Opinions on the 'South Park Phone Destroyer' early access build

Posted by Daeity On Wednesday, June 21, 2017

I've been playing the 'Phone Destroyer' game on-and-off for the past several days, and I thought I would write about it given that most websites just contain regurgitated press release statements.

It's a perfect time to release franchise games during their TV show hiatus since all of the fans are desperately clawing for any new content. Fans have just been watching the same gameplay videos of 'Phone Destroyer' and 'The Fractured But Whole' over and over just to satisfy their cravings until new episodes come out. The same is happening with 'Rick & Morty', where any fan-made videos become instant viral hits.

Before I write any further, I wanted to remind everyone of what Matt Stone & Trey Parker actually think of Freemium games.



So,

Matt & Trey found it offensive that shortly after playing the game, they were asked to spend $100 on tokens. And, they had ethical problems with freemium games built like slot machines or contained intentional frustrations programmed into the game in order to force the player to buy something. They also mentioned how "fucked up" it was to prey on psychology weaknesses and create an addiction machine.

The audio and visuals for South Park Phone Destroyer are awesome of course, which is to be expected when working with the teams from SP Studios. However, after playing the game for a long time, it's obvious that Ubisoft must have spent a lot of time planning their game design strategies around neuroscience practices and also spending a lot of time deciding how they were going to pitch the game idea to Matt & Trey. I honestly believe that Ubisoft must have sent a highly skilled salesperson to convince them that this game was different than other exploitative games.

Here are some of my various observations:

  • Whoever designed the card-opening mechanic was brilliant. All of the card packs are essentially pinned to a corkboard. They swing back and forth based on feedback from your motion sensor, giving it a great feel. After you select a card pack, you rip open the top and the cards spill out. It's a really great alternative to the classic tap-to-open-treasure-chest mechanic. A nice feature, like the Fallout Shelter 3D effect when turning the phone, that I'm sure certain other games will copy.
  • PVE and PVP gameplay is really fun, but it will take you a while to learn which combinations of players to use, and when to use them.
  • The game requires a persistent online connection. This has both it's pros and cons. It's helpful in mitigating certain types of cheating, but if you have weak connectivity, you're going to have a very bad time.
  • The game has a great start and I was hoping for more story development and South Park videos as the game progressed (ie, a reward system as you progress to different stages.) However, it appears that they blew their load on the new user onboarding experience instead of lengthening the foreplay.
  • I've never played a mobile Ubisoft game, but I always suspected that they were extremely bloated based on my experience with their PC offerings. Even on a high-end Android device, I endured very frequent and long loading times, graphical slowdowns, and many crashes. Especially during any loading screens: if you lose connectivity, or even just a minor traffic bump, expect the game to hang indefinitely.
  • The game will frequently freeze during PVP matches, and I'm assuming that opponent bandwidth is also a requirement to have a positive experience. If they lock up, you'll probably crash too. During any online matches, also make sure not to switch windows or you'll return to a black window unable to target anything while your opponent pummels you. If you won the game, but the proceeding loading screen hangs for any reason (which is often), you'll lose your win.
  • 'Phone Destroyer' is an apt name. It's a huge memory & CPU hog, and it can drain my batteries faster than any other app I've ever used. I'm not even mad, it was amazing to watch.
  • The PVP matchmaking system is very fast (ie, less than 2 minutes), but it's also very unfair. Be prepared to fight players several levels above or below you. I feel bad for those who will be joining on the official release day, they are going to be viciously steamrolled by players who have been levelling their characters during early access. It's extremely unbalanced leaving most new players with a sense of unfair treatment.
  • After seeing how the matchmaking and PVP ranking systems work, however, I'm sure this is all likely intentional and very little changes will be made in the future. Being steamrolled by another player certainly gives you an incentive to purchase all of the P2W microtransactions that are available in-game.
  • Almost no effort went into the achievement system, demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of what they're attempting to achieve. It seemed like a rushed afterthought, and they threw it in merely to mimic other competitors. So, after your hard work collecting achievements, you'll be rewarded with some incredibly unrewarding rewards. They essentially made the achievement system the opposite of what it was intended for.
  • And, there was very little wisdom and inspiration invested in the notification system. I was really curious if Ubisoft would finally get mobile notifications correct this time by ensuring that notifications only arrived during normal human operating hours. But, I was unpleasantly surprised when I started receiving IAP reminders at 12AM, 3AM, etc. Even _after_ I turned off notifications in-game.
  • The game has an automated Cloud Save feature that you can't exactly control, and linked directly to your Google Play account. As far as I know, there's currently no way in-game to delete your character and create a new one. So, I'm stuck with the same player I created on day one. What's cool though is that the cloud save will carry through to any other devices that you install the game on. So, you can play it on your desktop (via Android emulator), and continue playing on your mobile device when travelling.
  • Due to the online nature of the game, changing money variables will be impossible. But I'm not sure if everything is governed server side. There has been some evidence of speed and health hackers during PVP matches, and I would imagine the game could be botted quite easily as well. Even an AutoIT script (through an emulator) can run nonstop PVP matches for you. There is also a modded APK available for rooted devices which makes the game region-free, however it requires the hacked version of the Google Store as a prerequisite.
Minor Notes:
  • The screen focus handling is a little different than other games I've tested, likely due to some responsive resolution code they have in the game for multiple screen sizes and devices. So, it may mess with your swipe controls or go to a black screen when switch back-and-forth.
  • During a couple of my PVP battles, I noticed that the sprite frames of custom characters were glitchy. I'm surprised this was missed in QA.
  • Notifications will happen at inconvenient times, I would recommend turning them off from your O/S settings. You can turn off notifications within the game settings menu, however they may randomly turn back on.
  • The Bandito Sally (kindergartner Sally Bands) character was renamed to Kenny's Sister. So, when you see the Kenny's Sister card - that's not actually what she looks like.
  • In-game interfaces that require scrolling are very sluggish, and randomly unresponsive. It doesn't feel smooth when scrolling. This is due to the bloatyness of the game unfortunately. And likely the reason why they have the Deck Builder menu built the way it currently is: I suspect that scrolling horizontally was very frustrating in earlier testing.

