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Come for a minute, stay for an hour: Free-to-play design, rule 3

By on August 22, 2012

F2P-design-rules-thumbBejewelled Blitz is a fast-paced take on PopCap’s classic casual game. The “Blitz” concept turned the usual play mechanic on its head. Instead of trying to stay alive for as long as possible, a Bejewelled Blitz player can only play for 60 seconds. The objective is to get the highest possible score in that minute.

Players can only play for one minute; the average session length is 43 minutes (Giordano Bruno Contestabile revealed this in his GDC 2012 talk).

Not only do players stick around for much longer than the core experience – the 60 second Blitz – would suggest, this technique may drive retention as well. The data suggests that it does, as every time I’ve looked at the DAU/MAU ratio for Bejewelled Blitz, it is has been over 0.30, an extremely good engagement ratio.

There are different ways of achieving this objective, but the core is:

  • Have a tight compulsion loop at the heart of the game: an arcade game, a harvest-plant-wait mechanic, a see-the-results-of-my-actions mechanic like playing a match in New Star Soccer
  • Have other loops or a meta game that extends much further. Make loops that last for 30 minutes, for three days, for three weeks and three months.

Free-to-play games use many techniques to drive this experience. Bejewelled Blitz has a leaderboard showing the position of you and your friends that resets every week, making competitive players return regularly to ensure that they are at the top. A F2P first-person shooter like Team Fortress that has a deathmatch at its core but allows players to grind their way to better equipment through earning money and experience. The achievement system in Jetpack Joyride or Temple Run. The nested loops of harvesting and quests in any –Ville game, and so on. Or they might just be bloody good fun.

You need to make players feel that they can “just pop in for a quick go”. Then you need to lock them in for much longer.

As game designers have been doing with traditional games for years.

The next post in this series will show you how to build depth in your game for greater engagement

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: