Games and game tools are becoming more frictionless.

PROBLEM AI
PROBLEM AI

Can you relate to this problem? I can’t find anything to play on iOS right now. Now don’t worry mobile developers—it’s not you, it’s me. I’m a picky customer on my phone. I don’t go for puzzle games or narrative titles because I want something more mindless before I sleep, or while I’m on the bus. I’m usually looking for a picky balance of “low interaction” and “repeatable strategic depth

And for the devs making most “mindless” games—you’re doing great too. I just have a different problem: I’ve played you already. Most of the live service games that attract my interest have UX patterns that are so similar. I feel like I’m just repeating an onboarding experience over and over again. It’s this too-smooth journey through tutorial mechanics that leave RPGs and base-building games feeling like to-do lists more than power fantasies.

My heart broke in August when I tried to make the most of Train Station 2: Rail TycoonThere wasn’t anything wrong with Pixel Federation’s free-to-play train simulator. And it wasn’t even that it felt too easy—it was just too smooth.

I’ll try to be specific. The first hour of Train Station 2 felt like a carbon copy of every other free-to-play idle game from the last half-decade. All tutorialization, introduction of the in-app currency, fingers showing you exactly where to tap, and wide-eyed characters cheering you on for completing the simplest tasks.

Once you get into the proper gameplay, there’s a brief moment of finding some strategic balance in managing your trains, before things get too easy the instant you interact with the in-game spending. You get that tease of how easy all this grinding could be, and then are dumped back onto the treadmill as the difficulty curve catches up to you.

I’m well aware that especially in the world of mobile free-to-play titles, smoothness and slickness is life-or-death in building that reliable revenue stream. Anything that gets in the way of your player solving a goal makes them less likely to spend that valuable money (or brace themselves for an obnoxious in-game ad).

But the escalating arms race of retention-based game design might be hitting a peak. And it’s even taking an impact on game development software as well. Let’s discuss.

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