Game design, Game Reviews

The game by social bee is a variation on the match 3 genre that uses juice and fruit where others used rubies and diamonds

Fruits and friends is a fun game by a self published studio called Social Bee. It is a healthy variation on the match 3 genre that uses fruits where others used gems or candies. The game is available for iOS only and can be downloaded here.

Gameplay is fun and intuitive

One of the benefits of making a game within a genre is that most of your users have played similar games before and so you don’t have to start teaching them how to play your game. They see the game and they start playing. This is true as long as your game art communicates the game genre to the users by choosing visuals that hint the user what genre of game he is playing.

Challenge, achievement and accomplishment

The 1st world didn't introduce enough challenge and I breezed through it too easilyThe game uses worlds and levels to create the basic sense of progress in the game. Each world contains 15 levels and there are 10 worlds you can play. The move to the next level is only allowed once you completed the last level and the move between worlds is allowed only once you complete all the levels in the world. This is a pretty basic setup but there are two points to improve here:
  • The difficulty is too low! I’m a pretty average player of the match-3 genre (Level 50 at Candy Crush), and yet I breezed through the first world, collecting 3 stars in each phase without loosing 1 life point and without even using half the moves in most levels. My advice is to make 2-3 levels that are harder to get through in a set of 15 levels.
  • The move between the worlds can be gated by a more challenging criteria. This is an opportunity to enforce some social wall, pay wall or watch an ad wall.

Virtual goods, economy and in-app purchases

The match 3 genre has two problems when it comes to ingame economies:
  • The narrative doesn’t allow the user to collect coins so it’s hard to create a coin loop
  • There is no character or vehicle to upgrade

Fruits and friends promote its virtual goods in multiple ways but fails to indicate the price or create real challenge.The game designer overcomes these two challenges by creating implementing an economy based on lives. This is basically a variation on energy mechanics that was made popular by with their saga series. The game also allows users to buy 3 types of consumable goods: extra moves, fruit shuffling and fruit smasher. There are multiple mechanisms implemented in order to increase engagement with the virtual goods. Here are some of them:

  • Purchase buttons are present in the game at all times
  • A new user starts off with a positive balance of goods so he can try them out first
  • Running out of lives will prompt you to buy more
  • When moves are running low, the moves purchase button is being highlighted
These are all very important but there are two more basic things missing. One is the sense of challenge – without it, it’s unlikely that the user will buy any upgrades or will need more lives. The second one is to indicate the price of the items before asking the users to pay.

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Research, Tech Resources, Tips and Advice

Answering ERN authorization and other encryption questions posed by Apple for developers when submitting a new app

We’ve been asked a few times what games need to do in order to be approved for submission if they use encryption in their game. SOOMLA’s ios-store uses basic encryption algorithms to protect your on-device data so no one will be able to hack it and mess up your game related data.

The encryption algorithms used by SOOMLA

SOOMLA uses the AES algorithm for encryption. This algorithm is a standard symmetric encryption algorithm and we use it to secure the user’s data on the device. It’s a common approach to solve these kinds of problems.

Answering the ERN authorization question by Apple

SOOMLA’s main intention is to solve problems of game and gaming related apps. Generally, gaming apps don’t need to submit to “ERN authorization” so if you develop these kinds of apps you should answer “NO” when you see the “ERN authorization” question on itunesconnect. (You might have some specific encryption in your game. You should look into the itunesconnect FAQ to see if you need to submit your specific application to “ERN authorization”.)

