I’m going to ask you all to indulge my whinging for a moment, because I think this is an important screed.
I hate the new Sailor Moon based game “Moon Drops”.
Now, mind you, I am a consummate Sailor Moon aficionado. I have played basically every game for the series I could get my hands on. So when “Moon Drops” came out, I was all over it like Shampoo on Ranma. It was a new game! With Sailor Moon! (I even sideloaded the APK to play this game because I don’t have a Japanese Google Play account. That’s how excited I was.)
This was going to be Fantastic!
No, it wasn’t fantastic.
Moon Drops is a game very much in the vein of King’s Candy Crush Saga. Move the brightly coloured objects into the right spots, and achieve certain goals in order to progress. Now, unlike Candy Crush, it’s a bit more forgiving. Rather than locking you out for a day after you’ve used up your allotted number of lives, it locks you out for 30 minutes. This is a blessing and a curse, but I’ll get back to that in a mo’.
Moon Drops, like Candy Crush is “freemium”. What this means is that while it is, in theory, possible to play through the entire game without spending a penny, the fast way to proceed is by purchasing special items that either give you more “lives” or make it easier to remove the obstacles placed in your way by the game. Obviously, to incentivize the player to part with their hard-earned cash, the game adopts a certain level of difficulty after a time in order to frustrate the user so they’ll want to pay to make things easier.
A bit on the Psychology of “Freemium” games– its premise is based on the notion of 1- fostering a sense of achievement, and 2 - exploiting the fact that we hate to lose our progress. Let’s use my story as an example.
Playing Moon Drops, I destroyed the first 16 or so levels with ease. It was a bit of an exhilarating rush. Everything from the sounds and the uptempo music you experience whilst in the midst of a victory blitz of that nature is designed to make you feel good. (Just like Video Poker machines). So I was pleased. Here was a nice little time-waster of a game, with colourful avatars of the Sailor Senshi.
“I could get to like this,” I thought.
Then, difficulty increased.
Now you had to break blocks by making matches. Or move items down from the top to the bottom by making matches. Again, nothing unreasonable. This is how games like this maintain interest. Sometimes there was a time limit, sometimes you just had to use certain types of matches. Levels took longer, but it was tolerable.
Then came level 26. (I think that was the number)
Unlike other freemium games of this ilk–like say Pokémon Shuffle–this game is unapologetically punishing. It does not make it easy to eliminate two sets of objects at once, which makes clearing levels easier for an observant player. No. The objects are all placed at random. This level was set up like a funnel, with four objects that needed to be brought down to the bottom of the screen.
1 - Two of the objects were pinned behind massive walls of bricks that needed two matches each to break.
2- The fourth object ISN’T EVEN ON THE BOARD and and doesn’t show up till you’ve cleared two of the others (by which times you’re almost out of moves) so you can’t strategize at all.
Even with 39 moves this level took three days of trying, and then just sheer dumb luck and good fortune to get past. (Mind you, I steadfastly refused to pay for any items.)
It was to the point where, when I closed my eyes, I could see the afterimages of diamonds and teardrops and moon crescents dancing about. I could hear the saccharine, candy-coated music playing in my head all the time.
That’s when I realised this had to stop.
As I said before, freemium games are carefully crafted to create a sense of addiction by design. Without descending too deeply into a hyperbolic pit, It’s a digital drug. You get sucked in by easy levels, and then all that progress is threatened by new, diabolical levels that are so tough that without paying–or sacrificing days upon days upon days of head-bashing effort that really comes down to whether the random number generator will give you the right drops in the right place, since the level is deliberately designed to make it impossible to strategise–you will lose everything you’re worked towards. (and make no mistake, this game becomes something like work very quickly)
In this case, the game exploits the notion of the Sailor Moon Mythos.
“You’re _THIS_ close to unlocking Jupiter! You can’t not unlock Jupiter!” is what the mind screams when you’ve finished Sailor Mars’ path only to find that the next level has NOT unlocked because you need to go back and finish supposedly optional side levels which are harder than the devil’s member after seeing the American GOP debates last night.
And I say no.
Nintendo, at least, was considerate to its players. Respawn times were short (15 mins) and you could easily clear boards without paying. You could have *fun* playing Pokémon Shuffle and keep on having it. This game, however, was designed to knobble you over the head.
I looked at myself, and my behaviour patterns. Every free moment when I wasn’t doing something else vital, like eating or working, I was trying to clear that accursed level.
Rather than learning Japanese, or writing my forever-delayed novel, or doing something productive, I was sucked into that vortex of candy-coated sugary addiction.
Certainly, one can cast blame on me. “Oh, play responsibly, Paisley. You don’t *have* to invest so much time into it."
But you do. You rather do. The game leverages your need to advance in the worst way possible. It is set up to create a gambler’s addiction complex in your head. And for someone like me–who does have a slight obsessive streak–this quickly becomes dangerous.
It’s basically the ultimate Dark Kingdom plot device, if you stop and think about it. It uses the veneer of the Senshi to suck you down into a labyrinthine pit of addiction and either takes away your money, or your free time, and possibly your sanity.
It is not engineered to be a fun, challenging game like Tetris or the old Sega Columns games. It is designed to pry open your wallet… and to get you what? A new story of the senshi? No. Some cute pictures and stock-animated interactions that Takeuchi-sensei probably had the barest level of input in.
I looked around and realised how many hours would be going down this pit if I kept playing. Unlike a game like say, The Last of Us, or Metal Gear Solid, where you are rewarded with a deep narrative at the end, this would net me nothing at the end of the day other than the feeling of empty satisfaction I would get from clearing levels of glittery baubles.
And that’s why I hate Moon Drops. It literally wants to rob me of either my money or (a chunk of) my life giving back nothing really good in exchange, and I would rather part with neither. There’s so many other things I could be doing that are far more worthwhile Other games that I could play, even, that give me something far richer back experientially. And if I just wanted a quick time-waster, there are games for that too.
No, this is a trap. A candy-coated trap and I hate it. I hate that Sailor Moon is associated with it, that kids with less willpower or self-awareness will be suckered in by it. That parents are going to lose their money to it.
Those who know me know I’m a VERY easygoing person, and I usually don’t get riled by these sorts of things. Live and let live, I always say. But this… No.
This is one step too far. It is diabolical, and I hate it. It is wretched.
Today, I’m deleting Moon Drops from my tablet and my life and good riddance. Think of me what you will, but I have no regrets.
Having successfully invaded both America and Canada from her home base in Windsor, Paisley has become horribly corrupted by the world. She hates active voice and wishes to god Twitter had an edit button. Dedicated to "creating the greatest 'Ship of them all", she ponders horribly terrible, idiotic things for your amusement.