Friday, April 27, 2012

More shiny gem-matching with Jewel Journey

Jewel Journey is a match-3 puzzle title for Facebook. The developer’s name is conspicuously absent from the game canvas and its fan page, making it hard to pin down exactly who created it. Judging from the fan page in question, however, it’s possible to see that the game has been available from around January 2012, and it is also currently showing up in the “Newest” list on Facebook’s Games page.

Jewel Journey is a competent but unremarkable example of the match-3 genre, bringing no real innovations to the table. It even goes so far as to use the clichéd premise of the player being an archaeologist, but does not force this with intrusive, badly-written dialog scenes. Instead, it serves as the justification for the titular “journey” through a series of stages, beginning in the Grand Canyon and later moving on to an army base, a frozen wasteland, the lost city of Atlantis and some Mayan ruins.

The basic gameplay is conventional match-3: by swapping pairs of gems and making groups of 3 of the same color either horizontally or vertically, the player scores points. Making a row of 4 or 5 or a L/T-shaped group produces special gems which explode, remove all of a particular color or clear an entire row and column when matched. The ultimate aim of each timed level is to cause one or more fragments of a “key” to fall down to the bottom of the screen. When this is accomplished, the level ends and the player receives a bonus according to how many gems they matched and how much time remained. Levels are distinct from one another according to their shape — some have holes in the middle into which gems may not be moves, others have awkward, irregular sides.

On some levels, special gems appear to hinder the player. Locked gems may not be moved by the player until they are unlocked by matching them with the appropriate color, but they are affected by gravity if matches are made beneath them. Frozen gems, meanwhile, are fixed solidly in place until they are matched. In order to help counter these obstacles, the player has a number of items which can be purchased using in-game currency. These tend to help with clearing areas of gems in several ways or shuffling the board. There are also four powerups only available via gifts from friends — these directly help with clearing locked and frozen gems and also provide the possibility to earn more points and time for a level.

Players are nagged to add friends after every single level. Later stages are also friend-gated, making it essential to recruit other players in order to continue progression. Players also have the opportunity to share news of achievements and high scores on their Timelines as a means of viral promotion, and each level has its own leaderboard.

The game’s currency is earned through play, mostly through a timer which rewards players with free coins for every 10 minutes of continuous play. There is no energy system in place and this counter continues even when simply sitting on the map screen, so there’s nothing to stop players from leaving the game running in the background and racking up the coins for free — the only input required is to click “Collect” on the popup that appears every ten minutes. This is quite a player-friendly move but may hurt the game’s monetization in the long run, especially as the developers also host regular coin giveaways at least once per day on the game’s fan page.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Gold Slots Is The New Facebook-based Slot Machine Sim

Gold Slots is a new Facebook-based slot machine sim, developed by iEvoGames and published by 6waves. The game showed up as the 11th fastest-growing Facebook game by daily active users in our roundup earlier this week

Gold Slots follows the model of most other Facebook slot machine simulations. Beginning with a single available machine, players may bet on up to 25 different “win lines” in the hopes of spinning a winning combination of symbols. As players spin the reels, they gain experience points and level up, which in turn allows them to place larger bets at once and unlock different machines. All of the machines work the same, they simply have a different audio-visual aesthetic.

Gold Slots puts a couple of spins — no pun intended — on the conventions of the genre that give it a slightly greater feeling of interactivity than its numerous competitors. The first of these twists is that the player may take on a gambling minigame in order to increase the payout from a winning spin. This minigame is very straightforward: players must simply guess whether the next playing card drawn from a stack will be a member of a red or black suit, with successful guesses increasing the pot of winnings and then offering a chance to increase it still further. Despite its simplicity, the inclusion of this feature adds a welcome sense of doing something beyond simply clicking the “Spin” button over and over again. Based on our testing, however, it appears the odds are stacked significantly in favor of the house — although there’s always the possibility it could just be our bad luck.

The second twist is that every few experience levels players may choose which machine they would like to try next, rather than unlocking new machines in a linear order at set levels like most other slots sims on Facebook. Since all machines play almost identically barring their irregularly-occurring “bonus” game, this decision is largely a matter of aesthetics rather than mechanics. Again, though, it gives players a feeling of interaction with the game rather than simply going through the motions. At the time of writing, there are nine different machines available, catering to a wide variety of tastes. The game’s interface suggests that at least seven more are on the way, too.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Bubble Bunny is “blitz-style” bubble-popping puzzle game in Facebook

Bubble Bunny is a “blitz-style” bubble-popping puzzle game from French developer Ooblada. It showed up as the No. 2 emerging Facebook game at the end of last week, with 70,000 monthly active users. This number has since grown to 90,000.

