Paid loot boxes in paid games are bad for game design, bad for the industry and bad for players.

When the topic comes up the argument frequently made is that the items are cosmetic, the thinking being that as long as the item doesn’t effect the game then there is no problem. Unfortunately that’s bullshit and here’s why.

Firstly – cosmetic items ARE important. People seem to think its ludicrous that someone will spend £1 on an in game hat but do you have the same response when someones buys a real hat? I have an R2-D2 hat which keeps my head warm but ALSO says things about me.

However – with loot boxes I argue that we’re not buying cosmetic items at all.

Getting to know us

To understand my reasoning you first have to understand why we play games. It’s not always the same and we play different games for different reasons. But the games I am looking at, and the ones that work with paid loot boxes, cover the ‘work -> reward’ pattern. We play them because we feel an achievement which we’re rewarded for. That reward might be a new area, a twist in the story or a random item.

People refer to random items as ‘Skinner Boxes‘ referring to the experiments by B. F. Skinner who showed that a rat could be induced to perform the same action over and over again by rewarding that action randomly rather than consistently. I don’t necessarily see this as bad. As a game designer I want my game enjoyed over and over again. If it is a short burst or repetitive game randomising rewards can give your game some longevity and a reason to replay.

But if you combine this with association you get a potent psychological cocktail.

What the deal with association then?

Association is the marketing technique of linking two unrelated items together. Just as Pavlov’s dogs associated being fed with a bell – so could be made to salivate on command, advertisers associate brands with sunny days, luxury lifestyles and happy beautiful faces. You feel that buying the brand is, on some level, buying the feeling.

This means that if you change your game-play loop from ‘work -> reward’ to ‘work -> box -> reward’ the player associates the box with the reward. And this is where the problem is. You can now effectively sell the reward – the reason for playing the game.

This will have three outcomes.

1. You buy the paid loot boxes to get the feeling of winning. The game stops being important as you can get the reward without it.

2. You find the game has lost it’s appeal. The joy of getting a reward has been diluted because you could have just brought the same thing.

3. You aren’t affected at all and you laugh at the poor suckers in 1 and 2 (you are also deluded and advertisers love you.)

Whatever the outcome the reward, and therefore playing the game, is now meaningless. The reason for playing the game is being held for ransom by the publisher.

And that’s why ‘It’s only cosmetic’ is a poor excuse for paid loot boxes.

The Tribloos 3 Development DiaryIt’s time for one of my last Tribloos 3 – Development Diary Updates for The Tribloos 3 – that’s because it’s in final (bumpkin based) testing!

What’s happened since the last update?

We’ve been through a couple of very small alpha testing phases and have identified a whole bunch of issues! Then I spent almost 2 months finishing off the OST and the sound effects. Gosh that was quite a bit of work…

But it’s sorted now – with one exception. I’m hoping I can do something special for the ending song but more on that another time.

I’m aiming to have nearly everything in place to send over the BFG before the end of next month. This is still waaaaay longer than I’d hoped. But I think the important thing is that I get this finished and out into the world in a decent state that I can be proud of.

So what exactly is left?

I’m doing a pass of the game myself now. Basically mopping up any last things I’m not happy with or feel could do with some improvement. There are a couple of special elements I feel need to be made slightly more fun and some particle effects that need tidying up.

Once I’ve completed my latest to-do list I’ll be passing it to the existing, and hopefully new, Beta testers!

Then I can get a trailer put together or two. I was thinking of doing a story one and a gameplay one. After that it’s time to send it to BFG and other interested distributors. Then I can sit back and rel-oh I mean get straight to work on Space Farmers 2, yessir Mr Rich sir!

Time for some new screenshots?

Absolutely, here they are. Four brand new screenshots of featuring some of the GUI, conversation and new elements in the game. Let me know what you think and catch you next time!

Hey, how have you found games this year? If you hadn’t guessed I’m gonna get just a little philosophical about them. That’s, uh, why I’ve called it “Philosophy of Game Design in 2017”. Also I’m going to get a bit grumpy, I don’t mind showing that side of myself. I’m rarely grumpy IRL (honest, just ask Rich!) But the subject of some game’s design properly gets me down sometimes. First let’s rewind a bit.

