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Why Life Timers in Mobile Games Are Annoying

Angry AndroidGamingFox and red hearts.

Why I Wrote This Post

I write about life timers in almost all of my game reviews when I mention the annoyances found in games.

I am going to explain why these timers are annoying and what I think can be done to make these fairer for players.

What Are Microtransactions?

Microtransactions are (originally) small purchases you make in games. This is a way to earn infinite money. Much more money compared to the past. This is why developers tend to release free to play games, with microtransactions the most as well.

Who doesn't want to be like Scrooge McDuck and swim in gold coins!?
Picture from DuckTales. A cartoon made by Disney.

Being Free to Play and Having Microtransaction Is a Winning Combination

Free to Play Games Make a Lot of Money

While writing this post, I checked the Google Play Top Charts. The top ten grossing games are free to play.

The top five grossing games on Google Play. Candy Crush Saga, Coin Master, Homescapes, Pokemon GO, and Gardenscapes.
Screenshot of the Google Play Android app.

People Do Not Buy Apps on Google Play

The average Google Play user does not buy games. Terraria and Minecraft are some games that sell very well on Google Play. But these games are exceptions and not normal.

Why People Don’t Buy Apps

Why don’t people buy games on Google Play often? I am not sure, to be honest. According to one source, this issue is psychological and due to people expecting apps to be free.

Developers Found Other Ways to Make Money

Developers turned to other ways to make money. They put microtransactions in games. They showed ads to the players.

The key point we need to understand is that developers make more money with microtransactions and ads than selling games.

Enter the Life Timer

Developers Figured out They Can Make Money Based on Play Time

At some point, some developers decided on a neat trick to earn money by monetizing playtime. They did this by limiting playtime with lives.

Once players have zero extra lives, they must wait in real-time to get these lives back. That or pay money/in-game currency to keep on playing the game.

This System Works Very Well

Mobile game developers very efficiently turned game playtime into a currency. Now players need to earn, wait, and buy this currency to play games.

This system works very well and it is one of the primary reasons why games like Candy Crush Saga make so much money. But this system is also very manipulative.

We need to understand why systems like this are bad to understand how they manipulate players into spending money.

The screen that shows when you run out of lives in Candy Crush Saga.
Screenshot of the Candy Crush Saga Android game.

Nobody Likes to Wait for Things!

Who Has Time to Wait?!

I am sure almost everybody in the world hates waiting for things. Or the boredom this waiting brings anyway. Waiting in line, in particular, annoys me.

Timers in Mobile Games Are Artificially Created

The reason why waiting feels even worse in mobile games is that this time wasted is artificially generated. Developers don’t have to do this.

Once you run out of lives, you often have to wait 20 plus minutes to keep playing the game. Or you can buy some in-game currency and be ready to go right away.

They choose to make you wait. Being forced to wait for no reason other to make money is why I hate this system so much.

By having a system like these developers are encouraging players to spend money to make the issue go away. But don’t forget this issue was created by the developers, to begin with!

The screen that shows when you run out oflives in Angry Birds Pop.
Screenshot of Angry Birds Pop Android game.

This System Only Exists to Make Money

This system exists for only one reason. To make more money with microtransactions and to get people to watch more ads.

Candy Crush Saga nags you when you run of lives. Don't give up now!
Screenshot of the Candy Crush Saga Android game.

But Timers Are Used to Slow Down Players!

I recently read an argument that stated that a developer used timers in their game not to primarily make money but to slow players down.

They stated that if they did not do this, players would binge the game, beat everything, and not want to come back, and they had a higher player retention rate by using timers.

I think this argument is dumb.

The goal of a developer should be to make players happy. If players want to beat your game and move on, that should be OK. But I suppose a higher player retention rate gives you something to brag about and show off.

How Can This System Be Fixed?

Get Rid of the Whole Thing!

First, the easiest solution is for developers to stop using this system altogether! I doubt this will happen, though, as this system makes too much money.

Let Players Hold More Than Five Extra Lives

First, why do all games have a five live limit? Why not give players ten lives or even more? This would be much fairer for players.

A great example of this system done well is Puzzle and Dragons. In that game, as you level up and progress in the game, the total amount of energy you use goes up. This makes it so you can play more levels.

The energy cost of the levels also goes up, but after playing the game for so long, eventually, you get way ahead of these costs.

Puzzle and Dragons rewards the players who play the most by giving them more opportunities to play levels. I like this solution, and I wish more developers would use it.

Five lives means full in Angry Birds Dream Blast.
Screenshot of Angry Birds Dream Blast Android game.

Don’t Make Players Wait so Long

Why make players wait over 20 minutes to get extra lives back? I have even seen some games with life timers that are 30 minutes long! If you must have a timer, keep it short! Like about 10 or 15 minutes.

With a life timer of 15 minutes and five lives, it would take slightly over an hour to get all five lives back.

The screen that shows when you run out of lives in Toy Blast.
Screenshot from Toy Blast Android game.

Let Players Save Extra Lives for When They Really Need Them

Let players hold on to extra lives until they need them! Some games have a system that lets you do this, and it is great.

Toy Blast lets you hold onto extra lives earned from events until you want to use them. Candy Crush Saga also does something similar.

Games that force you to use extra lives right away or waste them when your extra lives are full are outdated. I hope more developers allow you to save your extra lives.

Games that have unlimited lifetime rewards should let players save and hold onto that as well! Often I get rewards in games, but I can’t use that reward right away.

I might not feel like playing the game anymore. I could be busy.

2:59:41 of time of unlimited time in Angry Birds Match.
Screenshot of Angry Birds Match 3 Android game.

It would be great if I could have a session of unlimited lives when I want to play the most. This often is right before I go sleep and have finished everything else I needed to do that day.

Let Players Earn Extra Lives More Often

If you are going to make playtime a currency, then let the players earn this currency like any other. Let players get extra lives from daily rewards. Let them play events and save the extra lives they earn.

Reward your most active players with unlimited lifetime. So they don’t have to worry about being stuck on hard levels.

Rewarded Videos Need to Be Worth Doing

Also, if you are going to give players chances to get extra lives back from video ads, then make these rewards meaningful!

Give players all of their lives back! Give them 10 or 15 minutes of unlimited lifetime. Give them multiple lives from watching ads they can save and use later. The players who will take advantage of this are your biggest fans and play your games the most.

Final Thoughts on Life Timers

This life timer system can be made fairer. Developers need to be willing to be different and try new things. They also need to be willing to not make every cent possible from players.

People can make a good game that is fun to play and sells well. It is not an easy task, but it still is possible.

Or at the very least there is a way to make money from players without turning playtime into money.