October 11, 2015 - Game Design
Looking at the App Store these days is kind of boring. Top grossing charts haven’t changes since 2013. Supercell and King dominating the charts cashing in Millions while at same time spending almost all of it to buy new users.
The paid charts are a bit more in motion since Best New Games featuring let some of the games raise for a short amount of time only to vanish in the ocean of old and new games. But similar to the grossing charts a big portion of the games within the paid top charts are going nowhere.
Looking at the free charts the picture is quite different. Most of the top Apps aren’t games but utility Apps by big companies like Google, Facebook, Netflix, Uber and so on, but in between those giants there are frequently small extremely simple but non the less very impressive viral games.
Viral Games are nothing new. Back in the days of Flash now and then a viral game would pop up to be played by millions until it’s hype would decline and players would flock to the next hot thing. While viral games have been popular in the App Store for quite some time too, i would address the rise of a new type of viral game to the success of Flappy Bird. Flappy Bird with it’s unforgiving but fair skill based gameplay gave birth to an uncounted number of similar games that flooded the App Store when the original disappeared. This was the start of the Post-Flappy-Era of games. Since then viral skill games have matured quite a lot and besides unoriginal clones quite some gems have been made. I’ve been watching the App Store top free charts for those type of games in the past few month and tried to break down the design of these popular games (mostly popular in the younger school kids demographic).
1. One tap gameplay
This one is pretty obvious. Your game must be played with only on tap. It should not matter where you tap and anything more complicated than that will not work. In addition the game must be played one handed which means portrait layout is a must.
2. Infinite level progression
The game has to have a system that provides an endless amount of levels which is achieved by is mechanics. While the game’s rules are always the same it’s difficulty raises by the steps to complete it. This also means that it’s difficulty curve should be linear in stead of exponential. A good example would be juggling. You can juggle with 2 balls and this takes quite some skill to do. If you add a 3rd ball the same activity (game) get’s incrementally harder to pull off. This continues with ball 4, 5, 6 and so on. Obviously juggling has a very small skill ceiling since juggling more than 10 balls gets impractical pretty fast.
Level progression will be the hook of your game with which players will try to battle each other. It’s very important that it will be clear that reaching level 15 will be significantly better than the 14th level.
3. Levels are random
This is quite interesting. I took this rule from Pop the Lock in which each level is random. Randomness in a simple skill game is quite counterintuitve since scores should be comparable with others by having the same base. But Pop the Lock uses a pretty clever system where each step of the level is indeed random and a level can vary in skill quite a bit due to easier/harder individual steps that form one level. It’s interesting because i believe that this random structure within a single level can lower the fatigue of a player trying to solve it. In addition scores stay comparable because it skill is not bound to a single level but more to a overall progression of the game.
4. No interface
The game should have close to no interface. This means you can open the game and play right away no menus or play buttons should be in you way. You can stop playing and continue where you stopped instantly.
5. Simple/Clean art
The game should have a minimal aesthetic appeal. This also means that the elements needed to visualize the game should be very little. A few shapes should be enough in combination with a pleasing color scheme.
6. Free with Ads and Sharing
This is the easiest part. Your game has to be free it should display adds and you should be promted with a sharing dialog (Facebook/Twitter) after each successful action. In addition you can offer a permanent add removal iAp, which hardly anyone will ever use.
Obviously creating a viral skill game is harder than following these rules. There is always a huge amount of luck involved and hit’s form mostly spontaneously. But if you are interested in creating such a game, these points are a good start. I’m actually quite intrigued by the idea of creating such a type of game myself since it’s way out of my comfort zone of game making.