Levelling your characters or cards in the game can be very confusing. There are many Upgrade Items, that only work with certain themed cards, and also require a combination of other duplicate cards, and vast injections of cash/points.

You will also be very confused about what they mean by a "Stage". For example, right now when you receive in-game ads ("NEWS"), Early Access users are notified that they will be rewarded greatly for "Destroying the Indian Fortress in Stage 10". However, what the hell is "Stage 10"? There are neighbourhood stages that represent Card Themes, and each neighbourhood has a Stage, however each of those Stages also has up to 15 replayable stages. There are also different Episodes with their own Stage numbers too. For example, you can be in "Stage 3 of Stage 25 in Episode 5 of Stage 5". No, I'm not joking.

The freemium game that Matt & Trey described could might as well be 'Phone Destroyer'. In the beginning, you'll collect a lot of money points and upgrade items. However, the difficulty curve quickly goes from easy to cruel. Moreso than most other similar games. Shortly after you're able to construct your first deck, it becomes extremely difficult to progress in PVE or PVP. In PVP, you never go down in ranks, and the rewards for winning are met with quite unfair diminishing returns. In PVE, as you progress through the different zones, the difficulty suddenly curves up as well and you're forced to replay old zones to collect upgrades. However, since you move up in ranks as you replay old zones as well, so you get quickly locked out of those in terms of difficulty.

In a nutshell, here's how the game works (and please note that it happens very quickly):

You play through the Story PVE stages. You hit a road block. You switch to PVP. Rankings significantly diminish rewards. You switch back to PVE. Even more diminishing returns, making the climb very difficult until you hit a road block. You're forced to replay older PVE zones, but you can only play each once or twice, since they _also_ ramp up in Stages, becoming exponentially difficult. Then, you hit an obstacle where you can't progress at all unless you buy packs and upgrades. This can all happen in one or two days of playing.

