Game Reviews

PickCrafter is a Minecraft themed incrementer game. It was made with popular graphic engine Unity and is leveraging SOOMLA for in-app purchase. You can download it for iOS devices or Android using the links below.

iTunes_download_link.PNG    Google_Play_Badge.PNG 

Gain resources and make investments

The goal of PickCrafter is simple, get as many picks as possible. Users can start gaining picks by clicking on their screen or tilting their phone as if they were using a pickaxe. Every few picks, users will discover a new resource units – these are the coins of the game. Once users gain enough of these units, they can start making investments. These can be divided into two categories:
  • Items that increase number of picks users get by tapping on the screen
  • Items that give you picks while the game is running
This model usually works in getting users engaged into the race for becoming a billionaire however, there is some room for improvement here.

Gradual complexity increase to ease users into the game

increasing complexity too quickly can confuse your players. its better to ease users into the game by unlocking elements over time.PickCrafter starts with 6 different types of currencies / resources you can gain by swinging your pickaxe and then there are 30 items you can buy and each one is only purchasable with one type of resource. Even complex simulation/strategy games have a max of 3 currencies so 6 would confuse most players. The solution to this is to give users time to learn the different types by gradually introducing them. This serves another purpose which is to give users a sense of progress in the game

Adding items that increment while the game sleeps

If you look at some of the other games in this genre you will discover that some of them also give users a way to make money while the game sleeps. The way this is set up is that users start off with a base rate off incrementing and a limit to how much they can accumulate before they have to check in again. Users can then buy items to increase the rate or the limit. There are two reasons why you want this functionality in your game:

  1. It forces users into making strategic choices and defining their investment philosophy
  2. It makes users work the game into their daily schedule – this is what makes games addictive 

Creating a sense of progress in the game

This game genre has no levels or scores like most other games. Users basically get a sense of progress when they either have a lot of virtual currency or a high rate of accumulation. It’s important to represent both in the game. One thing that PickCrafter is missing is the rate of picking per second (PPS in the game) resulting from the users tapping or swinging action. Another way to improve here is to create some missions and celebrate their achievement.
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Store-Windows-Phone-04Good news for the SOOMLA developer community: Windows Phone is supported by SOOMLA Store.

Windows Phone need is now satisfied

We’ve been hearing a lot of developers asking for Windows Phone integration as part of their attempt to release games to more app stores and we just couldn’t stay indifferent to all the requests. We were looking for ways to get Windows Phone support to the community and it was with a lot of luck that we found Guillaume and Fabrice and the rest of the guys from Shinypix, a great indie studio from France, who were already doing it and agreed to polish it and release it to the SOOMLA community. We LOVE contributors! Thank you guys.

wp-store is actually a pretty big thing for us. We wanted to support Microsoft’s great mobile platform for a long time now and we’re very happy it’s here now. It won’t take long until we get it connected to Unity and Cocos2dx (as we do with all native platforms we support).

Same conventions through all Store modules

When you’ll look into the code of wp-store, you’ll see that the features are identical to all SOOMLA Store modules. It includes all the main classes you already know like StoreInventory and StoreInfo as well as the the storage and connections to IAP. We will soon also add detailed docs and articles about wp-store into the new knowledgebase at http://know.soom.la.

Contribution is key for success

We encourage everyone from the SOOMLA community to contribute. Contribution is the key for the success of any open-source community and at the end, you’ll be the ones benefiting from that. It can be more platforms, solving technical issues and answering others on forums. Whatever you can do to get the community forward will bring you respect and will drive technology forward.

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Game Reviews

Compulsive is a fun matching game with some cool twists and clear user interface. It was developed with cross platform engine Cocos2d-x and you can find it in Google Play as well as in the Apple App Store.

