Online mahjong client Janryumon has updated to a new version as of the 15th called Shin (True) Janryumon. As always, its aim is to deliver a fancy, flashy experience compared to more austere clients like Tenhou. Free-to-play MJ with bells, whistles, and experience grind.
JRM 3, the previous version, was a rough transition period. Selling costume jewelry and so on for the players' hands wasn't popular, so the developers tried hard to monetize their free-to-play game with various schemes that never quite worked out.
First they introduced the league, which used special rules and required entry tickets which eventually had to be paid for. Not that many were actually interested in paying to participate in the weekly sessions, however; especially when the higher levels introduced increasingly strict and uncommon rule sets. League was removed for the new version.
After that, the clock for players to make a move was set to an absurdly low three seconds, and players were expected to pay up for every single discard where they wanted to take a moment and think. Though I've always been much more of a Tenhou player (in fact, I gladly pay a monthly fee there), I actually quit JRM entirely after this one. It was just too desperate. Again, this idea was dropped in the current version.
As a player and occassional payer of free-to-play games, I believe there's a very thin line between fair deal and ripoff. Players will absolutely buy into the F2P model, but there's nothing that turns them away faster than the feeling they're being taken advantage of. Once you get there-- like with the clock thing-- people just turn around and walk away.
I don't pay for Tenhou because I'm obligated: until you get to the very highest levels of play, you can use the browser client for free as much as you like. Rather, I want to reward this one-man operation for doing a great job delivering what is bar none the best online MJ client in the world. You do get a much better client for paying, of course, and I believe I get a good deal.
(I mean, if you really want to rip off a one-man operation like Tenhou, maybe you're just a terrible person?)
So the new JRM has leveled with the players. It needs to make money like any other game does. Free-to-play wasn't really working out. So now Shin JRM is a pay-to-play service with a scheme comparable to the arcade mahjong games I played in Japan.
The pay currency translates straight across to yen, so it's 80y to play an East-only round, 150y to play East-South, and 100y to play a three-player East-South round. I assume that new signups are given an amount of pay currency to get themselves started. Items can no longer be bought with cash, but with a separate game currency that's rewarded in tiny volumes after a match. So we have:
-PlayNC money, kaimo (buys game points)
-Game points, used to actually start a game
-Shop money, used to buy everything else.
As a previous player of Janryumon (and with a lot of unused tickets for the league, which were transferred into money), I was given about 15,000y worth of game points. I can play a hundred matches without worrying about it.
The only way to get more game points is to participate in JRM's events, which are very grindy and don't offer enough of a reward to keep a player going.
For example, every week you're given a bingo card to fill out-- with the boxes being types of hands and point values you have to try and get-- and every line you fill gives a certain amount of game money. The problem is that while many spots on the card are common, every line has at least one box that is ridiculously difficult or merely statistically improbable.
The middle box on this card is “get a yakuman”, one of the big-deal hands I've drawn maybe ten or twenty times out of tens of thousands of hands in my entire MJ career. Another box is shou sangen, which is one step down from a yakuman. I've gotten this hand five or six times. Another time I was asked to get sanshoku doukou, three triples of the same number. I have gotten this hand once in my entire time playing mahjong, and it was yesterday. And no, it was too late to count it towards my bingo card. Sit down and play all day and all night, you're still extremely unlikely to fill even one line of the bingo card.
The game is riddled with this stuff; it absolutely loves to send the player on quests, and better still if they're nearly impossible. With goals like these, it doesn't even feel like grinding towards earning a goal anymore: it's just going on JRM and hoping you hit their lottery... and the lottery prize is 100 yen. And of course, you can tell when there is someone deliberately playing to fulfill an achievement. There's also a lot of addiction design, like a bonus for logging in daily and another bonus for continually playing matches.
The poor ranking system of previous JRM titles is gone in favor of a more traditional level-up system. Like with the pay-to-play thing, I consider this re-branding with honesty. The kyu and dan rankings JRM had before implied skill, when in fact anybody could achieve 9th dan by just playing a ton of games. The game would forgive your losses frequently, so you weren't really going any place but up. You would see total beginners at high ranks because they'd just spent a huge amount of time playing the game. (kind of like the league, I MEAN NOTHING)
Now, in the place of that, there's a numbered level (like I'm JRM Level 12 right now) and a ranked level. It takes 30 games of normal play to actually be ranked, and I'm still a ways off from that, but it's a rate number like on Tenhou. Players at certain rate levels are given rankings, like the top division for 2000R+ players is A1. I imagine that being a 1600-1700R Tenhou player I'll be in the B division.
The cost of a better system is that PlayNC actually wiped everybody's rankings under the old system. You can't have a guy who's simultaneously 9-dan and D-rank, after all, and there had been plenty of players who would have looked like that. Anyway, wiping thousands of hours of play from the slate is a great way to lose a lot of long-time players forever, I imagine.
Having a good ranking and matching system is really important because it directly affects your quality of play, especially in mahjong. In the same sense that going to the newbie-packed 7447 is a slaughter for a seasoned player (records in the league are either abnormally good or abnormally bad; try sorting by average placement), JRM is loaded with super-casual players who only barely know what they're doing. Screenshot related.
In mahjong, if one person makes clear that they don't know what they're doing, the game becomes a mess as the competent prey on that player. If there's two or more of them, the whole game just becomes a coin toss. In fact-- I'm gonna say this-- the players on 7447 are actually stronger, on average, than the people I played against starting from the bottom of Shin JRM. That's how bad the play I saw was.
Which is fine, because as I move up (I'm at like 50% 1st place right now, speaking of abnormal records) I'm getting matched with players who are actually in my range (1700-1800R).
Things I like about JRM:
-Use of events: this is in theory a great motivator. I'd like to be able to participate in the events and tournaments on Tenhou, but the time difference makes this prohibitively difficult.
-Audiovisual flash: Obviously this is the game's main attraction and the big reason people like it. The game looks pretty good, and the new version has noticeable improvements. The whole table is modeled in 3D, even the comfy-looking leather chairs. The in-character voice work is a nice touch: right now my character is voiced by Nobuyuki Hiyama (playing “Akiba-type”) and when I grind up enough money I want to buy the Shigeru Chiba voice really badly.
Things I don't:
-Actual implementation of events: I understand that this is just part of the free-to-play design, but sanshoku doukou? Come the fuck on. There is also the tile-collecting system, left over from JRM3, in which I haven't earned a single one of the unlockable items. It's been a year. Endless empty treasure boxes. Terrible. This is Asian MMORPG-style grind and it is not remotely fun.
Would I stick around for this when I got to the point where I had to pay? In other words, would I cancel my Tenhou premium subscription in its favor? Nope. They'd have to have exclusive tournaments or something on that level, and even then I'd just never cancel Tenhou premium!