Friday, March 28, 2014

Feature Friday #3 - Fishbowl Racer

Every Friday on our blog I’ll feature a game that’s doing something unique, innovative, and truly noteworthy. This isn’t just an app review; it’s an analytical look at a fresh game from the perspective of someone within the game industry. *Note: I played this game on an iOS device, the Android version does feature ads. ~~~ Endless runners are one of those categories that just work on mobile devices. It’s undoubtedly for this reason that the genre has been done to death, and then some. It therefore becomes noteworthy when someone is able to make an endless-whatever game and do something different with it, case in point, Fishbowl Racer by Donut Games. Oddly enough, doing something old, really old, was crucial in making this game something new. This game puts you in charge of a fish’s life, inside a bowl on an apparently runaway cart. Where things get cool is that you’re in control of both the fish jumping out of the bowl and the inexplicably self-jumping cart. This game is hard. Really hard. Think every endless runner you’ve ever played, now try playing another one with your other hand at the same time. So the first cool thing Fishbowl Racer does is actually challenge the user with a unique control system. The difficulty also keeps things fresh; whereas with most endless runners, an advanced player can often keep a single run going for minutes, Fishbowl Racer is so hard that a minute-long run hardly seems possible. The game looks good. Nothing flashy, but a consistent art style all the way through. All things considered, the art and the difficulty are reminiscent of SNES-era gaming. It’s not pixel art or chiptune soundtracks, and not so infuriatingly difficult that you’re able to appreciate one release every few years, but still extremely challenging.
Another nice old-school touch was the complete and total lack of several modern gaming staples: ads*, in-app purchases, and powerups. It’s rare for a game today to leave out any of these components (let alone all three!), but Fishbowl Racer does just that, and it does not go unnoticed. Powerups are especially popular among endless runners - coin magnets, extra lives, higher jumps, et. al. - and would’ve fit into this game perfectly, but the devs took a bold stand against these additions. Including such powerups would’ve likely transformed the game’s points (which function as solely a means of tracking your score) into a soft currency and opened the door for in-app purchases. About 40 percent of developers use in-app ads in their apps (and that number is much higher on Android), so it’s worth noting when a game omits them, but not game-changing one way or the other to most users. There’s also a nice mix of old and new in that they throw in achievements and a daily high score, in addition to an all-time high score. The presence of achievements without any IAP or powerups seems pure - you really have to earn every little trophy you get since there’s no option to buy your way to the top. The decision to reject both IAP and ads is great for the users, but is a tough decision to make from the developer’s standpoint. It seems a studio the size of Donut Games can afford to take a small hit financially with this game if it helps to build their overall userbase, ideally creating more paying users for their other games. Overall, Fishbowl Racer is a satisfying experience from start to finish (as quick as that may be), and serves as a great example of old school style with a modern finish. ~~~ As of this writing, Fishbowl Racer is available for free on both Android and iOS. The team at Donut Games does enough right in this game to justify a little bit of payment (you know, if you’re into that sort of thing), but doesn’t offer any way to accept it. They have created a whole slew of other games, however, most of which cost $1-2 on iOS and are free but feature ads on Android, so feel free to check those out if you love Fishbowl Racer. Josh Dombro Community Manager

