by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Internet”

Goodbye, Packrat

Posted 17 October 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy Packrat. In fact, I suspect that half this blog’s content derives from my becoming obsessed with some game and then writing endless posts on the subject.

But I think I may have just hit the point of no return in Packrat. And I suspect I’m not the only one.

Because the developers have just launched a new version of Packrat, which runs counter to the game we’ve been playing all year.

To play Packrat, you collect various cards in a themed set, combine some of them to make new cards, scour the sets of friends and the computer-controlled rats to find rare pop-up cards, and then vault all the cards in the set to complete it and obtain a themed “Feat of Wonder” card.

All well and good.

Then frustrations began to creep in. Originally, pop-ups were essentially stand-alone cards: you didn’t use them to make higher-value cards, just vaulted them on their own. So when you couldn’t find them, you couldn’t complete an entire set: frustrating, but, since it was only one card out of fifteen or twenty, not enough to bring the game to a grinding halt.

Then they started producing sets that were dependent on pop-ups: you couldn’t make the higher-value cards without them. When they started this, with the Quest for Montezuma collection, it was fair enough, because they warned us in advance that it was an unusually difficult set.

But then it became the norm: all the sets relied on pop-ups for completion.

And pop-ups aren’t distributed equally: half of the discussion forum posts were people complaining that they weren’t getting pop-ups, while other, smugger players were responding, “Really? I found fifteen of those cards in half an hour this morning. Have you tried navigating through the packs backwards?”

That was frustrating enough.

Then a set came in where the higher-value cards were not only dependent on pop-ups, but didn’t increase in value. Normally, if you combined three 1000-point cards, your resultant cards would be worth 5000 points or 7000 points—something greater than the sum of its parts, anyway. Not for this set: at one point, a 10,000-point card, a 7500-point card, and a 750-point card combined to make another 10,000-point card, which made you wonder what you were doing.

But the new version introduces a number of frustrating ideas.

Normally, you have fifteen spaces for cards in your pack. Once your pack is full, you’re stuck until you can swap something out and vault a set. This made creating some of the more card-intensive high-value cards extremely tricky.

Now we have ten spaces, which makes creating some of the card-intensive cards impossible, especially in Quest for Montezuma.

Pop-ups have been replaced with “bonus draw” cards, which doesn’t seem like a radical shift—except that pop-ups used to appear face-up. You knew exactly which card you were getting, and could choose not to pick it up if you didn’t need it or were approaching a full pack. But bonus draw cards appear face down; it’s pot luck which one you actually get when you select bonus draw.

But the most controversial addition is the tickets.

You used to buy cards from markets for credits, which popped up randomly as you moved through the game. That’s still possible.

But now we have three special markets, in which you need tickets. And tickets are bought for $10 U.S. per 100. This is the move that’s causing people to threaten to leave the game in droves.

The intention, allegedly, is to allow people to buy retired and rare cards. Pirate ships from the original High Seas Rivalry set, for example, have always been in great demand. Now you can buy them in the markets.

For 500 tickets.

That’s $50 U.S.

In the current climate (as people on the discussion boards keep saying), that’s a foolhardy move. But so far, no real harm: these are retired sets, not sets in current play. So you could simply ignore the ticket-only markets and move on.

But you can’t.

Because a fair number of cards for new sets are also only available in the ticket-only markets, including cards that were previously available for credits in the ordinary markets.

Take a look, for example, at the cards needed to complete the new Valley of the Kings set at the Packrat Wiki.

To complete the set, you need six Great Pyramids, both to vault on its own and to make three separate cards. But the Great Pyramid is only available to purchase via tickets: at 50 tickets each, this set is going to cost players $30 U. S.

And that’s just for the Pyramids. Throw in King Tut’s Mask, and you have another $20 U. S. And they haven’t revealed how much the Sarcophagus and Head of Anubis might cost us.

That may not seem like a great deal of money, but I’m not convinced that this is the cleverest move on the part of the developers.

I’m sure the game costs them an enormous amount of money to develop and run. But they did launch it on Facebook. To take it from a free game to an expensive game on a site such as Facebook seems counter productive.

And it is expensive, comparatively. I’m currently wondering whether Lego Batman is within my budget, at around $70 Australian for the Nintendo DS version. And that’s a one-off payment for a game that I can play whenever I like. Packrat fees, on the other hand, look to be an ongoing issue.

Sure, the developers claim that you can continue to play the game without paying money for cards. But their claim is vague:

“Items on sale for Tickets can be obtained in other ways for free. You’ll likely have to exercise a little patience, cunning or ingenuity. Even if you’re unable to spend a dime on PackRat, you should still be able to complete collections and earn your Feats.”

Best as I can tell, this can only mean that you may, with luck, find cards that others have spent tickets on floating among the rats’ packs. Perhaps there are people public-spirited enough to spend $10, $15, or $50 on cards and then drop them into the rats’ packs for complete strangers to find, but it seems unlikely.

Perhaps it means that these cards will eventually shift from the ticket-only markets to the credit markets, but if that’s the case, there’s an ethical issue there that bothers me: such a model would take advantage of those desperate enough or impatient enough to pay, rather than making the game even for all players.

And they do have other options. Plenty of people on the forums have indicated a willingness to pay a flat monthly or annual fee. Pogo operates successfully on that model. And iTunes runs more than successfully on a system of micropayments, rather than the macropayments requested here. (And running it via micropayments would be better for the developers, since it reduces bank fees, apparently.)

To be honest, I probably wouldn’t be interested in micropayments, either. I will pay for games; I have a lovely set from Popcap Games, all of which I adore. But I’m not much interested in committing myself to a game that demands irregular payments of irregular amounts.

So I think this is it for me. I’ve enjoyed Packrat, but this new model is not for me.

And I suspect it won’t be for many other people, either.

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