Ben Cousins on DeNA’s upcoming core FPS The Drowning

Developer Scattered Entertainment’s Ben Cousins recently gave Inside Mobile Apps an in-depth look at the developer’s upcoming horror first-person shooter (FPS) The Drowning. Cousins, the general manager of the studio, filled us in on the title’s innovative controls, monetization hooks and social features.The Drowning logo

The Stockholm-based studio, which is a subsidiary of DeNA, consists of team members that had previously worked on multiple console FPS franchises including Halo, Crysis, Far Cry and Battlefield. Industry veteran Cousins is the man leading the ship at Scattered Entertainment, who had previously worked at Acclaim Entertainment, Lionhead Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment, and most recently at Electronic Arts. He joined DeNA because he wanted to work at a company where free-to-play and digital were the primary focus in terms of revenue.

“We didn’t feel like core gamers needs were being served particularly well,” he says. “Not in terms of giving them enormous single-player games that they sit down and play for eight hours, but more creating games that have the adult tone, violence, excitement, drama, and high-end visuals that they would expect from a console game.”

The Drowning’s core gameplay loops and controls

The free-to-play game, which runs on the Unity3D engine, is aimed at the core audience and places the user as survivor of the apocalypse who’s stranded on a series of islands in the pacific northwest of the U.S. The user starts with just a pistol and is soon attacked by zombie-like creatures. The player is then rescued by another survivor named Charlotte, who turns out to be a gunsmith that operates a workshop. Users are then tasked with going out to various locations nearby to clear out baddies and scavenge for parts to craft weapons and upgrade existing weapons.The Drowning screenshot 1

There are two core gameplay loops in The Drowning. First, users go to these various island environments and play a two-minute long round where they have to kill as many zombies as possible in as violent of a way as possible via head shots, chaining kills, knocking out baddies, and more, to rack up the highest score possible. The score represents how long zombies will retreat from an environment before they return. Second, while the baddies are away, this gives the user the opportunity to scavenge the environment for parts and broken weapons. The scavenge mode, Cousins says, plays like a slots game where the user presses a button and then receives a random part — such as a broken AK-47, grease, duct tape or a battery. The higher the score in the game round, the higher likelihood the player will nab a rarer part. None of these parts are useful alone, but the parts can crafted together to create a functional Ak-47, for example.

The Drowning’s control scheme is one of the bigger selling points for the game. The controls are not designed around virtual joysticks. Rather, the game is controlled using common touch interface gestures like taps, swipes and pinches. Users can tap the screen with two fingers to shoot, and the bullet is fired to the center point of the two fingers, resulting in the ability to track moving target or multiple baddies without moving the camera. Players can also tap to walk, swipe to look and pinch to zoom. (more…)

Firemonkeys on Real Racing 3 going free-to-play

Inside Mobile Apps yesterday got a hands-on preview of Real Racing 3. We also spoke with Ptolemy Oberin, one of the game’s programmers and project lead at developer Firemonkeys, about the studio’s experience going free-to-play and the game’s Time-Shifted Multiplayer feature.Real Racing 3 app icon

Real Racing 3 is the first game in the Real Racing franchise that’s developed by Firemonkeys, a studio consisting of developers Firemint and IronMonkey. In July 2012, Electronic Arts merged Firemint, the developer of the first two Real Racing titles, Flight Control and SPY mouse, with IronMonkey. Melbourne-based IronMonkey was purchased by EA in February 2010, and are known for bringing EA franchises to mobile as it did with Mass Effect Infiltrator, Dead Space and The Sims FreePlay. Firemint, a Melbourne-based studio as well, was acquired by EA in May 2011.

Modifications made to Real Racing 3

The most noticeable difference going from Real Racing 2 to the third installment is the graphics. Oberin tells us that Real Racing 3 is pushing about the same graphic fidelity seen in PlayStation 3 titles such as Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo 5 and Xbox 360 games like Turn 10 Studios’ Forza Horizon. Oberin adds that Real Racing 3, which runs on Firemonkeys’ in-house engine Mint3D, is pushing around five to six times more polygons in the cars, and that the tracks have been upgraded graphically as well. Other graphical touches include full damage visibility on cars, multiple camera angles and real-time images on the mirrors in cockpit view.