Friday, March 21, 2014

Feature Friday #2 - Joust Legend

Every Friday on our blog I’ll feature a game that’s doing something unique, innovative, and truly noteworthy. This isn’t just an app review; it’s an analytical look at a fresh game from the perspective of someone within the game industry. ~~~ Complexity is a tough issue with mobile games. Financial success favors the casual market, but many developers continue to create the immersive, core gaming experience they love. Building a game that’s accessible to the masses, but deep enough to attract and keep a more core audience is crucial to any developer. Joust Legend by Rebellion Games strikes an interesting middle ground, but may take too long getting there. The game attracts users with fantastic visuals and a fun, fairly unique control system. The tutorial is extremely patient and will get you through the basics of gameplay, but ultimately is missing a lot of crucial information. They created some really cool mechanics - notably, a two-stage, two-control system for launching and landing your attack - but don’t fully explain them. You start your horse by timing your release with the launch meter, either with or against the ‘tide’, as the bar is in constant motion on its own. This task is far from impossible, but proves tricky every time. Your performance on launch - either “bad”, “good”, “great”, or “perfect” - affects how much damage you deal your opponent (though never explicitly explained). Post-launch, aim becomes the key metric of your jousting success. This mechanic is the most crucial - affecting both damage and score - and most fun to do over and over. If you deal enough damage to your rival you can unhorse him, instantly ending the match. Realistically though, healing powerups and improved armor make this fairly difficult, and most jousts end after three passes with the more accurate knight prevailing. The screen presents icons for your opponent’s helm and targe (shield), with blank spaces in between representing the body and crest of the helm. Each part of the body is worth a different score multiplier, and your precision within each region dramatically impacts your score. This is another area that wasn’t entirely transparent upon first playthrough, but the more centered your cursor is within a region seems to mean higher the accuracy for your score. Both of these systems are simple enough to grasp during the tutorial, but don’t really get any easier as you progress through the game. The combination of all these variables makes each joust different and challenging; after extensive playing, I’m still not guaranteed to hit, let alone pin the lance on the helm directly. This challenge is ultimately a very good thing for the game’s core appeal - put a notch in the complexity column. There are four game modes - Practice, Prize Fight, Wager, and King’s Tourney - all of which are required to progress through the story, but only the last changes as you play. The dialogue is largely irrelevant, but makes sense from all angles and doesn’t get in the way of itself. In short, I’m totally fine with the way they handled the 'story' element. Some of the modes lock themselves depending on where you are in the story, and while this is somewhat frustrating, it’s also understandable on the first playthrough. The problem lies in the fact that you can’t bypass these delays on subsequent runs through the game, causing a bit of a slowdown and some frustration. After you make your way through a few one-on-one matches and tourneys - each consisting of 3, 5, or 7 rounds (each round containing 3 passes) - you face Louis, the best jouster in France. Regardless of win or loss, the game starts over after this match and everything is reset besides your money and prizes.

I think the finality of this last joust is great, but the way the game progresses through each game mode and the sheer number of matches feels more than a little tedious as you strive for redemption or domination over Louis. This matrix on the Flurry blog shows some engagement and retention metrics broken down by genre, which largely reflect my (expected) experience with Joust Legend, itself a mix between Arcade and Action-RPG. While I can’t yet speak to my 30-day retention with the game, I don’t expect it to go much past this week, though my number of sessions has been well above average for those genres.  

Android Frequency and Retention resized 600

After the third go I’m less interested in continuing to joust, but the gameplay is still fun and certainly challenging, which is pretty good staying power for this sort of game. A big takeaway is that as fun as a lot of these mechanics are, they’re kind of confusing, and definitely not what I expected in a mobile game with this kind of appearance. Keith Andrew recently said in an article on, “If your game can't scale down to fit into a spare five minutes, they're going to stop playing it.” Joust Legend is accessible in small doses and is complex enough to keep the core audience engaged too. Where the devs missed the boat was properly explaining the game’s strengths (interesting mechanics, interlocking of different game modes) and emphasizing the process of grinding rather than the desired goal. Despite these odd quirks and holes, I can’t overstate how much I enjoyed the actual gameplay. Ultimately, you play a game because it’s fun, and Joust Legend is certainly that. ~~~ As of this post, Joust Legend is only available on iOS and is free to download. The app has been paid in the past ($1.99), so grab it while you can. Josh Dombro Community Manager

