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Pocket Gamer’s Mobile Mavens panel is a group of industry experts who discuss the hot topics of the mobile games industry on a weekly basis. This week, the Mavens were asked to share their thoughts about the “withering” mechanic, where players risk losing resources if they fail to regularly log into a game.

“Do you think a wither mechanic is a good retention tool? Are less frustrating mechanics, such as daily rewards, more positive ways to get players coming back to your game?”

AC&A designer Jordan Blackman shares his thoughts on why it’s a good thing that the withering mechanic has withered away from free-to-play games:

The mechanic is based on “loss aversion,” the well-established principle that people are more strongly motivated to avoid a loss than to pursue a gain. In fairness to FarmVille, withering also ensures a genuine “appointment” mechanic, because players actually have a window in which to harvest.

Jordan BlackmanSo, yes, the product benefit is that people are motivated by fear of missing out, but there are two important potential downsides:

Players who aren’t yet retained won’t care about the loss. So all you’ve really done is made their next experience less fun and probably less balanced. If a player is gone for a while (lapsed or otherwise indisposed), they might come back to a total mess. That sucks, and could be just enough reason for an engaged player to churn.

At Zynga, where I was working on FrontierVille our team added wither protection as an option for players. You see this in FarmVille too and it’s similar to being able to buy village shields in Clash of Clans.

This can change the mechanic to be more about planning and closure. Of course it’s a monetization vector too and I would say it makes a game a bit more hardcore.

And given the South Park episode portraying free-to-play mobile games as the work of “the Canadian devil”, I want to remind all the game designers and product managers out there that mechanics like this can be useful, but it’s much more important to create a great and compelling experience in your product.

At the end of the day, we need mobile games and game designers to be divergent and to provide genuine fun. So, if some kind of wither mechanic makes sense in your game and you have a fresh take on it, go for it! But it isn’t per se right or wrong for retention, and it’s not a simple mechanic to introduce.

So, while a daily return reward is a best practice, a wither mechanic isn’t.

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