Don't miss
  • 2,232
  • 6,844
  • 6097
  • 134

[Gamesbriefers] Is the energy mechanic over?

By on November 19, 2012


Is energy over? Zynga uses energy as a monetisation method, and as a result, many players now see energy as a cynical money-grabbing ploy that typifies the cynical exploitation endemic in free-to-play games. Yet Boss Alien, the team behind CSR Racing, argue that energy is important to maintain player interest in the game, a bit like the enforced cliffhanger of a TV show.

Is energy an archaic mechanic? Have we moved on? And if so, where to?


Will Luton Consultant in mobile games

Energy (or move limiting to be more precise) exists in some form in almost all games. It’s how it’s portrayed that is changing.

Straight limiting by an arbitrary resource sucks. But something deeper or more contextual is great.

FarmVille move-limited by the number of tiles, each of which tied to core loop with a wait. This created awesome sessioning, keeping players compelled over long periods: They left wanting more, had an appointment to return and receive rewards.

Lots of post-FarmVille games introduced arbitrary energies to recreate the move-limiting mechanic. It always felt tacked on and lazy to me.

Sessioning is key to maintaining player interest. Energy is the cheapest way of achieving it. Not necessarily the best.

Oscar Clark Evangelist at Applifier

Energy is a much more subtle concept that “you can’t play any more”In CSR it’s a currency which ignites the later stages of play as a stake we invest and permission to replay (although it also I would argue caps spend in that game)

We just have to constantly reimagine how to use it.

Teut Weidemann Online specialist at Ubisoft

In our on Settlers Online you build up an economy to produce goods, some of them used to build even more buildings. If you used them all up you need to wait until you produced more. Of course that is an “energy” mechanic as well but more complex, as we got several “energies” in the game.

The term ‘energy mechanic’ might be misleading; it’s more or less timed mechanics which share the same attributes.

Tadhg Kelly Consultant at What Games Are

I don’t know about “over” but I’ve always been of the opinion that Energy is just sleazy. It’s also a mechanic that developers happily misread (for example, because games that use it require repeat visitation, this is somehow interpreted as “maintaining player interest”), yet guaranteed to deaden any impact you may try to have with players in terms of a marketing story. Because nobody likes the guy who always has his hand out to demand you pay the toll to cross the bridge.
If you do want to build genuine loyalty to your game, and so be well suited for G2 social, getting over the instinct to be sleazy and cheap is paramount.

Stuart Dredge Journalist at The Guardian

If I’m playing [Insert Famous Bubble Popping Social Game or Infamous Just Like Fruit NInja But With Zombies Game Here] and enjoying myself, and then it says I can’t play any more because I’ve run out of energy, unless I pay for more energy…

Then I will go and play something else, or look at Twitter, or… I’ll stop playing, anyway. And whatever else I do might be more fun, and I’ll forget to come back, and then a few months later I’ll see the icon, and grimace at the memory of a game that stopped me playing when I was having fun, and I’ll delete it.

Maybe this is harsh, but a mechanic that ever results in ‘You can’t play’ is just bonkers.

Patrick O’Luanaigh CEO at nDreams

In my view, a great game design allows players to play the game how they want to play it. For players who like to spend 10 minutes a day revisiting their world, seeing what has changed and progressing forwards, energy works well. But there are also players who like to play games in longer sessions but less frequently. For them, I think energy is a frustration, forcing them to either stop playing (just when the game is getting good), or spend lots of money in order to play the way they want.

The difference is more important on some platforms than others (you simply can’t expect free-to-play gamers on console to boot up their machine every day and have short play sessions).

So, no – I think the ultimate free-to-play game design (which no-one has made yet) won’t feature energy. It’ll cope with all players playing in a way that suits them, each player individually getting the perfect experience.

Andy Payne MD of Mastertronic

‘Anger is an energy’

I don’t like the ‘buy more energy’ loop to carry on playing very much. As for the ‘enforced cliff hanger’ mechanic, well sometimes we actually need closure as we do just get bored. I would argue that F2P (ideal or otherwise) has to deal with boredom on the part of the player. The TV guys get this wrong so many times, with series, sorry, season after season where perhaps one or two would do. I am currently being bored by Homeland S2, S1 was brilliant, probably sold well and they decided to build another series. Games can/do transcend the linear medium of course, but my simple [simplistic?] principle is that keep it interesting to reward and drive playing and engagement. Not force people to ‘pay to play more’. They should want to pay, have a reason to pay and love to pay.

