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  • Should Players Buy Their Own UI?

    [05.07.20]
    - Sebastian Long

  • Caveat Emptor

    We've already touched on some risks that this approach presents. Clearly putting all quality-of-life upgrades behind a shop purchase isn't wise, so what're our options and risks here?

    Depending on the prominence of the in-game store, or the number of items available to buy, players simply might never acknowledge the item exists. The newest Pokémon Sword and Shield chose to have the game volume controls unlockable via an in-game item, the "High-tech Earbuds" - a design judgement perhaps motivated by the reasons outlined in this article. But the choice to unlock them through talking to a specific NPC meant their unlock was easily missed by players.


    Pokémon Trainers had to visit a particular NPC to unlock in-game volume options. Image from NintendoLife.

    Holding back the quality-of-life improvements, be they game volume controls or avoiding extra button-presses, disproportionately affects players with impairments, in these cases withholding tools to accommodate auditory and motor challenges. There is clearly a balance to strike here.

    By making it an optional purchase, there's a clear risk that players don't recognise that the unlockable will improve their experience, and therefore never invest in it. In AC:NH the Tool Ring is listed in the in-game shop as "Tool Ring - It's Essential!"; this on-the-nose description hints at difficulties in getting playtesters to pick it out from among the other items for sale, or not prioritising it. And so depending on how ‘essential' your upgrades really are, or how well you're able to describe them, there's some risk that the purchased capability is less useful than your promise, or useful but ignored.

    Fun and Friction

    Despite the Tool Ring shortcut, there's still a lot of UI busywork in AC:NH.

    Much of Animal Crossing's satisfyingly glacial progression and deliberate friction manifests in menus. These good design decisions haven't gone unpunished by players, and there are a few key interactions that are chief among players' gripes. For example, the inability to craft consumable items like fishing bait without crafting them one-by-one, or the need to have crafting ingredients in the player inventory, despite the presence of bulk ingredient storage in players' homes.

    AC:NH's repetitive UI navigation could easily be minimised. But it's this friction that shapes player behaviour that makes Animal Crossing fun.

    But if player feedback is heeded, and Nintendo decide to reduce this friction, then perhaps it'll be Tom Nook that offers players their requested UI shortcuts. For a fee, of course.

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