Friday, April 11, 2014

Feature Friday #5 - Only One

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. ~~~ Arguably the most crucial factor in determining whether or not a mobile game will become a hit is if it’s enjoyable in short bursts. The ability to create a deep experience that can be enjoyed in bitesized pieces is paramount to a game’s broad appeal and financial gain. Only One is a level-based battle arena brawler that straddles that line between pickup and play and deep RTS experience with moderate success. The game is fun, let’s start with that. The combat is entertaining and appropriately difficult for this genre. The gameplay certainly more in-depth than “casual” games, but takes just a few seconds to understand. You’re in a ring atop a pillar in the sky, the fall from which will kill you and your opponents. If you’re able to best your enemies on solid footing you get to pick up their loot, but knocking them off tumbles their spoils along with their bodies. Nuances like this make the game a little more complicated, and the skill tree is fairly tall, so there’s a good amount of long term appeal too. Where the game struggles isn’t the difficulty per se, but how much you have to grind to progress. I don’t mind dying repeatedly in a game if the gameplay is worth it (which I’ve already established it is), but it’s when there’s a total lack of progress that I get annoyed. When I die over and over, but am gaining valuable money or in-game experience it feels worth it, because eventually these deaths will result in a level up, new item, or some other kind of upgrade. The problem is that Only One is missing the results part of the grinding. There are rewards that you can eventually earn by grinding (or paying), but most are pretty out of reach unless you’re willing to put some serious time in. The game is broken into micro levels - waves of slimes, archers, and even the occasional Flappy Bird or Pedobear - with a boss after every tenth. Defeating each boss results in a checkpoint of sorts, so at least the game cuts you some slack. In several hours I’ve only reached the fifth boss once, and was quickly destroyed by his fiery attacks. Again, I don’t mind dying a bunch before beating the next boss, but not getting any further than the time before gets frustrating after a while. Another design decision I didn’t really agree with was the art style. Plenty of people love pixel art, and I’m all for it when it feels right. There are various levels of pixelation, though, and this is pretty much the bottom of the barrel. As I mentioned last week, this could have been strategic, as the gore in the game might’ve turned off some users had it been realistic, but this wasn’t a game aimed for young fans or mass audiences. Only One is spectacularly indie, and I think higher quality art, even if a bit gory, would’ve been a dramatic improvement. It’s likely that the developer didn’t have the art resources to do anything other than what he did, but I would’ve loved to see some high-quality pixel art or 3D graphics.

Only One's graphics
Higher quality pixel art, seen in Junk Jack
Criticisms aside, Only One is pretty great. It’s got 70 levels (of which I’ve barely beaten half), plus an arcade-style endless mode that will keep you busy for hours. There are a ton of abilities that seem both fun and helpful, but as stated earlier, the latency in gaining power means I’ve only had a chance to try a few. All said and done, this game is playable in small doses, but the lack of frequent progression makes accomplishments scarce and skews the game more towards the core persuasion. ~~~ Only One was developed by Ernest Szoka and is quite impressive from a one-man team. It’s Free on both iOS and Android with pretty minimal ads, but a bit of nagging to support the game via in-app purchases. Buying some Power undoubtedly cuts down the grindiness of the game and supports the developer without destroying the difficulty curve. I’d suggest considering making a purchase if that interests you. 

Josh Dombro Community Manager

Friday, April 4, 2014

Feature Friday #4 - Oh My Heart

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. ~~~ Some games take years to design, create, and refine, most take months or weeks to polish. Very few quality products are created in a matter of days; Oh My Heart is one of those exceptions. The five-man team at Hyperbolic Magnetism built the game over a 48-hour span and took just another week to clean up and release it on the App Store. While polish and depth might not be the first words that come to mind playing this arcade-style tower defense-like, the game makes no apologies for what it is, and is successful at creating a unique, fun, and challenging experience. The pixel art was likely an easy choice as a way to save time and programming resources, but also feels consistent with the rest of the game. There’s no shortage of blood and gore in Oh My Heart, so a more realistic art style probably would have required an older age rating and limited the game’s userbase. The gore may not be entirely necessary, but as a finisher to slashing or electrocuting your enemies, at least it fits with the overall style.

Gameplay is centered around defending yourself from two types of rushing creatures. You have a tesla coil, some magical kind of slashing ability, and bombs to halt the waves of attackers trying to climb your fence and apparently cause you harm. The smaller of the two foes simply need to be electrocuted by the aforementioned coil, and they drop off the fence. Once on the ground, a well-placed bomb can knock out as many enemies as it reaches, spewing blood and bones all around. The bigger variety of baddie needs to be sliced in two, but in a Hydra-like twist, they turn into two of the little guys, causing more problems than before. As if the game wasn’t hard enough on its own, bombs cost money and happen to be the only way to actually kill enemies. This means you can’t spend all your time just stopping the onslaught, you have to catch coins as they fall from the sky or explode from the corpses of fallen enemies. The game gives you more than enough coins to make this possible, but it’s a nice added challenge so that you can’t just spam the screen with bombs. To tip the balance a bit back in the user’s favor, powerups occasionally appear in crates along with the coins. There are a ton of different powerups, and both their appearance and variety seem completely random - a nice touch so that the game never becomes too predictable. Some powerups help you defend yourself - slowmo, super tesla, etc. - others improve your ability to defend yourself - coin doubler, energy refuel. I’ve found more than once that a well-timed powerup is the only thing between life and death. The game is fairly simple, and the UI reflects that. Instead of a cluttered menu full of tutorials, the game offers only “New Game” and “Credits”. You have a few gameplay options, but they’re largely similar, so this doesn’t turn out to be a difficult decision, and the game features Gamecenter support and achievements. That’s it, nothing else to clutter the screen or the experience. Despite the simplicity, Oh My Heart doesn’t feel rushed (even though, you know, it was), and really pulls off the wacky, gory, defense experience it’s going for. ~~~ Oh My Heart is available on iOS for $0.99. It features no ads, no in-app purchases, and quite a bit of fun. You can also read the developers' own thoughts on the project. If you like it, check out other the other games by Hyperbolic Magnetism. Josh Dombro Community Manager

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.