Caveat: I enjoy this game and am not quitting. There is a difference between criticism and complaint. I understand what this game is.
Operant Conditioning Chambers
Defining a “Skinner Box:”
Skinner Box: What Is an Operant Conditioning Chamber?
The honing system isn’t broken, it’s working as intended. It is designed to entice the player to spend money, especially in the 1340-1370 gap. This is similar to other KMMOs that offer pay-for-progression.
How it works:
Each upgrade takes a maximum of X resources. Instead of allowing players to just use that amount, they introduce “RNG,” which is actually just a chance that you won’t have to use the maximum amount of resources. Psychologically, this imitates a slot machine and induces the “Just one more time and I’ll get it!” mentality to the player. Early on, the failure rate is low to introduce and train the player’s brain to release dopamine on success. Later, when the rate is lowered, the player’s brain experiences a dissonance between what is expected (Success! Dopamine!) and what actually happens, causing frustration/anger, and the “need” for the dopamine release increases.
How to beat RNG:
Plan on each upgrade taking the full amount to reach pity, plan on every upgrade failing, get your dopamine release from the surprise that it doesn’t fail (My personal experience is that it is more rewarding this way).
AGS will not release all of the skins at once, even though they are in game. This is deliberate, no matter what excuse they give, as releasing all of the skins at once will allow players to only buy the ones they want, rather than the ones that are available. Limiting player choice/options increases the likelihood that players will buy more in the future, and prevents the “abundance of choice” problem, where players are less likely to purchase more.
Converting cash to gems and converting gold to gems are mirror systems; Time and money are both currencies. Ideally, this would create an even playing field, where the time spent by people who pay is relatively equal to the amount spent by people who play. However, this doesn’t account for the other extremes - People who have both time and money, and people who have neither time nor money.
Both of those extremes experience relatively the same amount of psychological displeasure: The people with time and money have little/nothing to do after spending all their time and money, and the people without time and money have too much to do (which induces feelings of missing out, or is overwhelming/confusing to the point where it’s easier to just pay). It is the second category that AGS tries to capture, either through putting more money, or more time, into the game.
Like any other predatory cash shop, the amount of gems you can buy is either too much or too little for what you want. There is absolutely zero reason for the game to ‘take a cut’ of the gems purchased with gold, for instance, and the real money cost of things is hidden and intentionally difficult to calculate/keep track of in the moment. Yes, you can get the calculator and spreadsheets out, but the game is betting on players not doing that (see #7).
It is a very, very elegant and subtle design.
This is obvious; AGS will not release all of the classes at once, because each new class theoretically either draws new players in, reinvigorates the current playerbase, or encourages old players to return (re-introducing them to the monetization scheme, because now those players are “behind” and need to catch up/buy new skins).
- Silver/Gold sinks and faucets
These seem to be intentionally designed to have deep sinks and trickle faucets, artificially gating the player’s progress and requiring them to either spend more time, or more money. I am personally uncertain about my feelings on the sinks, as it seems to prevent inflation (which is a good thing). I’m definitely willing to admit that I may be seeing this incorrectly, and would definitely appreciate deeper insight on the sinks/faucets.
- Little Red Dots & UI Anxiety
There’s a great New York Times piece about this (ironically, it’s locked behind a paywall) here:
Psychology Today explains the predatory nature behind this much better than I can, if you’re interested in it, but the gist is that these exist to ensure the player is constantly reminded that there’s more to do, and, ideally, keep them in a perpetual state of anxiety. The longer a player is engaging and the more invested they become in their success, the more likely they are to pay for progression.
- Human Interaction
Humans, like electricity and water, are naturally inclined to take the path of least resistance to an objective. This goes both ways, for AGS and for players. AGS will not do anything more than the absolute bare minimum necessary to retain players. This is why there are no GMs. This is why there is little/no communication. This is why issues remain unaddressed. This is why it’s far easier for a player to buy gold than it is to earn gold in game. If it doesn’t impact their monetization, AGS won’t prioritize it. It is patently delusional to expect them to do more for little/no return on that investment of time.
AGS does not care if you are happy, and it is more beneficial for them for players to be in a constant, low-grade state of frustration and anxiety concerning their progress. AGS wants players to be unhappy, because then they can string the players along with promises of “It’ll get better! We’re working on it!”
Bots and spam are a normal everyday occurence in basically any MMO that isn’t tied to some sort of social security number. The only incentive a developer/publisher has to eliminate bots is for their impact on the economy. They don’t actually care if your account is hacked or compromised, or that the bots even exist (because these inflate their population numbers, which they can then use as “proof” of success to outside parties/their bosses). In some F2P games, bots are actually beneficial to F2P players, especially ones with crafting resources.
Personally, I cannot fathom how AGS/SG released the game without expecting there to be bots and gold spam, and how they just straight up failed to do anything about it.
- Final Thoughts
When you’re playing the game (or any game, really), and encounter a moment that causes frustration/anger, ask yourself:
“Does this increase the average, casual new player’s enjoyment of the game?”
“Does this benefit the overall player experience, or the developer/publisher’s bottom line?”
The game is specifically designed to separate you from your money/time, and developers/publishers are incentivized to do as little as possible. Except for rare outliers, games will not get better over time.
For me, “winning” in Lost Ark means “not succumbing to blatant conditioning.” The more entertainment value I can extract without giving up too much of my time or money (this is subjective for each person), the more I win. The numbers are made up and the points don’t matter!
Do you enjoy playing the game?
Yes: Keep playing
No: Stop playing
@Roxx @Seawolf Would either of you like to comment on any of this, give any feedback, pass anything along to/from your corporate overlords?