Being innovative doesn’t necessarily mean that a game breaks down all the walls creating a new paradigm or genre. As Scott Rogers once wrote: “Although I am sure there is probably still a completely original idea out there in the galaxy of ideas, the majority of gameplay design works by each game building on its predecessors.” (Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Design, p. 33)
Indie studio Jelly Button made their casual MMO Pirate Kings game unique, and hugely popular, by adding a new social dimension that generated emotion among the player base. Players can interact with their friends even when they’re offline, for example, stealing their treasure or attacking their island.
Jelly Button co-founder, Ron Rejwan, believes that this social interaction is a key reason for the game’s explosive popularity.
“We’ve seen amazing growth with an especially engaged audience in SE Asia,” Rejwan says. “Players talk on online communities about how the game has affected their lives and friendships. There are hundreds of reviews with some users even warning not to play the game if your friendships are not strong enough to withstand social pirating. And that’s a sign of emotional engagement.”
Pirate Kings has been downloaded over 50 million times, and players get so emotionally involved they even post original videos and songs about their experiences. Download the Jelly Button case study to learn more.
With Fruit Bump, Twimler founder Majid Khosravi set out to create the kind of match 3 game that he himself loved to play. Obviously, there were already a lot of match 3 games out there on the market, so he knew that there was a risk his game would get lost in the masses.
However, Khosravi believes that a key aspect of the game’s success derives from the game’s multiple levels. Twimler focused on designing precise degrees of difficulty that rise over time yet continue to engage players as they progress through the game’s 620 levels.
This repeating cycle of increasing challenge is a phenomenon, which game design expert Jesse Schell has identified as a seemingly natural element of human enjoyment. “Too much tension, and we wear out. Too much relaxation, and we grow bored. When we fluctuate between the two, we enjoy both excitement and relaxation, and this oscillation provides both the pleasure of variety and the pleasure of anticipation.” (The Art of Game Design, 2nd edition, Jesse Schell, CRC Press, 2015, page 142)
Twimler used Unity Analytics to gather the insight they needed to get the difficulty curve just right.
“With Session Length and Average Revenue Per User’ metrics, combined with its Custom Reports, you can see straight away if retention drops when something is off,” Khosravi says.
Tweaking an increasing degree of difficulty in just the right way helped make Fruit Bump hugely popular. Fruit Bump’s daily average users grew from 500,000 to 800,000 creating 300,000 new daily average users in just two months.
In a presentation at Unite Europe 2016, Joonas Laakso of Next Games said that licensing IP rights for the hit AMC show, The Walking Dead, enabled his company to be ambitious. Tapping into the devotion of an existing fan base removed market entry barriers allowing them to take bigger risks in development.
“We believe that the known brand with their own marketing push is going to get us over the barrier of unfamiliarity on the App Store. It helps us stand out from the crowd. We don’t have to sell quite so hard. With the brand, you automatically get people who care.”
Laakso says that in order to tap into that emotional attachment to the brand, characters, and story, however, your game has to be high quality and stay close to the brand narrative. It must also balance wide audience appeal with staying true to the game’s inherent framework (as dictated by factors such as the studio team’s talents, and the chosen genre and platform).
The Walking Dead, No Man’s Land is the number one free game in 13 countries and had over one million downloads in its first week alone. To learn about approaching IP based games from a game design perspective, watch Next Game’s presentation from Unite Europe 2016.