Guest Post: Analyzing the stickiness in Nimble Quest

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Editor’s note: Arcade action game Nimble Quest is the latest offering from Tiny Towers and Pocket Planes developer NimbleBit. Kevin Oke, Lead Designer at both Adrian Crook & Associates, a social-mobile game design consultancy, and PlayRank, a second screen startup, analyzes the stickiness in Nimble Quest. He previously wrote a guest post for Inside Mobile Apps that analyzed engagement in Supercell’s Clash of Clans.

nimblebit-logoNimbleBit, creators of Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes, released their latest title the aptly named Nimble Quest at the end of March. While it’s a fun game, I’ve found four key issues described below that I believe limit its stickiness and in turn, its ability to monetize.

According to AppData, after a strong start peaking at No. 6 on the top free iPhone apps chart for the games genre, it has slid to No. 217 as of this writing. Its rank on the top grossing iPhone apps chart for the games genre is at No. 190. These positions may be at least partially attributable to the issues I found.

The Compulsion Loop

This is the biggest barrier for Nimble Quest to overcome. The nature of its compulsion loop makes for a very grind heavy experience that hinders its stickiness.Nimble Quest compulsion loop

It’s a rule of thumb in game design that the shorter the loop, the more addictive the experience. By analyzing the loop (diagram above), one can see that unless the player is willing to spend hard currency, they have to restart from the beginning every time. The variable session length nature of the game means that as the player and their friends improve, it takes more and more time for them to challenge their ever-increasing high scores.

Essentially Nimble Quest is banking on players getting invested enough in leaderboard competition to start paying once the grind becomes too much to bear. This is a risky hook to rely on here, as it’s one that is much better suited to games with more of a sense of permanence and ownership, like city builders and strategy games such as Kingdoms of Camelot by Kabam. The reason being that without such permanence, it’s much easier for the player to decide to quit when the grinding gets tiresome.

As in any freemium game leveraging the player’s time for money, if the player tires of the grind too quickly and churns out, they can’t be monetized. However Nimble Quest is especially at risk here because of their compulsion loop. Fixed session lengths with level progression and difficulty determined by a party XP level would have provided more stickiness.

Arena Surfacing & Messaging

The Arena houses team-based gameplay uses a guild system. This is a great hook for stickiness and monetization. However clarity and surfacing around the Arena is not as good as it could be. In short, the Arena doesn’t feel important to my experience as a player, the benefit to me is not clear as a new player. Therefore it’s not compelling. Compare the surfacing and messaging of team-based gameplay in Nimble Quest versus Clash of Clans:

Surfacing

In Clash of Clans the Clan Castle is always is part of the gameplay screen, tempting the player and reinforcing its important role in the game.

The Arena is just a menu option only seen on the main menu, and not surfaced as part of Nimble Quest’s compulsion loop.

Although the team-based nature of the Arena is mentioned in the app store description, developers can’t expect players to read the description or even skim it. Screenshots are the best selling tool, so overlaying text on them to surface key selling points is effective. NimbleBit did this, but chose not to highlight the Arena or its team-based nature in any of them.

Integration

The fact that the Clan Castle in Clash of Clans needs to be rebuilt to access clan gameplay ties it in with the rest of the game, both thematically and in terms of mechanics. That the Clan Castle is in ruins also provides another more subtle motivation to unlocking clan gameplay, as players will fix it so it’s no longer an eyesore spoiling their village.

As previously stated, the Arena is simply an option in the main menu.

Reward

In Clash of Clans there is an achievement tied to rebuilding the Clan Castle (that rewards the player with hard currency).

Whereas unlocking the Arena in Nimble Quest actually leads the player to two more gates to open (I break this down a little later on).

Benefit

It’s very clear in Clash of Clans that unlocking the Clan Castle allows the player to engage in cooperative gameplay — this is a very powerful motivational hook that ties into our psychological need as humans to belong, and derive meaningful existence and prestige from membership in a group.

However in Nimble Quest it’s not clear to the player that the Arena is team-based, therefore the motivation to unlock it is lowered — there isn’t any teaser information in-game about why the player should progress onward to unlock the Arena (rewards, prestige, the chance to play with friends, etc.).

Regardless of the differences in genre and gameplay between the two games, you can see how Clash of Clans’ deeper integration and surfacing of team-based gameplay makes not only the gameplay itself, but the unlocking of it so compelling.

Goals

Even if a game is endless, it still needs some semblance of narrative to provide context and a goal. These help to frame the player’s progress and spending — otherwise long-term retention is more difficult to achieve.

Such thematic elements don’t have to bog down the experience or be costly to implement either. For example in Jetpack Joyride by Halfbrick, at the start of every run Barry bursts through the wall and takes a jetpack next to a “Do not steal” sign – – a fantastically simple, quick exposition that sets the scene. Show, don’t tell.Jetpack Joyride title

However in Nimble Quest, as a new player it’s not clear on an aspirational level why I’m progressing through the levels. The fantasy-based world not being paired with a goal within that context (e.g. rescue the princess) feels like a half-baked cake, game design-wise.

Arena Gating

The gating around the Arena and guild play is simply excessive:

  1. Accessing the Arena requires the player to first reach a certain level.
  2. Every time the player wants to play a match in the Arena, it costs them hard currency. Although in Nimble Quest’s defense, the player does start the game with a small amount of hard currency, and can earn more in gameplay.
  3. The player’s character that they will control for the match is chosen randomly by the game. If the chosen character hasn’t yet been unlocked in the single player game, the player either has to keep playing the single player mode to unlock that character and then come back, pay $1.99 to unlock them right away, or come back when the tournament resets and hope the next featured character is one they already have.

Once unlocking the Arena, the player should be rewarded, not put through another two hoops to access such a potentially sticky feature, and one that will spur the player on to invite their friends to play. Never make it hard for the player to be social or viral, and that includes putting up pay walls.

Nimble Quest is charming, easy to grasp, and fun to play. However the problems above hinder it, especially the compulsion loop and surfacing and messaging around the Arena. I’ll be keeping a close eye both on Nimble Quest’s performance and how NimbleBit approaches updates to the game going forward.