One way to check if your app needs to submit to “ERN authorization”:

  • (from the FAQ)
    How do I know if I can follow the Exporter Registration and Reporting (ERN) process?
    If your app uses, accesses, implements or incorporates industry standard encryption algorithms for purposes other than those listed as exemptions under question 2, you need to submit for an ERN authorization. Examples of standard encryption are: AES, SSL, https. This authorization requires that you submit an annual report to two U.S. Government agencies with information about your app every January.
  • (from question 2)
    (i) if you determine that your app is not classified under Category 5, Part 2 of the EAR based on the guidance provided by BIS at The Statement of Understanding for medical equipment in Supplement No. 3 to Part 774 of the EAR can be accessed at Electronic Code of Federal Regulations site. Please visit the Question #15 in the FAQ section of the encryption page for sample items BIS has listed that can claim Note 4 exemptions.
  • (from
    Is the product described by Note 4?
    Items described by Note 4 are not controlled under Category 5, Part 2 of the EAR. See “What items are removed from encryption controls? ” for additional guidance.
  • (from “What items are removed from encryption controls?”)
    (a) The primary function or set of functions is not any of the following:
    (1) “Information security”;
    (2) A computer, including operating systems, parts and components therefor;
    (3) Sending, receiving or storing information (except in support of entertainment, mass commercial broadcasts, digital rights
    management or medical records management); or
    (4) Networking (includes operation, administration, management and provisioning);
    (b) The cryptographic functionality is limited to supporting their primary function or set of functions; and
    (c) When necessary, details of the items are accessible and will be provided, upon request, to the appropriate authority in the exporter’s
    country in order to ascertain compliance with conditions described in paragraphs (a) and (b) above.

Games usually conform to Note 4 so they are not controlled under Category 5, Part 2 of the CCL.

READ THIS: This explanation is complementary. You shouldn’t take it as a rule or suggestion of any kind. SOOMLA doesn’t take any responsibility for any damage you may have by accepting or following anything we wrote here. You should check if your specific app conforms with EAR and submit to “ERN authorization” if you see fit.

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Tech Resources

Hi Everyone, I’m Matan, the newest addition to the team. For my first week at Soomla, I’ll be sharing the stages a new member goes through to install the full stack for our product.

I’ll be using OSX so the instructions are written accordingly.

Go through these stages to install the full stack

Step 1: XCode installation

Using The OSX App Store, Install The Latest Version Of XCode, And Run It For The First Time

1.1: Command Line Tools

Next, Paste The Following Code In A New Terminal Window

xcode-select --install 

screenshot of xcode installation. Setting up the developer tools is a critical step for any new employee

Step 2: Homebrew setup

Paste The Following Code In a Terminal Window

ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL

  • Update via the brew update Command
  • Verify Successful Installation via The brew doctor Command

Now we’ll be installing various programs using brew, for each program enter the following command brew install X, replacing each time.
You can easily verify installation by running X --version after, where X is the installed name

The programs we’ll install using brew (click for further info):

Using homebrew to install git, openssl, node, redis and mongodb.

Step 3: Getting RVM up and running

In A New Terminal Window, Enter \curl -sSL | bash -s stable. It’s important not to install RVM under sudo.

  • Verify with rvm --version

Step 4: Downloading JDK 1.6

Download And Install JDK 1.6 For OSX Here

Step 5: Installing the Android SDK

5.1: SDK

Enter brew install android-sdk Into Terminal

  • Run The android Command From Terminal And Follow Instructions To Continue Installing

Installing android SDK from the terminalw

5.2: NDK

Enter brew install android-ndk Into Terminal To Install

Step 6: Setting up your IDEs

These are the IDEs we work with at Soomla

6.1: Intelli-J Community Edition

Download And Install Here

6.2: Android Studio

Download And Install Here

6.3: RubyMine

Download And Install Here

Step 7: Additional utilities you will need

7.1: robomongo Robomongo

MongoDB Management

Download And Install Here

7.2: skitch  Skitch

Image Annotation

Download And Install Here

7.3: mou-icon-20111010  MOU

Markdown Editor

Download And Install Here

Step 8: Online Services Sign-Up

Every team member should be signed up to these services


Now you should be up and running, the Soomla way

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Industry News, Resource

A recent report showed that IAP is still the leading source of revenue, video ads are the preferred advertising formats and users are least annoyed by offer wallsI recently came across an interesting games monetization report by Gamesbeat. If you are not familiar with this publication, it’s part of Venturebeat and is certainly one of the top publications for the video game industry. The report is based on a survey with 176 game developers both big and small and compared their choices for monetization. The main benefit of purchasing the report is understanding what the successful games do differently. Here are some of the highlights (free of charge):

Video wins advertising

The report clearly shows the dominance of video ads as the weapon of choice for successful publishers. When comparing the success rate of over 1,000 games made by the surveyed developers and figuring out the ad providers recommended by the most successful publishers, Vungle and Adcolony had the upper hand.

