Designing free games
Sell emotion, not content
(Here’s a fancy web version of this post.)
In this post I review the Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games free on-line book by Nicholas Lovell and Rob Fahey.
Why should you care?
When I first considered developing mobile apps, a game was not at the top of my list. If you are in the same position, you are probably thinking that this book is not for you. However, many of the game design rules apply equally to other types of app, e.g. let users experiment but never fail, be generous and never stop developing.
I enjoyed playing a few games, was intrigued by the game design process and had a daughter with great ideas. After reading about app development, I settled on the idea for a game which was released as Conxy and evolved into Scarper (Tetris meets Candy Crush). I found the F2P game design rules to be invaluable and adopted them as the backbone of Scarper.
You can read all 15 design rules and I explore my top three here.
The Starbucks test
Can players of a game achieve something meaningful in the time it takes for someone to make their coffee? This is the Starbucks Test and it equally applies to any situation where users perceive they have some time to kill, e.g. waiting in a shop queue or for a train. This is an important consideration for any game played on a mobile device. Games should be designed in short loops where players can have fun completing an activity in a limited period of time. For example, in Farmville crops can be harvested and replanted and in Scarper a grid can be played to completion within 2 minutes.
Come for a minute, stay for an hour
While short loops enable players to have a quick go, well designed games entice players in for much longer. Bejewelled Blitz players get the highest score they can in 60 seconds, but on average stay for nearly an hour.
The principle ways of achieving longer engagement are to have a:
Compulsion loop at the heart of the game, such as a harvest-plant-wait or see-the-results-of-my-actions mechanic.
Meta game that extends much further with loops extending 30 minutes, a day, a week or a month.
Free-to-Play games deploy various approaches to foster this experience, including leaderboards (with regular resets), achievement systems and nested loops.
Sell emotion, not content
The advent of digital networks has enabled perfect copies of games and other products to be distributed to consumers effectively for free. The consequence is that consumers increasingly refuse to pay for content, e.g music. For game developers, this often means giving the game itself away for free, to build an audience, and sell experiences which make the plays feel good, including:
Customisation, e.g. costumes and colour schemes
Advancement, e.g. avoid need to wait
Competitive advantage, e.g. better kit
Relationships, e.g. offer gifts to others
Social status, e.g. ability to show off
These may be cheap to develop, e.g. an entry in a database, but the player is considering what they are worth to them, in terms of fun and satisfaction. In short, how it will make them feel.
Love your Freeloaders TEDx Talk by Nicholas Lovell
The Curve talk by Nicholas Lovell
Free2Play: Making money from games you give away book by Will Luton
In next Sunday’s post I will talk through four principles of visual design.
Until next Sunday, think how good you could make your players feel while they wait for a coffee.