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Coda’s First Foray into Word Games with Launch of Words Tour: Pop Word Stacks

With much of the world now in lockdown, it is no surprise that we’ve seen a 20% rise in the popularity of puzzle games as people seek out ways to keep their mind’s entertained whilst off work. 

At Coda, we’ve been busy working on one such exciting new puzzle game, Words Tour: Pop Word Stacks, which is our first venture in the world of word games.

This brand new, addictive word-based brain training game is available in multiple languages and requires players to swipe to reveal hidden words and to crash the word stacks down in order to complete the level. The first stages are easy to negotiate, but the game gets more challenging as the player progresses through the levels, of which there are over 2000 to master.

Unlike many standard word puzzle games, this is word play with a twist. In addition to being hidden amongst other letters, words may appear backwards or may only be revealed once a stack has been crashed, allowing the correct letters to move into place. There are hints and tips along the way.There is also an option to share progress with friends via Instagram, a great option for when players are struggling to find a word and need to call in some assistance. 

When players get well and truly stuck, they can use the Spyglass, Light Bulb or shuffle to keep the game moving and can earn rewards when they find extra words. To add a bit of visual diversity as they progress through the game different background themes can be unlocked as they play. 

Despite being our first word game release, we are already seeing D1 retention of 40% and with 40% of revenue generated from IAPs, we’re excited to see how Words Tour: Pop Word Stacks will perform in the coming weeks. 

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Boosting Engagement: How to Delight Players

In an increasingly chaotic and fast paced world, casual and hyper-casual gaming provides a much needed escape for many players. Whether that is winding down from a busy day at the office, relaxing in the evening or simply passing the time in a queue, reports reveal that since January, hyper-casual games have seen an average of 17,6 million daily installs. This is equivalent to around 12.5% of total game installs. 

The current ‘lockdown’ situations taking place across the globe as a result of the novel Coronavirus are encouraging more people to download and play mobile games to help pass the time or distract their wandering minds from the stress and uncertainty of current events.  In fact, news reports suggest that mobile game downloads shot up by some 39% in February as a direct result of the Coronavirus lockdown and self-isolation. 

The ability to escape and simply switch off is all part of the attraction when it comes to hyper-casual gaming, and naturally, predictability plays a huge part in this process. That said, successful games must still be able to surprise and delight in order to keep users engaged, and for longer, otherwise they’ll simply get bored. Some have suggested following the 90/10 ratio when it comes to adding that all important twist to game design, whereby 90% of the gameplay is predictable and 10% offers something just a little bit different. Game developers are naturally keen to understand exactly what kind of twists are most welcomed by players and thanks to Coda’s free market intelligence dashboard, it has never been easier to analyse in detail these particular trends.

If you are considering how to add the crucial elements of surprise and delight to your game design, here are a few options to explore:

Add bonus level unlocks

Even with the most basic or repetitive of games, adding a little variety ensures that players don’t cross over into boredom. Bonus level unlocks are one of the easiest ways to retain engagement, giving players both an incentive to keep progressing through the game whilst also providing a brief change of scenery, both of which help to keep interest at its peak. 

Encourage players to strive for perfection

Encouraging players to feel emotions such as joy, anticipation or excitement could be the difference between them switching off and engaging in a game for hours. This can be achieved by ensuring that the highest marks or bonuses are only gained by playing in a certain sequence, time frame or order. The need to repeat the same activities over and over in an attempt to achieve a top score, or to receive a particular bonus  is a sure fire method to keep players engaged as they try to better their score with each turn. 

Switch up the game mechanics

Tap and Timing’ continues to be one of the most popular mechanics in hyper-casual games, but there are a number of elements that can be added to inject some diversity into the game including: stacking, turning, rising or falling, swerving and merging. Adding dexterity challenges is also a great way to focus attention, as what can be a relatively simple manoeuvre when performed slowly can become more tricky to achieve when players have to do it quickly or within a limited timeframe. Simplicity however, remains the name of the game, so it really is about finding that perfect sweet spot. 

Change the music or environment

A simple change to aesthetics or music tempo can help to give the impression of progression throughout the game, even if the mechanics remain unchanged, Perhaps achieving a certain score leads to a background colour change, or reaching a new level is met with different music. Such changes are subtle but allow the player to continue enjoying the game whilst gaining that much needed variety which is essential for keeping players in the game for longer. 

Even when following these best practice tips, it can still be difficult to get it just right. It is extremely rare that developers will hit the high retention metrics (ideally 40% + D1 retention) on their first attempt and there are a number of reasons why a game still fails. The most common is simply being too greedy and designing a game which forces the player to watch ads or buy coins in order to succeed. Other factors include poor development quality, repetitive or boring level progress, poor marketability and slow speed to market. Remember that competition is high and it is highly likely that someone else is working on a similar concept at the same time, so getting to market quickly is vital. 

