Since Tetris, puzzle games have been the most popular on handheld devices and computers. The App Store has made puzzle games more popular than ever, creating a massive market for them.
Puzzle games look very easy at first glance. You’ll get candy-like visual feedback if you match three. You’ll find more to this simple yet highly entertaining and engaging game than you might realize.
In my opinion, six key elements are crucial for casual puzzle games to succeed. However, a game can’t succeed if it covers all six elements. Failure to even one element will result in the game not reaching the top.
Rule 1: New Puzzle Mechanics
This first rule should not be surprising: You can’t hit home runs without giving players something new. It is essential to create a unique and enjoyable puzzle to use over and over. It isn’t easy to create a novel yet familiar puzzle mechanic. This challenge gets harder with each new puzzle game. My personal opinion is that it is not necessary to create something completely new. A viable alternative is to simplify a complicated puzzle mechanic or to use a familiar one to provide effective visual feedback.
Rule 2 – Turn-based Gameplay
Puzzle games are mobile games that can be played anywhere and anytime. This is a key reason for their huge popularity. Because the game is turn-based, it doesn’t require long sessions or precise controls. Puzzle games are great for killing time because they’re turn-based.
Timer-based level design has not had as much success on mobile as turn-based level designs.
Turn-based gameplay is better than timer-based gaming. PopCap’s challenges are an excellent example of this. Despite being the first mobile games to be downloaded, Plants vs Zombies and Bejeweled Blitz were not as popular as other turn-based games.
Rule 3: Energy Mechanic
It is not surprising that players don’t like energy mechanisms. It interrupts sessions, makes us spend money to play, or asks us to send energy requests to our Facebook friends.
Energy might seem like a bad mechanic, but it increases player engagement. It also creates an active network of friends.
Puzzle games without an energy mechanic risk becoming dull or running out of content.
- Energy is what motivates us to complete a level. Angry Birds doesn’t have any energy, except for later iterations. If a player fails to make her first or second throw, she does not attempt to complete the level by throwing the other birds. The player starts over. A second reason is that a session can’t end without an energy mechanic. Without an energy mechanic, players would keep trying (and failing) to complete a level forever and eventually, they would hate the game. The energy mechanic instead distributes failure. After cooling down for a few hours, you fail five times. Your energy recharges, and then you try again.
- Third, energy mechanics raise the stakes for every attempt. If you fail, you lose energy. Win, and you can keep playing.
- Retention is important because energy can push players away, only to bring them back an hour after refilling their energy.
- An energy mechanic is a way to slow down player progress. It limits the number of games played per day. It is vital to slow down progress because you won’t be able to spend a month working on 20 levels and then watch your players play non-stop for the entire time. Trust me, and I’ve been there a few too many times.