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Royale with Cheese

Like with many bloggers, I have been playing Clash Royale for quite a bit lately. It has been an interesting experience – my feelings on the gameplay, the payment structure, and overall package has oscillated wildly, sometimes several times within the same day.

The basic structure of the game is dropping troops to go destroy towers, MOBA creep style. Resource parity (1 elixir per second) and the random nature of “deck” draws (4 cards out of 8) makes for an often nail-biting experience. While I hesitate to use the term CCG, considering there are nearly 50 different cards, Clash Royale does have that seductive element of deck-building and metagame strategy that makes the genre difficult to put down.

ClashRoyale1

I love waiting arbitrary amounts of time.

The game is not without its cheese, however. The reward mechanism are Chests, which are time-released and tied to the general Arena rank you were when you earned them. There are four empty Chest slots to fill, and the shortest timer is 3 hours; you can cap out your Chests in four matches, which can be done in 10 minutes. You can open these chests early with the cash shop currency, of course, or spend dollars buying gold, which is necessary to level up your cards. Cards, incidentally, which are randomly opened from chests.

The random card distribution mechanism is the source of most of my ire these days. There are card rarities, of course, and the Epic cards are some of the most powerful. It isn’t that they are impossible to counter, but rather they need to be countered somewhat immediately. The difference between not having a given Epic card and having one is immense. Getting a 2nd copy will let you level it up to level 2, which is a 10% stat gain. So not only is it possible that you won’t get a powerful Epic troop, you might be facing someone with one that will always win against your own even if you do get one.

The Prince in particular is one I have harped on elsewhere. He costs 5 elixir to deploy and can easily be swarmed with low-HP, high-volume units, sure. But if he isn’t, he deals double-damage on the first hit on your tower, and will often completely destroy it before you can even drop more troops… unless you are specifically pooling elixir to directly counter this strategy. The Giant can also destroy a tower if left alone, but his ponderous gait and inability to deal minion damage means 1-2 skeletons can finish the job. It’s hard to even say that the Prince is a high-risk strategy though, because even if he can be countered by being swarmed, he’s still, you know, a high-damage troop. One that you have to plan around in every single match lest you be taken unawares.

ClashRoyale2

Current deck. Would not recommend this setup.

I continue to play Clash Royale though for a reason that’s somewhat surprising: I can. I still boot up Clash of Clans periodically, but my play is limited to ~3 minutes every 1.5 hours due to the structure of the game. I was originally playing Clash Royale the same way, mentally declaring it a toilet game, e.g. something you only play once you have empty chests available. But… you don’t have to. As Syncaine notes, you can still play and get rewarded with trophies for wins, which eventually pushes you to the next Arena rank, which makes the chests you acquire contain more and better goodies.

After a particularly brutal series of humiliating defeats dropped me out of the Arena 4 bracket though, I realized that hey, it’s actually kinda fun just playing the game and trying different things. You’ll encounter bullshit matches against vastly superior troops, sure. The leveling system structure even means you’ll face opponents who have towers with more HP and damage than your own. But… but! There is literally nothing stopping you from pressing the Battle button again. There is no Energy gauge to limit your screen time to some arbitrary, cash shop optimized level. Getting zero progress rewards does suck and makes my eye twitch with the inefficiency of it all… but, hey, I’m pushing buttons and playing a game.

Which is surprisingly and embarrassingly uncommon for phone games of any genre.

So I say give it a shot, if it sounds interesting to you. The early game experience is kinda terrible I’ll admit – people running around with Princes in Arena 1 and Arena 2 are terrible people – but once you get a handful of epics, the game opens up considerably. Well, as considerable as a two-lane MOBA-esque quasi-CCG can.

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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.

Investment Window

It’s been a few months since I stopped playing WoW, but the entire time I was I was psychoanalyzing the merits of purchasing the crafted gear to boost my characters further. That dilemma reminds me of a similar problem I have with many F2P games, or any game selling convenience items. Specifically: when, if ever, do you invest more money into the game?

I have mentioned it several times, but I am currently “playing” Clash of Clans. “Playing” gets the scare quotes because the actual amount of time I spend interacting with the UI versus waiting for bars to fill up has steadily decreased for months now. Indeed, I am solidly in the design trap that is Town Hall level 8, wherein you are losing more resources to raids than you could ever hope to replace with either raids of your own or passive resource gains. Being in a raiding clan might offset it some, but realistically, some actual cash exchanging hands will be necessary to progress further.