In-app purchases is still the main revenue source

While this is far from being news these days, the report confirms the dominance of IAP as the main revenue source for all successful games. It is being used by about 50% of all the games but over 95% of successful games choose it as their main monetization strategy.

Successful publishers pulling out of Google Play

While google play represents the biggest audience these days and have presented stronger App Store revenue growth during 2013, the survey did find that successful publishers are focusing on iOS these days. This should be a big warning sign for Google if they want to stay in the game. The history of the gaming industry shows that attracting premium content has been one of the main keys to success in both the console and the portable devices gaming markets.

Incentivized is the least annoying ad format

The publication also released some interesting data about how different ad formats are perceived by the users. As game developers, we want to keep our users engaged and pleased and advertising is doing the opposite so the goal is to find the least annoying format. According to the data presented, Offer walls are the best ad formats for keeping your users happy.
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Blogging Tips

In a recent discussion I had with my good friend Bernard from Preview Labs, he wanted us to share some data about how long it takes each one of us to write blog posts. As SOOMLA is a community of mobile game developers and Preview Labs offers prototyping services for Unity developers, our blogs are focusing on the same markets and so it’s easy to use them as benchmarks.

How long does it take to write a good post?how long it takes to write a blog post and some tips how to write quick posts

My observation is that I’m spending about 30m – 60m in actual writing time for each Post. I usually do it on the plane, the train or some other dead time that I have. Specifically, this post was written partly in the airport and partly on the plane. When I’m saying “actual writing time” I’m excluding the time I take for research, coming up with images, editing for grammar, scheduling the post, optimizing for SEO and other things.

To give you some perspective, Gur’s posts took him 5-10 hours but they also run much deeper and were far more popular as a single post than any of my posts. The Single Page Web Application Architecture post was read by over 10,000 people by now and was featured in a number of places. Bernard’s posts also took longer than mine but his best posts also generated over 10K page views. Specifically the ones that addressed technical matters related to Unity3d game development.

How to write posts quickly?

I do recommend going for quality rather than quantity if you are just starting out. Trying to get one or two simple posts each week is a good practice. The easiest posts for me to write are posts where I already know what to say because I thought about it already and I have it already written in my mind. Sometimes, you can take a good email you sent someone and turn it into a post very quickly. My recent post – Going to a conference like a pro is actually an email I wrote and this post also started as an email thread. The other types of posts that are easy to get out are event related (news). For example, the flappy bird posts I did recently were very quick to get out. You see it, you call it.

What’s the best place to blog?

Once you get it going and you have a good system for blogging regularly, it’s easier to keep it flowing. I’m writing 100% of my posts on my iPad + keyboard so I can write from basically anywhere. I found that writing outdoors is more effective for me provided that the weather is sunny enough.

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Announcement, Fun Stuff

Soombot is going social on 5 pages at once and will be representing the company and helping it create a stronger social bond with customers.This week we started a project to update all our social media pages with new backgrounds. After some thinking we came up with a cool idea to switch the background of the pages on a weekly basis with an image of a different Soombot every Sunday.

Soombot helps give emotions to our technology

If you are not familiar with our Soombot has been representing the company in different online and offline events for over a year now. The idea came from similar projects like Github’s Octocats and Takipi’s monsters and the rational is to create a stronger emotional bond with customers where the product itself is technical and harder to fall in love with. If you are not familiar with Iris Shoor’s “Product with emotions” lectures, they are highly recommended.

