Popmas/Popm@s, or IDOLM@STER’s Tsum Tsum game, launched Thursday in Japan on 1/21. I’m writing it on Saturday–that feels more like 48 hours in, but I really didn’t play the first 6+ hours since it was the middle of the night.
Like the Android-only Beta, the game more or less retained everything and added more features. For one, you can now buy in-game premium currency which are gems. Under gacha (“Scout” as the game calls it) the suptix/offer feature is retained, but there’s now also a money (maney) based gacha which is like the free currency gacha. There are four rare outfits for each idol which can only be obtained in the premium currency gacha (Platinum). I think it’s reasonable to expect additional banners–the UX even have space for this. Read my post on the Beta for more info I won’t rehash here, and some historic notes.
Coaching, unit management, training and work features all remains the same. I think there are more stickers, accessories, songs, idols, skills(!!), and possibly more category of things I’ve yet discover, than what the Beta had. Well, some of those they told us–like the song list currently available and the cast currently available.
There is a tournament live stream between the Popmas branch ambassadors this weekend, so that will be another source of news. If I were to speculate, Popmas will reuse core “content” deliverables from other games, such as the songs and characters.
Worth noting is that Popmas did get an original theme song which is the only other five-branch song, so it will have more original content down the road. I wouldn’t count that as its main bread or butter though.
The game itself feels more or less the same overall as the Beta, and the combos and techniques work between the two, at least the ones I have tried. Having the full range of characters with all the character-based skills both makes the game a bit more of a handful to manage at a high level, but it’s nice that all the jobs work lol. The gameplay itself does feel a bit more restrained in terms of the way various bars charge, between now and Beta.
In terms of the state of play, Beta is a lot more hardcore. People are put into brackets of 20 when they join the game, and my bracket has only so many competitive players.
The game gives you more stamina than you can use for the first 20 or so levels, if not more. It is a bit daunting to learn the game while just grinding away and learning how to play a bit the hard way. Since most of the gameplay is about building stats (which is only earned by playing) and equipping/using the right skills, it would have been nice to have a more hand-holding tutorial given this is the “casual” entry into the franchise.
The game does let you burn 3 bags of stamina on each play for three times of certain rewards, which is how I was able to use it all up within the first 24 hours (among other games, day job and what else). I would say, treat the first 10 levels as “tutorial” and levels 11-20 as “learning how to play the meta game” and it really get started from 20 onward.
As for rolling and reset marathoning, I don’t really recommend it for this game unless you are hard after an outfit. With the launch bonus it’s pretty easy to game 2 rolls right off the bat. But given there are 4 rare outfits for everybody, the odds of getting any specific is quite small, smaller than most marathoners would like. It also is the kind of game where, well, you are mostly casual about it.
That said, there are still some mechanics which gacha affects. For one, you can rank up your skills and idols with gacha. I suspect there will be other ways to do it through future events and achievements (it would be the gold shard item that it asks for). Second, skills are kind of random. There are also rare skills. All I know is the team I started with, which I disregarded the idol attributes, didn’t fit many good skills. Maybe this is worth the rerolling if we knew which skills are available and how good they are–the real tier lists are skills and idol with certain matching attributes.
Anyways, I am way too casual about this casual game, so maybe we’ll revisit this once some months have passed and this game really gets going beyond the early stages. Assuming it stops crashing every 30 minutes, that is. Sounds like this is really an Android issue and it runs fine on iOS, but it is a battery hog on both. Also, two serious bugs in 3 days! Makes you think.
T1: Playing a lot (log in several times a day, do all the stuff):
Princess Connect! Re:Dive
THE IDOLM@STER Million Live Theater Days
T2: Playing occasionally (daily logins only, with bursts of normal play):
THE IDOLM@STER Shiny Colors
Magia Record (EN)
T3: Playing rarely (log in occasionally–just to gacha really):
Hachigatsu no Cinderella 9
THE IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls Starlight Stage
I didn’t mention it on my blog much, but I have been playing Princess Connect! Re:Dive since its launch in 2018 and have been playing it regularly ever since. We are about 1.5 years since launch. I still enjoy that game a lot. Let me write about it.