Now you could wait for the free pack every 4 hours and collect unpredictable cards over several days to overcome the obstacle, but the road blocks happens exponentially faster each time. Or, you can take the easy path that all human beings are wired for, and visit the IAP store to keep up with the Joneses.

Since everything in the game uses a specifically crafted ranking system with exponentially diminishing returns, the entire game very tightly squeezes you from every single side, and the only way out of it are making payments to Ubisoft. I'm feeling claustrophobic by just writing about my experiences. But, this is how they hide everything that's going on behind the scenes. They cover the game in glitter, bright lights, several varieties of "upgrade items", too many different point systems, and rewards. All of these keep you distracted from how the game is influencing your behavior.

But in the end, I think Ubisoft is going to make a ton money from this game. They are using some very classic and highly manipulative successful casino game design strategies that work very well on addicts players.

I have to wonder if Ubisoft managed to convince Matt & Trey by telling them that they would give players free card packs on a regular schedule. To the inexperienced, this sounds like a altruistic gesture. But heroin dealers have a common term for it.. it's just "a taste."

IAP sales from the game should impact their stock price positively, especially with fears of a take-over attempt looming.

No, it wasn't an April Fools joke.

Posted by Daeity On Monday, April 10, 2017

On the spur of the moment, I decided to bring the blog back online.

Much has changed within the past five years leading a better level of comfort, I guess you'd say.

For example, the public is much more aware now of the type of internet harassment and intimidation that takes place. And, there are more laws slowly appearing to protect internet users from cyber-bullying. Back when I started, death threats and attacks against female bloggers weren't well known of at all, and the term "misogyny" just started to go mainstream. So at least now it's a known and public issue, making it more difficult for aggressors.

So, what's all happened in the past five years?

  • A handsome rogue leaked confidential NSA information, verifying what most rational thinkers in the world already knew.
  • We were all supposed to die of Ebola according to main stream media.
  • We were all supposed to die of the Zika Virus according to main stream media.
  • The Diablo 3 Real Money Auction House failed.
  • Blizzard pulled off the best Legion marketing stunt ever when they turned the Olympic pools green.
  • Various game developers successfully hyped extremely disappointing games. The gaming media agreed that they would never be fooled again.
  • Project Titan was cancelled, and scavenged to create a successful TF2 clone competitor.
  • All of the big names have left Blizzard.
A little bit about me during the past five years:

I've been doing consulting work with AAA developers and publishers, helping them sky-rocket their wealth. And, I've launched three very successful titles that I designed. Occasionally, I have some free time on my hands, and decided to fire up the old blog. I haven't decided what to write about yet, if I write anything at all, but I thought some old readers would at least appreciate the nostalgia.

If I do write about something, I will try to make it original content. I dislike re-posted garbage, and opinions on trending news items. I can't talk specifics due to non-disclosures, but I may enjoy writing about the gaming industry from a general development or finance side.

I love the work of indie developers, so I can definitely provide some useful advice and strategies that they're currently not aware of. I may even review some indie games who don't know how to market themselves.

Who knows.

I'll try this out with comments disabled. It'll be better if people can't send "messages" to me directly. I've gone back and cleaned up the blog, removed irrelevant posts (e.g. exploits and gold making that no longer apply), and tried to focus it some more. Unfortunately, it looks like some old imgur links have died but I can't do much about that.

Why Things Have Been Quiet

Posted by Daeity On Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tomorrow (04/01), I had something really fun planned from a couple weeks ago that I hinted at to you all. Unfortunately, it appears that the time for fun and games has ended.

On Friday of last week (03/23), I was alerted to a series of significant internet fraud related crimes that were perpetrated in an attempt to shutdown this blog.

Upon learning of the activities, I immediately contacted the appropriate authorities. Based on the evidence provided, the illegal acts were carried out with forethought and willful acts of malice that involved at least one individual. This week, I'm confident I know who the person is and I have been working with various third parties in an ongoing investigation.