Social media pages cover pages sizes

So, this project was a lot of fun but also quite a bit of work. We are taking every soombot in our Soombot Gallery and setting each one of them on backgrounds to match its respective theme. Now each social network has their own guidelines for uploading cover images so they will fit all device sizes and shapes. Let’s see what these are:

Twitter –  avoid the middle

Twitter cover image is overlaid with a bunch of elements in the middle of the image, so the best thing to do is to work around it. The image size should be 1252×626 for optimal results. Surprisingly enough, the guys at twitter don’t really provide that information but we researched it for you.
Neobot shows up on twitter cover image and carefully avoids the middle section.

Facebook – odd dimensions

Facebook cover pages are pretty straight forward. Your image should be 851 pixels wide and 315 pixels tall – odd numbers, I wandered how did they come up with them. The one thing to note is that the cover is overlaid by the profile picture on the bottom left corner on some view ports but it’s easy enough to avoid. For a complete guide – check out this link

Google Plus – beware of the blur

Google are known for the quality of their documentation. This post gives clean instructions on setting up your cover image (recommended size – 1080×608). The docs do fail to tell you two things:
  • A blurred version of the image will be used as background for the circled shaped profile picture
  • The image is cropped on both desktop and iPad so you should leave wide margins
Google plus cover image is cropped for desktop and iPad and than blurred to be used as background for the profile picture.

Linkedin – the most straight forward one

Linkedin’s banner image is not overlaid so it’s the easiest one. Their recommended size is 646×220 and that’s about it. More instructions here

Youtube – wide margins

All the details about Youtube channel art images can be found in this post. The size of the art work is 2560 x 1440 which is huge and is designed to match all screen sizes including TV. One thing to note is that the images are trimmed down aggressively for desktop and mobile devices. The text and images should be centered but even then you might need some trial and error as the image quality might be reduced in the process.


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Industry News

3rd week in a raw we are collecting the best tweets on the hottest topics in the gamedev community. Hope this helps you keep up to date.

Launched a free 2 play game and want to monetize better?

@gurdotan: 3 Quick Ways to Add Consumables in Your Game | @Soomla #indiedev #gamedev

Great resources – programming books

@marmaladeapps: Check out this fantastic list of free programming books on Github #gamedev #appdev

Making games is more fun than playing!

@jatosha: Have kids that love video games? Encourage them to design their own :) & are great! #gamedev

Tech resources from Unity

@msdev: #GameDev @mcummings details how to create idle states for your walking character in @Unity3d:

Free gaming console anyone?

@unity3d: Help our friends @M2Research map how #gamedev is evolving! Fill in the survey& you can win a PS4 or XBox One #unity3d

Nice idea if enough people will join

@ElbowRoomApps: Would you use a social network for developers? #indiedev #developer #html5 #js If yes would you help make it? #IDRTG @seven11nash

Indie developers have to fill out so many forms these days

@danthat: “All the Boring Bits of Paperwork you have to do as an Indie Developer” pls RT if you like it #GameDev #IndieDev

Game engine comparison

@codepaladin: Why I chose @CoronaLabs over Sprite Kit, Unity or Cocos2d-x. #indiedev #gamedev

Some inspiration from our CTO, Refael

@_refaelos: Courageous people create new products. Extraordinary people are bold enough to adapt to changes. @Soomla #startup #learntochange

Blogging is a great way to validate your ideas in a lean way

@Soomla: Lean Startup – The Leanest Way to Get Out There

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Game Reviews, In App Purchase Tips

Saturday is starting to be my favorite day of the week – it’s game review day. This week’s review is for a game called Drop Limbs.

Get Drop limbs app on Google play with this direct download link.Get the latest version of Drop Limbs by clicking on this button. It links directly to the app on iTunes.




Core gameplay is much funDrop limbs core game play is a repeated scene where users have to avoid sharp obstacles as their avatar falls through the screen.

Drop limbs art is a retro 8 Bit but it doesn’t take away much of the fun. The goal of the game is to dodge the knives and other deadly obstacles while your character falls slowly through what appears to be thick air that slows him down a bit. There are smaller daggers, bigger swords, butcher knives and rotating blades that can also move from side to side. Quite a deadly environment to make the game challenging enough. Luckily, your character will be happy to continue play without hands and legs but once enough limbs are cut, he will die and you will have to start over.