I hate Candy Crush.

Oh we’re starting grumpy are we?

Yeah so I hate Candy Crush, but not because it’s a match 3 game. I like Match 3 games (Zoo keeper ftw) and I can appreciate CC’s slick casual design. But the technical genius, and it is an evil genius, behind it’s “1 less go than you need” algorithms irks me. It really pushes people into buying additional turns or special items. Incidentally the revenue that game still generates is just frightening.

Ok so that’s hardly talking about Philosophy of Game Design in 2017, it’s getting on a bit these days.

Alternatively I have a vague hatred of games like Criminal Case. Again not of the genre but of the monetization design these titles often employ. Paying to speed things up appeals against the other negative human trait; impatience. I have an allergic reaction to games telling me I have to artificially wait while a progress bar fills up over the course of a day. Or that I don’t have enough “energy” to continue.

That’s a trait used in other casual games – I tried one seriously this year based on the ever popular Final Fantasy series. The best part of this one in particular was the “community” events, but aside from that I would have rather had paid once and then all rewards would have been effort based rather than time or money based.

Effort vs Time/Money for rewards

And that’s where my problem lies and the reason I’m cross about the state of the games industry and what it’s doing to my beloved genres. Nothing is safe! RPGs, building games, platformers – they’re all fair game.

My son has loved the Plants Vs Zombies games since he was old enough to steal my iPad away from me. While he loves PvZ2, he very much dislikes the adverts. He would much rather continue to play tricky levels for rewards rather than sit through another Gardenscapes advert to get to them. He often asks me about buying “premium” plants in the game. I was shocked to see that many of these cost more than what I paid for the first game! Hows that for philosophy of game design in 2017?

Often I’ll be talking about this and many other games which are considered to have “gotten it right” in terms of microtransactions. The consensus is nearly always “but you can play the main game so that’s ok” – and I can’t help but think that’s the wrong way around. I’d rather that the old shareware model was re-introduced. “Hey, play the first few levels then pay for the rest.” Of course this isn’t what they want players to do, they’d rather you paid 12x $4.99 for plants rather than $9.99 for the whole game.

I’m picking on EA here, I know I am. The demise of Popcap still hurts me! However they’re obviously just one of many of the instigators of this new way of thinking.

PC Gaming certainly isn’t safe either

At least not yet.

Obviously as a game developer myself (be it part time currently) I understand more than most that games cost money to make. Tribloos 2 cost £3600 to make and Tribloos 3 has cost over £6000. Small numbers when you look at most budgets – but I’m just one guy paying for everything myself.

So I’m not opposed, in any way whatsoever, for people to be compensated for their work in the way that they choose.

That doesn’t mean we
a) Have to or
b) Have to like it and
c) Can’t do anything about it.

But we’ll get to C in a bit.

In fact it needs to change course!

PC Gaming is heading the wrong way currently. Loot crates are the thing currently. Lovely, lovely boxes of skins and sprays and stuff which they give to you totally at random from playing the game. Or, y’know if you wanted to pay even more money. Overwatch, I’m looking sternly at you…

This in-game gambling is a pretty strange thing. I’ve been playing PUBG in the late evenings after my Tribloos 3 work. To date I have made back 1/3 of the cost of the game by selling items I’ve gotten for free. I’m not entirely sure how to feel about this. I don’t feel super great about it, then again I’ve almost paid off the cost of the game. Some people I know have gone further and made a profit just by selling the crates.

Side note – what if PUBG was free though?

Part of me wonders if this would have been possible if the game was free in the first place. I don’t think it would be. My belief is that a sense of exclusivity is felt by those that earn these items and, let’s not forget, randomly receive the higher priced items. I sold an in game shirt and tie for £3 the other day. Last year I bought a real shirt for less than that. I do find it interesting that paid for games seem to be doing as well as free games with their marketplaces, if not, in many cases, better.

Gambling? Is it though?

