Core Loops in Skill Gaming

by Leif Simonson, Chief Games Officer at WorldWinner

On the surface, entering the skill gaming market seems like a no-brainer for game developers: unlike the freemium model, which relies on analyzing massive amounts of metrics to find choke points that get users to spend, skill game design focuses on gameplay. You don't have to spend more than 50% of your design on tedious tasks, iterating and reworking on an endless Sisyphean content treadmill.

So why aren't more companies making skill games? As I'm writing this, there are probably only five companies in the entire solar system, possibly the entire galaxy, making quality, original, real-money competitive casual mobile games. The reasons behind this are legion when it comes to game design, but in this article, I will focus on just one of them: core loops.

A core loop is simply the activities a player does during a game. As of now, most successful skill games fall in the range of ninety seconds to three minutes in length. At WorldWinner, we have begun challenging that ethos in some of our upcoming titles, but let's save that for another article. As a project lead, you need to constantly ask yourself this question: “Did I have fun?,” or "When I finish a game, do I want to play another?" A game should make you hopeful for success despite the fact that you just lost. They should invoke thoughts like, "If I just did something a little bit different, I could've achieved a perfect game, a high score, beaten my opponent, etc.," "I made a mistake, next time I'll change my strategy," or "Just one more game, then I'll go to bed."

Although you can gain that information through analytics after launch, it's far more cost-effective to have good gut instincts early in the process of 'finding the fun.' If you can't quickly and clearly find the fun, kill the game or pivot. Never greenlight an unfun game.

Even if a game is kind of fun but you feel satiated after, it's unlikely to succeed without massive liquidity. At best, it's likely to become a "Filler," meaning players will play it once or twice then move on to the "Pillars" and "Killers." Fillers are also only likely to work in a container app with several games to prop them up.

I've had one major flop out of the twenty-five plus games we've launched since I joined the company two years ago, and the reason was I greenlit a game I didn't think was very fun because we set a hard deadline for completion. Players who played that game hated it so much that they would quit playing the app. It was a valuable and humbling learning experience. It's much better to do a mea culpa and release late than to put out a subpar experience.

After launch, it's a much more metrics focused measurement on if you have a good skill game or not. Questions to ask are players engaging with your app for thirty to sixty minutes? Are they playing ten or more games per player per day? What does your Day 1, Day 7, or Day 30 look like?

In future articles, I'll lay out key things that are needed to make a compelling skill game experience that will keep players playing for years. Skill game players are some of the most loyal players I've ever seen in my 25+ years of designing games. We've had players at WorldWinner who have literally played over 400,000 games over the past twenty five years. Once they find a game they love, they will never leave. Love your players and love your own games. It sounds easy, but it's surprisingly difficult to instill that truth in your teams and often in yourself. Lastly, play your games! It's extremely difficult to understand why your players love or hate your games if you aren't a player yourself.