Princess Connect (Pricone for short) franchise, which first launched in 2015 as a browser game, shut down in 2016. Princess Connect! Re:Dive (Pricone or Pricone-R) launched in 2018 as a mobile app game as a continuation. Pricone-R was originally an Android/iOS game, now also available on PC via DMM. An anime has been announced with no air date, but Studio Wit has extensively provided animation for the app/PC game.
Why do I play it so much? Because it scratches a RPG itch that sort of is at the core of the Cygames RPG theme, yet unlike their other entries, Pricone manages to provide all the flavors with the least amount of filling. “Grinding” this game usually means playing a set 30 or so minutes a day, which completes your dailies and maybe spending a bit of extra time to “tower” or “PVP.” For people who actually are into grinding, this game is going to run dry pretty quick. For people already playing other things or have obligations in RL, it’s an easy thing to keep tabs on and is not laborious.
Re:Dive also balances well between free and paid play, and given its PVP slant there has to be decent balance for the game to still be taken kind of seriously 1.5 years into it. In usual Cygames fashion they are pretty generous with in-game currency, and instead monetize by providing frequent and cheap options to augment your teams. Spending the currency to improve your existing team members usually trumps spending it on gacha, but both do happen.
What I refer to by the Cygames RPG theme I mean generally the following: a stats building core in traditional JRPG sense, the usual rock-paper-scissors damage/defense model, evolving meta (a bit like Shadowverse except it’s with characters and not expansion sets), and clan battle and coop events. In some ways if you are familiar with Cygame’s original properties over the years, you can see those themes progress from one game to the next. In that sense PriconeR reflects a level of maturity in both Cygame’s development process and experience in game design.
One huge way PriconeR reflects mature development process is how it is one of the best quality-of-life games, both in the UI design and in terms of mechanics. Over the last 18 months the game consistently improved its user interface, and updated to add several common shortcuts and to removed mechanics that reduced player enjoyment/added tedium. It’s very clear they are tracking how players are playing the game in a very direct sense, like what menus are being opened and what stages people run, not to mention obvious things like which characters people are raising and using with others and where.
There used to be a player-matching PUG mechanism that gave out pretty decent rewards, but the fights for that feature were so easy that it was just pure grind. The challenge was actually doing the PUG part. That feature got axed pretty quickly because most of the time the players are dealing with the matchmaking interface rather than actually playing the game. You can see that they even upped the reward to get more people to play prior to axing it, but a lot of people cannot be arsed to wait for matches.
Visually, the game is a cute-girls-gets-stuck-in-a-mmorpg kind of a theme. It is very cute and generally the visuals roll between the SD models that you see in the 2D game engine and the full-on anime visuals, or the 2D static graphic for the dialog/adventure game/VN portion. There is a lot of skeuomorphism which adds color to the whole experience of this rustic RPG vibe circa Ragnarok Online. Once in anime mode, though, the game, complete with Kouhei Tanaka-style sounds, reminds me more of Sakura Taisen. The next-episode preview bits for its in-game events and main story chapters drive that home.
Actually the composers for the game range a lot. Tanaka wrote the main theme, but just eyeing through the in-game music store (you can unlock songs from events and the story to use as in-game menu BGM) you see composers like InoTak, for instance. Which is lols.
Usually Princess Connect! Re:Dive means clearing the daily quests. It requires stamina (generated over time, the primary gameplay driver) to clear 20 nodes, 3 hard nodes, do 1 Arena battle, do 1 Princess Arena battle, buy mana once, skill up a character, star up a piece of gear, give someone in your clan an “ii ne,” do 1 dungeon battle, do 4 “explorations,” and you get 100 free stamina from noon JST and another 100 stamina at 6pm JST. Occasionally there are events, which are self-contained areas which have their own daily and event-specific quests, plus the monthly Tower of Luna daily and Clan Battle daily.
To do the daily quest as someone in UTC-5, I log in once in the morning and once at night. You have a “room” (similar to Deresute) in which you can grow and farm bonus stamina, exp pots, skip tickets and mana. Harvesting twice or three times a day keeps everything under their maximum limit. Also, that lets me collect the daily quest stamina. So I would probably do the “early day” stuff and finish as many quests as I care for when I log in at night after work, and log in once in the morning to clear out the accumulated stuff in order to finish all the dailies.
