Mobile Design

Finding the Fun: Archero Part 2 – Progression

Welcome to part two of my look into Archero. This time we’ll focus on the long-term progression and how that contributes to the fun. If this is your first foray into this series, I recommend starting at part one, which you can check out HERE. Let’s dive in!

Chapters

Chapters are sets of stages. The player must complete every stage in one run in order to complete the chapter and progress to the next one. Each chapter introduces new more difficult enemies with slight variations to the movement and attack patterns, and additional abilities which can be selected.

This infusion of content helps to keep the game feeling fresh. The developers drip feed the players new content to reinforce new challenges in each chapter. Once the player has mastered those challenges, items, and abilities, they move on to the next chapter.

 
Img_ChAbilityUnlock.JPG
 

Gaining Gold

Players gain gold by killing enemies and doing spins in the wheel of fortune style minigame at the beginning of each run. As previously mentioned, the wheel of fortune style spinner increases in rewards based on which chapter the player is in. This is a useful catch up mechanic if the player is behind in leveling up their talents or wants to grind their level. Even if the first encounter is too difficult for them, they are guaranteed some progression just for trying.

 
Gif_Intro.gif
 

The gold dropped from enemies is only received once the room is clear. This increases the risk in tougher chapters. If a player is barely surviving and there is gold everywhere but still plenty of enemies left it increases the tension making for a more stressful situation and enjoyable victory.

 
Img_GoldEverywhere.JPG
 

So why does gold matter? Let’s get into it in the next section.

Talents Vs Abilities

Last time we discussed abilities, which are short term power ups that last until the player dies or completes a chapter. Talents are permanent stat upgrades. The player spends gold and receives a random talent upgrade. These are things like increasing max HP, general damage, attack speed, or so on.

This works great in the sense that every player’s character is different. Every player’s experience is a little bit different as well. But, as with all things completely random, it falls into the same pothole. What is the most frustrating thing about RNG? Getting the same useless item repeatedly. And while I would argue that none of these are particularly useless, some are clearly better than others. I think this would be fine in a casual game like a clicker or business management game. In tougher chapters though the difficulty skews away from casual at which point having some control over the character’s talent build would go a long way. When I make a mistake because I built my character wrong, that’s on me, and that’s not too frustrating because I can try to do something different. When it relies on RNG and there’s nothing I can do outside restarting my progress or grinding out of necessity rather than desire, it gets frustrating and pushes players away.

 
Gif_TalentUpgrade.gif
 

Equipment + Scrolls

Equipment is like a permanent upgrade, but one the player has more control over. They receive equipment sometimes in game, more often from gacha boxes (a.k.a. loot crates). The player gets one gacha box for free,or when watching an ad, once a day and a better one once a week. These can also be purchased for gems, the premium virtual currency that can be bought with real money, at any time.

There are four types of equipment: weapons, armor, rings, and spirits. The higher the rarity, the higher the max level it can be upgraded to and the higher stats it will have. The player can equip one weapon, one armor, two rings, and two spirits at a time for a total of six pieces of equipment.

All equipment increases in level by the player leveling them up using their designated scrolls and gold. For example, a weapon will require X weapon scrolls and X gold. Scrolls are received commonly through playing the game.

As I mentioned before, there are various rarities for each of the weapons (common, great, rare, epic, perfect epic, and legendary). Though rarities in this sense would be closer to ascending an item to a higher form. All common items could one day become legendary items. This is achieved through fusing; the player can fuse three of the same items with the same rarity to create a higher rarity version of the original item.

Okay, that was a lot, but here’s what’s so brilliant about it. All that information is displayed in an easy to understand format across maybe two or three screens.

The equipment screen displays all the players equipped and owned equipment in an easy to read format.

The equipment screen displays all the players equipped and owned equipment in an easy to read format.

The fusion screen is clean and easy to understand.

The fusion screen is clean and easy to understand.

The locking out of unusable equipment makes this very easy to understand and use.

The locking out of unusable equipment makes this very easy to understand and use.

The player can discern all this information (except for gacha boxes and where scrolls come from) from spending maybe thirty seconds inside this menu. The scroll locations players will learn from seeing them drop while playing the game. The gacha box information they learn from the gacha screen when they receive a notification for a free box. No hand holding tutorial needed, just playing on their curiosity. This is some excellent UI and UX design. It’s easy to understand, it’s quick, and it doesn’t get in the way of players getting back to the game.

