Curious about how developers approach the use of purchased hints and scoring.


I have a puzzle app that allows users to incrementally reveal an optimal solution via purchased hints. They can choose to ultimately reveal the whole solution or only pieces of the solution.

There are hundreds of puzzles in the app. The nature of each puzzle is not so memorable (many look similar). Each puzzle has multiple solutions and an optimal solution so a player can return to an already solved puzzle to improve her/his score and strive for the optimal solution. Scoring is based on the number of moves (lower is better). The app tracks the personal best score for each puzzle.


From a standpoint of user experience and better/longer gameplay...

Would it be a bad idea to somehow penalize (in scoring) the player for using hints? Is there precedence for this? I had the notion of adding a point (low score is better) for every hint used. The penalty would preclude reaching the perfect score. This way the player can use a hint when stuck but still return to try for the optimal solution without hints.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think hints kinda defeat the purpose of a puzzle. Personal opinion, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – petervaz
    Commented May 29, 2013 at 15:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree somewhat... but it's a freemium app and this is part of the monetization. I suspect like you say, hints are also a matter of personal taste (and skills). In this case, those that do not prefer them can choose not to purchase/use them. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 29, 2013 at 15:13

2 Answers 2


I've got only one hint - try not to penalize your player, make gifts instead.

In your situation - don't take something that player already achieved (his points) for using hints. Instead, stimulate him with giving even more scores for not using hints.

This trick works almost in every gamedesign - inverting "punish" mechanic (negative) to "stimulate" mechanic (positive).

  • \$\begingroup\$ I like your direction here... but just to be clear, and hopefully not splitting hairs, I am not taking away points. Lower score is better. I propose that the player will score better when he/she does NOT use hint. Is this consistent with your notion of inverting the punishment mechanic? I think you are simply saying to change the semantics of the scoring... do you think my strategy as explained here does that? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 29, 2013 at 16:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think, yes. Using hints - getting no bonus score. \$\endgroup\$
    – KatShot
    Commented May 29, 2013 at 16:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ If enabling a hint disables a bonus, many players will still see it as punishment anyways, since they actively made a choice which caused a negative effect. (Though re-framing it that way will help somewhat) \$\endgroup\$
    – Will
    Commented Apr 9, 2017 at 21:11

You should not punish players for paying you money. (Even framing it as a a reward scheme still harms your monetization) If you rely on leader-boards or any kind of score comparison, you need to tread carefully to avoid the appearance of pay-to-win. However, I am guessing you are making a game with little to no competitive sentiment, and the rest of my answer assumes that.

A more subtle way to do it than just penalizing the score would be to save two scores for each level if hints were used. The first is the score without hints, the second is with hints. If the no-hints score is equal to or greater than the score with hints hide the hints score. (a visual marker to point out which levels were done with hints should be included)Perfectionists will try to beat the level without hints, and will appreciate a pointer to which levels need beating. Other players will just speed up their progression, possibly replaying tricky levels later on.

This motivates players to play through levels perfectly by simply stating what they did. They will not interpret it as punishment, even though hints are being recorded as less-than-perfect.

There is a small problem of players cheating and memorizing the solution with hints in order to beat the level again in a no-hints game, but this does not really harm your game-play (I think). If this is an issue you could count all solutions to the puzzle in the hour after using a hint as also having used the hint.


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