While Cheritz’s most recent game, Mystic Messenger, looks like pretty much dating sim you’d download on Android, it quickly turns the tables with a relatively simple game mechanic. Most dating sims operate on a “turn” system; you get so many turns, each of which progresses the story, and when you run out, you have to wait until the next day to get more turns (unless you pay for them, which is how the games make money). Unlike other dating sims, MM occurs in real-time. After you start the game, chats open up as time progresses, to the extent that if you don’t start the game at midnight, there’s no way to complete everything to 100%. Here’s the kicker though, if you don’t respond to a chat by the time another chat starts (the time of which varies), you miss out on participating. (Unless you buy it separately, which is how this game makes its money).
So why would MM deviate from tradition ways of framing dating sims? Simply put, it keeps players playing their game. In a tradition dating sim, you play for a day and when you’re out of turns, you quit. Maybe you come back the next day, but there’s no guarantee that you do. The story cannot progress without you, so it’s not a problem. In MM though, the story will go on. The characters will chat with each other, even if you aren’t present. There isn’t any taking a break for a few days, because a few days could cost you the entire game. Even missing a conversation could ruin your attempts to romance whichever character you choose. As a result, the game encourages a sort of “drop-everything” type of play. This keeps players engaged with the game. It’s aided by the fact that each new message received sends a notification to your phone, which leads to a constant checking of the device or the game to ensure that you aren’t missing anything.
Given that the game takes place over the course of 11 days, if the player wants to play through every romance (just good endings) that guarantees at least 55 days of consistent playing, which is probably more than many AAA games out there. Essentially, real-time serves as function to both keep players playing, or alternatively for less avid players, to get them to pay money in order to complete the game.