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Wizard 101 Minigame Fairegrounds - a Design Critique

A design critique of the Minigame Fairegrounds as a feature in the popular MMO Wizard 101.

Disclaimer! I think Wizard 101 is overall a very well-designed game, and as a player I enjoy it very much.  This post is meant as a critique of only one aspect of the game in particular - the Minigame Fairegrounds.

Players in Wizard 101 have, as in many RPGs and MMORPGs, health and mana.  While health regenerates when wizards are in enemy-free areas (rather conveniently), mana does not (less convenient).  Wizard 101 has put together a few unique and creative ways for players to gain mana on top of the customary potions, including blue wisps that float around and give players mana when they run into them, and the Minigame Fairegrounds.  The Fairegrounds are an area off of the Commons in Wizard 101 where players can, as the name suggests, play Minigames for mana and gold (and possibly other things I have not discovered, my wizard is only level 12).  As a lower-level wizard, I found myself resorting to playing Minigames quite frequently as I burned through mana fighting fairies and other myriads of magical creatures.

The Minigame Fairegrounds do not fit into the otherwise quite self-consistent world within Wizard 101.  The array of Minigames are more or less tenuously tied to the wizarding theme, and some of them are just wizard-skinned near-clones of popular Flash games.  The overall impression is that the mini-games feel tacked-on instead of well-integrated into the rest of the game.  While this in and of itself is not necessarily a huge problem, it became detrimental to the game in my playing experience because it was the most economic means (in terms of time and money) for my wizard at lower levels to gain mana.  Switching between battling Cyclops and playing a variant of Bejeweled broke my sense of immersion as I repeatedly found myself in need of a quick and cheap mana fix.

The solution to this is to integrate the mini-games better into the Wizard 101 world.  What better way to do this than in a manner that strengthens the premise of the game - that you are a young wizard at a wizarding school?  Not surprisingly, classes don't play any part in the game and young wizards are instead sent off on missions to save the school (perhaps the world?) from the evil wizard Malistaire.  The closest that players get to the "school" premise of the game is learning new spells from teachers.

Why not be more literal?  Why not integrate the mini-games into "classes"?  Players low on Mana could go to a classroom and play mini-games that are thematically linked more to learning magic (for example, a mini-game about creating potions).  If the existing classrooms are used (there is currently a classroom for each type of magic) then the minigames could also play off the different schools.  For example, the minigame in the Storm classroom could be about harnessing the power of (surprise surprise) storms.  This would strengthen the theme of the game while at the same time roping the minigames back into the core of the game where they will not cause players a loss of immersion.

What has your experience been playing Wizard 101?  Have you found that the Fairegrounds broke your sense of immersion or did you have a better experience with them?

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