GAME DESIGN AND THE ART OF FAILING FORWARD: HOW ONE EXECUTIVE HAS FACED EVOLVING A BELOVED GAME
Loyal players are key to the long-term success of a title. They’ll keep playing as long as you keep listening to what they have to say, bad or good. Russ Carroll, Executive Producer of MobilityWare’s Solitaire, said the biggest challenge is not in the design but that “players resist change- and companies only want positive change.”
MobilityWare makes a point to listen to its players. With over 300,000,000 downloads of its Solitaire game, that’s a lot of user feedback to consider. Players average over 500 years of playing time per day, making the game a critical and commercial success year after year since its release in 2008. In an industry always looking for the next big hit, MobilityWare’s Solitaire is #11 in active users on iOS and #6 on Android over the past year. Solitaire is also #6 amongst all mobile games in monthly active users across the United States. Over the past decade, the game has amassed a loyal fanbase that is committed to the game and reticent to embrace change.
With such success, developers can become fearful of trying new things. But with a sea of amazing game titles out there failing to build followings, playing it safe just isn’t an option. The path to staying relevant and stoking player growth requires challenging the status quo.
What’s the secret? “Success through failing forward,” said Carroll. To turn your failures into triumphs you must embrace player data and feedback. Incorporating input is crucial when trying to retain loyal players. Because dedicated users are the first to say, “You can’t make changes to Solitaire!”
That made one of the most necessary changes one of the most daunting to consider. Through feedback, Carroll and his team found out that those who weren’t playing MobilityWare’s Solitaire weren’t able to read the cards. But dedicated players were the first to say,”You can’t change the cards!!” “So how could we make cards more readable when everyone is telling us you can’t touch the cards?”, he added with a laugh.
The answer is simple once you find the nerve to take the first step: make the changes and then find out what players think. Carroll and his team utilized extensive in-game A/B testing along with in-game surveys. A test phase was implemented with both new and existing users. New users surveys could be trusted for feedback on card readability without the distraction of negative feelings over design changes.
The A/B testing showed two results. The new font on cards increased player retention on phones significantly and decreased retention on tablets considerably. So, while the new font was a failure on tablets both tests were considered a success in determining a way forward. The change was made as a default on phones and made available as an option on all devices.
In sum, players only resist change they don’t agree with while companies only want change for the good. The goal is to protect the interests of both the player and the developer- to listen to the users and make changes that ensure they’ll stick around. That kind of authentic concern for the player also ensures the developer’s needs are met.
The lesson is that failure is a necessary component of doing something new. “As we try new things, we should expect to not get them right all the time,” said Carroll. In other words, listen carefully and fail successfully.