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
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.
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.