I would probably play a bit harder on evenings for Clan Battle nights to save the clan battles for the morning, since it require using up 900 stamina. It’s just easier to wait for the bonus daily stamina. Tower I generally hate so I try to play it only when I’m in the mood for, and have time for.
Since I have been playing the game fairly closely since launch, the routine also carry me at the top of the player level cap all this time, as the level cap extends once or twice a month. Having access to all the content probably makes all this easier from the start. Events are a breeze to grind through, where the challenge is in only clearing the VH boss with 1 try, and the exhibition mode/special mode. In recent months the game has been sort of trying to be more relaxing in order to allow late comers to enjoy the later content.
Given the PVP drive of the game, there is a lot of advantage for being first mover. To use a recent example, the latest meta-altering character, Neneka, dropped into gacha as a limited character about a couple weeks ago. For the first 2-3 days people were easily topping Arena and Princess Arena. Now it’s full of people with 5* Neneka (and 6* Kyaru) a week since. To get 5* Neneka to rank 14, that is a fairly significant investment that even I was able to make (despite being mostly a free player).
There is definitely an online community for the game in which a meta exists, either because that’s what “gamers” read on the internet or seen others do. Obviously, a social game that is Pricone, with clans and all, people talk about what works and what doesn’t. This especially matters when it comes down to arena and princess arena, which are really just a giant puzzle where if you can recognize the hand the opponent fields, you can figure out your counter. The fun is figuring it out, mostly, because it’s not so fun to play janken when you know what your opponent throws, unless you just want to enjoy winning (and it is enjoyable).
This is at odds with the social/meta nature of this Cygames game (think Shadowverse) where people competitively come up with “teams” (or decks) in which you can beat via some kind of RNG (since you can’t control play). If your team is “rock” enough against an opponent team that is “scissors” enough, you will more likely win than not. So in the end everyone tend to pick teams that are really the rock/paper/scissors that has the most difficult counter. It isn’t even like janken where you have to guess, or like “arena janken” where you have to think about if the opponent’s teams are like rock or paper or scissors, it’s just a matter of balance.
So when a new winning combo drops due to a new character, it becomes fun again. Until the meta settles or is altered (like how Neneca is kind of replaced by Kyaru 6*), it’s kind of fun again.
This game fits my lifestyle. Reality is I don’t have a lot of time to sit down and play. Console games are rough. I can do stints with Steam, although lately my PC needs an upgrade to really enjoy that. Half of that time I am either watching anime or sportsball, or catching up with tons of free seiyuu content online in radios or promotional talk shows or weekly streams. I can grind, and the game has grind-type content if you want it, but I’m never forced to do that, nor does grinding convey so much advantage. I can just put in my 20 minutes a day if that is all I have time for. I can even skip if I really want to.
The game is also fun, which is why I have not gotten bored with it. The QoL changes over time makes the game less painful to other entries. The art and voice over (fully voiced game) is top notch and the anime style really apes from that Sakura Wars-shaped hole in my life.
It also helps that the main story is kind of interesting, although I don’t really care too much about the characters themselves. It is a serious game with silly characters and I’ve had enough of those. They are features I don’t need, but enjoy, and maybe others like them more.
So overall this is a great little gem of a game that could take off in the right situation. In South Korea the game apparently is doing very well, and it isn’t too bad in Taiwan/HK/Macau either. I believe there is even a Chinese knockoff of it now. Pricone shows that a quality product that does many of the little things right will still find an audience.
Here are some impressions, as per usual. On a personal note, I recently signed up for HiDive, and it doesn’t have Apple TV support, which is what I use to watch probably 75% of anime these days. It also doesn’t have Chromecast support, which is what I use to watch ~15% of anime these days (only usually because I’m at a friend’s house or Apple TV is having issues). The two technology platforms are kind of interchangeable, since I use both at home for various things. The rest of the time I watch either on my phone (because I’m on an airplane) or on my PC (because I happen to be in front of it), in that 10% remainder. It also means HiDive is kind of worthless to me right now.
