Game Development Reference
You can see this insight in how Backyard Monsters changed during its development cycle. When it first
launched in 2010, the monsters and the combat animations were cute, reflecting the designers' desire to give the
game a mass appeal. However, KIXEYE realized that the art assets weren't accurately depicting what the game
actually was, and changed the artwork and effects to be much more aggressive and violent. After the change,
Backyard Monsters began generating better engagement and revenue numbers.
The reason? “Because we were dressing it up as the game it was, which is a combat game,” Preece now
says. “You don't want to be buying people on false advertising...the only reason you lose someone in a game is
you haven't met their expectations.” When a player's expectations aren't immediately satisfied in a free-to-play
game, they have no incentive to stay a minute longer. “You have to exceed their expectations in the first second,
in the first minute, in the first five minutes; you have to keep doing that,” says Preece.
So if a game's ad depicts a rocket being fired, the players better be able to fire a rocket in the first two minutes, or they'll feel betrayed.
Crappy Prototypes Are Better Than Amazing Design
In the KIXEYE approach, it's better to create a rudimentary prototype of the game than a highly detailed design
document. The prototype will prove whether the core experience is fun, and if not, you can iterate until it does.
Once the prototype works, you can build layers (art, effects, and so on) on top of this skeleton.
For that reason, KIXEYE prefers that the prototype be a vertical slice of the entire game, so that you can see
how changes in one area of gameplay can impact another. Another reason for preferring prototypes over design
documents is Preece's belief that every game has about 70 percent similarity to the games that came before it.
“Don't believe there's any more firsts,” he says. “It's [about] highly evolved design.”
Monetization Lesson, Part I: Speed-Ups Good; Decor and
Deals, Not So Good
KIXEYE's main monetization method is the purchase of game speed-ups. For example, in Backyard Monsters,
players can harvest resources, upgrade units and buildings, and create new monsters for free, but the process
can take anywhere from several minutes to several days to complete. KIXEYE cleverly inserts a Finish Now!
option, so that players can buy and spend the game's virtual currency, Shiny, to hasten (or immediately com-
It was this change to the revenue strategy, by the way, that helped put KIXEYE on the road to profit. “If the
game's doing its job,” Preece explains, “the player should be eager to gain access to content in the game.” Then,
spending $20 becomes more worthwhile to some players, rather than weeks of waiting. “They see it almost like
Related to this, functional customization items also sell well in KIXEYE games, but Preece and other de-
signers make sure that it's possible to earn the same items with enough free play (although true to their strategy,
doing that will take more time.)