Game Reviews

match monster can be quite addictive once you get into itMatch Monster is a fun memory game available for android devices through the Google Play store and for for iPhones at the Apple App Store.

Memory matching gameplay

The way to play this game is to simply tap on the tiles to turn them over and then trying to pair similar tiles together by memorizing what’s on the other side of each tile. Sounds familiar? I’m sure we have all seen a version of this game elsewhere. The twist here is that there is a time limitation which makes it more intensive and exciting. In addition to are also 3 interactive elements to enhance the fun:

  • Some of the tiles might be revealed at the beginning of a level
  • Tiles might blink randomly to hint the user of a possible pair
  • Matching a few pairs one after the other becomes a combo that creates a new type of tile that can be broken by tapping on it
After you play it for a while you can get addicted to it but I think there are ways to make it even better by adding a chain reaction element to it. To be more specific, I would change the functionality of the Zebra tile that appears after making a combo and make the Zebra tile do a line blast and then also blasting any unmatched tile that is left as a result. This is obviously just one idea of how to do it and there could be more. The importance of creating a chain reaction is that it gives users great reward for making a good move so overall engagement is increased.

Level design and game progression

The game progression model is a standard world + levels. There is room for improvement on the level design side.The game uses a world and levels progression scheme. There are 3 worlds and each one of them contains 20 levels. Every level also has it’s own score which allows users to play the same level over and over again and optimize their score. While this is a pretty popular way to do it. There are ways to improve it a bit:
  • Adding levels where the goal is to finish within number of moves and not within a certain time
  • Implementing gates between the worlds so it will be harder to unlock a new world
  • Giving users the option to buy virtual goods that help them complete hard levels

Game discovery and distribution

When looking at the Google Play store stats, you might notice that the game has less than 500 downloads. That’s less than one might expect for a game of this level. When searching both store for the term “match monster” we can see that the game is not in the top 15 results for it’s own name. That creates a big problem with organic discover which indie games relay on. The problem with calling a game ‘match monster’ is that there are many other games with similar names. Luckily enough, the game have a very loose relationship to monsters and in fact the images behind the tiles could be just about anything. I would try to experiment a bit with reskinning and target other search results. Here is how you do it:
  1. Create a list of names that may make sense for reskinning: celebs match, stars match, monster memory, faces memory, stars memory, …
  2. Try to evaluate the competition and search volume for each one of them – there are some tools that can help you predict that but I’m not an expert on which one works
  3. Find 3-4 that looks promising and create simple reskins (just change the images on the back of the tiles and rebuild)
  4. If one of them gets good traction, reskin the entire theme to make it look good
If you want to learn more about this subject, I also highly recommend this session from the last Casual Connect in Singapore – I set through the session and learned a lot from it. App Store Optimization Session
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Back in May I attended Casual Connect in Singapore and had the opportunity to hear some great sessions. To those of you who missed the event Casual Connect records all the sessions so you can see the recorded sessions. Below you can find my 4 favorite lectures. If you enjoy them, feel free to check my sessions from the last 2 casual connects (Making addictive games and Why Publishing is Broken). I received very good feedback about them.

Game publishing and distribution – “publishers are like insurance agencies”

This panel with Chris Natsuume, Ian Gregory and Juan Gril and is moderated by Yan Marchal. Those of you who met Chris knows that he is a really good story teller and is very opinionated about the role of game publishers. These 4 highly experienced individuals are telling it as it is about what it means to be a self published studio. Fun to watch and informative.

Getting organic downloads by gaming the App Store rating algorithm

One of the things that sets successful studios from the rest is that they treat game making as a business and a part of that is understanding what your customers are looking for. In the most literal way, Gabriel shows his recipe for identifying user search trends and making games that actually cater to those searches. This is a lessons you don’t want to miss.

Analyzing and optimizing your game

Momchil is the CEO and co-founder of Leanplum – an analytics platform with some really advanced features like A/B testing and retroactive funnels. In this lecture he shares tips about what their customers are optimizing in their games and how analytics and optimization can help developers reach success by adopting a scientific approach to game making.
 
 

What top earners do that the rest of games don’t

Wouldn’t you like to know what sets the top earners apart from the rest of the games. Peter from Amazon aggregated piles of data from their servers to deliver some really interesting conclusion about monetizing games with in-app purchases.
 
