How Accepting Game Changes Can Become Game Changers

2022.7.11 Interviews by Luke

When we last left TAPCLAP, they were excitingly working on relaunching their games using Cocos Creator and already had a few big hits on their hands.

But things got interesting when they emailed us and introduced Designville (iOS/Android) for us to look at. We were amazed at the cute characters, the fun idea of renovating places, and the elimination gameplay to collect money to buy new items to add to rooms. We added the initial gameplay to one of our Cocos Showcases.

But one day, I got an update, and it was all gone. No more elimination, just a bunch of items in a cobwebbed tiled room. I was perplexed until the tutorial taught me the new gameplay was merging items together. I wasn’t too sure if I’d be into this. I already was in love with the elimination idea. But months later, I’ve beaten almost every level and merged every game item.

It’s been fun to not only play the game and gather things but watch the story of two good friends designing homes for people all over the world.  I asked them for an interview months ago, but they’ve been too busy with the game to give me a chance.

But, after a long wait, we finally were able to get the team to take a few minutes to answer our questions on why the change and the bigger question, how successful it was.

Cocos: It’s great to talk to you again. We’re very impressed with the work you’ve been doing with Designville. What got you into the idea of doing a game about interior design?

TAPCLAP: Before this game, we had simple but very popular, in some markets, Match-3 games with many levels and a long progression line divided into episodes.

The most known ones were Pirate Treasures and Candy Valley (these games are still popular and supported by dedicated teams inside the company). By the way, the Pirate Treasures game is working now on the Cocos2d-x engine.

After these games became successful and after many years of support, we had to search for new ideas for new games. Game companies should always try something new while also supporting old successful titles – it is just more fun, and it helps to keep up with Gaming Trends.

We tried many things with our Experimental Team: Collapse (Elimination) game, Coloring games, Quiz applications, etc.

And somewhere in that time, we saw that the Design trend in gaming started to rise.

Playrix had great success with Gardenscapes and Homescapes, Glu Mobile with Design Home, and Tactile Games with Lily’s Garden.

And right about that time, we saw the interesting concept in the game “Home Design Makeover” – they mixed 2D interior designs (almost realistic style – like Glu Mobile’s game) with puzzle match-3 mechanics (2D Homescapes). We saw this approach as an opportunity because we felt it was cheaper to build this than an isometric Playrix-style games with a big Map on one screen.

We took our Elimination game basic code and started to build the Elimination + Design game with the help of outsourced partners (our main efforts were to support our successful titles).

After we built the first prototype of the game with 3 locations, we immediately launched it on some Social networks with a Beta version.

DesignVille Blast (elimination) gameplay screenshots (one of the early versions).

C: Yes, I remember playing your game early on, and it was an elimination game. But then, a few months later, it became a merge game. What happened to make you change the genre of the game?

T: The elimination game went through several iterations. Initially, there was a first prototype (that was made and launched at the end of 2019). In 2020 we completely changed the art of the game (it was not suitable in quality for mobile phones at all), several new locations were released, carried out a large-scale level rebalance, and improved the meta gameplay itself. We also added a new mechanic that allowed players to move furniture in rooms and thus create unique designs (something similar is in Fishdom). At the end of 2020, we released it on Google Play. But all these changes, unfortunately, did not help the project.

Test traffic purchases have shown a half-payback, a significant part of the players left during the gameplay. Also, the retention left much to be desired (especially long-term ones).

When there was no hope left, we got some advice from other developers we paid our attention to on a new Merge-2 genre and a new generation of games – Merge Mansion and new games like Merge Matters coming out were becoming big hits (there were only a few of them at that time). Around the same time, the first mixes of Merge and Design genres began to appear.

Then we got an idea to use the core gameplay of Merge instead of Match-3. We connected the earning of resources for meta gameplay (rooms) with completing tasks in merge gameplay. At the same time, we didn’t need to change the meta because everything was already there! So, we made the decision, and we got to work.

C: How long did it take to move from elimination to merge?

T: It took us about a month to create the first prototype. After another month of work, we released our game on the Odnoklassniki (OK.ru) social network. Then we spent three more weeks collecting feedback and fixing bugs in order to release the game for open beta testing on Google Play in August.

C: How well did the new change go? I’m hoping much better.

T: Compared to the old version of the game, the retention had grown a lot. On Android, it was originally: D1=25%, D7=5%, D30=0.7%. The new version became: D1=51%, D7=29%, D30=18%. In the iOS version of the Merge game, the figures were also high: D1=47%, D7=29%, D30=17%.

Most of the project’s revenue (65%) comes from advertising. Players watch it to receive in-game energy and restore generators in merge gameplay. Income from in-game purchases also increased significantly due to balance changes and the introduction of various features and offers.

C: That’s exciting news. We hope that Cocos Creator helps you out with all of this.

T: We’ve already had the experience with the Cocos engine, so it didn’t take much time to release the game.

The convenience and flexibility of the engine let us make the game prototype, finish it and publish it for beta testing. We made the new prototype with merge-mechanics within a month, which allowed us to quickly find out the result of our experiment with the genre and ensure that we were moving in the right direction.

