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Criminal Case - User Experience Insights

A UX breakdown of what makes this title criminally addictive and areas where it can push it,s boundaries more.

Om Tandon, Blogger

March 25, 2015

22 Min Read

Hidden object games (HOG's) have been around for ages, a genre that re-invents itself time & again, scores of mystery lovers are huge fans of this genre and have grown up playing them. I myself have worked on 'Hardy Boys: Perfect Crime' (HOG) in distant past.

Criminal Case (CC), is the reigning blockbuster title on FB and app store rankings and is setting imagination of players worldwide on fire.

This is a UX breakdown of what makes this title criminally addictive and areas where it can push its boundaries more.

Core Gameplay Loop

Solve Puzzles > Earn Stars > Analyse Clues > Unlock Chapters

Add to it a dash of energy mechanics, social spokes, decorations, co-op and competitive elements and you have a recipe for success.

CSI Setting: Strong Mental Model?

Despite the fact Criminal Case is not franchise driven it connects strongly with players mental model.

At crux of CC's huge popularity lies the deeply immersive setting and narrative paralleling chartbuster shows like CSI, the Devs (Pretty Simple) did a brilliant job of theming and creating a environment where in the Player gets to be a detective cop, nurtured and guided by the character of John (friend & subordinate), the commissioner who is a quirky whip lasher and a forensic team complete with a K9 unit.

It,s not just the story that is contextual but the fact is, it feeds a strong Mental Model:

Mental models are images, representations, or schemes of how we perceive and understand the world around us. Like all models, mental models are abstractions of reality.

Most games struggle to make this connection with their target demographics, and easily loose the plot, Game devs, end up designing and building a narrative/story that resonates very strongly with their own imagination, but that does not mean it will resonate well with players.This can be easily tested.

1) You will be surprised usability studies of interface and narration of your game done at early stages on casual unbiased player will reveal the experience you design for players is not always how they perceive it.

2) Success of franchise driven games, is owing to the fact that people are aware of the mental model behind the brand and are willing to believe & accept things to work a certain way even if the games themselves are mediocre

3) Be careful which existing mental model are you feeding, for example New zombie game releases will be inadvertently compared to popularity & familiarity of series like "The Walking Dead".

Criminal case reminds player of all the forensic series and movies they have watched glued to the tube season after season. 'Pretty Simple' (the developers) kept it simple by sticking to what players could relate to, and not over complicating the premise.

UX Take: Sensitivity towards Players will go a long way:

Criminal Case can have a macabre setting and intense images relating specifically to audiences that can digest it, the devs. clearly went after this audience and it has worked brilliantly for them, the question to ask is how to scale this audience further?

HOG Genre is dominated by women demographics, teens ,fans and some of the scenes/case files are a bit too explicit and look gross (in line with real shows) even on your Facebook posts. A lot of HOG lovers may have issues with seeing these images.

UX Tip: Lots of people would love to play this title, if not for the shock value.

Hypothetical Model: Sensitivity Setting For Players.

CC can offer a sensitivity setting which the players can be prompted to switch on, in case they find the images disturbing.

The game can prompt the player for their preference once they reach such a scene.

Clicking the "Preview" button blurs the explicit violent details. giving players an idea of how sensitivity setting will blur/mask violent images, as seen below

During preview the 'Preview' button will turn in to 'Confirm' state, player can now enable this setting if he wants, They will also be informed the setting can be reverted anytime they want, via settings menu.

Above alternative will result in much better user experience for sensitive players they will be able to enjoy the game without any apprehensions. It also connects with the real world mental model, of TV shows where in violent parts are blurred. Such measures will show that devs. care about players & their user experience.

Most importantly It will also open doors to hordes of other players who like this genre, and this title but are repelled by the violent imagery.


Friends based Hint system:

CC has one of the best co-lab social mechanics integrated in to it,s design, having to choose friends as partners who act as hint system in each level, a system similar to Puzzles & Dragons. the game play is asynchronous, but creates the illusion of collaboration and you & your friends helping each other out.

This also creates an opportunity to gift back cards out of gratitude. Returning a favor is something we can all relate tp and the whole loop execution creates great user experience.

Dynamic Leader boards:

Criminal case does a good job of actually showing an animation of you overtaking your friends on the leader board the simple animation of seeing your rank overtaking others is delightful and makes your victory screens that much special.

Send free energy and Mission spamming :

The old formula of sending free energy is also prominent in Criminal case and send screens have a 'ACCEPT, CTA button which is a way of tricking the players in to spamming , the annoying part is, the game posting on your wall with "post to your wall feature" designed in such a way, that it is a default selection.

Any design pattern done over time becomes a white noise, that players learn to ignore, sending lives, gifts etc is a dated approach. 2015 should see more avenues and reasons for social exchanges.

UX Tip: Hypothetical Model Social feature with ability to send case files.

CC can leverage this by allowing players to help each other find clues by sending case files, a case file can be a single hidden object level that your friend can solve earning higher stars etc and unlock a clue that helps you with your investigation, In real world investigations, agencies and detectives collaborate all the time. so it fits well with player's mental model. And create stronger social ties!

Hypothetical model sending case files to friendsThis example can be more leveraged by developing a interesting plot, In a new case the player himself gets implicated by some mobster (or old criminal he caught) and needs to find a clue which will get him out, allowing him to solve the case. So send the case file to your friend who will play a chapter and find the clue that helps you to progress, while earning 2X coins or stars himself.This kind of plot can create really urgent call to action, and stronger social interactions.

It can also be a way of giving a player at lower level a glimpse of what a higher level case looks like, by allowing him to play just one chapter.


Criminal Case sells energy and in game currency like coins and Cash which is used for buying boosters or avatar decorations. on mobile version they use choice simplification by offering just 3 price points, as noted with some King.com games.

Get More Coins IAP - Choice Simplifications

Without fail game developers around the world realise the importance of monetisation and I have observed most successful ones try out different IAP models and methodologies that range from upfront IAP design to core loop tweaking that can help achieve better monetisation rates.

Criminal case was recently trying out "Pay as you like model" this is a upcoming trend, a lot of websites do this, the Idea is to let player feel he has a real choice in paying what he wants, personalise the shopping experience and make him feel in control.

The offer allows the player to purchase up to 20 such bundles.

But I think while the attempt to give user a choice of personalising purchase is really commendable it is still lacking, the design itself could be further modified to make it more impactful.This model allows the user to purchase multiple instances of the super bundle but gives no control over changing the actual value of it,s content.

UX Take : Pay as you like hypothetical IAP Model

Personalising purchase decisions is already a big trend among e-commerce sites, games too will follow suite, in fact many top grossing games do segment playersbased on spending habits, geographical locations and other metrics tailoring offers and welcome screens that differ for every segment.

Above model is a simple example of giving player a sense of involvement in decision making, the slider behaviour also encourages him to engage with the price points and spend more time on this IAP welcome screen,

Research proves that we buy most of our stuff online based on recommendation from other buyers, by including a tag conveying how many people bought this deal we are emulating that (think Groupon, Amazon). A server side CRM system can be tweaked to relay this info.

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