Genshin Impact crashed onto the scene two weeks ago, hitting Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Mobile. With revenues expected to potentially hit $100 Million on mobile alone within its first month, it’s easy to see why Genshin Impact has garnered a lot of attention. Having played and studied the game, and also played it’s clear inspiration — The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — I think that Genshin Impact will stand out as an important turning point in the evolution of Free to Play games. Below are 3 ways that Genshin Impact will shape F2P Designs for future games.
#1: Not only is F2P compatible with AAA Gameplay, it can actually improve on some AAA Designs
For all the absolutely breathtaking visuals that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild gave us, the game actually had a lot of design flaws that were frustrating for a lot of players.
A big flaw was the lack of direction in the game. As Great as the sense of Exploration was in the game, the lack of direction and knowing where to go was a consistent pain-point in the Player Experience. While Players had a few long-term Goals to work towards, there was virtually nothing guiding the Player over the course of the Game.
Genshin Impact improves upon this through strong Story-Telling, guiding the Player to specific locations, enabling the use of multiple Heroes, and providing specific tasks.
Daily Tasks, in particular, are a staple of F2P Mobile RPGs. All the major F2P RPGs on Mobile utilize Daily Quests to get Players to dabble in all the major core systems each day. Genshin Impact utilizes that same philosophy by having the following daily activities:
- Daily Commissions
- Daily Mining Expeditions
- Battle Pass Daily Challenges
- And more!
The use of Daily Tasks and a strong Story-Backed Quest Chain gives Players a lot of direction as to what they should be doing. As a result, the Player is more likely to feel like they have accomplished something at the end of the Play Session. Compare this to Breath of the Wild, where an hour’s worth of exploring can sometimes end with little to no progress, a bunch of random ingredients, and some broken weapons.
Speaking of Broken Weapons, one of the biggest flaws of Breath of the Wild is the horrible Weapon Durability system. The frequency of Weapons breaking, and the need to always grind for new Weapons, is a terrible Design decision. Forcing Players to manage the Weapon Economy took a lot of fun out of the game session, as Player’s decisions while exploring the World were partly influenced by what was happening with their Weapons. In Genshin Impact, Weapon Upgrades solves this problem.
In Genshin Impact, Players can increase Weapon Level by fusing other weapons and Materials into the Weapon to give it experience. Once the Weapon has enough experience, it increases in Level and gains stats. This means that players spend time grinding for low level weapons and materials, eventually leveling up their Weapons over time.
This system is vastly superior to the Weapon Durability system in Breath of the Wild. While both systems require a certain amount of grinding, Genshin Impact’s F2P Weapon Enhancement System creates a better player experience. Players are free to use the Weapons that they want without worrying about their Weapon Management. At the same time, Players must eventually grind for Weapons and Materials in order to improve the Weapons their Heroes currently use.
And it’s not like Breath of the Wild didn’t rely on stats to a certain extent. Weapon Damage in the later Weapons could be as much as 10x damage versus the beginning weapons. Genshin Impact, by comparison, doesn’t have a wide range in damage in the base stats:
5 Star Weapon:
1 Star Weapon:
This power discrepancy is mild by F2P standards. But that’s because Genshin Impact recognizes that you don’t need a ton of stat inflation to make stats meaningful in a skill-based game. A few stats go a long way when your control of the Hero largely determines whether you hit or miss, or take damage or avoid the attack.
In the end, both systems tackle the same problem: how to slow down Weapon Stat Growth for the Player. But the tried and true F2P Weapon Enhancement System is the one that creates a better Player Experience.
#2: Action RPGs don’t have to be a Single-Hero Experience
Action RPGs are a nice alternative to the standard F2P RPGs like AFK Arena or Marvel Strike Force for Players who want skill to matter. While stats can be extremely important in Action RPGs, Player Skill is definitely a big part of success too. And Action RPGs are generally receptive to the same types of F2P Metasystems as Party-Based RPGs. Look at Archero:
The big difference in potential between Action RPGs and Party-Based RPGs is typically on the monetization front. Party-Based RPGs monetize better because Players need to optimize more Heroes in a Party-Based RPG than in an Action RPG. Fewer Heroes means less depth, and less depth means less monetization.