How does this further increase the fun?

How does all this fit together? It fits well into the games loop of fight > get rewards > improve.

 
The overall loop of Archero along with actions that fit into each section.

The overall loop of Archero along with actions that fit into each section.

 

This loop resets itself every new chapter. When the player comes into a new chapter, they’re usually too weak to easily progress. They need to increase their talents and equipment levels to be able to better face the challenges of the chapter. While they are playing the game and getting the gold, items, and scrolls to improve themselves, they are practicing against enemies and learning the new attack patterns. Thus they are not only improving their stats but their skills at the same time. Upon completing the final boss and defeating the chapter, the whole cycle starts all over again in a new chapter. It’s fun in the long run just because of that simple loop executed so well.

The enjoyable moment to moment gameplay and a strong repeatable loop make for a very enjoyable experience for a long period of time. But how does this app make money? We’ve talked a bit about it in these last two posts and we’ll finish the series out answering that question next time.

See you then,

Scott 

Part three is up! Check it out HERE

The Illusion of Danger

First a little backstory on the game:

Rolling Sky is a goal runner. The player must navigate through a course while moving at a constant speed. They move their finger across the bottom of the screen to have the ball adjust its location along the x-axis. If the player makes it to the end of the track, they win.

I was playing Rolling Sky this week and I noticed something in the second level.

In the second level, you encounter these hammers which are swinging in a circle. They swing off the platforms and then back around to take up some space on a platform. If the player touches these hammers, they instantly die. The first one the player encounters swings inward when they pass it thus narrowing the path the player can travel on.

Then the next three pairs of hammers swing outward when the player passes them. I found this to be peculiar because the other three then can’t actually have an effect on the player as they are swinging over nothing and the player would have already died if they had traveled over to that space.

To clarify, this wasn’t the first time a player encountered these hammers. Upon reviewing the previous level, they were taught about them by the very first one encountered swinging outward then the next one swinging inward. So the player has time to learn how they function and prepare themselves for it.

We know that typically in games when players are introduced to a new threat, they often have a chance to observe it and try to figure out how to tackle the threat.  This can be in the form of scoping out a Dark Souls boss and dodging their attacks to learn their tells, or as simple as seeing some enemies attack something else in the distance. From that moment on, the players figure out how to take care of the problem. By solving the problem, they are able to refine their methods and become more skilled at fighting this type of enemy or completing this type of task.

But in our case, the hammers are harmless. The ones that swing out have no effect on the difficulty of the game.

That is of course unless the Designers intended to use them as a tactic to make the player freak out or distract them. This could be their goal; by psyching the player out, they have surely ensured their doom. 

We see something similar to this throughout these levels as well with the falling platforms.

The vast majority of these have no purpose, aside from making a cool ping noise to go with the music, since the player is moving at a constant rate and unable to stay on them for long enough for them to fall anyways. But interestingly enough, we see larger platforms later on that can actually let the player fall.

Here we can see the player touching the platform and the larger platform falling away, creating obstacles in the future which the player may not have accounted for.

The falling platforms fall into the realm of standard game design by showing the player how to deal with something before introducing them to actual danger. The hammers changing back and forth give us an interesting conundrum. Could going slightly against the standard rules of game design be used to throw off players? I believe so. Because there are so many excellent games out there that teach players how to think and solve problems in games, this could be an interesting idea to make a game feel fresh, although it can be difficult to implement. While the developers of Rolling Sky used this expertly, the rules of design are standard because they work.

Side note: I’d like to take a second to talk about the controls. Because the object the player is controlling is a ball, this could have gone a thousand different awful ways. (Tilt controls GAH!!!) But because the ball is tethered to the location of the player’s finger, it makes for an excellent experience navigating around tight corners.

Thank you for joining me in this exploration of the illusion of danger. I hope this week I got you thinking about ways you can break the rules in your games to make your games feel fresher.

I’ll see you guys next week,

Scott

Neko Atsume: My Collection of Kitties

This week, we’ll take a look into a very interesting App: Neko Atsume. We’ll talk about how it works, where is the fun, and whether or not it is a game.

How does it work?

In Neko Atsume, you decorate a room and attempt to attract cats. You can do this by setting out different “Goodies” (boxes, balls, bags, etc.) to attract them. Each cat has a favorite toy, and when you set up their favorite toy, they might stop by to play with it. But toys aren’t enough for the cats. You need to feed them as well if you want them to stop by. Once you’ve set some food and items out, cats will begin to stop by and visit. After they leave, they will leave the player with a gift , either silver fish or premium gold fish. These are used to buy more items to put out for the cats.

