Retention, or why will the user return to the game? Continuation

    Hello, Habr!

    This is a continuation of the first part of the article about what tools exist to influence the retention of a game. I also recall that the concept of “retention” is more applicable to the active phase of the work and development of a social or mobile game. It is unlikely that the same mechanisms are applicable to cases when we cross the games we played 5 years ago.

    In the previous part, we examined a set of tools to influence retention, among which were the introduction of characters and a plot component, ratings, interaction with friends, and so on. It's time to enlarge this list!

    Game layers

    The game should provide space for “strategic” decisions, but this space needs to be expanded gradually. No matter how interesting the game loop is, sooner or later it bothers, so the player must be provided with other game “layers”. In this case, the user's interest will be supported and he will remain in the game.

    Look at the picture below - on the left is the ancestor, the ideological inspirer of evil birds. Crash the Castle (Crush the Castle). The game is popular, but no more. Right - the famous Ingres Berds (Angry Birds). The first game is not particularly drawn to return, there is no need to pass the mission. Well, the missing stars in the second game beckon.

    Maybe it's all about the stars? No, not only, but the stars are important.

    What is the matter here? Most likely, the fact is that although the game round in both games is approximately the same, there is a “second bottom” in Engry Birds.

    Wait, what is a game coil? In general, this is the basic repetitive mechanics of the game. In terms of gaming, from the point of view of programming, there is the concept of a game cycle (also a game loop), it is described in the article "Game cycles or ElectroCardioGama" . Here is a quote from there:

    Each game contains a sequence of calls to read user input, update the state of the game, process AI, play music and sound effects, render graphics. This call sequence is performed inside the game loop.

    In comparison, I want to single out the game coil in a separate term, describing it to the player’s repeated actions, and not the program. Here are some examples of game turns:
    • Aim from a slingshot → shoot a bird according to the design of the pigs and blocks → get into the blocks and move / destroy them → evaluating the result of aiming from the slingshot.
    • Plant corn → wait a while → harvest and sell everything on the market → plant corn for the money received.
    • Correctly turn the figure → lower it into the “glass” → watch how the lines are removed → get a new figure from above, evaluate the situation and turn the figure in the right way.

    If the question of the game loop is of interest to you, dear reader, then I will write a separate article on this topic. Just write to me about your interest in a private message.

    So, back to adding game layers. So that the game is not boring and shallow, game turns are expanded with the help of game layers.

    For example, an additional game layer in everyone’s favorite game about the confrontation of birds and pigs is getting stars and opening new levels. Agree, just shooting birds at the structures is boring and quickly boring. But the stars give the game depth and interest.

    In a variety of social farms, game layers are additional constructions that make the game turn easier or faster. The quest system is also a game layer. He directs the player and provides an opportunity to choose - to plant the necessary plants and get a bonus, or to plant any other plants (possibly more economically profitable) at the player’s sole discretion.

    In Tetris, an additional game layer is the acceleration of falling shapes. Even the assortment of shapes provides the player with extra depth of play.

    So, the game layers allow you to make the game more diverse and interesting, look at it from the other side. For retention, it is important that these layers be - then the player is interested in exploring them. The user will return to the game over and over again not for routine actions, namely in the search and implementation of himself in other game layers.

    And here is an example of a deliberate simulation of a game loop from the developers of Magic Land (Magic Land):

    Square arrows show a game coil, rounded arrows show a game layer.

    When creating game layers, you should follow these simple tips:

    1. Do not confuse the addition of a game “layer” with the creation of a separate game loop

    The game layer is always based on the game loop, thereby deepening it, forcing it to serve other purposes, while the game layer itself is without a game coil a dummy. Getting the game layer, the user does not learn again, but masters the “addition”, already skillfully operating the game loop - there we ourselves bring additional interest. Creating another game round, we switch the user's attention and create a new interest - this way is much more risky, because the new interest will not necessarily be to the taste of the players.

    A good example of the difference can be seen in space rangers. The main game round in this excellent game - arranged a ship → flew from the planet → shot pirates / transported cargo / robbed merchants → received a profit and arranged its ship better than before. But many users did not like the arcade and text mini-games that were woven into the main game loop. At the same time, the creation of a global enemy in the person of Machpella is the addition of a game layer. Indeed, now to the list of "shot the pirates / transported the cargo / robbed the merchants" is added the "shot the aliens / recaptured the system."

    On the left is a turn-based strategy; you can even see the “end the move” button in the lower right corner.
    On the right is pure arcade. Do you think these are two different games? No, it `s allSpace Rangers !

