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Perfecting the Recipe for Mobile Success: Restaurant Story 2 Post-Mortem

Post-mortem of Storm8's Restaurant Story 2.

When we started work on Restaurant Story 2, we began with a single question that would guide our decision-making throughout the development process: Why would someone play this game?

That question sounds simple, but to answer it you need to understand who your players are – and thus what motivates them to pick up a game, what they’re looking for in their entertainment, what they find rewarding or exciting, and what keeps them coming back. Drawing on years of feedback from the millions of people in our community, here are some things we knew about our player:

She has a busy life, with lots of responsibilities at work and at home, and she doesn’t have a lot of time for entertainment. So why would she carve out time to play a game?

  1. Predictable accomplishments: the ability to pick up a game—even for a few minutes—and always feel the satisfaction of completing a goal
  2. A brief escape during the day: a moment of joy and relaxation in her hectic life
  3. A place to express herself: a place that’s hers—she can arrange it to her liking, and nobody will disturb it
  4. A sense of control: a predictable world where she knows the rules and isn’t at the mercy of someone else’s demands

So with our player in mind, we embarked on making a follow-up to our successful simulation game Restaurant Story.

What Went Right

1.Changing the context

When you set out to make a sequel to an established game that’s grown over time, it is important to think about how the new game will be a fresh and different experience. Particularly in the case of a game like Restaurant Story, where there are still many active players, there’s no benefit to developing a game that just mirrors the original. Existing players are happy with the game they’re already playing, so to get them excited about a new game—and attract new players as well—you need to change the context.

The original Restaurant Story is a classic café simulator: players cook food, serve it and improve their restaurants with new appliances, so they can cook more food and serve more customers. It’s intuitive—you don’t have to teach players how it works.  

For Restaurant Story 2, we changed the context by introducing ingredients. We wanted this game to feel more like cooking, and adding ingredients gave players one of the key things they’re looking for: a greater sense of control. Now, they could buy ingredients and choose for themselves what they wanted to cook.

Ultimately, adding ingredients successfully changed the context of Restaurant Story 2—but there were a few bumps along the road; more on that later.  

2.Soft launching

The great thing about developing for mobile is the ability to soft-launch. As with many of our games, we launched Restaurant Story 2 in a few countries to start. With the game live in select markets, we were able to observe player behavior and gain a very clear understanding of which parts of the game were delighting our players and which were frustrating them.

Armed with this knowledge, we were able to modify systems and fine-tune everything from gameplay to graphics (one of the things we learned was that player engagement went up when we made some design tweaks to make the food look more appealing). By the time we launched worldwide, the game encapsulated everything we had originally wanted it to be—and we’d circumvented pain points that would have hurt our retention.

What Went Wrong

1.Over-complicating things

Like most game developers, we’re gamers ourselves. As a result, sometimes we get a little too excited and lose our objectivity. When we started creating the ingredients system for Restaurant Story 2, we were inspired by all the possibilities for how we could make the game cooler and add more “flavor.”

For example, we thought it might be fun to add a system where players wouldn’t know what ingredients they were going to get. They would hire shoppers, who would then drop off random ingredients at the restaurant. From there, they’d need to cook based on what groceries they happened to receive.

It sounded like fun in our heads—an element of surprise and chance. But we’d lost sight of what our gamers are looking for—that sense of control, of a world with predictable rules where they can accomplish things.

Next, we added grocery stores. Now, players would visit a grocery store, choose ingredients and then wait for them to be delivered. As we began testing this system, the problem quickly became clear: That’s not how people shop. It wasn’t intuitive. And what’s more, we found that in the time that passed between ordering and receiving the groceries, it was easy to forget what recipe you needed the carrots, potatoes and egg for in the first place.

With a few missteps behind us, we settled on something much simpler: a straightforward system where players go to the store, buy groceries and immediately have access to them. We did this by shifting the timer to the grocery store restocking process. It worked—it was intuitive, and players could plan their play sessions based on a known, predictable timer.

2.Removing control

As we considered ways to change the context for Restaurant Story 2, one of the things we tried was implementing a short-order cooking system. There are many great short-order cooking games, and they can be a lot of fun. But the one thing a short-order cooking game doesn’t allow you to do is choose what you cook. So we were, in effect, removing the things our players are most looking for—choice and control.

After some testing, we returned to what worked—the player-controlled cooking model we used in the first Restaurant Story. Now, Restaurant Story 2 players pick from a recipe book and they gain a feeling of accomplishment when they cook recipes that they chose. The new ingredients system still provides an additional level of complexity, as players can only cook recipes for which they have the proper ingredients, but players still feel like they are in control of their experience.

Developing a successful mobile game is always a challenge—and creating a sequel brings a whole new set of questions to be answered and problems to be solved. Looking back on the development of Restaurant Story 2, below are things we learned that we will carry with us as we work on future games and that you, too, could apply in your next simulation game.

  1. Leverage player knowledge – Make systems intuitive, and tap into things players already know. Everyone knows how cooking works; don’t change the basics of the system.
  2. Iterate to greatness – Try new things and take risks, but look at the data. And if the data tells you that something went wrong, don’t be afraid to go back and change it.
  3. Give the player control – Let them tell their own story. If you’re taking control away, think about why you are doing it and how they will respond. These games are an escape—give players the control they might not find in the real world. 

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