Game thinking from Adam Clare

Tag: Jonathan Blow

Wooga Follows Zynga in Metrics-Driven Game Design

Zynga is the leader in the Facebook game market with about 221 million users according to AppData. Now Wooga (36 million users) is looking to edge out Zynga at their own game: using metrics as the primary design method for their games.

The basic idea at Zynga and Wooga (amongst others) is to use a data-driven analysis of game design. Everything the player does is tracked and put through some basic analysis to see how to make the games more sticky for the players. The end goal for these companies is to drive sales and most design decisions lead back to this core goal.

Users are often subjected to A/B testing to see what works best – this happens almost daily. The best design (most clicked or other similar measurement) is then put into the game until another approach is found and that is A/B tested.

Wired has a great look into Wooga and their approach to design:

The result is a rigorous process that practically automates the creation of a social game, and maximises each title’s chance of success. “We A/B test everything, we optimise everything,” says Stephanie Kaiser, a lead game designer. “In the product department, it’s very simple,” says Thorbj√∂rn Warin, a former employee. “They have all of their KPIs [key performance indicators] and metrics. It’s really, ‘This week, we focus on nothing but retention, let’s identify ten activities that can increase that.’ In the first 60 seconds of Monster World, there are 13 to 15 tracking points. For a new user, when they start playing, every three or four seconds, Stephanie and Jens can see what is happening. Usually something has to be improved, and that’s when creativity comes in.” Wooga’s users don’t just play a game; they design it.

Monster World launched in April 2010. But it soon stalled, with only 300,000 daily active users by August (wooga considers one million users the minimum mark of success). “It was not growing virally and it was not a success at all,” says Kaiser. The team focused on three topics: engagement, virality and monetisation, and went to work on the first. Kaiser began with the “user funnel”; she studied 38,863 users who began the game tutorial one week, to see where they dropped off. “A 1.3 percent drop is unacceptable and the game is optimised accordingly,” she says. When such a loss was identified, Kaiser’s team would develop two solutions, put them both live as an A/B test, and find out which performed better. And so on across every part of the game. It worked. On November 16, Monster World reached a million daily active users. “What we learned was that you could really turn a game around post-launch,” says Begemann. “It had always been my belief, but that’s the first time we really proved it, by doing nothing else other than A/B testing, and of course being creative. Four months after launch, that’s when some companies would have given up.”

With this larger user base established, wooga “switched on the monetisation”. Monster World offers several ways for a user to pay to customise their game. But two-thirds of wooga’s revenues come not from these adornments, which account for around only two percent of total sales, but from the items that turbo-charge a player’s progress in the game: magic wands, which harvest crops instantly (240 wands cost 480 Facebook credits, worth roughly ¬£76), and “woogoo”, which produces several other items of value. These may sound whimsical, but “a feature has to be driven by metrics, it can’t just be cool,” says Kaiser.

Is this a bad thing? Well, before Zynga and Wooga made it big on Facebook Jonathan Blow was critiquing their core design philosophy of retention (and later monetization) as the primary goal:

Is metrics-driven design inherently a good or bad approach?

Read Test. Test. Test: How wooga turned the games business into a science at Wired.

Edge’s Interview with Jonathan Blow

Jonathan Blow is the main dude behind the really nifty video game Braid and he’s been making a new game called Witness. Both of these games explore storytelling in new and interesting ways that push the medium of video games to the edge. It’s really neat to see how an independent developer can really push the boundaries and be quite successful commercially.

Edge magazine interviewed him recently and in the interview he talks about everything from storytelling to industry issues to his thoughts on Minecraft.

Here are some snippets I found to be particularly interesting.

Here he talks about puzzles and linearity, I enjoy his take on fake puzzles because I think we all get frustrated by them.

Is The Witness playable from start to finish yet?
Yeah, but I recently broke the ending again! I moved a building and didn’t really hook the design back up again. But you can play it from start to finish in about ten hours or more. Especially if you want to be a completionist, because you don’t have to get everything to finish. It’s a choice. As soon as you get any five of seven [challenges], you can get access to the end. It lets me keep the puzzles really hard sometimes because I don’t expect players to solve them all. In many modern linear games it’s as if puzzles have been beaten out of them. They’re still there, but they’re fake puzzles. It gets to be almost a stupid time-wasting activity a lot of the time. To me a puzzle is something you might never figure out, but a lot of modern game design just isn’t conducive to that. If you come to a puzzle in a linear game that you can’t get, then you can’t play the rest of the game you just paid for.

On the business side the most inspirational thing he says is in regards to funding and profit (of all things).

You’re self-publishing The Witness – what do you need for it to break even?
We have a two million dollar budget, but to make that money back this game doesn’t have to sell as many as Braid did. So it’s not super risky. I don’t think there’s much competition with a game like this. But I think there’s a lot of people who want to play a game like this. Even if it’s ten per cent of gamers, to an indie developer that’s huge. As a small developer you have certain freedoms. Embracing the possibility of not selling any games and not making any money allows you to do things that bigger developers would never be allowed to do. Even if a publisher said they would fund such a game as this, after a while they would stop you. Try and justify The Witness to a publisher who doesn’t really play games!

Read the full article here.

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