Postmortem: 5 lessons learned making Diamond Dash mobile

Wooga studio head Christopher Parschat reflects on lessons learned bringing its Facebook hit Diamond Dash to mobile devices, learning the odd lesson that a drastic change can sometimes make a port feel more familiar.
Christopher Parschat is Head of Studio at Wooga, one of the biggest social game developers in the world. He was the company's first employee back in 2009 and has worked on social arcade hits such as Bubble Island and Diamond Dash. Here he talks about the transition Diamond Dash made from Facebook to mobile and the five steps developers can take to ensure that transition as smooth and successful as possible. It all started in late 2010, when Diamond Dash was but a rough prototype. Over the course of 5 months our team brought that concept to reality and in March 2011 we launched Diamond Dash on Facebook. After a few weeks the game was a hit, becoming the fastest growing Facebook game at the time and we soon hit the one million daily active user mark. In June we decided to start on a mobile version for iOS devices. Later that year in December, Diamond Dash popped up on the App Store. Since then it has gone on to become the highest grossing game in 67 countries, has been dowloaded 30 million times and boasts a four and a half star rating. Here's a little insight into how we made that journey from Facebook to mobile.

1. Getting That Native Mobile Feeling

First and foremost, a Facebook user experience should rarely be ported directly to mobile unless there are very good reasons for doing so. With a game like Diamond Dash you may think that transfer would be a relatively simple process. But certain parts of the UI and gameplay experience simply didn't transfer. The biggest change we made for mobile was the grid of gems. On Facebook, that grid is 10x10. You'd have thought that by keeping that grid the same size on the iPhone users would feel at home almost immediately. Curiously, that was far from the case. Even though testers were playing almost the exact same game, they responded by telling us that it did not feel like Diamond Dash. We went back to the drawing board and tweaked the gameplay. The balancing, scoring and timing were changed and the grid was downsized to 7x8. When we next playtested the response was very positive. Users felt like they were playing Diamond Dash again. So it took a lot of work to make it feel like nothing had changed, by changing a lot.

2. Managing Attention Spans

As any game developer knows, you're against the clock to keep your players. When users opened the app in the early iterations of Diamond Dash they saw two splash screens before arriving at the main menu. The first was a Wooga page, and the second a Diamond Dash branded loading page. That turned out to be one too many. When we reduced it to a splash page followed by the main menu we retained more users. We also hand hold users through their first game. A more experienced gamer may see those steps as logical, but to those totally new to gaming we realized those first few steps were the most daunting. This of course changes depending on the type of game you're making, but if you're making a casual game, it helps. With a goal to make games for everyone at Wooga, a tutorial was an essential addition.

3. Being Social

Core to our initial success was Facebook Connect. Having an already established player base on Facebook gave us that initial buzz that would have otherwise been so difficult to attain in such a competitive market. This won't be an option to everyone, but if you're making social games it's well worth considering. Players on Facebook mobile who received a request from a friend playing Diamond Dash, and clicked it, were either directed to the game if they had it, or the Diamond Dash download page on the App Store. We later found out that players who choose to log in are 8 times more likely to spend money and play for twice as long. It's all about engagement. Even core games with a multiplayer element are better when you're playing with a friend you know, and I think that appeal is universal. Playing with friends is fun and being social will help your game.

4. Focus on Tablets

Tablets are getting more and more popular and it's important to treat this as an entirely separate entity from the mobile phone experience. For Diamond Dash we redesigned the UI and once again changed the layout of gems to the original 10x10 Facebook grid size.
Possibly our biggest success with the app, which is a universal app for both iPhone and iPad, was to keep the download size low. Super low. Only apps under 50MB can be downloaded over a cellular network, a figure that was bumped up when the retina iPad was announced. We'd prepared for that figure to be under 30MB, and we're still proud that the total file size is only 26MB. If you're making an app for iPhone and iPad one of the ways you can get that file size down is by reusing the same asset. But be mindful of the ones you do re-use, and make sure that they're not ruining your game's presentation.

5. Post-Launch Treatment

Wooga was built from the ground up on this idea, so it may not work for everyone, but part of the reason why Diamond Dash on iOS continues to grow is our regular updates. We launched a little under a year ago and the game continues to grow and that's because we haven't stopped developing, iterating and improving the title. We've added magic powers, improved networking, been lucky enough to benefit from new social features embedded into iOS 6 and updated the visuals whenever new technology is announced. This has been paramount to our success and we're all excited to see how the game develops over the next year or so.

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