 

iTunes_download_link.PNG    Google_Play_Badge.PNG

Matching color patterns and chain reactions

The basic objective of the player in Compulsive is to match sequences of squares from the some color. When such a sequence is pulled together, it explodes into pieces allowing the top squares to gravitate towards the bottom and possibly create new matches by doing so. This can often cause a chain reaction which is one of the best ways to give the user an immediate gratification. That part of the game works quite well and the game is indeed fun enough to be featured by both Apple and Google.
drag squares across the screen to match colors and see what kind of a chain reaction you created as the rest of the squares fall down

Sequencing missions to create progress

The part represents the largest improvement opportunity is the game progression scheme. The current setup is that of 3 game modes with a leaderboards for each one and missions that most users are not even aware of. I would suggest creating a sequence of challenges where each challenge includes a mission in each one of the game modes. Users have to complete a certain challenge before they can move to the next one. The progress from one challenge to the next one can be visualized as a path. More importantly, the mission at hand should be presented to the user at the beginning of the session and the progress towards completion needs to be tracked in the session.

Game Center implementation

Unlike many other games that use the Gamecenter with the design that comes out of the box. The creators of compulsive were able to adapt the design to fit the rest of the game while still enjoying the server side benefits of Gamecenter. More games should attempt to do that rather than defaulting to the generic design.

Creating demand for virtual goods

The game currently offers three in-app purchase items that give users gameplay advantages. The problem is that the user don’t need these advantages. There is not enough challenge for users to feel like they really need them. The first step here is to present users with challenges as suggested above. Once they are struggling with making progress, suggesting them the powerups in the pre-session screen might get them interested in giving the IAP items a try. 

Opt-in videos as a light form of advertising

Another good idea is to give users a chance to own in-app purchase items by watching videos. This gives users a chance to try the items before buying them while generating revenue for the developer. One option to look at in this category is Vungle
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If you’re a Unity3d game developer, you’re probably familiar with Unity’s Asset Store, which looks like most app stores only that instead of apps it provides pre-built assets that you can import directly into your project. The SOOMLA team is excited to announce that SOOMLA is now available in Unity’s Asset Store! This means that with a few short clicks  you can have SOOMLA’s unity3d-store integrated into your project. You no longer need to clone the project from Github and drag the SOOMLA prefabs into your scene – you can just download and import from the Asset Store.

SOOMLA on Unity Asset Store

 

So why is SOOMLA so great and worth downloading?!

All Free to Play games use in-app purchases to monetize. SOOMLA offers game developers a free and easy way to do this. SOOMLA’s Unity in-app purchase plugin is the best tool to model your virtual economy and integrate IAP into your game. In addition to modeling and easy-to-use IAP this plugin will provide you with encrypted on-device storage and a single API to do all your virtual economy operations. SOOMLA for Unity is available for iOS / Android / Amazon. You can read more documentation and other articles at http://know.soom.la.

Easy as 1, 2, 3

To download SOOMLA from the Asset Store all you have to do is:

  1. Open the Asset Store in the Unity editor & search for “Soomla”.
  2. Click the “Download” button.
  3. Once the download is done, click the “Import” button to bring SOOMLA into your project.

Import SOOMLA

If you like SOOMLA, please rate us or write a review in the Unity Asset Store.

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Game Reviews

well designed free to play game that gives us an opportunity to teach many best practices about game designKelso’s Quest is a cocos2d based game developed by a promising studio called Avocoder. In the last Casual Connect in San Francisco, the game was nominated for the best free to play game award. It’s a lot of fun to play and the art work is really cool too.

Brain teasing gameplay with adventure and puzzle elements

This gameplay will remind some of you of the game Sokoban that was popular in the 80′s. Similarly, the action that the hero can perform is to push stones around. There are quite a few differences here however. First of all, the goal is not to put the boxes in place but to actually reach the exit point in the screen while avoiding the enemies and dangers. Second, the game narrative is an adventure which is far more exciting than the repetitive work of the guy pushing the boxes in Sokoban. Third, the visual side is much more compelling as the game takes place in a forest themed 2.5d grid and the characters is a resourceful Koala bear named Kelso that is hard not to like.

