[Wooga] Prototyping: How to find the needle in the haystack

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Here at Wooga we are well aware, that the games industry is a hit-driven business. This has affected the way we produce games. We start around 40 heuprototypes a year – and only three of them make their way to a global launch. One of the most important questions is obviously how do you detect the best game…or – being in a game company or a game jam – how you find the needle in the haystack…

Being successful on mobile is no small matter.Whether you’re a indie developer or a more established company, choosing the right projects to work on can be a demanding task. Being in the business of making games, there’s a seemingly simple way of telling if a prototype is a winner; is it fun? That sounds straightforward. But how do you evaluate this?

While it’s by no means a perfect recipe for success, a three-phase framework currently helps us evaluate our prototypes.

Phase One: The Pitch

A new idea always starts with a person and the ideas themselves can come in many different forms. Some can be harder than others to explain, and at this stage it’s usual that most ideas sound like they could have a lot of potential.

To make the ideas more comparable we reduce them to a pitch line and a one-pager that communicates the core gameplay and the twist (or why it is unique, or better). It sounds short, but one page should be enough to successfully communicate the idea and why it’s special. It also pushes you to think from the player’s perspective.

With the one pager a few things should be clear:

  • Objective: Is it clear what we want to do/achieve?
  • Opportunity: Does it sound appealing?
  • Manageable scope: Does it have a well-defined and clear goal? An understandable spec?
  • Desire: Is it appealing to work on? Is there potential for iterations?

If there are several different ideas, this process helps us evaluate which adds the biggest twist or is the most unique and which has the biggest potential market.

Phase Two: The Prototype & Scoring

With the prototype we’re looking at two things; is it intuitive, and is it replayable? To find out if it is intuitive we do user testing. We want to confirm that the basics are in order, that the theme is exciting, and that there is an intuitive goal. If you are going for a mass-market game those are going to be tough to fix later.

The second step is to add some method of scoring into the game that sets the focus and gives you a rough, yet broad, overview of your game’s strengths and weaknesses. It also introduces meaningful choice, essential for making a game fun. With our at the moment most succesful game Jelly Splash we used level targets. This meant that players would come back.


Phase 3: Competitions

By this stage the aim should be to have a fun game that is approachable. In phase 3, our objective is to test…

  • The depth of design, and
  • extendability (i.e. get a sense of how much the game requires on the content side).

A competition helps test the game with a larger amount of users and over a longer period of time. We used a Facebook group to source players to share their experiences and scores.

From here, we could measure engagement and activity.

  • If a lot of players are dropping out at level 3, then chances are level 3 is too hard.
  • Is adding a 3-star scoring system enough to ensure people come back, or would a high score list be better suited to your game?

These are all scenarios this stage should answer. If people simply aren’t coming back, is it time to call it a day on this prototype? But if the third stage is successful, you might just be onto a winner.

Summary

This is by no means a fixed recipe for success – I wish!

Tastes changes, players evolve and there is no sure fire bet in the app world. This approach has served us well so far, though, and sticking to the following three steps has already produced some interesting results.

  • Phase 1: The game should be well defined and appealing, i.e. the core and the twist
  • Phase 2: Intuitive & replayable, i.e. solid idea for fun via meaningful choice
  • Phase 3: Engaging & extendable, i.e. scalable and the design works for free-to-play