The game is broken down into multiple series, each featuring various events. According to Oberin, who was the project lead for Flight Control Rocket and SPY mouse, there are about 900 events in total. There are 46 licensed cars in total from 12 car manufacturers including Audi, Bugatti, Ford and more. Control-wise, users steer the car by tilting a device side-to-side and braking by pressing the screen — the gas pedal is automatically pressed down.Real Racing 3 screenshot 1

The biggest change in Real Racing 3 is Time-Shifted Multiplayer (TSM). TSM records a real person’s skill level and attributes on EA’s servers. That data is then used to program the AI opponents in races. This works because every user that plays the game will have their driving data recorded. If a user integrates with Facebook or GameCenter, they can then asynchronously race versus AI opponent that are programmed by a user’s friends. Oberin says the cars are not just ghost racers, he described the AI driving the cars as an “AI doppelgänger.”  It should be noted that TSM isn’t a mode, it’s in every race. Real Racing 3′s TSM will also be platform agonistic, meaning players can compete against each other’s TSM AI-controlled driver whether they are on iOS or Android devices. (more…)

Why game content is more important than quality, style and social features

Editor’s Note: Each week, Inside Mobile Apps’ Kathleen De Vere delves into evolving trends in mobile games and apps. The current topic, games as a service, is part of an ongoing effort on the part of mobile and social game developers to maximize engagement and maintain dominant positions on app rankings charts.

Some of the most profitable mobiles games available today aren’t games at all — they are entertainment services.

If that seems strange, consider the average review of mobile card battle games. The genre seems to defy all the lessons developers have learned about what makes a “good” game: graphics quality is low, the user interfaces are unintuitive or cluttered, and the battles (such as they are) don’t require any user input beyond pushing a button.

Despite all that, these “core games” titles earn incredible amounts of money. At the height of its popularity in Japan, GREE’s card battle game Driland was earning more than $26 million a month through in-app purchases. DeNA’s hit Rage of Bahamut has spent 10 months at the top of the Android top grossing chart, generating average revenue per daily active user (ARPDAU) in excess of $1.00. Card battle games like Zynga’s Ayakashi Ghost Guild, ATeam’s Dark Summoner and Applibot’s Legend of the Cryptids are also immensely profitable.

These games are popular and addictive because what they are selling is not the basic gameplay, but an ongoing service that keeps players returning. A game-as-a-service provides endless additional content, a player community and a persistent competitive environment. Financially these titles are supported by microtransactions or monthly subscription fees.

Always something to do.

MOBA games like League of Legends, Valve’s Team Fortress 2 and paper-based collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering all have two things in common. They are all extremely popular and are all ongoing entertainment services. Mobile card battle games like Rage of Bahamut offer the same experience on a simplified scale.

The real “gameplay” for many these mobile games today is in the extras: the free bonuses, daily levels, multiplayer raid bosses and limited time special events. For dedicated players, there is always something new to do and it’s easy to become addicted — not to the game, but to the never-ending stream of content and the diversion it provides. Just introducing service components to an existing game can create a huge boost in monetization and retention.

Last summer, Big Fish Games added a Daily Mode to its hit game Fairway Solitaire. Every day, the company puts out two new levels. One is free, the other is bought with in-game currency. On the weekends, the levels that need to be bought might be longer, or offer extra completion bonuses. If a player completes enough of these daily courses, they can use their completion bonuses to unlock even more content.

According to the Fairway Solitaire team, Daily Mode was explicitly created to give players a never-ending feed of new content. Big Fish Games tells us Fairway Solitaire’s engagement and retention are “outstanding.” The game’s daily active user (DAU) count has doubled since Daily Mode was introduced.

Previously, game developers have placed a lot of importance on adding social features to games, but these games aren’t popular because their players can share their high scores on Twitter and invite their Facebook friends to play. Games like Fairway Solitaire inspire great loyalty because their players can always find something to new to do in them.  

The goal of a properly designed game-as-a-service should not be to make the best, or most social game possible, but to create a game where it is nearly impossible for the player to become bored with it. That is the “secret sauce” that makes Magic: The Gathering, League of Legends and Rage of Bahamut so profitable.

