Freelance game design consultant Steve Meretzky asked, “What if we designed a game that would get the lion’s share of gamers who never spend more than $10.” So he started hosting a panel of four F2P designers to explore this year’s GDC F2P challenge.
This year’s panel – Abigail Rindo, Associate Director at King, Fawzi Mesmar, Freelance Game and Narrative Designer, and Shelby Moledina and Amanda Schuckman, Co-Founder and Game Director and Narrative Designer, respectively, at Double Loop Games – noted the challenge of this year’s theme, Designing for Minnows.
The challenge seeks to move away from the dominant design patterns that are suited to “whales” – ardently wealthy and committed gamers who have spent large sums – instead of designing a game that will derive the bulk of its revenue from ” minnows”, players whose life pass is $10 or less.
Winners: Shelmanda’s Animal Kingdom Mystic Rescue
Moledina and Schuckman, instead of embroidered jackets, chose to “design the best game ever.” Largely because Double Loop primarily designs games for a wider audience, especially audiences who may not describe themselves as gamers, and want gamers to be invested in the game, rather than feel obligated to be invested, and are able to make smaller ‘a la carte payments.
Minnows are identified as being deeply affected by social connections and social events: “Social connection is really important for more timid players.”
Introducing Animal Kingdom Mystic Rescue, it is a co-op experience based on feel-good and rewarding experiences where players become personally invested in animals and where in-app purchases can contribute to charitable causes. “Think Boyfriend Dungeon, but you don’t date the horses”. They emphasized a low-friction trading system between players, using fruits and magical shoes that give animals properties that make them suitable for competitive in-game events.
This high, low-friction social interaction relies on mutually beneficial play that will encourage minnows to periodically invest smaller amounts for incremental increases. “We want it to be a long-term hobby, rather than buying something immediately expensive and impacting the experience.” IAPs will also have stacking capability: multiple perks built into each offer, to better allow players to engage in smaller but more frequent IAPs.
Double Loops’ entry was voted the winner by the public, and while PocketGamer.biz certainly liked Mesmar’s… punch when it came to critiquing capitalist structures and unsustainable wealth, Moledina and Schuckman unquestionably presented the most comprehensive view of design for minnows.
The 52 postcards of Abigail Rindo
Rindo broke IAP’s core values by sharing goals with the player base and ensuring he was respectful “to create an experience that fostered pro-social behavior”. As such, it explored social relationships with larger audiences, rather than solo, with select groups, through game actions. With this in mind, 52-card decks were an ideal focal point for design because they have a widely recognized ubiquity. These would be accentuated by bespoke images, featuring a commercial mechanic.
Deciding on a mission statement, “a prosocial game for frugal people who want more meaningful relationships in games” and tying it to monetization, Rindo felt that allowing low IAP freebies to alter the appearance of cards that would create unique combinations for enhanced social interactions.
The anarcho-syndicalism of Fawzi Mesmar
Through a remote appearance, Mesmar acknowledged the drop in player counts for most F2P games, regardless of financial commitment (with a pleasantly sneaky dig into economic theory and the detrimental impact of capitalism…). Players must participate in both the game and the economy, but generally must be economically successful outside of it to get the most out of the game experience.
Mesmar looked at different business models, such as universal basic income, and how that can adapt the player’s relationship with the title. This can allow players to be happier in the game and possibly save for more expensive game items. But looking at more draconian economic systems, where the central economy is firmly dedicated by the game maker – “perhaps an economy that prevents players from buying more IAPs, if they buy too many” – does not was not judged in the spirit of the challenge.
Mesmar landed on a clan-based system, in which tools, resources and financial investments belong to a central authority that connects players, but ultimately felt that exploring post-capitalist economic systems could provide the answers. …