Of course, having played the game for so long, I have zero desire to do so.

All of us have been there before: you finally get annoyed or bored enough to throw money at a problem, only to stop playing the game entirely a few days later. Even if spending that money did improve your play experience, it was too late to make much of an accumulated impact. Had you dropped cash at the very beginning though? Then you could have gotten months of utility out of that purchase, and otherwise generating a return on fun.

The problem I have though, is actually timing the investment window correctly. In the case of CoC, no time actually felt “correct” because it was just a game I was playing as a diversion; I had no idea that I would still be playing it months later. In fact, that’s most games. Reminds me of those RPGs with the “+5% XP” talents you can select early on. While a dubious investment in the long-term (the talent is useless at max level), you can recognize that if you were going to take such a talent, you need to take it sooner rather than later.

While my dithering ends up resulting in more money in my pocket, it also in some cases results in a diminished experience. For example, not outfitting my alts with the crafted weapons in WoW. Did I save gold by not crafting them? Sure. I also lost gold by not crafting and selling them. I suppose having 8+ months of WoW Tokens makes this a bit moot in a practical sense, but old AH habits die hard.

So how about yourselves? How do you choose a time to make an optional purpose?

Impression: Kingdom Rush

So… anyone got mobile strategy(-ish) game recommendations? I’m on a bit of a kick here.

I am currently playing Kingdom Rush and finding it rather fantastic. Tower Defense is one of those genres that seems sort of shallow on the face of it – and perhaps even is in the scheme of things – but I’m liking how it’s presented here in Kingdom Rush. You have the standard lanes, tower placement, and varied enemies with their rock-paper-scissors attributes. Even the implementation of a somewhat controllable hero and magic powers seems almost standard these days.

The very attractively stylized graphics doesn't hurt either.

I could go AFK for the next two waves, honestly.

The thing that strikes me though is that the lanes in KR are wide. In other words, the enemies marching down the road and the resulting battles feel a bit more organic, as your soldiers might engage near the edge of the lane and allow a few enemies on the far end slip past. There is a granularity there, a sense that slight tweaks to troop or hero placement will result in better outcomes. Tower choice is such a huge change that there are clearly better options given the enemies you face (high magic defense vs high armor defense). Moving your troops just slightly to the left of the corner though? The result might be better just 5% of the time, but that 5% chance gives you the opportunity to demonstrate mastery over the game mechanics.

Of course, just like with most other Tower Defense games I have played, discovering OP combinations of towers usually results in me going through the motions for the rest of the game’s duration. I am definitely at that stage with Kingdom Rush right now, although it has lasted longer than other, similar games like Bloons.

So, yeah. I’m also playing Clash of Clans (near max TH7 base) at the moment. I have enjoyed the aforementioned Bloons TD 5, iBomber Defense, and the Anomaly series. I recently picked up Ironclad Tactics from the latest Humble Bundle but haven’t played it yet. Heard good things about Card Crawl too, and might actually pick it up if I can mentally prepare myself for playing on my tiny iPod Touch screen. Speaking of iPods, that reminds me of Hero Academy… another good one from back in the day. And presently perhaps? It’s been a while.

Give me your best strategy, Tower Defense, and/or card game games. Apps. Whatever.

Performance Enhancing F2P

As I was browsing reddit a few days ago, I found my way into a thread talking about how you can play the Star Citizen alpha for free until March 15th (or March 20th depending on the code used). This is a game that I am somewhat interested in playing, but not 22gb of files interested. Makes you wonder about what the final download size is going to end up being. The Secret World is already over 40gb and making me think deleting it would be better than keeping it around in the off-chance I feel like… Googling the answers to ridiculous in-game riddles.

In any case, I continued reading the various comments to try and glean where Star Citizen was in development. As it turns out, they’re still in the “sell $2700+ ship packages in the store like it ain’t no thing” stage.

A bargain at twice the price.

A bargain at twice the price.

The Completionist Package is actually much more expensive at $15,000, although for some reason the $2700 tier galls me a bit more than the other. I think it’s because at some point the amounts are too ridiculous to contemplate, but these smaller ones are more “reasonable.” Could you even build a gaming PC that cost $15,000 without spending money on the equivalent of Monster Cables?