Amazing Ants surpasses 1M installs in one week, ranks in the top 5 on the top free iPad apps chart

Indie mobile game developer Twyngo revealed to Inside Mobile Apps that their first game, Amazing Ants for iOS, surpassed the 1 million install mark in one week since the title’s launch on Jan. 10.Twyngo logo

“It’s been very gratifying to see the degree of enthusiasm and success about the game, Twyngo co-founder Unni Narayanan told Inside Mobile Apps. “We knew that we had built an atypically high quality product with a rich experience that appealed to a broad category of people.”

Twyngo is the second game published under mobile game developer Pocket Gems, a new business venture that Pocket Gems announced it was pursuing back in December 2012. Developer dreamfab’s Chasing Yello for Android was the first title published by Pocket Gems in late December 2012.

Narayanan says Pocket Gems was a great help to Twyngo by guiding his team through the process of creating a successful game based on a freemium model.

“There’s exceptional value delivered in the game for zero price,” Narayanan says. “Pocket Gems was instrumental in helping us see the benefit of the freemium model. The reason the game is a success is that the game is of high quality and a rich experience, but it’s also broadly accessible to a lot of people because we’re doing the freemium model.”Amazing Ants screenshot

With more than 1.3 million installs and counting, Narayanan believes the potential for Amazing Ants to continue to grow is huge.

“The potential market is very, very large,” he says. “We’re going after the same demographic that an Angry Birds or a Cut the Rope reach out to. The market size is huge. As long as at the grassroots level people like the game and are enjoying it, we can see more growth.”

Narayanan emphasizes that Amazing Ants’ appeals to people who are looking for a wholesome experience.

“There’s an untapped opportunity for people to still develop family-friendly games that appeal across multiple age groups,” he says. “The reason our game is resonating with many folks is that people want that sensibility, that rich, immersive cartoon-like experience. They want that, but they want a different mechanic than what they’ve seen already out there. That’s a sentiment that we’re tapping into.”

According to our traffic tracking service AppData, Amazing Ants is currently ranked No. 4 on the top free iPad apps chart, ranking as high as the No. 2 spot on Monday.

Check out our review of Amazing Ants on our sister site Inside Social Games here.

Bringing a game back from the dead: How Brainz saved its quirky tower defense title Vampire Season

Columbian developer Brainz’ debut game Vampire Season is shaping up to be an unlikely success, even after launching, failing, seeing its publisher implode, going back drawing board, and making a counter-intuitive switch from free to paid. The new version of the game has found its footing, and is seeing higher engagement, retention and better monetization than the old one. Much like its cast of zombies, mummies and monsters, Vampire Season seems to be back from the grave.

One of the first mobile developers to sign a publishing deal with 6waves, Brainz’ had high hopes for its first mobile game. Its tower defense title Vampire Season combined quirky humor, solid gameplay and high production values. Unfortunately none of that can guarantee a hit — although the game received overwhelmingly positive reviews upon its release, it didn’t find much of an audience, and the audience it did find didn’t pay.

Then things went from bad to worse. As Brainz was trying to fix the game, its publisher was collapsing. By September, 6waves had laid off everyone Brainz worked with, including the SVP of publishing and the associate director of products. There was a new version of the game, but there wasn’t a publisher. Brainz did the only thing they could; they took the game back, releasing the new version as a paid title on Oct. 16.

Rebuilding for retention

“We were very happy with the critical reception,” explains Jairo Nieto, Brainz’ head of games. “But we still found that across the board there were certain things that could be improved.”

With 150,000 downloads under its belt from the first version of the game, Brainz began doing a deep dive into Vampire Season — seeing where users churned, what levels seemed to be too hard, and how people behaved while going through the game’s story mode. Brainz took what it learned and used it to revamp the tutorial. Pinch zoom gestures were added improve the controls, and the whole experience was made much more epic.

“We were falling short of giving users an experience that felt rewarding when they unlocked new units,” says Nieto. “Stuff like that makes people go from level to level and enjoy the game more.”

Brainz also took a big gamble by rebalancing the gameplay. The toughness of each enemy was reduced by two thirds, but the number was increased substantially in order to make players feel like they were constantly under siege. Player units were overhauled to make them seem more powerful and exciting to use.

“I wanted the player to feel powerful, that he’s constantly killing stuff. We really wanted to have the sense of accomplishment you get in Diablo when you kill a big horde,” says Nieto.

