1. #1

    How to make the player visit a sandbank (a lesson in self-defeating design)

    Was thinking about all the things AC4 does in order to make the player visit those generic sandbanks in AC4.

    (I obviously don't claim the steps were taken in this order. I have no idea when and why the various systems were added)

    Step 1: A sandbank is placed somewhere in the Caribbean open world. Unfortunately players just sail by it.

    Step 2: A button prompt for "look at location" is added and shown everytime the player sails by one of the sandbanks. If the player taps a button the camera will zoom in. Now some players get curious and jump off the Jackdaw and swim to the sandbank. However they quickly learn that there is nothing there, so after a while they stop bothering.

    Step 3: Chests are added to the sandbanks. Now players visit a few more. After a while however the players realize that the generic rewards in the chests are not really worth it given how tedious it is to swim back and forth. Also some people don't know about the chests and are not able to find them.

    Step 4: The chests are marked on the map. This ensures everyone can at least find the chests. Still some players won't bother though.

    Step 5: Chests are now required for 100%! Finally something to put pressure on completionists! A few more desperate players make the swim!

    Step 6: Add Animus fragments and flasks. Some players are still resisiting. What is needed is to add a greater variety of collectibles. If they are not interested in a bit of loot, then perhaps they can be tempted by the message-bottle story?

    Step 7: It has come to the developers attention that some people won't open the chests even when standing right next to them. This will not stand! A tingling sound, designed to annoy the player and make him do whatever necessary to make it stop (in this case open the chest), is added.

    Step 8: Templar challenges, with funny cheats as rewards, are added to give a solid reward for doing everything! It seems like some players require more tangible rewards than a mere 100%. Ok we give them that if it will make them swim to the sandbanks!


    Victory: Finally the data shows that the number of people visiting the sandbanks is maximized! This is a triumpf for the the developers. They have succesfully fooled the players into doing something they don't want!


    Or is it???
    What has really been gained here? You have made the player consume a greater percentage of the content and spend more time in your game. For what? Does it make the player feel like he got more value out of the game? I believe the opposite is true. Many player's feel like their time was wasted. Some realize they were manipulated which is not a nice feeling.

    This is just one example, but unfortunately I feel Ubisoft is going more and more in this direction. To me it seems like they are inspired by companies like Zynga and King and their succesful use of analytics to support design decisions. Please do not go there Ubi!
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  2. #2
    jayjay275's Avatar Senior Member
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    Good thread. I myself cannot stress how irritating this was in Black Flag. Even though I like to complete all the content in open-world games, collectibles are the most boring thing, especially when there are hundreds of them in the same type of place....
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  3. #3
    While I agree that chests on sandbanks in AC4 are annoying, I think you're overthinking the design process that went behind them (not to mention that a few steps such as chests being required for 100% and the tingling sound when near them was present ever since AC2).
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  4. #4
    Jexx21's Avatar Senior Member
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    this started in AC1 with flags

    "Oh! People aren't exploring our cities enough! Let's add 420 flags!"
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  5. #5
    jmk1999's Avatar Moderator
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    Originally Posted by Jexx21 Go to original post
    this started in AC1 with flags

    "Oh! People aren't exploring our cities enough! Let's add 420 flags!"
    lol... just ONE of the reasons i can't stand AC1. it's the worst in the series and the game that almost made me not want to continue the series and NOT buy AC2 until the very last second (yeah, even missed out on one of ubi's LAST decently priced collector's editions... blah).

    anyway, in regards to AC4, i didn't finish those, even though they're placed on the map. there's no real incentive aside from a single abstergo challenge. if it were an achievement and a costume/weapon, or something else, that might be a different story. there's quite a bit of work involved in gathering all the fragments and chests (especially when you already have a ton of money by the end of the game).
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  6. #6
    Originally Posted by Jexx21 Go to original post
    this started in AC1 with flags

    "Oh! People aren't exploring our cities enough! Let's add 420 flags!"
    To be fair, flags in AC1 were supposed to be subversive, to show the futility and pointlessness of such collectibles. The idea wasn't really seen through, and the irony is that AC2 from the same developers instead of removing the feature played this 'tons of collectibles' thing straight, and it sadly became one of the staples of the series.
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  7. #7
    Jexx21's Avatar Senior Member
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    you could always listen to podcasts, audiobooks, or music while doing the collecting stuff.

    Y'know, if it makes it less tedious.
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  8. #8
    SixKeys's Avatar Senior Member
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    Originally Posted by Jexx21 Go to original post
    this started in AC1 with flags

    "Oh! People aren't exploring our cities enough! Let's add 420 flags!"
    AC1's flags were actually there to point out the absurdity of collectables. Patrice said he put them there knowing they were completely pointless, to show people that collecting things just for the sake of collecting is pointless. Of course, gamers being what they are, the joke was lost on most people.

    Edit: Farlander already said it better than I. What started out as subversive was played straight in the sequels.
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  9. #9
    jmk1999's Avatar Moderator
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    after the ALREADY repetitive nature of AC1, the flag thing was just straight evil.
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  10. #10
    Originally Posted by SixKeys Go to original post
    AC1's flags were actually there to point out the absurdity of collectables. Patrice said he put them there knowing they were completely pointless, to show people that collecting things just for the sake of collecting is pointless. Of course, gamers being what they are, the joke was lost on most people.
    Sometimes I think, can you blame them? I think that joke is something only less-experienced gamers would understand, because they're less used to gaming tropes and would see through it earlier. I mean, collectibles are a very common thing in games for a very, very long time. And as a life-long gamer, my first thought all those years ago regarding the flags was, 'If there's so many of them, there must be something really awesome when we collect them'.

    And when you have a long-established trope like that, I don't think it's enough to just throw in hundreds of flags with no reward at the end (which is not entirely true anyway, XBox players get achievements for flags) to subvert, rather than annoy. You either subvert it by NOT having tons of collectibles at all (so the result would be either, 'look, an open world game with no collectibles!') or by having very few collectibles with meaningful results for collecting them (so it would be, 'look, unlike in other games, I don't have to collect 100s of pointless things to get this one little thing'). Or, in another case, make a point out of it (smth like Little Inferno or Spec Ops, which make a point out of being games of their respective genres). But it's just there, putting the default expectations in the mind of the player and not doing anything with them except not meeting the expectations (which AC2 and further games decided to fix by just meeting the expectations, rather than doing something more clever or user-friendly).
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