Once the game officially launches, the idea is that the cash shop for ships is going to close; thereafter, the only things sold for real dollars will be customization options… and a “small” amount of in-game currency, with a daily cap. The amount is supposed to be “miniscule” and the equivalent to whatever it costs to refuel and rearm a ship. Whether that amount will just cover a normal ship maintenance cost or one of the $200+ ships you can outright purchase right now, is anyone’s guess.

What is not anyone’s guess are the fascinating arguments being made that such purchases aren’t P2W:

There is insurance on the ships, if you bought the ship early you are granted free insurance.

Insurance will be cheap though, so if you lose your ship without insurance you kinda have to blame yourself. You won’t get a huge advantage with free insurance.

And what’s the problem with buying ingame cash? If I only have 6 hours/week to play the game I should be able to spend cash so I won’t get left behind by the players sitting 6 hours/day.

This bolded sentiment simply boggles my mind. I don’t even know where to start.

Perhaps I could start with an analogy: performance enhancing drugs in sports. If you only had six hours/week to train for a competition whereas your opponent trained six hours/day, I think everyone would still say that that is fair; if you wanted to legitimately compete with this person, you would put in the necessary hours to do so. I don’t think there is anyone here that would say you should just pop some steroids so you “don’t get left behind” by the person who is clearly more committed to playing the game than you. But suppose you do believe it’s fair, and everyone should have freedom to take whatever drugs give them an edge. In such a scenario, what happens to your advantage when the 6 hours/day person just, you know, takes performance enhancing drugs themselves? You end up where you started, except now everyone with even a modicum of desire to win is taking drugs.

Meanwhile, the people selling steroids are making bank.

The other problem I have with the bolded sentiment is what it says about time spent playing the game. If you are paying dollars to skip content, that implies the content being skipped is the unfun, grindy parts of the game. Which means all the players you are bribing your way past are stuck doing content they probably don’t find fun either. Which means that the game designers have a dilemma: they can either make the unfun, grindy parts more fun for everyone (and lose money), or they can do nothing and make more money. Or, you know, make that payslope even steeper.

This is not even my final form.

This is not even my final form.

Is that a little too tinfoil hat thinking? Maybe. Maybe there are good, legitimate reasons why my Air Defense tower in Clash of Clans takes six real-world days to upgrade. Whatever those reasons are, they can’t be too important though, as I can buy my way past the timer. As I’ve mentioned before, these sort of cash shop designs immediately throws every designer action under suspicion.

The final problem I have with the bolded sentiment is difficult to put into words. It’s like, when did we start expecting to have better outcomes than other people who play a game more than us? I would agree that a design in which no one can catch up to Day One veterans is bad, but I feel like there is a crazy expectation that skill should triumph over time-spent and yet the game still have character progression somehow. How would that work, exactly? And when did it become unfair for someone else to spend six/hours a day playing a game? And then fair for you to bring resources completely outside of game (i.e. cash) to make things even?

Sometimes I feel like we’re all just lost in the woods here.

Impression: Shadow Kings: Dark Ages

The glorious city of Inanage.

The glorious city of Inanage.

So, Shadow Kings: Dark Ages is a F2P browser-based game (there is also a mobile version) from Goodgamestudios that bills itself on being an MMO. I suppose that definition could work if we assume that games like Clash of Clans and Castle Clash and so on are MMOs as well. One thing that Shadow Kings does have over the others is a sort of world map which determines who you can attack rather than it being a random match-up.

One thing that is conspicuously and absurdly missing compared to other such titles however is, you know, combat. No, seriously, there is a planning stage for combat – allowing you to assign attackers and siege equipment to the left, center, or right flanks – but all actual combat is handled instantaneously off-screen in a generic battle report. You can use your mages for espionage or sabotage, split your forces to attack a city from three angles, give your troops ladders and battering rams, and the result is… this:

Oh. Okay.

Oh. Okay.

Without an actual visual combat system in place, all of the traditional trappings of this genre of game are exposed in sharp relief. For example, there is a city-building aspect to the game where you need to balance wood, rock, and food production to keep keep the war machine moving. But since you never actually see your city being attacked, the placement of buildings within the city is entirely irrelevant. Which means enemy city layout is irrelevant. Which makes the various troop compositions you can recruit largely irrelevant. Which leads you to question what the game bit is even supposed to be.

Waiting... waiting... waiting...