Achieving glory through levels and worlds

The main way to make progress in Kelso’s Quest is to complete levels. Users’ path through the level is visualized through a world map with a clear progress path which includes 78 levels in 6 different worlds. Moving between worlds requires users to pass through a challenging gate that includes a 3 headed dragon (I’m pretty sure this creature has a name but I’m not sure what it is). In addition, every level has 3 excellence metrics: score, stars and coin collection. The scores are also presented in a “friends leaderboard” for every level that is powered by Facebook.

Friends leaderboard is better with friends

The social leaderboard is a great tool when you can compare scores with your friends and compete with them. However, it feels rather lonely when you are the only one there. In other words, if your game didn’t reach the critical mass and you don’t have huge marketing budgets to promote it it’s unlikely that this will be an effective tool for you. One solution is to only show it if there are enough friends and show something else if there aren’t enough friends. Another solution is to only introduce this component once the critical mass has been reached.

Gamecenter leaderboard in a level based game

This game has Gamecenter integrated. As a user, I’m not a fan of Gamecenter! The design never matches the game design and it mostly feels like the scores and the achievements are not related to the real progress in the game. The last point is especially true for level based games and specifically in this game it makes no sense. Level based games are perfect for giving users a sense of progress – I completed 12 out of 78 levels and tomorrow I’ll complete another 5 so I made progress. When I’m comparing with my friends the most interesting question is “how many levels you completed?”. I know there is value in Gamecenter integration to increase rating and discovery but there is really no reason to create an entirely new progress scheme just for that. Simply use the levels as the score in Gamecenter and every level completion is an achievement.
In level based games the scores are secondary to the level progress and so leaderboard should be implemented around levels rather than meaningless scores

Diverse and reach virtual economy

The first visit to the store shows 3 elements that I find interesting:
  1. The coin screen is not sorted low to high but instead has an “earn coins” in the middle and the rest of the options appear almost random.
  2. Some categories indicate that products are currently locked and the user should come back later as he or she make progress
  3. There are many options for visual customization that are priced within reach
A deeper look into the game exposes quite a few other free 2 play best practices that we can learn from:
  1. The game has an energy mechanic implemented in the form of 5 lives
  2. At the beginning of the level, users have the opportunity to equip 3 items – they have to choose carefully
  3. Users that get stuck on a level are offered a skip opportunity for a price of $1.99
What’s really nice about this game is that all these options are integrated into the game so well and use nice artwork that they don’t feel like a squeeze but rather an attempt to give users a large number of options.

 

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Game Reviews

vikings is a mid-core strategy game available for ios in the apple App StoreI recently started playing a game called Vikings – a mid-core strategy game themed around nordic raiders who are as tough as much as they are fund of beer. The game is available for iOS.

Build Your Village Mode

This part of the game is very similar to a popular game we all know – Clash of Clans. Users focus on obtaining two types of soft currencies: gold and beer. In order to get more gold users need to build buildings using beer and in order to get more beer they need to spend gold. This mechanism allows easy balancing and many games are leveraging SuperCell’s formula here. As in many other city building games, everything takes time and impatient users can pay to accelerate things while patient users modify their entire daily schedule to become successful at this game. Since ‘Vikings’ is leveraging a known formula, most users alreay know the game play when they start which makes the on boarding process easier.

