Jesse Divnich‘s conference on common mistakes in free to play design discusses how skill or the illusion of skill influences game production constrains and consumption pace.
Creating game content over time can be a rollercoaster. Keeping players engaged for hudreds of hours requires to keep them interested. This can be achieved by hurling lots of new content at them constantly or by maintaining low cost services (pvp, pve, combat…), reusable content and prolong the consumption of existing content.
You can spend 3 or 4 month to produce high quality content, like Leo’s fortune and players consume it in 1h. Imagining content with infinite use, or options to re-use seem much more viable than keeping up the production. Clash of Clans Characters and Heartstone cards live for weeks. Starwars content lasts months. Hero’s charge is a good example of games that aren’t too content focused.
When do players control the speed of content consumption ? When do the developper controls the pace of consumption ?
Energy systems are used less and less. Games still offer play outside the main game : when you run out of energy, you can play but you can’t progress. Energy levels are not there to generate a revenue. They’re used to control consumption and manage the content production speed. It could go away and be replaced by other mecanics to play old levels only for example.
In Hero’s charge, it doesn’t matter how much you spend : you still have to play the game to reach level 60. This also controls the pace of content consumption.
Jesse’s advice to make successfull games
Design for long term retention
Developers know to check day 1 retention vs. long game. But often, that translates to following the day 0 progress and, 30 day retention. What Jesse’s pointing at is to treat your game as a service. This means going beyond day 30, and looking further into 50 to 100 days.
Even with 1500 players, you can observe diminishing return in fine details, combining server side control for tweaking and instant feedback.
Core casual gamers are not mutually exclusive. Casual gamers often have more hardcore playing habbits than you know. Assume they’re hardcore because that’s what’s going to engage and monetize.
QA is key
Bugs & crashes is the number one reason to give a one star or negative review. First levels are tested most, but bugs in later sections of the game damage the game equally. Those would impact only 1 to 5% of the players, but those are the most engaged users, representing 5 – 50% of revenue. Jesse recmmends to spend 30k to 75k$ to QA.
Don’t design for yourself
A common mistake Jesse also points out is to design games for yourself. Free to play is a larger market of non hobbyist gamers. They play in shorter burst sessions, pick up n play.
Leave your personal opinions at home and put yourself in the shoes of players : dont forget ui/u. A lot of developpers don’t test. This is a fatal mistae because you know your game inside and out.
Carry out games user research
You can’t put yourself in the head of someone who doesn’t know what you do. It seems obvious it’s hard to put yourself in a child’s shoes, because they’re so different from you. The same applies to any kind of target audience, simply because players are nothing like developers. You need to test your game with other consumers. That can be cheap : less than 20k using small service companies, freelance games user researchers or online services which provide quick, effective and relevant feedback.
Limit localization workload
Key aspects to test is the use of visual communication, the first time user experience, and specially in another langage.
Some mistakes seem really obvious to UX professionals, but are still made by many developers. Asphalt (gameloft) has a poor ui for example,a ccording to Jesse. Red means help? Clash of clans on the other hand does it really well, Jesse can’t even tell it’s in a different langage when changing it in the options.
Ease players into your story
Story is generally content driven
Games about story are not the ones making money. Candy crush works well because the story is very minimal. It does not mean you can’t suggest a story in your game however.
A game I personally love because of its story is Two dots. The story isn’t so much content driven as suggested by the long term goals / rewards and background of the list of levels. The gameplay however is unaffected by the story. The backgrounds also re-use elements from previous sections and re-use a very limited number of assets. It relies on composition re-using assets more than content production.
Throw players into the action right away
Players assess whether they like a game in a few seconds. They’ll quit before even seeing the gameplay if the loading or introductions are too long. Don’t show the meta game until later. Character creation, registration, facebook connection, city building… that can all come at a later point when the player has experienced the game and is on board with it.
Dialog heavy free to play is usually a bad idea. Poeple don’t want to read…
Players should spend time in meta game, possibly 60 to 80% of the time. Meta game should support the core gameplay enjoyment.
Exceptions to illusion of skill
If you can build a strong community such as for heartstone, minecraft, a skill based might work.
Skilled based games seem to work better in china.