Free to play

Pokemon Go Initial Thoughts

Hey everyone,

I hope you've all been enjoying Pokemon Go this week. I know I have. I'll be writing an analysis of the game next week, but I was curious about what your first impressions were. My gut reaction sent me into an overwhelming flurry of joy, but, as the dust settles, I'm honestly feeling a hint of disappointment. I think my expectations were simply too high. It feels shallow without a definitive goal, outside of just catching them all, and because the gyms change hands so often, they seem pointless. Maybe once the initial rush calms down they'll be more interesting. That's not to discount my current Pokemon Go addiction. 

Like I mentioned earlier, I'll have a full analysis next week, but I'd love to hear your initial thoughts!

See you guys next week,


Disney Magic Kingdoms - Game Design Analysis

Welcome to my long time coming analysis of Disney Magic Kingdoms. I wrote this from a design perspective and hope anyone who hasn’t familiarized themselves with the app can enjoy the post. I start off outlining the mechanics and how the game functions, to familiarize the reader with the game. If you’re already familiar with the app, and are primarily interested in the most design heavy sections, skip to the “So, where’s the fun?” section. From there on, we get into the game’s economy balancing and how the designers promoted engagement. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy!

What is it?

Disney Magic Kingdoms is a mobile game by Gameloft featuring a variety of Disney and Pixar IPs. The objective of the game is to clear out the darkness, which is threatening to consume the theme park. This is done via expanding your park and assisting Merlin in bringing back the magic so he can fight back against Maleficent.

How does it work?

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of it. The game is all about resource management. There are five kinds of resources in the game: magic, gems, happiness, materials and time.

Let’s break them down:

·      Magic is your general currency. It is easy to obtain via doing quests, assigning tasks for characters, or just letting the attractions/shops create it automatically over time. Magic can also be purchased via spending gems.

·      Gems are your premium currency. This is a currency that players can receive in game, but is considerably more rare. The only standard way I’ve seen to obtain gems in game is by leveling characters up or leveling the player up. Gems can be also purchased for real world currency.

·      Happiness: Happiness is a little trickier. When a player boots up the app after some time, children will come running into the park with thought bubbles above their head. Players can “grant wishes” to the children via tapping on these bubbles and sending them to the activity that they are interested in. As a player grants their wishes, their happiness level will go up. Each of the four tiers grants the player an additional benefit.

o   Tier 1: Content – grants no bonus.

o   Tier 2: Cheerful – gives players access to parades

o   Tier 3: Joyous – gives players an additional 10% to magic and player experience earned.

o   Tier 4: Ecstatic:  gives a 10% increased chance for materials to drop.

Happiness decays over time, so players will have to continually grant wishes to keep their happiness level up.

·      Materials: Materials are used to level up characters. A player can get a chance to obtain materials via sending out characters to do tasks, through certain attractions that automatically generate materials over time, or by buying a parade.

We can see some of the example tasks for Mickey. The star, which represents player experience, and magic are guaranteed drops. The materials that are labeled as “rare” have a slight possibility of them dropping upon completing the task. The green numbers are bonuses I have for having a high happiness level. We also see how long the task will take, and if it requires another character as well to be carried out.

We can see in this image that, in order to level Goofy up, I’ll still need nine more Goofy hat materials. Character progression is built around players collecting enough materials and currency. Upon collecting the required currency and materials they can initiate the level up process, which will take time to complete. In Goofy’s case it will take him twenty-four hours to level up to level ten.

·      Time: Time is a resource because users always have the option to spend time or real world money.

o   A character needs to level up? Spend X hours waiting or X gems to level them up now.

o   Don’t have enough materials to level up or obtain a character? Spend X hours mining resources or spend X gems to level them up now.

o   Don’t have enough gems to obtain that one exclusive gems only character? Spend X time leveling up and collecting gems for free or buy more gems.

Character/Story Progression:

Characters need to be specific levels to do certain quests. For example:

·      Woody may need to be level 6 to go help Buzz find Zurg.

·      If Woody isn’t level 6, the player will be shown what materials will be needed to level him up. Players can then view the available tasks on other characters and see the possible rewards.

o   Notice I said possible rewards. Much like Destiny players have a chance at getting the item they need.

-  There are a few tiers of item rarity

·      Common

·      Uncommon

·      Rare

·      Epic

·      Legendary

o   The more rare the item, the less likely the player will receive it. You can see why having maxed out happiness is so important.

You might notice a slight difference in the HUD for this image. I’ll get to that later

We can see that “Maintain Hydration” is a different color than the other tasks. That is because it is part of a quest line, and will need to be completed before the quest can progress.

So, where’s the fun?