Raid Enemy Villages - Small Tweaks to the Formula

battle mode - giving the user more ways to impact the battle is a great improvement from benchmark - clash of clansNo big surprises in the battle mode as well. This game mode is focused on deployment of troops on the screen rather than actual fighting. One big improvement from Clash of Clans is that users can give their troop orders during the battle. This solves a major problem with COC that the battle mode was getting boring after a while. Another big difference is the Hero which has all sorts of power that the user can unleash on the enemy. This is a great addition as the user feels a bigger part of the battle.
The game features two modes for battling oponnents:
  • Single Player – users can track their progress through the campaign and see which villages they already raided and which ones are still remaining.
  • Player vs. Player – in this multiplayer mode, users can battle random oponnents

The Twist – You Have a Hero

adding a hero to the game increases emotional bond and gives users more ways to upgrade and get invested in the gameUnlike most strategy games, this game features a hero character – Thor. This dude have a massive impact on the battle field and can raid enemy villages almost on his own in the early levels. One impact that this has on gameplay is that early stages become much more intensive as users can raid the first few cities without the need to constantly train troops. In other words, the difficulty curve in the early levels is not as steep as in similar games. Another interesting aspect of having a character is that it opens a lot of opportunities for upgrading and creating a greater emotional bond. The game indeed offers many opportunities to invest in upgrading the hero, training him and developing his abilities. This makes the game more fun and at the same time, allows him better monetization. There is even a paid option to buy different heros and those users who want to see what other heroes can do will have to reach out for their wallet.technology research is a hard core element that somehow found it's place in this mid core game

Researching Army Improvements – One Step Too Far

The game also includes an element normally found in hard-core strategy games – researching of new technologies to improve troops. This feels a bit too much in the context of this game. The addition of the hero and the use of beer as currency, make this game more casual than the standard mid-core game and having technology research breaks the narrative.

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Announcement, Open Source, Video

SOOMLA Knowledge Base

SOOMLA recently went live with an informative Knowledge Base, created so that game developers can quickly and easily learn how to use SOOMLA. Currently the Knowledge Base provides documents with explanations and examples, written tutorials, and new video tutorials. Game devs can navigate their way through the user-friendly main menu of the Knowledge Base to find whatever materials they need.

Our most recent addition to the Knowledge Base is the Video Tutorials page that can be opened by clicking the “University” button in the main menu. While our tutorial collection consists of only four videos as of now, we are working hard at creating more for the benefit of the community.

The videos that are currently available are:

  • Getting Started with unity3d-store for Android
  • Getting Started with unity3d-store for iOS
  • Integrate unity3d-store into an example app for Android
  • Integrate unity3d-store into an example app for iOS

We are working on widening the scope of the Knowledge Base with more documents and explanations about the different modules that SOOMLA provides, including the new modules that will be available in the near future. Of course there will also be more examples, tutorials, and videos to complement the docs. We believe that information will strengthen our already solid community, and that’s the reason why we’re constantly improving and adding more to the Knowledge Base.

Enjoy!

 

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Game Reviews

Game play description:

It’s a nice game, basic and fun: There’s a ninja who jumps up and the user can tilt the phone so the jumping ninja will land on the floating steps and won’t fall down. The ninja can collect coins and jump on special things.
Personally, I played too much icy tower and I just can’t play jump games anymore.. But combining icy tower with ninja can be refreshing!
Here’s the game link:

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Economy:

There is one currency – coins. But there are many virtual goods on the way (wings, Coins booster, jump booster etc.)The user can collect the coins while jumping. Only problem is that if the user jumped to high and want to get down to collect what he missed – he can’t do it because when he will get down from the screen the game will be over. The ninja jump very high and it’s hard to control it’s jumping intensity so the user can’t really jump down to collect what he missed.
I think that to make the user get use to spend coins and buy goods – it should be easier for him to collect coins. But in this game it feels like the main target is just to jump up…

Promoting virtual goods:

For a continue-game-cheat there’s a try-buy model: The user is allowed to continue from where the game started over for 5 times and then he can buy this options with coins he can collect in the game (or buy with real money). The problem is that it’s hard to collect the coins (100-200 per a game for a starting user) and the continue-game-cheat costs a minimum of 8000 coins.
The way the user learns about this cheat is highly effective: As part of the game’s flow – At the end of the game the user can decides if he want to continue the game or not. After 5 times he will have to buy those cheats.

