Big Pic­ture Mode

In­dus­try is­sues given the widescreen treat­ment

EDGE - - DISPATCHES - NATHAN BROWN Nathan Brown is Edge’s deputy ed­i­tor, and he wants a Twix. Can he have a Twix? Why? Why? Why? He wants a Twix

So I have been play­ing Puz­zle & Dragons for a year. By that, I don’t just mean that it’s been 12 months since I in­stalled it; I have loaded it up ev­ery sin­gle day for an en­tire year. I know this be­cause on day 367 an in-game mes­sage thanked me for play­ing, and another gifted me a cou­ple of high-value monsters. It’s quite the time in­vest­ment for some­one in a pro­fes­sion where there’s lit­tle time for true ob­ses­sions, and if I’m hon­est, it’s quite the waste of time. I have long since made my peace with it, but peo­ple do give me odd looks when I ex­plain what it is, and I can see why.

Be­cause I ought to hate Puz­zle & Dragons. It’s a grindy, free-to-play mo­bile game that pulls ev­ery trick in the book and rakes in vast sums of money a day. You’re never forced to spend, but the endgame would be next to im­pos­si­ble with­out cough­ing up. And cough I have, be­cause Puz­zle & Dragons’ dirt­i­est trick is that even spend­ing money is no guar­an­tee of suc­cess. In-app pur­chases might grant en­try to the Rare Egg Ma­chine, where the most pow­er­ful monsters are found, but to pay up is to put your­self at the mercy of a dice roll. I’ve got a cou­ple of very strong teams on the go now, but have ac­crued an aw­ful lot of costly crap along the way. Pay to win? If you’re lucky.

Puz­zle & Dragons is a fruit ma­chine built on com­pul­sion loops, and I love it to bits. The me­chan­ics – think Poké­mon with teams of five at once, and match-three puzzling in which you can freely move a sin­gle orb for a few seconds, set­ting up de­light­ful cas­cad­ing com­bos that do dam­age in the thou­sands – are such a plea­sure that I hon­estly couldn’t give a toss about its grub­bier el­e­ments. But it in­creas­ingly seems like that is no longer a valid ar­gu­ment. Any­thing that whiffs of F2P mon­eti­sa­tion or a be­havioural psy­chol­o­gist’s hand is the worst thing in the world, and I’m some­how part of the prob­lem for lik­ing a sim­ple mo­bile game with some nasty bits.

Once again, it’s the In­ter­net’s pen­chant for the bi­nary that’s to blame. Ev­ery­thing is ei­ther the best or the worst thing ever, with very lit­tle room for nu­ance in be­tween. There’s cer­tainly plenty of peo­ple vent­ing their spleen where free-to-play is con­cerned, and it’s un­der­stand­able to an ex­tent – there’s lit­tle to cheer about with the in­flux of XP boost­ers and the like in full-price con­sole games. But even the re­ac­tion to that has been over­stated. The prob­lems start not when th­ese things ex­ist, but when they be­gin to in­ter­fere with the game it­self. I wrin­kled my brow at As­sas­sin’s Creed Unity’s pause­menu mi­cro­trans­ac­tion hawk­ing as much as any­one, but at no point did I feel like my progress through Paris was be­ing ar­ti­fi­cially slowed to coax me into a pur­chase.

I’ve been think­ing about this for a while, and ask­ing peo­ple about it too, and one UK de­vel­oper put it per­fectly a cou­ple of years back. Su­per­mar­kets, like mo­bile games, are de­signed by psy­chol­o­gists. You put the fruit and veg by the front en­trance, be­cause it’s bright and colour­ful and healthy and makes you feel pos­i­tive about things as soon as you walk through the door (though I’d ven­ture that who­ever came up with the idea has never set foot in Bris­tol’s Asda Bed­min­ster). The dif­fer­ence be­tween good and evil where mon­eti­sa­tion is con­cerned is the dif­fer­ence be­tween the way su­per­mar­kets put the al­co­hol to­wards the end of the shop and the way they put sweets at the check­out. By the time you reach the fi­nal aisle, you feel like you de­serve a boozy treat, just like I feel like re­ward­ing the de­vel­op­ers of a game I’ve played ev­ery day for a year. Putting sweets at the check­out, though? You’re stuck there, and your al­ready-dif­fi­cult off­spring, who has made the pre­ced­ing half-hour so stress­ful that the sight of two-for-one Rioja brought on the sort of rush you haven’t felt since your rav­ing days, and he sim­ply isn’t go­ing to shut up un­til you get him a Kinder Bueno. I’m over-iden­ti­fy­ing here, ad­mit­tedly, but you can see the point. One’s an op­tional re­ward for a job well done. The other is a scream­ing, snot­ting, self-shit­ting pay­wall.

Nu­ance will come with time, I ex­pect. You may re­call the up­roar over Obliv­ion’s horse ar­mour, a cos­metic ac­cou­trement avail­able for a pit­tance that was painted as the devil in fancy gauntlets at the time. Now it’s an ac­cepted stan­dard, one man­i­fest in hats, neon con­trails and bright pink cow­boy out­fits. In time, stu­dios will get bet­ter at mon­eti­sa­tion, and play­ers will be­come more ac­cept­ing of it. For now, it’d be a fine idea for ev­ery­one to stop think­ing only in ones and ze­roes – and for me to do the food shop on­line.

One’s an op­tional re­ward for a job well done. The other is a scream­ing, snot­ting, self-shit­ting pay­wall

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