Like a lobster boiling in a pan, it’s difficult to look back and remember exactly when the heat got turned up and my tolerance for playing F2P mobile games changed to enjoyment.
Given I’ve been writing about mobile games for the past decade, there are a couple of headlines that stand out, though.
Back in March 2010, I only lasted a week in pioneering F2P mobile kingdom builder We Rule.
But by September 2013, I’d manage to play Clash of Clans pretty solidly for a year before logging off.
Since then, few games have stretched me much beyond six months. Perhaps that’s more to do with the relentless churn encouraged by the sheer number of new releases than a mark of their quality, however.
So why I am still playing EA Mobile's Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes?
A new hope
Released in November 2015, I was impressed from the get-go, calling it “the most significant game” of the year and that despite being no more than a passing fan when it comes to all things Star Wars.
The game’s guild system provided the glue which has kept me playing.
Instead, what had impressed me was its combination of Western game design and user experience with the aggressive autoplay features more typically seen in Asian RPGs.
As discussed with Executive Producer John Salera, this was a game that enabled players to “optimise their time” and “ensure player progression” through “reward acceleration”.
But great design and an understanding of player psychology isn’t usually enough to keep me playing. What actually got me through the first six months was the decision, after a couple of months, to open another account in the game and start from scratch just using Light Side characters.
Although one mode does force you to select a Light Side squad to defeat Dark Side characters (and vice versa), the game’s PVP mode (and other challenges) enable players to create a squad by mixing-and-matching characters from both sides.
In-game communities are hard places to find comfort.
Not caring much about Star Wars, I’m not sure why such a non-canonical option annoyed me to the extent I decided to start over. This self-inflicted restriction certainly doesn’t make the game any easier and saw me repeating a couple of months of sustained grind.
As with any F2P experience, however, it was the game’s guild system (added in April 2015) that provided the glue which has kept me playing since.
I have a tendency not to join in-game communities. They are hard places to find comfort.
Few seem to offer decent rewards while, in my experience, repeatedly getting booted out by the moderator for no apparent reason is the fastest track to app deletion.
Galaxy of Heroes’ guild system wasn’t the deepest - originally offering raids, donations and a store - but combined with the game’s other retention features such as events, daily activities and the neverending need for new shards and items - my initial experience was strong enough to keep me going.
Yet, it wasn’t until a surprise invitation from an industry insider to join his guild that my Galaxy of Heroes experience really took off.
Significantly, this is not because I’m particularly active on our guild’s Facebook chat or a star player, although I am proud to be ranked second in terms of lifetime item donations. No, it’s just the fact I’d previously met some of the people and was invited to join the guild, which then generated enough reciprocity to want to not ‘let the team down’ in some weird way.
Given I’ve hit the level cap and maxed out all of my key characters, no doubt, this attitude will be tested in future, but given the scope of game’s latest update, I don’t think I’ll be leaving anytime soon.
Perhaps not as large as the March 2017 update which added space ships, the Territory Battles update is more exciting.
Adding a significant new mode for guilds, for the first time it sees players choosing different parts of a battlefield to conquer, then combining their ground troops and ships together to fight through the relevant missions within a restricted timeframe.
This activity is rewarded by a new currency which unlocks characters, including new versions of Leia, Han and Yoda - if that sort of thing appeals. What seems more interesting will be the way in which this deeper co-operative play will provide more social glue to bind guilds together.
You’ve got a friend
That’s great for long-term players of Galaxy of Heroes like me, but it does highlight a wider issue for other mobile game developers.
Getting the people we know together to play a mobile game has never been harder.
With declining use of Facebook Connect as a social enabler, how can they get people who know each other to join together into the communities that will sustain the game past the first three or six months?
This was the same problem mobile developers faced back in 2010, and which companies such as Ngmoco, OpenFeint and Scoreloop, even Apple and Google, promised - but failed - to fix. The shine has also gone from messaging networks such as Line and Kakao, which at one point did solve the issue, at least in some countries.
Of course, WeChat/Weixin is enabling a monopolistic position for certain games in China, but it’s hard to see how even Tencent can take that dominance global.
Ironically then, given we’ve never been more connected to the people we love, as well as the friends we know or may have never even met, getting them together to play a mobile game has never been harder.