    2. It is necessary to carefully introduce game layers that differ in dynamics from the dynamics of the game loop.

    Imagine that in your favorite tactical shooter (let's take for example X-COM ), the chance of a fighter getting into the enemy depends on the user's ability to quickly and accurately aim. Imagine such a gameplay - we bring the fighter to a favorable position, cover the rear, calculate all the enemy reaction options, press the shooting button and ... Now we need to precisely aim and pull the trigger in 3 seconds, as if we are playing the new Call of Duty. I think this game would be a failure. And why?

    That's because the game coil of tactical strategy in dynamics differs from the dynamics of the game layer. The dynamics of the game as a whole is measured, there is time to think. The dynamics of the game layer, in turn, is fast, reactive - due tosuch a discrepancy, these two game mechanics do not combine.
    This example is hypertrophied for better understanding, but similar inconsistencies can be found, for example, in the new Cityville 2 from Zinga. Together with the consistent and measured development of the city, the user has to "click on time" and quickly to get game bonuses. Such a mechanism does not add a bit of retention.

    To get a bonus for collecting taxes, you have to clearly and timely click exactly when the pointer is in the “blue zone”

    3. The game should allow players to seek the best solution out of the many possible

    The game layer is an additional plane of freedom of the player. Do not limit it and guide the user "on rails". At the same time, you should not make a wide but equivalent choice - in this case, the player will not be interested in choosing from, in fact, one path in different wrappers.

    Smart Dive

    This item is paired with the previous one, but for a specific storytelling logic, I highlighted it separately.

    In order for the user to return to the game, each time it is necessary to please him with new tasks and challenges, that is, add a game layer by layer. The smooth addition and disclosure of game mechanics is called smart immersion. It is important to maintain a certain balance in the speed of "layering". Too quickly adding a game mechanic will cause the player to get confused. A too slow addition will naturally make the game boring. And we are talking about both constant updates and the discovery of additional features in the game with the progress of the player.

    Many game developers take this point into account when starting, when the game is still quite simple, but then forget about new users without blocking a lot of features in their path. Try to enter  some long-playing social farm - a new user (you) immediately after training will be hit by one million all sorts of petty game layers. And this applies not only to farms. But the fact is that the developer focuses on the target audience of updates and downloaded content - on users who have already mastered the basic mechanics. At the same time, the developer rarely thinks that this content can confuse the beginner.

    Empires & Allies by Zinga. That's how many things fall on the head of the poor player at a time.


    The user should not be fed up with the game, and the feeling of hunger in the game itself will lead him back after a while. This element has appeared relatively recently and is inherent in games on social networks.

    It would seem, why should the user be excluded from the game, because he may leave it and not return. However, the fact of a limited stay in the game increases the value of the time spent in it. The player is not fed up with the game, it does not bother him. For a single player, there are frequent cases when, after a sleepless night, a tired, tired player closes the game so that later in the evening they can be deleted. Even the fascinating gameplay and the unfinished plot do not save in this case, because the player was simply tired, he received too many positive emotions for too long.

    This is very annoying ...

    Despite the fact that this tool is effective, there are great risks lurking in it - a complete excommunication from the game can push the player away if such a barrier looks artificial. This is especially noticeable in social farms - the main obstacle in many such games is the limited amount of energy. Out of energy? - Go get some coffee, work and come back in an hour or two .

    But there are other, “soft” incarnations. Soft excommunication from the game may take the form of some significant bonus, which disappears after a certain time. Instead of a gross restriction, you can only make a message to the player: “Hey, it’s more profitable to play a little, but often!”.

    World of Warcraft ( World of Warcraft), one of the most popular MMORPGs in the world, this is implemented using the Rested Bonus system.

    The blue bar is an accumulated experience. A small pointer through a couple of sectors shows how much more you can gain experience “at a discount”.

    Unpredictability and the elements of randomness

    The user should pop up at least some surprises during the game so that he does not feel the "mechanistic" gameplay. Which is better: a game of chess or an eagle / tails? Of course, this is a matter of taste, but for the purpose of preserving and increasing retention, it is important to find a middle ground between the complete predictability of the game and complete coincidence. An excessive level of randomness will hurt the fact that the player does not feel his importance and importance, an excessive level of predictability will lead to a quick satiation of the game.

