Since Windows 3.x Solitaire is a constantcompanion of Microsoft’s operating systems. Originally made as a programming exercise by Wes Cherry in 1989 and called Klondike, this digital variation of the card game Patience caused many paid working hours being wasted. Solitaire was a casual game before the term even existed and certainly one of the most played games on earth.
GameDuell turned it with Solitaire Harmony in a cross-platform social game for iOS, Android, Facebook and a web game on their own web platform. GameDuell is Germanys most visited internet-games site and ranks #2 of the Top Developers from Germany on AppStats and with a brought catalog of cross-platform games GameDuell is pushing into the cross-platform market. One of those games is Solitaire Harmony.
How to play:
Solitaire Harmony is played as the standard Solitaire game known from windows. A standard 52 card set with no jokers, is laid out as 7 stacks of overlapping cards, called tableau.
From Right to left the number of card decrees from 7 down to one. Only the top card is visible. The remaining 24 cards are combined in a pile, often refereed as the talon.
Now the Player has to build the 4 foundation piles (one for each suit) from Ace to King (lowest to highest), by moving cards on the tableau. The tableau have to be build from highest to lowest in alternate colures and empty pile can be filled with kings. Cards from the Talon can be pulled in packs of three where all three cards are viable, but only the card on top can be placed in on the tableau. A score is given rating the draws a player needs, also a time bonus is added if he solves the game in less than five minutes. Those scores have different meanings on all of the three Platforms.
On their own game portal GameDuell offers real opponents and real prizes. The players set their stake before the game and in the after the game the scores are compared. Winner takes is all. That is enough insensitive for a player to play the web version of the game, but since waging with real money is prohibited on Facebook and in the Apple App Store, other rewards are needed – changing the framework, but not the core game play.
Competition has still made into the Facebook version, but not for real money. The player plays for a ‘Harmony Cash’ Jackpot, player with the highest scores wins. Harmony Cash can buy new live and helps the player to upgrade his castle. If not bought with Harmony Cash, the player hast to wait 14 minutes for a new life and until he levels up to upgrade his castle. This can be quite annoying, because the limit of hearts that can be stored is very low with only two. But on the other hand it makes it quit tempting to buy a bit Harmony Cash. Some players will be scared of other will buy and some will just have the patience. Or maybe change to the mobile version.
The framework of the game is quite similar to the Facebook version. The player also upgrades his castle by winning games of solitaire. Different is, that he doesn’t earn Harmony Cash but Crowns and there are now lives limiting the amount of plays. Also added are powers that can be bought to enhance winning chances. First this powers have to be unlocked for a certain amount and then and then the player pays a small fee each round he uses them, making crowns very valuable. They can be earned by winning games, leveling up, bought or earned by participating in promotions as signing up for a page or buying something. This kid of promotion is also used in the Facebook version, but only as an occasional offer. Here this option is always available to the player.
We had the pleasure to talk to GameDuell ask some questions about their experiences in developing cross-platform games ant the HTML 5 version of Solitaire Harmony.
Social Games Observer: Why is the mobile version of Solitaire Harmony not linked to the Facebook version?
GameDuell: Solitaire Harmony was the first game we offered on basically every possible platform. For us it was at the beginning more important to offer a perfect cross-platform experience, as we for example know that retention rates are higher for such games, than integrating every possible social feature that we had on the list. As of today people can play the Solitaire Harmony on Facebook, our own social site, iOS, Android and since a few weeks it also runs with HTML5 which makes it possible to open the game in almost any mobile web browser.[...] We tried to bring a lot of improvements with this new version of the game – one of them is the login via Facebook. Additionally the game play was improved, graphics got polished and animations look smoother. ince we believe that HTML5 will play an important role in games development in the future, as one big advantage of this technology is that you develop a game once and run it on any device and platform, we really wanted to build a first HTML5 game now. It gives us the opportunity to gather now already first experiences and learnings to be prepared for the future when HTML5 will be ready for the masses.
SGO: What are the challenges trying to translate skill based competitive games into a social or mobile environment?
GD: The interaction between friends has to be in the center of the game. People love to beat their friend’s highscore, be able to level up, send gifts, see how their friends do, etc.
Especially for mobile games it can be challenging to make everything totally social since users want to play everywhere – with or without internet connection – and at any time. Sometimes, they just open the game briefly to play for a minute or even less. But this one minute needs to be a perfect social experience and other challenges like the small screen on mobile devices as well as interruptions through phone calls and messages need to be handled as well.
When it comes to Android mobile devices it gets even trickier. The fragmentation is very high and currently there are over 500 different Android devices with different screens and set-ups out there. Even though it looks easy to make a game run on all of them, it isn’t.
We also learnt that even rather simple games can be considered as complex by many players. Therefore we started to create easy and simple tutorials that increase the accessibility and connect players emotionally with the game.
Also, we not only try to make the start into a game and its game play as enjoyable as possible but also try to make sure that it is visually a great experience (e.g. on Bubble Speed, that you named “Game of the week” last week, we recently spent a couple of weeks just on fine tuning and improving the graphics, which is certainly one of the reasons why the metrics improved) – people simply love it when a game looks more cute and lively.
SGO:Playing on a touch screen gives advantages and disadvantages in comparison to mouse and keyboard as an input device. What are the challenges in balancing the different platforms and their strengths and weakness, concerning skill based competitive gaming?
GD: While surely game development requires understanding of the users and creativity, most game developers also have developed strong analytics around games. For us, the advantage of having a big community on different platforms is our ability to test and measure a lot. We have constantly A/B tests running and compare the behavior of different cohorts with similar feature sets on different devices. This helps us to understand the proper balancing and we constantly work on improving the user experience. We don’t only give them what they say they like, but also constantly observe how they enjoy our games. If we discover imbalances across platforms, we can spot them and provide solutions.
In the end all versions of Solitaire Harmony are driven by different mechanisms. Missing is a linking between them – which goes beyond cross promotion. The r social and mobile versions with the campaign model just don’t have what it needs to keep the user playing. In the best case the social and mobile version teaches the player solitaire and gives him the confidence to compete in the web version for real money. Even thought Solitaire Harmony is available on 3 different platforms, they are three different Solitaire games – of which the web version hast the most appeal.