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How to turn Super Mario into one evil free-to-play game
August 7, 2013 | By Kris Ligman

August 7, 2013 | By Kris Ligman
More: Social/Online, Smartphone/Tablet, Design, Video

Casual Connect's Evil Game Design Challenge is about... well, designing a game to be as evil as possible. Manipulative, exploitative mechanics; brutal monetization; vapid appeals to a target demographic. You know the drill.

This year, contestant Greg "Designer X" Costikyan came out ahead with his rendition of a free-to-play version of Super Mario Bros. 3, with in-app purchases, play gates, and cost-cutting measures intended to "deeply horrify fans of the original game," in the designer's words.

You can check out the entire design presentation above. Personally, this editor wouldn't mind seeing a Super Maria Sisters, but the rest of it ("must uncheck tiny box or shared automatically"; "annoying confirm dialog for keyboard use when entering Flash full-screen") is properly terrifying.

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Daneel Filimonov
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*Shudders at the thought that this CAN ACTUALLY HAPPEN* :S

Chris Dias
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I like how he skipped double-jump & went straight to triple. He knows his stuff.

Eric Finlay
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Get out of my house.

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I laughed at that rocketmail email address.

Merc Hoffner
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Analysts are literally demanding Iwata's head for this.

E McNeill
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This presents a really poor understanding of evil game design.

To some extent, I suspect that's what the organizers intended. See Casual Connect's description of the challenge: "In free-to-play gaming, business and design are inseperable to the point that designers are having to make business decisions on a daily basis--decisions which core industry veterans sometimes brand 'evil.' Well, let's get our 'evil' on in the 'Evil Game Design Challenge!'"

Do I detect a note of mockery? (Also, they "have to" make the decisions that are called evil?) Maybe I'm just being too defensive, but I feel like this challenge exists to poke fun at the idea that any game could be truly unethical. This feeling is compounded by a lot of the items that Costikyan includes. Does anyone actually think it's evil to make a game for women, or a game that's easy, or a game that only uses clicks for input, or a game that uses procedurally generated content?

I love Costikyan (especially for his venture Manifesto Games, an indie project that was too far ahead of its time), and he does include quite a lot of ethically questionable design techniques later in the presentation. Maybe he sees this differently. But I fear that the earlier part of the presentation is just playing into the narrative that "ethics in game design" is a laughable concept that stems from fear of change. It shouldn't be laughed off.

Chris Hendricks
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"Does anyone actually think it's evil to make a game for women, or a game that's easy, or a game that only uses clicks for input, or a game that uses procedurally generated content?"

I don't think the issue was making a game that does this... but turning something like Mario into a game that uses clicks for input for supposed business reasons? Yeah, I'd say so.

Wylie Garvin
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Yes, you detect mockery. The whole presentation is a mockery of the modern freemium, monetize-at-all-costs strategy that you see in many facebook games and cellphone games.

I thought the point of the presentation is that while you can apply these formulaic addiction-exploiting money-extracting techniques to squeeze more micropayments out of the whales in your audience, you will NEVER produce a fabulous game design like Super Mario 3 using those techniques. And applying them blindly to an otherwise awesome game design is likely to ruin it. e.g: Diablo 3 action house.

Ron Dippold
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Honestly, this would be funnier if Puzzles and Dragons hadn't already blown past this for evil. At this point what he's suggesting is no longer relatively ludicrous. That may be part of the point, but if you're going to be funny, take it the extra mile.

See for the best rundown of it I've seen.

Damian Connolly
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"annoying confirm dialog for keyboard use when entering Flash full-screen". This is a security feature in Flash, hardly evil game design

Katy Smith
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I don't get the point of this exercise other than to show that game developers can be jerks. The same session could be held but swap out "free to play" with "premium". I really wish that the industry would look at F2P as a sales model and not some evil thing that should be burned else the virginal and pure video game name be sullied. Instead of being mean, why aren't we looking at why these games are appealing? Instead of laughing at the sheeple who played Cow Clicker, why aren't we looking at why people enjoyed it?

Adam Bishop
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I think it is both significantly easier and significantly more common for F2P games to be exploitive than games in the more traditional pay-up-front model, and it strikes me as disingenuous to pretend otherwise. Sure, it's possible to make a F2P game with a business model that isn't exploitive (League of Legends and DOTA2 both come to mind), but it isn't an accident that there are an awful lot of F2P games whose monetization schemes *are* unethical and it does the makers of non-exploitive F2P games no good to pretend that this isn't the case.

Katy Smith
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I don't disagree that there are skeevy F2P developers out there. However, I don't think it's the F2P model that's doing it. F2P is the new hotness. Because of that, it will attract all types. Some of those people are going to want to make good games that use a different pricing model, and some people are going to want to make the most money as fast as possible. It's really no different from regular retail sales. I consider this as a similar situation to the proliferation of fart apps that were out at the launch of the App Store. Sure, some people got suckered by those "premium model" apps, but as the market grew up, the number of those exploitative apps went down.

Stephen Horn
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I think the purpose of the contest was simply to give a platform for designers to vent about the things that frustrate them in casual games. If F2P practices became the punching bag, it's because of high-profile F2P games that have exemplified the practices that are seen as the most exploitative, dishonest, and even harmful. Of course F2P can be done well, too, but those practices would never be mentioned in this contest. This was about being evil.

Super Maria Sisters Online never mentions hats, Teemo skins, content expansions, lotteries or even advertisements. Instead, it focuses almost exclusively two themes: Conditioning a player to check in often and build a habit (or addiction) of "play", and on content barriers that artificially add "play" time, that can be shortcut through "viral messaging" or money.

But I think that's really putting too much thought into it. The contest was itself a game, clearly meant for amusement's sake and as an outlet for folks' frustration of the casual market.

John Byrd
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That's Greg for you. Don't underestimate the man's intelligence.

Trevor Cuthbertson
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How about hard currency to access the “Super Player’s” leaderboard taken from Vs. Super Mario, and all 10 names register a score of 9,999,950 without any chance of resetting all scores? What I would do is pull the plug.

Gil Salvado
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The very game that got me into the industry turned into an utterly abusive (a-)social cash-grinder ... my eyelid is twitching.

Still, good job Greg. It's not about F2P being abusive, it's about abusive game mechanics within F2P that increase and sometimes almost force monetization.

Daniel Boutros
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F2P as a model somewhat copying ye olde Coin Ops will forever be flawed, as you are compelling the user to invest time and energy, but get to a point where they will feel compelled / manipulated to pay to remove friction.

1. Arcade games of yore did it by making the game increase in difficulty hard, or having a time limit.

2. Gambling does it by teasing a big win / payout.

F2P as it stands now kinda mixes the two. So you have friction instead of difficulty, "energy points" instead of a time limit, and newly added viral mechanics. No promise of a big payout, but a tease of more / better things to come in the game.

I hate working within that design model as it becomes about manipulation for a player to give you money, using game design. Sadly, the model is easily abused, works and business people can understand / work with it easiest, so they'll tend to push it more than anything else for mobile.

Mark Laurel
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LOL! This article made my day...