Casual Games – Designing for Success

Over the last 12 months our Studio has put out 3 games for Mobile Devices. Today I want to talk about what we learned about designing casual games for success.

Over the last 12 months our Studio has put out 3 games for Mobile Devices.  We’ve learned a number of hard, sometimes bruising, lessons along the way.  Today I want to talk about what makes Mobile/Casual games different, and some points you should keep in mind when designing games for mobile platforms.

Fun, Fun, Fun

If you haven’t dipped your toe in the water of Mobile Gaming be prepared to drown in a sea of acronyms – CTR, CPA, CPI, DAU, MAU, IAP, LTV .  These things are important, and it behooves you to understand the space, but remember the cardinal rule:

If your game sucks – it won’t sell.  

Everything comes back to making fun games that players enjoy, ALL else is a distant second.

Casual Gamer != Hard Core Gamer

Obvious right?  Casual Gamers play in short 2-10 minutes bursts, they like social experiences, many of them are women, yadda yadda.  However, often or more like - usually, the people who *MAKE* casual games *ARE* hardcore gamers, *ARE* mostly male, and *HATE* social experiences themselves ;-)

I’m being a slightly facetious, the point is the Casual gamer often has a very different world view about games than the self-same people making those games.  They don’t have fond memories of the screee of a ZX Spectrum loading Chuckie Egg or pumping 50 pences into a Street Fighter II cabinet in a warm arcade with a sticky carpet.  Many of them weren’t even born when SFII was released!

So you need to get inside your customer’s head.  Casual Gamers don’t have huge ethical objections to the F2P business model, they don’t care Candy Crush is a Bejewelled rip, they expect games to be free (even if you’ve sunk 12 months of your life into your game), they will buy IAPs if well integrated, and they expect regular/very regular updates, which brings me onto…

Updates - Pile 'em High, Sell 'em Cheap

Casual gamers YEARN for updates, they cleave to them, they covet them.  Regular updates keep your players coming back for more, improve your conversion rate and so on.  So the tricky requirement from a game design pov is to balance what makes your game awesome, with making it quick and cheap to update.

If you look at the undisputed champions of Casual Games - Supercell.  Both Hayday and Clash of Clans are great games but they can be very cheaply and easily updated.  When Supercell add a new building to Hayday the fans go batshit and all start grinding so they can have a Boathouse.

So the point is don’t create an epic space battle simulator that needs 6 months of effort to add a new level, because there’s every chance your game will die while you build it.

Important from a production pov - If you think it’s easy to optimise your Studio to release monthly updates of your games, you’ve clearly never built software or managed a typical dev cycle

Feedback Loop - Listen to Me Them

In this world of Social Media and Cloud Services it’s stupidly easy to set up a twitter account, email account, Facebook Page to allow your players to send in their suggestions or more likely complaints (usually about the cost of everything). Do this, listen to your players and practice Complaint Driven Development.  Your players will love you, they will get the features they want and they generally know more about your game than you do.

and finally

Hopefully these tips are useful, but remember the mobile space is a massively exciting field and a massively fast moving one.  To quote William Goldman –  Nobody knows anything.  So if someone tells you a “fact” (even me) about not doing something, but you believe it will work – try it – because for your audience it might just be the difference.  Except for $69.99 IAPs, don’t try those they are just plain a bad bad BAD idea, but for anything else…

First published on my blog here

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