The game is based on a very simple concept: In a minute of gameplay, players are challenged to pop as many groups of 3 like-colored bubbles as they can. The faster they do this, the higher they score, and the more likely they will be to acquire various powerups to make their life easier — or, on occasion, more difficult.

The twist on the usual formula is that the levels have an element of physics-based gameplay about them. Rather than the bubbles hanging from the top of the level in relatively static arrangements as seen in titles such as’s Bubble Witch Saga, the bubbles in Bubble Bunny are attached to spinning wheel-like structures in the middle of the play area. Flinging a bubble and making a match or attaching it to something causes the entire arrangement of structures to rotate depending on where it landed — hitting the right side of a structure from underneath causes everything to rotate counter-clockwise, for example.

The arrangement of bubbles in the levels is identical every time, so skilled players will be able to memorize the level layouts in order to get through the earlier, simpler stages quickly. Since a bonus is provided at the end of the 60 seconds for the number of levels completed, this becomes essential to attain high scores, along with understanding what the various powerups do. This is a matter of experimentation, since the game does not explain the function of the various collectibles, instead requiring the player to try them out and see what happens rather than revealing everything immediately.

Progression is provided by a leveling system, which provides the player with a score bonus every few levels. The player may also acquire an additional score bonus of up to 5% by playing every day. Monetization is handled through the sale of lives, which are needed in order to start a new game. These are available either by asking friends or at the rate of five per 10 Facebook Credits. There are no other purchasable powerups at this time.

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Monday, April 16, 2012 brings its popular “Saga” series on Facebook with Candy Crush Saga. brings its popular “Saga” series to the match-3 genre today on Facebook with Candy Crush Saga.
The game is based on Candy Crush, available on’s web portal. Players are tasked with helping Mr. Toffee and his daughter, Tiffi, travel through 65 levels in a Candyland-like world, solving candy-themed match-3 puzzles and acquiring items for candy recipes. The game monetizes similar to the other Saga games, with extra lives and gameplay-boosting charms and powerups available for Facebook Credits.

Candy Crush Saga will eventually be playable via open web, Facebook, and mobile devices;  somewhat like did with the match-3 game Miner Speed. Unlike Miner Speed, Candy Crush Saga won’t offer crossover experiences: CMO Alex Dale tells us the Facebook and open web versions play significantly different from each other. Dale also tells us the various Saga games will be launching for mobile devices in the near future, coming to as many platforms as possible. The titles are expected to launch for iOS and Android devices, but CEO Riccardo Zacconi recently showed us Bubble Witch Saga on the Kindle Fire, too.

Clarification: Bubble Witch Saga on the Kindle was a prototype version and is not currently available.
“On our portal, you’ll typically have a couple of levels of gameplay where you play head-to-head in a match or a tournament. The excitement is very much driven by the direct competitive challenge,” Dale says. “On Facebook, it’s a much more a relaxing experience about progressing through the game with your friends, and the mobile version will be ‘snackable’ so it can be played whenever someone has a free moment.”

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Monday, April 9, 2012

Social Point struck gold when it released its 2011 sleeper hit Social Empires on Facebook

Barcelona-based developer Social Point struck gold when it released its 2011 sleeper hit Social Empires on Facebook, and recent follow-up Social Wars continued this trend. Now that the company has discovered the monetization power of the mid-core games, CEOs Andrés Bou and Horacio Martos are pursuing that part of the market full bore with new Facebook games and also expanding onto iOS before the end of this year.

Before Social Empires, Social Point developed 20 casual titles that gained plenty of users and monetized via advertising, but not that well overall. The company decided to take a risk and invest in creating a new engine for a real-time strategy game, Social Empires. The gamble paid off: Even though it’s one-and-a-half years-old, Social Empires is increasing its peak user numbers. Since January, it grew from 890,000 DAU to a peak of 1.3 million DAU) and monetization on a monthly basis. Social Wars is enjoying similar success, having grown to 750,000 DAU in four months.

“Middle-core games do better on Facebook because they’re easier to play and understand,” says Bou. “When you get into deeper levels of the game, the hardcore filters appear and game becomes more interesting and monetizes better.”