Here we can see the placement options for goodies as well as food.

Food mechanic:
Players need to stop by a couple times a day and set out more food if they want to continually attract cats. The cats can visit while the player is not in the app. If they do, they will still leave a gift for the player, but the player will have missed seeing them.

Side note: This is a nice little addition because if the player doesn’t get the reward of getting to see them, they will still get something.

Every time a cat visits, it will eat a little bit of the food. Upon all the food being eaten, no more cats will visit until the bowl is full. Because there is a free food bowl called “Thrifty Bits”, running out of money never becomes a problem.

Side note: So the food is like a timer. After so many minutes, a player will need to return to the app and refill the bowl if they wish to progress and receive more rewards. Because the food has no visible timer for the player to track, the player will need to check back more often to see more cats.

For anyone still confused on how this game’s systems work, this flow chart might help.

Chart made in Lucidchart

So, where’s the fun?
In Neko Atsume, there are multiple kinds of rewards. I like to call these direct and indirect rewards. Direct rewards are something that is given to the player that’s blatantly a reward. In Neko Atsume’s case, this would be the gold and silver fish the player receives from visiting cats.

Indirect rewards are more like cinemas, things that are rewarded to the players that are solely for their enjoyment. They don’t necessarily have an effect on a game’s progress, with the exception of story. In Neko Atsume’s case, this would be like getting to see the cats do absolutely adorable things.


Like hide in a box!

Or play with a ball!

Or even get their little fluffy butt stuck in a tube!

These moments where the player gets to see the cats be adorable is the reason players continue to come back. The direct rewards are more of a means to an end. They are in place to support the adorable cat reward. These rewards, combined with the hidden food timer, makes sure the player has a nice steady stream of cats to enjoy, all the while not letting them see all of them too soon and instead forcing the player to come back.

Side note: I’m pretty sure the developers knew this is where the fun came from and wanted players to be able to revisit the adorable moments that they have already experienced. So they put in a camera feature where players could take pictures of the cats and put them in photo albums. They also gave them names and stats to help sell the attachment players might feel for the cats. So while the player could have a goal to fill up this album, there is no reward for doing so aside from their own satisfaction.

My album is on its way!

So is this a game or what?
Typically, games have a win/lose condition. That’s kind of what makes them special. So I’d have to say no, it isn’t a game. That doesn’t diminish how much fun it is. It’s more like an interactive toy, because even if you fill up all your photo albums, the game doesn’t end, and if you do nothing, the game doesn’t end either.

In the end, Neko Atsume is an excellent app which is great at wasting a few seconds out of the hour. By giving players a variety of rewards, drip-feeding them new cats, and forcing their engagement through the food mechanic, they find themselves returning to this app again and again. I hope I got you thinking about how to make simple apps, which aren’t necessarily games but are still enjoyable.

Next week, we will be returning to our regularly scheduled posts/updates.

I’ll see you guys then,

Scott

Rayman Fiesta Run: My Kind of Party

Rayman Fiesta Run is a runner which feels like a party. Today we’ll brush over a few of the game features, but instead of looking at the individual levels, I want to dive deep into the hidden upsell system in play.

How it works:

In a nut shell, Rayman is running full speed through the level. Players can make him jump, attack, or hover for a short time. That’s it. Their primary goal is to get him to the flag at the end while collecting as many Lums (Think generic collectable/currency) as they can along the way.

At roughly 1, 25, 50 and 75 Lums collected, upon completing the level, the player will free a captured Teensy. Teensys are used to progress through the game.

Look at the charm. The Teensy is in a cage and still smiling and happy. The other three are literally dancing.

Look at the charm. The Teensy is in a cage and still smiling and happy. The other three are literally dancing.

A player must rescue a certain amount to unlock the next group of levels. If a player collects all 100 Lums in any main line level (level unlocked via rescuing Teensys), then a harder version of the same level will be unlocked for the player to challenge.

On the level select screen, we can tell which levels where 100 Lums are collected because they have a crown above the level. The more difficult version appears directly above the completed level and looks like a skull. Each of the four circles within the level icon fill up when those Teensys are rescued. Empty level icons are levels which have yet to be completed. As we can see, the track fills up as we rescue Teensys. This unlocks additional levels, characters and various prizes.

