My Udemy course is now live

If you have an interest in Free to play game design you might want to look at my online Udemy course.

GameDesignCourse-CoverPage

  • 37 Lectures
  • Almost 4 Hours of content
  • Player Types and what they want
  • Reward Systems
  • Core Game Loop, Wait Loop, Grind Loop
  • How to keep players returning with triggers
  • What should you sell using IAP?
  • Game Deconstructions
  • Design tips

I had a lot of fun making the course.  It is a combination of talks I have given at Code Camps and Game Jams, along with some new stuff just for the course.

Design Tips for Free-to-play Games

Full of Stars – A two genre mashup

Full of Stars (iOS version reviewed) combines two unlikely genres, pairing an interactive adventure story with arcade-style action.

As you set out across the galaxy to escape a devastating war, you’ll need to dodge obstacles and collect materials in each vertically-scrolling level. The controls take a bit of getting used to, since everything is based on how you touch or swipe the touchscreen. Once you adjust to them, however, they become intuitive.

Dual Currency

The resources you gather come in two forms of currency. Idium particles are more common and can be used for ship upgrades, repairs, and similar actions, while the rarer idium crystals function as money. You also gain leadership points if you complete certain challenges during your flights, such as flying a certain distance without crashing or destroying multiple rocks at once. Idium particles, idium crystals, and leadership points are all necessary if you want to keep your crew alive.

Choices

You see, whenever you crash during a flight, you’re faced with a random event—usually a problem—and a decision to make. For example, your crew might start rioting. You can either use leadership points to calm them down, spend idium crystals to improve conditions on the ship, or leave the result up to chance, in which case crew members might die.

These situations are interesting at first, although they become repetitive after a while. If you and your crew members all die, you’ll need to start over as a new pilot, which means the story text at each planet can also become repetitive.

However, the game remembers certain things from one playthrough to the next. For example, once you’ve seen evidence of the war, you can evacuate immediately at the start of the game.

Your ultimate goal is to reach the fabled Blue Sector and start up a colony. Once you do so, subsequent pilots can bring new people to your colony, which allows you to upgrade it further. Later ship upgrades, as well as a second story featuring a different character, are locked until your colony reaches a certain level.

That is, unless you want to pay.

Pay Wall?

Full of Stars wants you to make in-app purchases. One purchase can remove the colony upgrade block. Another can unlock the second story. You’re limited to three flights before you must wait for your core to recharge, unless you pay for an unlimited core. And of course, the game’s currencies can be bought, too.

Repetitive, but entertaining

This design can be frustrating, especially due to the repetitiveness. Nevertheless, Full of Stars is an entertaining game with a fair amount of content, even if you want to play it entirely for free.

Guest Post

This post was written by Samantha Lienhard.  Visit her blog to see her writing, and more game reviews.

Samantha Lienhard
Readers and Gamers Unite

Discolor Rebounder – indie game with a dual mechanic

Discolor Rebounder is an indie game that has a nice core mechanic.  You are partly doing color matching, and partly a ball bouncer.  It is the mix of two that becomes more hectic and harder than you think.

Game Play Video

Achievements Galore

The breadth of achievements is impressive.  Players love to have something to shoot for, and giving them that many is really nice.  Should be surfaced more in the game though.  If you have that many, maybe show the next one the user might accomplish right on the home screen.

Missing Return Trigger

There is no reason for a player to return to the game once they leave.  There is no energy mechanic, no daily achievement, etc.

Monetization

I think the addition of some power ups, and a reason for the user to watch rewarded videos would go a long ways to resolving the monetization issues.

Players should have a reason to opt in to watching ads.  Never just throw them up and make them watch.  They will skip or exit your game.

Jumpets uses a dance move mechanic

Jumpets (iOS Version reviewed) is a creative indie game built around a core mechanic like dance moves.  Swipe your way to getting pets to jump higher and higher.  Easy for kids to jump right in and enjoy too.