Lives economy done right (almost)

Every game session in drop limbs consumes one life point and users can choose to wait for more lives, earn some by inviting friends over or purchase them for cash

The game designer correctly realized the potential of implementing lives in the game to prevent continuos gameplay. The player starts off with 5 lives and every time the character dies, one life is consumed. To get more lives, users have to wait for 3 minutes for every life point or invite friends to earn lives. Here is a quick comparison between drop limbs and other games in the industry:
  • Drop limbs gives 5 lives while the standard is 5-10.
  • The game gives one life point for 3 minutes of waiting while other games make you wait for 7-10 minutes
  • The gameplay session here is shorter compared to most other games
  • Full cycle in drop limbs is about 1-1.5 minutes of gameplay and 15 minutes of waiting compared to about 5-10 minutes of gameplay and 45-60 minutes of waiting in most other games that use lives or energy
I would recommend changing the number of lives to 10 to allow longer cycles.

Earning and buying lives

For users who are eager to play more, the game suggests two ways to earn lives:
  • Buy lives with cash
  • Invite friends to get more lives
This is a variation on the mechanism King implemented with Candy Crush Saga. However, unlike King, the developer here selects to sell unlimited lives rather than selling them one by one. This basically limits the amount of revenue that the game can generate to $5 per paying users. With a conversion rate of 1%, this means $0.05 LTV at most which is rather low. Incentivizing users to invite friends is the most simple way to leverage social networks but feels a bit aggressive compared to gifting lives to other users.

Achievements and LeaderboardsAchievements in drop limbs are driven by score. Beating your friends or your own personal records is the only sense of accomplishment.

Drop limbs is a repeated scene type of game which means the user starts from the same point in every try. The sense of achievement in this game comes mainly from two things. Beating your own personal score and beating your friends. The developer uses facebook leaderboards to create a sense of competition among buddies. Leaderboards are a nice add on but mobile games must engaging for a single player if you want to have enough users to compete and Drop Limbs has room for improvement here. The main problem with the “beat your own best score” model is that your users often will find it very hard to improve their personal bests after a few days. My best score in Drop limbs was 17 after a few days and then stuck there for the reminder of the first month. Without any other achievements implemented in the game it was hard to stay engaged.
My best score in drop limbs game over the first month. I reached a score of 17 and couldn't beat it since. It was hard to stay engaged.
The way to overcome this problem is to create alternating achievement paths and more ways in which users can excel and accomplish goals. Here are some easy to implement suggestions for drop limbs:
  • Count the number of obstacles passed by type: knives, swords, butcher knives and rotating knives. Allow the user to break those records.
  • Compare personal bests based on weekly and monthly scores. For example, “Best score of the week”.
  • Add humoristic achievements for spectacular accidents. Check out Hill Climb Racing for reference.

Give users an easy way to buy when they run out

Two more improvements on the navigation and usability side:
  • When the session ends, the session summary screen doesn’t give the users an easy way to do the most desired action which is to play again. Instead, the user has to click “Back” and then “Start” which is not very intuitive or highlighted in any way.
  • Clicking “Start” would normally initiate a new session but whenever the user runs out of lives it stops working. A better action would have been to pop up a message asking the user to buy more lives.

Getting your game featured by SOOMLA

Interested in getting a similar review for your game and earning some free exposure? Submit your game here.

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Blogging Tips

We recently changed our writing pace  in the SOOMLA Blog. Up until February 2014 we were writing one or two posts per week and we recently changed that to writing a post everyday. It’s a big commitment and it’s one of these things that you don’t want to miss even a single day since it can become a slippery slope back to once a week blogging. We had to find a few methods to keep the content flowing and I’m going to share some of these with you.Writing a daily post can be challenging but focusing on content channels and weekly routines can simplify it.

