Time Gates

Neko Atsume: My Collection of Kitties

This week, we’ll take a look into a very interesting App: Neko Atsume. We’ll talk about how it works, where is the fun, and whether or not it is a game.

How does it work?

In Neko Atsume, you decorate a room and attempt to attract cats. You can do this by setting out different “Goodies” (boxes, balls, bags, etc.) to attract them. Each cat has a favorite toy, and when you set up their favorite toy, they might stop by to play with it. But toys aren’t enough for the cats. You need to feed them as well if you want them to stop by. Once you’ve set some food and items out, cats will begin to stop by and visit. After they leave, they will leave the player with a gift , either silver fish or premium gold fish. These are used to buy more items to put out for the cats.

Here we can see the placement options for goodies as well as food.

Food mechanic:
Players need to stop by a couple times a day and set out more food if they want to continually attract cats. The cats can visit while the player is not in the app. If they do, they will still leave a gift for the player, but the player will have missed seeing them.

Side note: This is a nice little addition because if the player doesn’t get the reward of getting to see them, they will still get something.

Every time a cat visits, it will eat a little bit of the food. Upon all the food being eaten, no more cats will visit until the bowl is full. Because there is a free food bowl called “Thrifty Bits”, running out of money never becomes a problem.

Side note: So the food is like a timer. After so many minutes, a player will need to return to the app and refill the bowl if they wish to progress and receive more rewards. Because the food has no visible timer for the player to track, the player will need to check back more often to see more cats.

For anyone still confused on how this game’s systems work, this flow chart might help.

Chart made in Lucidchart

So, where’s the fun?
In Neko Atsume, there are multiple kinds of rewards. I like to call these direct and indirect rewards. Direct rewards are something that is given to the player that’s blatantly a reward. In Neko Atsume’s case, this would be the gold and silver fish the player receives from visiting cats.

Indirect rewards are more like cinemas, things that are rewarded to the players that are solely for their enjoyment. They don’t necessarily have an effect on a game’s progress, with the exception of story. In Neko Atsume’s case, this would be like getting to see the cats do absolutely adorable things.

Like hide in a box!

Or play with a ball!

Or even get their little fluffy butt stuck in a tube!

These moments where the player gets to see the cats be adorable is the reason players continue to come back. The direct rewards are more of a means to an end. They are in place to support the adorable cat reward. These rewards, combined with the hidden food timer, makes sure the player has a nice steady stream of cats to enjoy, all the while not letting them see all of them too soon and instead forcing the player to come back.

Side note: I’m pretty sure the developers knew this is where the fun came from and wanted players to be able to revisit the adorable moments that they have already experienced. So they put in a camera feature where players could take pictures of the cats and put them in photo albums. They also gave them names and stats to help sell the attachment players might feel for the cats. So while the player could have a goal to fill up this album, there is no reward for doing so aside from their own satisfaction.

My album is on its way!

So is this a game or what?
Typically, games have a win/lose condition. That’s kind of what makes them special. So I’d have to say no, it isn’t a game. That doesn’t diminish how much fun it is. It’s more like an interactive toy, because even if you fill up all your photo albums, the game doesn’t end, and if you do nothing, the game doesn’t end either.

In the end, Neko Atsume is an excellent app which is great at wasting a few seconds out of the hour. By giving players a variety of rewards, drip-feeding them new cats, and forcing their engagement through the food mechanic, they find themselves returning to this app again and again. I hope I got you thinking about how to make simple apps, which aren’t necessarily games but are still enjoyable.

Next week, we will be returning to our regularly scheduled posts/updates.

I’ll see you guys then,


Destiny Vs. Clash of Clans: Time Gates and Currency

As a hardcore gamer I play disgusting amounts of games. Particularly when they come out. I’ll play for 20-60 hours over the course of the week then I’m finished with it and possibly never touch it again. I’ve played my fill and am happy with it.

My god this was fun while it lasted

My god this was fun while it lasted

I am part of the problem for developers: How do we retain players better?

DLC is one such answer to this. It sometimes brings players back after they have moved on to something else. By doing this, developers hope to suck the players back into the game for a second wind, bring back some of the community and make a few extra bucks off them. This is why we hear so often about future DLC before the game is released. So we wont sell the game to Gamestop and have someone else buy it; thus they lose more money. But this can easily fracture the community and typically involves players spending more money before receiving the new content. Which will already cause fewer players to buy it.

