Casual games are getting harder

As Jesper Juul (his company made High Seas) mentioned to me in an email recently, match-3 puzzle games seem to be getting harder. He’s right… they really are. In fact, the newest match-3 puzzle games are really tough! In earlier posts, I had suggested that the DS game Puzzle Quest was too difficult to be a casual game. But maybe I’m wrong. The newest match-3 games rival Puzzle Quest in difficulty.

I still think that, in general, casual audiences want to be engaged by a game, rather than outright aggressively challenged by the game. They don’t think it’s fun to retry a boss stage over and over until they get it right. But what was once engaging is becoming boring. What was once a perfectly-balanced match-3 game three years ago is too easy now. I think the hide-and-seek item hunt game genre is undergoing the same thing: the newest entries in the genre are significantly harder than the earliest ones. That genre is solidifying, too, and it’s much younger than the match-3 genre.

This is a tricky problem, because it means it’s harder than ever to know how hard to make a game. Starcrossed isn’t a match-3 game at all. But it’s played on a similar board. Do any of the player’s match-3 skills come into play in Starcrossed? Probably some match-3 skills, yes, but not all of them. So … yeah. I guess I should make it kinda-sorta hard, then? What do I use to measure?

The only real way to tell how hard to make it is to get members of your target audience to play your game and give you feedback. If you’re making a match-3 game, your audience is match-3 enthusiasts, so you’ll have to find some and get them to test your game.

At this point, you might be shouting, “Just stop making games in the same genres!” There’s some merit to this: if you make a game that’s significantly different from the common portal games, you can assume that the audience doesn’t have any skills in your game, and it’s a bit easier to balance. You can err on the side of easy.

But as I found with Starcrossed, even a game with significantly different mechanics has some crossover skill. Let’s face it: casual gamers are starting to get real gaming skills, and those skills will carry over into almost any kind of game they play. The audience is solidifying. They’re getting better, and casual games are getting harder as a result.

Starcrossed now available on iWin

I’m extremely happy to announce that you can now download Starcrossed from iWin games!

Starcrossed is a unique new puzzle game with a celestial theme. Help Ione rescue her sisters and restore the heavens! Although it looks at first like just another match-piece game, it’s actually quite a bit different.

Once you’ve gotten the hang of the game, be sure to check out the Challenge Grid. This is (IMO) where the game is at its best: each Challenge has a different rule set and objective, and there’s TONS of neat challenges to discover. The constantly-changing gameplay really satisfies my ADHD impulses. :)

Give it a try!

Starcrossed Gameplay Screenshot 1Starcrossed Gameplay Screenshot

In-Game Credits Screens

Should your game have a Credits screen? Of the games I have handy, more than 50% have a credit screen. Yet some of the biggest names, such as Luxor 2, don’t. Instead, their credits are only in the readme.html file that comes with the game.

What’s the advantage of having credits in-game? It’s unlikely that people are going to be impressed by a list of names… and the people who ARE impressed by a list of names are the sort of people who read readme files anyway!

I removed the credits screen from Starcrossed, partially because it seemed unnecessary, and partially because it wasn’t very polished — and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time making it look cool. There are credits in the readme file, and that’s enough for me.

Am I missing something here? Is there a point to in-game credits aside from the vanity effect? I know in the brick-and-mortar games world, people really like having their names in the game’s documentation… getting your name in-game is cool too, but not as important. Presumably this is because the sorts of people who care (such as Moby Games) use the credits from the booklet, not the in-game credits. But even that is just vanity; it means nothing.

Especially in the casual games market, where brand names are irrelevant, let alone developer names, I think credits screens are an unnecessary detail. Unless your credits screen is awesome to behold, don’t bother.