Socialgamesobserver

The Latest News on the Social Games Market in Europe and Emerging Markets

1Mar/13

Facebook, Amazon and Google All Help Charity Create Cancer-Busting Mobile Game

By Camilla Noon

Three of technology’s biggest names are donating manpower or resources to help Cancer Research UK develop a mobile game to accelerate cures for cancer.

Programmers and engineers from some of the biggest tech companies are teaming up with Cancer Research UK to create a mobile game that will aid research into the cures for cancer. The innovative idea is being brainstormed this weekend in an attempt to transform gamers into “citizen scientists”.  Anyone with a smartphone will be able to play a game and simultaneously investigate vital scientific data.

Tech City in East London is hosting a GameJam, which starts today. This hackathon aim to develop a game that uses the human eye to detect miniscule changes in gene data – the best way to detect these subtle differences. Loads of scientific types would be needed to analyse the data, but the reasoning behind this seems to be: who needs to be a scientist when you’ve got a pair of eyes?

With Amazon Web Services providing the technology platform, Google is using its financial clout to support the cause, also hosting the hackathon at one of its venues in London. AndFacebook will be providing engineering expertise with some of its London-based engineering team, whose offices opened last year, and who provide help to the UK’s new comp-sci curriculum.

The ultimate aim of the game (the working title is GeneRun) is to crowdsource a cure for cancer. This is something that the philanthropic sides of both Google and Facebook are no stranger to. Last week, Mark Zuckerberg and Sergey Brin teamed up with Yuri Milner to create the Breakthrough Prizes for Medical Research.

7Jan/13

Game of the Week: Dragon City

By Huel Fuchsberger

With over 16M MAU and more than 4M DAU Dragon City is Social Point’s flagship-game. In the wide variety of games offered by the Spanish developer located in Barcelona, Dragon City is their most popular RPG-Farming-Hybrid. Since the release in May 2012 the user base has grown constantly. It now ranks as the #6 on the AppStats.eu DAU leaderboards.

Developer/Publisher:  Social Point
Genre:  RPG/Adventure
Languages:  English
Best-selling Item: 25 Gems($ 1.94)
Platforms:   Facebook
Active users (Facebook): 16,400,000 MAU 4,200,000 DAU

How to play
In Dragon City the player hatches, grows and trains dragons to fight dragons of other players. New dragons can be bought and need to be hatched in the hatchery. When hatched the dragon has to be places in a fitting habitat that the player builds beforehand. To get the dragons into fighting shape, the dragons need to be feeded to level up. Food can be harvested from farms the player builds. Reaching level four, three dragons can be taken to the battlefield. Winning increases the value of dragons and the rate they produce gold. Also the premium currency gems can be won by fighting other players. With this mechanics the player tries to level up his dragoons, breed new kinds by mixing different kinds of dragons. The collecting and training of the dragons creates a bond to these creatures and enhances the experience significantly. Together with the well balanced economic system it makes a great social game.  

Good Balance

Dragon City succeeds in doing what many other games of this type never quit manage – making the game bearable for those who don’t pay. Playing Dragon City the player doesn’t get the impression all the interesting stuff is a week grind away. It Every day something new can be discovered or build. Only in Battles the difference can be felt significantly, since players that invest or have a big friends base playing the game tend to have the better trained dragons than regular players. Still it is possible to beat those players after a few, by adjusting the own team just for those fight. Those encounters show the good balancing and game design of Dragon City and make clear that social games can be fun without requiring payments.

3Dec/12

Game of the Week – Stormfall: Age of War

By Huel Fuchsberger

As one of the few social games using voice output Stormfall: Age of War differentiates itself early from other castle building games. The Israeli developers manage to distinguish their game from others on the market and create an interesting world to play in.  With  1,300,000  MAU and 200,000 DAU on AppStats it leaves question, if the positive  initial impression is carried into the higher levels of the game.

Developer/Publisher:  Plarium
Genre:  Strategy
Languages:  English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian, Turkish
Best-selling Item: 3000 Sapphires ($14.47)
Platforms:   Facebook
Active users (Facebook): 1,300,000 MAU 200,000 DAU

How to play
Stormfall is a castle builder like many others. The main resources are gold, iron and food. With those the player has to construct buildings, recruit troops, buy upgrades or research new versions of the mentioned things. To defend and expand his castle, the player has to form alliances with other player or wage war against them. Also trading is possible. Interesting here is that is implemented as an open market. Players offer a good and name its price. It is up to other players to buy or ignore the entire on the market. Prices therefore are determined by demand and supply.

