Reason for deletion: Too much content

I’ve covered this game a couple of times already but I’m finally deleting the mobile game Castle Ages from my tablet for an unusual reason. There’s too much content.

Yes, too much.

Usually with mobile games the complaint is that there’s not enough but in this case it is the opposite. Knowing I’ve loads of quests to complete, battles to do, new techniques to learn etc should be a great thing but this is hindered by energy bars.

castle_age_300_400.pngAs with nearly every other free to play mobile game, there is an energy bar, two actually. Subsequently there’s only so much you can do in one sitting therefore after 5-10 minutes, you’re done for a few hours. As I mentioned, this is very common but the reason why other games do this is to stop you running through all the content too quickly, as well as monetisation.

From what I can tell, Castle Ages has a huge depth of content, especially given that after a few weeks playing I’ve only scratched the surface. In order to get more competitive I’ll need to properly commit and join guilds etc. However I can only play for these short burst and what with having two jobs, a partner and you know, a life, it means that I’ll only play a very small amount each week.

Restricting play sessions to short 5-10 minute bursts whilst providing many different simultaneous tasks, there is a level of dissatisfaction that I will only accomplish a very small amount. It makes me less enthusiastic to branch out and try the many missions or combat types available as I’ve not completed what I’m on, which usually in itself has many layers.

So I’ve been my bitchy critical self, but its worth thinking about what could have been done differently? Well there’s two problems. One is a balance of content versus an energy mechanism (technically multiple mechanism, but anyway) with the game giving you a large range of content. Therefore the solution is one of balance and there’s three possible design changes that would have made a huge difference:

  1. Either increasing the energy available or decrease the requirements for the different actions, allowing the player to do more per session.
  2. Better filter the amount of missions and new content being provided so it is available over an extended period (the levelling system would have worked).
  3. Scrap the energy.

I’d mix 1 & 2 as the third allows players to race through your content, possibly “finishing” the game quickly, therefore losing returning customers.

The other issue is the amount of stuff. Frankly this could have been improved by a UI exercise where they need to group things together. Your menu should provide the various sections that you’d want to be interested in, i.e. Quests, Battles (non-guild), Economy, Guild and Research/Crafting. There would then be a sub menu, linking to the specific activities. Different sections should be unlocked at different times.

By restricting what newer players see and giving them access bit by bit it means that the player can focus on a smaller number of tasks at once. Providing masses of options and saying pick a couple of things to do this session is just poor design. It leaves me feeling unsatisfied and unimpressed. It sees the game get deleted.

Note: I did want to write more about the UI stuff and why grouping would be better and how the structure of the UI (and lack of help) also broke the user experience but I was unsure on another article, so click Read More (or whatever this WordPress theme uses) to err, read more.

p.s. Apologies for lack of pictures but that would involve playing the game.

There’s also a significant feeling that I will never learn all there is to offer. The instructions are either broken or simply inadequate. A lack of clarity over how things work and why I’d both means that it is very offputting.

I would usually expect a player to figure out a certain amount of gameplay, particularly as many gameplay mechanics are common throughout games. However introducing new gameplay mechanisms, or your own unique take on a gameplay mechanism (beyond calling energy “charge” or w/e), requires instructions and help. The player needs to know what they are doing (e.g. Crafting is for making strong weapons), why they are doing it (e.g. Crafted weapons are stronger and have special abilities in Guild battles) and what steps to take (e.g. Collect items from quests and battles then add to the slots on this UI). Unless you have a complex or poor UI design (actually Castle Ages does, but anyway) the first and last is usually pretty obvious.

The issue I have though is that there’s a few systems in Castle Ages where it isn’t clear what I’m doing or why it is beneficial. If I don’t understand the benefit of enabling some bunch of stuff and there’s nothing blindingly obvious that happens when I do so, this feature gets ignored. When there’s a few things that don’t make sense, it becomes quite frustrating.

This could have been solved using the grouping system that I suggest above, rather than providing loads of routes from different style buttons to different menus. Dividing into clear “end goal” sections helps highlight the different things that you can do. For example if I’m interested in Battle and there’s Loadout plus that screen I don’t know what its for, well least I know its Battle based! Providing fewer options at once also means you can go nuts and include a description of the options. Madness, I know.


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