Hello all. This past year has been very eventful and I have a lot to share.
To start, several months ago I made the tough decision to put Streets of Peril on hold for an indeterminate amount of time. It was too taxing on me to code during the week at work and on Streets of Peril over the weekend, so I figured I’d stay focused on one project for now. Additionally, I think it’s best if I just start over from scratch, since there’s still a lot of garbage leftover from before the refactor and it’d be easier to start it up again in MonoGame rather than port it over from XNA. Besides, I had a lot more fun working on and playing the Challenges in Streets of Peril and think it’d be better if I can form the whole game around that type of variety instead of tacking it onto a mostly generic Story mode.
Next up is the game I’m working on at my job. Before I get into the details, I want to emphasize that the company, me included, worked extremely hard on this game and I’m not trying to undermine our efforts in building it in any way. Out of respect for my company and coworkers, I won’t be mentioning any names, nor even the name of our game. This is mainly to raise awareness in how the mobile games industry is doing things and why I think it’s a problem. Now onto the details:
To be completely honest I thought the game started out great, but now I’m disappointed in what it has become. Although I still despise in-game shops that charge real-world currency for virtual items, I would have been fine with us having just a shop as our way of making money. Now the game has a big pay-to-win emphasis in that users who pay real money will undeniably have a clear advantage over users that don’t, going so far as letting users cheat (yes, cheat – details later) if they pay premium currency. On top of that, we implemented gambling-like game mechanics for no purpose other than to make more money (that was the answer I was given when I questioned it), and to receive special rewards you need to collect specific sets of items that you can obtain in the gambling process, (which is illegal in Japan for a completely valid reason but my company wrongly insists it was because it made developers too much money) which can easily cost users $500+ USD each.
About the cheating: in-game, your character can use a special ability a specific number of times. Once per game, by paying premium currency, you can use the ability an additional time. The special abilities were carefully balanced so that more powerful abilities had very limited uses, and this throws all that out the window and rewards players who pay to win.
Which brings me to my next point: compromising gameplay. If you’ve read my previous post about in-app purchases you’ll know what I’m about to delve into. However, this time I have more experience working with people designing these features, and it truly was eye-opening, in a bad way.
The criteria, if you can even call it that, for implementing a micro-transaction is if it’s convenient for us to do so. This means after a game is lost (or even won), when the user first starts up the game, and during the tutorial. So the user suffers through numerous popups, and the user is now allowed to forgo essential game elements and NOT learn from mistakes by simply paying money. But by constantly paying money, there’s essentially no point to the game because the user never needs to work their way up to anything and can always easily recover from their failures. That is not an involving game experience and is what I regard as bad design. If it wasn’t clear by now, that sort of design means that money is more important to the developers than the game itself because users are able to bypass everything the game is about by spending money. Actions speak louder than words; while I have no doubts there are numerous passionate developers out there, I fail to believe teams that say they’re passionate and treat their games the same way.
In addition to our unnecessarily large budget for this game, the mobile stores are all or nothing. This means that if we don’t hit big with this game, we probably won’t be here for round 2. I simply refuse to support an ecosystem that supports consumers’ sense of entitlement to get everything for free (the majority of profitable mobile games are free to download because users are hesitant to purchase software) and has no room for anything other than the most popular games. If you think I’m alone in my despise for in-app purchases, look at the comments on an article regarding them and in many cases you will find the majority of users against them.
I grew up in an age of gaming where games were highly immersive and made no compromises. From endless hours of gameplay to fantastic stories, games in that age were varied and truly enjoyable experiences. Developers ensured they made terrific games because people would not buy them if they weren’t up to par. I want the new generation of gamers to experience the greatness that I did, and I’m ashamed that the majority of the industry is failing to deliver this. I don’t want this generation to think that video games are just time wasters focused on pay-to-win schemes and spending large amounts of money. Video games are my life and I would rather quit game development altogether than work with the current, cancerous trends if they continue much longer. However, there is still some justice. The majority of these games will be dead shortly after they’re released since the industry generally doesn’t plan for the long-term. Meanwhile, one can still buy any pre-7th generation console game and play as long as they’d like, and that’s more important to me as a developer than any amount of money.
I know this post has been long, but to end on a more positive note, my work environment is fantastic, all of my coworkers are great, and I couldn’t ask for a better first job out of college.
Furthermore, I’ve been working on a Final Fantasy-styled turn-based battle system as a small side project and learning experience. I’m using SFML.NET (I think XNA/MonoGame is better so far), and I have a large portion of it done already. I will be posting a YouTube video of it in action in a later post when it’s complete.