Another way to interact with friends, next to the trading and alliances, is the possibilities to summon ghost troops to reinforce the own troops. Together with the option of sending troop and resources to allies and the possibility of mailing each other, Stormfall manages to create an opportunity for real bond between players.

If played with the right persons the player in Stormfall experiences the game as if he was a real lord in this world. In these occasions Stormfall shines and engages the player the most. Players don’t play alongside anymore, occasionally interact with each other, but they start to play together by planning wars and calling for aid. In these cases the game works the best. For those players planning on the long term the premium currency gets interesting.

Pay to save

At first it seemed odd that Stormfall asks the player for real money to build something essential to a fortress like walls. But on second thought, it makes sense. Since walls are only needed in a case of defense they only result as an advantage when attacked. This means different than combat troops and other objects that are needed to expand, walls more or less saves the players progress. A strong defense makes sure that the spoils of war or the profit from trades won’t be lost that easily to others players. This advantage is only needed for players that plan playing on a longer time frame. It is possible to play without a strong defense, it is just riskier to do so.

Also the management of the player’s session is handled naturally. Stormfall doesn’t rely on an additional energy system. Only resources and traveling time of troops limit the player’s progress. This means that even if the player is not actively playing, the game moves on.  Since other players may move as well while the player is offline, it creates the tension of the classical browser game. In which the player always wonders, what is happening in the world of Stormfall.

26Nov/12

Game of the Week: Baseball Heroes

By Huel Fuchsberger

Released in April 2012 the Facebook sports game Baseball Heroes has now 2.400.000 MAU and 410.000 DAU on AppStats.eu. The Korean developer Syntasia created a baseball social game with an anime-style that looks appealing and offers interesting game play.

Developer/Publisher:  Syntasia
Genre:  Sport
Languages:  English, Indonesian, Spanish, Italian, German, French, Chinese, Dutch, Japanese, Korean
Best-selling Item:  Special Batter Energy Reset ($0,15)
Platforms:   Facebook
Active users (Facebook):  2.400.000 MAU 410.000 DAU

How to play

Baseball Heroes has several layers of game play. Into which the player is introduce step by step. The player begins with creating a team and his avatar. After the creation and customization part the first game of the season awaits.

Before the action takes place on the green, the player has to pick his line up for the match. This segment of the game is handled like a trading card game. The player can buy booster pack to acquire special players and use them to improve his line up’s strength. Those special players can be enhanced or in pairs of three, traded in for better cards. Also friend’s avatars can be added to the line up. After setting up the Team, the match begins.

Here the player is introduced to the match game play. It is a reaction game in which the player only plays out the hits of his avatar during the match. To hit the incoming ball the player tries to click on the ball in a grid. For a home run, accuracy and timing must be spot on. If not, the hit could be enough to reach a base or lead to fly out. There is a combo-meter available that if fully charged leads immediately to a home run if the ball is hit by the player.

After the matches players can manage their players, the team and the stadium. Upgrades to the stadium lead to more cash that can be collected by selling tickets. This coin can be spend to purchase better gear for the avatar or better players for the line up.

A strong game for those who pay

Baseball Heroes is a well crafted social sports game in many regards. Even though the anime-style may not be for everyone, the underlying game play is worth taking a look. Only thing spoiling the fun is the need for payment. Even though the game play can be addictive, if the player doesn’t invest into the game, the experience is very different. In some cases this can’t be compensated by inviting friends, but not always. This is in particular the case for gear. It is so powerful that it creates a significant imbalance. This can be especially felt when the first free bat runs out. Winning a match afterward is way harder. It gives the game an unpleasant “pay to win” aftertaste. These cases of imbalance are seldom but feel displeasing.

29Oct/12

Game of the Week: Howzat Cricket

By Huel Fuchsberger

Cricket is a popular sport in the Commonwealth countries. In Jamaica or Barbados the team sport actually is the national sport. With Howzat Cricket the developer and publisher Game Ventures found a niche on Facebook. The game of the in Singapore located company has currently 864,000 MAU and 120,000 DAU according to AppStats.

Developer/Publisher:  Game Ventures
Genre:  Sport
Languages:  English
Platforms:   Facebook
Active users (Facebook): 864,000MAU 120,000DAU

How to play

Cricket in its essence is the duel between the bowler (pitcher) and the batsman (batter) and marks the core game play of Howzat Cricket. Players control the batsman and react to the bowler controlled by the computer. With the left, right, down and up arrow the player decides how he wants to strike the ball. If timed right the player hits the ball and his batsman has than time to cross the pitch (sandy center of the field) to make single runs. He does that by pressing the spacebar.