The problem with HiDive is that it doesn’t support how I watch anime most of the time. If it takes less effort to me to XDCC some files and watch it on Apple TV via Plex, than load up the video I want on HiDive, cast my whole phone, then hit play, this competing product is just a waste of my time that happened to cost money. Would it be OK for me to subscribe and not use it? I guess so. For now, the only real way to watch stuff on HiDive, short of inside a browser, is that I can dial up a video on my phone and stream my phone Airplay/Chromecast-like, but this sucks if all you have is your phone, and not a second device to play with in your living room. It is very much a first world problem, but this entire blog is more or less a first-world-issues only site.
That’s not even mentioning all the bugs in the Android app. And how the web version is making the same mistakes that plagued FUNi’s website back when they were solo on the streaming. Anyways.
On a less ranty, but still ranting, note, I picked up the EN version of BanG Dream game, administered out of Singapore. It’s perfectly fine and provides an updated experience than my first run-ins with the original JP version so long ago. They fixed most of the tuning issue with stamina usage and event point system. The more fleshed out exchange system now has some balance with grinding up character training mats. There are more songs you have access to right out of the gate, if just the newer covers alone.
Playing it also reminds me what I didn’t like about the game, which is having to put up with songs you don’t like or don’t want to listen to during multiplayer. This is why I almost never choose Random for song selection, anyway. Oh, and the usual abusers in the game that coast or outright cheat.
Then again, I get why some people instant-disconnect after the song selection screen. I really don’t have to want to put up with one more listen of Shuwarin. I’ve not fallen that far yet but it’s getting close. It would be really great if the game lets you blacklist a few songs!
OK, enough sidebars. Here are the initial offering (which is bound to shrink as the MLB season wears on).
Today is the last day of operation for the GREE-published version of Million Live, which is the original IDOLM@STER MILLION LIVE game. Ps call it “greemas” for short. It is the core product of that IP and it is now shut down as of this writing, just moments ago.
There are so many things I want to say so I’ll just keep it short and in bullets. Think of it as a way for me to commemorate this occasion.
This game was how my “gacha cherry” was popped. This meant my mental barriers were rationalized away and since then I spent good money on games I think that are worth it, which is namely just the other two major IDOLM@STER SNS games, Deresute and Theater Days. I also spend money on games that I think have entertained me a lot, just much less. (For example, I already spent maybe $160 in Pricone Redive but I probably will stop there. This is not even 10% of what I spent in Greemas.)
This game was occasionally very fun, but usually more a chore. The saving grace is that the chore part is pretty light, unless you wanted to do a crazy amount of ranking. In the finals stats page the game provided during its shutdown period, I was able to get the “IDOLM@STER” achievement 11 times, which is just to say I was able to produce at least 1 idol in the top percentiles. I forget exactly. But it’s little things like that which makes this game fun.
The thing I will miss the most about Greemas is how it is a game that really went to creative places. Like a Star Wars inspired event. Or taking traditional idol torture to the next level. Or the Namasuka Sunday events. Or Tokugawa’s Castle, literally. There were various sports meets. There was TGS. There was the live on the space station. It was nuts. Theater Days so far has not even came close to scratching that itch, although it does seem things might move in that direction finally…
Million Live might be the first time where the game and the live events were closely integrated, to the degree that you can have producer support walls and even ticket lotteries in the game. Will this tradition continue? I hope so.
It is definitely the first IM@S game where recorded lines from the live were delivered into game as content, days just after the event. It’s a great way to energize your hardcore eventing fan base. It also points at the live events as a part of the game. It is the kind of thing that makes me think that Million Live is an IP where the content revolves around the live events.
This is all besides the core community on Greemas. During the Theater Boost [idol voting for Theater Days] people were communicating on the idol boards on Greemas. Greemas also has a dialog engine where you can create commu screens and it ran contests on the best fan-submitted entries. On top of the basic player communication and lounges, there are no easy replacements for them.
Thank you Greemas. Million Live will continue without you, but it will never be the same and we will never forget the good (and bad) times!
The Star Wars Battlefront II Loot Box Whine situation is one thing, but I have thought about this a lot over the years, as a transition from someone who only knows about gacha games into someone who whales in gacha games. I have my own take on this, which is microtransactions will invariably be a part of life for a lot of gamers, because that’s where the business is going no matter if you are AAA or the most indie of indie game makers. As business models revolving around various styles of microtransaction matures, we should see more significant and mature design philosophies and best practices emerge.