Thankfully, Coda is on hand to help address all of these factors. Our dedicated team of data scientists and product managers can help studios to understand their game metrics more granularly and provide detailed suggestions for how to improve their game’s performance. In addition to providing a set of analyses to our partner studios which cover level metrics, churn, fail and completion rates for each level, our A/B test structure and expertise encourages partners to test and iterate more, thereby succeeding much faster.

In summary, getting the perfect mix of elements to catapult your game to dizzying heights is no mean feat and whilst there is no blueprint for guaranteed success, understanding the various internal and external factors which could influence a game’s performance is essential to making sure you put your best foot forward. 

Why in-game personalisation will take mobile gaming to new levels

Mobile gaming continues to be big business for both large and smaller game developers, with reports suggesting that the industry could be worth $76.7B in IAP and upwards of $65bn in ads by the end of 2020. Mobile apps and games are growing at 20% a year in revenue according to App Annie, with further predictions that users will collectively spend around 674 billion hours on mobile devices this year. As competition for screen time increases, developers are increasingly looking to in-game personalisation as a method for boosting retention.

The link between in-game personalisation, high retention and ARPU 

There is often a very fine line between interest and boredom, so keeping users engaged for longer is a key marker in determining the success or failure of any mobile game. Each game appeals to certain segments of players, some of which can be rather niche. Personalisation is a way of increasing the appeal of a game to a broader audience by tailoring core in-game elements to their preferences. 

Personalisation for core, mid-core and casual games

Personalisation in game play can take on a number of forms. More complicated core and mid-core games for example could have their personalisation focus on character aesthetics, such as hair colour or clothing. These types of games could also look into developing the gameplay so that users can take the story in different directions depending entirely on what they want to get out of the game. This is most often delivered via multi-pathway options where users can select from a series of predetermined routes, which in turn will create a unique progression throughout the game. 

On the more casual side of the gaming market, where titles can enjoy millions of players engaging with, and providing usage data to the game, we’re starting to see exciting applications of machine learning techniques to better engage users at an individual level but at scale. Games can automatically ‘learn’ the user’s preferences, behaviour and gaming style and adapt the game accordingly. This could include varying the difficulty of levels depending on the user’s ability or serving monetisation opportunities that users respond well to, both improving retention rates and increasing ARPU. We are already seeing machine learning playing a significant part in game development, much in the same way as Spotify, Netflix and Amazon seek to learn behaviour patterns and use the data to deliver a better experience to their users.

Personalisation is profitability

Quite simply put, a well thought out personalisation strategy can be the difference between your game being profitable or not. By tailoring the user experience to keep players immersed in the game for longer and serving them the right ads, you can increase the delta between your ARPU and your CPI. When a game requires a user to invest time, creativity, imagination and energy into creating a character, progressing through a series of levels, or following through a storyline, the users are much more connected with the journey and are more likely to continue deeper into the game. 

Personalisation is also typically needed to help attract the top spenders,  our much lauded ‘whales’. These users typically generate up to 50% of the title’s revenue despite only making up around 1%-2% of total players. They can be connected for up to 16 hours a day and can spend up to $1,000 a day making in-app purchases. 

Getting started

The first step in moving towards a more personalised gaming experience is understanding the outcomes and experiences that your target audience is likely to be looking for in a game. In the study ‘Towards a Trait Model of Video Game Preferences’, a team of multidisciplinary researchers at the University of Waterloo Games Institute identified three basic game player traits that can be utilised to make games more personalised and help keep gamers engaged and motivated. These top line traits included the level of preference for action, the aesthetic look and feel of the game, and degree of goal orientation. In addition, a range of player archetypes were identified, which included seeker, survivor, daredevil, mastermind, conqueror, socializer, and achiever. These profiles, alongside other factors such as age, gender and location all help to shape the development of the game so that it focuses on what the user most wants to experience whilst immersed in the game. 

Gaining access to the critical user data needed to help guide personalisation strategies is now easier than ever thanks to solutions such as Coda’s SDK where collected data from in-game events is sent to the Coda Platform, with always-on machine learning helping to find the best parameters for future A/B testing.  For example, Coda’s algorithms will analyse data from in-game events to suggest the best timing for interstitial ads, but ultimately is focused on improving the user experience, boosting engagement and enhancing monetisation in the long run.

Taking mobile gaming to new heights

What is clear is that data-driven personalisation is already transforming the gaming world so that it is no longer simply about a single gaming experience, but many different ones which are all shaped to meet the specific needs and interests of individual players.  Embracing and building upon the in-game personalisation opportunities that large swathes of data and machine learning create is key to game survival, given that by 2021, mobile gaming is predicted to make up around 60% of the global gaming market. Game developers who can embed personalisation into the very DNA of their mobile games will be the ones who are best positioned for future success.