The results were immediate, reports Brainz’ CEO Alejandro Gonzalez. The game has gone from having 30 percent retention on day two to having 50 percent.

Bucking the trend and going from free to paid

Brainz also completely overhauled the way they tried to monetize the game, switching from a pure free-to-play model to making the game a paid app with optional in-app purchases.

Even though it’s now far easier to earn money in the game, generosity seems to have boosted Vampire Season’s average revenue per daily active user (ARPDAU), not reduced it. According to Brainz, the game is actually seeing much higher ARPDAU as a paid title than it was when it was free-to-play.

“I think it was a big mistake that we were making the first time around, telling people to monetize all the time,” says Gonzalez frankly. “Finish a level, why not get more coins? You did this, get more coins. More coins! more coins! It’s not about the coins, it’s about the user feeling that they can move faster through the game by using the store.”

“Maybe it’s just me, but maybe there’s a relationship between paid players and high ARPUs,” muses Nieto. “Something in my head makes me want to finish the game because I paid for it.”

On publishers, and hindsight

Brainz doesn’t hold any ill will towards 6waves for the initial performance of Vampire Season. The two companies parted ways amicably, knowing each tried their best.

“The market changed very quickly and I think that was the biggest issue. A lot of what we managed to do was no longer viable because acquisition costs are so high,” Nieto says when asked to comment on what happened with 6waves.

Nieto also feels that Brainz inexperience in the mobile market was a factor. Without knowing what they were good at, they didn’t know what they needed to look for in a publishing partner, he says. Its not enough to just get a cheque and some analytics. In his opinion publishers need to fill expertise gaps as well.

“We were expecting them to teach us everything, and no publisher knows everything,” he says. “You need to find a publisher that will let you know what’s going on with the product. You cannot give away your product to a black box and wait for something to come in.”

Breaktime Studios sets itself apart with a less casual breed of casual game

Casual gaming startup Breaktime Studios wants to make the experience of playing a casual mobile game a little deeper, a little more complex and a lot more interesting.

Founded by former Playdom employees in 2011, the San Francisco-based company’s first generation of games were titles like Dream Dresses, Pocket Potions and Sweet Shop — slick looking, casual and female-focused affairs.

So far Breaktime has been pleased with the performance of its games, but CEO Matthew Davie tells us that going forward, his company intends to differentiate itself in the highly competitive free-to-play mobile gaming market by creating what he calls “mid-casual” titles.

“We will continue to focus on casual players, but our philosophy centers on the notion that these players are wildly underserved in terms of depth and richness of gameplay,” he says. “Our players have showed us that they want more complexity as long as it is introduced appropriately and not forced on them.”

This, he explains, will allow Breaktime to incorporate new features and monetization mechanics into its games that other developers might avoid for fear of making a product that seems “too core” for casual audiences.

The company’s upcoming game Dragon Skies has been designed to follow this “mid-casual” philosophy. Scheduled for release in early November, the title will blend traditional animal care elements like breeding and building habitats, but players will also be able to take the dragons they collect into side-scrolling, arcade style races as part of the gameplay.

“Our goal is to deliver the best mid-casual free-to-play mobile games. Period,” says Davie. “That means games with more complexity but less difficulty, enabling much richer social interactions than you currently see on the market.”

It’s an approach that will help differentiate the company from more established rivals like TinyCo, Zynga and Storm8 as it seeks to carve out a niche in the mobile gaming market and compete for users. Introducing more complexity into casual games has also already worked for another Breaktime rival, Pocket Gems.

Earlier this year the company took a bit of a gamble on its title Tap Paradise Cove, a game that blends traditional citybuilding mechanics with exploration elements inspired by the ultra-popular indie hit Minecraft. Although the game wasn’t a big hit right away — according to our traffic tracking service AppData, it took about a month for Tap Paradise Cove to rank within the top 25 on the top grossing iPhone app charts — the title hasn’t dropped below that position since May either. Tap Paradise Cove is currently the No. 19 top grossing iPhone app, the No. 26 top grossing iPad app and the No. 17 top grossing game on iOS.

So, while its impossible to predict if Dragon Skies will be a hit, if the performance of Tap Paradise Cove is any indication, there is definitely demand in the casual market for more complex elements borrowed from core games.