Waiting… waiting… waiting…

Near as I can tell, Shadow Kings is Progress Quest with a snappy app interface and copious amounts of in-game purchases to speed things up. There is a quest system to sort of guide your various actions, but it does not take too long to start running into build times measuring in the hours. Building takes time. Upgrading takes time. Recruiting troops takes time, sending them out to attack something takes time, combat is instant and off-screen, and then there is the return trip home.

In additional to the RMT Gems, Gold is another resource that is only generated when you “collect taxes.” You do so by picking a time interval from the given list, and then clicking on the Collect Taxes button at the end of the timer; leave it inactive too long and you will lose an escalating percentage of the amount you would have gained. In a bizarre (or dare I say novel) twist, you actually get rewarded more the shorter the timer happens to be. For example, right now I can collect 5g after 3 minutes. Or 15g at 15 minutes. Or 20g at 30 minutes. Obviously that is to encourage you to stay logged on to secure these funds, but that sort of runs counter to the entire rest of the game in which you are better off queuing a bunch of actions and either Alt-Tabbing to do something else or simply closing the Tab altogether.

It should also be noted that 5 hours is the longest time interval that you can collect taxes… for free. Picking 8.5, 12, or 24 hours as intervals to collect taxes actually costs Gems, with the latter being the equivalent of about $0.35 (assuming none of the frequently advertised Gem sales).

Money shot.

Money shot.

I remain completely and utterly amazed that a team of game designers could construct what could otherwise be a competitor for Clash of Clans/Castle Clash minus the one prevailing, absolutely critical component of player agency: combat. Arguably, there is really no game here. It is a creature of meat and bone with no internal organs. I am trying to imagine a company in which the art, music, and UI teams all finish their work (and it’s pretty good work) while the team in charge of the gameplay walked off the job. Even if it were something simple like watching your little dwarves wail on the walls for a few minutes, I feel like that might have been enough; I mean, beyond troop placement at the start of a battle, you don’t have any control over your dudes in Clash of Clans either. But with combat missing, there is really no context in which to place all the timers you end up having to wait (or pay) to wind down.

So… err… yeah. That’s Shadow Kings: Dark Ages in a nutshell.

Dungeon Keeper App: A Study in Bad Game Design

Your first thought might be: “Obviously!”

No, not obviously. When the Dungeon Keeper (DK) app first came out, the entirety of the criticism revolved around EA and the bastardization of a beloved (?) franchise into a time-n-money sink exploitative F2P game. Here is the thing few people might know: DK is perhaps the best entry into this sub-genre. This might sound a little be like being called “the best STD,” but the game itself is surprisingly good.

At least, it was good.

My original design.

My original design.

What made DK good (and still does) is the fostering of creativity and depth through constraint. As you might already know, DK is a downtime management game – you spend more time not doing things than actually doing them. The basic principal is to construct a dungeon filled with traps to safeguard your own stockpile of resources while raiding the dungeons of others. Everything takes time to complete: summoning minions, constructing traps, upgrading traps, excavating rock tiles to make room for traps, and so on. On release, the excavation was particularly lampooned in that the map was filled with tiles that took 4 hours and 24 hours apiece to dig out. Or, you know, you could spend Gems (an RMT currency) to dig them instantly.

Here’s the thing though: being time-locked forced you to construct novel dungeon designs with whatever you had available. Since everyone starts on the same map, we could imagine there being X variations of the perfect defensive layout had all the squares been filled with soft dirt (takes 3 seconds to dig). Instead, we have X * Y variations because different people are at different levels of excavation; some concentrate on digging out all the 4-hour tiles instead of the 24-hour ones, some are the opposite, and still others concentrate all their time on upgrading traps instead of excavation. Creativity through constraint. Yes, technically this also enables the designers to wheedle in-app purchases out of you. But! It’s a compelling gameplay mechanic nonetheless.

Somebody just got sent home.

Somebody just got sent home.

Before I move on, I also want to mention that the other end of the creativity came from watching the replays of your own dungeon getting sacked. Given how attacking players can use magic to bomb open your walls or remotely disable your traps, sometimes it feels like there is nothing you can do to stop attacks. But what you can do is make your dungeon punishing. Magic regenerates very slowly, such that a player looking for enough resources to purchase an upgrade are unlikely to blow their entire load just to sack your one dungeon when they could split it up inbetween juicier, less-defended targets. It is a particularly novel delight watching a replay of someone throwing 2+ hours of congealed time at your defenses and see them go home with nothing. It’s part of the reason why I have played DK for so long.

