How Top 50 Games Increase Engagement

I recently had the opportunity to participate in Casual Connect Amsterdam as a Mentor to the Indie showcase. It was a great event in every possible way and one of the things I really enjoyed is to see so many great games and try to give a few points to make them better.

I found that one piece of advice repeated itself and is actually so valuable I wanted to share it with you.

Combining two core mechanics to improve engagement

One of the things that you realize by playing a lot of games is that most successful ones have more than one game mechanic.

  • Clash of clans – building the city vs. fighting other clans
  • Candy crush – match 3 vs. progressing in the path
  • CSR racing – drag racing vs. upgrading your car
  • Real racing – racing vs. fixing your car
  • Slotomania – spinning vs. maximizing returns

One reason for this pattern is that many players get bored with one game mechanic quickly and having two games in one keeps them in the game longer.

Short-term engagement vs. Long-term engagement

If you look more carefully at the examples I gave, you can see that the two mechanics come from different worlds. One is usually a simple mechanic that is easy to pick up and gives users short term satisfaction. Fighting, matching, steering and spinning are typical actions here. When done right it will get users quickly engaged for a short period of time.
The second mechanic is usually focused on longer term engagement. In most games, it’s based on a simulation of the capitalistic world and usually requires the user to form strategies, plan ahead and form alliances. The actions that you would expect to see in this part of the game would be: building cities, pet caring, investing and evaluating options. These mechanics  can drastically improve retention and monetization when implemented well.

Game designs that include planning and strategy mechanics in addition to simple action mechanics have better user retention and monetization

Where indie game developers can improve

The pattern I observed when reviewing games for the indie prize competition is that many small game developers are implementing only the short term mechanics in their game and are failing to implement the longer term mechanics. This leads to success in generating downloads but many games by small developers are coming short when it comes to retention and monetization. At the same time, if you look at successful games, their short term play is almost generic and they focus a great deal of effort on the planning/strategy part of the game.
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