Players have been long-familiar with the "grind" -- that cycle of intentionally-designed, often mind-numbing, repetitive tasks meant to impede progress.
Many free-to-play game designers have focused on monetizing the grind (they like to call it a form of "friction") by letting players pay to get past it. As a result, we see a lot of free-to-play games that focus on monetizing the grind instead of focusing on making the game fun.
Gree SVP Anil Dharni has been thinking about the grind, about free-to-play and about what players want. He co-founded Modern War
and Crime City
developer Funzio, a free-to-play developer. Major Tokyo-headquartered mobile game company Gree bought the studio last year.
Now at Gree, he's looking at advocating game design that focuses more on the fun instead of the grind. The issue is that he's not 100 percent sure Gree can make as much money that way.
"Typically you see a lot of people are making the players grind and grind in these games, and you'll be playing for speedups, and just things that you just use for energy refills," he explains.
"How do you evolve that game design where you increase the pool of paying users [through free-to-play], but you don't profit through grinding mechanisms -- you actually do it through more fun?"
It's still an open question for Gree and many other developers who want to make genuinely fun games and run a business. And then there's the other related question that free-to-play developers are familiar with: Will people pay you for fun that's free?
I ask him if Gree has any firm, internal data on what kinds of games make more money: the ones designed for high friction, or the ones with low friction, that let the players have a longer or deeper experience before paying.
Gree will be putting its metrics tracking to the test to find a concrete answer.
"We don't have anything specific there, yet. But we're pushing for [lower friction]," he says. "That's a pretty big trend at Gree that we are currently exploring, and testing constantly."