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We have an online game where players sometimes have to wait a while (say 30 minutes) before a process they intiated completes. This encourages them to come back later. An example of this is growing crops in Farmville or basically any action in the Sims Play4Free.

Now, however, there is the idea to let these processes expire, so if the player doesn't 'reap' them in time (e.g. within 4 hours) they are aborted. I'm a bit sceptical about this. How will this make players come back more often? Is not the reward of reaping the process enough for that? Can we expect players to fit their daily schedule around our game, maybe even set the alarm clock at night? Won't this just cause players to give up on starting these processes in the first place?

I realise this may be too subjective for this site, so I'll end with a concrete question: Do (m)any other online free-to-play games employ this technique?

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I don't know the ratio of games that use expiring rewards on timed actions. Whatever the numbers might be, I would strongly discourage you from using that sort of mechanic:

  • It forces players to return to the game when they might not want to, or -- worse -- when doing so they would neglect their real life duties.
  • Even if it works, it drives players back to your game not because it's fun to play the game, but because they are punished for not doing so.
  • It does not offer any reward for active players, as those are collecting their rewards on a regular basis anyway. (This is why I disagree with csiz's answer: Even if your business model resolves around in-game purchases, you win nothing with this mechanic.)
  • All in all, it is just a blatant and aggressive attempt to force your players to return to the game regularly and frequently. This is about as bad a design decision as I can think of.

TL/DR: Don't use crude Skinner mechanics to keep your players engaged!

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I was trying to say that you save on server space even if you don't win more buys. Anyway I made that argument just to try to play devil's advocate on myself, and I do agree with you on it being a bad design. –  csiz Aug 30 '12 at 11:15
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Well it will make the few determined players return, as they would anyway. But it will annoy the hell out of the casual gamer. (especially if the window is so small, maybe you can get away with it nicely if it were 1 or 2 days) Basically it will force the player to make the decision of either devoting to your game or leaving it altogether.

Either way has its advantages though. If you're going for in-game purchases, then keeping the devoted players would be a good choice. If you're looking at ads, this may reduce unique visitors.

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