Tag Archives: DragonVale

Done with DragonVale

I think I last mentioned DragonVale about five years ago.  It was a game my daughter installed on my iPad which we played together for a bit.

DragonVale

It was an innocuous free to play game somewhat in the vein of FarmVille which had you breeding dragons as opposed to growing crops.  Also, it was on the iPad so there was a lot less spamming of friends on Facebook.

So the surprise bit was that, five years later I was still playing it.  For a while it was mostly my daughter, but then I took over management of day-to-day operations she decorated the place.  Later, it was pretty much just me with my wife and daughter occasionally commenting, “Are you still playing that?”

Our “High Value”Dragon Island back in the day

Yes I was.  The game was pretty raw to start with, giving you little information about how you were doing… “doing” for me meaning collecting all the dragons.  That was my goal.  You couldn’t tell how many dragons you had or which ones you were missing.  When breeding them… and the dragons have as many types and more than Pokemon do… you had to do online research to figure out which two dragons to breed in order to get a third.  And then finding those dragons on your ever growing list was a chore, and one you had to repeat every breeding cycle.

However, I will say that Backflip, the makers of DragonVale, put in a lot of effort to make the game better and, more importantly, to make information available to the player in the game.  Now in the game you can sort by types, get breeding information, and most important of all, see a list of all the dragons available and which ones you are missing.  There is a number there, a simple number, that tells you how close you are to collecting them all.

There are other things to the game, like levels.  Levels unlock the ability to have more islands and habitats.  When I left the maximum level was 125.  You could also collect dragon eggs, which were pretty.  And they also added in the ability to collect and track decor items, which was a little much for me.

But it was the dragons that I wanted.  And slowly but surely over the years I closed in on the getting them all.  It could be a slog, since they constantly introduce new ones and every in-game event adds a few more.  Still, persistence was paying off.  I bred all the ones that could only be bred at specific times, like during a lunar or solar eclipse, or during a blue moon, or when the Olympics were in session.

A Year ago and six dragons shy

I just wanted to get them all, then I could quit.  I was going to do what I did with Neko Atsume and get them all and walk away a winner… before they added anything else to the game. (I was done before it was even available in English.)

At three points during this year I was one dragon away, only to have something new pop up and thwart me.

Dragonarium says I had 428 out of 429 on May 14th

The last addition was an epic dragon, which you have to perform a long series of tasks in order to unlock.  You can, of course, pay to unlock it.  And, while I have thrown some cash at DragonVale a few times over the years, I haven’t straight up bought a dragon.

Leaving out the “hollow win” aspect of it, the prices are a bit crazy.  DragonVale has a real money barrier in that to buy your way to things you have to spend more money than I am ever going to be willing to toss at a game like this.  I am good for $5 on a whim.  But $99 to get enough special coins to unlock your new epic… I’ll wait and play the game thank you.

So I carried on doing my daily task to unlock the epic.  Basically, I clicked on something which gave me a random number of special coins along with the option to get some more if I would watch a 30 second ad.  I can manage an ad, so I generally did that as well.  And so I was progressing.

Then a new special event came along.

Special events are an opportunity for the game to get players to spend some money.  It is the time when I have, in the past, been willing to part with five bucks to get enough coins to get that one last dragon.  But Backflip has been tinkering with the special event system, trying to channel people towards that money spending point.  But they have generally been pretty good about it, in the end, being about a special currency which you can then use to buy exactly what you want.

This time however there was a new twist to the event.  There were four new dragons to obtain and a special currency.  But in between they put a new mechanic.  You couldn’t just buy the dragons with the currency, you had to buy an egg which would hatch into one of the four dragons.  A level of randomness, but with a bit of OCD on your side you could earn enough currency every day to buy quite a few eggs.  Furthermore, there were double currency earning days which also allowed you to find eggs in your park if you looked.

The odds were not posted.  But after getting a lot of eggs I could tell that it wasn’t a straight up even 1 in 4 chance.  I got one of the eggs over and over.  Eventually I also got two of the other eggs, so was able to hatch three out of the four dragons.  But I was one shy.  And as we reached the last day of the I spent the last bit of the special currency I had earned in game and still did not have the final dragon.

So I looked at what my options were, and that was the table flipping moment.

At that point my only option to get what I wanted as a customer was to spend money to buy random chances.  Random chances that seemed to have a low probability of success given my past observations.

Basically, I couldn’t get there without buying a lockbox.  And at that point I said, “Fuck you,” closed the app, and deleted it.  There went a customer with a demonstrated willingness to pay now and again.

If you, as a developer, think you are going to put me in a situation where getting somewhere in your game requires me to buy a random chance, then you are not going to keep me as a customer.

On The iPad – DragonVale, Candy Crush Saga, and Constraints

I have maintained in the past the idea that it is often the difficult bits… the annoying, high effort, failure prone adventures… that end up being the good part of games.  We remember overcoming adversity, defying the odds, working hard (or just staying up late) to achieve a goal, or finally defeating a boss after far too many wipes.  Heck, even long journeys for dubious purposes and misread quests stick in my mind after years later.

Basically, I would put forth that it is the constraints that make the game, and that overcoming particularly onerous constraints are what make memorable moments in the longer term, even if they are frustrating at the time.

Which, as it turns out, is bad news for the makers of casual games when it comes to getting me to give them money.

DragonVale

I have several games on my iPad that are there for my daughter.  I leave them alone and she plays them.  DragonVale is… or was… on that list.  One of her friends was playing it so she wanted to try it.  My first glance review of the game was “FarmVille by another name.”

