We all like choices, we all like options, but too decisions to make can be overwhelming. One of the big complaints about Assassin’s Creed: Unity is the “icon glut” on the map. It’s saturated with icons of collectibles and quests and points of interest, so saturated in fact that the icons actually block the map when you zoom out. I’ve heard similar complains about Far Cry 4. After you take over an outpost, it will then be populated by people shouting side-quests at you. The result of this over saturation is that most people ignore the quests and collectibles, deeming them too daunting or too annoying of a challenge to take on.
Give players 20 things to do at once, and we’ll probably just focus on a few at a time, leaving the rest for later or never. However, limit those choices, rationing them out over time, and we’re more likely to experiment with them all.
Terra Battle is an iOS RPG that’s a surprisingly good example of the latter tactic. There are several types of battles that each offer very specific rewards. Story battles obviously progress the story, Metal Zone battles give you experience points to level up, then there are four types of Hunting Zones (Attack of the Coin Creeps, Pudding Time, Tin Parade, and Puppet Show) that each award you with different items used for changing job classes.
Like most (all) mobile games, you’re limited in how much you can fight each day. Each battle requires a certain number of stamina points, and your stamina meter regenerates over time (or you can, of course, pay to replenish it).
If the Ubisoft examples teach us anything, it’s that even if we weren’t limited by stamina, players would likely be frustrated by this segmentation of progress. Instead of getting story, experience, and items from a single battle, we have to play six battles. It wouldn’t matter that each type of battle has its own rules and strategies, variations on the core gameplay that make them compelling in their own right. It wouldn’t matter if they’re all fun. What matters is that they’re all competing for our time and that they’re all important in their own way. Just like how Far Cry shouts side-quests and Assassin’s Creed vomits icons, if everything is deemed important, then nothing is important.
Terra Battle does not make all of these battles available at once. It doesn’t shout or vomit anything at the player. Instead, battles are available on a rotating basis.
By rotating their availability, the game narrows our focus. It limits our options, but does so in such a way that focuses our attention and makes each battle feel like an important choice. If I can only play three fights this session due to limited stamina, do I want to play three Metal Zone battles, three story battles, or a mix of the two?
To the developer’s credit, it never feels like I’m choosing one option over the other in Terra Battle. Give a person lots of options and picking just one becomes difficult, but remove some of those options and the choice becomes easier. When the Metal Zone is available, I jump at the chance to earn more experience because I know I only have this option for a limited amount of time. I don’t fret that I’m choosing this battle over a story battle.
Granted, this is all a basic psychological trick (and one that certainly benefits the monetization scheme of mobile games), but as Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed show us, rationing a game can be good for players. You can have too much of a good thing.