The problem(s) with DK really came with their Update #2 several weeks ago. There are other fundamental problems, but I’ll get to that in a bit. In short, Update #2 destroyed the in-game economy.

Prior to Update #2, you unlocked bomb-proof walls as you upgraded various rooms and the Dungeon Heart. The number of such walls you could place were extremely limited, so you really had to think about the best location to place them. Did you want to protect a particular room? Force minions down a particular corridor? Or did you want to prevent people from digging a tunnel from the South part of the map? What the Mythic devs decided was to up-end the entire mechanic: instead of bomb-proof, they made walls upgradable. Instead of 20 bomb-proof walls at the end, you could have 100 not-bomb-proof walls that could sustain various amounts of magic damage depending on level.

Seriously, watching people fail on your dungeon never gets old.

Seriously, watching people fail on your dungeon never gets old.

For example, my current Bomb Wall spell deals 500 damage in a 3×3 square. A level 1 wall has 300 HP, and each level beyond that increases wall HP by +150. It costs 10k Stone to place a level 1 wall, 30k to upgrade to 2, 60k to 3, 120k for 4, and so on. As you might imagine, this whole “wall update” introduced a Stone sink on a massive scale. The game already had sinks of sorts – my current rooms now cost 2 million Stone apiece to upgrade – but I can imagine there may have been a need at the higher end. Or, perhaps more cynically, the devs wanted the DK Premium “subscription” (+40% resource gains from raiding) to be more appealing.

The Stone sink though has set off a cascade of fail throughout the game. The amount of resources that can be stolen from your dungeon is 30% of your stockpile (up to a maximum determined by your Dungeon heart level) + 10% of your unclaimed resources from quarries/mines around the map. Although there was always an incentive to “hide” your Stone in upgrading traps and such, there simply weren’t all that many locations; you can only have X number of Fire Traps and doors and such. Update #2 introduced 100 more to the pile, e.g. walls, and made it a high priority to upgrade them, e.g. to help prevent more Stone from being stolen via Bomb Wall spells. But since all the high-level players are now Stone deficient, the only people who have Stone laying around are… low-level players.

So the current “metagame” in DK is sandbagging, which means intentionally lowering your Trophy score (i.e. ELO) to get matched against noobs who either don’t know what they’re doing or have already abandoned the game and are simply letting their resources rot. Since they are low-level, it’s easier to steal their resources with your high-level minions given how their traps/layouts aren’t difficult. Since it’s not difficult to invade, you can send in less advanced troops that have quicker build times (e.g. 40-second Trolls instead of 20-minute Ghosts). Since you have quicker build times, you can raid more often and likely not need to use magic at all. Since you’re raiding more often, you are in-game for longer, which prevents your rapidly accumulating Stone reserves from being vulnerable to theft. And because of all of this, you are more likely to hit whatever Stone target you were going for and then spend said Stone, putting you back down to near-zero and safe to log off.

My current dungeon noobgrinder. Hint: don't spawn inside the killbox.

My current dungeon noobgrinder. Hint: don’t spawn inside the killbox.

The Mythic devs have responded on the forums that Update #3 will fix all of this and punish the sandbaggers, but the preview we have gotten is woefully naive. Their “solution” is the introduction of PvP tiers of sorts based on ELO. The higher the tier, the more bonus Stone you receive for a win. At my hypothetical tier, I could see an additional… 35k Stone. For fighting someone tooth and nail as advanced as myself. Who isn’t likely to have 35k Stone laying around to begin with. Compare that to someone at a lower ELO would could easily have 200k sitting around just waiting to be stolen.

Needless to say, this is bad game design. It is not bad simply because I dislike it; it is bad because it will not accomplish what it set out to do, or worse, have the opposite outcome.

I am not especially surprised at this non-solution, as the devs have yet to address a similarly counter-intuitive decision vis-a-vis intentionally not opening mines/quarries. There are 8 mines along the outside of the map, and unlocking them means getting free resources each time you click them; at the highest levels, you can get 200k+ Stone every 32 hours or whatever. However, enemy Keepers use these same mines as spawn points. Thus, the more mines you open, the more vulnerable your dungeon. The less mines you open, the less vulnerable your dungeon (just stuff all your warehouses in the corner), the easier it is to keep resources you steal from others, and the better off you are in general. Also? You can’t close mines you have opened. Basically, if you’re like me and open all the mines, you’re just screwed, permanently.

