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UX Insights: The Road Ahead, How king.com is shaping the future of Match 3 (Part 2)

Part 2 of trends emerging in Match 3 games and some speculation about future impact on In-game economies.

Om Tandon, Blogger

February 23, 2015

14 Min Read



In part 1 of this post we analysed, how new UX trends are emerging and innovative design patterns are being employed by latest breed of King.com games. We saw their impact on the following core loops (see Part 1 for more details):

  • Gameplay: Frequent, high intensity peak moment creation with dynamic failure scenario handling that negates the effect of failing a level and creates a more rewarding and retentive experience for the player.

  • Social: More personalised sharing of messages, competitive and co-llabrative by creating social currencies (gifting boosters) surfacing the ability to do social interaction from the game map itself.

  • Monetization: Choice simplification for players and interface behaviour that target NPU's and PU's distinctly.

While King is clearly leading the way, other developers are not far behind in trying to come up with new ideas and avatars. Recent efforts by Supercell (Spooky Pop) and Bigfish (Gummy Drop) show that the heat is on to find the new successor of the 'Match 3 Throne'.

This brings us to the next set of questions: Where to look for Inspiration?

Feel like betting, anyone?

Having worked at slot machine giant WMS in the past (acquired by Scientific gaming for $1.5bn and stellar success of social casino games), I am tempted to say there are lots of similarities between instant gratification and short reward cycles of the way slot machine games are designed and current crop of Match 3 games, creating so many peak moments in a play session that even losses do not feel that demotivating; prompting the player to keep trying/playing.

The visual aura of rich exploding graphics, small wins, orchestra of sounds and melodies creating deep immersion is uncannily similar to the way current Match 3 games are turning out to be. The slot industry has been around for centuries and have been mining player data long before Zynga made metrics popular, so they do know quite a bit when it comes to creating engaging user experiences.

Do chain reactions remind us of free spins?

The large number of chain reactions in Pepper Panic Saga which create Pepper Panic are akin to free spins that a host of slot games award to their players - where the player sits back and watches as these free spins create free, tantalising winning combinations; even unlocking more free spins or bonus levels.

Similar behaviour is experienced when you have a number of stage 5 Peppers ready to explode, and exploding one of them starts "Pepper Panic" chain reactions which explode all the other peppers on the board clearing the level (while the player sits back) and results in winning massive points.

UX take: This directly ties in with the fact that current crop of casual gamers and tablet devices multitask and prefer to play games that have less user input and more of automated mechanics.

Can power ups / boosters (small rewards) be compared to scatter symbols (small wins)?

Scatter and wild symbols in slot games have been around since people started playing slots. Appearance of two or more scatters (stacked scatters) in a single spin, row, column etc unlocks small wins or bonuses which appeal to the player breaking monotony and keeping him/her invested in anticipation of a big win. Matching two or more stage 4 or 5 Peppers in "Pepper Panic Saga" (and other king games) creates such moments which result in special boosts and animations that are not necessarily game changing (may or may not help you clear the level) but the frequency of these small power-ups over time creates peak moments which are akin to small rewards/wins that keep the player engaged and invested in the game.

Failure scenario : Level Difficulties dynamically adjust over time

We have covered in the previous post, it's quiet apparent that if you are stuck at many a levels and have failed for 4-5 times in a single play session, all you have to do is log out and when you come back next time (next day or after few hours), the difficulty seems to go down and you manage to progress with ease.

Luck? Skill? or an AI system accounting your failed attempts and easing the difficulty for you to progress and not give up.

                                 Dynamic Difficulties = Slot Volatility

Similar concepts exist in slot machines with low or high volatility games which either give you higher wins but smaller payouts or fewer wins but higher payouts, though actual slot machines have regulated maths and payouts. Social casino games ( Big Fish Casino, Slotomania) have the math adjusted to engage player based on their credit availability and level in the game.

It's the same old lore of getting people hooked by spending time and levelling up in the game, then make the progress slow and frustrating, ushering them to make purchases but always giving them just enough credit to keep going (through daily bonuses, social gifts etc) to ensure you don't lose the player altogether.

Cross overs are already happening not just in subtle behind the scene mechanics games like Fire Age (Top grossing #2 in the US store) and Hero's Charge have economies built over use of actual casino mechanics. Use of chance based mechanics like bonus chests and casino chips which reward rare items create sinks that hit a great cord with players.

Impact on Game Economies: Rise of new in-game currencies

UX Take - Game economy designer better take note, traditional in game currencies are seeing emergence of new counterparts.

