Goals vs. Chores and the Future of Mobile Games

I had a flash of insight this week while working on a few game concepts about the future of mobile gaming. It got me thinking about my childhood and playing at the park, specifically the swings. Seems like a bit of a random thought, doesn’t it? Briefly let me explain how I think the current trends of objectives, or missions, based mobile gaming will eventual run its course and how thinking about playing on the swings gave me a glimpse into what may be the future of games. Obviously, this is nothing more than an opinion piece. I don’t consider myself to be a prophet by any means.

Current trends in mobile games is to give players missions, or objectives to accomplish each time they play the game. Usually these are based on collecting a certain amount of an item, or running a course in a certain amount of time, or building a specific building. These tactics have worked and they probably will continue to work for a while now. I have no problems necessarily with this system, I can appreciate well thought out achievements which is along the same vein though not identical. Achievements in a way were the precursor to the modern missions systems.

Obviously some games have implemented this system better than others. The games that haven’t quite nailed this concept though make these missions feel more like chores and this is where I see the problem occurring. The less we tell players what they need to be doing, even in subtle ways, the more they feel in control of their virtual environment and this is exactly what we as game designers want them to feel. Nobody enjoys doing their chores. When people play games they especially don’t want to be stuck doing what someone has told them that they must in order to move forward. This is where the playground comes in.

The playground is a place where children go to escape responsibility for a moment, to exercise and to learn, not only to stretch their muscles but their minds. Games are created on the playground and this is a lesson we can learn. Kids are incredibly imaginative and they are perfectly capable at a very young age to create their own goals while at play.

Just like when I was a kid there was a game I would play while on the swings. I know it wasn’t the most unique thing, but I would see how far I could go when I jumped off. Each time I would get back on and see if swinging faster or higher would help me with this self created goal. How silly would it be if there was a sign posted at the entrance to a playground that said, ‘Swing 50 times then you can move on to the monkey bars.’ That sounds ridiculous, right? We put up with it in our mobile games though, why is that?

What if, instead of creating a list of tasks that player must perform in order to advance, we as game designers could simply create a system that allowed players enough freedom to generate their own goals like in a playground? What if this concept did not have to be limited to the sandbox genre? What if we removed the timer and gem barriers in modern builders and war sim games and just gave players the tools they needed to choose how they wanted to play?

One last thing, what if we also allowed players the opportunity…to lose? This is something that is pretty unique to mobile gaming, which is currently my area of expertise. This false sense of accomplishment can only hold a mobile gamers attention for so long. Even casual gamers don’t want everything handed to them. I realize I could totally be wrong about this. Time will tell wether or not players get board or wise up to this mechanic that really only serves the purpose of pulling cash from people’s pockets.

These are just my thoughts and some questions I would love to know the answers to. I would love to hear what you all think on this subject, feel free to comment below or just send me a message. We’ll see you next week!

~ Jeff Dehut

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