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Edward McNeill, Blogger

August 1, 2012

3 Min Read

My abstract RTS game Auralux was just released as a free-to-play game on Android, and I'm already facing a monetization dilemma.

First, some background: the game is slow. Very slow. A single match might take 30 minutes, especially for players who are just learning the mechanics. This slowness is intentional; I didn't want the game to be about reaction times or Actions Per Minute. Instead, Auralux usually gets labels like "hypnotic" or "relaxing" or "cerebral", which is just what I was going for.

I developed Auralux over the course of a year and a half, and it was designed to be slow from the start. It was a labor of love, the product of many late nights in a dorm room, and the slowness is an integral part of it. However, right before release, I programmed in a bonus "Speed Mode", which jacked up the pace of the game. This turned out to be great fun for players who had thoroughly mastered the basic mechanics, and I found it was sometimes initially hard to go back to the normal mode.

When readying the game for Android, my partners (who ported the game) suggested a free-to-play model, where the player would get a few levels for free and other levels would be sold in small packs. Because Speed Mode was developed as an extra bonus and could easily be split from the rest of the game, they suggested that it would also be sold separately for a dollar. Essentially, the F2P version would work like a demo + DLC, which was totally fine with me.

Here's the problem:

Some players just don't like a slow-paced game. That's their personal preference, and they're entitled to it. The game's not made for everyone! But then they see that Speed Mode is up for sale... and then they observe that "to play faster you have to buy the speed mode, which seems like they intentionally made the original game ridiculously slow in order to profit."

There aren't too many people with this complaint, but it strikes a nerve for me. I consider this to be an accusation of black hat game design. I plead Not Guilty. That said, I totally understand why this looks so bad, and I really don't want to use this kind of monetization tactic, even if it's unintentional.

But if I were to make Speed Mode free, is that compromising the artistic integrity of the original idea? (I'm certain that many players would just skip the slow mode, even if that's what they'd actually appreciate the most.) Or did I already compromise it by offering Speed Mode at all? If I consider speed controls to ever be appropriate in Auralux (i.e. if the slow pace of the game ever becomes a straight-up burden) does that really just point to a deeper flaw in the design of the pacing?

I'm still grappling with this.

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