Conventional currencies:

  • Soft Currency: Player can collect or otherwise obtain during game play as rewards, used in in-game transactions like coins in BB, Farmville 2

  • Hard Currency: Rarely awarded in game and available to users who pay real cash. This can really speed up progression like gems in Hayday, BB and keys in Farmville 2

New currencies:

  • Social Currency: Available exclusively through social exchanges, friends, community, alliance etc that helps boost social elements.

Farmville 2 has this in form of speed seeds which can substitute for it,s HC and can be sourced only from friends.

  • Chance Currency: These can be consumed only in chance based mechanics like free spins, drawing chests, casino etc.

Game of War: Fire Age

Hero's Charge

Currently lots of games let you use HC and SC in gambling mechanics. But Fire Age has exclusive chance currency casino chips which are used in the game casino (a powerful source for unlocking rare items and earning VIP points). Fire age sells it aggressively with it's bundled promotions blitz, and Hero's charge lets you buy chests alternatively providing free chests and paid chest using cool-down time component both games are leveraging the gacha mechanics well in their monetisation strategy and retaining player interest by pandering to luck and gambling instincts.

Future currencies?: Credit lines

  • Credit Currency: These might be similar to your credit cards which will let you play even if you run out of HC in the game. You will be offered special discounts ,VIP perks, drawing negative balances and overdrafts as well!

  • Time Limited (disintegrating) Currency: Cool-down times have been a big trend of current freemium games. Currencies that will disintegrate if not consumed within designated time period, Prompting the player to spend time as well as money in the game!

Surprised? There is no reason to be. It's the next logical step.

All the currencies we discussed earlier (old &new) are established mental models which people are familiar with in real life. Consider coins, used in so many games as SC are transactional objects people deal with in real life. Precious HC items like gems, gold bars are something people hold dear in real life too and are willing to pay high prices for. Social Currencies like speed seeds, energy or boosters, let people help each other with unsaid social rule of reciprocation, gratitude and gifting. Chance Currencies like casino chips cater to to your gambling instincts with an expectation of winning something rare and much more in value then your investment is, not to mention the thrill of the unknown.

These are not some imaginary virtual models. These are lifted from real life behaviour of people and transactions.

We make use of debit and credit cards more in everyday transactions then actual cash, not to mention services like Paypal, Square and upcoming mobile paying trends. What I am getting at

Our mental models of how we do real world transactions is changing. Sooner or later it will show up in our virtual models too.

Casual Games & Casino games - Not just a one way street

From what we have covered so far, it's not just casual/mid core games benefitting from gambling elements. This works both ways. Social casino games also wish to capture a slice of casual gaming market and players. Zynga adventure slots (below) combines slot spins with Puzzles and Dragons like RPG (side scrolling) action, where in slot outcomes feed your characters progression and battles.

Gummy Drop - Match 3 (US top grossing #44) from BigFish (Also publisher of Bigfish Casino, #1 top grossing social casino app) is trying to bridge the gap by deeper integration of casino mechanics in the core game loop.

UX Take: From these patterns and trends it can be safely said we will be witnessing more such cross overs from both casual and casino game developers to claim the ultimate price. A slice of ever increasing casual-core market.

As a UX designer, I look forward to such new mechanics. While stand alone free spins, scratch cards and gacha mechanics are some what dated approach, I would explore more deeper integration of casino mechanics.

Hypothetical model - Roulette mechanics integration in grid based Match 3 games.

Image below shows a simple game of roulette, where in players can place their bets on a number line grid, Players can bet on individual numbers, colours (red or white) number range or even columns and rows. Post betting the outcome of the spin determines the number they end up with. and reward distribution ranging from 2X to 3X returns based on players bets.

In a Match 3 game (which are grid based by nature) Before starting any level, Players can be asked to pre-select a row and a column as shown below by tapping on them.

If the player is able to create a power up combo that clears his pre-selected row or column (or both) at any point during the game session, he will be rewarded by 2X or 3X increase in his rewards. Unlike roulette, players skill might also be of use here. but luck element will be equally strong due to random selection of rows/column and distribution of tile matches which could trigger power up combos required to clear players bet.

This is just a simple example of deeper integration of casino/luck based mechanics in casual games, and looking beyond conventional spins and gacha.

On a parting note In case you didn't know, VIP systems in vogue with games like Fire Age, Hero's Charge etc are also traditional casino strong holds originating in real life casinos; big part of all online real money poker and casino sites, now successfully adopted by casual-core games.

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