Power Ups:

Freeing Teensys aren’t the only purpose of collecting Lums. Another is buying temporary and permanent power ups. At the start of each level players are allowed to purchase temporary power ups. These power ups last until the player successfully finishes the level.

·      Magnet: Attract Lums around your hero

·      Phoenix: Allows respawning in the middle of a level in case of death

·      Too Much Help: Show how to complete the level and collect all the Lums

·      Golden Heart: Protection from 2 hits

·      Ultimate Flying Punch: Unlimited and stronger flying punches

Permanent power ups can be purchased from the shop in the level select menu. These the player can activate at will without paying for them on each level. Obviously they cost considerably more Lums.

The Good:

·      The level design for most levels is on par with a standard non-music level you might find in Rayman Origins or Legends.

·      “No upsells” (I put this in good because usually these annoy players, though I understand in a typical free-to-play game it is a necessary evil to make money) I put this in quotes because there are upsells, the players just don’t notice them.

·      The Ubiart Engine –I’ve seen this one in action on consoles. It still looks beautiful on iOS.

·      The Charm – This is a little more difficult to describe. But the eyeballs on everything gives the enemies a lot of personality. Then there is Rayman’s undeniable excitement to go running. You can see this in the beginning of each level. It reminds me of a dog running. Little touches like this add to the charm.

o   When a player jumps off a lime his eyes close in an “Oof!” fashion

·      Controls – We can see the jump button on the left side of the screen and the punch on the right. I can’t tell you how many mobile games make the mistake of only having the button image be an input. This causes problems due to the precision needed to hit these buttons. (Unlike controllers, your finger can move on a flat screen and doesn’t have the feedback of touching an actual button so they are easy to miss, but that’s for another time) Not a problem here! The entire left side of the screen is the jump button. The right side of the screen is for punching.

·      The Yoshi’s Wooly World Effect – In Yoshi’s Wooly World, it is perfectly possible to beat the story levels without collecting everything in the game. And it isn’t a particularly difficult game. The difficulty skyrockets when the player decides to be a completionist. Rayman does the exact same thing. The levels aren’t particularly tough but, if the player wishes to collect all the Lums, the difficulty level spikes. God forbid collecting all of the Lums on the difficult series of levels.

The “Free”-to-play:

Technically, the game isn’t free to play. Generally, it costs $2.99 to download. Then, on top of that, the players have the option within the game to spend additional real life money. Before you grab your pitchforks and torches, the in-game purchases are completely optional. They are entirely to speed up progression or just for fun. The three different purchasable items, via Lums, are:

·      Permanent power ups

·      Art images

·      Characters

There is an additional purchasable item, but I’ve never thought much about it because I haven’t had any trouble obtaining them. Those are Lums. Because the player can collect up to 100 Lums per level completed, I’ve never had any issue where I had to buy them. They feel strictly like if the player wishes to have a whole bunch of them very quickly they can buy them, but it isn’t needed.

Side note: This is exactly the mentality we want players to have in a free to play game. This keeps them from getting mad at the company for attempting to make some money. It also makes them more likely to actually purchase items because they are feeling happy and more trusting of the developers.

Earlier, I mentioned that there were upsells, but the players never noticed them. You might think, what the heck? How is this possible?

That’s how. After the player has lost at least ten times in a row, before trying again they are upsold a power up. Now this power up is upsold through using in game currency, which is plentiful. Because it seems so plentiful, players don’t mind buying the power up. There is no button asking for money, and the language seems to be more suggesting help rather than “HEY YOU SUCK AND NEED TO BUY HELP”. The look of the heart definitely helps as well. (Derp faces can’t be taken seriously. The Charm is literally hiding the upsell.) Now, this particular power up costs 80 Lums. The player can only ever receive a max of 100 Lums for each level completion. So what the player doesn’t think about is that one power up costs nearly a whole perfect run. And this is one of the cheapest power ups, most are much more expensive. (the highest being 200 Lums)

As you can tell from some of my images, I have over 4,000 Lums at the moment. Five levels ago, I had 1,000 more. The difficulty balancing of later levels nudges the player to use power ups to do better and complete the levels. This slowly drains the Lums as the player chooses to use the power ups. They are not feeling pressured by the game to use them because it is their own drive pushing them to do better. (Essentially they are not doing so well and need help, so they pay for it) All the power ups have a purpose and feel useful. (My go to team is the Magnet, Too Much Help, and the Golden Heart. Every time I do this, I spend 440 Lums without giving it a second thought. That is four and a half perfect runs.) And it works. When I run into a level which is particularly difficult, I’ll try a few times and if I get stuck, I’ll pop one or two power ups. Mostly, the ones I use help me collect all the Lums in the level, where as the other power ups are typically helpful just to get to the end.