DragonVale

DragonVale

Instead of growing crops, you are running a dragon zoo where you can breed new and different types of dragons.  The constraints are the typical time and currency.  It takes time to build or upgrade habitats as well as to breed the dragons.  And then there are the three currencies, gold, food and gems.

Food isn’t really a currency I suppose.  It costs gold to grow and is required to raise the level of the dragons you breed which, in turn, increase the amount of gold they bring in over time.  But it feels like a currency.

Gold is the easy, in-game currency that you buy most thing with, from paving stones to the floating islands that make up your dragon exhibit.  You earn this over time by just having dragons on display, though you have to open the game and collect it from time to time, as each dragon habitat

And then there are gems.  Gems are the constraint removal currency.  When a new, limited time dragon comes out, you can spend time trying to breed it, or just buy the egg outright for gems.  If that breeding cycles is 48 hours long, you can skip it for just 1 gem per hour.  And the top tier habitats, which hold the most dragons and gold, can only be purchased with gems.

All of which would have remained unknown to me had my daughter not come to me asking if she could buy some gems.

Gems! They Cost Money!

Gems! They Cost Money!

My immediate answer was “no,” after which I asked why she wanted them.

She explained that there was a limited time dragon she wanted, but since I am notorious for hogging the iPad, she was afraid time would run out before she was able to finally breed the dragon.  This lead to some negotiations which ended up me becoming the day-to-day manager of DragonVale while she was the owner/CEO.

She set policy, which was basically about what dragons to breed and how (usually helped along by web.) along with handling all of the cosmetic work.  I would make it part of my daily routine to click on habitats to collect gold, breed dragons as specified, exchange gifts with her friends (one of the ways you can earn gems in game), and a couple of other routine items, all of which generally takes about a minute to do maybe three times a day.

That left us with a game we both played and which we could discuss and make plans around without spending any money.  And the constraints drive that.

More Gemstone Dragons Please!

More Gemstone Dragons Please!

For example, gems remain in short supply for us primarily because the top tier habitat for each dragon type can only be purchased with gems.  However, the benefits… they are able to store more gold, increasing the time to full, thus allowing you to collect less frequently without “wasting” time with a full habitat as well as the ability to hold more dragons, allowing an increase in your overall population… were such that I convinced her to embark on a slow but continuous plan of habitat upgrade.  I would keep 50 gems in reserve, in case something we had to have came up, but would spend anything beyond that on the upgrades, which were 25 gems each.  We earn, depending on friends and the whims of a mini-game, between 2 and 10 gems a day.  We had a couple dozen habitats to upgrade, so this was truly a long term plan.  We are only about three quarters done at this point.

And the upgraded habitats themselves take up more space, leading to a park-wide layout redesign of paths and decorations.

Our "High Value"Dragon Island

Our “High Value”Dragon Island

All of which has made the game… well… an actual, long term game for us.

Unfortunately for Backflip Studios, it only maintains that status so long as we don’t give them any money.  Sorry guys.

Double Rainbow Dragon Pukes Rainbows!

Double Rainbow Dragon Pukes Rainbows!

Still, people do give them money.  On visiting the dragon park of on of my daughter’s friends, I noticed that she had a lot more rare dragons than we did as well as more than 800 gems in her inventory.  So clearly somebody is paying our way in the game.

Candy Crush Saga

I only found out about Candy Crush Saga because I heard people complaining about it.  Always the best endorsement of a game, right?

I would describe it as something of a Bejeweled clone, and apparently it is huge.  The Facebook version is one of the biggest game there, having eclipsed the once mighty Zynga on all fronts.  There are versions now for iOS and Android.  I have even seen ads for it on TV, and not just during the 3am Tom Vu time slot.

It is a classic “social” game in the odious Zynga style with a huge number of constraints which can only be bypassed by paying money or recruiting your friends by polluting their wall with posts.

Or by just waiting.

You only get so many losses before you have to stop playing, pay, or prostitute yourself.  And the game sets you up to lose with some pretty hard levels… though you can also pay your way out of not losing with extra turns, time, or other bonuses.  The game has absolutely no shame in hitting you up for money to get yourself out of a tight spot.

But the game itself is cute and light and fun in that Bejeweled sort of way and the constraints make progress in the game all the more satisfying.  I think I spent five days on a really tough level in the high 30’s. I would just lose until I ran out of plays, then go away until they regenerated.

No More Plays!

No More Plays!

There are occasional gates where you have to pay, post to Facebook, or pass three special levels.  But you can only do one of the levels per day, so you are locked out of progress for at least three days.

Come Back Tomorrow!

Come Back Tomorrow!

And yet, saying “no” to the constant “pay to win” offers, makes me feel all warm inside, like a Christian that has said “no” to the temptations of Satan.  And I continue to make progress, slowly but surely.

Now stuck at... level 59!

Now stuck at… level 59!

Which, I am going to guess, was not the designers intention.

Constraints Make The Game… for me

Which I am sure all says more about me than game design in general, but which does illustrate one of the problems I have with the free to play concept.  The constraints that are in there to make you want to pay money actually work as a deterrent towards me paying money, as the only thing the money would do is relieve me of actually playing the game.

Which makes me feel odd, because I wouldn’t mind rewarding the designer… I just don’t want to remove the constraints that make the game interesting.   And, really, that is the only path they have left me.

Well, I actually don’t feel odd when it comes to Candy Crush Saga.  They rub the “pay” button in my face so often that I have made it one of my missions in life to play their game without paying them.  But I think you get my point.