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Game Reviews

fruits n goblins features fun and intuitive gameplay with 4 different worlds and 20 levels in eachToday I’m reviewing a game called Fruits n’ Goblins. It’s a casual arcade game that is available for both iOS and Android devices and can be downloaded using the following links – Fruits n’ Goblins for iOS and Fruits n’ Goblins for Android

Gameplay is fun and intuitive

The game simulates an arcade game from the era when game machines weren’t relaying on silicon. Do you remember this game that had you pulling a spring and hitting a ball that would bounce around and you had to keep it alive by flicking it with two flaps at the bottom right and bottom left of the table to avoid the ball coming down through the hole? Well, Fruits n’ Goblins is pretty much that except that the ball is a Goblin and tilting the machine is a bit easier in a digital game – simply touch the screen to punch it.

Levels and scores give a good sense of accomplishment

the gameplay is easy to pick up as it simulates existing table gameThis arcade game is featuring 4 worlds, each with 20 levels. Each completed level ends with a score that contributes to users’ global score. In addition, each level can be completed with a bronze medal, a gold medal or the perfect medal. This is a pretty good scheme that allows users to make progress as well as go back and improve their results in the first levels and try to perfect their results.

Virtual economy advice

The implementation of the virtual economy in this game leaves a lot of room for improvement. Let’s touch a few of them.

Make the store button clearer

the entrance to the ingame store is very hard to identifyI’m a rare user that actually looks for the store in every game and it took me 8 levels to find it. There are two main problems with the store button:
  • It doesn’t look like a button
  • It doesn’t look like a store
Same goes for the save me option that allows the user to buy an extra goblin to complete the level – it’s not very clear.

Save me option in level based games

At the end of every level, the game offers users the option of buying an extra goblin to complete the mission. This is not something you normally see in level based games from a simple reason, the user ‘cost’ of starting the level over is low compared to single level games like endless runners where the users is facing a tough decision – pay or lose all the progress. The game will do better by switching this to an energy economy. In other words, giving users only a limited number of goblins to play with and gaining more goblins by waiting.

Use of premium currency

In addition to coins, the game also features tickets as a premium currency which is generally a good thing. However, the only buying power that these tickets have is to buy hats which has only a visual impact on the game. I would recommend using premium currency for things that the user really wants while pricing ‘nice to have’ items with regular currency. For example, a good use of premium currency would be to buy lives or ‘save me’. 

Adding basic single use items

Single use items are critical to engage users in the game virtual economy. They give the game currency immediate buying power. The keys to adding a good single use item is that it needs to be easily purchasable and in high demand by the user. In Fruits n’ Goblins I would recommend making the punching/tilting an item that costs a single coin and ask the user to purchase them at the beginning of each level.

Gates between worlds

Users who want to move into the next world in this game, has to buy a new machine for 2,000 coins. I would recommend adding a more advanced gate system that challenges the user to be at his best to pass it. Of course, adding an option to skip the gate by paying is recommended but it’s better to price it with premium currency.

 

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Announcement, Events

Next week, I’m giving a session at Casual Connect in San Francisco. For those if you who can’t make it to the conference – I’m going to share a link to the recorded session as as the conference team uploads it to YouTube. For those of you who are coming, feel free to check the slides in advance and even download them.

I’m going to talk about 3 key elements of getting more social interaction:

  • Designing game narrative around virality
  • Choosing the best timing to pop the question
  • Making the sharing flow as smooth as possible

The session will take place at the Franciscan Ballroom in the 2nd floor and will start at 3:30pm on Wednesday, July 23rd. It’s part of the Game Design track. Here is a link to the conference agenda and more details.

Hope to see all of you there.

Here are links to previous lectures I gave at Casual Connect:

  • Why publishing is broken and how we can fix it - Watch Video
  • How to make addictive games - Watch Video
  • The perfect store – how to engage users in your game store - Watch Video

 

 

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New video tutorial

Many game developers that want to use SOOMLA’s unity3d-store turned to us for help with the integration of the store into their app. So, we decided to create a video tutorial on how to do that. The steps in the tutorial are:

  1. Create a demo app with a “No Ads” button.
  2. Integrate SOOMLA’s unity3d-store into the app.
  3. Initialize the SOOMLA SDK.
  4. Create our version of IStoreAssets.
  5. Implement functionality for the “No Ads” button.
  6. Run the app on a device.