This success now has Social Point focusing exclusively a male-dominated, mid-core audience. It’s continuing to maintain and expand Social Empires and Social Wars, but there are also two new Facebook titles in the works: A turn-based combat featuring mythical creatures like dragons and an online RPG. Details are currently scarce on both of these titles, but Bou and Martos say they’ll launch before the summer.

Additionally, Social Point is moving into the mobile market with iOS versions of Social Empires and Social Wars coming later this year. Both of these mobile versions will use Facebook Connect, meaning players can continue the same campaigns they’ve been playing on Facebook. Social Empires is scheduled to launch sometime within the next two months, while Social Wars is planned to arrive on iOS devices before the end of this year.

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Social Game Gangs of Boomtown is now on Facebook

Digital Chocolate’s Old West-themed social game Gangs of Boomtown is now available on Facebook following a 30-day exclusivity period on Google+.  The game casts players in the role of a mysterious wanderer who has been targeted by a gang of assassins. Throughout their adventures, the player must achieve two main goals: take down the assassins and help rebuild the ruined settlement of Boomtown.

Gameplay unfolds in a very familiar manner, combining elements of role-playing games and citybuilders. Players are introduced to basic game concepts through a brief tutorial and are then guided through the game’s story via a series of quests. These tasks will lead the player from location to location in the Boomtown world in order to fight enemies, collect items and make a name for themselves. Upon returning to Boomtown, the player is able to clear the burned-out debris of the original settlement, construct buildings, plant crops and make use of various special buildings in order to upgrade their weapons or increase their population limit. All actions in this “PvE” part of the game cost energy to perform — this replenishes over time and at every level up. Constructing certain buildings requires specific resources which can be acquired by expending hard currency or asking friends, and the construction of some special buildings (typically those which allow the player to expand their population) is also friend-gated — though as usual, this may also be bypassed with hard currency.

Players may also travel to a special “Ghost Town” location which is populated by avatars of other players. Here, the player is able to “duel” opponents in order to gain money, experience and special items often used for construction. Dueling has its own independent energy bar, allowing players to indulge in some PvP while they wait for their PvE energy to regenerate. The PvP energy bar is much smaller, however, meaning it runs out relatively quickly — it’s also considerably slower to recharge. The odds of victory against each opponent are clearly displayed above their heads, allowing players to pick their targets carefully — though taking a more risky gamble potentially offers greater rewards. Unlike some other PvP-based social games, there is no means of notifying an opponent of when they have been defeated, nor is there any way to communicate with them beyond manually searching for their Facebook profile.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Inside EVE Online’s Fanfest 2012

CCP Games held their annual Fanfest last week in Reykjavík, Iceland and I was on location checking out Dust 514 and everything new happening in EVE Online. While DUST may be the newest property to come from CCP, they aren’t backing away from EVE. In fact, they demonstrated during the show how they plan to bring the two together in a way that has never been done before.

Attendance numbers were relatively low, compared to other gaming events I've attended. But Fanfest is a big deal to both CCP and EVE Online fans. There were just over a thousand people in attendance (not including CCP staff or press). But that’s a pretty large number of people willing to fly to Iceland for a week, considering that the game has just over 400,000 subscribers.

The Harpa Opera House. Quite a lovely venue.

Having outgrown Iceland’s Laugardalshöll Convention Center, Fanfest took over the Harpa Opera House this year. It’s a beautiful location, and allowed more room for panels and keynotes as well as a place to actually sit down! It was one of the most enjoyable convention venues that I’ve ever been able to nerd-out in.
There was a big focus put on Dust 514 –you can read all that about in my hands-on preview– but EVE was still the main reason that people were there. CCP detailed the points of the upcoming Inferno expansion, as well as cleared the air on what went wrong with Incarna – a tumultuous expansion that saw a large number of players unsubscribing from EVE Online.

CCP releases several free expansions for EVE Online every year, adding new content for players to dabble in. Incarna was supposed to introduce avatars, and see players finally leaving their ships to walk around space stations, to interact with each other face to face. When Incarna launched, players were given a single room to meander about in alone – a colossal disappointment.

During the keynote, there was a surprising level of transparency, which we don’t see much of these days. There were detailed graphs and explanations of what went wrong with Incarna, and how CCP plana to continue to fix it. The presentation was filled with jokes about monocles (woefully expensive micro-transactions were one of the biggest failures of Incarna), and players were repeatedly reminded that CCP acknowledges that spaceships are the core of EVE, and need to be made a primary focus again.

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