Game publishers are exercising new, cruel methods to get you to keep playing their games. Not only a nefarious metaphor for money, “energy” perverts the exchange economy that was once an unspoken agreement between games and their designers. The balance is tilting upward. Over at Hookshot Inc., Simon Parkin calls it a “black spot on the heart of contemporary game design.”
‘Energy’, a design concept popularised by that one-time pariah of the traditional game industry, Zynga, is now employed by developers the world over in their games, the most recent and high-profile examples being last week’s CSR Racing on iOS (currently the number 1 title in both the UK and the US) and Sim City Social, a Facebook-based remake of the PC classic.
For the uninitiated, ‘Energy’ is a unit of currency used to limit the number and rate of actions a player may perform in a game. For example, a single race in CSR Racing will cost you 1 unit of ‘Energy’…
There is a difference between the energy of ‘Credits’ in the arcade industry and ‘Energy’ in current games, one perhaps best expressed in Pac-Man.
In the original arcade game, you would pay your 50 cents and play the game until Pac-Man lost his lives at the wispy hands of its ghoul attackers. The business exchange between game player and game creator was clearly defined and stated: the player’s actions were limited not by some artificial, esoteric currency but rather by her own skill…You paid your ‘Energy’ up front.
It is, unquestionably, the worst design innovation in our medium to date, apparently creating effective money-making products, but at the cost of artistry, and a regrettable shift in design focus.