How to lose a Player in 10 levels

Studios are exploring different channels to keep spending on UA (User Acquisition) low and overcome tough discoverability on App Store and Google Play. This leads studios towards different channels like twitch and youtube, playing on the popular ‘Let’s Plays’ to get an audience. But here is how studios in the attempt to supercharge installs and potential revenue can end up ruining the First-Time User Experience.

 Social Point, creator of Dragon City and Monster Legend, was recently featured with their F2P title, Dragon Lands; A 3D Platformer which essentially plays on Mario 64 control and visual frame and a Megaman like mechanic where the player needs to switch between, in this case dragons, to overcome obstacles, such as wall climbing, flying etc.

 Social Point very openly tried to supercharge the game by adding a dragon called PewDiePie, a cameo, and making it available to the player for the generous fee of 1 Gem, the game’s hard currency. Naturally the game has already provided the player with 3 of such Gems before taking offering this bargain. PewDiePie, the dragon, was also of superior level, meaning more health and kickass ability, so why not buy it right?

 The game is not difficult, meaning that the level of your dragon would rarely determine the outcome of a level, powerwise. This means the leveling of dragons work rather as a paygate more than a counter to the game’s difficulty because dragons need the appropriate level to even start the level. This would be like saying; “ You need at least x20 extra lives to enter this level in Mario, store’s over there.”

 At this point I as a player, might start regretting the acquisition of a dragon shaped like a famous youtuber. On the tenth level, because of level design and what I guess is a desire to provide general diversity in player experience, the game forces me to use the starting dragon, called Blaze. The issue is then that player have intuitively been giving into the affordances the game provides and have been neglecting leveling up same starting dragon, which now needs to be a higher level to even start that level.
At around 30 mins into the experience, the player is left with starting over to get passed level 10, in a game that until that had offered no difficulty.

 Punishing the player on such an early stage of the experience needs to very deliberate or should be avoided, especially when player are not financially invested in the F2P title. Being punished as a player, not because of general poor game design, but a, for the average player, indifferent addition of cameos is very frustrating, and will make players churn very early in the experience.

 F2P is a powerful business model, if engagement(retention) and monetization is embraced into the core game design, but if forcing the virality opens up the possibility of players making bad/wrong choices that might kill both retention and revenue.


How Basic UX faults may kill your F2P Revenue

  Don't want to read? Listen here instead.

With the new Minions movie coming out ~10th July, the IP is perhaps more valuable than ever. It
wasn't therfore a huge surprise, when EA teamed up with Illumination to create a F2P title based on same yellow creatures, presented at this years E3 - plus the game has been soft launched in Canada and Australia since late April - so theres that.

Huge IP, extensive soft launch, big studio - everything is lined up for a F2P success right?

The game uses the classic builder with a silly twist via the storyline and a well-known time gate mechanic to drive the retention and monetization, much like its competitors in the top grossing scene; Simpson's Tapped Out, Family Guy, Hay Day, Town ship etc etc.

But here is how faulty UX kicks players out of the engagement zone, and into a repetitive loop of unnecessary input mechanics.

*This is not meant as some bashing-crusade against Minion's Paradise and its design choices - this is rather used as an clear example of how you're UX faults may ultimately have your players leave your game out of frustration - and you might not even know why*

When interacting with a producing structure, the game smoothly zooms in and enables its UI. This is where your minions then produce collectable/ressource X that is then used to exchange for soft currency and basic level and game progression - easy enough - you know this. The zoom in itself is not an issue, the problem occurs after the interaction.

So, I'm done placing some minions at a collection of Bamboo stems, and I want to move on with the next structure to keep my Coconut per Minute up, racking up some tropical ressources before bed and I realise...

...it takes from my side to get away from the Bamboo collecting area. 

Players have to manually zoom out, pinching the screen of the phone, like someone picking up a coin off the floor wearing oven mittens. Not that easy. I zoom out and get the overview of my tropical island, press the needed structure, and we're back to the game zooming in for me. A very non-scientific experiment of several play sessions, I averaging the standard 2-3 minutes per sessions, had me count +100 pinch-to-zoom-out gestures.

For you non-mobile players, it would be like selecting one of your buildings in WarCraft 3, the game zooming all the way in on it, but forcing you to mouse-wheel zoom out, if you wanted to do anything else in the game.

This becomes very tedious, very fast - and it doesn't feel like a casual grind, it very much feels like a unnecessary interaction keeping me from enjoying the gameplay.

Throughout their soft launch, I expect Illumination and EA have gathered around the analytics, looking for reasons that Minion's Paradise is not performing as well as they had hoped - doing the needed meta systems changes, but the metrics causing the problem is probably not there. 

The game has seen one visit to the Top 50 downloads in Canada, and two 1-day visits to the Top 50 Grossing. Obviously User Acquisition kicks in after Global launch and the game will surely make a significant amount of revenue - but it will not make as much as it easily could.

The reason is not found within the conventional metrics. When setting up analytics, looking at metrics for our game, we get valuable information on how players do in the tutorial, the first few sessions after that, and the milestones where players are most likely to be converted into paying players, or at least staying players - and sometimes its the most obvious things that can cause that your game won't be launched another time.

Granted, it can be tough to spot these things, but take a step back, do what seem to be dumb tests sometimes. Make a chart of the amount of inputs from a tester - just count them. It might seem silly, but it all boils down to looking at your basic design and go...

No, I don't think 80% of the player's input 
should be pinch-to-zoom.

Think about what an interaction gives the player. Just for a second. A tap might give you access to a structure or a menu, or deploying an army that will feast on the bodies of your soon-to-be-dead enemies. Think about your input and see if its meaningful - could that mechanic be bypassed and still provide the player with the feeling of control. A pinch-to-zoom, in relations to Minion's Paradise, could easily be replaced by something meaningful. An X in the top corner of the UI, a tap outside the UI.

I cannot say how much the poor input mechanics will hurt EA and Illumination after global launch, but right off the bat, with the current interaction, I predict the game will not see long term revenue like its competitors, Simpson's Tapped Out, Family Guy, Hay Day. Minion's Paradise very intentionally want to see revenue, piggyback riding the launch of the movie, but the take away is that basic UX faults can kill your retention and your revenue.