Even after requests to cease the activity, the individual (possibly others as evidence points to at least two other persons involved) perpetrated yet another series of criminal attacks this past week. Given the sheer coincidence of the attacks (the dates), the intention of the attacks, and other strange things going on (like odd comments, hoaxes, and users trying to push me or provoke me into doing things), it appears that this has been planned for a very long time and there is some kind of elaborate and more sinister plan still at play that I don't want to be any part of.

This has become a very serious situation, and there have been direct threats made against me. Given the obvious mental instability of this aggressor, the crimes committed, and I've been told that they have access to private and confidential information, there are also concerns (as well as hints already) of violence and other plans of future malice.

For now, upkeep and maintenance of the blog will probably suffer as I need to re-prioritize.

I'm not sure when I'll be back due to these threats, but I'll leave the blog as is for now. I won't be checking/approving comments here, unless they are pertinent to the case, so please refrain from speculation.

I will still try to make some updates if I can. But they might just be for really important discoveries. Due to the automated nature of Blogspot and the constant (and variety of) attacks, if for some reason the blog is temporarily or permanently suspended, it will not be due to any legitimate reasons; it will be purely due to outside events.

Paid Industry Trolls

Posted by Daeity On Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An interesting read on the "confessions" from a former EA Viral Marketer. I caught this yesterday on Reddit too, and just decided at the last minute to write about it.

This is a known job (mostly outsourced and Work At Home) by many in the gaming industry, but most people don't talk about it. There are a lot of job titles and duties that the industry really doesn't like to discuss. :)

It really doesn't matter if this person is a phony or not as what they say about the job is true. I'd really like someone to come along, though, that can provide real evidence of their job and duties and even provide several real world examples of things they've done.

All Andromeda posted, unfortunately, were public Quarterly Shareholders documents that everyone has access to. And they spent very little talking about their job, and more time attacking the company and it's games. It would have been far more convincing if they had provided real documentation from their job (since there would have been a lot of it, and none of which could have been traced back to them.)

That's why I appreciate some of the recent comments made by Brian Fargo, for example, about the real inner-problems that happen between Developers and Publishers that no one knows about. Now, we finally have a recognizable and trusted name providing proof that what many suspected really does happen.

Andromeda's job is basically conducting creative viral marketing on sites and forums (including /v/), praising their employer, and derailing threads or putting down competitors to deflect and control perception about a game.

You never really know who these people are. They spend years creating online identities, and they have multiple identities on several major and minors forums or blogs. A forum poster on MMO-Champion, for example, might have a dozen identities each with hundreds of posts (or one primary account with thousands and a "good reputation"). They're paid to do this 8+ hours per day, so you can only imagine how much time they spend on sites, forums and blogs building up trust and familiarity over several months or years.

It's a pretty easy job too. And there are different kinds of "marketing" responsibilities.

Some of these professional sockpuppets or shills will primarily engage in praising or controlling the perception of a company or it's game. Others, though, might have the task of attacking competitors, talk trash about their games or generate bad press, try to organize mass "uprisings" against certain companies, constantly attack the reputation of someone who is critical of their employer (any attempt to discredit them, including lies), create bad reviews of competing games (mostly targeting crowds to do it for them), or they engage in unethical practices to deplete the marketing and customer support budgets of competitors.

The key though is manipulating crowd psychology. They want as many people on their side as possible to do the most damage, so they're usually highly social (online) individuals within forums and they use sites like Twitter. They also have multiple accounts, so they're hard to distinguish since each account might have different followers. And, the more followers the better. What's also nice is that they can buy the obedience of many followers by handing out free stuff given to them by their employer. :)

It's really hard to spot these shills though. They engage is casual chatter, talk about their day or their family, movies they watch, etc. And, they're hard to distinguish from simple fanboys. Maybe they even act as fanboys as part of their cover. There probably is a detectable pattern, and a way to find these people, but one would need some real and proven examples of posts from their various identities. I'm sure that some of the more talented viral marketing trolls could probably spot each other though.