Side note/Soap Box: While writing this post it got me thinking. Typically, in free-to-play games we have two kinds of currency, gold – found in game, and gems – premium currency bought with real money. I can’t help but wonder if the lack of gems in this game is helping them to have a more positive response. Because there is only the one currency and it is so plentiful in the game, (By plentiful I mean I understand how to get a decent amount of it using my skill) perhaps this is contributing to the feeling of not being nickeled and dimed. Yes, I can buy Lums if I so choose, or I can put the time in to make the money in game. Where as something like gems are only available through buying them (or getting one or two for a daily reward). Additionally, in other games some content will be locked behind paywalls which require gems. Thus the player is getting more annoyed over time due to the fact that the developers are asking for “more” money later on. In Rayman it doesn’t ask for money, the player has to navigate to the store if they wish to spend real world cash. Thus the player is making a conscious decision to go there and take a look at the products. They aren’t having it shoved in their face.

An analogy if you will:

The way Rayman does shopping is more akin to going to Target and looking around. You have chosen to go to this location and engage in shopping or just looking around. Maybe you will get a flyer in the mail (the incredibly passive upsell in Rayman.) but they don’t do a lot to annoy you. Because you chose to expose yourself to the advertisements and products you will have a better time. Most upsells in games are like your cable company calling you trying to sell you better cable. The first time you are courteous and politely decline. After the fourteenth time…. Not so much. And the way we typically do upsells it would be during every commercial break, while we are watching T.V. While they position it strategically to not directly interrupt us. It still gets annoying when constantly asked.

This bleeds over a little bit into ads as well. Most ads in games are more like telemarketers or door to door salesmen. You’re minding your own business at home, watching the newest episode of Game of Thrones and someone bangs at your door. “Hello sir or Madame? Would you like to purchase a vacuum?”. The interruption is mildly annoying the first time. But if new salesmen keep showing up the annoyance just builds. Until you are frustrated and start to yell at they poor guy trying to make a living. Thus angry comments.

But Scott wouldn’t you go into these games knowing that you will get ads/upsold products? I mean it is common knowledge by now.

This is a valid point. It might be more like watching the Walking Dead then and having commercial breaks. But with technology these days more and more people are avoiding commercials all together. Ad blockers for the web. DVRs allow people to fast forward through commercials during their favorite shows. Heck, I just use Netflix for most of my shows now a-days. No commercials. People don’t like to be interrupted when consuming media. But we need to interrupt them with ads to make a profit or we can’t create new media. So we need to find ways to make their interruptions subtler. Or even passive so we don’t force them from their immersive experience.

Personally, I’m a big fan of subtly. Like how all the Transformers, in Michael Bay’s films, are GMC vehicles. It’s subtle and unobstructive to the player’s engagement. Upsells are a little trickier. I can’t tell you for sure what works perfectly every time. But I can tell you what pisses players off the most: Locking content behind paywalls and feeling like the items being upsold are necessary. Specifically, as far as paywalls go, ones which require real world money. If you want to use in game currency to halt a player’s progression, we know this doesn’t piss them off. Countless games have done it without a problem. But real world pay walls piss players off more than anything. For the items being upsold they must not be necessary. By this, I mean the player must not believe they are necessary to progress. In Angry Birds 2 there was more than once where I felt I required an item in order to beat the level. This is the worst thing you can do to a player. It ejects them from the immersion and the fun of the experience. It’s up to the Designers to make sure the gameplay feels balanced so the items being upsold enhance the gameplay or simply speed it up. We don’t want players to think it is necessary. (Clash of Clans does this expertly with speeding up building construction) And with that I’m stepping off my soap box and continuing on with this analysis.

