Deconstruyendo paisajes de jardines

Esta publicación es la primera de muchas que se realizarán en cooperación con Deconstructor Of Fun . Como anunció BothGunsBlazing , Anil Das-Gupta y yo uniremos fuerzas con Deconstructor ha sido un recurso fantástico para mí y para muchos diseñadores de juegos móviles gratuitos de la industria, por lo que es un honor contribuir a un sitio tan excepcional. Muchas gracias a Michail Katkoff, Anil Das-Gupta, Dave Cross y Alex Collins por su ayuda con esta publicación. ¡Esperando con ansias lo que vendrá!

El gran pivote de Gardenscapes

Retroceda el reloj solo un año y se sintió como si el género de juegos de combinación/rompecabezas estuviera encerrado y dominado por un jugador: King. Desde el año pasado, las cosas han cambiado. King todavía está en la cima, pero ha habido un nuevo contendiente que poco a poco va ascendiendo en las listas. Playrix, un veterano desarrollador de juegos casuales, ha creado dos grandes éxitos en dispositivos móviles: Fishdom y Gardenscapes. En particular, cada uno de estos juegos ha demostrado que hay más de una forma de monetizar la audiencia de un juego de rompecabezas.

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Gardenscapes: New Acres de Playrix ha sido un elemento básico en las listas de mayores ingresos desde septiembre de 2016 y no muestra signos de desvanecerse. Gardenscapes ha hecho que muchas empresas del género de los rompecabezas giren la cabeza. Es la primera gran innovación exitosa en el género de los rompecabezas desde 2012, cuando Candy Crush se lanzó para dispositivos móviles.

Entonces, ¿qué ha hecho Playrix con Gardenscapes que muchos no hayan podido hacer?

La historia de PlayRix y Gardenscapes

Para entender el éxito de Gardenscapes, tenemos que remontarnos a la historia de Playrix y la marca Gardenscapes.

Playrix como empresa comenzó en 2004 y creó juegos casuales descargables para PC. Se especializaban en juegos de combinación y de objetos ocultos. Playrix durante sus inicios lanzó muchos títulos exitosos como Fishdom, Gardenscapes, Farmscapes, 4 Elements y Royal Envoy.
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Es interesante notar que, Big Fish, PopCap y Playrix compitieron en el mercado casual en estos años de formación. No es una coincidencia que muchos de los principales desarrolladores de juegos de rompecabezas de la actualidad compitieran en el mercado informal de PC hace más de una década.

De manera similar al mercado competitivo de lanzamiento de juegos casuales en 2017, los desarrolladores durante la era de las descargas casuales para PC lucharon para tratar de destacar con nuevas mecánicas y nuevos temas. Las empresas de juegos casuales intentaron innovar en la fórmula de Match 3 agregando elementos de simulación, elementos decorativos, temas más oscuros y elementos narrativos.

Gardenscapes y la 1 gran decisión que impulsó su éxito 3

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PlayRix competed in a market from 2004 which mimicked the competitive trends we’re seeing now on the AppStore. They’ve seen the cycles that match 3 players go through after playing too many bejeweled clones. Focusing on narrative decoration had already been proven, only 10 years prior.

By 2009, Playrix moved into Free-to-play and launched their first simulation game, Township, onto Facebook. By 2013, they had redesigned and launched Township on mobile. After porting over Fishdom, the pressure was on to port over their Gardenscapes IP.

Gardenscapes, the Hidden Object Game

Gardenscapes on PC actually was not a matching game, but a hidden object game. As you can see from the above video, it was less about decorating a garden and more about running a bed and breakfast, looking after the guests that come visiting. What’s interesting is comparing these old games to now — the characters, the animation style, the UI/UX design have all stayed consistent with the latest New Acres release.So when it came time for Gardenscapes to follow in the footsteps of Fishdom and Township, this would have been PlayRix’s first Hidden Object game in free to play. According to VentureBeat, Gardenscapes for mobile was in development for over four years. It can’t have been an easy project.

Regardless, after four years of creating hidden object gameplay, Gardenscapes was soft launched in 2015, with the same story, characters features you see in Gardenscapes: New Acres today (just without the match 3). Watch this video to see how Gardenscapes soft launched:

During the course of this soft launch, Playrix decided to shift their strategy from making a Hidden Object game to making a Match 3 game. This decision can not have been an easy decision to make. Most developers would sooner throw away a game than make such a drastic change so late in development. Regardless, PlayRix ported over the matching gameplay from Fishdom (their only mobile match 3 game at the time) and soft launched again in 2016.

Playrix must have seen promise with shifting away from Hidden Object, because after this change to matching gameplay, Gardenscapes grew to become the success we know today.

