How would you keep an aging pet game running/"living", without punishing player absence?

sf9

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Hey all ~

(Note: This only about games where pet age affects gameplay/mechanics.)

Some pet sites, especially older ones, run continuously regardless of player activity. Players on breaks or vacation may return to find their pets hungry, neglected, or even dead. Other sites can "freeze" pets, i.e. through manual account locking or player-initiated rollovers.

It's good when devs recognize players are real people playing for fun. A real dog is a responsibility, but a virtual one shouldn't be.

That said, the "freezing" systems I've seen so far can have some cons.

If pets don't age during player absence, family trees/pedigrees get messed up. Offspring older than their parents, elderly pets with newborn littermates... I don't think that's always ideal for a comprehensive breeding sim.

And lack of incentive can lead to player disengagement. If it makes no difference to log in today or in six months, players may not return after an intended break for a long time. Again, players shouldn't be penalized or unable to catch up, but zero incentive may be too little?

So, my question to you is: What do you think would be a good way to keep the game "living" (pets age up, retire/die at old age, etc.) without making players feel punished for being absent/busy/on vacation?
 

KiRAWRa

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This is a really interesting question and I'd like to know other's thoughts on this as well. Unfortunately I don't have much of an answer, but I always liked how Flight Rising handles log-ins after a long break - by auto feeding your dragons and giving you easy access to see what you've missed. I prefer when feeding is treated more as a boon or bonus activity versus a required one. Dappervolk does it well too, feeding pets increases their bond with you but they don't die if you neglect them or anything.
The only halfway decent suggestion I can come up with in terms of aging is to implement two different aging systems - one that ticks on continuously from birth, and one that only progresses when the player is actively engaging with the pet. So pets could be 50 days old or 1,000 days old and that number wouldn't matter beyond being a display statistic. The pet would only age up/retire/die based on how much time has been spent by the player growing/leveling them up.
Granted you'd have pets dying at vastly different ages like this, and some would be practically immortal if a player just plain never logged in again, but idk I'm just throwing an idea out there lol.
 
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sf9

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This is a really interesting question and I'd like to know other's thoughts on this as well. Unfortunately I don't have much of an answer, but I always liked how Flight Rising handles log-ins after a long break - by auto feeding your dragons and giving you easy access to see what you've missed. I prefer when feeding is treated more as a boon or bonus activity versus a required one. Dappervolk does it well too, feeding pets increases their bond with you but they don't die if you neglect them or anything.
The only halfway decent suggestion I can come up with in terms of aging is to implement two different aging systems - one that ticks on continuously from birth, and one that only progresses when the player is actively engaging with the pet. So pets could be 50 days old or 1,000 days old and that number wouldn't matter beyond being a display statistic. The pet would only age up/retire/die based on how much time has been spent by the player growing/leveling them up.
Granted you'd have pets dying at vastly different ages like this, and some would be practically immortal if a player just plain never logged in again, but idk I'm just throwing an idea out there lol.

I agree about feeding; turning food into a buff/boon/bonus instead of a "you-better-do-this-or-else!" is a good solution. Encourages feed mechanic/gameplay without hard consequences.

Though, you could still run into returning players never being able to "catch up", I think? Say food gives the pet a stat increase for example. Then the player who returns every day will always be ahead of a player who's missed out a few feedings. If the game has a competitive edge, this could be punishing.

But you'd also want to encourage people to log on daily. There's got to be some incentive. Tricky balance to find, but, hey, that's literally the reason I made this post xD;

Perhaps a higher cap on such bonuses/increases/progress for people who don't return daily? Or you normally feed one item a day, but can feed extra items for missed days to catch up... Hmm.

-

As for pet age, there are several sites that do use the mechanic of only aging the pet when the player is active. (And to that extent, only grow hungry etc. on those days too).

But it creates some weird gaps between generations, and for a game that is based around a complex breeding/pedigree system, it doesn't feel right imo. It could even cause some exploitation. Say a gene is somewhat common in the start of the game, but as the years go by, it becomes rare.. Now if a player returns a year or two and still have a young pet with that gene, they suddenly have something valuable that wasn't worth much when they got it.

I'm wondering what a good balance could be between keeping a pet game "living" / aging up every day, but is still just a game; fair to everyone.
 

Recurrence

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Now if a player returns a year or two and still have a young pet with that gene, they suddenly have something valuable that wasn't worth much when they got it.
That scenario doesn’t strike me as bad actually—for the game, the economy, or the players. So long as it’s not predetermined that all pets appreciate in value purely from time passing (in which case exploiting this fact might lead to players refusing to engage with your game for RL months). Returning players necessarily have to play some catch-up to reach whatever heights they gained before they left, as well as adapt to the latest changes. If a few of their otherwise outdated pets have gained new worth, at least that’s something nice for returning players to discover—whereas the majority of their other pets may have vastly depreciated in value. Seems like a decent trade-off of actively improving / staying competitive vs. having your pets far behind the curve with a small chance of a gain.

For games aspiring to realism, yeah, I can see the problems with implausible age gaps. In that case, I think an interesting solution could be: let returning players obtain a frozen egg/straw from a limited number of their pets who became ineligible for breeding during the player’s absence. Instead of allowing them to keep pets that would have died, let them keep a copy of their genes. Basically a way to allow players to continue from the best of their lines, as long as there are reasonable measures against exploitation (only let them choose pets who would’ve been breedable had the player not left the game). Now those valuable genes won't stick around in a live pet, and you're limiting the access to those genes to new births. Then, you can even have the breeding script control how likely those genes will pass down.
 

Baw$e

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You shouldn't "punish" inactive players. Instead you should offer them a incentive to come back. You don't want to discourage members from playing at your site. Maybe send out a mass email to all inactive members offering them bonus points, or a new pet. Just an idea ;)