Recently the team here at SOOMLA noticed that most game developers don’t plan their game pregression well enough. Game progression alongside with an in-game economy are the basis for a long term engagement in games so we knew this is a problem we had to fix. I have been working on this super secret initiative to model out worlds, levels, achievements, missions, quests, challenges, records, badges, rewards and scores in games and create a framework that will allow game developers to wrap their minds around the world of game progression.
The goal is to give users a sense of accomplishement
In order to retain users for long periods of time, we need them to get invested in the game and feel that their investment allowed them to create impact and accomplish something. Users needs to feel that after a week of playing the game, they are in a different place compared to where they were when they started the game. They mastered some skill that they didn’t have, they acquired tools they didn’t have and they unlocked areas that weren’t available to them before. We need to help them see this things. That’s what worlds, levels, missions, records and badges are about.
SOOMLA’s game progression model
Hierarchy – what belongs where
After observing dozens of games we realized that most of the game progress and accomplishment can be packed into worlds. Worlds can contain both levels and other worlds, and can have a gate that needs to be unlocked in order to enter the next world. More progress mechanisms are available under levels, they include challenges, missions and records.
The top of the food chain – worlds
We modeled most of the logic of the model under an object we are calling worlds. A game can have multiple worlds or a single one and worlds can also contain other worlds in them. These are sometimes referred to as level packs in some games. A world can contain a set of levels, or multiple sets. A world also has a potential gate that defines the criteria to enter it. Games that don’t have the concept of worlds can be modeled as single world games. Each world contains the following elements:
- Score / completion
Example – worlds in candy crush saga
Worlds become pretty intuitive once you see an example so let’s start with that of Candy Crush Saga by King.com. In this game, there is a very clear sense of levels. Users can play only one new level at any single time. Once they finish the level, they can play the next one. All levels are packed in worlds and to enter the next world you have to first pass a special gate.
Levels – the most basic type of progress
One of the most common ways to create a sense of progress and accomplishment in games is to create levels in it. Some games that use levels as the main sense of achievement are: “Cut the Rope”, “Candy Crush”, “Angry Birds”, and the list is much longer.
Each level can have the following variables:
- Score (this can also be a boolean completion flag or 0-3 stars in some games)
- Best time
- Best speed
- Locked / unlocked
- Custom variables
Single level mode (SLM) – playing the same scene repeatedly
In this gameplay mode users play the same scene over and over again. This means that the scene can’t be completed and there is no sense of progress from finishing the task. For this reason, games with a repeated scene often have challenges, missions and records that give the users a sense of accomplishment. Those quests or missions are divided into sets called challenges that often give users rewards upon completion.
Example – SLM, records and missions in Subway Surfers
One popular game that uses single level mode is “Subway Surfers”. Of course, there are plenty of other examples like “Temple Run” and “Hill Climb Racing” but let’s focus on just one title. Every time users start playing they start from square 0. To create a sense of challenge and progress, the game uses two main methods:
- Missions, like collecting a certain amount of coins, to give users motivation to complete them. The quests in subway surfers are missions in our model and they are wrapped in sets that we modeled under the name challenges. Once a challenge is completed, the reward is a higher score multiplier.
- Every time the user reaches a new high score the game celebrates the user achievement.
Once smart thing about this set up is that the reward for completing a set of missions is a higher score-multiplier, the game basically guarantees that the user will continually break his own record.
Records – break your own best scores
The basic sense of accomplishment in single level mode is perfecting your own personal records. Games that use this model usually create an environment in which the more the user trains the better he becomes. This means that he can continue to break his own records and get a sense of satisfaction from doing so. Our model includes the most common records users can break and makes room for adding more custom fields:
- Coins collected
Example – mixing SLM and levels in “Angry Birds Go”
Some games like “CSR Racing” and “Angry Birds Go” combine level sets with a repeated scene. This is a very powerful combination as it allows users to get the sense of completion that is inherent in level-based games. In addition, this combination prevents users from getting the feeling they are stuck on a level, by giving them another path to accomplishment, and by allowing them to accumulate wealth, buy upgrades, and come back to win the level. Our model is designed with that in mind as well.
“Angry Birds Go” has multiple worlds. Each world contains 5 different types of competitions the user can play. Some of them are single level modes while others are sets of level. The gate focuses only on one level set where you eventually have to win against the “boss”.
Missions – tasks or milestones for the user to achieve
When we think of achievements in games, most of us will imagine some sort of a task that needs to be completed. In our model, they are part of levels and are the key ingredient for getting the users to engage single level mode. We are call these “missions”
Record and balance missions includes:
- Variable: score, or balance
- Goal – a numeric value
- Status – Achieved / not
There are also action missions like:
- Arriving to a specific location
- Navigating to a certain screen
- Collecting an item
- Custom events
Challange – set of missions that can be rewarded
Missions are normally aggregated into challenges which can contain a single mission or multiple ones. Upon completing a challenge, users would normally get rewarded and can win a badge.
Rewards – the prize for completing the mission
Rewards given upon challenge compltion usually has some meaning in the game world. Here are some common types of rewards:
- Currency grant
- Virtual good unlocking (making available for purchase)
- Virtual good grant
- Experience Points
Using the SOOMLA achievement model allows the game designer to leverage all these existing types as well as add custom ones.
Example – Challenges, balance mission, record mission and action mission in “Super Sam”
The game Super sam is less known to most users but is leveraging many of the right tools to create user engagement. In mission set 4 you can clearly see 3 missions:
- Balance mission – Collect 350 coins. In this quest the coins collected in the session is the variable and 350 is the goal.
- Action mission – Collect a score multiplier -this is a not a value/goal pair but rather a boolean quest.
- Record mission – Here the variable is the score and the goal is 8,000.
The reward for completing the challenge set is a 5x score multiplier.
Store missions – promoting your own in-app purchases
One of the things that differentiate successful games from less successful ones is the use of store quests or missions. These quests are pretty simple to carry out for the user, but they are important because they engage users with your in-game economy which leads to better long term retention. Store missions can be:
- Navigating to a certain screen in the store
- Owning a certain virtual good or an upgrade of it
- Reaching a certain balance for a certain virtual good
These last 3 achievements are easy to implement with the model we created.
Example – store quests in “Boom Beach”
Super Cell have been very successful with all their games so far. One thing that is worth learning from their games is the way they use missions to engage users with their virtual economies and stores. In Boom Beach for example, the tasks users receive early on are to buy certain items for their islands, and after that they continue and upgrade those items.
Gates – criteria for entering a new worlds
To unlock a new world, users first have to pass a gate which normally includes the completion of earlier worlds. The gate is a criteria or a list of rules which which must be met to pass. The rules are based on components of the previous world: levels won, scores achieved, quests completed, etc. The gate is opened once the logical conditions are met or in some games, can be opened with a payment or a social task.
Example – gates in “Cut the Rope”
“Cut the Rope” is one game that uses worlds, levels, and gates. Once users finish all the levels in one world they discover that the next world’s gate actually has two parts:
- Finish all the levels of the last world
- Accumulate a total of 40 starts in all the levels combined