Tap Tap Fish is a mobile ‘game’ I recently started ‘playing’, and have been having a lot of fun with. As a game designer, I consider this type of ‘game’ to be an abomination, an insult to the world of gaming. If you do not already play Tap Tap Fish I cannot in good conscious recommend this game, because it is terrible. That being said, I have spent a lot of time playing it, and have thoroughly enjoyed doing so. So, why have I played so much of it? Below, I explore what makes something like Tap Tap Fish so enjoyable, even though it is objectively a terrible game.
Everything that is wrong with Tap Tap Fish can be summed up by saying that it is essentially Cow Clicker. For those of you who do not know, Cow Clicker was originally designed as a satire of social games. In the game you click a cow, which earns you points, which you can use to…well, click the cow more. By getting your friends to play too, you can click their cows, and earn more clicks. You can save up to buy new cows as well so you can click them even more.
This is considered bad game design because the experience that the player gets from the game is not fulfilling in any way. The user experience in terms of gameplay amounts to nothing more than clicking things, so that you can click other things. There is no thought, no strategy. There is nothing redeeming or rewarding about the experience. It is made purely to entice you to spend money, and invite your friends to play the game so they will spend money too. The game is designed to take from the player, and give as little as possible back.
This is Tap Tap Fish to a T. You tap your ‘Lonely Stone’ to get in game currency called ‘Vitality’ so that you can level up your corals, which earns you automatic taps. Then you can buy fish, which earn you more Vitality, essentially more auto-taps. There are power-ups which give you more auto-taps. And you can of course share photos of your fish on social media which earns you even more Vitality. There is absolutely nothing that you do in this game that is not just….tapping to earn more Vitality.
Why Its Fun
So if its such a badly designed game, why do I, and so many other people play it? This question has intrigued me the entire time I have been playing this game. I am hoping that by finding the answers to these questions, I will be able to create better games. By applying the principles that can make such a bad game enjoyable to well designed games, I hope to make them even better, for both the user, and the developer.
Tap Tap Fish has the typical achievement and reward cycle that really feeds our lizard brains. There are so many ‘achievements’ and ‘level ups’ and ‘rewards’ it is ridiculous. This is the toxic part of Tap Tap Fish’s design that is considered un-game worthy. Because the player is made to feel like they are being rewarded for doing nothing. Its the same reason why gambling is so addictive. It feels rewarding, even when it is not.
Despite this, there are two OTHER factors of Tap Tap Fish that I have identified that I think contribute to the enjoyment of the game. Collecting and Artistic Outlet.
As a gamer, one of my very favorite things to do is collect things. I like having a ‘collection’ and being able to show off my collection. Pokemon is totally my jam, because I completely gotta catch ’em all. Though I don’t play it much anymore, part of the reason I loved playing Hearthstone was collecting all of the cards. Basically, if a game gives me the option to show my dedication through a visible displayable collection, I am all over that shit.
This is the primary reason why I love Tap Tap Fish. The game is nothing but a collection. I saw advertisements for this game for a long time, but always resisted it because I assumed it was what it was, a stupid Cow Clicker game. But, then I saw the corgi. And it was so cute my lizard brain was immediately jealous of every person who had the corgi in their collection and I wanted one. So I got the game. Turns out the corgi is only obtainable by using real currency with in-game purchases, but I am already hooked, and I already have enough awesome fish that I have become proud of my collection.
Taking pictures of your fish is the only thing to do in Tap Tap Fish that is remotely rewarding in the way that a game should be. Taking a good picture requires patience, a sense of composition and color, creativity, and not to mention the right subject matter. And when you get a good picture, it feels very rewarding. Getting a good picture makes you feel like an artistic photographer. Its that same rewarding feeling you get from playing Pokemon Snap.
There are periodic ‘quests’ that entice you with prize money to take pictures of specific fish in your collection. There is also a weekly contest that players can enter their pictures in. Some of the submissions I have seen are incredibly creative. Others are so perfectly timed I found myself wondering how they cheated. It is obvious that this game, and the artwork in it, INSPIRES people to feel artistic.
