Poor UX: Enhancement systems in mobile games — Black Desert Mobile

I love games, and I’ve been gaming ever since my brother and I got a Super Nintendo back in the 90s. Well, now that I think about it, my brother got it and I just kind of used it…a lot. There were fights. Anyways, moving on…

As I’ve gotten older and have more responsibilities, I don’t have time to sit down and immerse myself in a typical console or PC game the way I could when I was younger. Luckily, smartphones and tablets are a thing, so mobile gaming has taken over as my primary area of focus. Most mobile games allow for auto play of some sort, so this means I’m not perma-locking myself to a device for hours on end…well, most days (I am a gamer after all, so old habits die hard, or never die).

Recently I’ve found myself playing the game Black Desert Mobile.

What can I say, I’m a sucker for games that allow me to use 1:1 body models and fashion choices

If you’ve played PC games before or follow gaming news, then the Black Desert name may sound familiar. Initially launched in 2014 by Korean developers Pearl Abyss, the open world MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) Black Desert Online found critical success for its graphics, unique character classes/customization options, and engrossing gameplay. It has since been released on the XBOX One and PS4 consoles. Without going into too much other detail (and believe me, I could) Black Desert Mobile (here-in referred to as BDM) is a mobile version of the PC game for Android and iOS.

hmm, my dark knight doesn’t look like that…

Okay, background out of the way, let’s get into what really matters: Enhancement systems.

For all my non-gamers out there, you might be wondering what the hell I’m talking about, so here’s a crash course. You know how in movies like Rocky there’s always a training montage where he goes from kind of average to being the best? Well, think of enhancement systems like that. They’re your training method to power up as you try to raise your rank on the CP (combat power) charts.

Here’s what it looks like in BDM:

Almost there!

Yay, lots of numbers, what do they mean?

Okay, let’s try to break this down as simply as possible.

In BDM, the maximum enhancement level on any given piece of gear is +40.

The minimum success rate (smack dab in the middle of the pic above)before you can attempt an enhancement is 10%, but you can continue to raise your success rate all the way up to 100% for guaranteed power increases using in game items (good user experience!).

This is an improvement on past games I’ve played, where there is a system in place that a)starts you out with guarantees, then drops you off a cliff, leaving you hanging on for dear life or b)starts you out with no guarantees, immediately setting you up for failure.

Woah, sounds like your title is wrong

Remember how I just explained that the max enhancement on any given gear was +40 and that success could always be guaranteed? Well, I lied.

It’s time to go….beyond

Yes, just like the Super Saiyan power up from Dragonball Z, BDM offers a way for players to enhance beyond +40, and improve their CP even more. Ironically, this is where the improvements in the enhancement system stop.

Welcome to Awakened Enhancements

Pay the cost…They’re not wrong, it does cost you…materials, sanity, new devices…

Why? Just…why?

The words above have certainly been uttered by everyone who encounters this screen in BDM.

Once your gear reaches +40, the enhancement system changes from one where everything is guaranteed to that cliff of despair, where everything can go from right to wrong in an instant. The Awakened Enhancement system is completely based around luck. If you succeed, you pray to RNJesus for blessing you.

If you fail, you go down an enhance level and cry. You’re given a chance to restore to your previous enhance level, but you can fail that as well, and then you’re out even more materials. Plain and simple, it sucks.

Me IRL thinking about Awakened Enhances

Hey Christian, did you ever think that this gaming company is trying to teach you that nothing in life is guaranteed and you have to risk it for the biscuit?

Look, if a game wants to teach me life lessons, I welcome that, but do it through the story please. In mobile games, where progression is often what drives most players, putting systems in places where players can not only fail, but also lose power upon failure is a shady practice, and not good user experience design.

You don’t have to search online for long to find people who have given up on BDM just because they can’t get over a certain enhancement level, or they’ve just gotten so frustrated that they resort to “rage enhancing,” using all their materials and money just to find themselves weaker than when they started. Then they quit, so it’s another player down in the end.

The rage is real

I’m not naive, and I realize that most mobile games are just out there to be cash grabs that use psychological tricks to keep spenders spending.

However, if games truly want to maintain long-term success and happiness among all players, it is my belief that there should be a system in place where players can always feel like there is a chance to continue progressing at a reasonable pace. Things like safety nets at every level of enhancement, where maybe you won’t succeed 100% of the time, but you also won’t be punished for trying, so you’ll save up and try again with more confidence and hope.

So I’ll continue hoping that someone, somewhere will make a mobile game that has amazing gameplay and doesn’t rely on punishing players for attempting to get stronger. Now that would be an enhancement.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn

Open minded + curious UX Designer. I like taking deeper dives to understand and summarize topics so that other people don’t have to do as much work (hopefully).

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