On the other hand there’s a flow problem on the coins issue: Right when the user opens the game on the main screen there are 4 options of coins pack. It surely is important to put an access to buy coins in a main place, but I think it should be a button to a store screen and not all the store opens at the main screen because this is not the main action of this screen.

AngryNinjasJump-AccessToCoins

Another issue is – ads. The game is full with ads and it’s really annoying. Maybe it will be better to give the user 10 games to play without show him ads, to see if he pay for coins and only if he’s not – show him the ads.

Another thing they did is the option to upgrade the character: The user can choose between 5 kinds of ninjas. It’s a good idea but the implementation is less because there’s nothing different between the 5 ninjas besides they look – they sound the same and jump the same.. There are many ways to create differences: Each ninja can jump diffrent (higher/lower or more/less flips), Make different sounds, Change the background to fit the ninja look, add different combo jumps, etc.

AngryNinjasJump-DifferentCharacters

Feedback for the player:

When the user end the game he get grade (1-3 ninja stars) and number of how high he jumped. Maybe there should be an option to see how high the user’s friends have jump to create a competition and make the engagement higher and also give the user the ability to compete with himself and break his own records.

AngryNinjasJump-BreakRecords

Because there’s only one world in this game, maybe adding missions (like jump 1000 meters, collect 100 coins, etc.) will also affect the engagement.

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Recently I had the pleasure to explain a few basic game publishing concepts to a several investors who didn’t have a lot of game industry experience but were eager to learn. I thought this knowledge could serve other new comers as well.

Q: What is game publishing and how it evolved? 

Game publishing history starts in the days where the only way to distribute a game was through retail chains. Very much like book publishing or the music industry the gaming industry started with an offline distribution model. In the days, the core functions that game publishers fulfilled were funding the risk and getting the game to users. In the days of online games, users started downloading games and playing online rather than buying them at stores but the role of publishers still revolved around bringing the users and funding the game production. The big change started in the the days of facebook games and mobile games.
 
the historic role of publisher is to fund the risk in game development as well as distribute games to retail stores. Call of duty for xBox was burned to CDs, put in boxes and sent to stores.

Q: What led to the change in the role of game publishers?

The emergence of Facebook gaming and mobile gaming changed the way people discover and find games and centralized it. In this world the game distribution channels are accessible directly to the developers and the function of bringing the users to the games is now provided by Apple, Google and Facebook. In a sense, they are providing a big part of publishers’ historic role. Another big change is that developing games became a lot easier and cheaper than it used to be in the past. With more and more game productions being self funded, publishers started waiting for the games to be finished before deciding to allocate funding. In other words, publishers stopped funding the risky part of game development.

Q: What is the publisher role today?

With the two core functions gone, publishers needed to re-invent themselves. Their role evolved into a mix of:
  • Production guidance based on best practices and experience
  • Improving App Store placement and ASO
  • Funding a test budget for user acquisition
  • Tracking game performance and benchmarking
  • Providing monetization tools
The main difference is that these functions are not as exclusive as they once used to be.

Q: What does IP mean in the gaming industry?

Unlike other technology industry where IP (Intellectual Property) usually means a proprietary piece of technology that would normally be patented. In the gaming industry IP normally means a set of characters, art work, gameplay and trademarks that users developed strong emotional bond with. In a recent example, Rovio developed a great piece of IP around Angry Birds and was able to transfer it to physical merchandise and sequels.

Q: What is 2nd party publishing?

To understand that, let’s first answer understand what is 1st party publishing. 1st party publishing is when a company is publishing their own game. This is the model used by Zynga, King.com and Supercell with their games. 2nd party publishing is when a publisher designs a game around newly generated IP or existing IP. The contracted studio is mainly in charge of programming the game. One area where 2nd party publishing deals are common is game porting. In game porting, the publisher already developed the game for one platform and is now taking it to new ones by outsourcing the development.

