Lucky Smith’s Glorious Website

Personal site for indie game dev and entrepreneur Lucky Smith

Lesson Learned: Focus on Player Hooks

I think I’m officially old. I come from a time where you bought a game and had a physical cartridge that had to be inserted into your Nintendo console. My first games were Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. I continued to play these games based on the fact that they were fun.

My design decisions for ChickenPOP were pretty minimal. I wanted to make a fun game and expected that to suffice. I accomplished this through prototyping and vigorous testing. I think I can confidently say that the game is pretty fun and entertaining. Like the games of old, it has a small progression line that most players never complete. Expecting a fun experience and level based progression to be enough was a critical mistake.

It’s not the 90s anymore and the video game industry has a habit to stick to pricing conventions. Dinosaurs like me hate the idea of a game asking for money after I bought it, but the reality is that games with multi-million dollar budgets might just be worth a little more than $59. The mobile industry is particularly ruthless. When Apple first started touting “Apps”, the big deal was you could have most any piece of mobile software for $1. Competition drives down prices and with an industry standard of $1, the only other option to compete was “Free”. Now there is no where else to go and “Free” is the standard expectation. Thus, the birth of the “freemium” model and the trash that comes with it.

Now the reality is that you get a free Mario Bros cartridge and have micro transactions in-game. Want to unlock the Luigi skin or the second chapter, fork over a few bucks. For most people, the free version was enough to entertain them or a bit and they get bored and move to one of millions other free games.

This is where we get in to player hooks and habit forming products. It is no longer viable to create just a “fun game”. Your game needs to be addicting. Nearly every game on the top charts has player hooks and the more I research them, the more they become apparent.

These techniques may feel black hat and predatory, but they are now an industry standard and absolutely necessary to make a profit in the mobile game industry with the freemium model. The 20% day one retention I see in my game is absolutely unacceptable. I can see in my charts that my daily active users is routinely 50% new users. This means for every new user, I lose an old user. My daily active users will forever remain at a flat line and the only way to move that line is with advertising efforts. The movement will be brief and it will soon return back to the flat line. In order to continue to grow your user base, you need player hooks to keep them coming back.

FYI if you are trying to land a deal with a publisher, the first thing they will ask for is your retention statistics.

Another lesson learned. Pay attention to player hooks if you want to be successful.

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