Jump to content

How would you keep a virtual pet game running/"living", without punishing player absence?

Recommended Posts

Hey all ~

(Note: This only about games where pet age affects gameplay.)

Some pet sites, especially older ones, run continuously regardless of player activity. Players on breaks or vacation may return to find their pets hungry, neglected, or even dead. Other sites can "freeze" pets, i.e. through manual account locking or player-initiated rollovers.

It's good when devs recognize players are real people playing for fun. A real dog is a responsibility, but a virtual one shouldn't be.

That said, the "freezing" systems I've seen so far do have some cons.

If pets don't age during player absence, family trees/pedigrees get messed up. Offspring older than their parents, elderly pets with newborn littermates... I don't think that's ideal for a comprehensive breeding sim.

And lack of incentive can lead to player disengagement. If it makes no difference to log in today or in six months, players may not return after an intended break for a long time. Again, players shouldn't be penalized or unable to catch up, but zero incentive may be too little?

So, my question to you is: What do you think would be a good way to keep the game "living" (pets age up, retire/die at old age, etc.) without making players feel punished for being absent?

Edited by sf9
Link to comment
Share on other sites

@sf9 Great question!

On IcePets, we don't have any breeding or anything, so they effectively only hunger/get bored on days you show up at the site, that said they do age.  But that's when it gets complicated in your situation.

As bad as it may sound, I think "the show must go on" and more importantly it's the user's decision for not showing up on the site, would trigger me to essentially say if there are core mechanics that work with the site, your first goal is to make those stable.  Unforunately it does punish some users who disappear for a while and then come back.  That being said, the likelihood of returning after being gone for 6ish months is already pretty low IMO.  It becomes back of mind to them.  So, it's best to almost treat them as a churned user and then move on.  If they come back, you could always offer a "welcome back" bundle which could help restore some aspects of their pets in order to re-incentivize.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ooh, I’ve definitely been a victim of losing interest in games after extended breaks or life changes (school, vacation, moving).
@sf9 Another problem on competitive games is that frozen pets can lose their competitive edge by the time players return. Perhaps they’re better off loaning their best pets to friends in exchange for a slightly better pet when they return? Like the offspring/descendants. In the past few years on Howrse, I know they’ve been tweaking systems to allow selected friends to manage one’s account and horses (which quickly became abused to hire “aging point farmers” and the like). Pets don’t auto-age there, but similar issues. 
Or there could be rudimentary “auto-management” to keep them cared for and even trained. In my own game in development, we’re experimenting with “NPC” accounts, which automatically care for and train their own pets. Could be interesting to extend that to frozen pets on an opt-in basis.
My biggest concern is incentivizing return. I’ve definitely had games (especially desktop games) that I’ve had interest in returning to but felt overwhelmed. For management games where you have a lot going on, it’s overwhelming to re-familiarize yourself with the mechanics. Or if it’s a “large” account with a ton of pets, most players probably would prefer to scale down first. Maybe a way to freeze individual mechanics/pets?
In my game, I’ve been toying with ideas on re-orienting returning players. A short tutorial to get them back on track (with rewards, but not too good of a reward as to incentivize leaving). A guide specific to returning players. A summary on news/changes since they left, and/or an overview on the state of their account.
I personally don’t mind age discrepancies resulting from freezing. If it’s confusing, then making a pet’s history of freezing publicly available and obvious might help.
I think you can have daily incentives (such as daily rewards, whether they’re constant or increase over the course of a month) as well as mechanics similar to freezing. Whether you find that detracts from the immersion of the game, well... I can say it works on me personally.
Like judda said, items that restore pets in some way are a possibility. I think Flying For Home has a premium currency item that restores certain important stats (which normally decay over time) to all your animals.
  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

17 hours ago, Recurrence said:
In my game, I’ve been toying with ideas on re-orienting returning players. A short tutorial to get them back on track (with rewards, but not too good of a reward as to incentivize leaving). A guide specific to returning players. A summary on news/changes since they left, and/or an overview on the state of their account.

This reminds me of the Professor Layton games which every time you start the game up again, it will give you a "previously on" to bring you back up to speed.  I really liked this mechanic.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

Well, it starts with proper planning on the site's behalf, like how long do you expect users to use the game service - in years, for example. There should enough idle content for whatever number of years, then features that kind of take care of things from account creation to that point in time. Past that I think welcoming back users with new content, patches, and game lore is smart. But if they drop off then whatever. They got enough out of the site experience.

What I do not like is content or features that really dates a site to specific staff or "eras", it gets very disorienting as a returning or even new player.

In answer to your original question tho, low effort sites are awesome compared to ones that release tons of content that feel immensely hard to catch up with even paying monetarily for the ability to collect or archive stuff. At the very least, if you have a site that have tons of content releases, please just have a historical section or a good way to track content releases so that returning players aren't being slammed with tons of changes in one go.

Not so much a tl;dr but.. I like virtual pet games kept simple mechanics wise that are easy to get back into, as opposed to coming back to a bunch of content and updates I have to spend months and lots of $$ to catch up to, to even become an active account again.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...