Magic Meadow

A Magical Match-3 Adventure

ROLE

Creative Director, Designer

Timeline

February 2017- April 2018

Key Responsibilities

direction, research, interaction design, visual design

View in Google Play

Problem Space

Our first project as a studio was going to be a casual game wherein completing match-3 levels allowed the player to progress through an immersive adventure. Fun!

But in a marketplace as crowded as Match-3, we needed to find a way to stand out from the crowd.

In casual gaming, only a small percentage of users ever spend a penny in the game— yet games are overwhelmingly designed for the paying player. Players are plagued by annoying paywalls and  "pay to win" strategies that alienate the many in favor of the few.

How might we build a profitable game without punishing our players with predatory monetization traps?

User Research

Knowing the motivations of our users was critical. My team surveyed a group of 300 match-3 players to learn about what they like and dislike about existing match-3 games.

What I discovered from the responses is that there were two main types of match-3 players who have pretty different likes and dislikes. From here I was able to define the two personas who we'd build our product around!

Chelsea the Power-User

  • Super competitive
  • Will happily spend money in a game if it means that she can progress more quickly
  • Loves trying out new gadgets and powerups
  • Will quit a game if there are too many in-your-face ads

Marilyn the Thrifty

  • Goes to great lengths to avoid spending money in games
  • Doesn't like games that prevent her from progressing without paying money
  • Will happily engage with ads to continue playing
  • Gets frustrated if ads negatively impact the game experience

Competitive Analysis

Now that I understood more about our intended target audience, I  took a look at products always on the market to see what we could potentially improve upon.

I focused on three really strong contenders at the time:

Gardenscapes

Matchington
Mansion

Candy Crush
Saga

I found that existing ad integrations in these products were either:

  • Nonexistent
  • Hidden in hard-to-reach locations outside the normal game loop
  • Really in-your-face and annoying

And this seemed like an area that was ripe for innovation! I knew from experience with our last product, Black Diamond Casino, that ad integrations could dramatically increase engagement among previously disenfranchised users, and really added to our bottom line.

So now, based on user research and competitive analysis, I was able to form a hypothesis:

We could widen our market by targeting non-payers with fun ad integrations tailored to their gameplay style

Goals

  • A gorgeous, tactile match-3 experience
  • A fun adventure "metagame" to draw users in and create a sense of purpose
  • Friendly, just-in-time ad integrations that are fun for players and make us $$$

Match-3

The match-3 scene evolved a lot over the course of the project. We did contextual interviews with a group of 5 players with the first version of the scene.

I found that users struggled to find matches because the screen was busy-looking and the information hierarchy was unclear.

Here are the visual fixes I made to ensure that users have a smooth and easy experience playing the game:

Before 😞

After 😘

Match Pieces

I observed that users had to really search around the board before they could find a match. This made the experience feel clunky and difficult.

I edited silhouette, value, and color to make sure that users were able to find matches easily.

HUD

The heads-up display was HUGE... and yet still cluttered. It burned up a lot of screen real-estate but the lack of visual hierarchy made it difficult to pick out important information.

I sized this way down and clarified the information hierarchy so that players were able to more easily keep tabs on vital information.

Background

The background was way too noisy. I had wanted to incorporate all these cool 3D assets we had laying around but ultimately the effect was too chaotic.

I scaled WAY back, to help players keep their attention on the game board where it belonged.

The result of these changes? Users were able to complete levels almost twice as quickly. Nice!

Story

In keeping with the casual game genre, I wanted the story to be universal and familiar but still exciting. I came up with the initial idea of dueling dragons-- two brothers who are diametrically opposed, engaged in a struggle to destroy or save the magical forest that has been a home to each of them.

Below, I have documented the crooked process of developing the environment and characters to their final look and feel.

Environments

An early sketch concept for our hero's home base
I used the concept art stage to really try to push for fun, whimsical shapes
No project is without its missteps! Here's our first, unspeakably terrible 3D pass.
I hired an awesome 3D art director, Marco Gutierrez, and the next pass was much better. But still too busy-looking!
Ahh... just about right.
Here's the environment in action, in one of our cut scenes.

Characters

Creating likeable characters was a must, because I wanted players to feel like they were visiting old friends whenever they opened the game.

I worked with our amazing 3D art director, Marco, to develop the characters from drawings to fully animated versions of themselves.

But our main character,  Hugo, was subject to some pretty hilarious roasts when we opened up a beta to some investors and early testers

It was time to adapt! We redesigned the whole character a few months before the game's launch. Check out the stages below.

Re-Hugofication

Here are some of the REAL nuggets of feedback I received regarding Hugo's initial design.
I went back to the drawing board to come up with a new design
Gradually crystallizing into this slimmer, dewier-eyed version of Hugo's former piglike self.
Here's the final product after a couple weeks of elbow grease.
And just like that, we had a whole new dragon.

This redesign didn't affect player behavior, but our investors and executives could finally breathe a sigh of relief.

Ads

One of the biggest challenges was making sure that it was fun and easy to engage with ads. I began with user flows to make sure these touchpoints integrated nicely with the rest of the game flow and rewarded the user with a currency that was immediately useful to them.

The most important thing about ad integrations is offering a prize that's immediately useful to the player. So why not hook people up with a free bomb powerup when they're about to start a match-3 level?

And what if ad integrations could save the player from certain doom? Here, the player has run out of moves and is about to lose the level. Engage with this ad and get that second chance to win!

Ad touchpoints that aren't wrapped within the regular core loop are presented as a conversation between the user and the characters, which makes them feel friendly and useful.

Ads were a huge success! Our engagement rate was best-in-class, and ad revenue became a reliable source of income for us.

All Together Now

Tap through the prototype to get a feel for how everything came together in the final version.

Results

This was my directorial debut! I learned so much about team management here— from how to source talent, to planning sprints, to organizing tests and synthesizing information into actionable improvements.

We launched Magic Meadow on iOS and Android platforms, and after a year, here’s where we were:

35

cent ARPDAU

4.8

stars on the app store

100k+

unique installs

53%

of users
enjoy our ads