Stability and performance of the game (especially on mobile devices) improved with new versions of Cocos Creator as well as the support of new Spine versions (because we work a lot with animations), and the possibility of releasing our game on new platforms, helped us to cover many platforms in a short time.

C: Are you still in beta? I saw you had a very long beta testing stage. Was there a reason for that?

T: The Google Play release was at the beginning of December 2021. Yes, the game was in beta for quite a long time because we were fixing the game balance. The main issue was with resources, which you could get not only for completing orders but also by selling items on the field. Our players were just selling items, because it’s more profitable, which led to the broken balance. We’ve fixed this problem by adding a new resource – coins, which you can’t use to complete tasks. You can get coins by selling items and using them to buy new inventory slots or other items in the store.

Besides the rebalance, we’ve also prepared new episodes so that players would have enough content on release.

After that, we started to work on our first event – the Halloween one. It was valuable and interesting for our team, and the results were good as well! We are still working on new event mechanics, trying to find the ideal formula. We love experimenting! 

C: That’s great that you added events. What’s the secret to having good events? I saw you had one for Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

T: The first event in Designville was the Halloween event. We’ve managed to make it in just one week and with one programmer. We didn’t expect much of it, but to our surprise, it showed great results!

D1 retention was 52%, and the medium session time increased. Players were buying the event offer, which led to our income increase. And we continued to experiment.

The following event was on Christmas. It was more complex since we added a new separate game field and new background. But it didn’t show as good results as the first event.

We made the event just like on Halloween for Valentine’s Day, but with improved balance. We were pleased with the results of this event. 

We have grand plans regarding events, which we can’t share yet. For now, we’re working on a new big event, which took all the best from the previous ones. We hope our players will like it! 

There is no secret at all. Just follow your metrics and your feelings from the event. If the main feature is interesting for you, that means you’re going the right way. There is no need to make a complex event overloaded with complex mechanics which can deter players. Don’t be afraid to cut off things you don’t need.

C: What are some things that you learned from the production of the game?

T: When switching to the Merge-2 genre, we’ve changed our approach to work. The work on Match-3 was quite chaotic because of the different experiments on the game balance and because of reworking the game mechanics. We’ve almost burnt out working on the previous version of the game. Merge-2 was kind of refreshing – it’s much easier and more pleasant to work in this genre.

Now we make time for important things like planning, discussing new game mechanics, and testing prototypes. It’s essential to finish mechanics in the game before releasing it. As a result, the amount of bugs decreased, and the game began to work more stable than before.

We’d also like to mention the work with the game balance. The merge-2 genre was new for us, and we didn’t know how the balance works, so we focused more on other games of this genre. But now we build it ourselves, adding our new mechanics. We have a plan for the six months ahead. How else can we improve the balance? We just follow this plan 🙂 

There is also the narrative part of the game, and now we focus more on it. Previously in the game, you just could buy the furniture, and that’s all, but now there are story tasks with dialogues and colorful animations. Designville is a story game about design, but it has a subplot about the romantic relationships between the main characters, Louise and Robin.

In summary, we want to develop two main parts of the game: the Merge-2 part and the story part with designs. Both parts are intertwined, which you can see in the game events. We want to harden this connection so our players would be more engaged. We want them to have some kind of reason to merge items.

C: Why do you think merge games are so popular among developers right now?

T: Merge-2 and merge-3 games are developing actively and attracting more and more players. You can implement a lot of new features because the market is not oversaturated, unlike with match-3 games. Not only are merge games profitable, but it’s also interesting to develop them as well! It’s more like a race or an expedition: you want to find or invent something unique for this genre, which will make your game the number one for the players. 

The main thing is that it’s easier to make merge-2 than match-3 games: you don’t have to make a lot of animations, new levels, and new tiles. But also because of that, the entry-point to the genre is relatively low, so it can be challenging for new projects to stand out.

Only a year ago, there were not many merge games, but now you can see where it goes, and everyone is following the same direction. We always keep up with trends and didn’t forget our unique features. There will be a lot of interest in the game. Stay tuned ;).

C: One thing that got me excited when I first started the game was the character design. How did you do such amazing animation in the game? Why do the characters look amazing and fun to look at?

T: We have marvelous artists and animators! We’ve been searching for our unique character’s style for a long time, and there have been many arguments and different iterations. But finally, we made it something between cartoonish style and realism. Thank you for your feedback. We’re glad you like it! In new episodes, there will be a focus on the main characters and on the plot itself. We have some interesting ideas regarding characters, so probably you’ll see them in the game soon.

C: Now that we talked so much about the game, where is the game now, and plans to ship to other places?

T: Designville has already been released on such platforms as:

  1. Google Play
  2. AppGallery
  3. App Store
  4. Amazon Store
  5. Facebook
  6. OK (Odnoklassniki)
  7. VK (VKontakte)

We’ve also found a publisher for the Chinese market and released the game on WeChat. In the future, we want to make a standalone website with the game and release Designville on Microsoft Store.

C: Are there more games made with Cocos Creator coming soon?

T: Now we’re focused on the development and support of our current projects, but we do not exclude the possibility that soon we can do something new. It can be another game in the merge-2 genre. Who knows? 

We also want to finish the transfer of our other popular games (Candy Valley) to Cocos Creator.

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