DESIGN ANALYSIS: MATCH-3

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From the experience of my previous internship, and how I used to value mobile games – especially match-3 games… I feel, this genre requires more appreciation from all kinds of players, relative to norm games.

Modern match-3 games have come a long way in surviving – or in fact, ruling the mobile gaming industry. You might hate it, or love it, but today – I plan to break down the genre for anyone to quickly understand why they are so successful.

ACCESSIBILITY

Let’s begin by the most essential factor for a mobile game: To be designed in such a way that it is approachable to as many players as possible, at any given time, from the get-go.

PREMISE / UNIVERSE / THEME

The stories are always themed and based on simplistic outlets, so that you wouldn’t think to ask “Why is the Gem so powerful? Or why does it even exist at all.”

Now keep in mind, these elements are not the weakness of the genre. These elements exist to enhance the overall experience of the players.

The less information you present, the more the players will be intrigued to learn about the game, and less confused about what’s going on.

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The less information you show – the more the players will be focused on the gameplay!

ART STYLE

Match-3 is based on different patterns and their recognition. The art style should only enhance this, but not demean this factor in any way.

A bad way to go about it would be to keep some de-saturated color-icons on screen, and saturate the rest of the game.

The point of this genre is that it welcomes players to understand and solve its different color combinations which are “virtually visible”.

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If there are no different, distinct colors… Players wouldn’t feel welcomed to the gameplay.

ERGONOMICS

You wouldn’t want to sit in your office / or in public, while holding your mobile in landscape, to play games while using both of your hands.

All these complications are bypassed, by having portrait-gameplay with single-handed controls. This is further enhanced by the action of the match, and the varied consequences of the action.

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The intuitive and simple ergonomics welcome players from all kinds of playstyles, at any given time.

 

PSYCHOLOGY

Match-3 games by design is built from psychology. Every thing you see in them – exists and serves a purpose in one way or another. Hope these following methods talk about them in at least beginner detail.

PATTERN RECOGNITION

Omnipresent, always lively in our minds, activates from memory.

What do you see in this following picture?

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A couple of blocks would be my answer. But the point is – Our brains are always searching for something relative to everything we learned till now.

If we see something abstract, we are attracted to find some reason in it.

Now what do you see in this following picture?

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I don’t need to know your answer. You know it yourselves.

The genre, from the beginning intrigues you in finding a pattern – And “YOU” reward yourselves for your finding.

This is where the genre’s game design shines.

No objective indications,  natural challenge, and a genetic reward.

PERSONAL NOTE:

Besides the obvious similarities, I believe more psychological aspects play into this loop of pattern recognition.

One of such, I personally believe is OCD.

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  • Obsession – You realise something’s going on with the pattern.
  • Anxiety – You feel the need to fix it, or do something about it.
  • Compulsion – You relieve your anxiety by doing it.
  • Relief – You reward yourselves for your action.

A study states OCD is present in 94% of all population, and I, again, personally believe it also plays a teensy-small factor into this recognition loop.

Published Under: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211364914000256

I might be wrong… um… But I just believe it.

RULE OF 3

The rule of three is a principle that suggests that things that come in threes, are inherently more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers or things.

It all comes down to the way we humans process information. We have become proficient at pattern recognition by necessity, and three is the smallest number of elements required to create a pattern.

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When it comes to pleasing the human brain, it seems that three is simply a magic number… Just as how you would create a pattern in Match-3 games.

INFINITE FEEDBACK LOOP

From the beginning of finding a match, & performing it, to completing the levels, and progressing through the saga map… It’s essentially a never ending reward loop.

Whenever the player tries to match, even things that do not match, they will snap back to their previous place automatically. There’s no punishment for wrong moves, turns are not spent, and the player stays in the zone as long as there are more turns to take.

Even if the player does a mistake, it only leads to more score. And if the players feel bad about the end product of a match from what it could have been…

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Hey! There is always this to keep you going!

LOSS AVERSION

Ever had a win, and it was amazingly-satisfying?

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But at the same time, you ever felt the next loss is DOUBLE the negative of the satisfaction previously obtained?

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This is where loss aversion comes in. Mobile games are designed to avoid direct defeat.

Match-3, by its luck factor, enhances this by patting on the back of the players by saying maybe it was just the game’s generation. I could retry and do even better next time!