    Adding elements of randomness to logically constructed games leads to a lot of positive things. For example, if an action needs to spend a unit of energy, then it is possible with a certain probability to return it to the player. This gives him the ephemeral hope of only one unit to go a fairly long way to his goal. This, even an imaginary opportunity, encourages the player to return to the game almost every 5 minutes in the hope that it is this, the last unit of energy that will allow him to reach the end of the task or get a new level.

    The same thing with the loss of things, resources, causing damage. A small spread gives the game liveliness and hope, which the player realizes by entering the game again and again.

    How much has fallen. The Butcher has truly deep pockets!

    The element of chance along with non-linear gameplay can generate interesting situations that players cover in blogs and tell friends. If the game provokes many such situations, this creates additional information support.

    Emotional response

    The game world should be glad that the user is back in the game, glad of every player’s action and every achievement. Daily visit promotion systems can now be found in every game - if a player enters the game every day, he will eventually receive an exciting bonus! Provoking such emotional outbursts when a player receives a serious prize is very important for motivation. For example, does a player want to get a new level, will he enter the game every hour and spend the accumulated energy in order to only get a new figure on the level indicator? If you encourage the player to replenish energy, give money and open up new opportunities, the desire to reach a new level (and therefore return to the game) will be much stronger.

    I was congratulated. A trifle, but nice!

    In addition to real prizes, you can simply praise the player during his game. It is not necessary to put everything on the rails of benefits. Well, a nice word and a cat likes it.

    In the  XCOM (XCOM) course of the mission, none of the operatives were injured. And although they don’t give anything for it, they praise me on the radio and tell me what a cool commander I am.

    Mystery and perspective view

    From the very first minutes of the game, the user must understand that he still has a lot to discover, explore and do. Curiosity is the engine of this process. By showing the player undiscovered locations, inaccessible opportunities, we provoke the player to achieve them as soon as possible. By this we set the user some strategic, global goals. In addition, showing the perspective in the form of “an improved tractor will be available from level 12” or “a new special ability will be opened for you to get the next level” we give the player a real motivator and answer the question “why do I need another stupid level?”

    The new shooter about giant humanoid robots clearly explains why the user needs levels:

    Do not get me a new radiator up to level 8 ...

    Other joys for retention

    There are several more tools that can not be said. Many of them seem obvious, so we will not dwell on them as on the previous ones.

    Addictive start and training. According to statistics, it takes about 20 minutes to “tighten” a player. In order for the player to return to the game, he must be provided with something that he does not want to lose and for which he will return later. This can be a pair of entry levels, a pair of unlocked items or a bonus expiring after a certain time.

    Technical excellence. The game should be stable and easy to use, it should work comfortably, load quickly. The download speed of the game should not be off scale.

    Localization.If possible, the game should speak with the player in his native language. This is less relevant for local products, but for global products it is an important factor in increasing retention. So, the French, in view of the peculiarities of their mentality, are unlikely to return to the game in English.

    An interesting game round. The mechanics of the game, its main turn, should give pleasure thousands, tens of thousands of times in a row.

    Wow factor . The game should in the first minutes cause any emotions in the user. Simply put, it should “hook”.

    Feeling of completion.This item is specific for social games - such a game should give the user a sense of completion. Leaving the game, the user wants to be sure that he has done everything he could and leaves the game in “good condition” - his protagonist is safe, the vegetables on the farm are ripening, the whole tribute is collected, the weapons are cleaned and the spaceship is ready for any moment start.

    Instead of conclusions

    Instead of conclusions, I would like to appeal to all game developers - make good interesting games, take care of each of your players and always be one step ahead. Come up with more mechanics and tools to keep users in the game, show eccentricity in approaches. The above tools should serve as your inspiration and foundation, but not in any way the magical instruction “How to strain one more game and earn a billion” without straining your brain.

    Well, I’ll try to keep this list up to date and, I hope, I will soon write a separate article about your extraordinary invention!


    I am now at a crossroads - there are many more topics on which I have material, experience and a desire to share it with you. And I want to know what would you be interested to read after a while? Here are some more topics I want to cover:
    1. Virality, virality.
    2. Monetization of social games and everything about it.
    3. Game coil and game layer: from A to Z.
    4. Creating a game in the style of a quest with puzzles (puzzle adventure). From the idea to the release in many parts (including a detailed description of the code architecture, the process of rendering scenes and characters, creating a game script).
    5. Hybridization of games, or how to mix two dissimilar ira?

    Just leave a comment or discard the topic number in a personal message - I really wonder what the Habr community prefers to read about.

    See you soon!

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