Dance move mechanics

I like the idea of this a lot.  Using a simple swipe mechanic in the game that is easily familiar to almost anyone makes the game really easy to pick up and play.

No session mechanism

One thing that I forgot to mention in the video is that there is no sessioning mechanism in the game.  This may lead to a player binge playing for hours and then never coming back.  And since there are no return triggers you don’t know when a player would return.

The game is mostly targeted for kids though (I think), and so they tend to obsess over a game for a period of time and then totally stop playing.

Fun game, try it

I will say this is a fun little game that I enjoyed.  Give it a try.

Kami 2 is a puzzle game with a simple concept

Kami 2 is a puzzle game with a simple concept. You are presented with a colorful pattern, and your goal is to make the entire screen a single, solid color in a set number of moves. You can select any color used in the pattern and tap a section to change it to that color.

Although it starts out easy, the puzzles become increasingly complex, with many different colors and complicated patterns. It becomes a strategic challenge to determine which sections to change, in what order, to reach your goal before you run out of moves.

This is where Kami 2’s primary in-app purchases come into play. If you’re stuck, the game encourages you to use a hint to see what the first correct move is. However, it only gives you one free hint. If you want more, you’ll need to purchase them. This gives the game an unusual balance where it can be played entirely for free but will tempt players to buy hints as the puzzles become more challenging.

No Undo

The game’s biggest flaw is that there’s no way to undo a single move. If you make a mistake, you have to reset the puzzle from the beginning, which can be quite frustrating for puzzles that take many moves to solve.

Kami 2 has several gameplay modes, although the basic gameplay remains the same across all of them. The main mode, Journey, can be played offline. It includes over 100 puzzles, divided into sets of six. As you complete each set, the next unlocks. Some also give you special rewards, such as additional colors to use when making your own puzzles.

Community Content means never run out of puzzles

The remaining modes require you to take Kami 2 online. In Build Mode, you can create and test your own puzzles using an easy, intuitive interface, and then publish them for other players to try. Special color palettes can also be purchased.

In Explore Mode, you can browse player-created puzzles, save your favorites, follow specific puzzle creators, and search for other players. Challenge Mode presents you with a series of player-created puzzles and tasks you with completing several in a row to build up a streak, while Daily gives you a new player-created puzzle to try each day. These additional modes make sure you won’t run out of challenges even if you complete all of the pre-made puzzles.

 

Beautiful Puzzler

No matter which mode you play, Kami 2’s beautiful paper aesthetic makes the game a relaxing experience, even when it stumps you with a tricky puzzle. The ability to undo moves would be nice, but it’s still a game puzzle fans should look into.

 

Guest Post

This post was written by Samantha Lienhard.  Visit her blog to see her writing, and more game reviews.

Samantha Lienhard
Readers and Gamers Unite

Spaceship Battles–simple PVP with AI controlled space ships

I have been playing this game for several months off and on.  I was looking for a construction game that I could explore and this fit the need.  It doesn’t have a huge play time requirement.  Your main core game loop can be completed within 5 mins.  But the builder aspect of configuring the ships, and changing out components can keep you in the game for an hour if you want.  For someone who spends a lot of time in airports and sitting in Ubers this has been a great quick session game for me on the go.

Research Tree

This was how I originally found the game.  I was looking at research trees in F2P games and this was recommended at a game jam as a system that looked easy to implement, and had good depth.  I agree.

Watch the video to see what I mean.

 

Easy to pickup, layered complexity

This has several great free to play elements in it, but perhaps the best is the come for a minute and stay as long as you like.  The ships are simple, the space to build them out is simple, and the PVP is simple.  All aspects of the game are easy to get into, and quick to get up and playing.

You can go much deeper in trying to optimize builds, and figuring out which ship performs well in each bracket.  That extra depth adds just enough to keep you coming back for more.

One More Brick adds more complex game design to this genre

One More Brick was suggested to me by a YouTube viewer.  I have quite a collection of these almost by accident.  I am starting to think this series will be a good example of game design progression within a genre.