For me, so far the most rewarding moment of playing this game was watching my newly acquired Whale Shark swim around for 5 minutes while I tried to get the perfect composition to post on Facebook and announce how happy I was to have acquired said Whale Shark.
The game has no way of knowing if your pictures is any good or not, but it does know if the subject is obscured, or facing away from you. So it penalizes you for taking bad pictures. Your quest reward is halved if you take a bad picture, so you are incentivized to at least TRY, which is more than anything else in the game is designed to do.
The Bad Things
This blog post is meant mostly to be a discussion on the redeeming qualities of Tap Tap Fish, but I felt it would be too biased of me not to at least share the things that I also HATE about Tap Tap Fish.
The currency in this game really bothers me. It is the most underhanded economy I have ever seen in a game. The numbers in your currency go from 1 to 999, at which point you get 1A. Which goes from 1A to 999A, then 1 B. And so on. At first, it feels really great because the amount of currency that you get for each action begins to skyrocket as you level up. Power ups literally multiply your normal production by 5, your seaweed production doubles every 10 levels. It feels really good. But, it is clearly designed so that the player is not encouraged to think about how worthwhile their actions really are.
The typical action is worth maybe .001 of whatever the current goal is. Currently in my game one tap is worth 19.4Q, which seems like a lot. Until you take into consideration that it takes 4.58S for me to purchase a fish. It doesn’t seem so bad until you do the math and realize its actually 4,580,000Q. I would need to tap more than 200,000 times to get a new fish. Luckily power ups and leveling and whatnot greatly increase my normal production. Regardless, the obtuse way that the currency is displayed is not very fair to the player in actually communicating the worth of their actions in the game.
There are a few things that depend on the current system of fish purchasing to stay the way it currently is, and current long time players would be outraged if it changed, but there is one major thing about fish purchasing that could have been so much better about this game.
Fish are not priced individually. The price of every fish is the same, and that cost goes up with each fish you purchase. I think that this is ludicrous. There is already a cap on how many fish a person can have, and the coolest fish are already locked via other means at the beginning. There is no reason why a person should not be able to purchase as many clown fish as they want. (At this point in the game, I could purchase pretty much a limitless number of clown fish if they had stayed the same price as when I first bought one).
This is a good idea for 2 reasons. First, it would this let players feel more connected to their aquarium because it has more of the fish that they love. Second, it would hep to promote the actual fun part of the game, which is taking pictures. If I had a million clown fish I would just fill my aquarium with clown fish and take clown fish only photos. Or like….a picture of one blue clown fish in a sea of orange clown fish. So artistic. But as it is, because fish are so expensive, I can pretty much only justify one of each until I have one of every type of fish required to unlock other things. (There are fusion fish which require that you have 2 of a certain type of fish, this is the only exception I have made when purchasing fish)
The Ads are Buggy
I ‘watch’ a lot of ads while I play this game because doing so unlocks power ups and multipliers that otherwise I would have to wait hours to unlock. Because the gameplay is so inane I don’t feel bad about playing while I am doing other things, like cooking. I just push the ad button then walking away to do something actually important. Then 30 seconds later, I come back, and I have power ups!
The problem though, is that the ads sometimes bug out and don’t play. I have to restart the app in order to get back to the game, and even then I still have to watch the ad if I want the power ups. If making the player watch ads is going to be such an integral part of the game, it should not be a hassle for the player to watch the ad. Its like double torture.
Tap Tap Fish is a terrible game, but there are a lot of worse games out there. Anything casino related for example. Tap Tap Fish is fun to look at, the fish are cute, the environments are beautiful, and there are some very enjoyable discoveries you can make as you ‘play’. There are better things you can do, but if you HAVE to play Tap Tap Fish, I don’t blame you. ; )
Of course this whole blog post was just an excuse to show off my collection of fish. I have been playing for about a week now. and I have 62 fish, not including event fish. (Event fish look cooler, but do not give you any bonuses on gameplay.) My lonely stone is at level 1838.