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  • Should Players Buy Their Own UI?

    - Sebastian Long

  • At The Player's Pace

    Progressively revealing new UI elements might flatten the complexity curve, but the cadence of unlocking would still be controlled by the game, not the player. Particularly in free-to-play, players' first gameplay session risks being overwhelmingly prescripted to ramp from 0-to-fun as quickly as possible, sometimes leaving players without a clue what's going on.

    The Tool Ring's introduction isn't just delayed, it's player-controlled. The need to purchase gave hours or days of space for player to grok the rest of the game first, and even then players still had to ‘opt into' adding more complexity by actively choosing to purchase that item:

    Whether players knew it or not, they were in charge of their own decision: "I'm ready for more, now".

    Of course there is a risk to forcing friction on players in the short-term, and relying on them to unlock the ‘true experience' for themselves; we'll discuss risks at the end of this article too.

    Engaging with Economies

    AC:NH has multiple stores, multiple currencies, and layers of challenges and goals. The intermingling of players' self-set goals and game-world goals (aka intrinsic and extrinsic goals) is part of AC:NH's charm.

    The Tool Ring is purchased through the notably unexciting ATM machine with ‘Nook Miles', one of the two main currencies, tied to in-game challenges and achievements.

    Unlocking the Tool Ring from the Nook Miles ATM machine. Image from NintendoLife.

    Any economy-bound game knows the value of encouraging players to make regular, rewarding transactions. For AC:NH in particular, having a desirable item tied to the secondary currency in the early-game ensures that the challenges for Nook Miles aren't totally ignored.

    And when players do prioritise these optional in-game challenges, they're rewarded with something of tangible and immediate value that helps with both their self-set and game-set goals.

    Shortcuts and Longcuts

    The Tool Ring is a shortcut. It's a miniature, less-capable but quicker-to-access version of the inventory.

    But the inventory still has a huge amount to do in AC:NH, and players will likely have more tools than can fit in the Tool Ring. This shortcut is an addendum, not a replacement.

    Had the Tool Ring been unlocked from the beginning, players would have engaged far less with the inventory; in contrast to the Tool Ring it's cumbersome and slow. Could lessened use of the inventory have damaged the player experience, or player's understanding of the game? Without playtesting both versions it's hard to say for certain, but I'd posit that by the inventory's nature of constantly-changing, present-containing, item-description-giving, reminders-of-collected-items-that regularly visiting the inventory has value to the player experience.

    AC:NH inventories are filled with excitement and knowledge. Image from Animal Crossing World.

    And so forcing players to take the ‘long-way round' for a while leads to better understanding of the world, and the specific value that the inventory has, which lasts even when a shortcut to some actions is unlocked.


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