For Android:

For iOS:


 

SOOMLA’s Knowledge Base

Recently SOOMLA’s Knowledge Base went live with lots of documents, tutorials, and examples. You can check it out here.

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Game Reviews

sleepi bubble is a side scroller where the submarine constantly moves to the right and users have to steer it clear of different obstacles.Sleepi Bubble is a side scrolling runner that takes place under water. The goal is to navigate the submarine between creatures of the sea and collect stars. The game is available for android through Google Play and for iOS devices through the App Store.

Gameplay

This pretty simple to pick up. The submarine moves down when you tap the screen and up when you don’t. Very similar to Jetpack Joyride type of control. Each session starts with 3 lives which means you can hit 3 obstacles before the session ends.

Missions presented as levels

progress between missions is presented to the user as a map. Nice way to visualize the accomplishment.Like most runners, each session is generated out of sections that are combined randomly. The game progression scheme is based on missions so at the beginning of every session, users are given an objective to collect a certain number of stars. The progress from one mission to another is presented in a map which is a fresh approach that leverages level maps that can be found in Candy Crush and many other level based games. It would have been good to see some more diversity in the missions. Instead of always using the number of stars as the objective, the missions can be based on how long the submarine traveled, objects collected, obstacles avoided and similar things.

Missing scores and records

One of the things you expect to see in games that utilize a repeated single level is more emphasis on scores and records. Most successful running and jumping games have this and for a good reason. The repetitive nature of these games means that users can get better with practice and can keep breaking their records as long as they play more and more. Breaking your own best scores or your friends best scores is fun and provides challenge in the game.

Lack of game economy

This game misses out on the opportunity to add an in-game economy. Since users already collect stars it’s pretty easy to use them as currency and allow users to buy different items. I would start by allowing users to buy single use items like screen blaster that removes all the obstacles seen on the screen or a temporary shield that protects the submarine for 10 seconds.
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Game Reviews

Herobrine escape is a cool runner game that is hard to master at the beginningHerobrine escape is a cool platformer/runner that is themed after minecraft. It’s developed with Unity and with SOOMLA economy. The game is available for Android only through the play store.

Challenging gameplay that requires practice

The core gameplay in this game is very similar to other side scrolling infinite runners. There are different obstacles coming at herobrine from the right and two moves – jumping and throwing an axe that blasts the obstacles if they are high enough. Hitting an obstacle slows the hero down and the chaser closes in on him after hitting 5 obstacles or so. The running speed is quite fast which makes it quite challenging especially as some obstacles requires a combination of shooting and jumping. It takes quite a bit of practice to master this game and as the landscape is randomly generated, the practice phase can be fun. There are quite a few things that prevent this game from taking off and we will cover each in the sections below:
  • Use of ads
  • Scores and records
  • Virtual goods

Use of ads between sessions

having play again and revive options in the end screen is a good move but none of it matters if the screen is cluttered with adsAds are necessary evil in mobile games. No one likes them but people understand they are necessary to support the developers. It’s a question of frequency timing of the ads these two make all the difference. This game is failing on both.

Ad frequency is too high at the beginning

From the moment you start playing the game every time you fail you have to see a 15 seconds video ad followed by a full screen interstitial. As the game is quite challenging the first few challenges are rather short and the feeling is that you are watching more ads then you are playing. Apart from being annoying for the users this is not smart from retention and monetization standpoint. It’s really hard for users to fall in love with a game that puts this amount of ads in their face. More sophisticated games focus on getting the users hooked up first and then start showing ads only once they figured out the users is not paying. A really great example of that is dear hunter – here is the article about showing ads in dear hunter.

Timing of ads really hurts gameplay

Herobrine Escape play session finishes when the hero bumped into too many obstacles and the chaser caught up on it. The game then shows a screen with two options: “revive” or “play again”. The repeated play option is important because the game requires a lot of practice at the beginning. The spontaneous purchase option, “revive” is a good way to get the user to buy something. However, none of this actually matters because as soon as this screen comes up it is overlaid with 15 second video ad, at the end of which, both options lose most of their appeal. A small tweak here could go a long way. Here are two options:
  • Suggesting the users to revive herobrine by watching a video ad instead of paying
  • Differing the ads for after the user clicks on “play again”

Game progression – celebrate the records

Like many other runners, this game has no levels. It uses google game services to manage missions but that’s practically like putting no missions at all. The only sense of progress and achievement in Herobrine Escape is to break your own records. There is a lot of room for improvement here as the game doesn’t offer any celebration when that happens. This game is hard to master and when I finally figured out the right moves and broke my record I expected cheering crowds and seeing my Herobrine gets some sort of a medal. Instead I was rewarded with a combination of a 15 second video ad followed by an interstitial. Come On! That was a huge bummer.

