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Complexity in layers: Free-to-play Design, rule 4

By on August 29, 2012

Free-to-play games need to be accessible. That doesn’t mean that they have to be simple.

Have you ever watched Toy Story? Or any Pixar movie? Have you watched it with a six year old child and discovered that he laughs at totally different things to the gags that you find funny? Marvelled at how layered Pixar was able to make its script?

Now it’s time to do that with your games.

You need a game that is simple to play but has depth and complexity that the player can unlock if they wish to.

Jetpack Joyride is a game that, on the surface, is about surviving for as a long as possibly by dodging obstacles as you proceed from left to right across the screen of your iPhone at a breakneck pace. It is also a game of collecting coins and fulfilling achievement objectives.

In practice, trying to collect coins may not be the best way to stay alive for a run. You might find a more effective way to play is sometimes to focus on collecting coins and sometimes to focus on staying alive as long as possible. You might play the game differently for a while just to collect some coins to acquire some new gadget that will help you stay alive for longer. You might vary your play style according to your own strategy for the game.

Similarly, you might play Pocket Planes simply for the fun of flying planes around, or you might spend time thinking about and discussing the best ways to optimise your airline, airports and flights to make the most amount of money in the smallest possible time, seeking out elusive bonuses and carefully planning the disposition of your fleet.

The most successful free-to-play games don’t punish their players. Everyone makes progress, just by turning up. But a dedicated player, who keeps trying to learn and improve, is rewarded with increased complexity.

Make sure you build complexity in layers.


The next post in the series will show why endlessly looping games are more successful in the freemium market

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com
  • http://twitter.com/Sikthehedgehog Sik

    I know you’re talking about F2P but the design rule mentioned here can be applied perfectly to pretty much any kind of game.

  • Zoya Street

    The difference with F2P in my opinion is that it’s much more important than usual to allow some players to keep things simple while helping others to tackle more complexity if and when they wish. Consider the damage caused if a player rage-quits a free-to-play game. If you rage-quit a $60 console game you’re likely to go back to it later due to the sunk-cost fallacy. If you rage-quit a free game you might as well delete it.

  • Onin

    I thought about MOBAs, firstly. But yeah, you are damn right. A good game will not penalty you for trying somethiing, it will just give you a less profitable feedback than other way.