I’m not going to do anything pretentious like bring through the Wikipedia/oxford dictionary definition of gambling. But I think we can safely assume that if you’ve paid money for entry and you are given a random prize then that is a form of gambling. If you get in for free and are given a random prize then that is gambling. That’s because it’s likely someone will be standing near by with their hand out asking “want another go? It’ll cost ya”.

I’m not going to go into the moral quagmire of whether or not gambling is cool or not. That’s a personal thing for each of us and I walk the line a little. I’ve done some with friends and online, but you won’t find me in a Coral shop and I don’t have Betfair (or any other) on my phone. To be honest I far prefer to gamble with serious things, like my career for example!

But yes, any system where you get a random prize, especially when the potential rare prizes are dangled in front of you? This is gambling and most of today’s top titles participate in it. Make up your own mind on that one.

Ok let’s move onto what we can do.

Philosophy of Game Design in 2017

So we’re all creators right? I always think it’s great when I discuss problems with creators from other disciplines.

It usually goes like this; I’ll raise a particular issue… My YouTuber friends say “Make a video!”, my blogger friends say “write a really interesting blog post!”. My dad says “write a song about it!” (both my folks are musicians by trade). As a game designer I think “Let’s do something about it in our own game design!”.

So I plan on doing all 3 of these things. You’ve been reading my blog post about it, and now I’m going to describe what our current ongoing philosophy will be when selling our games.

A new Philosophy based on the old one!

First off – If we introduce randomised loot crates, which we’re not planning, they won’t be game affecting. It’ll be cosmetic stuff and you’ll also be able to pay for specific items directly.

Secondly – No trading. We don’t want you to be bothered by other random players pestering you to see your inventory for some potential swapsies.

Finally – Free to play means just that. You’ll get the whole game for free, including any updates. Pay to play will be one time entry only, those games won’t likely be suitable for pay-for-items for various reasons.

Our service promise to you…

Oh man, I don’t like how that sounds. Makes us sound all corporate. Look there’s only two of us in the Bumpkin Brothers. We hire other very talented people like Catherine Bennett and Jon Dunn to do lovely artworks for us but otherwise that’s all there is.

We want people to play our games and enjoy them. Not to sit in goal asking to trade, as seems to be the ongoing Rocket League trends these days.

Unfortunately it means we won’t be touching mobile, for a while at least. there’s no way to make headway on that space without Candy Crush style tactics and we’re just not into that.

So when it comes to releasing Tribloos 3 and, eventually, Space Farmers 2 on PC and Mac, we’ll be doing our very best to keep you building houses, shooting chompy robots and solving puzzles rather than examining your loot collection for things you’ve got more than once. It’s a philosophy we’ve always held close and will continue to do so because we just floopin’ love games.

Spacey Farmers! The farmers in SPACE!

Yep, it’s time for a small but significant Space Farmers update.

With Tribloos 3 literally in the end stages of development (sorry it’s taken so long, but I hope you’ll all try it!) I can say that Space Farmers 2 development has, well, kind of started again.

We spent some time the other evening reviewing the tech demos that Rich has put together. Some of them are awesome fun! We’ve also been looking at some interesting Untiy assets and libraries we could potentially use to add some absolutely crazy nonsense into the game.

I think I can safely say we’re excited and terrified at the prospect of jumping into the deep end of SF2 development again. And I think anyone who’s looked at the Steam support forum can guess why.

Single word: Networking (is annoying)

So to give ourselves a break we’ve decided to make the game to use Photon PUN as a 100% solution. Rather than having it as a 3rd fallback option. This could end up being costly for us if things don’t work out. But getting people connected took up more than 50% of both our development and support time with Space Farmers 1. We just can’t drag ourselves through that again.

If you’re so inclined you can check out Photon PUN over here. We used Photon in the last game as, like I said, a 3rd fallback option. It was for if we couldn’t get the two methods of P2P connection working. It was also used for Lobbies.

In a way I always had a (ironic) chuckle* when someone would email us saying the servers are down. Because there were no servers in SF1. Aside from Photon which, as far as we could tell, worked 99.9% of the time.

The PUN system is built for Unity and makes use of the Photon Cloud network. It’s always felt pretty speedy and based on the traffic we had for SF1 we should be able to keep the costs down enough to keep the game running long term.

