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  • Book Excerpt: Creating Casual Games for Profit and Fun

    [04.19.07]
    - Allen Partridge

  •  Instant Gratification

    A good way to describe the ideal player experience in a casual game is that it provides instant or nearly instant gratification and assistance. It shouldn't take much to start feeling rewarded by a casual game. That means the game itself should be easily launched (not a lot of introductory or option screens). The act of solving a puzzle, defeating a foe, or overcoming an obstacle within the game gives the player a reward, usually in the form of points or other in-game materials, but more importantly it gives the player psychological pleasure. It is fun and satisfying to win a game. It is also fun and satisfying to win small immediate rewards as individual parts of the puzzle or obstacle are solved and overcome.

    Constant, Consistent, and Clear Feedback

    Casual games provide constant, consistent, and clear feedback to the player (Figure 1.19). This does several things. It enhances the players' sense of satisfaction when the feedback confirms their belief that they are incrementally solving the puzzle and it reassures the players that the interaction they chose is having the effect they intended. Conversely the feedback can show the player that a strategy for solving a puzzle or overcoming an obstacle is failing (Figure 1.20). It can also show that an interaction is not having the intended impact.


    Figure 1.19 PopCap's Bookworm uses arrow feedback to show selection order.
    © PopCap Games, Inc., PopCap Games, Zuma, Feeding Frenzy, Bookworm, Bejeweled, and Diamond Mine are registered trademarks or PopCap Games, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


    Figure 1.20 Bejeweled 2 uses pop-up help to inform the player of a bad move.
    © PopCap Games, Inc., PopCap Games, Zuma, Feeding Frenzy, Bookworm, Bejeweled, and Diamond Mine are registered trademarks or PopCap Games, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

    Nonstop and Escalating Rewards

    In addition to providing rewards for the players' successful interactions, casual games often also increase the impact and value of the rewards over the whole game experience. This can be done by simply providing a greater number of points for progress in higher levels, for example. It can also be quite complex, providing increasing opportunities to acquire complex power upgrades, for example.

    Action- or arcade-style shooters (games that involve launching a ball or other projectile at a target) often use this ­approach. The players are generally given more and more powerful weapons as they improve their scores and move through game levels.

    Just as players will rapidly grow bored solving the same puzzle over and over, they will rapidly grow bored with earning the same rewards throughout the entire game. In some cases this wouldn't matter, as the player is simply scratching an itch via the game play. In others it is a significant issue. This area is especially difficult to design for in casual games. There are plenty of examples, even among the most popular genre (puzzles), to suggest that players don't need any escalation in rewards. These players seem to gain almost unlimited satisfaction from solving the puzzles, even with only slight variations in the manner in which the puzzle is presented.

    The match-three game (Bejeweled®-like game) is an obvious example. In this sort of game, players work to place three like objects in a horizontal or vertical row. There are literally hundreds of variants on this game, and many of them are popular. These games sometimes only offer points as a reward for progress in the game. No escalation is necessary, and very few complications are warranted.

    Tease, Temptation and Promise

    Ultimately the casual game has a built-in imperative to convince the player, the customer, to go ahead and pay for the right to play the game after the initial free trial. One common device used to accomplish this is to provide information about the extra functionality, features, levels, or gameplay opportunities that will become available to the player only after paying for the game. This is a delicate balancing act, as you want to make certain the customer finds the promise of more features tempting and not off-putting.

    While at first pass it may seem ideal to restrict the coolest features and then use them to tease the player into upgrading, in practice it is preferable to include the bulk of the coolest features to sell the player on the game. For the most part, casual game purchasers view the value of their purchase as extended game play. While they may be encouraged to buy a game in order to accomplish a goal such as completing a world or winning the overall game, they will probably view feature or tool restrictions as a nuisance.

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