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Crossroads | Gimmick vs Mechanic (cut or re-tool monetizing elements that subtract from the player experience)

In-game marketing can be done successfully. For this to happen the materials must be threaded into the game in a way that makes sense to the story, the world, and enhances the player experience.

...marketing took forty dollars from me; however, they lost out on a couple hundred more I would have spent over the years, had they not punked me with a gimmick.”

While designing my concept level for “the Legend of Sky”, a came to a gut-wrenching realization. One of my key characters, and companion to the player, causes the game to become less enjoyable. On the surface this is just a creative decision; however, it is spoiling my master plan.

Let me first establish that I'm making this game because I would enjoy playing it, and I believe others will too; however, I do need to find ways of monetizing it. This companion character gave me a fluid way of including brand awareness for a particular company I have in mind. I haven't presented the option to them yet. The pitch is being developed, but that mech character gave the pitch a lot more impact.

What's the problem?

Here is a breakdown of where this went wrong:

  • It is necessary to keep the mech with the player, as it is both a vehicle and its AI is a “player guiding friend”

  • The player should spend most of their time outside of the mech

  • The player has no reason to be outside of the mech, unless it needs to be recharged

  • The mech will have to rapidly drain energy in order to prompt the player to exit

  • The player will constantly be jumping out of the mech, running ahead to collect energy, and then running back. This process of “three steps forward, two steps back” will quickly become frustrating.

Good mobile/casual play should offer fun through a combination of challenges based on quick progression. My current formula appears to run contrary to that.

If the mech and the solar charger isn’t fun, why keep it?

The initial answer is obvious, because it is important to the game story and needs to be with the player to develop the character. The second answer is a bit more evil. *hint – marketing =)

I originally came up with my gameplay concept while using a solar charging pack. It occurred to me that including a solar charging pack as a game item could be a good opportunity for sponsorship.

In-game marketing can be done successfully. For this to happen the materials must be threaded into the game in a way that makes sense to the story, the world, and enhances the player experience. If the marketing component falls short of this, it will be seen as nothing more than a gimmick.

My solar powered mech has landed in gimmick territory.

Gimmicks equal less repeat players

Let's take a moment to fully understand why gimmicks in games are bad.

The Nintendo Wii provides us with a number of gimmicky game examples. Personally, I enjoy this system because it did usher in a new way to interact with games. The first party titles are almost all well received; however, third parties often fall flat. The reason for this is that games were not developed with the player in mind, but the new control system. The new controls offered another way to market old games.

Far Cry for the Nintendo Wii, by Ubi Soft. One particular title that stands out to me is the port of “Far Cry” to the Wii. The console version is already a lesser version of its PC big brother, and the Wii version is even further stripped. While offering less, the game sold because it boasted hand gesture controls. This sounds cool on the surface, but execution was horrible.  The gestures didn’t work as intuitively as advertised. Beyond the first few minutes of “wow I’m actually throwing a grenade”, I was left longing for my trusty old controller. This is a mechanic that was developed only to re-market the game. It ended up hindering the player experience and ultimately is branded a gimmick.

A marketer might say “so what, we made our money”. It's true that marketing took forty dollars from me; however, they lost out on a couple hundred more I would have spent over the years, had they not punked me with a gimmick.

Players do not care for gimmicks. Players especially hate when they feel they’ve been had by one.

Transform “gimmicks” into enjoyable mechanics (or get rid of them)

With entertainment and advertisement titles Step 2 aims to develop games that are enjoyable to gamers first, followed by monetization. That in mind, the play mechanic of the mech and solar charger had to be cut.

Power charger HUD icon for While these elements were scrapped in favor of player experience, over the next few days I ran into a scenario where the charger makes sense. It doesn't have nearly the presence it once did with the mech, but it is a useful item that helps the player enjoy and progress throughout the game.

To help decide whether or not the item was truly useful, I've established the following question. I would encourage anyone to ask themselves this question if you are in the same position as me:

“If I didn't have a sponsor in mind, would I still feel the need to include the item/feature in my game”. In my case I can honestly say “yes” to my re-tooled, and more subtle idea.

Summary

In-game marketing can be done successfully. For this to happen the materials must be threaded into the game in a way that makes sense to the story, the world, and enhances the player experience. If the marketing component falls short of these elements it will be seen as nothing more than a gimmick.

In my game, an entire component needed to be scrapped, because it is hindering player experience and is an obvious attempt at monetization; however, after removing the item in question, it eventually found a more subtle presence that makes sense to the game.

YouTube video note:

I recently did an off-grid game dev retreat. I was powered by the solar solution that inspired my game. I used some of that time to put together this 1 minute video demoing my solar powered session and the charger.

Check it out!

Thanks for reading.

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