All The Small Things
Guild Wars 2, has adopted the “daily login rewards” mechanic that gives you something for each day you log in. They approach it different from some other games in that they give you something simply for logging in, whereas other games require you to log in on consecutive days. I can have a lapse of weeks in between logins for GW2 and still get the next item in the calendar, but for other games breaking the streak means starting all over again.
I want to thank Stargrace for her introspective post on the things that keep her in the game. A lot of what she likes in a game are the things that I also like: the things that make the game a world, such as crafting and housing and exploration. What we both dislike is the chore of logging in.
When did this become a retention mechanic, and for some (undoubtedly), why does it work? Naturally, we all like free things, but from a big picture perspective, I believe we all play games for the big reasons, like because our friends play, or because we like the art style and the overall gameplay. Those kinds of things tend to be pretty interchangeable between different titles, though, so whether we get our specific fix with WoW or Wildstar, Defiance or Firefall, it really comes down to a personal preference. Beyond the commonality, it’s the layers on top that serve to differentiate one game from another, and it’s become a case of refinement so granular that it seems that a lot of companies start relying on the small things to bring us back when the base conceit between titles is the same.
Even still, a lot of companies feed us things to keep us playing. For F2P games which have a subscription option, one tactic is to give you a cash shop stipend, a la The Secret World. You don’t have to actually log in; just keep paying, which is the same to the operators either way. Many games rely on the occasional promotion that just dumps loot on you (Marvel Heroes), and can often times be centered on an anniversary event (GW2). A recent tactic has been to send out emails regarding the release of character names, telling lapsed players that they should log in again to renew their claim (SWTOR). Sometimes, players are greeted with a daily reward, and a panel telling them what they can win that day if they stick around and play for a while (Neverwinter).
The lure of free stuff is always a good way to supplement people’s interest in a game that they’re already playing, because I think it renews their interest and validates their belief that the game they’re already playing is awesome. But as a reason to log in, separate from the lure — or the dissatisfaction — of the actual game? No. What designers are trying to Spackle over is the idea that players have to want to log in entirely under their own power, to experience a game that means something to them. Short of actually accommodating the different tastes of the player base by throwing in everyone’s pet mechanic, designers instead throw in these carrots in the form of free stuff, thinking getting something for nothing will get people’s feet in the door, and then maybe they’ll stick around for five minutes, maybe ten the next time, and maybe an hour or more later on down the road, once they learn that constant appearances are rewarded with handouts.
But that’s not a good reason to stick with a game. I hope designers understand this. They’re smart people, so I’m sure they do…but the business people who make the decision to include these kinds of things? I’m not so sure there.