This shit is so stupid.

There is close to zero downside to this.

There is a similarly counter-intuitive punishment mechanic in upgrading your Dungeon Heart. You gain access to more traps and rooms by upgrading the Heart, but each level increases the maximum amount of resources that can be stolen from you. Thus, the only sane strategy is to make the Heart the last possible thing to upgrade. If you upgrade early, whoops, permanently screwed with hardmode.

My solutions to these issues? Well, first, I’d levy a 20k (or 20%) penalty to resource gains for each mine you do not unlock, down to some minimum – if your raid would have resulted in 100k Stone, you actually only get 60k if you have three mines unopened. Considering how the only players worth attacking are those with 100k+ Stone up for grabs, this would hopefully encourage people to open their mines, making more targets available. On a related note, the second change is one’s ELO score should be commensurate with the amount of Stone that can be stolen, not Dungeon Heart rank. Thus, the sandbaggers can get “easy” Stone, but significantly less such that they might have been better going after equally-skilled players.

Third, mine/quarry resource gains should double, minimum. Fourth, flip the numbers: 30% of unclaimed Stone is vulnerable and only 10% of one’s stockpile, not vice versa. This encourages more periodic log-ins during the day and makes people feel safer in saving up their Stone rather than immediately sinking it into walls. There is nothing more demoralizing than logging on and seeing someone having stolen 100k Stone, knowing that you would have been better off upgrading a door or whatever.

This may seem like a lot of words to devote to an evil, bastardized mobile app, but… I think you’d be surprised. I have long since deleted Castle Clash and feel like another game in this sub-genre would have to get a lot of things right to surpass Dungeon Keeper in terms of fun and strategery. Is it annoying waiting all the time? Sure. Then again, a 4-hour excavation only takes 2 hours if you slap your imps, and thus each time I boot the game up during my breaks at work there is something new to do. I spent two hours (!!) “playing” last night (in 6-minute increments) trying to scrape up 500k Stone to hit 2 million without risking getting bled dry overnight. The app definitely has an expiration date at some point – the thought of trying to get 6 million Stone for an 8-day upgrade is just obscene – but the same could be said about a lot of games.

So, yeah. Dungeon Keeper. Didn’t see that coming, did you?

No Such Thing as F2P in EU

The European Commission is in the beginning stages of passing down a mandate on F2P games, with the following as perhaps one of the definitions:

“The use of the word ‘free’ (or similar unequivocal terms) as such, and without any appropriate qualifications, should only be allowed for games which are indeed free in their entirety, or in other words which contain no possibility of making in-app purchases, not even on an optional basis,” they wrote.

Now, I am about as pro-consumer as you can possibly get, but this… seems a bit off.

For one thing, where is the confusion? It’s called Free-to-Play and all these games – even the one with really manipulative, coercive business models – are literally free to play. It seems like kids being lured into purchasing in-game items is the thrust of the legislation, but I’m not entirely sure what about that gets solved by labeling these games as “Freemium” or whatever marketing term fills the gap. They will still be free to download, parents will still be dumb and leave their credit card info auto-filled in or account signed on, and kids will still be manipulated to do things.

In fact, I’m kinda curious as to what possible games truly fall under the “unequivocally free” category. In-app purchases will disqualify you, but the game designers are getting paid somehow, so… what? Rampant and misleading in-game advertisements are okay? Maybe affiliate links to Amazon pages with one-push purchasing of an Angry Birds plushie? Do donate buttons count as in-app purchases? I mean, little Johnny might get confused and push the Donate $20 button a few times in a fit of youthful exuberance.

While I do not like the implicit design channels that F2P inevitably inform (payslopes, time walls, extra grinding, etc), I’m completely fine with the term itself. And it seems somewhat dishonest to put League of Legends into the same category as Clash of Clan derivatives, just because the former happens to have cosmetic purchases. Have a special “IAP-supported” filter criteria if you must, although I’m not sure if those searches will turn up anything these days. I mean, the last time I saw any truly free freeware was either on 3.5″ floppy disks or a random CD in my Captain Crunch cereal.