Game economy misses some single use items

There are not enough single use items that are priced within users' reach so they don't get engaged with the game economyHerobrine Escape implements an in game currency called Gems. Users can collect them and buy different items in the store. Having an in-game currency is a great start. The one thing missing here, however is a single use item that can be easily purchasable with these gems. After practicing for a bit, I was collecting 250-300 of these in a session. A single use item priced at 250-500 coins that could improve my chances in the next session would have been a very appealing purchase at that point. However, the lowest priced item in the store was priced at 1,000 gems and once I bought that, the next one up was 10,000 which seems way out of reach. A good way to introduce single use items in this game is using temporary shields like the surf boards in subway surfers.
 
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Nokia-Store-IAPThe making of a new billing plugin

It’s not everyday that a developer gets a chance to contribute on a big FLOSS project like Soomla but thanks to my current employer Studio V2, I was able to help this great project gain a new billing plugin for the Nokia X platform.
Our first project that implemented in app purchases used Soomla, mostly because it’s cross-platform, free as in free beer and easy to use. But when we were asked if we could port our apps to Nokia X, the Free and Open Source aspect of the Soomla project was a big advantage.

With any commercial API that would have been a chore to ask the developers for a new billing option, but since Soomla is entirely Open Source I decided that maybe I could do that by myself, both on company time and on my free time. With the help of the Soomla core developers and the great documentation they provided, it wasn’t too difficult to get a Nokia Store billing plugin developed! Anyone interested in creating a new billing plugin for Soomla should check out the Google Play billing plugin, it’s a great starting point!

Introducing the Nokia Store billing plugin

The Nokia X device family is still young, but it offers a new market place for your games and apps. Since the in-app API differs from the one used by Google Play, a new billing plugin was required to get it to play nice with Soomla.
With the help of this new billing plugin, you can compile your existing games using Soomla to support a brand new market place with little to no modifications to the codebase !
If you’re interested, I invite you to check out the Nokia Store billing plugin for Soomla right here.
If like me you’re interested in using it in Unity3D, then this fork of Soomla for Unity3D integrates the billing plugin directly into the Unity3D version of Soomla so it can be used right away !
While I did my best to test the plugin, it’s is very recent, bugs may still be present, so if you find any, don’t hesitate to create a ticket on the plugin’s repository or drop me a email.

Working with the Soomla team

If you’ve ever skimmed thought the repositories of the Soomla projects you may have noticed that every project’s README.md includes a line or two about how they have “deep respect for contributors”. I didn’t really know what it actually meant until I actually got involved and saw first hand how true it was. The core developers and contributors are both incredibly helpful and 100% invested in the project!
As a final note I’d like to thank everyone at Studio V2 for allowing this, and Refael Dakar for his help and support along with all the people involved in the Soomla project !

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Announcement, Open Source, Plugins, Tech Resources

new vungle plugin allows unity developers to add video ads to their games and monetize betterPlugins are coming! The first one is Vungle. The great Video Ads monetization service for mobile apps is now available to SOOMLA developers. With the new soomla-vungle plugin you can easily use Vungle to show ads on Android, iOS and Unity3D.

Give rewards for watching videos

The most important feature in this plugin is the ability to give rewards for watching a Vungle video. Rewards are a new concept we recently presented after watching many games and figuring out how rewards are given to users. There’s even a VirtualItemReward that you can use to give your users a curtain amount of a curtain VirtualItem when he finished watching a video. You can also decide not to use rewards and just use Vungle to present a video at any given time.

Easy to use and (of course) free !

To use the new plugin, just go to the new Github repo at: http://github.com/soomla/soomla-vungle and click on the folder of your selected platform. Follow the Getting Started carefully and you’re golden!
Don’t hasitate to asking anything involving this plugin in SOOMLA’s new answers website at: http://answers.soom.la. You can also just use it to say how much you enjoyed using this new plugin :)

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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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SOOMLA - An In-app Purchase Store and Virtual Goods Economy Solution for Mobile Game Developers of Free to Play Games