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A Game of Numbers

Lately, I’ve gotten hooked onto Kairosoft‘s set of well-designed “simulation” games on mobile phones. They tackle pretty random topics from game development to managing a professional racing team, but only in the loosest sense; they’re more themes used to channel the underlying part-RPG, part-simulation engine that Kairosoft has expertly designed and iterated upon for years.

It’s a fascinating study of how to entice a player to craft a world and make steady progress over time, much like how most social/Facebook games design their gameplay experiences[1], but without the need to shoehorn social or monetization elements. The result is a genuinely addictive, compelling experience which captures that “just five more minutes” feeling.

When a game is designed to be fairly easy – it’s not hard to figure out how to tweak the variables and get to the endgame having seen a lot of it – the game throws in a few high scores, a few secret (and unexplained) unlocks, and a New Game+[2] to encourage repeated playthroughs. The game retains a feeling of “you almost got that secret item” has kept me trying, even after the high score has been tallied, to understand what I was doing wrong to properly “finish” the game.

This is the right way to design and build pseudo-simulation games. They can be fun, addictive, and replayable without resorting forced timers and friend spamming.

Footnotes    (↑ returns to text)

  1. A word of warning; that article on how social games are designed spans multiple pages, but the first page contains most of the goodies. The author is known for using words the way Vegas uses water.
  2. In gaming nomenclature, New Game+ is a mode that restarts a game with some of the stats/unlocks/items carried over.
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