The “Eh, that could be better”:

·      The music: Now, the music is not actually bad. It’s charming like the rest of the game. The issue here comes from working on a mobile device. Because they chose not to use a loader (You know how when you boot up Angry Birds 2 it takes a few minutes to download new assets from the internet? Yeah, that.), they have a limited amount of memory to work with. This doesn’t allow the designers to have as many options. Let me elaborate, in Rayman Legends (2013), in the music levels the player’s jump and attacks are timed with the beat of the music. (I can try to explain it all day but it will be better if I show you:

And while I understand it is almost definitely a different team, other people might not. Due to them making the game for mobile, they have a very limited amount of memory to work with (#mobileDeveloperProblems), or may not have the resources to do it. So they are restricted to using the same five songs over and over again and can’t pull off precision experiences like the one in the video.

Side note: At this time, I would like to acknowledge that it was obviously not the chosen direction to go with due to multiple reasons. And I completely respect that. The game is fantastic already as it is. I’m just saying, I think, it could have been even cooler. People who have not experienced Rayman Legends won’t have this problem because they wont know this exists. But I know this amazing experience exists and I wish they could do something on that level.

Side SIDE note: I do give them credit for not using a loader. It gets the player in and out of the game much faster. It makes the game feel smoother and I love not having to wait 2 minutes to start playing. This, aside from the fact that it is a really solid game, contributes to me hopping in so often.

Hopefully, I got you thinking about how to hide upsells and how to make players feel like nobody is attempting to make any money off of them, even though we are. I know they aren’t glamorous topics, but as mobile developers we have to use them. So why not use them in a way which doesn’t annoy players and makes sure they have as much fun as possible, while we still profit.

Rayman Fiesta Run is a fantastic runner with a lot of charm. The levels are incredibly clever and I suggest you try some of them out for yourself. I would love to discuss them with you in the comments if you’ll join me. This post almost was a look into a few levels and how they taught the player skills just by putting new obstacles in their way. But the hidden upsell really stood out to me. Maybe, if I have a little more time, I’ll do a bonus post this week going over the first level. We’ll see.

Next week we’ll be trying something completely different, I’m going to be getting back out there and showing off a prototype. I created a paper prototype a few weeks back and figured it might be fun to bring it into the digital world. I look forward to sharing that with you.

I’ll see you guys next week,

Scott

Angry Birds 2: The Good, The Bad, and The Angry.

Possibly the most successful mobile app to date is Angry Birds. No one was surprised when they decided to make a direct sequel. Here I hope to walk readers through what this game does well, what I imagine the designers’ intentions were, and what it does poorly.

What’s the gameplay like?

For the three of you out there who haven’t played Angry Birds 2 the premise is simple: slingshot your birds in attempts to kill all the pigs, via crushing them with debris, popping them with birds, or simply knocking them off the cliff. Each bird has a unique power and are perfectly suited for specific situations. For example, Chuck, the yellow bird is excellent at breaking through wooden structures. The player has a deck of cards, each representing a bird. Three cards are drawn to a player’s hand. The player can now use any of these three birds. When they use one, another card is drawn, unless the deck is empty. When a player destroys enough structures, a card which they have used is returned to their deck (Or their hand, if they have less than 3 cards)

The good:

The core gameplay is still solid. The concept of slingshotting a bird into a structure is simple to control and easy to follow. When aiming a bird, a little arcing reticule appears to help the player aim. The sound effects are charming, the boss battles are rewarding (This is primarily due to how frustrating they are to finally defeat), and the small touches add a lot to the game to make it all the more lovable.

The free-to-play:

Players have five lives which replenish over time (by time I mean they get one life every 30 min or so). When a player loses the level by running out of bird cards, they lose a life. Additionally, upon losing, the players can purchase three more birds and continue. They can also purchase power ups for real cash which will give them an additional card which will pretty much destroy the entire stage for them.

The not-so-good:

In Angry Birds 1, players were given specific birds for each level. For example, level 4-21 the player is given six yellow birds to defeat the level. This never changes and allows the player to strategize.

Side note: This is a screen shot of level 4-21 in Angry Birds 1. The player needs to hit the structure at the marked spot at least three times to knock it over, using the yellow bird. Upon examining the aiming reticule, we can see that the birds cannot be thrown over to hit the piggies. Whenever a player enters 4-21 it will look like this, allowing for experimentation and strategy.

In Angry Birds 2, the players get a random hand of three cards, each representing a different bird. Typically, what I’ve seen has been the player gets one of each bird card in their deck. Then of the deck of cards, three are drawn. The rest sit in the deck and are unusable until they player uses a bird and draws another. Normally this wouldn’t be too big of a problem, except there are a few other things Angry Birds does that magnifies the issue.

