How to lose a Player in 10 levels

Studios are exploring different channels to keep spending on UA (User Acquisition) low and overcome tough discoverability on App Store and Google Play. This leads studios towards different channels like twitch and youtube, playing on the popular ‘Let’s Plays’ to get an audience. But here is how studios in the attempt to supercharge installs and potential revenue can end up ruining the First-Time User Experience. Social Point, creator of Dragon City and Monster Legend, was recently featured with their F2P title, Dragon Lands; A 3D Platformer which essentially plays on Mario 64 control and visual frame and a Megaman like mechanic where the player needs to switch between, in this case dragons, to overcome obstacles, such as wall climbing, flying etc. Social Point very openly tried to supercharge the game by adding a dragon called PewDiePie, a cameo, and making it available to the player for the generous fee of 1 Gem, the game’s hard currency. Naturally the game has already provided the player with 3 of such Gems before taking offering this bargain. PewDiePie, the dragon, was also of superior level, meaning more health and kickass ability, so why not buy it right? The game is not difficult, meaning that the level of your dragon would rarely determine the outcome of a level, powerwise. This means the leveling of dragons work rather as a paygate more than a counter to the game’s difficulty because dragons need the appropriate level to even start the level. This would be like saying; “ You need at least x20 extra lives to enter this level in Mario, store’s over there.” At this point I as a player, might start regretting the acquisition of a dragon shaped like a famous youtuber. On the tenth level, because of level design and what I guess is a desire to provide general diversity in player experience, the game forces me to use the starting dragon, called Blaze. The issue is then that player have intuitively been giving into the affordances the game provides and have been neglecting leveling up same starting dragon, which now needs to be a higher level to even start that level. At around 30 mins into the experience, the player is left with starting over to get passed level 10, in a game that until that had offered no difficulty. Punishing the player on such an early stage of the experience needs to very deliberate or should be avoided, especially when player are not financially invested in the F2P title. Being punished as a player, not because of general poor game design, but a, for the average player, indifferent addition of cameos is very frustrating, and will make players churn very early in the experience. F2P is a powerful business model, if engagement(retention) and monetization is embraced into the core game design, but if forcing the virality opens up the possibility of players making bad/wrong choices that might kill both retention and revenue.

Originally published at on March 21, 2016.