Small Changes, Big Effects

I was thinking the other day about small changes in a game’s design that end up radically changing the entire approach I take with the game, either mechanically or just emotionally.

For example, many moons ago I was playing Candy Crush Saga on my phone, and reaching the limits of my patience with the game. I still had a few of the free special abilities left (e.g. your first free hit of crack), and was realizing that losing the level by one move was dumb when it often took extraordinary luck to even to get to that point – it doesn’t matter how skillful you are when success relies on clearing a row or column and having some helpful color replacements drop in. So, I used the free stuff, and then basically stopped playing the game.

A few weeks or so after that, the next time I booted the app up, King had introduced some sort of daily roulette wheel where your first spin is free. One of the prizes? A random special ability. Not all of them were as powerful as the Lollipop Hammer, but they were something. And knowing that I could accumulate these advantages by logging in every day provided an incentive to do so, and continue my progress through the game knowing I could use the special abilities should I need them. The move might have been a cynical cash grab considering you could buy additional roulette spins, but getting one free chance at nabbing a special ability enormously extended my interest in the game.

There have been similar changes going on in Clash of Clans in the past month or two, although cumulatively they might not be able to be described as small anymore. Originally, I was feeling like I had reached the natural end of my progression curve, as I was losing more resources to raids than I was gaining from raiding others. My alternatives seemed to be either spending money, or committing to playing more than 3-4 times a day. Then things started to change:

  • Town Halls started containing many resources themselves, invalidating the old strategy of keeping them outside your base and hoping someone destroyed just that building to give you a 12-hour shield.
  • Only lose your shield if you actually commit to an attack, rather than simply browsing bases to attack.
  • Attacking only reduces your current shield by 3-4 hours, instead of removing it entirely.
  • Added a daily quest to earn 5 stars via attacking, gaining bonus resources based on rank.
  • Reloading traps is cheaper.
  • There is a broken “loot cart” after you get attacked, which refunds a percentage of what was stolen.

The approach I am taking with the game is completely different now. The bonus rewards you get for winning a raid (getting at least one star) was often not worth it if you could fail but still nab most of your target’s resources. Now that I’m in Crystal 1 Master League 3 though? 70k 110k bonus is nearly a 100% increase in what I can usually acquire, so now I’m pushing for full-clears. I also attack more often now, since there is less of a penalty for doing so (losing shield), and even more of an incentive (the daily). The end result is that not only am I more actively engaged with the game, I am still actually progressing at the same time. That these changes might actually end up squeezing more money out of F2Pers in the process – by encouraging buying boosters to speed up attack frequency – is good for Supercell, but ultimately irrelevant to me. Technically, it’s win-win.

In terms of MMOs though, I am mostly drawing a blank. Perhaps the introduction of dual-spec in WoW? Or that one glorious period of time where dailies were weeklies and you ended up burning yourself out running 21 dungeons across three alts on reset day?

…okay. Maybe not all little improvements are good.

Posted on March 14, 2016, in Commentary and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Small change, big effect in an MMO would be the balancing of loot.

    Reward awesome loot and people will grind your WotLK dungeons to death and love your game. Reward crappy blues and people will run your (Cata/WotLK) dungeon once and unsubscribe.


  2. GW2: Reduced gold rewards at the end of the dungeon to 33% of the original amount => Immediate jettisoning of all dungeon running by the majority of the population and possibly quite a lot of players that stopped playing the game entirely.

    Oh wait. Were you looking for good effects?

    Harvesting nodes that distribute personal loot to each player and aren’t competitive. Mob experience not diminished when multiple players attack the same mob, aka no mob tapping.
    => Suddenly players are less hostile towards other players in their vincinity and more willing to cooperate in the moment to get the job done.


    • Ha, actually your first example is closer to the topic than the second; I’m mostly talking about changes made after release. I dropped GW2 before the dungeon nerfs, but it definitely qualifies as something that “radically changes the entire approach [someone] takes with the game, either mechanically or just emotionally.”


    • There was another small change in GW2. The introduction of raids and especially raid exclusive legendary armor. That changed the game from a “game of equals” to a game where you have to have fix time commitments to get the best loot.

      I had pre-bought the expansion, unfortunately, but I haven’t played it for more than unlocking precursor crafting, level 1. That small change (raid exclusive loot) totally changed the perception of the game and completely removed all interest I ever had in it.


  3. Sometimes I’m not sure that it’s really an improvement in the game itself. It could just be an altercation the game is making to ensure you spend more time playing and paying to play it. Free to Play games are sneaky!


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