Rovio Stars’ new app Jolly Jam has been getting attention – and rightly so – for a new match three mechanic: instead of dragging or swapping tiles to match three objects or more in a row, users select a rectangle where the two corners must be the same character and everything within that rectangle that matches those characters is removed from the board.
It’s great to see innovation in match 3 puzzles. But the other thing that I noticed when I played through it last week was how much game play I was able to run through before getting hit with a gate – I easily played over 30 levels over an hour and a half. That’s a lot of play time right out of the gate. And games like Best Fiends by Seriously (a studio by previous Rovio execs) had a similar very easy early on ramp. So what’s going on?
Getting You Hooked
This is a general trend I’m seeing with a lot of casual free to play (F2P) games: we’re giving players access to more unencumbered content to get them hooked and engaged. When a user spends an hour playing your game, they are making a hefty investment of time.
In conjunction with this, we’re seeing more casual puzzle game adopt a visual map of progress. (The success of Candy Crush bred a lot of adotpion). Besides providing a light leaderboard showing where you are versus other players, it also provides a strong reminder of just how much time a player has invested in a game.
I haven’t combed through the top app charts, but according to the speakers at the Year in F2P Games at GDC this week, over 20% of mobile games in the top charts now employ some sort of map overview that shows the user’s progress (and more importantly investment or time) in the game.
Time Investment and Monetization
I think that it’s pretty clear that showing a player’s investment in the game can definitely help retention, but can it also help monetization?
One of the biggest money drivers in these puzzle games is when a player is just 2-3 moves short of completing a level, they are prompted to spend currency to get an additional pack of moves (echoing classic arcade games prompting you to put in another quarter to continue your game).
I’d argue the time spent in playing a round (some of the later rounds in Candy Crush can take over 15 minutes) is also a psychological driver (do I want to spend another 15 minutes and try again?) in getting players to fork over that extra quarter. I don’t have data behind this, but it definitely bears testing.
Raising the Stakes (and the Value)
Bottom line, the top developers are creating a lot more content for players in order to get them hooked, getting users deeper into the game and hoping the investment of time ends up driving users to stay (and pay) longer. This increases users expectations (and I’d argue in a good way) that upon downloading a free to play game, there is not just five minutes of play and a pay wall, but a deeper initial experience to enjoy. Monetization only really begins to be a conversation (an exchange worth considering) after players have fully realized the value from the game.