Guest Post: Punch Quest – Optimizing UI Flow for IAP

Editors note: The following guest post was written by Ethan Levy, co-founder of Quarter Spiral a new game publishing startup, and uses the game Punch Quest as a case study on how one can streamline a title’s UI in order to make in-app purchases a more common experience. Levy is a 10-year veteran of the video games industry, having recently worked at BioWare’s San Francisco studio as producer for Dragon Age Legends.

I’m a little late to the party, but I recently discovered the exceptional iOS game Punch Quest and was instantly hooked. This beautifully crafted mash up of Jetpack Joyride and Streets of Rage (or Final Fight if you were more SNES than Genesis) transfixed me immediately. I was addicted to the quick rounds of pick up and play simplicity, the explosions of Punchos upon completing a quest and the joy of punching a cyclops right in the eye.

Punch Quest made headlines not only for it’s high Metacritic rating, but unfortunately for its failure with the freemium model and unorthodox switch from free to paid. I only discovered the game after it started charging $0.99 and felt that the purchase was completely justified. I enjoyed playing so much that I spent additional dollars on in-app purchases (IAP). Importantly, Punch Quest fulfilled one of the most important criteria for a successful freemium game: as a player, I had more fun as a result of spending money on IAP.

Reading on their failure to monetize the over 630,000 installs to an acceptable level, I took a critical look at the game’s UI. As a game designer, it is my opinion that it is our job to ensure that game mechanics, economy design and UI/UX design all work in harmony to ensure success in a freemium game. But based on my experience working with other designers (and artists and engineers) I know that there are very few developers out there who enjoy doing UI/UX design. As a result, this critical component of a game often suffers.

As games become more browser, mobile and touch based, the importance of UI/UX will only increase as a factor of your game’s success. With that in mind, I offer some advice on how the fantastic Punch Quest can optimize its UI flow to enhance IAP and hopefully bring in more money for RocketCat.

The core loop

When designing for freemium, it is extremely important to pay close attention to the core loop of the game. What are the basic actions that the player takes over and over again with minimal deviation? Small details can make a big difference when it comes to the core loop. To illustrate the point, I am going to compare Punch Quest to Bejeweled Blitz. On a glance, these two have very similar core loops, but close inspection reveals why one has been a free to play disapointment while the other is printing money.

So, here I am in Punch Quest, happily punching away:

When my punchzerker is knocked out by one of those annoying squiddies. I am then served up the quest screen, which is key part  of the core loop.

Quests give me goals in each round and keep me saying “just one more punch.”

I hit the next button and am treated to a stats screen loaded with options: 

And if I am following the path of least resistance, I will hit the large Retry button in the bottom right corner and start punching again. I visit the shop after maybe every five or ten rounds of play (more if I am led there by gnomey to buy a quest item).