That is if people who make games get a clue. I think for the most part, the people who cut their teeth on the various app stores with F2P models do today, at least as a business. They wouldn’t be in the business otherwise, since that field is quite competitive. It’s a different ball game with AAA for sure, as the constraints are different.
I guess I can start with some disclosures. One of my dayjob’s department (which I’m not related to or work with) actually publishes F2P games and deals with some microtransaction. They are big on narrative driven games powered by subscriptions, where a customer on the plan can get new content on a regular basis. Subscriptions are really the way to go for certain markets where the mentality is a lot more entrenched against gacha, or due to government regulation on gacha, things are more limited.
The fundamental psychology behind player emotion, satisfaction, and gacha is interesting, but the game design side is also very interesting. Most of the interplay between psychology and design in gacha-style games are no different than any other game. You want mechanics that evoke positive emotions and behavior that drives player interests forward, and you build a content delivery system along that to create positive feedback and further emotional and behavioral reinforcement. On the flip side, you want players to have agency yet gate content reasonably with some metric to reward user attention, play time, skill and spend.
There is actually space for negative reinforcement too, I think, but in very limited cases–I see this the most in Korean and Chinese online games now where player simply just grind for the most part, in a sad way that mimics an outlook of reality that is unpopular in the west. In short, simple and repetitive completion rewards those who can put in the most time playing, and reinforces a sense of fairness and achievement through predictable, simple labor as a form of escapism. The model is attractive because the development is simple and the content is piled on linearly. In a way I feel this is the approach Battlegrounds II is taking.
On the flip side you have a game like Deresute, where gacha is the beginning and the end and it’s really like gambling, in that the stuff you want is gated inside the UFO Catcher machine of bling and glam. It’s great fun to hit a jackpot and this is part of the game’s draw. On the far side of the digital idol-casino-resort is all the rhythm game machine you can play rhythm games, or a game of house, or watch idols dance. Each section of the game is its own draw that are tied together thematically by a cohesive franchise.
I think a basic understanding in terms of free play versus paid play tend to come down to being able to get what you want easier. In these idol gacha games for example, the goals tend to be the collection of some or all idols, and/or creating strong teams or specific teams or outfits for the rhythm game part. Free players just gain idols at a slower rate than paid players, and strongest cards are gated more so for free players (needing to roll). The strategy is either you spend your currency in ranking to get fairly strong but effort-based characters or you save more of it to roll. The efficacy comes down to pricing and availability of the ingame currency, as well as how competitive the game is for events (which is tied to how strong or desirable the reward is). This is where you balance player perception of “P2W” by making a big enough of a separation between winning competitively in rhythm games and winning in the casino in your idol-casino-resort. (It isn’t in Battlefront II but western gamers don’t know the difference, partly because the play paths are unusual for a AAA game and it’s obfuscated (intentionally even) by the game design choices.)
This really leads to one thing: explaining the loot in the box. In Japan rates and results of gacha is available by law. There are some loopholes to this (see: building ships in Cancolle or Azur Lane). There are some downsides to publishing your rates, too. But there are upsides, which is people can figure out how to play your game right in terms of how the gacha mechanics play in player progression. This isn’t clear in Battlefront II by design. Furthermore, having the probability and rewards available is just less sketchy and people can take you to your word in terms of rolling the die, and gives developers and publishers more credibility. You want this to not be like actual gambling in reality, in that people are doing it because they don’t know what they’re doing, that it’s done sometimes coercively, that people don’t trust the system (especially when it’s unregulated). You kind of actually want it to be like actual gambling, in that it’s fun for some, and the odds are well known. In other words, microtransaction games can be the best of both worlds–or at least a bit better than each of them separately. Developers can get paid no matter of their games’ scale, and game designers and players can embrace the RNG for mutual benefit.
I think this has to happen first by devs knowing how to extract pleasure for microtransactions in a non-zero-sum kind of way. Which is to say, you have to treat all your customers like customers, because paying customers are only going to have a good time only if nonpaying customers are also having a good time. It’s not like video games have real marginal costs, so this is entirely possible, and is actually what happens in many of the best F2P games. It’s a real pity that this hasn’t been the case in the earlier days of microtransaction, firmly planting the concept in the negatives in public.