So why is it that the match 3 gameplay turned Gardenscapes into a hit?

2 Reasonswhy Gardenscapes Pivoted

For creating long lasting free to play games, a match 3 style core will always beat out hidden object style core. It comes down 2 reasons: the scalability of content, and the ability to monetize from the core gameplay.

Reason 1: Scalability of Content

As discussed many times before, driving the most value from your content is imperative to free to play success. In content driven games like Hidden Object and Matching games, where players rip through content quickly, it’s increasingly important to minimize the amount of time it takes you to build content while maximizing value and replayability of this content.

Matching games have a huge leg up when it comes to the simplicity of creating new content. As I discussed in my GDC talk regarding the scalability of content, Matching games typically take about 6-8 hours to produce one level. This includes concept, implementation, balancing, testing, and polishing. The actual content in the level (the art, the mechanics, the pieces) are all reused many times throughout all levels, and players are usually asked to replay the same level multiple times before progressing. Thus, content is relatively easy to produce and players are happy to re-play similar content over and over. This is a healthy content cost.

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To create content in Hidden Object games, the process is significantly more expensive. There is the arduous process of creating the backgrounds, the pieces in the scene, on top of the level design and balancing of each level. This content is far less likely to be repeated through multiple scenes — each scene has a new colour palette and lighting is completely different, using the same content over and over makes the scenes feel awkward and easy to spot. Objects which don’t have the same shadows or obviously look pasted onto a scene make the gameplay trivial. Content takes significantly longer to produce for each hidden object level, content can’t be easily reused, and game designers have to get really creative at pushing players to replay the same level over and over again just to keep a healthy content consumption for their players.

As a result, Match 3 games can create more content significantly faster than hidden object games can, and this content can last longer. This is exactly what you’re looking for in a content-driven game.

Reason 2: Monetizing from the Core

The biggest difference between a Hidden Object core gameplay and a matching puzzle game is that a puzzle game can effectively monetize off its core gameplay, where as a Hidden Object game can’t.

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Hidden Object games typically monetize only through hints. Can’t find an object in the scene? Use a hint to let us guide you to the object. This helps players finish a level, but isn’t nearly as powerful a driver as +3 moves or in-game boosters in match 3 games. Why? Because hidden object games don’t have failure states.

Gardenscapes y el gran pivote hacia el éxito

In Pearl’s Peril, Criminal Case and the original New Acres release (as seen above), a player can only maximize their score in a level, there is no chance that you can lose a round. Hidden Object games incentivize players to find all objects in a limited time, but they don’t have a state where a player can’t progress in the level. Most Hidden object games instead monetize off of pushing players to grind a stage multiple times over rather than block the player from progress whether they win a level or not. As a result, Hidden object games typically have to get far more creative to monetize off their player base, usually relying significantly more on a timer-filled metagame in order to pace players.

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Conversely, match 3 games can monetize very effectively off their core gameplay. Because there is a failure state (you can run out of moves before completing the level), players are invested in winning the level to progress. When running out of moves, players are incentivized to use premium boosts to win the level, or else they will lose all their progress in the level up to that point. There is significantly more pinch to monetize in matching games over hidden object.

On top of being able to monetize through boosts, match 3 games can pace through luck, rather than only skill. In an excellent GDC presentation, Florian Steinhoff directly talks about the power that luck has in pacing players. Due to luck, level designers can ensure that all players, regardless of skill level, are paced appropriately within a level. Match 3 games contain so much luck that designers can balance each level with a fair degree of certainty that players of all skill levels will come close to winning even if they lose — the recipe for strong retention and strong monetization. Hidden Object games, with their pre-placed objects and skill driven core gameplay, can’t boast the same.

As a result, Gardenscape made a very important design decision. Rather than allow players to purchase stars to progress through In-App Purchases, in Gardenscapes you can only purchase coins, which can be turned into boosts, lives, and extra moves. They fully leaned on their matching gameplay to monetize rather than allowing players to ignore the match 3 gameplay and skip ahead.

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In Gardenscapes, players can only purchase boosters in the core gameplay. Unlocking Narrative and Decorations can only be done by winning the match 3 levels

This is the critical reason why Gardenscapes as a match 3 game monetizes so well. By only allowing purchases of boosts, players can’t buy progress, they have to earn it. Players have to roll the dice with the match 3 gameplay in order to unlock the content that they want, and these levels require plenty of patience or boosts to win.

Taking Lessons from Hidden Object

PlayRix’s swap to a match 3 core seemed to have paid off. But while they moved to matching as a core, they still kept the metagame of their original hidden object game. By keeping the narrative and the decoration aspects it separated Gardenscapes from all other matching games while leveraging all the content they had already built.