‘Burn Hollywood burn’.

Harry Holmwood Consultant at Heldhand

As a player, I have a pretty strong dislike of energy mechanics – but then I’m not a fan of resource management games, where the energy mechanic has been used for years (albeit in a slightly less extreme way) as an integral part of the gameplay, long before we started moving into F2P.

As someone interested in the business of games, it’s harder to argue against it.  So many of the best grossing games use it, it clearly works extremely well, for that section of the audience that’s willing to go with it.

What I hope is that we, as an industry, continue to develop new, repeatable, revenue-driving mechanics alongside the handful that have already been proven to work – for some people – so that we can continue to entertain more and more people who decide to become paying customers (or who, at least, add value to our paying customers)  My fear is we allow the opposite to happen, and the multitude of alternative games means our conversion rates erode slowly over time.  Certainly I have become someone who plays a game for seconds to see if I like it, and minutes if I do.  Only a handful of games in recent times have grabbed my attention for more than half an hour, few of them F2P.

Martin Darby COO at Remode

By “energy” I assume that you essentially mean a bar that gradually dwindles based on time or game usage (as opposed to specific paradigms for electricity, petrol, fertiliser etc)?

To me this isn’t a debate about “energy” so much as it is a question about absolutism vs relativism.  Seems to me that people here are mainly against absolutist paywalls that stop people having fun, but if the energy just enhances a part of the experience relatively to the rest of the game and a player can carry on having fun then it might work.  If you can earn more energy in the game then maybe it won’t be quite as punishing or shallow.  Devil could be in the details.

The problem is that a cultural precedent has now been set, and as many have pointed out it is superficially quite hard to alter perception that it is cheap or sleezy.  The big sticking point though remains as:  are these customers happy?  If they aren’t then we may see all of F2P move away from this in the short term.  If they are then maybe it will be more a case of different types of market segments opening up that deal with F2P in a slightly different way for a slightly different type of customer.  Remember that we are mostly middle class westerners here.  I know Zynga’s shares have dropped recently but my point is that you wouldn’t stick wine tasting and croquet on Brighton pier if you knew most customers were happy with candy floss and helter skelters.

Mark Sorrell Development director at Hide & Seek

As with all these questions, and as has been pointed out, it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it.

Having limited resources is a feature of many, many games. Some good, some bad. Using time-limiting of moves as a monetisation technique isn’t specifically awful, but unless it’s very well considered, it is likely to be more frustrating than liberating – I think we’re agreed that good, sustainable monetisation comes from player-expression and joy rather than removing frustration. Spend to make things better, not fix them.

I certainly wouldn’t use an energy mechanic in a game I was making, but I dare say I’d never make one with unlimited resources.

Teut Weidemann Online specialist at Ubisoft

“I certainly wouldn’t use an energy mechanic in a game I was making, but I dare say I’d never make one with unlimited resources.”

Yep, problem with energy is that you block the user from paying. Thats evil. One of our rules in f2p game design was: the player should always have something to do.

So if energy ran out he should be able to do something else in the game. Energy should not be the #1 blocker which rules them all.

Oscar Clark Evangelist at Applifier

I dont think it’s sensible to ignore an energy mechanism on principle.

Well used it is a positive mechanic as it provides a limited but replenishing resources to add dilemma to decision making in any games. Whether that’s an energy bar or cooldown period or something else.

Blocking players from playing is bad of course, but in later lifestages there can be choices made by the player that become important only when they choose to wait. But it’s got to be done intelligently and as a player choice.

It’s weird arguing this position as I’ve been recommending against over-use of energy a lot lately!

About Gamesbriefers

Every week, we all ask our august panel of luminaries a burning question in the world of free-to-play and paymium game design. Or we ask a broader question on the future of the industry. We’re not going to announce who is a GAMESbriefer. You’ll just have to read the posts to see who is saying what to whom. We have CEOs and consultants, men and women, Brits, Germans, Americans, indies, company people and much more besides.