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Designing A Social Cooking Game From Scratch

This post is a summary of my experience designing a social cooking game.I will be covering each phase of the design process on a high level and hopefully, it sheds some light on the game and what made it successful. Thank you for your time!

Social games have been around for a long time. So it might not be much of an eye opener when I mention designing one from scratch, especially a cooking game, which we have in spades right now. However, I wanted to share my experience designing a social cooking game from scratch, as my very first large project and how it went on to have multi-million downloads across platforms.

I will be covering each phase of the design process on a high level and hopefully, it sheds some light on the game and what made it successful.

The Theme 

Back when there were only a few  (Around 2014-ish) mainstream social games  that had a similar game play of base building, placing machines and crafting products to serve customers, most of which were farming. The product team had identified (With some market study) a gap in the cooking genre, which could be filled by a game that offers a similar experience but tailored around a restaurant/cooking theme. And so, it was decided that a social cooking game would be made that would give the player the complete 'restaurant experience'.

Players would be able to build a restaurant from the ground up, place various appliances and cook dishes from different cuisines around the world, and serve customer orders from an order wheel just like a restaurant in the real world!

Initial Design

Now that the theme and type of the game had been decided, the next step was to design what new elements needed to go out in the game along with the core loop of Build -> Cook -> Serve. Since we wanted to deliver a restaurant experience where the player gets to feel that they are running their own restaurant, we decided to add some additional features to compliment that idea, some of them being

  • Kitchen Garden - The idea of growing your own fruits and vegetables, which can then be used to cook dishes and serve to the customers seemed to fit well with the overall theme of the game, so this was one of the first things we decided to do.
  • Restaurant Decoration - We would allow players to buy and place decors in their restaurant, allowing them to customize their restaurant experience, which led to the next feature
  • Restaurant Rating System - Similar to Michelin Star ratings for restaurants around the world, our restaurants would also be rated based on decor points (A system that was introduced to give the restaurant decoration feature some purpose). So players had an incentive to decorate their restaurants with good looking and exotic decorations!
  • Buying/Selling System - Of course, being a social game this is no surprise. However we wanted a player controlled environment where the players get to decide what and how much they sell their commodities for.
  • Visiting/Gifting - Another social element we added was a visiting and gifting system where a player could visit other random players or their FB friends and give them gifts, this was another attempt at adding more actions and functionality to the game outside the basic core loop.

More features were added later, however these were the initial first set of features that we wanted to ship the game with.

Economy Design

This was in my opinion, the most challenging and frankly the most fun part of the entire process. Challenging, because this was my first time ever handling economy of a game of this size and complexity. Fun, because the idea of designing the very base economy that will dictate the pace and nature of the game was very exciting!

All the basic economy-related elements were pretty straightforward like XP, soft currency, hard currency and decor points (as part of the decor system). The trouble was identifying a pace that would be ideal for an active/semi active player to unlock content in the game and the time they would need to gather currency.

Here is a summary of the process I followed in an attempt to come up with a first set of XP, Coins (Soft currency) and a way to measure player progress.

  • Refer to games that were out in the market already and make a note of what kind of stats and numbers they used. This process helped me understand identify patterns in the XP and soft currency scaling that those games used. The availability of Wiki-pages for almost all the popular games at the time helped during this process.

 

  • Find a common conversion factor for the all the in-game economy elements. This would help standardize the value of XP, Soft currency and hard currency and help in fixing price, value and pace of the game. For my game, the common conversion factor was time. All the currency and other elements of the economy had a fixed value based on time.
    • Why time?  - The nature of the game was such that time was the most important part that was involved in every action in the core loop. Time was related to,
      • Growing Ingredients
      • Cooking Dishes

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  • Deciding the pace of the game based on the common conversion factor - Time.
    • How was this accomplished? By using time as a common element, we were able to approximate how much time a player would take a complete a level.  Basically,
    • XP, Coins earned per Order = XP Rate * (Time taken to cook dishes + Grow ingredients) + Coin Rate * (Time taken to cook dishes + Grow ingredients).

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  • So, by assigning XP and Coins a value based on time, we would know how much time a player would need to complete a level with this formula,

Total XP Needed to Finish level/XP earned per 1 second of cooking

An example,

XP needed to cross Level X = 1000

XP earned per second of cooking = 10

Time taken to cross Level X = 100 seconds.

  • Now that we have a method to calculate XP earned, coins earned and time needed to finish a level, all that was left to decide was how much time should a player take to finish a level. This was set based on many trial and error sessions and we decided on a value that we thought was best suited to pace of the game. We started as low as 1 hour and to as high as several months.
  • The time taken to complete a level were adjusted by changing the XP and Coin rates in every level. So a particular dish might earn a different amount of coins based on the level at which it was made.

Meta-game Content

After the core loop and all of its associated tasks were fixed and finalized, the next task was to have some meta-game elements for players who got bored of the usual grind of serving customer orders. For this, we set up a couple of player love features which helped in engagement and also monetization to a small extent. Some features namely

  • Leaderboard based competition - Serve specific orders within a set time limit to earn leaderboard points.
  • Community events - Events where entire community participated to complete a goal. This feature was very successful and was very well received.
  • Restaurant Decoration Contests - These were held on the Facebook page of the game to increase player activity and interaction there.

Not all of these features went out during global launch, they were added later after all the game economy tuning and pace adjustment after we got some reliable player data and feedback.

Conclusion

All of the elements of social features, meta-game content, seasonal content and targeted user acquisition eventually saw us crossing a million downloads within the first year and multi-million downloads within the next two years. And I believe it was mostly due to the fact that the timing of game launch was just when the market was getting saturated with farming games and there was a void in the Cooking genre, which let us enjoy the success on that scale that we did. The game continues to get new content and live operations till date and is still going strong!

I had to leave out a decent chunk of information like tutorials, fine tuning, etc to avoid the chance to boring the reader. So, if there's anything that wasn't clear enough or needs more detail on, please feel free to reach out to me via my email ([email protected]) and I'd be happy to share!

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