20% – point and click

Edugames are usually heavy on content and sparse on player systems. This normally lends itself to simple interactions like clicking and dragging items and characters across a screen. Additionally, most games that fit under the umbrella of edugames reach for the lowest common denominator to appeal to younger children and personal computers as the primary platform.

In order for these games to succeed the puzzles must follow solid game logic and character dialog must be interesting to the audience. Humor is the normal crutch of the genre, but recent releases from Telltale Games, like the recent Walking Dead Series take on a darker tone to the space and character exploration.

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20% – point and click

Edugames are usually heavy on content and sparse on player systems. This normally lends itself to simple interactions like clicking and dragging items and characters across a screen. Additionally, most games that fit under the umbrella of edugames reach for the lowest common denominator to appeal to younger children and personal computers as the primary platform.

In order for these games to succeed the puzzles must follow solid game logic and character dialog must be interesting to the audience. Humor is the normal crutch of the genre, but recent releases from Telltale Games, like the recent Walking Dead Series take on a darker tone to the space and character exploration.

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Dragon City: The Exploitative Wizard

 

Holistic Pokemon

Dragon City is boring. There is no way around it. The game ascribes to god game fundamentals; it follows the rule book of cuddly creatures, and bundles it all with a battle system akin to the hand-held Pokemon games. It lacks an identity, which appears to be an ongoing complaint for me. All works are derivative, but the few games I have played for this site place creativity on the back burner. Holistically, the systems are well integrated and fully functioning, but it does not attempt anything beyond safe archetypes and simple demographic targeting. Social Point hits all the points on the casual games checklist. Maybe I can create my own checklist for writing these impressions.

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Micro-transactions

Pastel color scheme

Pleads for user promotions

Players view their world from a top-down isometric perspective where they can access all of the structures on their island. Its roots in Populous are apparent, but the terrain plays only a minor role in the overall structure. Most of my time was spent interacting with this omniscient perspective, but players can battle in an ‘Arena’ after building it or click on the world icon to battle in multiplayer. There is little complexity or challenge within the turn-based battle system. Players choose from four moves and then their dragon follows through the same exact animation while some colors flash on the opposing dragon and their health bar drains. It never seems to advance past that. There are certain attacks some types of dragons are weak against but the game never explains this and it’s discovered through trial and error. There is absolutely no strategy since you have to try to lose a battle and I found myself spamming buttons during the drawn out animations.

Gaming Compulsion

There were some frame rate issues – not a common issue with browser based games. At first I thought it might be my laptop or internet connection, considering that both are on the low end of the performance spectrum, but Dragon City was equally choppy on a desktop computer with a quality internet connection. It was downright hard to look at. Additionally, the user interface is covered in toolbars and displays which makes navigating the player space difficult. Goals occupy the right panel, resources the top, ‘special’ offers to the right and friends list at the bottom. Friends’’ profile pictures and levels take up the most space and seem to the least necessary. Players are also constantly interrupted by pop-up begging players to invite friends. It is all incredibly invasive and breaks any connect I could have possible formed with uninspired world.

My perspective of Dragon City would probably remain a moot point even if Social Point constructed a more convincing universe, because god games have never appealed to me. Following basic genre conventions, they are concerned with construction, collecting and maintaining. There is no explicit win-state or unifying goal. Players deal with little strategy beyond management of gold, food and building placement. Many items in the store serve little of no purpose beyond aesthetics, an idea emphasized by the plethora of options under the ‘decorations’ section of the store. Most of my time spent with the game was waiting on dragons in the ‘breeding mountain’ or waiting on eggs in the ‘hatchery.’ Dragon City eases players into the process. The first dragons the players purchase take only a few minutes to hatch and there are plenty of building options early on to occupy players while they wait, but the wait times quickly become a hindrance to the experience. The progress bar makes sense from a business perspective, but there is absolutely no narrative or system that rationalizes its existence. Players can use gems to bypass wait times, but the game rarely awards them and players must decide which instances they are willing to wait out. The gems would be interesting exercise in resource management, but since they are explicitly tied to the micro-transaction model the whole construct appears to be little more than a system to build dependence and then slowly decrease the benefits of playing for free.

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Gaming compulsion feeds the Dragon City model. It’s about collecting and fitting everything in its easily organizable and correct place. Social Point created a space detached from the complexities of reality where players can feel empowered by maximizing their space and the games systems to create what they want in that world. There is something soothing in omniscience. Users can passively open a browser and check in on their habitats while watching TV or during break from work.

Games can be empowering. They give players an opportunity to explore a world abstracted from reality – removed from its complexities and anxiety surrounding failure. Interactive media provides the opportunity to fail, learn and conquer, a process that makes us better people. Dragon City does an excellent job of creating a positive feedback loop by incentivizing player action by rewarding players with gold, food, experience and gems. The awards are generous early but do not increase with resource cost of expansion and fancier dragons. Each action comes with diminishing returns and with each day I felt that I was accomplishing less and less since the costs and wait times increased. In order to achieve the same amount of progress players have to use gems, and since the game does not award very many, it’s easy to expect invested players to throw some cash towards Social Point.

Content costs money to create, so naturally developers must find a way to cover that cost. But micro-transaction based games for the Facebook platform would like their audiences to believe otherwise. It’s exploitative for games like Dragon City to feed off of gaming compulsion and ask users to purchase one use items. If marketing your game as free to play is the only way to draw players in maybe your game is not worth exploring in the first place. Sure, my perspective is not the same as the millions of people who scroll through the App Center, but it all comes down to experience. I have been consuming what may be called ‘premium’ games for a long time. I have those experiences as a point of reference. Most people do not have the time or resources to adequately measure the exploitative nature of a games transaction model and are willing to sink some time, and possibly their money, into Dragon City.