Another is a time gate. Clash of Clans handles time gates like so: When a player wants to build or upgrade a structure it will take time. The more powerful the structure the longer it takes to build (Some even taking up to a couple weeks!). Now the player can pay real world cash to speed the process up (The impatience of humans has made Supercell stupid amounts of money). But if the player wishes to wait or has to wait to progress they leave the game and don’t binge it, thus they don’t get tired of the game as quickly and come back more often. This may piss off some players but when paired with notifications of when the structure is complete on the player’s phone it keeps the player coming back for more.

You can see the numbers I.e. 15 H 58 M, that’s 15 hours and 58 minutes until completion before said structure is built/upgraded and ready for use

You can see the numbers I.e. 15 H 58 M, that’s 15 hours and 58 minutes until completion before said structure is built/upgraded and ready for use

So what happens when you try to bring this concept over to the realm of Xbox One and PS4? Typically the very outspoken hardcore gaming communities are not fans of micro transactions or of having the option to spend more money on speeding things up.  The way they see it is they have spent $60 on your product and expect to not be asked for more money. As outspoken as they are about this it’s funny that a similar system has been used to help retain high-level players of Destiny.

This brings me to the Vanguard and Crucible marks. Vanguard marks are a form of currency that are awarded to players for taking on PvE (Player vs. Environment) tasks. Crucible marks are a form of currency awarded to players for taking on PvP (Player vs. Player) tasks. They are the most reliable and only guaranteed way to get the gear the player wants. (Everything else is a random drop so the players wont get to choose what they get, with the exception of strange coins for Weeklies/Nightfalls and Xur. But even that follows a very similar system.) These marks can be used at their respected vendors to purchase very high-level gear. Here is where it gets interesting; players can only obtain 100 of each kind of marks each week. (This resets on Tuesday morning at 2am PST) To purchase high-level Armor it costs 75 marks for a chest piece, a leg set or an arm set. For a helmet it costs 120 marks. As you can see due to the 100 marks per week limit getting a full set isn’t going to happen this week.

A strange thing happens when a player reaches 100 marks. They stop playing. They put the controller down and do something else thus giving them some time away from the game to go do or play something else so they don’t get fatigued. Then when it resets on Tuesday they come back because they want to earn more marks and continue leveling up their guy. This time away from the game is a powerful thing because it helps keep the player from getting fatigued. There is no option to pay to speed the process up and there is no countdown timer. Because this isn’t as in your face as Clash of Clans players don’t think about it too much. And the developers completely avoid the issue of their game becoming pay to win.

So what is in the player’s face? How does a player know they have reached the 100 marks limit? A couple bars that fill up in the map menu show the current status of the player’s weekly-earned marks.

We can see here the Crucible and Vanguard marks are shown via the red and blue circles going around the locations named Vanguard and Crucible

We can see here the Crucible and Vanguard marks are shown via the red and blue circles going around the locations named Vanguard and Crucible

So it makes the player feel good because they finished this task for the week. Not to mention if you are playing on Xbox you get an achievement the first time you do this. (I would imagine there is a Trophy for this on PlayStation) And it’s a reliable solution to leveling your character up. There aren’t any feelings of being cheated when the player doesn’t get the loot drop they want. Because they are guaranteed X number of marks for task Y.  And it stops the player from feeling fatigued from the game by subtly suggesting to them “Hey you aren’t going to get anymore of these until Tuesday. Why not come back then?”

When they come back or start a new mission they see this map and they see how many marks they have. They see when it resets. And there is something rewarding about having that bar filled up. The only issue with this is there aren’t any notifications, outside of the game, reminding the player that the marks have reset. Instead it is on players to be apart of a community thus causing them to think about Destiny and wanting to return. And if the player base wasn’t already so feverish for the game, without notifications it might not work. (Try playing Clash of Clans without notifications. Life gets in the way and it might be days before you return to the game if ever.)

Notice the circles are empty because it has reset for the week

Notice the circles are empty because it has reset for the week

Using a time gate in one form or another isn’t a bad thing necessarily. And how you use it and how you display it is important to how your player base will perceive it. But if Destiny and Clash of Clans are any proof it can be used to hook casual and hardcore gamers and extend the life of the game by forcing them away for a time. Distance makes the heart grow fonder.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to run this strike so I can get my final 6 marks and buy that Legendary Helmet I’ve been eyeballing.