Breaktime Studios is backed by an undisclosed amount of funding from Azure Capital Partners and Sega Corporation. The company’s games are currently iOS only, but Breaktime is looking to launch Android versions of select titles before the holiday season.

As downloads grow, hard drives shrink — the average iOS game is now 60MB

Apple’s decision to increase the cellular data download limit from 20 to 50 megabytes has led to a dramatic and noticeable increase in iOS app size reports ABI Research.

According to the latest study from the company’s Mobile Application Markets service, the global average size of an iOS app was 23 megabytes in September — up 16 percent  since March. iOS games grew by 42 percent during the same period, swelling to an average size of 60 megabytes due to the combination of Retina display upgrades and an increased download limit.

Apple’s decision in March to increase the maximum size of 3G/4G-downloadable apps from 20 to 50 megabytes has clearly had an unleashing effect on developers,” said ABI senior analyst Aapo Markkanen in a statement. “Games can now be more complex and graphically polished, while still being able to benefit from the instant gratification of cellular downloads.”

While the move to larger apps may allow developers to create more detailed products, as ABI points out, it also means developers will have to fight harder to keep their apps installed. As our readers with smaller capacity iOS devices are likely aware, once non-app files like music, photos and system files are accounted for, a consumer may only have two or three free gigabytes to devote to apps — space that can quickly be eaten up by titles that require hundred of megabytes of storage space.

Developers wishing to avoid having apps deleted for no other reason than size issues may wish to consider local storage limits when designing their apps.

Guest Post: Making your iOS game succeed to China

Editor’s note: Germany’s HandyGames recently brought its pet-raising sim Clouds & Sheep from Android to iOS, debuting the title in the Chinese iTunes App Store after working to localize the title with its Chinese publisher Yodo1.  In this guest post, Yodo1 CEO Henry Fong shares his advice for making a Western-developed game appeal to a Chinese audience.

There are many challenges involved in bringing a mobile game to the China — it’s difficult to get a new title noticed in such a huge market, and the cultural divide between Western developers and Chinese gamers is also often a problem.

For HandyGames, the question was would Clouds & Sheep and its other titles work in China? After all, the company is based in Germany, and its titles come with very Western elements like castles and cowboys, and Clouds & Sheep might have seemed too weird for Chinese gamers. We recommended that HandyGames change some features and focus on others when they launched their titles in China. Since many of these tweaks will also apply to other Western developers who want to get their games into the Chinese market, I wanted to share them here.

Play up cute

Unlike a lot of Western games in China, Clouds & Sheep has one very big thing going for it: cute. Chinese gamers love cute much more than their western counterparts do. This is especially true with one of the top audiences for iPhone games in China: young professional women between the ages of 20 and 28.

Unlike most of their peers in the U.S. and Europe, Chinese in that age range are still very much into Hello Kitty style and other cute fashion accessories.  “Kawaii” — Japanese  for “cute” — has now become synonymous for the style of chic-cute fashion that is tremendously popular with the Asian female demographic. All that in mind, we made sure that the game’s cuteness was emphasized in all its marketing material.

Make it easy to share and spend on

If there’s anything Chinese love more than cute, it’s sharing. With Clouds & Sheep, we integrated the game with Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo, the Twitter-style social networks in China.

That way, people could share photos they take in-game, show off their sheep wearing decorations, and other things. Within a week after launch, we saw many Sina Weibo updates with Clouds & Sheep photos. This created a nice viral growth mechanism. We weren’t surprised to see that the hundreds of personalized Clouds & Sheep screenshots being shared were mostly from young female players.

For instance, one talented player created and posted a Clouds & Sheep screenshot to her blog, adding characters from a popular Chinese TV series. In the first three days after she posted it, the image went viral – it’s already been reposted by other Sina Weibo users 2754 times (and counting), which means hundreds of thousands of new eyeballs looking at Clouds & Sheep content.

On the monetization side, Chinese players hate waiting, so we provided an option to buy stars (Clouds & Sheep’s currency, usually earned by accomplishing in-game goals) with a diverse pricing structure, so players could buy a pack of stars for the Chinese equivalent of $1, all the way up $60. Even for a casual title like Clouds & Sheep, we’ve see Chinese gamers buying the high priced packages, which reflects another rule I like to follow: Make the monetization options flexible enough so that all kinds of customers can buy them. (And don’t be surprised that some Chinese customers are willing to pay hundreds of dollars a month on your game,  because that happens fairly often.)

