Thursday, January 17, 2013


Of all the terms in video game design there is none I like more than "abilitease". This is a portmanteau of "ability" and "tease" and normally refers to the design trick of giving the player lots of powers at the beginning of the game and then taking them away a short way into the game. The player then has to earn back these powers to once again become awesome.

In the right circumstances this gives the game a cracking beginning, like the start of a James Bond film, which hooks the player in the delicate first few minutes when you must impress them most. But, of course, you need to be able to give the player new cool things as they progress through the game. So you take the toys off the player and then drip feed them back to them. As the player knows what they're missing, from their experience at the beginning, they also know what they're working towards.

Assassin's Creed did this and there was some chuntering about the significant downgrading of Altaïr's abilities after being awesome at the beginning, but I certainly think it's worth doing if it gives you a genuinely spectacular opening to the game.

Social games do it in a different way: They give you a whole load of whatever their hard currency is (the currency that you have to spend hard cash get in any significant quantity) which allows you to build things rapidly and progress in leaps and bounds and get yourself a nice stake in the game. Then you run out of this precious currency and your progress slows down. However, even if you don't buy some more hard currency there's still a good chance that you're sufficiently invested in the game to keep grinding along.

However, over the past couple of weeks I've been playing Supercell's lovingly crafted Hay Day. It's a farming game, and I've had a soft spot for farming games ever since I was introduced to Harvest Moon on the Game Boy Color. However, FarmVille never grabbed me and I was wondering if I'd just had enough of virtual crop growing, now that I have my own real life lemon tree to worry about. Nope, said Hay Day, you're still a digital dirt addict.

Naturally I've been playing it with the intention of not spending a single penny of my hard earned cash on the game, despite the extreme temptation. Around about Level 15 things were starting to take quite a long time to complete and I was starting to feel my progress becoming a little too slow. That's when a little errand boy turned up in the game and offered to go out and find things I needed to complete certain tasks. Brilliant, that was just what I needed. So I sent him off, and he found stuff and even though he needed to rest for over an hour after each errand he massively accelerated my progress.

Then, all of a sudden and without warning, I had to pay to use him. And his rates are steep, costing 15 diamonds a day. I can accrue diamonds without paying hard cash for them, but I probably earn about three a day, at most. 

So far I have managed to trudge on without the errand boy, even though he still stands on the road outside my farm, reminding me of the power he once gave me, and still could if I was prepared to get my credit card out. This, of course, is an example of abilitease and it's the finest example I know of because it very nearly made me do the thing that Supercell need me to do - pay. Expect to see a lot more abilitease, liberally sprinkled throughout the full length of your play experience of a game.