Our method for addictive gameplay

Coconut Dodge has been a surprise for many people. When we first posted screenshots online, comments were scathing, and when we posted game play footage, most people’s reactions to it were that of ‘meh’.

It’s understandable, because on the face of it Coconut Dodge looks like a free Flash game.

However, we’ve been making Flash games for over 6 years now, and during that time we’ve never had the opportunity to develop the kind of cunning game play that steals people’s attention and never gives it back. This is because all of our Flash games have in some way been designed to promote other products.

Coconut Dodge is our first game for the sake of being a game, our product.

Of course, we can’t complain about the existence of Flash-games-for-marketing, otherwise we would have never been able to get started!

But in all these years of making Flash games with direction imposed by a client, the game play has always suffered.

So, with that in mind, how have we managed to make Coconut Dodge so damn addictive? What are the ingredients that give it the insatiable hook?

I can summarise them for you now:

1. Accessibility

Firstly, it has a very simple mechanic, which anyone can understand immediately. This simplicity is also disarming, and gives the player the impression the game should be easy. However, the game soon shows the player they aren’t as clever as they thought they were, which triggers an emotional reaction for the player to reassert themselves, and to continue trying until they’ve succeeded.

What’s more, the game play is never too hard. This is because I designed and play tested the game, and I am not particularly skillful. I can practice a game to become very good at it (if Ken Masters were a real person, I’d kick his ass at Street Fighter), but I am not one of those people who can pick up any game and rule at it straight away. If we’d given the game play design duties to Dan for example, who is a wolverine of nimble finger skillz, the game would have been too difficult for most people.

Even without a simple mechanic, a reasonable learning curve helps to make the game accessible.

2. Prediction and Surprise

The next important ingredient is the combination of the predictable mazes and the random coconuts. The predictability of the mazes gives a player an opportunity to take ownership of them by memorising, and eventually mastering them, which is very satisfying. However, if it were just the mazes to deal with, the game would get boring rather quickly, so the random coconuts keep players on their toes.

3. A Precondition for Luck to Emerge

This final ingredient is something that we never designed intentionally: the way the beach balls interact with the coconuts.

Bouncy balls are compelling by themselves anyway, because the mind is constantly trying to predict where the balls will bounce when hit, and sometimes the mind predicts correctly, and sometimes it doesn’t. This balance of predictability and surprise makes it compelling.

But it’s the interaction of the bouncy balls with the fall of coconuts that makes the game fun and interesting every time you play, and it’s this lucky mechanic that permits the moments of joy that are unscriptable; the perfect dash under a coconut to grab a diamond, whilst putting a cheeky backspin on a beach ball that was heading off-screen.

It’s these moments that make the player feel awesome, because they are unexpected, unpredictable and different every time. By definition, these moments simply have to be created by luck.

By trial and error then, we managed to create the conditions for addictive game play to manifest while playing.

Having analysed and recognised what makes Coconut Dodge so addictive, the question now is whether we can recreate these conditions for our next game.

Watch this space :p