Ethical reasons I deleted We Rule for iPhone

By Mike Berg / March 1st, 2010 / Blog / 20 Comments

I’ve been playing ngmoco’s We Rule for iPhone the last few days. While I enjoyed collecting, upgrading and customizing (who doesn’t?), I began to get a feeling that this isn’t the kind of “game” I want to play. This post attempts to articulate the root of that feeling.

Update: I’m aware that We Rule is not the first game of this type, it’s just the first one that I’ve played. This post is more about the development philosophy behind We Rule, rather than about We Rule itself.

Updated Update: Here’s an excellent article on addiction in games. It gives a great picture of things to come. And by great I mean ugly.

I put game in quotes because We Rule more of a toy, a tamagotchi, than a game. If you already know what We Rule is about, you can skip down to here.

What is We Rule?

The idea of the game is that you are the ruler of a castle and its surrounding land. You harvest crops for money, which can be used to buy homes for citizens and various buildings such as tailors, schools, mines, etc, all of which provide more money or various upgrades. This pattern cycles up as you level up; crops become more valuable, buildings become more expensive, and so on.

An important distinction is that in We Rule, all events occur in continuous real time. A crop that takes 12 hours to be ready for harvest takes 12 literal hours. Every element in the game takes a different amount of time to complete; some minutes, some days.

My reasons for removing the game from my iPhone

First and foremost is the feeling of intentionally breeding addiction. I’m not sure when the term “addictive” became a positive thing, but this type of game seems to take it to another level. I’m not talking about it being “compelling” in the way a game like Doodle Jump is. I’m talking about an addiction that pervades your normal life and thoughts throughout your day.

I found myself constantly wondering about my little kingdom, whether I was spending time with my newborn son, playing with my 3-year-old boy, trying to get some work done, or even trying to get some much-needed sleep!

What unsettles me is that I believe there are many aspects of this game that have been deliberately designed by ngmoco to make this the desired outcome.

Free to play

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with free-to-play games, but this adds to that “first time’s free” bait & switch feeling.

Paying for Mojo

Every game needs to have a way to make money, We Rule offers ‘cases’ of Mojo for sale via in-app-purchase. Mojo can be used to eliminate wait times. I don’t really have a problem with this, just thought it was worth mentioning their sole source of income for the game, which takes advantage of basic human impatience. At best, it’s clever; at worst, diabolical. There’s no upward limit on how much you can spend; an addicted player could max out their credit card on this game.

Getting your friends online is required

Part of the getting started tutorial actually requires you to connect with a friend in-game on the Plus+ network. Of course every game developer wants their game to spread by word of mouth, but the amount of emphasis on getting your friends into this game just tips the scale a little more.

Being punished for absence

If you do not harvest your crops within a certain amount of time after they are ready, the crops will spoil. This kind of negative reinforcement for not logging in regularly is one of the biggest indicators for me that once they have you, they do not want to let you go, no matter your schedule or lifestyle. This game mechanic is what keeps the game on your mind throughout your day.

Always on

This is a game that you can walk away from, but you can’t turn it off. Because everything happens in real time, I found myself constantly wondering what was happening in my kingdom – if there were taxes to be collected, crops to be harvested, if things were progressing as efficiently as possible.

Final thoughts

All of these aspects gave me a bit of a “dirty” feeling about the game, once I fully articulated them in my mind. Sure, the game is kind of fun, the art is nice, and so on. But this is not the kind of game I want to play, and it also has made me realize what I want to stay away from in the games that I make. We Rule was carefully crafted out of a strategy of sucking money from as many users (never has that term seemed more appropriate) as possible.

I prefer to make games that I think are fun. Hopefully some of you will think they are fun too, and want to buy them.