We’re closing in!! Four cards to verify they work correctly, three buildings to create and test, an attack system to verify and debug, and then we’re starting the very beginnings of playtesting! It’s been a fun ride so far, I’m excited for everyone to rip apart what I’ve created and tell me why it sucks so I can make something beautiful.
I want to post some thoughts on what a CCG needs in terms of card design. I’ve done previous blogs on this subject but here’s some more insight to where I want things to go.
I had a long discussion with a friend yesterday about the “collection” part of a CCG. CCG’s are inherently flawed in the competitive scene, because to be truly ‘competitive’ (in that skill prevails over previous time commitments) you need to have access to EVERYTHING, which creates a situation where either you remove the collection portion or RNG/wallets prevail over skill. A CCG, in that regard, can’t ever TRULY be a competitive game like starcraft can, because there’s always randomness in both the game (a shuffled deck of plays, for example), and in access to those cards (your toolbox is based on whatever RNG decided to give you in boosters). Most games rely on this as a monetization point – they stage the game as “everything is free!” but realistically a free player won’t ever get access to everything they’ll need. I’ve seen it referred to as a grindwall (as opposed to a paywall – things you can only get by paying) and for all intents and purposes they serve the same use. But what I previously discounted was the fact that people LIKE the progression. It’s fun to unlock new, powerful cards. It gives the player a short term easy goal, and grinding for cards you’ll never use is a lot less fun.
So here’s where my philosophy is changing a bit. I think there always needs to be good cards and bad cards, because starting with “bad” cards and going to “good” cards is what makes things fun. I’ve touched on this before, but if all cards were theoretically equal in power level, there’s no incentive (other than trying something new) to progress. Kongai was designed like this, but unique and important reasons, but a “true” CCG cannot. I don’t think the difference needs to be as big as the traditional powerlevel between a common and a rare in a game, but it does need to be there so players can judge and learn and progress. Mark Rosewater has done great articles on this very topic, and so has the creators of Solforge, and I am starting to buy into their philosophy a bit more – the choice isn’t made from the perspective of game design (as a “boxed” game would never truly want worse cards and best cards), but from the player experience.
That said, and this has been my personal biggest struggle to come up with, is breaking the normal CCG model which inherently is a turn-off. CCG’s, to be competitive, need access to everything, and generally CCG’s make their money off of exploiting people’s impatience. Which isn’t inherently bad, but it creates a strict difference between “free” players and “pay” players. And what’s ignored so often is that if there’s a way to gain an edge, it’s not a “perk” for competitive players, it’s a requirement. This could be exploiting frames for moves in a fighting game, exploiting bugs to gain an advantage in a console game that won’t get patched, grinding for that 0.001% drop of an item, or investing money to match the top players. It’s just a requirement. But games need to make money, because otherwise there’s no game period. There’s definitely an inherit benefit to having free players, arming them to be competitive, and most importantly making sure that even if they aren’t supporting your product they are happy and content. Everyone starts as a free player. And I notice a strict difference in myself between a game that I go “Goddamnit, I need to pay $X so I can get what I need to keep my rank this week with the new changes” to “This game is awesome, I wonder what I can get with $10?”. F2P, thanks to people exploiting the human psyche, have really given a bad taste in most player’s mouths, but how do you support a game with continual content progression with a non-static structure?
I’m at an advantage here, if my game does not do well, I don’t have to worry about putting food on the table. I never fault a game developer who wants to stick with the traditional model because their livelihoods depend on it. I can afford to experiment a bit though. But how? If a CCG inherently NEEDS progression to stay fun, and progression costs the developer money, either we find a way to make the focal point of fun not on progression or find other ways to generate revenue. I personally kind of feel the issue is really with the fact that costs are quite hidden. I think if you knew it would cost you $5 or $10 a month to be competitive, things would be easier to digest. Even if it’s something simple -- $10 a month to double your money earnings, or increase your chances of finding the card. What if card acquisition wasn’t random at all? Forget boosters, which inherently add the artificial game lengthening, and make it tied to skill progression somehow. The progression is the fun part, the gamble is the addiction. What if there was a level up system, and each level unlocked new cards? Or you chose the “set” to unlock every level? Playing more skilled players gives you more XP or something.
Truth be told though, no one really makes breaking grounds in terms of finding the answer to this. Most stick to generating money (for good reason), but if you can appeal to a large portion because your game ISNT costly, and instead has some new edgy way of going about things that makes it seem more like a fun relationship rather than a personal exploit, I think we can remove the bad taste in people’s mouths from the F2P world and make it more as it was intended – free players are just as much of an asset as paying players, you just need to utilize them correctly.
Until next time!