The randomly generated stages compound the issue. While this sounds like a great idea in concept because it makes for infinite replayability, when players don’t have the correct birds to defeat the section it makes the players feel incredibly frustrated. This is due to knowing that, due to luck, they have no chance to succeed. On top of that if the player loses or leaves the level, when they return it will look completely different, preventing them from experimenting with different methods on how to defeat a stage.

It doesn’t help that each level now has multiple stages within it. This makes burning currently useless bird cards a terrible option. Because players only have a limited amount of cards, it creates pressure to make every bird count. Unfortunately, as the bird cards are randomly drawn, the player might be forced into using extra birds early on, only to run out before the final stage. Additionally, the player cannot see what is in the future stages so it is impossible to strategize before arriving to them. In later stages the player just has to get really lucky or they wont have the ability to beat it.

Side note: Possibly the most frustrating thing in Angry Birds 2 is coming into a stage and realizing your cards are going to be useless. Much like this situation I was in. I entered with three birds and was able to destroy two of the structures. But my third bird was the wrong type for this stage and I was doomed. But this problem could also be to my poor skill, so it is not as frustrating as when it happens to me in the first stage of the level.

These issues combined make for an incredibly frustrating experience. It really feels like each of these features were developed independently and then thrown together. Each of these on their own could make for a really cool experience, but combined together make for a frustrating one.

Side note: I would change this by making it so the player can see the future stages within the level, once the first stage is generated, & choose from any bird they have in their deck. This will allow players to truly strategize and be prepared for what is coming. Additionally, if they are going to watch an ad video or pay for additional birds, I’d let them choose which birds they want. While this may not seem like the best idea for monetization, it will make the players much more likely to spend those extra couple bucks for the additional birds. Because they won’t feel like they are being screwed by getting random birds despite spending money. I cannot express how frustrating it is when you spend money on the game and it randomly picks the three birds you can’t win with.

Here’s another example: Let’s take a look at the above stage. This is stage one of this level, it doesn’t seem so hard. Until you look at the birds. The red bird is good at knocking over thin structures, but this structure looks pretty solid. The yellow bird is good at destroying wood, he’s pretty much useless here. The white bird drops a bomb which might be able to kill all of the piggies. It will be very difficult though to get the timing perfect as the player will have to tap the screen as the bird is flying to drop the bomb at the right place. The white bird is best used when bombing a piggy where the other birds can’t get the correct angle to hit it. (The black or blue birds would have destroyed this section easily, but they are in my deck at this time. Blue bird wreaks blue platforms and black birds explode.) So the player is doomed to most likely have to use at least two birds here. Additionally, due to this stage lacking enough destroyable debris, the player will not get enough points to obtain another bird. Even after this stage I have three more stages in this level. So before I have even fired my first bird, there is a very good chance I wont be able to beat this level.

Let’s quickly review the the biggest complaint, the upsells/ads:

·      After the player plays X levels, they are forced to watch a video ad

·      When a player runs out of lives, they are upsold more

·      When a player runs out of lives, they can voluntarily watch a video to gain an additional life (max 3 times)

·      When a player loses a level, they are upsold 3 more birds

·      When a player loses a level, they can voluntarily watch a video to get one more random bird (max 1 time)

·      Players are upsold power ups at the beginning of a level

Contrary to what some of the comments say, there is nothing wrong with the number of upsells. It seems like this frustration stems from a lack of information/resources. Then when they cannot beat a level and are asked if they wish to purchase more birds for gems, bought with real money, they begin to feel like buying the birds are the only way to beat it. This is when players get mad and start to feel like they are being cheated.

While the words “Free-to-play” will cause some people to grab their pitch forks and call for the developers’ heads, it’s not a bad thing. At least when done correctly. We can learn from the mistakes of Angry Birds 2, and make sure the mechanics don’t cause impossible situations. The randomization of stages, the withholding cards from players, and the multipart levels, all make for an interesting experience. But when used together, these mechanics make the game feel too random, causing players to become frustrated and leave poor reviews. It also sows seeds of distrust with Rovio, making people more hesitant to spend money on their games. Hopefully they will learn from their mistakes and Angry Birds 3 wont have this kind of backlash.

Next week we will be looking into Two Dots, yet another excellent mobile game. Thank you for sticking around through this post. I hope you learned something or at least I got you to think about how your mechanics combined with free-to-play can effect the player’s perception of your game and company.

I’ll see you guys next week,

Scott