Interesting that I would lead off talking about Game of Dice with a statement that sounds suspiciously like addiction, especially considering it takes place in a fictional casino. But that setting feels appropriate; it’s a streamlined, exciting version of Monopoly, but I wonder if someone’s pulling strings.
There’s a part of me that hesitates to talk about Game of Dice because I know how ridiculously addictive it’s been for me since I’ve started. It’s the first mobile game that’s made me clutch my phone in sheer panic, rage in anger, cheer in surprise, and raise my heart rate by a measure noted on my Fitbit Charge HR (it got up to 72, I believe). I’m pretty sure this is by design, and I’m feeling pretty conflicted about how much I enjoy this game.
A fellow writer sent this statement to me in an email after I told him about the game: “When I inevitably lose my job and my life from playing this dumb dice game, I’ll have nobody to blame but myself. And you. A little bit.” The addiction is real, and I had a good time with it over the past couple days.
Game of Dice is an Android/iOS game that’s like Monopoly for the modern era. Players take turns moving around on a board, capturing property and developing it in order to take money from opponents and knock them out of the game. But the game itself is streamlined: the board is roughly half the size of a Monopoly board, you automatically capture open properties instead of having to purchase them, and each time you do a lap around the board each of your properties levels up, regardless of whether you own the whole color group (leveling up is the Game of Dice equivalent of building a house or hotel).
The refinements continue: instead of Chance and Community Chest cards, you get a deck of nine cards you choose yourself from your collection, each of which has special abilities (roll three dice instead of two, roll guaranteed doubles, increase all of your property tolls by 500% for one turn, etc). Add in customizable characters, dice with special effects, and Takeover Certificates that let you capture an opponent’s property, and you’ve got yourself a game.
“But does it take as long as Monopoly?” I know you were thinking it, everyone asks it: a round of Game of Dice can end in 10-15 minutes. So much better than the 3+ hours we’ve all spent playing Monopoly just to end up sitting around after we lose waiting for everyone else to finish. If you can’t tell already, I think pretty highly of the game in many respects; the team at Joycity did a great job of modernizing an old classic. But with that modernization comes a mentality switch on the part of the creator, and that makes me wary (even as I spend hours playing the game anyway).
Let’s talk about free-to-play games for a moment. Regarded as the “ultimate evil of gaming” by many, these titles let players get into the game for free, play the game at no charge, and then provides the option to make small purchases as they play. The benefits of these purchases vary from game-to-game, and generally cater to the market they’re created in: games that cater to competitive audiences tend to allow cosmetic purchases, while casual games allow purchases that provide special powers or increased abilities. Game of Dice fits somewhere in the middle of the spectrum…or, at least, it LOOKS like it does.
Let’s establish a core belief here: people make free-to-play games to make money. Making and running a game isn’t cheap, and most players who play a free-to-play game won’t spend a dime. That means the company needs to capitalize on paying players to keep them coming back and keep them spending money. Casinos know this already: they reward frequent players with free nights in the hotel, comped drinks and meals, and entertainment tickets to make sure they spend more time at the casino. Free-to-play gaming already does the same thing by providing login bonuses, limited-time events, and awards for top players in the game; in these respects, Game of Dice is no different than any other F2P title. But all of those facets take place outside of actual game play: they’re about getting the player in to the casino, not rigging the game. But what happens when the casino loads the dice?
Just like in Monopoly, players travel the board by rolling two six-sided dice and moving their marker the indicated number of spaces. People who regularly play Monopoly take the odds into account when playing: 7 is the most common combination, followed by 6 and 8, then 5 and 9, so forth. But Game of Dice doesn’t just let you roll: you get to try to influence the dice by choosing a range on the dice slider. The slider is far from fool-proof; even with the highest-level dice you only have a roughly 1 in 3 chance of getting the specific range you asked for. But the ability to influence your roll (or feel like you influence your roll) gives the game itself a chance to manipulate the entire experience.
Let’s think about dice rolls not in terms of their end result, but our requests. If I ask the dice machine for a number between 5-7, it has two options:
- give me a value between 5-7, or
- give me some other result.
Six is good, both eight and twelve are equally bad in this respect. It either gave me what I asked for, or it didn’t, turning 36 separate possible numerical combinations into a binary division in our minds. If we get what we wanted, we’re happy: after all, the odds of getting what we asked for were never really in our favor. If we don’t get what we wanted, well, the odds were against us anyway. That’s just how the dice roll sometimes. In the background, the game’s algorithm gets to call all the shots.
It’s easy to chalk up analogues between Monopoly and Game of Dice in terms of ruleset and gameplay, but their business models are far different. Hasbro makes more money when more copies of Monopoly are sold, so they create different versions of the game, update the rules, run contests, etc to raise awareness about the game and get more copies into homes. Game of Dice, on the other hand, makes more money when players decide to purchase in-game currency, which means they need to keep players playing the game and, more importantly, feeling the drive to spend more money on it. That generally means two things: make the player feel good, and make them feel like they’re winning. These feelings are connected, but different: winning doesn’t feel good if it’s boring, and feeling good doesn’t mean much if you keep chalking up losses on your record. The dice machine slider can let the background algorithm dictate gameplay under the veil of randomness: we see dice on the screen and our brains think they know what’s happening since they’ve rolled dice in reality, but there’s no proof these dice work the same way.
Imagine that you’ve been playing for 15 minutes; two opponents have been knocked out, and it’s just you and one other person vying for the crown. You’re getting close to the 25 turn cap, so you know every move counts. You’re nervous as the slider moves back and forth; you want a 2 so you can land on the bank to get free money, so you stop in the 2-4 range…but you get an 11! You freak out as you see your token move towards a minefield of your opponent’s property, but breathe a sigh of relief as you land on the one property in that minefield that you own. The dice haven’t given you what you want, but they still make you feel good by replacing your fear with a positive ending, and you don’t think about the odds along the way. This happens again and again until the final bell rings: each player landing on just the right spot to keep the game going, with nobody getting the “wrong luck” to result in a major loss. I’ve had this happen to me twice, both games causing the nail-biting tension I described at the beginning of the article. And even after losing a possible third example, the adrenaline still felt…energizing. I wanted to play more. And play more I did, after taking a break to regain my sanity.
Though I certainly don’t believe the dice are truly random, I only have personal experience to suggest there might be some sort of complicated dice/player experience algorithm behind the scenes, tilting wins and losses in certain directions. I propose the theory because we, as users of technology, need to be conscious of the situations we enter in to and the mental biases being used to make us feel comfortable separating from our cash. After all, from a financial perspective, wouldn’t they be foolish not to have that algorithm? Why leave player happiness up to chance? Game of Dice’s job is to entertain players and make Joycity money, and just like a casino, there’s likely far less being left to chance than you’d think.
So, after writing all of this out, I suppose it still begs the question: would I still recommend Game of Dice? Honestly, my feelings are really mixed right now. A consumer/producer relationship is about trust, and I can’t tell how much I trust Game of Dice to be providing me an earnest experience right. I just pulled a comeback win for 4.7 billion Joy (it’s a decent amount of play money; the game starts you with 3B), and though that might’ve thrilled me earlier, I wonder how much of that win was influenced by the fact that I’ve spent $6 on the game already, that I lost around 3.8B earlier tonight and took a break for a few hours, and I wonder whether my opponents paid money, or are just playing for free. Whether those are actual inputs on the dice or not I’m not sure yet, but the trust question remains.
If Game of Dice were a real board game with real dice though, I’ve have bought a copy. I’d instantly tell everyone else to as well, hands down.