[The following text is part of my upcoming master’s thesis on the use of game mechanics in therapy games for children. This is just a rough first draft, and I gladly welcome all critique and suggestions – be it on a content level or regarding my use of language.]
As part of my master’s thesis I am analysing already existing games that are commonly known to be addictive. A lot of those games are Facebook games. As it is paramount for the business model of Facebook games to keep players coming back to play again and again, they need to be built for a high retention. In my analysis of some of the most played Facebook games, I would like to figure out the secret ingredients that make those games so “good”. The analysis of some of those games will be published on this blog, including an overview of the usual “social mechanics” at play that are usually claimed to be of special importance in Facebook games.
Diamond Dash by Wooga1 superficially looks like a matching tile game similar to Candy Crush Saga2 or Bejeweled3, but works slightly different. While in the aforementioned games, the tiles have to be moved into place in order to form groups of three or more tiles of the same colour, the coloured tiles in Diamond Dash can’t be manipulated by the player.
The player has to click on groups of three or more adjacent tiles of the same colour, which will then disappear from the board. Tiles above the now-gone tiles fall down into the gaps and new tiles will be added from the top of the board, until the board is full again. The goal of the game is to remove as many tiles as possible within 60 seconds. Several additional mechanics encourage the player to be fast and precise while doing this. When the player manages to click a certain number of correct tiles in a certain amount of time, the game goes into a “Fever Mode”, where additional points can be gained and more tiles will disappear. Furthermore, even if the player isn’t quite fast enough, a progress bar is filled with each correct click, and, once filled, will place a special tile on the board that will remove all tiles of the column it has been placed in. Each click on a tile that does not result in tiles being removed results in the progress bar being partially depleted, discouraging wild and aimless clicking in the hopes of hitting a viable target. With no tiles being automatically removed through some sort of chain reaction, no planning or foresight is necessary while playing the game. Diamond Dash is therefore not so much about “solving” a puzzle but rather an exercise in dexterity and pattern recognition under a time constraint.
Diamond Dash has, unlike Candy Crush Saga, no level progression; each round of play is, apart from the (pseudo-) random distribution of the coloured tiles, exactly the same. In order to circumvent this limitation, Diamond Dash uses player levels. Each round played gives the player experience points, and the player levels up whenever she reaches a certain amount of experience points. A new level either unlocks new abilities (so-called “magic powers”) or increases the multiplier that is added to the final score after each round. The magic powers are not automatically activated, but have to be enabled at the beginning of every round by spending coins. Through this, the player can change the way the game plays to a certain, though limited, degree – and, what may even be more important, give herself an advantage in order to gain a higher score.
In order to keep the players returning to Diamond Dash despite the limited content, the game taps into Facebook’s social graph and provides the frame of a weekly tournament among Facebook friends that play Diamond Dash. The player’s Facebook friends are listed and ranked on the leader board according to the highest score they achieved during the current week. Players that already play the game for a longer time, i. e. the players with a higher level, have an advantage, as their score multiplier is higher and they have access to more “magic powers” with the potential to increase their score. Players with a lower level therefore are encouraged to play as much as possible, in order to gain experience points and level up as well. Every week, the ladder is reset, forcing players to play at least once a week in order to be ranked and, in case they reach a top three spot, to receive a medal that is displayed in the player’s profile. The leader board therefore serves both as a tool to foster competition among Facebook friends, as well as make players return to the game on a regular basis.
While the tournament system in combination with the player levels seems to encourage players to play as much as possible, the number of consecutive rounds a player can plays is actually limited. Players have only 5 lives at once, and each round uses up one life. A player can only play 5 rounds in a row, afterwards she is asked to either pay real money to buy “lives”; ask her Facebook friends to send her “lives”; or wait at least 10 minutes, until lives are automatically restored. Diamond Dash provides a strong incentive to play a lot, but forces players to pay in order to actually do so.
As is common with Facebook games, Diamond Dash uses various currencies at once. The four currencies used are experience points, in order to unlock certain abilities; coins that allow the purchase of the unlocked abilities; lives, which have to be payed when a round is played and finally gold bars, which allow for some rule-bending (i. e. playing for 15 seconds more after the first 60 seconds have passed). Experience points and coins are awarded after each round played. Lives are restored automatically after some time, but additional lives can be bought using real money. Coins can be bought using real money, as well, while gold bars must be bought with real money using Facebook’s micro transaction system. Diamond Dash does its best to remind players that they can buy success at any time: the possibility to buy lives, coins or gold bars is seldomly more than two clicks away. In fact, the player occasionally is even offered free resources – as long as she enters her credit card data, likely to make purchase easier at a later stage. Since all resources are used for different purposes, the player will have to buy from all of them in order to gain a true advantage over other players, as no conversions exist between the four currencies.
In conclusion, we can see that Diamond Dash lacks some of the refined features of its competitors. When compared to Candy Crush Saga, Diamond Dash seems a bit rough around the edges, both art-wise as well as in the use of game mechanics. While Candy Crush Saga tries to cater to as many player types as possible, Diamond Dash mostly attracts agile, quickly reacting players that like to compete with their friends. Still, the classic Facebook game mechanics are implemented, mainly that one one hand, Facebook games usually provide strong motivations to do certain things but on the other hand directly prevent players to actually do those things – unless, of course, the players pay or bug their friends about it. It is still somewhat baffling to me that even despite these limitations, that an otherwise quite unremarkable game like Diamond Dash is able to attract over a million players daily.4 But then again, maybe this is exactly its secret.
PopCap Games Inc. (2000). Bejeweled. PopCap Games Inc. ↩︎
appdata. com. (n. d.). appdata. com. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from http://www. appdata.com/leaderboard/apps?fanbase=0 ↩︎