Action RPGs typically only utilize one Hero, drastically cutting down the aggregate depth of the Metasystem Economy. Some Action RPGs have tried to expand the number and complexity of systems for a single Hero to make up for the loss of depth. Take the Monster Codex system from Lineage II: Revolutions.
Yet these systems are typically complex for the average audience, and the more systems a Hero has can detract on the importance of any one system, making monetization of a particular system a little more difficult.
Enter Genshin Impact, which has developed a fairly smooth means of switching Heroes. Players can bring 4 Heroes at a time, and can switch between them by tapping them. This allows Genshin Impact to require Players to optimize more than one Hero. Combined with challenges based on Element, and suddenly Players will need to manage and upgrade enough Heroes to support a couple different party compositions. Will it ever reach 30+ Heroes that are required in the End Game for more traditional F2P RPGs? Time will tell. But requiring Players to collect, optimize and use multiple Heroes is a strong start in getting Action RPGs up to Par.
#3: Cross-Platform Opens up Design Opportunities for F2P Developers
Perhaps Genshin Impact’s largest influence on the F2P Industry is to unchain Game Designers from designing around the mobile play session. For over a decade now, F2P Game Designers have trained ourselves to try and squeeze in meaningful progression into a 3–5 minute play session for Players on the Go. The consequence of this is that a lot of F2P Mobile Gameplay designs fall short of what is fun or exciting to Players.
Genshin Impact doesn’t care about Mobile Session length. Just like 5 minutes of playing Breath of the Wild would be virtually pointless, so too would playing Genshin Impact for just a few minutes at a time. This is because Genshin Impact is meant to be played more like a Console/PC game than like a mobile game. Players sitting down for 30–60 minutes at a time will surely make more meaningful progress than Players who play 10–15 minutes on Mobile here and there.
This doesn’t mean that Mobile is completely irrelevant to Genshin Impact. With a strong crafting economy and a lot of daily tasks, Players can try and accomplish something in a 10–15 minute play session. But playing on Mobile isn’t mandatory. Players can play primarily on any of the other Platforms, while still being able to make some progress on Mobile when they are away from the main Platform.
This strategy is very similar to Fortnite, where serious Battle Royale Players probably didn’t rely on Mobile Controls to compete, but Players looking to complete Battle Pass challenges could hop on Mobile and make some progress in their downtime here and there.
This does not mean that Genshin Impact lets Players play as much as they want to. They clearly don’t want Players to make too much progress in a day.
Thus, they’ve implemented Resin, a sort of energy system that Players spend in order to receive rewards from certain activities like running Dungeons, fighting Elite Bosses, etc. If a Player wants rewards from those activities, they have to have enough Resin. Doing the activities without Resin will result in the Player being able to do the activity, but they won’t be rewarded for it. It’s similar to doing a match in Clash Royale when all your chest slots are full.
Resin recharges slowly over time, but Players can spend to refill Resin. It is standard F2P, but shows that Genshin Impact is aware of the potential of Players to burn through their Metasystem content too quickly if unchecked.
What does this mean for Mobile F2P? For one thing, Game Designers have more choices on how to shape Gameplay that is more more compelling to their Player Base. Going Cross-Platform means that at least some Gameplay Systems need not follow the strict session rules that Mobile has forced Developers to adhere to. And Developers should not be afraid to pick and choose between mobile-centric designs for some gameplay systems and cross-platform design for others. If you intend for your Audience to start out as mainly Mobile, have your core gameplay be mobile-friendly. But then you should explore if cross-platform would give your Elder Players a better experience in the Elder Game. More choices will spark more innovation, which is great for the industry.
Genshin Impact is still very fresh and we will have to see how the game tracks over the next few months. But I hope it’s initial success is sparking discussions across all developers about how they might best develop compelling gameplay while still incorporating strong F2P Mechanics. Next week, I’ll explore 3 Potential Pitfalls that Genshin Impact might fall into as Players transition to the Elder Game.