Don’t just translate to Chinese language — translate to Chinese culture

While the basic gameplay of Clouds & Sheep and other HandyGames titles are easy to understand in China, a lot of the slang often found in Western games (Awesome Dude, OMG, etc), simply doesn’t translate well in Chinese.

During the localization process, many game publishers just do a literal translation of the game’s text, but we knew that would only make HandyGames seem foreign. The literal translation for “Cute!” in Chinese is “ke ai” but the popular Chinese word is “meng“,which is the equivalent of “chic cute.” As a result, a lot of Chinese gamers tell us they assumed that Clouds & Sheep was actually made by a Chinese studio — a huge compliment.

So far, the results are pretty positive: Clouds & Sheep has been a top game in China’s Apple Store for two weeks since launch. It’s also one of Apple’s featured apps. HandyGames is also incorporating what they’ve learned in China with the launch of Clouds & Sheep to the rest of the world.

Applifier launches game recording viral Everyplay

Game cross-promotion network Applifier is branching out even farther from banners with a new iOS game recording service called Everyplay.

The idea is to capture that word-of-mouth moment between mobile game players when one person shows another person a game on their phone. At its most basic level, Everyplay records live gameplay clips from within a game that can then be shared among friends — via Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. The service can also be used to generate replays of game moments, which could be used by players to create walkthroughs or by developers to display asynchronous game moments like when a rival attacks the player in-game. Everyplay also offers personalized messages sent with the videos, and can edit the video to remove bits or add voiceover commentary.

Videos are initially stored on the user’s device and later uploaded to Applifier’s servers when and if the user shares the clip. The developer sets when the recording starts and stops and the only hard limit is the device’s free disk space. Uploaded videos are tagged with the game’s name and any hashtags the user wants to add. Everyplay is enabled via an SDK that will support Unity 3D at launch with Cocos 2D to follow.

There’s an additional functionality that records users’ faces from the front camera — to really capture that sharing moment — but users must opt into this feature. After doing so, the user can choose to discard the video from the front camera while keeping the audio, which could make voiceover commentary very easy to add.

Applifier recently launched a Facebook-only video ad service called Impact. Everyplay follows on the same principles of Impact by granting games recognition with high quality trailers and game clips. By showcasing the best of what a game has to offer, Applifier’s services hope to drive both discovery and engagement among users on mobile, Facebook and the web. According to CEO Jussi Laakkonen, Impact has already paid out over six figures in revenue (USD) to one unnamed developer for the month of July.

Everyplay’s beta launches today. Interested developers can find out more or sign up here.

Guest Post: Jewels with Buddies analysis

Editor’s Note: This guest post comes from game design consultant Adrian Crook, a producer and designer with credits on over two dozen games spread across a variety of platforms, including classic consoles like the Sega Genesis and modern mobile games for iOS. In 2006, he was named Producer of the Year by the Canadian New Media Awards. You can find out more about Crook’s consulting agency here.

In this analysis of Jewels with Buddies (JwB), we’ll focus on breaking down day one engagement, compulsion loop mechanics and friend invites. I’ve chosen to focus on these aspects of the game because together they represent a tight, focused mobile design.

Day One Engagement

Automatic Pairing

Immediately upon completion of a quick tutorial, the player receives a game request from a stranger. As it is the player’s turn first, they are immediately put into gameplay and engaged. With the asynchronous nature of the game, they already have a reason to return later. Being invited to a game (as opposed to the player having to reach out themselves) also helps the player overcome any fears of inviting others to play with them in the future.

As soon as the player has completed their first turn in their first game, the app presents them with another game invite from a random (non-friend) player. This flow gets the player in the habit of playing multiple games at once while they wait for their opponents. It is also an excellent example of “blurring the game loop,” which I’ll discuss later.

Using two random opponents for the initial matches instead of the player’s friends is smart; it ensures the player is matched with an active opponent and not a potentially lapsed friend.

