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How (not to) Play Rhythm Games

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

As I was enjoying some of my time playing Bandori and Colorful Stage, I realized I still haven't write an article about the do's and don'ts of this kind of games.


As a piano enjoyer, I love coming back to rhythm games: most Japanese ones (and a few notable Corean ones) have a compelling and wide range of musical themes.


There are, though, many traps to be avoided, as in many gacha games. The question I want to try answer here is:


"Is there a way to enjoy rhythm games without (and with) spending?"

The answer is more complex than one would imagine.


Let's start with this: unlikely many famous gachas, most of the actual content in rhythm games - which is, of course, song tracks - is easily accessible, unlockable, and unlimited to play.


This seems a really good premise to start with, so good that it also looks like the answer of the question and the end of the article. The problem is, though, how invasive the rhythm game paid cycle is.


All the progression-based content is around events, which are single and multiplayer time frames where a story is told via Visual Novel means, and points can be gathered. Points get you to thresholds, where you can unlock rewards.

Getting to the end of the event's story, and even getting the prize card, is easy! But...

That alone would be kind-of-ok, if it wasn't for these two critical elements:

  • You get rewards faster if you have good character cards: the cards come from a very costly gacha, and you may feel compelled to collect the best. This is not still terrible, though, as even more common cards are okay to progress the event

  • The event rank players based on points. Points are gathered through grinding songs in with the most efficiency possible, and that can be achieved by spending the main gacha resource.

This second point entails that pulling the gacha + playing events and gather points is impossible to be played for free in the long term, by design. And the expenses for constantly playing the events and gather as many points as possible is extremely costly. There are people I know about that have spent $20.000 in a single game, so you get what I mean, I hope!


At this point, we have a second question to answer: how comes one would spend all this money in the game if the rewards are easy to get?


The answers are actually a couple.


Completionism / Collection: the compulsion of collecting character cards. Cards have some minor impact on gameplay, but it's not really a big deal, compared to skill. The real reason for that is point hoarding increase during events, and, of course, the idea of creating good teams and completing the collection. A collection of virtual cards, that, actually, is available on the wikia anyways. So then, it's not even for the cards, but for the social recognition that comes by having them.


Competition: ranking in events is the most unhealthy thing I've ever experienced in games... with a single element I love. Let's see these elements together.

Sadly, you don't feel any breeze, by playing 20hrs/day... (hi, Kirbz <3)

Alright, so! There are three ways to have an edge against other players in events. All of which bring to unhealthy behaviors. Let's have fun:

Playtime: people that want to rank in top positions compete by playing as many hours as possible, as playtime is the main component for winning the contest. We're talking about 20-ish hours per day, per six days. Even Aria, my dear assistant, who is the most moderate AI in the world, can't accept something like that, and ended up telling me that's objectively negative

Stamina Boosts: buying point boosts for the whole duration of the event. It's a good load of gacha resource, which is a bit less in some games (Bandori has it capped at 3 per song, which is about $6/hour, if you don't have the free resource saved - and, if you also pull from the gacha, you probably don't). Any game that give a competitive edge by using money is being predatory.

Gacha: you get more points by having event-effective cards. This just means spending more resource, and it hasn't anything to do with skills.

Limited Time Characters! ...more like "character artworks & event point grind modifiers"...

Actual skill is very marginal: you can play songs at hard, or even normal, and still get a fair amount of points. And, anyways, even I can play Expert, so I think most of the players can end up there. At that point, there's no much skill difference, the other factors are much more influential. Hey, but there's a fourth point I'm not mentioning, that *does* influence the outcome.


Meta Songs: playing a song that give you the most points for the least time. This is an optimization element that many use, that is relevant, and bring people spamming the same song. For the whole duration of the event.

Imagine repeating this track 20 hours a day, for most of the events you play... ugh.

Yeah.


So, what do you play for? Is a png that says "1st" enough for this hell?

It seems it is: it's a mix of social recognition inside the community, completionism, and addiction, where fun isn't much into the mix. There is a single element I *do* like, and want to talk about as well.


Teaming up: playing with a team of people that collaborate with you makes the event easier.


Sharing this much pressure with other people is fun. It can also be a catalyst for creating bonds, and writing stories. While I played a bit of rhythm game competitive myself, I loved this aspect: there are Discord servers that are born just for the events, where people organize in large teams, that then join 5-slots to optimize points and fight together.


This is a *good* game design element: fighting together to overcome hard challenges is something I always treasure.


One single good game design aspect, though, can't justify a paid-driven competition where mental health of the competing players is at stake to achieve the first positions.


The feeling of belonging one can have in a rhythm game can be lived in many other situations in life, among which: actual hardships, and dealing them with friends, sports, and playing in the same agonistic team, and even game jams, where having a limited time and some pressure are elements of the experience.


This is why I quit the rhythm game competitive scene, looking for intense emotions somewhere else. You can't really bond with others in a healthy way, while under pressure, and risking to become addicted to such bleak mechanics.


Having healthy challenges based on rhythm game elements, though, would be fun.

I am planning to create a good environment for players, in the future, which is what I wanted to do while playing the game and following its mechanics without making some space for my way of playing the game - which is a healthy one.


Stay tuned to know more about this project! ;D


For now, we can just play rhythm games to collect the real valuable resources: tone crystals in Bandori, music cards in Colorful Stage, etc. Just play the events, and unlock three-star cards: that's your real goal.


If you want to play for achievements, you can always try getting skill-related ones: there are a few you can aim for, that are based on a fair, more balanced gameplay loop!


Ignore everything else. Be happy. Reach out for people without getting stuck in something that will hurt you and your friends as well, if you share my view about things!


Your fellow rhythm-game lover,

Nero

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2 Comments


hawk hollywood
hawk hollywood
Jun 18, 2023

? just don’t play

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Nero Atlas
Nero Atlas
Jul 03, 2023
Replying to

Hi Hawk,

thanks for taking your time reading the article.

The point of the article is not about playing or not playing, it's to highlight what is healthy and what can, instead, be problematic for uninformed players.


Many gacha games, or stamina-based, event-based games warn the players about it, but there's no warning in rhythm games.


The topic is controversial, and the European Commission, along with Belgium and Hawaii, have taken legal actions against gacha mechanics. Here are the sources: European Commission's Petition European Commission's Article and Opinion about the Subject Matter

Belgium and Hawaii's Take on the Subject (Ars Technica's article) One of Nero's Coffee, and AtlaStudio's priorities, is to offer a healthy gaming environment, and help players navigate the gaming scenario.


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