Luca Redwood, also known as "The 10000000 Guy", was working on a hotly anticipated sequel for the original 10000000 [$2.99] titled You Must Build a Boat. Along the way, he started working on a side projects, and from there the story takes an incredibly predictable turn that I feel like I've heard a million times from other developers with "side projects"- The side project turns in to the main project, and before you know it, you're polishing up a game for release that you only originally meant to take a little break and prototype.
The gameplay of the upcoming Smarter Than You is essentially a highly iterated version of rock-paper-scissors with the social hooks that seem to make for explosive success on the App Store. However, what's interesting about the game isn't necessarily how you'll play it, but how you'll pay for it. According to Luca, this is all inspired by something I allegedly said during a talk at GDC, so if you hate it, I guess you can also blame me in some weird way.
Anyway, I gave a very generalized talk on how to be successful on the App Store, and as part of it mentioned that you really need to think outside the box if you want to stand out from the herd that's busy cloning whatever is popular at the moment. The part that resonated with The 10000000 Guy was me mentioning that the free to play nut hasn't been cracked yet, there's still better ways to do free to play, but no one has figured it out and implemented it yet. Few developers take risks anymore, when you can just clone whatever's popular and call it a day. (And often make a decent chunk of change doing it.)
So, how will you pay for Smarter Than You? Through a "everybody wins" system where you can essentially buy experience points. What makes this interesting though, is you can never award these experience points to yourself, rather, you can only tip them to opponents after a match.
After the game ends, you get the opportunity to tip your opponent an experience bonus. Thats it. You can never buy anything for yourself, you can only reward your opponent. This works because, If you duel in an MMO and get beaten because they have a ridiculous real-money sword, it makes you feel bad - Valve calls this a "Negative Externality"
In this game, when the other player buys something it makes you feel good. The experience feels good but the mark of respect received feels better. Buying a tip makes you feel good too - you aren’t forced to do it, you don’t have a stake in it, you do it because you had a nice match together.
It sounds totally crazy, and I dig it. If you want to play Smarter Than You without paying a cent, that's fine. You can totally do it. There's nothing you even kinda-sorta have to buy, which any self-proclaimed free to play expert with a fancy job title will tell you is disastrous. According to Luca, "I’ve consulted with a lot of people, and everybody has told me there is literally no way this will work. They’re probably right and thats OK."
I can't wait to see how it all plays out. Who knows if players will embrace this tipping mechanic, but it's wonderful to see a developer try something new with free to play outside of the typical soft and hard currencies with timers everywhere because "That's What Works™".
Either way, Smarter Than You should be finished up inside of a few weeks and released soon after- So, we won't have to wait too long to see how this experiment plays out.
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