User Created Game Funnel

With the booster rockets of two games now ignited with random opponents, the player is shown how to start a game of their own choosing (note: orange arrow is in-game art, not my own markup).

Taking no chances, the game walks the player right through the suggested new game creation process, proposing they start a game with a random opponent by default. Again, this is most likely to ensure the new player is matched up with an opponent who is not “stale” (i.e. the app finds a player with a recently opened random game and/or a track record of recent activity/fast turnaround on rounds). The wording below this dialog supports as much, as “start a game with an online opponent” implies that random opponents are ready to play now.

In a matter of just a few minutes, the player has already started and played their first turns in three matches with real people – a great start.

The Compulsion Loop

Getting Into Games

With the on-boarding and day one engagement cycle complete, the player is on their own to use the New Game Creation Menu and Main Games List to start up game loops.

The Rematch option found here is worth pointing out. Frequently, good opponents players find via random games are hard to track down again for future games. But this feature allows players to view a list of recent opponents from current and previous games, building rivalries and friendships that will make the player more invested and thereby increase retention.

Starting a new game via an opponent’s username is also vital to allow out of network player discovery and for those who don’t connect via Facebook. Frequently, 40 percent of a game’s online play comes from non-Facebook sources (i.e. a username system).

Lastly, on the Main Games List suggested games to start are always present.

Play More, Get More

By starting another game, the player can unlock the second boost slot, generating at least another few guaranteed rounds from the player – one to unlock the slot, and another to try playing with two slots.

Often extra consumable slots are monetized, but in this case the developer has chosen to trade engagement for monetization. Considering the difficulty of surfacing new apps on iOS, this boost for extra engagement and virality is smart.

The layout of this screen also bears mentioning: the most obvious call to action is the Start a New Game button along the bottom. To avoid pressing this, the user must back out to the Main menu using the top left button. Undoubtedly, this results in a lot of game starts – an excellent example of prioritizing the on-screen elements to tie in to desired user behavior, in order to guide users in the intended direction.

Compulsion Loop Reinforcement

In case the player forgot, the game reminds them why they’re here: play a lot, earn coins, buy power ups. Repeat.

This screen appears as soon as the player crosses the 100-coin plateau (presuming they are not in the middle of gameplay). It also acts as a bit of empowerment, creating a positive milestone out of an otherwise meaningless event.

Blurred Game Loops

In blurring the game loops, the player is kept in the habit of closing open gameplay loops by putting them into another game loop as soon as one ends. The idea is to keep the player as close to the game loop as possible because kicking them back to the Main menu gives them a natural spot to exit the game.

In JwB, often the player doesn’t make it back to the Main menu for several games due to the presence of the Game Selection option at the bottom of the Round Summary screen.

Friend Invites

Inviting Friends for Coins

The lower portion of these round summary screens is always given over to promotional messaging (i.e. start another game, invite friends, play a turn in another match, etc). Often games only award coins upon an invitee’s installation of the game. However in JwB, merely inviting 10 friends nets the player 100 coins, right away. Their friends do not need to install the app.

The Invite Friends screen as a whole is fantastically simple. A meter at the top indicates the player’s progress toward the 100 coin goal, a strong visual reminder and motivator for inviting 10 friends.

Interestingly, invites being sent are email invites, not Facebook invites. This choice may be for two reasons:

  • Avoid popping a Facebook API invite dialog that many players will shy away from.
  • Accomplish the invite process silently – no confirmation dialog, just highlight player name and touch send.

Either way, email provides a universal invite system that Facebook users and email-only users can both utilize.

Inviting Friends to JwB

When a player selects a Facebook friend to invite to the app, a Wall-to-Wall method is used (posting on the invitee’s wall) to invite the player to play. Unfortunately, this method of initiating a game converts at a far lower rate than do user-to-user requests. Ideally, a user-to-user invite request should be sent here, redirecting to a landing page with App Store links to each SKU.


JwB has a polished, well thought out day one engagement strategy, and the same can be said of the match surfacing and game loop blurring to make getting into games as easy as possible. The willingness to trade early currency acquisition and consumable slots for engagement and virality is an interesting and innovative decision.

On the negative side, inviting Facebook friends to the game is done via Wall Post, not the higher-converting Request.

For AC+A’s full analysis of Jewels with Buddies, see the original presentation.

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