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Big Revolution - When cash-grab mechanics make for a great game

Welcome to Thursday's newsletter. Today I've been thinking about good design in the age of games that
August 8 · Issue #492 · View online
Big Revolution
Welcome to Thursday’s newsletter. Today I’ve been thinking about good design in the age of games that feel like gambling machines. More on that below.
— Martin from Big Revolution

Big things you need to know today
  • A marketing company has been caught storing Instagram users’ posts, Stories, and locations. HYP3R’s unauthorised behaviour shows Facebook hasn’t shut down all ways to obtain copies of its users’ data in bulk post-Cambridge Analytica.
  • Facebook has begun to rebuild Instagram’s direct messaging feature to use Messenger’s back-end, Bloomberg reports. This is part of a long-term project to bring messaging across all Facebook’s apps under one codebase.
The big thought
Belias (left) just wiped out my team of Final Fantasy heroes, but I know I'll be able to beat him soon, without paying a dime.
When cash-grab mechanics make for a great game
All major console manufacturers are to require game developers to tell players the odds of receiving different prizes from in-game loot boxes.
Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are all following the legislative winds in the US and elsewhere, amid stories of children and adults who have spent crazy amounts of money to try to acquire a particularly prized item from these modern-day one-armed bandits.
It’s tempting to say that loot boxes have made many games a whole lot less fun. On mobile, it’s not uncommon to download a game for free and then find the only way to make meaningful progress is to buy in-game currency for a surprisingly large amount of real currency, or to become a gambler, buying access to loot boxes that hand out items based on fixed odds and a random-number generator.
Done badly, loot boxes can turn a promising title into a disappointing experience. But it is possible to do them well. Step forward Final Fantasy Record Keeper (FFRK), the game I’ve played more than any other over the past few years. In fact, it’s probably the game I’ve played the most ever at this point.
The premise of FFRK is that characters from 32 years of Final Fantasy games are all together in one place to help you take on a series of increasingly challenging battles. There’s a backstory involving corrupted paintings and ‘records’ of battles from the series, but really it’s just an excuse for a good old nostalgia fest.
Technically, FFRK is a ’gacha’ game, but the basic idea is the same as with loot boxes. Players make 'pulls’ in the hope of receiving the latest powerful weapons and armour. A random number generator based on fixed odds selects what you get. Sometimes you’ll be lucky, sometimes not so much.
What FFRK does so well is that its mechanics are so deep, and there are so many different ways to tackle most of the toughest fights, that players can find their own way through, no matter what weapons and skills they’ve collected along the way.
If you want to be a 'whale’ and spend thousands on 'pulls,’ you can have all the strongest techniques, and blitz the strongest bosses at any given time. But if you want to play for free, you can use in-game 'mythril’ to fund your pulls. It’ll take a lot longer to make your way through the game, but I find that figuring out how to make the most of what I have is far more fun than if I spent my way to victory.
And whichever approach you take, you’re not cheating. There are no player vs player fights to make those who don’t pay feel inadequate. The only multiplayer content sees players team up to take on enemies controlled by the game. So it doesn’t really matter how you play it, paying is only an advantage if you want it to be.
There’s an argument that even done as well as this, gacha games and loot boxes can exploit players who have a vulnerability to gambling. I accept that, but from a game design point of view, Final Fantasy Record Keeper takes the worst form of in-game monetisation and makes something good out of it. It’s proof that modern gaming doesn’t have to feel like the developer is holding you at gunpoint to take your money.
One big read
The Dayton And El Paso Shootings Revealed The Difficulty Of Fighting Disinformation On Messaging Apps The Dayton And El Paso Shootings Revealed The Difficulty Of Fighting Disinformation On Messaging Apps
It’s harder than ever to spot the lies flying around online, as messaging apps like Telegram play host to hatemongers banned from platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
One big tweet
This classic, old-school email app was at least honest…
Let's never forget when Mac OS got the "Platinum" appearance, upgrading Mac's original black-and-white controls, Eudora added the immortal preference:

"Waste cycles drawing trendy 3D junk"
5:36 PM - 7 Aug 2019
That’s all for today...
Back tomorrow with more. See you in your inbox then.
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