used for advancing the experience.
Another thing that falls under this is allowing people to buy experience with real money. It’s fine for players to be able to pay for some stuff, but allowing them to buy their way through a game ruins the atmosphere and devalues the achievements for others.
Experience must ultimately be earned, otherwise it is not really experience, merely points(potentially worthless points at that).
So there they are. In no particular order as I said above. It is hard to say which is the most important as any of them will destroy a game if not dealt with and some will even kill it.
I’m sure you’ve noticed some of them apply to Runescape – in fact they may and probably all do to a certain extent. And while they may, I did not write this targeting Runescape. As you play other games you will likely notice a few of the things I talked about in those games as well. Nearly every game falls to doing at least one of these at one point even if it is accidentally. Great care should be taken to avoid these mistakes as much as possible.
This article would probably be most interesting to Game Developers, but I hope some of you enjoyed it as well. I don’t expect any official responses from any games, though it would be pretty neat if Jagex acknowledged this.
If y’all have any thoughts on these 10 please discuss below.