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And it doesn’t even cost much time, hearts, items or anything! I COULD DO IT!

This feeling helps in grooming more kinds of players to keep them playing without any direct consequences or /  fear to move away from.

They don’t lose anything except the arbitrary value of time.

POSITIVE & NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT

Anything that reinforces your actions to your consequences is positive reinforcement, and anything that neutralises the positive effects of the gameplay loop, is negative reinforcement.

An example for positive reinforcement could be the blasts and the cascades which happen on performing a match. Players love to see their actions having a response greater than what it respectively could have been.

“Is it a 3 combo and the gems matched disappeared?” Now amplify that by bigger-blasts by disappearing 9 gems on a 4 combo. The satisfaction increases, and is further enhanced by the luck of cascades which form after it.

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This is negatively neutralised by giving the player a new board to deal with. And other examples of negative reinforcement could be of what we already spoke of, which are the +5 moves and the heart timers.

Heart timers help you soothe in your wound of loss, and the +5 moves give the player a chance to avoid, again, the condition of direct loss.

SOCIAL NEEDS

There are many theories and applications around socialising through the internet. But my point here is – All match-3 games try and fulfil the need for progression, achievement, and power – by creating a sense that you are already participating in a game with “friends”.

A player needs their friends to send rewards to help out with tough levels, unlock gates, and sending more lives so that they can immediately start playing again the second they run out of them, to keep up their “Sense of Progression”.

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The players can also see what their friends scores are, and at what levels they are currently on, so that they can feel connected and superior, or even inferior to them at the same time.

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It would not feel good to spend hours on a leader-board if you didn’t have anyone to show it to – And showing off the product of your time spent, triggers “Sensation of Achievement”, and the fact that you know that your score looks infinitely cooler than your friends, triggers “Sensation of Power”.

PERSONAL NOTE:

I believe everything humans do, is for attention and appreciation from others. We wish for people to look at us, speak with us, recognise us, and grow together to infinity.

RITUAL BEHAVIOUR

People are addicted to one thing or another. There is no saying that certain things trigger addiction, it is in our nature to always search for something to get addicted with.

The genre began the formula by creating rhythmic ritual timers in players minds to come back for hearts, for social help features, leader-boards, and for more levels.

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People get habituated to this format of coming back every 3 hours, every day – and this formation of a clock habit helps with retention, and with the player engagement of he game.

 

GAME DESIGN

Psychology is something which you could keep digging on an endless loop – similar to how game design & levels function in Match-3 games. Below are few game design tactics from the genre.

SIMPLE LOOPS

Everything from the gameplay systems, menus navigation, to monetization features – The genre amongst all of that makes it, revolves around simple loops to remove any hesitation from unknown nuances.

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One of its essential success roots, is it lets anyone sink into it without any consequences, or much thought.

ILLUSION OF CONTROL

Ever thought you didn’t achieve something because of your luck?

You might be wrong there, as every action you take, has already been calculated to a desirable resolution by the developers.

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Is it about the colors on your board? Is it about your decision on the +5 moves? Or is it because you’ve been failing to finish a level? All of these, and more, are in direct control of the developers in one way or another.

Ironic to say – this is the beauty of the genre!

How well this is all masked from the player that they would never directly think so… It is only when they try and understand the intricacies behind the systems, that they will begin to understand the layers they’ve been under all this time…

RESOURCES

How do people assign arbitrary value to items which essential have no physical return? The barrier starts to break by how we assign value to pleasure.

Following, it is one of the utmost priority of all mobile games to state their value from the get-go. Match-3 games usually begin strong on their value, with the help of their easy-intuitive currency systems.

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The value although is usually set by “Time”, here it’s further skewed by the pricing, and by their ease of access. I think this simplicity is what draws players to play and pay.

PERSONAL NOTE:

Besides the simplicity of the systems, if they are not well maintained / managed… I personally believe as a consequence – if the game’s economy fails, the game, as a result will also fail following it.

 

CONCLUSION

I understand that this whole analysis might be inadequate for some. In fact, it might just be scraping off the top for the genre.

For which I’d totally agree with, as I also feel there is much more depth to this genre, combined with many of the other mobile genres which I’ve only just begun scratching at. I will definitely try and spend my time on exploring them in detail in future. Till then…

See you guys on my next post.

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