So this is why we’re choosing it as the new way forward.

Great, I think, so what’s next?

Once T3 is out of the door (at least for acceptance testint) we’ll be announcing more of a roadmap for where we’re going with the game. Along with a plan for regular updates for anyone who’s interested. We’ve got a ton of plans and thoughts but we also want to make this game for you as well as ourselves.

Okay, stay tuned as always. There’s going to be a bit of focus on T3 as we move into final testing/release so bare with us and we’ll have more SF news for you soon.

* THIS IS A LIE. I ALWAYS CRIED

Well goodness me. It’s been quite the adventure. Almost 3 years in the making (again I’ll talk about why in the postmortem) and many speed bumps in the road. I feel like I’m on the final stretch at last.
The Tribloos 3 Development Diary
I’m very pleased with the final result (generally) and I can’t wait to share it with the world. But first I have a few final tasks to take care of. Firstly here’s where we’ve gotten to this last 2 weeks:

– Further testing and bug fixing
– Sound Effects
– Scene transitions
– Conversation tweaks and changes (characters actually show some emotions!)

So I’ve been quite busy!

Previously it’s been awful for me to list out my remaining tasks. But now it’s not so bad. Check this out:

– Mac version setup (partially done)
– Testing and bug fixing
– Music for 5 areas, ending cut-scene and main menu (this is literally the only tough job left)
– Remaining sound effects
– Tutorial (I think this is my least favourite part of developing casual games)
– Final cut-scene construction (although all GFX are in and ready)
– Even more Testing
– Talking with portals/setting up distribution areas for the game
– Far more testing

So like I said the biggest job is the music. This is a bit of a problem because my work laptop which I use for development 4/7 days a week doesn’t have my compositional stuff on it. It’s a group policy thing which stops me installing it on here annoyingly.

I feel as if I need to lock myself in my home office for a week to get that part done. A tune a day shouldn’t be too impossible…urp.

There are a few other tasks that I need to look at but nothing which isn’t fairly straight-forward. I’ll try to cover as much as possible in the next couple of blog entries.

I still don’t haev

It’s been a good week! Here’s where I am:

Yes we’re on steam for the Beta finally!

This resulted in about 10 new bugs added to my development log in the space of 5 minutes. You people and your weird resolutions. Yes I’m talking to you DangerGerbil!

I’ve squashed most of the bugs already and made some cosmetic changes to the game but we’re only in the early days of testing now so I expect tons more very soon.

Otherwise the feedback has been pretty good. Soon we should be widening the net in terms of testing once these initial bugs have been sorted.

I’m not going to go into huge detail today, but I’ll give another update next week with how we’re getting on with testing. See you then!

On Friday the 13th Nintendo ballsed up their Switch launch event. They did so by focusing on things we already had and are bored of (motion control), introducing new things we don’t want (IR sensors) and forgetting that the device already has an awesome selling point – you can carry it around with you.

Add that to a very lackluster games line up and many are declaring it will follow the trend of Nintendo’s ever decreasing sales of home console.

I’d like to argue that this may not, and hopefully will not, be the case.
Continue reading “Nintendo Switch – What I think.”

Morning everyone.

We just wanted to quickly wish you a happy new year.

2017 Is shaping up to be very exciting for us. While some deadlines have been missed (by myself) we’re definitely on track for at least one new release this year. Also hopefully we’ll be letting you all in on a Space Farmers 2 engine test and news on future projects we want to announce later in the year.

Thanks for keeping up with our new blog last year. We hope you keep in touch in the coming months!

-The Bumpkin Bros

The Tribloos 3 Development Diary

Oops, well I missed last week’s entry because of being super ill for a few days. I’m back now and ready to share some of the development fun I’ve been having with The Tribloos 3.

There were many new features I wanted in the new instalment of the series. One of these was a return to more detailed “inbetween” story segments. I liked the comic book style of Tribloos 2 but it felt very flat and disconnected. While aware that this wouldn’t be a short job I still wasn’t prepared for the gargantuan task I was taking on.
Continue reading “Tribloos 3 – Development Diary Part 4”