Easy to play, hard to master design is a key component for many successful games. Add friends to the recipe, and the “hard to master” part becomes even more fun. That seems to have become the unexpected key driver for the popularity of the Fireboy & Watergirl franchise. As both single and a two-person game; the dual-play aspect has driven its success.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see the number of both families as well as kids with friends who play the Fireboy & Watergirl games together. I’ve learned that the connection to other people in the game has inspired real-world and online chatter and driven its popularity. In the game, it’s easy for a child to start the puzzles by themselves in a single-player mode; but as one “young man” said in the comments section on agame.com, “When I play with my sis, I do way better!”
Game Design First, Then Character Creation
As an Indie developer, I’ve always found puzzle games to be fascinating, so when I built the first version of Fireboy & Watergirl, I created the puzzle mechanics first, then the characters. We cared more about the game play, but we knew the story and characters had to appeal to boys, girls and families as a whole. That design came second.
Once I finalized the game mechanics, it was pretty obvious that I needed two “opposite” elements for the game to feel natural to players. I designed the fiery hair of Fireboy first. Once I was convinced the character was compelling, a spent quite a bit of time finding the right image for Watergirl. After many revisions, I designed the current “waterfall ponytail” to combat the fiery hair.
According to the message boards, both the game play and the characters seem to resonate with players. It’s funny to watch kids use the WASD and arrow keys to play the game, while the parents struggle to keep up. Somehow, beating their parents and sharing game tips with their “more talented” friends has been a motivator for them to continue to play!
Marketing Support Spurs the Online Chatter
I truly believe that the off-line and online viral conversation about how to master the game have been a primary driver of the game franchises’ success.
The online publisher marketing support that inspires these conversations is key, however. Even though we’d all like to think we can make it on our own, rarely does the virality happen all by itself. The website take-overs on Spil Games websites and others, the emails, the promotions and other support have been key drivers for the franchise. As a developer, I don’t have the luxury of the time to drive these marketing activities. Working with a publisher who understands these key marketing drivers has been immensely helpful.
The marketing support that shares details about “puzzle and run,” “jumping,” “avoiding,” and “physics” tips, encourages players to really understand those tips and then make that information viral. Ultimately it is spurring further interest in the game.
We’re now out with version 4 and the franchise continues to be appealing according to the numbers. Kids and families are spending considerable time in the game—an average of 23 minutes per game session on the Spil Games global sites. That beats the average times of games on Facebook, which is 12.7 minutes, and 14.5 minutes on YouTube according to comScore. I think the puzzle solving aspect of the game as well as the inherent competition with friends spurs the numbers up.
Shhh. Don’t tell the Kids.
The added bonus that puzzle games sharpen the mind is something that appeals to parents and frees them to allow their kids to play with friends…but the mind-sharpening aspect is certainly not something we share with the kids. We know they’d think, “What? This game is good for me? No way!” So we market the game to kids with the fun aspects in mind, yet we secretly know their parents are seeing the intellectual benefits. With the age group this appeals to, 10 to 15 year olds, we’d kill the game by pointing out that it is a brain-enhancing game. Instead, we make the puzzles fun, entertaining and hard enough for kids to seek out other friends to help them with the game. This sharing and virality has paid off.
Additionally, we all know that typical game behavior is that boys like to beat boys and girls like to share and gather. As a game that appeals to both sexes, the dual-play mode allows for both bragging rights and friend-support to get ahead.
What to do Next?
In the past two years, it’s been gratifying to have more than 120 million people play the four versions of the games on the Spil Games platforms alone–and play them for such a long time. Twenty three minutes per game session shows we’re doing something to compel the game players.
Somehow, the kids and families keep playing. Our next steps are to produce a mobile version of the game with new levels.
Oslo Albet began making games in 2006. His first game, Towers, was purchased by Smiley Gamer and is still being played today. A native of Barcelona, Oslo has degrees in both Mathematics and Physics. His passion is making games that are easy to start and enjoy, fun to play and challenging to master.