Focus on finding channels rather than topics

One of the things that make it easy to write more frequently is responding to events that are happening. The world around us supplies many ideas for blog posts and finding a feed of ideas can help writing more regularly. Here are some examples for channels that are driven by external events. I focused on the gaming industry but the same ideas can be applied elsewhere:
  • Every time a new game makes it to the top chart review it and post it
  • Funding rounds or acquisitions in the gaming industry are frequent events and responding to them with a personal angle can be a source of many posts
  • There are industry events almost every day, find someone who attended, ask him how it was and blog about it
  • Aggregate top tweets of the week posts by following different hashtags
Thinking about content as channels reduces the chances of you running out of ideas and makes the whole thing much easier to wrap your mind around.

Creating weekly routines

This is a pretty simple idea. Tie a certain type of post to a weekday. This helps writing more regularly and also gives your audience a reason to come back. We are doing game reviews every Saturday and company related announcements on Sundays. It means that we only have to worry about 5 days a week for new ideas.

Create a 30 day buffer

It’s one thing to write a post per day on average but a totally other thing to write every day. What if you are sick or traveling or just had a very busy day? Some days you can’t really write anything while in others you get on a roll and write 3 posts in one hour and then a 4th just to share the experience of writing 3 posts in 1 hour.

Break long articles into a mini series

Sometimes you write a really great 2,000 word article. If you want to have daily content, you can easily break it into 4-5 posts and do part 1, part 2, … It’s also a great way to keep your audience engaged and coming back for more. Reposting older articles in a different format such as slides can be a source of new content.

Repost older posts in a new format

Take a look at some of your older posts. Many of them can be easily turned into a 10 slide presentation. Re-format them, upload to Slideshare or Speakerdeck and post them as new posts. Some users respond better to visual content while others like written words better. Why not give them the option to enjoy your content in multiple formats?
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If you have been following this blog, you already know that I’m a big supporter of adding consumables in mobile games. 80% of the revenue in the app stores is driven by consumables. It’s a great way to engage users with your game economy and it’s pretty much the only way you can get whales in your game. If your game is already designed and you want to add consumables, here are 3 quick ways to do that.

Renting lifetime virtual goods

If you already designed lifetime upgrades in your game, a really quick way to change them into consumables is allowing users to rent them. Let’s say you designed different cars in your game. Make the top car a direct purchase – sell them for $5 or even $10 dollars each but allow users to rent them. More specifically, let’s say that with a regular car your players earn 1,000 racebucks (or some other in-game currency you came up with) and with the premium car your players would earn 2,000 racebucks. You should rent the better car for about 1,000 racebucks to keep your game balanced. Your players will end up in the same place but with a much better story to tell.

Adding energy in your game is a quick and highly effective way to add consumables and it's effective to almost all games.

Adding energy or life in your game

Energy mechanics are applicable to almost any game and can be easily added without changing the visual aspects of the game. The concept is simple, you give users some energy, fuel or life points and instead of starting every session fully stacked the game remembers how much energy you have left from the previous session. The magic number here is 10. You want to be shooting for 10 sessions of game play before the user runs out and then allow the user to replenish by waiting or buying some extra.
Wait! Isn’t energy mechanic evil? Well, Not necessarily. It depends how you implement it. Yes, all energy mechanics include some waiting but the trick is not being too aggressive with that. You can also sell energy or life for in-game currency and simply use it as a mechanism to introduce users to the buying experience rather than trying to squeeze a buck or two every time the
 user runs out.

Lifetime virtual goods can be the source of consumable goods - just add ammo and sell packs of shots or bullets

Adding logistics – ammo to weapons, fuel for cars, food for pets

One of the easy ways to add consumables to a game with lifetime goods is to make it more real by adding logistics. It’s usually pretty easy to justify the narrative and the visual implementation might just be a floating indicator of how much you have left. Logistics for weapons is usually ammunition, for people or pets it can be food, for buildings it’s wood and blocks and for cars it can be fuel. It’s pretty easy to find the comparable in the real world and leverage that for some ideas about adding logistics.
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SOOMLA - An In-app Purchase Store and Virtual Goods Economy Solution for Mobile Game Developers of Free to Play Games