The base layer of fun comes from players expanding their park. This comes in the form of adding characters, attractions, and just adding more space overall. A simplified gameplay loop looks something like this:

FlowChart made in LucidChart

The player getting to see their additions over time is rewarding in itself. When you add the Disney frosting, it becomes a prime addiction for fans of the parks much like myself. Getting to bring in Flynn Rider and Minnie Mouse is an absolute delight. Of course, if the sessions were longer than five minutes the game would quickly lose its charm. This is why it works so well on mobile where short play sessions thrive.

The Updates:

In the recent months, Gameloft continues to add content faster than I can complete the quests. Additionally, I’ve seen continual events/competitions every week.


Events occur on a weekly basis. Each event typically lasts a week. From what I’ve seen, there are two kinds of events:

·      Collect as many coins as possible in the course of the week.

o   Coins can be collected via assigning characters to do specific tasks or just allowing your structures to produces them over time.

·      Tap on enemies!

o   Players are tasked with clearing out their park of robots, crows, or whatever enemy it is that week.

o   X creatures respawn after x minutes

At the end of the week, players are ranked based on how many enemies tapped or coins collected against other players. The players are then rewarded based on how well they did with either gems or currency.

Personally, I prefer the creature tapping over the coin collecting. This is because the creature tapping doesn’t have any way to speed up the process. The players have to wait until the creatures respawn, where as in the coin collecting events the player can speed up tasks and the attractions producing them by spending gems. This creates a pay to win mentality, which can be exploited.

The Incredibles:

The most interesting event yet is the Incredibles expansion. In this expansion, players have to wait a week to unlock each character. The first week was Mrs. Incredible, the second Dash, etc. Having a new character which I get to spend time doing quests and gathering materials to unlock timed characters makes me come back to an app which was running out of steam.

As you can see, I’m attempting to unlock Violet at the moment. The quest line to unlock Mr. Incredible will begin in 5 Days 9 Hours. Frozone, Mrs. Incredible, and Dash have all been unlocked already.

While I haven’t let the characters time lapse, this info sheet makes it seem like I will only be able to get the Incredibles during this month long event, at least until the event comes back around again.

With the new expansion came a couple new tweaks. One of which is additional currency.

While I don’t personally mind the additional currency, I’m hoping this isn’t a reflection of the future of the app. Outside of beginning to clutter the UI, it becomes one more thing to keep track of. More frustratingly, now there are three major forms of currency: magic, gems and Incredibles currency (IC). Furthermore, the player will need to send their characters on special tasks to obtain IC. So now progression along the quest line, which focuses around the player collecting magic, has been dramatically slowed.

How did the designers deal with this issue?

They made the Incredibles tasks considerably shorter. For example, Daisy takes six hours to do the task that would give the player the Sully ears material. Or they can have Daisy do the task for Violet’s ears, which takes only eight minutes. Both items hold a “rare” rating amongst materials. The Incredibles tasks are considerably shorter. This makes the event actually plausible, because with longer times they simply wouldn’t have enough time to get the job done.

The mix of short and long times also engages players more often. Before this event, I was checking in the morning, setting up my tasks for the day and checking at night to set up over night tasks. After this event started, because the materials I need can be acquired so quickly and I can give my characters new tasks so often, I find myself checking sometimes twice or more on breaks, lunch, and even the bus ride home as well.

How else do the designers promote engagement?

If we take a look at two tasks for Mickey, “Search for Friends” and “Research Magic”, we can see the following:

·      Search for Friends

o   Pays out 1 star (+1 For happiness bonus)

o   Pays out 5 Magic (+1 for happiness bonus)

o   It takes 60 seconds to complete

·      Research Magic

o   Pays out 7 stars (+1 for happiness bonus)

o   Pays out 40 Magic (+5 for happiness bonus)

o   It takes 60 minutes to complete

Now, if we do the math, let’s say ten minutes of engagement continually re-cuing the “Search for Friends” task.  The player will earn 50 Magic, or 55 if we’re including the happiness bonus. Now compare that to the 40 Magic the player will earn for setting Mickey on the “Research Magic” task. In fact, this trend continues across all characters with all tasks. The longer the task, the less magic and experience the user will gain. This is balanced though by the longer tasks frequently having rarer materials.

This graph shows each of Mickey’s tasks max reward if the player continually engages Mickey in the task over the course of 8 hours. We can see the rewards continually shrink, thus rewarding engagement. This trend is even more dramatic when compared to tasks, which involve two characters. For example, the task “Dance with Minnie (2h)” nets the player 400 Magic & 52 XP. If the player’s goal is Magic and XP, it would be more beneficial to have the characters work solo as each of them can net 300 Magic and 40 XP individually for two hour tasks, resulting in a total of 600 Magic and 80 XP. Thus, there is little point for the player to choose a longer task unless they cannot engage for long periods of time.