Friday, March 14, 2014

Feature Friday #1 - Mr. Flap

Every Friday on our blog I’ll feature a game that’s doing something unique, innovative, and truly noteworthy. This isn’t just an app review; it’s an analytical look at a fresh game from the perspective of someone within the game industry. ~~~ Flappy Bird is dead, right? So why, more than three weeks after the word “Flappy” was banned from the iTunes and Google Play stores, is this game still relevant? Well, because as of March 11th, half of the Top-10 Free apps on the iTunes store were direct Flappy Bird clones, so clearly the craze still has some legs. More importantly, why is this post, which focuses on quality, innovative games, still talking about that flapping bird? The answer to the latter is Mr. Flap, a legitimately fresh take on a painfully stale concept. Mr. Flap was created by 1Button, a three-man indie team from France, and capitalizes on the one-touch, bird flapping action that’s all the rage right now. Here’s what it does differently: you fly around a circular track with a minimalistic art style – an initial contrast to all the other side-scrolling, Mario-esque Flappy games. Despite the simplicity of the art style, the developers threw in some nice touches like seeing the bird’s shadow as it goes around the track, plus the background changes color every five levels.

The circular track creates quite a few challenges in Mr. Flap (staying level while upside down is way harder than you think). The game embraces the masocore appeal of its predecessor and improves on it. Not only is Mr. Flap more difficult than Flappy Bird, it’s also much less repetitive. After a certain point, Flappy Bird becomes mostly a test of “how long can you go without messing up?” (in my case, 274 times), given its static obstacles and limited range of heights. Despite Mr. Flap features similarly limited obstacles, the bars are constantly moving, requiring the user to rely more on reactions than the ability to stave off boredom (consequently, I haven’t gotten more than eight). Finally, and most importantly from the developers’ standpoint, Mr. Flap uses interstitial ads rather than banners. This choice is almost universally preferred by users – one of Flappy Bird’s most ongoing critiques was its use of banner ads during Flapping, obstructing view and disrupting gameplay – and is pound-for-pound much more effective at monetizing than banner ads. Looking at Kiwi’s games for January 2014, the difference is striking. Interstitial ads in three of Kiwi’s games had a click-through rate (CTR) of 3.85% while the CTR for banners was just 0.62%. Admittedly, clicks are meaningless without revenue, but those numbers were just as telling. CPMs (cost per thousand ad impressions) were $1.50 for interstitials and $0.29 for banners, meaning Kiwi earned $1.21 more per thousand full-screen ads compared to banners. When viewed at the scale that Flappy Bird witnessed, banner ads can be successful, but generally interstitials are a better bang for your developer buck. All things considered, Mr. Flap does a phenomenal job of taking an overdone game and improving on it in virtually every way. From the top down, 1Button did a great job designing this casual reboot, and should be commended for it. Let’s hope for more innovation along these lines… or you know, the eradication of all Flappy games entirely. Either way works. ~~~ Mr. Flap is only available on iOS as of this post, [Note: it's now on Android!] and is free to download. If you’re interested in reading more about Flappy Bird, check out Rolling Stone‘s exclusive interview with its developer, Dong Nguyen. Josh Dombro Community Manager

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Kiwi Blog!

Hello world!

We're an Android developer with half a dozen top-grossing games and a team of nearly 200 people who love making games. Over the past few years we've felt that life as a developer is increasingly challenging and information more fragmented. To make all of our lives a little easier, we want to make the developer community a more open, helpful, and generally better place for everyone. We’ll be curating and distributing valuable information, commenting on our own experiences and providing tons of free developer resources. 

Keep an eye out for blog posts featuring our tips for success, analysis of other industry leaders, and even occasional contests and promotions to help other developers, big and small. If you like what you see, please like and follow our social pages (Facebook and Twitter) and subscribe to our blog. We're committed to improving the developer community and your feedback is an important part of that. If you have questions about anything, suggestions for discussion topics, or if you just want to chat, let us know by emailing! 

Looking forward to this journey!

Josh Dombro
Kiwi, Inc.