Designing Great Hidden Object Games: An Interview with Alawar

Alawar Entertainment knows a thing or two about hidden object games, having brought us Snark Busters: Welcome to the Club, Snark Busters 2: All Revved Up, The Treasures of Mystery Island and Echoes of Sorrow to name a few. We sat down with the publisher to gain some insights into what goes into making a great hidden object game and why the genre continues to be so popular.

Why are hidden object games so popular?

Today, we are witnessing the development of a new genre: hidden object puzzle adventure games. HOPAGs unite the best features of hidden object, puzzle and adventure games. I believe their success lies in the way they immerse the player in an experience. We encourage the player of a game to identify with its main character, to the point of feeling the same emotion, whether it’s suspense, relief, joy, or fear. The same thing happens when you read a book or watch a movie.

Developers of HOPAGs are also pushing the envelope of quality, which means production values are becoming insanely good. This dramatically boosts sales. Of course, it’s not enough to draw a bunch of beautiful objects and then hide them; you also need to wrap them in a gripping story that will compel users to stay in front of their computers until they reach the end of the game.


What separates a good hidden object game from a bad one?

Several components affect a game’s quality: art production, which should create a memorable visual style; uniquely designed game locations; the manner in which the player interacts with objects; the story, which should line up with the best of Western fiction; a unique setting that establishes the tone of the gameplay; and one of the most important factors: interesting characters. We play by the same rules as filmmakers; however, instead of passively watching a movie, our users become the main character and guide his or her actions.

What’s the secret to writing a compelling hidden object story that players won’t want to skip?

That’s a good question! I won’t tell you all of Alawar secrets, but I will say one thing: the plot must capture the imagination of the player and refuse to let him or her go. OK, I’ll say one more thing: the storyline must maintain a sense of suspense and intrigue until the end. Alright, one more thing, but that’s it! The story must also encourage the player to think, feel, and identify with what’s taking place on the screen. Again, books and movies do the same thing.

How do you approach mini-games in HOGs?

It’s very important to integrate them into the story. You know a mini-game belongs in a game when it furthers the story. If it feels out of place, then it needs to go. We also believe it’s important to allow the player to choose between skipping a mini-game and trying to beat it. Developers should also realize that users get tired of playing the same kinds of mini-games in every title, and should put some effort into coming up with new ideas. Finally, we try to look at all of the mini-games first-time developers make. We learn from each other, which is a good thing.


Looking toward the future, where can the hidden object genre go from here? Is innovation really even important in the genre?

If we look at the evolution of the HOG, it’s been moving forward since day one. Developers are always performing experiments in the genre and making the process of finding hidden objects more and more captivating. For example, in the early days, who would have thought to immerse an object in water and require the player to find and use a butterfly net to retrieve it? Developers can also add incidental animations to distract players and increase the level of challenge. You can even do unique things with the iOS, as Little Things, in which collections of tiny objects form larger pictures, has shown. Even a timer can make a game more exciting! HOGs for social networks are starting to appear as well. Everything changes in time, though, so I’m sure we’ll soon see a new genre that becomes even more popular than HOGs.

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