With that said, I am still glad they have the longer tasks so I can set my characters to work while I sleep. The game really adjusts to how the player wishes to play it.

This game’s success is built around a solid gameplay loop skinned with Disney characters. While I am enjoying the additions of the events, their flirting with overcomplicating the game does worry me. I’m hoping the talented designers at Gameloft are able to walk that line without falling off because I’m really enjoying watching my kingdom grow.

I hope you guys enjoyed this weeks post. I know it has been a long time coming. Hopefully you learned something more about designing for mobile resource management games. I know I did. 

I’ll see you guys next week,



Two Dots, Too Charming.

Two Dots is an excellent mobile game, from the easily understood gameplay, to the sights and sounds within the game. My goal for this post is to break the game down. What are the core mechanics? How do they use the free to play model? What makes it so charming? What can we learn from this game?

How it works:

·      Basics: Players connect two or more dots of the same color to remove them from the board (Vertical/horizontal only)

o   Typically 4 colors

·      Squares: If players create a box (Connect 4 squares and close the connection) it removes all of the same colored dots from the board

·      Bombs: If players create a larger box, with other color dots inside the box, all of the dots which share the same colors as the connected dots are removed from the board. Any dots inside the box will destroy other dots around them after the connected colored dots are removed.

Every level is based on these mechanics. The beauty of this is they found additional ways to play with these. In each world a new challenge is introduced. In world 1 the players simply need to connect a certain amount of each colored dot. In world 2 we are introduced to anchors, something I’ve seen in match 3s like Frozen Freefall, in which players must get specific “Anchor” dots to the bottom of the board to eliminate them. This keeps the gameplay feeling fresh and interesting. Then, right before the player is bored of the anchor feature, they change it up. In world 3 they introduce the “Ice”. Here, players will have to connect dots behind the ice plates to do damage to them. Three connections behind each ice pane will cause them to shatter. The player will have to clear the board of ice panes to beat these levels. Like I mentioned, every world introduces something new to challenge the player.

The free to play:

We see the common five lives restriction in Two Dots. (A life recharges every 20 minutes or, for 99 cents, the player can recharge them immediately.) There is the Facebook connection, which shows the player where their friends are and what they scored before and after they finish a level. But the two fresh ideas I want to focus on are their take on daily rewards and giving the player an upsell for a power up before the level starts.

Daily rewards:

From my experience, I’ve seen two types of daily rewards fairly commonly. First there is the gem rewards, like in Angry Birds 2, where everyday the player plays they are given a miniscule amount of gems. These add up over time, but players can’t do anything with them for a long time because everything is so expensive. (In Angry Birds 2 this was two or three gems. This didn’t help much when a continue or a power up would cost 60 gems or so.) So I never ended up getting any enjoyment from the gems they gave me. I stopped playing long before I saved up enough.

The other style of daily rewards are the building rewards. (We used this frequently at JumpStart.) A player would gain a reward when they entered the game for the first time that day, and if they entered the game on the following day they would get an even better reward. (This stacked for a week and then would reset.) The idea here is to get the player to return day after day to get better and better rewards. Typically, these were rewards like “20 Gold” or some minor item, which wouldn’t be immediately useful to the player. They would still have to save up the gold or spend real money to get enough to buy something useful. Some of the later rewards were more useful but only in specific situations.

Side note: School of Dragons has always grown at an alarming rate. As such, the talented developers have caught this issue and seem to have adjusted it since. The items now are much more useful to most players, but they still have the issue of not always being useful to all players. This is because the game is so large. It is impossible to predict what everyone would want. The only things useful across the board are gems and gold. But they cannot give out too many of those or they risk breaking the economy. I use School of Dragons only as an example of a different style of daily rewards, the building style. In a smaller game, like Two Dots, this style would be easier to balance and give out rewards everyone would use.

Two Dots gives the player a random power up. Whether that’s extra lives or a boost, the daily reward is always immediately useful. This almost always pushes me to use it. Also I’m more liberal in my use of boosts because I know there is a good chance I will be getting more. So what’s hurting Angry Birds and School of Dragons? The saving up. While logically this seems like it would continue to engage players over a longer period of time because they are saving for something, we live in a world where no one (aside from the wise or elderly) saves. Especially in mobile games. Everything is about instant gratification. (And less than 10-minute play sessions) So while players need to learn to save, they will enjoy the game more if they get that instant usable reward.

