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The Power of Cost Obfuscation

Data Obfuscation is an interesting tactic that product managers and designers can use to confuse users on the ‘actual’ value of the product, or the time required to achieve a certain item in the game.

These approaches are commonly used to deviate attention to something else in the game or mis-represent a concept for max participation. Let’s take a look at how designers and product managers use Cost Obfuscation to provide more value in their products.

Instore Value Bundles

  • Providing value added bundles is an approach many product managers use to create more value than it seems in a bundle. Some games take it to some ridiculous extreme but i suggest you embellish just a little to create a bit more value than what it seems. Not like the example below, even though this is a high grossing game. imo, it defeats the purpose of the value.

You’ll probably notice in a lot of stores, limited time offers that provide a huge % Increase in content of value that you can’t turn down. Most of these % numbers are over embellished and almost difficult to calculate as they obfuscate the actual cost by adding in-game items that take time to understand the actual cost of each unit.

How to effectively pull this off is for all product managers to have a good idea on the value of each currency or resource in your game is, if you don’t your community will and not effectively for proper bundle pricing.

With the knowledge of knowing the actual cost of each currency in your game, this will allow you to pick and choose items in your bundle and custom build an offer. Taking the ‘at cost’ value of the bundle will effectively allow you to mark down the price ‘preferably’ 50% off or more and promote it for a limited time. You can assume that the dolphins in your game will always know if any bundle in your store has a good value as they are the cohort that always calculate the value prop of any item in the game. More specifically an indirect way of getting to X faster as “Time” is usually the biggest business model in Mobile games.

Time versus Grind

Grinding through a game to obtain <x> item is a push and pull concept players & designers constantly are conflicted with. What is the value of a certain item and what is the threshold a player is willing to farm for these items.

As a designer, you want the players to play as long as they can to stay in the game, as the content treadmill will always dictate the speed of progression.

But for a player, you want the item as fast as you can so you can burn through the game.

The conflict arises where players want to get to end game, all while designers move this bar further and further back. Too far and the players will see no value and churn, too close and the players will complete the game and churn. Getting the right amount of value for grind is the sweet spot a lot of designers aim to optimize. One of the better strategy to get to a optimal range is for the designers to obfuscate the total number of xp, items or rewards a player gets so that players can ball park their grind versus knowing exactly how many days / hours / minutes are required to achieve a certain goal. I would always recommend ballpark numbers versus harder numbers as with past experience range grind yield better retention than hard numbers based on the sheer concept of chance and opportunity that can be presented with obfuscation of the reward data.

How you can achieve obfuscation can be in 2 folds

  1. Random Xp range will help obfuscation the length as the actual grind, as the randomness of your experience gains can potential increase your chances of earning a reward versus knowing you have to do <x> amount of <y> to get <z>

  2. Setting up your experience values so that it’s hard to calculate is the simple method of obfuscating your experience. For example: giving out 7 xp per kill and the players next level up will be 342.

This setup will force players to assume ball park numbers versus a xp setup of 10 xp

and the next level up will be 300. This will let players know they need to kill 30 more

enemies to level up which can yield a wtf type experience.

Not game breaking changes but obfuscation can always yield a better experience to the end user, and hide the fact that a grind is a grind.

New Features Participation

The ability to obfuscating the meta can potentially open the door for players to focus on more of the finer aspects of the game, like game play.

Let’s say for example you setup a new currency for this new shiny feature you are creating. If you obfuscate the numbers from the start the players don’t understand the how long it’ll take to achieve reward satisfaction in this features, they will look to enjoy the actual feature and play the game, and judge the game system before digging deep into the reward tables.

This is more about getting your foot in the door and maximizing participation in a new feature and let the players experience the system before judging the reward design.

Overall, although a very boring topic, i have laid out 3 different methods on why a designer should consider obfuscating their meta systems so they can enjoy more of the finer things in gaming.

Good Luck

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