In cricket the batsman scores 6 runs if he strikes the ball high over the field boundary. If the ball touches the ground before, he only scores 4 runs. Should the ball land within the boundary, field players will try to hit the wicket. The wicket is a wooden construct that the batsman tries to protect. The player can choose to play it safe or go all in. If he plays aggressive the chance for a field player catching the ball is higher if he doesn’t hit it right, resulting in a point for the enemy.

By repeating this pattern the player tries to score a predetermined score in his Inning to win the game. It is possible to plays different leagues. In winning them the player leads his own personal team to the top in standings. It is also possible to manage the team and improve it by buying new players, gear an extra exercise. Better items are only available with a premium currency.  The regular currency can be earned by playing single player or winning multiplayer matches.

Multiplayer matches use the same game mechanic and only compare the results of the 4 competing players with each other. There are 2 modes available – Hot Chase and Knockout.
In Knockout the player with the lowest score is kicked out at the end of every round. Hot chase is a game for the highest score. The players play a couple of rounds and the players with the highest sum wins.

Cricket in a Nutshell

Howzat Cricket is fun to play and doesn’t rely on the social games paradigm “mouse control only”. The mixture of reaction game and the possibility to choose between a riskier or saver play pattern makes the game interesting.
Sure there is room for improvements. For example the player doesn’t get a visual feedback when his batsmen have finished a run. Also the Team customization could be a bit more fleshed out and playing the bowler in multiplayer could bring more excitement into the matches. In sum Howzat Cricket is a fun and entertaining cricket social game.

15Oct/12

Game of the Week – Puzzel Adventures

By Huel Fuchsberger

The classic jigsaw puzzle isn’t just kid’s entertainment. Also adults enjoy the challenge that lies in solving jigsaw puzzles. With “Puzzle Adventures” the  German company Ravensbuger Digital created the social game that should please puzzlers desires. The mother company Ravensburger has a 125 year long tradition in making puzzles and kid’s games and evolves the trademark with Ravensburger Digital beyond the classical cardboard puzzle. Their digital version was released in December 2011 and has currently 620,000MAU and 12,000 according to AppStats.eu. And it seems that the classic puzzle can transport its charm into the digital era.

Developer/Publisher:  Ravensburger Digital GmbH
Genre:  Puzzle
Languages:  English
Best-selling Item: 200 Puzzle Cash ($ 1.10)
Platforms:  Facebook
Active users (Facebook): 620,000MAU 120,00DAU

How to play

The basic game structure is simple. Players solve puzzles by rotating and dragging the parts in the right position, if the intersections fit they merge. The controls are very intuitive which makes the game easy to pick up. Different than in other puzzle games, parts can be merged everywhere on the field. This leaves the player the freedom to choose how to tackle the problem. Players may first sort the parts by colors, search for corners and edges or start by linking the first key parts of the image. A strategic approach is needed, since the puzzle has to be solved in a limited amount of time. To mix things up the games asks players to solve chosen parts in a certain time. If successful they are rewarded and in some occasions punished if they fail.

Should the player need help, bonus items are available in the in-game store. They can be purchased with a premium currency called “Puzzle Cash”. Puzzle Cash can’t be earned by playing, but it is possible to earn items directly by playing. Players can collect a series of bonus items to complete a collection. These collections can be gathered by playing certain levels.

Around the core game Ravensburger also build a competitive “Tournament Mode”. Players can compete with each other in weekly tournaments. Those consist one puzzle challenge per day which has to be solved as quickly as possible. The player with highest overall score of the week wins. For less competitive player progressive features are available.

In the “Adventure Mode” players solve levels and progress through several stages with increasingly difficult puzzles to solve. Players can compare their scores with their friends and gain levels.

A game for puzzlers

With Puzzle Adventures Ravensburger Digital manages to transfer their brand into the digital realm. Puzzle Adventures is a good social game that meets the quality and professionalism associated with Ravensburger.  Even the small flaws as the leveling system which fells attached and doesn’t add much to the game, don’t disturb the overall experience

30May/12

Mobile Game of the Week: Solitaire Harmony

By Huel Fuchsberger

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.

Title: Solitaire Harmony
Developer GameDuell
Genre: Puzzle
Languages: English
Platform(s): Facebook, Web, iOS, Android
Active users (Facebook): 9,000 DAU; 50 .000 MAU

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.