Polish

This game really impressed me for the polish and attention to detail across the board. 

The power-ups and randomizer in the game are really well done.  Watch the video for my full breakdown.

 

Clear the level?  Get a checkpoint

This is honestly the coolest feature.  I have said it in multiple reviews of these games.  When a player clears the entire screen, give them a payoff!  It is hard to do, and should be a big deal.

One More Brick does this really well.  They give you a checkpoint in the game.  Your next play will start at that level!  How cool is that?  Once you have started at that level the checkpoint is cleared, but this is a HUGE encouragement for the player to try to clear the level.

Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes – Game Design Quick Review

This is a great, huge, complex game.  Way bigger than you think when first starting out.  If you are a Star Wars fan you will geek out for about the first month you play this game.  It has characters to collect, and power up.  Fights for the Light Side, and the Dark Side.  Plenty of things to collect to power up your characters (armor, boosts, etc).  And that is where the problem starts.

There is honestly too much to do.  You can spend 30+ minutes in this game every day just trying to knock out the daily mission list.  Then if you join a guild (and you should), expect more raids for the team and helping each other out.  This starts to feel like an MMO style treadmill after a while.

Pay to Win downfall?

The real downfall for me was the constant (I mean as in 10 times a day sometimes) bombardment of ads to buy something.  They have premium skills and characters you can spend tons of money on.  If the rumors are to be believed this game has made close to $1 billion across all platforms since launch.  The pay to win aspect, and the constant buy this limited time character or power, and then this one, then this one just really wears on you after a while.

Still a great AAA game title that is really free to play, as long as you don’t want to get competitive or win PVP very often.

Charming Runes is a very polished block breaker

Charming Runes by Mighty Games is a very well polished implementation of what I am calling the Block Breaker Genre.  They are all very similar clones of each other, but this one is unique.    If you have played Ballz or BB-TAN you should check this one out as well.

Polish makes the difference

All of these games have a similar mechanic.  Throw something at blocks and break them.  Acquire most of the something to throw, and go up in levels while the blocks come down after every round.

Charming Runes has power ups, and a score system that adds excitement through multipliers and rewards for making longer lasting shots. Add in their achievement mechanic, and this the best of this genre that I have seen.

Energy Mechanic too stingy

My one complaint is that the energy mechanic is too stingy.  I really like games that have a 5-15 minute session length.  But if the player has NOTHING to do when they run out of energy other than pay you money, that feels like a stingy paywall.  The player will leave and go elsewhere.

Ads not all rewarded video

The other negative to me is that the game will throw up a video add after sessions where you watched an ad for a reward.  You might have gotten a second chance to continue for an ad.  Then they interrupt your game with an ad for no reward.  That feels like a session breaker to me.  I have no more turns and you just made me watch an ad?  Bye Bye

Selling Premium – without being too pushy

Charming Runes sells you without being pushyThis is an area they did really well.  The pushing of power ups and rewards doesn’t feel like spam.  It is well integrated into the end of a game loop.  I felt like I would consider them, but didn’t have to use them.  Until you run out of energy of course.  20 minutes to regain one heart and then trying to sell them for $4.99 felt steep to me.  Even at $0.99 for a single 15-20 game session feels way to steep.  I always feel you need to make players think they are only paying a few dollars an HOUR for premium add ons.  Anything more feels expensive.

TWD: No Man’s Land – Game Deconstruction

The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land is a huge licensed property that ties into the TV show.  But don’t think you can’t learn some lessons from it.  It has great game design at the core, and then layers on a lot of complexity.

Not casual, needs commitment

The game suffers from too much to do after a while.  If you want the level of commitment of an MMORPG this is a great game.  If you want to play casually for 10-15 minutes at a time this will frustrate the heck out of you.

Watch the video above for some idea of the levels of complexity in the game.  I personally loved the cinematography and the characters.  The main game loop is a turn based combat system that is satisfying and gory for fans of the show.

Additional Links and References

Official Website for TWD No Man’s Land

IGN Game Review for TWDNML