Simple ways and mistakes to ruin a gameplay in your game

I've been playing Puzzle Forge 2 game way to much. I spent so many hours playing this game that I managed to get some nice achievements in it and in Google Play Games in general.

In addition, I found a quite nice number of gameplay-related bugs in this game. Large enough to use it as a model scenario in discussion on ruining your game and a gameplay in it, by makings simple, yet stupid mistakes and wrong design assumptions.

Availability of rare scenario pathways

All scenarios or solutions in your game must be achievable in a reasonable period of time.

Some time after official premiere, Puzzle Forge 2 creators introduced runes. You were expected to find a few runes in order to discover secret formula for crafting one of the legendary weapons. Are they rare?

Well... after playing this game for about 50-60 hours in total I've managed to find out... two runes.

Is it rare or not? Take a look at below serie of screenshots and make your own conclusions:

You need (rough estimates):

  • 20-30 hours of playing to find a single rune and
  • 5-6 runes to find a formula for a single legendary weapon.

An information that there are forty legendary weapons in game plus some math gives us a final conclusion here -- to discover all legendary weapons using the natural (no-cheating) way you'd have to play this game for... five and a half thousand hours.

Roughly seven and a half month of constant playing. No eating, no drinking, maybe some shitting. Madness! Either game's random generator is malfunctioning or game designer is a complete jerk!

Being faced with assumption like above, nearly every Puzzle Forge 2's player was forced to cheat and start sharing information about legendary weapons' recipes on game's forum.

And the beauty of a gameplay went hell.

Non equal random generator

Speaking about rare scenario, here you have a screenshot of my pocket with You Shall Pass scroll marked:

Some of the Puzzle Forge 2's players may even don't know it, because it appears... even less often than runes.

I've played the game for about 60 yours and got it once. For my first "passage" (years ago, without using Google Play Games) I have never received it, even though I managed to play 150+ game days in a single row. For my second "passage" (recently, using GPG) I managed to get it once, after playing another 130_ game days.

In the same time I have received dozens, if not hundreds of all other game elements. For example, I managed to sell eleven full collections and had a few more ready to be sell:

Don't make any item in your game ridicully hard to get, especially if its properties are not that ridicule at all. Then You Shall Pass scroll isn't that much killer in Puzzle Forge 2 after all.

Wrong or incomplete data model

Your data model (game's database structure) must hold all required information in every scenario.

You can aid weapons created in Puzzle Forge 2 by adding gems or magic before crafting each weapons.

You can place a gem on a game's board two ways:

  • get it from your pocket (purchased or received),
  • craft it, by using raw materials and a special gem-like mold.

When you create a weapon based on pieces placed next to such gem, it will receive some special abilities ("gem" points).

While crafting a gem it is possible that it will also get some magical abilities. How to achieve this is not important in thi discussion. Let's just say that a gem can be "magical one" and crafting a weapon using it will add it both "gems" and "enchantment" points.

But your "magical gem" will have both "gem" and "magic" points... only if you don't put it to your pocket.

Here we have some "magical gems", created as described above, and placed on game's board:

We then use a special scroll to put it to the pocket and then we immediately take it back to the board and...

...whosssh... magic points from your gem are gone. Why? Because data model is improperly designed here.

Database structure for storing items in a pocket is to simple and is only able to store information about:

  • what kind of element is stored in each slot and
  • how many items of such kind is stored in given slot.

There are slots for storing gems with "gem" points from 1 to 6 and pocket is only able to recognize how many gems with each level (i.e. with each "gem" points") you have there. All the gems with the same "gem" level are treated the same, irrespective of their additional abilities -- "magic" points in this case.

All your gems are stored in database using only six fields -- one per each gem grade.

In correct design, each and every item in a pocket (each item, not each item kind) must be stored in a separate field to allow to keep its special abilities, parameters and data. You gems should be stored using n fields in database, if you have that many gems -- each gem stored separately in database or data model.

Only this way you could distinguish between n-level gem with m-level magic and n-level gem with no magic.

A game over when you still can play?

Respect every scenario, in which game can continue, before declaring a game over.

Rule of the thumb says that once your game board is filled completely and you cannot add any new element to it, you looses. Seems logical. The problem is that Puzzle Forge 2's game developers forgot about already mentioned Gems Collector spell.

If you have any gem on board and you have that spell then game isn't over with full board, because you can always use that spell to remove all the gems from the board, right? Wrong:

Correct assumption in this case should be:

  • if there is at least one gem placed on board and
  • if there is at least one Gems Collector spell in the pocket

then the game isn't over and player should see some corresponding message instead.

And this is exactly how the very same border scenario is solved in Triple Town game:

In case of Triple Town this is actually a complete stupidity, because mentioned message is displayed exactly one move before actual game over without any possible alternatives. I.e. you see this message, you see next-coming item in the storage and game is over.

But in case of Puzzle Forge 2, after using Gems Collector spell to put all the gems into the pocket, game could continue in many different ways and would never be over.

