Last week, I summarized Andrew Chen’s “New Feature Fallacy,” which your new features need to touch players at the top of the funnel to improve your game. Several colleagues offered suggestion why the fallacy is a fallacy. In thinking further, the true fallacy is that any feature can fix a broken product.
Games are not a collection of features, there needs to be a core game loop that is fun. Then you can improve your LTV by building on that game loop, but if the loop does not exist there are no features that can help.
You often see this problem in the free-to-play game space, where product management teams believe that successful products are a collection of features. Their roadmaps list each feature with the improvement in metrics it will generate. They then add up all of these improvements and come up with estimates that show how the game will generate millions of dollars. The company then invests because it wants to make millions of dollars (or investors buy shares in the company) and a year or so later they wonder why the game does not work.
Related, they look at each feature in a vacuum and AB test it. All of the features show positive improvement in metrics. The game, however, fails. A senior product who is probably the best PM I ever met once said to me it was curious how every AB test an unnamed game company we worked out had fantastic results, so good the PMs would create presentations so others in the company could copy them, yet the company’s revenue and user base continued to decline rather dramatically. Unfortunately, he was one of the few who found it “curious.”
You need a compelling core game loop
For a game to be successful, and thus be a foundation for improvement through features, the core game loop and secondary mechanics must be compelling. The core game loop is the soul of your game. It is what makes the game interesting to the player.
Adrian Crook, one of the top game designers in the industry, once described a core loop “as a chain of actions that the player does over and over again. It’s the ‘grind’ … You know it’s the core loop when you ﬁnd a short chain of actions the players repeat during play.”
To create a good loop, and thus a good game, it needs to be simple, is the focus of the gameplay experience, is easy for the player to understand (often because it is a mechanic they know like poker) and has depth the player can discover over time. It also needs to have closure, so the player knows when to leave and return.
Candy Crush is an example of a game with a strong core loop (and hence why it has created over $1 billion for King.com). It is very simple, the loop is come in, play a match-3 game by matching three candies (the match-3 mechanic is one player’s are familiar with) and when you finish your level you have closure. There is also depth, as you can either just complete the level or master it.
In addition to a strong game loop, you need powerful mechanics. The most important of these mechanics is the progression mechanic. Longer term progress is measured not just through gaining levels through “XP” but also through integrated progression mechanics, such as completing quests or building a bigger farm.
As well as progression mechanics, you need good secondary game mechanics. These are activities outside the core game loop that happen frequently but are secondary to the main loop. An example would be a slots tournament in Doubledown Casino.
Now add features
Once you have built a compelling core loop and strong mechanics around it, then adding features improves your LTV. You have the base that allows you to optimize retention, monetization and virality. Without the base, the features are useless.
- If your game does not have a strong core game loop, no amount or quality of features will make the game work.
- The core loop is central to success, it is a chain of actions that the player does over and over again.
- Once you have a strong core loop, you need to build out progression and secondary mechanics and then you can begin adding features to optimize performance.
3 thoughts on “You need a good game, not a feature”
In the days of “virtually free” user acquisition (and user re-activation) on FB you could expand the funnel easily when you launched new features. So even a mediocre game with a large initial install base would have enough feature adoption to “move important business metrics”. Also, there were novelty, first mover, and network effects that made the feature-centric approach work. Content (and content quality) didn’t really matter in this world.
As the channels for user acquisition and re-activation became better regulated, more competition entered the marketplace, and games shifted to mobile, the old ways of doing business could no longer produce results. People who wanted to spend money had better (and more fun) ways to do it.
Completely true and I think a lot of people who had success early did not understand this change.