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At the end of May, I was able to finally re-release Word Ways after pivoting the game into a single player experience and giving it a few rounds of updates to bring it up to speed before getting some help from a friend to do some rounds of user acquisition.

This has been a long project in the making. I decided recently to cut off the backend, and to refocus the experience around single player as the multiplayer release had various challenges to address

To launch as quickly as possible, I rewired everything to be local and refactored as little as possible.

The following are the top UX/UI changes made to make the game better, but why overall, I’m focusing on the wrong problems.

#1 – Optimize for the first time user experience.

Word Ways is a project long in the making. More recently I cut off the backend and refocused the game into a single player experience. To launch as quickly as possible, I just rewired everything to be local and as minimal as possible without refactoring much.

Because the multiplayer version had over 7 steps and 12 seconds between registration, to beginning to play. I made sure to avoid this mistake again.

Before and after video of the game’s first time user experience. Can you spot the differences?

Instead, I restructured my loading to be as optimal as possible, showing the Loading screen very early on, and bringing the player directly into the game experience as fast as possible.

By doing so, I managed to reduce the time down to only a few seconds, and having to not tap on anything to get into your first game.

#2 – Making it all about my Onboarding and the first 90 seconds.

My objective when I started to re-create this version was to onboard users right away. A lot of this work came from gathering user feedback and making continuous updates but here are some of the things that I think worked quite well.

Users are first tasked with completing the word “HOUSE” one letter at a time. Through creating the word, they clear the first bonus line and learn how the bonus mechanic works. When they finish the word and submit it, they receive an extra-gratifying presentation due to their perfect word entry.

The first words that need to be created by players.

My approach for the second word was to teach users to submit a partial word.

After displaying the word “TABLES”, users are required to submit the word “STALE”. Users who want to experiment with all letter tiles, or aren’t paying attention, will have to figure out how to re-write their words.

This brings user’s attention back to the tutorial and re-enforces them to pay attention.

By step #8, users have learned how to create words, clear lines, bonus lines and submit a word. By step #13 they have created 2 words, levelled up, and completed the tutorial. By step #18, users have completed the tutorial, been rewarded with a random Powerup, and have learned how to use it.

#3 – Make visual feedback rewarding and obvious to the player

Although these changes were quite rewarding to accomplish, it was stressful to face Art head first and take ownership of it. I was a little out of my element and had to figure out how to create something similar to current assets, and make it my own. I felt like remaking all the art, but knew that would not be the best use of my time.

By focusing on adjusting just certain things like the bonus line colours and states, I was able to better communicate player’s impact on them, and also what they meant. By adjusting the background colour of the game and adding some small highlights on assets, the user feedback became much clearer.

Visual feedback on key game moments were added to increase communication of mechanics.

Some focus was also spent on bonuses, which took a little bit more work since I wanted to visualize the current word bonus across every letter. To make scoring in general more rewarding, I spent some extra attention making perfect words flashier, in addition to slightly updating how Power ups look.

#4 – Optimize UI to make it more intuitive and easier to read

Continuing my efforts to clean up the game and focus it more on the core mechanics, I would adjust and clean the UI a bit in order to make it more intuitive.

I would first adjust the lower part of the interface by removing the “PASS” button, maximizing the size of letter tiles, and fitting the “SUBMIT” button on the very right of the HUD. This felt like it really helped to keep everything together and as a single component.

UI optimizations were iterated on to clean up screen real estate.

Small adjustments were also made when users are dropping letters to fix their word entry in order to make it more readable.

By separating the Level and Score position from the bottom part, I felt like I was better able to balance the screen real estate.

#5 – Tying up the knots with a High Score.

I recently added High Scores back into the game as I felt the need to tie up the single player experience.

Since users are playing each round for a couple of minutes, it’s important to give an end-game experience that matches their time invested.

As the user is reaching the end of his match, each puzzle on the stack will start shaking, with a red X flashing over top. They have 3 seconds to clear a puzzle, or they lose.

End game updated to warn player, while High Score presentation was made to feel more gratifying.

By strictly keeping the game in an arcade structure, I feel like I’ve been able to continue to optimize the core game loop, and focusing on improving core mechanics.

#6 – A single conversion point that incentivizes replay and retention

Crossy Road clearly hit a nail on the head by creating a very focused conversion point at the end of their game loop. It’s easy to see the positive influence towards the product’s UX.

At the end of the game, users are offered a Free Gift. The only monetization point is that after this, users must watch a video to get the powerup, or wait X minutes, before receiving another gift. When they take the gift, a spin wheel appears with a powerup inside. When users press “STOP” they receive the powerup.

Game Over menu was adjusted to promote replay and rewards.

As I wanted to drastically reduce the complexity of the UX, avoiding multiple user paths, power up selection, and other UI options, I would keep it simple. By creating a focused Gift & Incentivized Offer mechanic at the end of your game session, you are achieving many things:

– Creating a simple and effective way for players to access powerups and other content.

– Understanding if users are engaged with your mechanics and your product.

– Implementing a re-engagement mechanic at the end of the play session.

– Implementing a re-engagement mechanic over several hours, via Gifts.

So what’s the problem?

I’m quite happy and proud of everything that I managed to get done these past few months, however, it’s become clear that in some ways, the product itself isn’t the problem.

During the first re-release in June, I was able to get some help from a friend who helped me through a cross promotion. I was given 100 users so I could look into basic Onboarding rates, retention, and to make sure that they were engaging with the right parts of the game.

I was fairly happy with the results I was seeing and started figuring out what my next set of updates would include.

As you can see below, with each campaign launched, I’ve prepared new store assets and creatives, spending careful attention to screenshots, updating call to actions, creating new app icons, adjusting the game title, and attempting to optimize for various keywords.

Iterations on Google Play marketplace content were done to increase effectiveness.

Although I was very happy with my work, and some of the results of the campaign were pretty good, it all unfortunately led to a poor Install Rate.

The problem is that ultimately, with each update, you need to be able to measure how the game is improving. Without enough users, you don’t really know anything for certain.

Throwing money at the problem, creating multi channel campaigns, finding better user segments, and trying to increase awareness, would help me get more users, but ultimately the effort is relative.

If your Install Rate is generally low, your Cost Per Install (CPI) is going to be high. If your CPI is going to be high, your Life Time Value (LTV) is going to have to scale.

Before worrying about finding the right audience, optimizing channels and creating bigger campaigns, make sure you’ve iterated on your marketplace to make it the best possible.

Your game mechanics, features, theme and ultimately, your product will have the biggest impact on this, however, making adjustments to your marketplace content will also affect your overall performance.

My next blog update will focus more around this problem, how I have attempted to address it, and what I am still doing to figure it out.