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Playdoku: Searching for the Secret Ingredients of Success

Hello readers and game fans, my name is Roman Gerasimenko, and I work as a Lead Game Designer. In my work, I use a data-inspired approach to game design. This means that I find practical, digital explanations for various aspects of game design, as well as opportunities to digitize the experience, rather than relying solely on "feelings."

I want to share with you the "secret sauce" of Playdoku, breaking it down into five “ingredients”.

Before we dive in, here are a few facts about Playdoku:

- Firstly, the game is made in Ukraine!

- Secondly, Playdoku has been installed over four million times.

- Thirdly, Playdoku is in the top 10 block puzzle games worldwide and top 3 in Japan, which is a highly competitive market.

In total, Playdoku players spend 20 man-years in the game per day. To put that in perspective, the Large Hadron Collider was built in 10 man-years.

But let's start with the basics: what is a block puzzle? You can read about the idea behind creating the game and our first attempts in the first part about Playdoku.

So, what is a block puzzle?

Block puzzle is a game that involves interaction with blocks. The world's first digital block puzzle was Tetris created in 1984. In Tetris, player interacts with figures called tetrominoes, which are four blocks combined into a figure. These figures fall from above and form solid horizontal lines that explode, earning the player score points. If there is not enough space to place the figures, the player loses, and the points are not recorded on the leaderboard.

Modern block puzzles have taken the gameplay field and rules of Sudoku as a basis. If you are not a Sudoku fan, it is a mathematical game played on a 9x9 field, where the player must place numbers from 1 to 9 so that the same numbers do not repeat in a vertical line, horizontal line, and in the 3x3 square.

Block puzzles have removed the mathematical aspect of Sudoku and replaced numbers with identical blocks. However, they have kept the game field and the rule of lines and squares. If the player completes a line or square, it explodes, freeing up space and earning score points. The game continues until there is no space to place new figures. In other words, it's about "beating the record," as in Tetris.

Over time, Tetris figures have expanded, and various combinations of blocks have been added, from 1x1 dot blocks to cross-like and diagonal figures. Now, the gameplay looks more exciting and challenging.

USP for the Project

Playdoku is a block puzzle game that offers a unique level structure, progression, and missions. Unlike other games, it provides players with a clear goal to achieve in each level, allowing them to complete assigned tasks easily. The game pauses once the mission is achieved, giving players an opportunity to start a new level.

The level approach in Playdoku offers several advantages. 

  • Goal:  it eliminates the need for players to figure out what to do in the game, as each level presents a straightforward task that can be completed. 

  • Win: it enables players to experience success more frequently, as they achieve a clear goal in each level. 

  • Loss: it provides a sense of the game, which is crucial to both the psychology and gameplay. 

  • The limit is other benefit of the level approach where after the win or loss the mission starts as a new one, so players can progress at their own pace. 

  • Game Strategy Change: it changes with each level, as the mission goal becomes the primary objective instead of simply surviving by placing blocks strategically to keep the field empty.

Our approach to levels is our Unique Selling Proposition (USP). We have built the entire game around this feature, making it one of the most unique block puzzle games in the market. While some companies have implemented levels in their games, Playdoku stands out by offering a comprehensive level structure that provides players with a sense of accomplishment and progression.


Showcasting the USP

Like all competitors, our game started with a gameplay tutorial. Players familiarize themselves with the mechanics (or skip it) before entering the map and launching the first level.

We thought, if our map with levels is the USP that sets us apart, maybe it's worth showing it earlier? In the new flow, players first see the map upon opening the app. When launching the "first level," they enter the tutorial. Some players go through it, others skip. Either way, players end up on the first level.

Essentially, the difference was only in the player's first action and what they saw first. It's crucial that the effect was not only short-term but also had a long interval. People already had impressions and expectations from the game due to advertising, pages in stores, etc. Presenting the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) at the beginning of the game helped retain those who were seeking something new to spend time with. Here's how players' behavior looked graphically:

We didn't add steps or change them; we simply made a "change of places with addends," but we managed to increase the "sum."


Key Motivation for the Game

To move forward, we need to answer a philosophical question: why do people play? Try to think about your own reasons for playing. Most likely, you play when you're bored, or when you want to relax, or when you want to play with someone else? Or perhaps to immerse yourself in an interesting story?

All these reasons converge on one thing: we play willingly to get some pleasure. Pleasure is a certain satisfied need, or motivation. Everyone derives satisfaction in different ways, and we will further discuss them.

Quantic Foundry's research has identified six key motivations or needs of players, each of which has two variations:

Quantic Foundry Motivation Model

I'm sure as you read the descriptions of these motivations, you think about the games you have played earlier. Perhaps your examples even relate to not just one but several motivations, and that's fantastic!

In popular games, typically, all the described motivations are implemented, which is why they are popular. People are different, but everyone can find something interesting for themselves in “mass games”. These are mainstream games. Mobile games usually focus on one or a few motivations and try to maximize their fulfillment. Returning to the topic of my blog, why do people play Playdoku? What motivation or desire can a block puzzle satisfy?

Mastery. And if we go deeper, it's the challenge itself. Since the player spends more than 90% of the gameplay, it is the primary motivation for the game. Additionally, there is the map in the game. It triggers the motivation for achievement, or more precisely – completion. This is a secondary motivation for the game. If you try to visualize the motivational circle, it would look like this:

Playdoku's Motivation Model based on Quantic Foundry

KPI for the Key Motivation

If we want to influence motivation in any way, we need to learn how to measure and digitize it. But how would you digitize a challenge, in other words, how would you measure the "challenge" in a game? Or in other words, what is the KPI for a challenge? KPI stands for Key Point Indicator, or the key challenge indicator.

It's the win rate. The more levels a player wins, the higher their win rate, and the less challenging it is for them. The fewer levels a player wins, the lower their win rate, and the more challenging it is for them. Win rate can be calculated in various ways; one option from our practice is:

In other words, it's the number of levels won divided by the number of levels initiated. For example, if a player won 5 levels and initiated 10, it would be 5/10 = 50%. This means their win rate is 50%.

But there's a peculiarity in this formula because it includes levels which were started. This means that the player could not complete the level (close the game and forget about it). This formula counts this case as a loss.

So our approach is to set KPI of the key motivation, and it's the win rate.


Do experiments!

Here's another interesting example from our practice which I'd like to share: we noticed that many players had been losing the first level, and we tried to solve this issue :) The first level, where there are two blocks, can be completed with the first three figures if you understand the game and have a bit of luck. But we decided to simplify the perception and placed eight blocks already arranged in a row. The player only needs to fill in one cell – level completed!

So, we changed the first 10 levels, making them simpler and a bit more dynamic. We immediately saw improvement from the first level: more players started to win it. The effect held up until the tenth level. However, it eventually flipped, and players began to reach the further levels less and less. In total, by the 50th level, almost 50% of people were reaching it!

We realized that everything is not so obvious. Players value the challenge. They don't want to play an easy game. The game didn't meet their expectations. We understood that we should experimenting a lot with the challenge and win rate in the project.


Recipe of Success

Knowing these ingredients and understanding the logic of their use, you'll be able to improve your product. Let's recall all the components of success:

  • Create USP for your project.

  • Show USP of your project as early as possible.

  • Identify the key motivation of your game.

  • Establish KPI of the key motivation of the game.

  • Experiment with your KPI.

Use it and become top-notch!

by Roman Herasymenko

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