Q: What is 3rd party publishing?

In 3rd party publishing deals a studio comes up with a unique set of IP: great art work, innovative gameplay and lovable characters. The publisher’s role is smaller in this type of deals and is a mix of the things mentioned above (tools, funding, production advice, …). There are two types of deals in this model. Co-development and publishing only. In co-development, the publisher is committing to the project in advance and is funding it through it’s riskiest phases. In addition, the publisher helps with the game production and guides the development. In a publishing only deal, the publisher would usually take a fully developed game and will make a test to see how the game performs. In other words, the publisher will cross-promote the game or put some budget for user acquisition but only the minimal amount required to determine if the game is a hit or not. Some publishers will do this in bulk and will perform this kind of testing with dozens of games to find one that will show good results and then promote it aggressively. The co-development model is considered a much better model for game studios, however, they are more rare and usually requires good relationships with publishers as well as track record of game development. Many young studios engage in a 3rd party publishing deals to start building those assets so they can later on win co-development projects and 2nd party engagements.
 
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Startup Tips

One of the things you often hear from younger entrepreneurs is that they rather keep their ideas a secret from fear of competition. More specifically, the scenarios they describe is they are concerned one of the bigger companies in their space will ‘steal’ their idea. The main problem with this misconception is that it prevents startups from validating, learning and iterating on their ideas.

Suggested experiment to prove the competition myth wrong

If you haven’t read Lean Startup by Eric Ries I highly recommend you do. One of the core principals of this new management theory is to iterate on your MVP through a build-measure-learn loop. Obviously, this requires getting your product out in very early stages which might seem risky to some entrepreneurs. Eric suggests the following experiment to prove that the risk is almost zero:
  • Take one of your less important ideas or one that you are not pursuing
  • Find the big company who will be most likely to steal it
  • Identify the product manager in charge of this product line
  • Try to convince him to pursue your idea
If you actually go through the process or if you spent any time working for a big company you will soon realize that this is impossible. Big companies always have more ideas than resources to pursue them and their appetite for risk is a significantly lower than yours. Moreover, as soon as you will start iterating on your idea, it will change and evolve so much that in 6 months, you wouldn’t even recognize it as the same idea any more. Even if the big company product manager would have pursued your idea, he will never be able to iterate on it as quickly as you can. Try to imagine him explaining to his boss the that the idea he was pursuing was not good and how he learned in the process that there is a new idea that is worth pursuing but most likely this idea will change too in a few months. I can’t imagine a single company who will allow that.

The empirical proof – startups don’t lose to competitors

In boxing, the opponent is your biggest threat and will likely knock you down. In startups however, the risks are far bigger from macro changes and general lack of interest by the market compared to the competition
There is another way to think about it. We can actually analyze what kills startups in the real world. The statistics show that only one out of 10 VC investments succeed but I would argue that 99 out of 100 companies don’t even get VC backed. Y combinator’s acceptance rate in 2011 was 3% and in 2012 it was 2% - can you guess the ratio in 2014? So what really kills startups? Chris Dixon in his blog post - Competition is Overrated argues that it’s mostly indifference and lack of awareness. I find to be very accurate. The world is not waiting for new ideas. Most people think the way they are doing things is just fine and you have to work pretty hard to convince them otherwise. This is yet another reason why testing your value hypothesis early is so important for a startup.

SOOMLA competitors are long gone or pivoted away

When we started out, there were a few companies people named as potential competitors. Some of them ran out of funding and shut down. One big company that made us lose some sleep is Chartboost with their store product. I’m glad to say that both companies realized that the store product was not worth pursuing. Chartboost decided to focus more on their core business which is advertising and SOOMLA pivoted to focus much more on the open source framework and we are actually exploring a potential collaboration these days.
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SOOMLA - An In-app Purchase Store and Virtual Goods Economy Solution for Mobile Game Developers of Free to Play Games