What is the Buildable Game Mechanic and how does it work?

The Buildable Game Mechanic has been implemented in many of the popular online social games.  Some with a lot of success (some with no so great success).  During this post I want to help break down what the Buildable Game Mechanic is and how it works.

In the simplest explanation the Buildable Game Mechanic can be described as a mechanic that allows players to build an item up through various levels.  For demonstration let’s use a Canon as an example.

A basic cannon might be say 5 feet by 5 feet and have a shooting range of let’s say 100 yards and can shoot a new canon ball every 10 seconds (ok – not a very powerful canon)…  Still you get the point.  This basic canon costs you 100 coins in the game.  This is a level 1 canon and is very appropriate for low level players.  The problem is that as your players progress in the game, this canon becomes less and less powerful.  Your players might need to shoot canon balls more often (faster the one per 10 seconds) or they might need greater range.  That is where the Buildable Game Mechanic comes in.

The Buildable Game Mechanic allows your players to upgrade this canon for a more powerful one.  They are still keeping the canon and the upgrade generally does not cost as much as it would to by the more powerful canon outright as a new asset.  In essence you are allowing the players assets to grow on their game board as they grow and progress through the game.

In order to upgrade the canon you charge your player 50 coins.  In return the canon can now fire a cannon ball every 8 seconds (compared to 10 before) and now has a range of 125 yards.  The exact price and benefit ratio is just an example — and can be tweaked to match your game specifics.

Once your player is finished with that they might then have to option to upgrade it to another level.  Level 3 might fire a canon ball every 6 seconds and have a range of 150 yards.

Your player is now at the point to where they could have gone two different routes, both spending 200 coins.  They could have purchase two canons, each shooting 1 canon ball every 10 seconds with a range of 100 yards — or they could have upgraded a single canon twice which now shoots 1 canon ball every 6 seconds with a range of a 150 yards.

This analysis is a critical (and often overlooked) part of the Buildable Game Mechanic.  As a game designer you want to ensure that your buildable actions provide a distinct benefit.  If your game is one in which the gameboard real estate is valuable then the option of simply being able to make existing assets more powerful might be enough.  if your game has more gameboard real estate available then you will want to ensure that your buildables provide a better cost ROI otherwise your players will not see the value.  This is a common over looked detail that often causes a Buildable Game Mechanic to fail.

One great benefit about the Buildable Game Mechanic is that it is literally endless.  Depending on the other aspects of your game, this could be an item that infinitely upgrades.  Maybe with each upgrade it get’s slightly faster or slightly taller or has slight better range.  The exact details depend on your game — but there is nothing that is holding you back from having the Buildable upgrade be an equation for how much improvement is made with each level.

One last caveat that is often overlooked with the Buildable Game Mechanic.  Each time your item is upgraded, you will want to do something visually to the user so that they have a way to distinguish various levels of the asset.  Maybe the asset gets bigger in size or has additional pieces of artwork attached to it.  Maybe it simply changes color or the animation runs a little faster.  Whatever the change is just make sure that the user can distinguish that the asset is indeed upgraded and now provides more value to them.

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