Competitive Mobile Gaming

I believe that smartphones and FB are the primary catalysts for casual games becoming truly mainstream. However, these games are usually frown upon by hardcore gamers who prefer skill-based, competitive games. Quake, Counter Strike, Starcraft are all great examples of such games and the list is long for desktop, but what about the mobile scene?

The iOS market is more than 300 million strong and although competitive gaming is a niche, in such a big market it is now a reasonable market segment to target. Think about the successes of Deadlock or Hero Academy and it’s clear that multiplayer-focused games are not limited to desktop anymore.

We are in the final stages of creating our competitive game ourselves. We decided to create a Mac + iOS game where you can play against anyone with a Mac / iPhone / iPod Touch / iPad. As we are blending mobile gaming with desktop gaming here, we had to consider the priorities. We decided to treat the game as a mobile game in essence. I would like to share with you the decisions we made during the development:

  1. brand new game: as we were building on our previous game Soccer Tactics, we originally planned to introduce the new gameplay and competition system as a monster-update. However, existing players really liked the original version and our new version completely changes the whole gameplay experience. Finally we decided to go with a totally new game
  2. skill matters: although luck can never be ruled out from any game / sport / competition, statistically speaking a good player should beat a weak player more often than not. This might seem trivial at first but balancing a game where a beginner still has chance to win against a seasoned player while retaining the importance of experience and practice is very time consuming!
  3. elegant gameplay: we were trying to keep our ruleset small and give the players the ability to practice and hone devious skills and strategies in our game space. We provide a practice mode where the player can focus on preparing different strategies
  4. no prolonged games: this is a very important aspect when we are in the context of mobile games. The majority of our matches finishes under 15 minutes.
  5. Game Center only for fun: when we started development, the Mac did not support GC at all. Now we know that Mountain Lion finally integrates this great feature and we might consider moving towards GC in the future. For now, players can only play friendly games with each other via GC and our league system is served by our own multiplayer server.
  6. Own Multiplayer Service: as we couldn’t use GC on all our target platforms and we already had a pretty good multiplayer backend with our previous version of Soctics, we decided to roll our own multiplayer service. This gives us the freedom of staying totally platform-agnostic which might come very handy later as well.
  7. connect players: to help the growth of our community, we wanted to implement chat in our game. As we had mixed experience with having chat in a game before, we decided to implement an ‘offending player report’ system along with the possibility to ‘parent lock’ the chat feature. We are considering an official forum as well to further facilitate player-to-player communication
  8. periodic tournaments: this is a feature we are very excited about. We will run tournaments for specific periods of time. This can be used for several purposes, from giving out great prizes to pure ego-boosting challenges! Multiplayer in general is great for user retention, organizing tournaments is an even stronger feature!
  9. Skill based rankings: We are using the ELO ranking methodology for ranking players in our tournaments. It is a great system and I advise to read about it if you are not familiar with it. Basically as people keep playing more and more, their ranking will display their relative strength within their league more and more accurately.
  10. Deal with cheaters: Multiplayer games have their share of cheaters all the time. As we want to keep the league system as clean as possible from cheaters, we decided to make it difficult and very time-consuming to game the ranks and to cheat our league system.

As you can see there are many different aspects you have to take into consideration. It is also a good warning for anyone who plans to implement multiplayer / competitions in their game. It really blows up your scope! You can expect to spend at least as much time with the multiplayer mode as with all the rest of the game.

However, if you choose to move on and implement a strong competitive mode in your app, you will have one of the most powerful retention factors I have ever seen in a game. Our original Soccer Tactics game debuted in 2009, we introduced the multiplayer mode in 2010, and we have players who have been playing with the game ever since! How often do you get such loyal users in the mobile game space?

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