Power Up Upsell:

Last week we talked about Angry Birds 2 and the issue players are having with upsells, the primary issue being with the gameplay itself. Two Dots does an excellent job of upselling power ups to players but doesn’t change a whole lot from Angry Bird’s upsell system. The one big difference is where the upsell with a video ad appears. In Angry Birds 2, these video upsells appeared only after the player lost or in the daily reward for a double reward. In Two Dots, it still has the daily reward video ad upsell, but they moved the location of the second video ad upsell. They have it attached to the pre-game screen. When a player watches it, they get a free boost power up. And you know what? I watch it every chance I get. I actually look forward to them. I think why I look forward to it so much (where as I just skip the Angry Birds post failure upsell ad videos) is because I know it will help. I know I will start off stronger and have a better chance to win because of it. Where as in Angry Birds 2, (Since it only pays out one random bird, unfortunately, after I’ve lost) it only feels helpful in very specific situations. And even then it has to give the the bird I need. (Due to the randomness, it doesn’t usually happen)

Side note: So how can Angry Birds 2 learn from this? Add a video upsell for the power ups in the beginning, then they can pay out the player a random power up to use in the level they are about to play. I guarantee this will have almost everyone watching their upsell video ads every chance they get.

The Challenge & Charm:

Two Dots holds the challenge of a basic match 3 game, where players will have to see how removing specific dots will effect the rest of the board. Due to removing the timer, the player has a much more zen experience. This allows players to have the time to really look around and try to figure out the best move.

Let’s take a look at how these puzzles work:

Here we have two anchors which we need to drop out of the bottom of the level. So I ask you, “What is your gut reaction?”


By just glancing at this you might think eliminating the most dots below the anchors as quickly as you can might be the best option, but it’s not. If we do this, it will increase the level’s difficulty, and ruin our chances of beating it. Instead let’s change our thinking.





If we examine our situation, we can see that ideally we need to get these two greens next to each other. This way we can eliminate them both and clear the anchor on the left while lowering the right anchor as well. We need to lower the right green dot by two.


Luckily, if we remove these two purple dots, we can get our greens lined up and win the level. This works out perfectly because if we are thinking a couple moves ahead, we can see the purple above the right green and the purple below the two we will be removing, will line up.


Now our greens are lined up.


While tempting, the player must remember that they are playing the long game. And as such, they should avoid removing these two purples at this moment because it will ruin our chances at beating the level. Remember, it isn’t about moving your anchor to the bottom as quickly as possible, because there is no timer. It is about doing it in the least amount of moves possible.


Our true goal, to ensure our victory, is getting these purples and blues together.


Due to our previous moves, the left green is surrounded by blues, which we can connect upon removing the greens to drop that anchor. The right green is surrounded by purples which we can do the same with to drop the right anchor. Upon doing so, we have ensured our victory of this level.


All we need to do at this point is connect the blues and the purples to drop our last two anchors.


Sweet victory is ours!


I really enjoy this style of thinking ahead. This creates layers of gameplay which makes each level fun and challenging. And with each world’s mechanical twist, strategizing and thinking ahead becomes a necessity. Also, while in Angry Birds 2 it was nearly impossible to think ahead and strategize, here we can see it is very possible. You might ask, “Don’t they both have random levels?” Ah! Not quite! Here are two screen shots from the exact same level played one right after the other. (I started one up, lost, then restarted the level)

We can see some dots are changed. But some stay consistent! The player is able to have a similar opening move every time. And because they will never run out of moves with a certain color, they aren’t forced to hold back, thus the randomness is not as frustrating. Additionally, this style of gameplay gives the player enough variety to make them believe that if they lost they might have been able to do something different. Perhaps they missed something. That thought is incredibly important because it helps players to not feel shoehorned into purchasing what they are upsold if they want to win.

The charm comes from everything else in the game. The world theming matching the mechanics for one:

Anchor mechanic in level? Boom! Ocean World.

Ice mechanic in level? Boom! Mountain peak world.

This extends across the music and the menu animations as well. I think the best way to get the feeling across is this image:

When a player reaches a new world, they are prompted to share their status on social media. This is the image it posts. “Join me in the ocean depths! #TwoDots” is the text that posts with it. It doesn’t feel overbearing or “HEY! WATER MY CROPS!!” “Join me in the ocean depths!” It’s different. It’s not in your face demanding your attention. In fact, It’s subtle, with a beautiful piece of art. Something I might actually want to share. This actually draws my attention on it’s own. It makes it sound like a friend is merely suggesting that we should go on an adventure together.

In order to have an enjoyable puzzle game, players need to have all the pieces available to them. Without all the pieces, they just get frustrated and rightfully so. Last week, we looked into Angry Birds 2, and comparing it to this week’s look at Two Dots, we can see how one arguably is a better puzzle game than the other. This is simply achieved by withholding minimal amounts of data (what dots will fall down next) from the player, thus they get less frustrated.

I have learned a lot via comparing these two games, and I hope you have as well. Next week we will be looking into Rayman Fiesta Run. Being a fan of the Rayman Legends music levels, I’m pretty excited. Thank you for sticking around through the entire post.

I’ll see you guys next week