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Gardenscapes has a compelling narrative which drives the game forward between match 3 gameplays. This style of narrative may not be your preference, but the light narrative of slowly cleaning up and building out your garden is clearly compelling for their target audience. It’s refreshing to see more free to play genres prove the impact of narrative on retention. A story can be just as compelling to pull a player a long as a saga map or a leaderboard, if done right.

On top of a long, overarching narrative, Gardenscapes allows its players to choose how to decorate their garden as they rebuild it. Players slowly rebuild a massive overgrown garden. As you clean up the areas, you’re allowed to decorate it. But the key decision here is that players are only allowed slot based decoration.

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Instead of allowing players to place decorations freely, they can only choose from a limited set of decorations in any area of the game. See for example the lampposts above — this can only be chosen from 3 different styles, and it replaces all 4 instances. This of course lacks in self-expression, but obviously keeps their usability issues and production costs in check. Players are restricted to creating similar, nice looking gardens, and this gives players clearer goals.

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Comparing goal setting in Gardenscapes to Fishdom shows this. In Fishdom, players are allowed to spend their coins on as many decorations as they’d like, and progressing in the saga is only meaningful if you actually desire the content unlocked in the late game. Players can quickly feel overwhelmed with the choices Fishdom offers to decorate and spend coins. Also in fishdom, PlayRix constantly has to come out with new and desirable content — otherwise their players have little reason to grind. Gardenscapes however streamlines this process and always gives players limited choices: this is far more effective for casual audiences.

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Lastly, Gardenscapes chose the right approach when crafting the core loop. In order to unlock decorations in your garden or progress the story, players must trade in their stars for progress. Each star is earned by completing a level, an easy to understand system. This system could never monetize on its own, but because the match 3 core game can monetize and pace players so effectively — it never needed to.

Gardenscapes have crafted a perfect core loop: Their decorations and narrative teases players to stick around for the long haul, while their core can effectively pace and monetize of its player base.

In Summary: The 4 Keys to Gardenscapes Success

El éxito de Gardenscapes tardó en llegar. PlayRix lleva casi 14 años en el negocio de crear juegos casuales exitosos. Entonces, cuando Gardenscapes se lanzó en 2015 y no cumplió con sus expectativas, hicieron lo que la mayoría de las empresas nunca harían: girar con éxito hacia un género completamente diferente. ¿Pero cómo lograron esto?

  • PlayRix era un desarrollador veterano de juegos casuales ; a lo largo de su historia, ha visto los ciclos por los que pasan los jugadores de juegos casuales. Sabían que el público eventualmente ansiaría una capa más profunda de narrativa y decoración .
  • PlayRix tomó la decisión correcta al pasar a combinar 3 que se quedaron más tiempo en el género de objetos ocultos . Esto les permite escalar su contenido más rápido, aprovechar la suerte y monetizar más a los jugadores desde el juego de rompecabezas principal.
  • Su estrategia principal de monetización se basó completamente en Match 3. No permiten a los jugadores comprar decoraciones directamente (como lo hacen la mayoría de los juegos de decoración de objetos ocultos), sino que confiaron en el juego principal para impulsar la monetización.
  • Una fuerte decoración + aspectos narrativos aportaron innovación al género Match 3. Al agregar estos sistemas, los criterios básicos de éxito para un juego de rompecabezas se mantuvieron intactos.

Como resultado, PlayRix ha fusionado con éxito los géneros de juegos de objetos ocultos y de combinación, y ha empujado a todos en el género de combinación a pensar dos veces antes de seguir ciegamente la tendencia de la progresión basada en sagas. Ya sea intencionadamente o no, PlayRix ha llamado la atención en el género de las combinaciones. Los desarrolladores de juegos casuales ya no creen que Saga es el único modelo. Ya estás empezando a ver el impacto de la tendencia: cada vez más juegos de combinación tienen decoración e historia en su núcleo, más juegos buscan combinar nuevos sistemas en torno a un juego de combinación.

Gardenscapes y la gran decisión que impulsó su éxito

Story Match, Chef's Quest y Gemmy Lands. Los rápidos seguidores de la fórmula Gardenscapes.

¿Qué significa esto para el futuro?
¿Quién será el próximo desarrollador que impulse el éxito?
¿Cómo serán los próximos sistemas de progresión exitosos en el género de los rompecabezas?

Por mi parte, estoy emocionado de ver qué sucede a continuación.

No te pierdas de nuestro contenido ni de ninguna de nuestras guías para que puedas avanzar en los juegos que más te gustan.

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