Non-equal difficulty level

Your game must retain similar difficulty level or else your players will face boredom and tiredness

Since the whole article is based on Puzzle Forge 2, we will take examples out of this game again. Compare these two screenshots and make your conlussions:

What do we have here:

  • level 27, 187th in-game day (5th year, 3rd season, 7th day) and 4 210 pieces of gold,
  • level 53 (nearly exact double), 445th in-game day (12th year, 1st season, 5th day) and 216 137 gold.

Stats:

  • 156 pieces of gold per level (4 210 / 27) in the first part of the game,
  • 4078 pieces of gold per level (216 137 / 53) in the second part of the game,
  • 22,50 pieces of gold per day (4 210 / 187) in the first part of the game,
  • 487 pieces of gold per day (216 137 / 445) in the second part of the game.

And this is confirmed by your in-game pocket:

A pocket that is usually quite empty (and you strive into getting any piece of stuff) during the first part of the game. And the same pocket that is absurdly full of never used junk during the second part of the game.

Sure thing, different players acquires resources and stuff and spends money at different levels. True. But the overall conclusion is that there certainly is something wrong here. When your average player earns 25+ times more gold per each difficulty level on higher levels than on lower ones and 20+ times more gold per each in-game day when comparing early stage of the game to the later stage of it.

Fake stats, leaking dev tools...

Never, ever allow your players to cheat on an official leader-boards or give them tools for doing so!

As you can see in here, after playing Puzzle Forge 2:

  • for about 50 or 60 real-time days and
  • for about 300-400 in-game days,

my best achievement was a bit less than 4 million points.

I am not that good player (though I managed to achieve quite a lot in this game). To be honest, I place myself somewhere in the middle of the leader-board. Still... How can you compare my 4M points to an official Google Play Games leader-board where top player has... over one billion points?

Let's think. Was I that lame or was he playing the game... 250 times more... that is for... 15 000 days (41 years)? No, the answer is that most likely he was he simply cheating.

And... a surprise for you... this is your fault, not the cheater. Bugs made by you, in your game, caused some freak to alter official leader-boards, to post some unbelievable score and to... kill any competition completely.

Since:

  • Google Play Games' API is quite strongly guarded and probably error-prone,
  • the very same situation happened with Puzzle Forge 1's leader-boards,

I am pretty confident that this is a problem on the game side and with the game developers, not with Google.

No matter, if in your game similar effect is achieved by errors in game or by leaking DEV or QA tools (sometimes leaking intentionally due to some weird kind of marketing campaign), this is wrong. Very wrong for you.

The entire game world (as good as sport world and many other areas of humanity) is entirely based on competition. If you do something or do not prevent certain things and allow that competition to be destroyed, you -- by the same way -- destroy all your gameplay and your game's popularity. Amen, no excuses.

...or the save game editor

Since game progress saves are now kept confidentially on servers and in some on-line services, it is pretty much not possible to tweak them or to hand-change achievements.

But still, keep that in mind, that giving your players any kind of tool that will allow the to modify any aspect of your game without the need of actual play is the beginning of all hell for your game and your company.

Such tools are meant for the developers and QA engineers and must be kept securely withing you company.

Purchasing achievements?

Achievements are... to be achieved! You need to be fighter to get them, not a looser to buy them!

If we are talking about leader-boards, fake scores and competition then I must mention this.

In the first Puzzle Forge game one of the achievements was to have at least 50 000 gold in your pocket. In the same time, there was a paid in-game purchase to purchase... 50 000 gold. You could have one of the game achievements simply purchased with a nifty snap of the fingers.

This problem:

  • is very obvious to most game designers,
  • is prevented by many official game service's rules,
  • happens very rarely (found it actually only in Puzzle Forge 1),

so it is something quite very small. Yet, I had to write it down here for those that still don't get it.

Allowing a player to purchase something, instead of actually earning this with a hard game play and nameless amounts of hours spent in your game sends so bad message to the world that I think you can't do more harm to your gameplay and your game in general. It's like shouting: "We don't give a damn shit about your joy in our game; cash is all that matters for us" directly into player's face.

Poor customer support

The last point in this article isn't directly connected to gameplay, but is connected to your game.

If you earn real money on your players, you must treat them as a real customers

Here you have some examples how to ruin overall customer support experience and cause you to loose customers, game popularity and money:

  • poor support (i.e. serving game's or company's forum with 12+ years old phpBB-like shit),
  • no support at all (i.e. ignoring customer's messages, questions and problems),
  • ignoring socials (not answering Facebook or Twitter calls, not responding on Google Play / App Store rates).

This is just the beginning to the beginning and tip of an ice-berg. Talk to your marketing departament and see, what they have to say about above? I am pretty sure that you will find more key points here.

The summary is simple: Gamedev is not just about developing games, but also about supporting your players once the game is developed. Pretty simple, awfully obvious and yet there are so many gamedev companies that ignore these simple rules.

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