長文探討:開發者從留存角度談爲什麼休閒遊戲需要劇情

開發者從留存角度談爲什麼休閒遊戲需要劇情

(三位移動產品業內人士討論瞭如何利用連載式劇情有效提高玩家留存率)

原作者:James Batchelor 譯者:Willow Wu

對任何一個手游來說,玩家留存率是決定它是否能夠在市場上生存下來的關鍵因素,更不用說留存率跟成功的之間的密切聯繫。

有很多方法都可以提高留存率——比如定期發佈新內容、有趣的升級系統等等。而某些休閒遊戲工作室找到了一種更加有創意的方法:講一個好故事。

“一個休閒遊戲,如果玩家們能很快上手,並且理解它在講什麼,那這個遊戲就能發揮出最好的效果,”Spil Games的CEO Tung Nguyen-Khac說。“然而,如果這個遊戲過於簡單,那麼玩家很快就會覺得沒意思了。

big fish casual game(from bigfishgames.com)

big fish casual game(from bigfishgames.com)

“手遊劇情變得越來越重要,因爲它能提升玩家的沉浸度,讓玩家一次又一次地回到遊戲中。而這些再次返回遊戲的玩家氪金機率也相對比較高,所以好的劇情也是增加遊戲收益的一種方法。”

Rebecca Harwick,Wooga解謎找物遊戲《瓊的旅程(June’s Journey)》劇情的主操刀者也認同這個說法:“遊戲機制和遊戲角色不一樣,你沒辦法跟它建立情感關係。這種深入內心的聯繫會讓玩家在不玩遊戲的時候也有所掛念。另外,人總是會想知道接下來會發生什麼,就跟你看最喜歡的電視節目或者是書本差不多,對於下一部分的內容充滿了好奇。

“另外,遊戲劇情還給機制本身賦予了另一層意義和情感共鳴。當玩家們在玩《瓊的旅程》時,他們做的不僅僅是在這個場景中搜尋物品、點擊它——他們做的是收集線索,解決對應的難題以及深入瞭解這個角色。”

在Mediatonic創意總監Jeff Tanton看來,並非所有休閒都需要劇情。

“3消遊戲可能就不需要角色關係複雜交錯的劇情來告訴你爲什麼把三個香蕉排成一線對於拯救宇宙來說是不可或缺的,”他說,“如果你覺得某種方法可能行不通,你還有更加簡單的方法帶領玩家前進,讓他們感覺到遊戲是有進展的——可以利用地圖、定時更換背景,或者是逐漸引入新的升級道具、機制。

“但這並不意味着你可以忽視劇情,不用構建遊戲世界,而是你要明白自己做出的遊戲是什麼樣的基調,玩家會因爲什麼迷上你的遊戲。”

在所有休閒類衍生遊戲中,受益最明顯的大概就是解謎找物遊戲了,Tanton describes將它描述成“一個美麗的異類,你和競爭者之間的最大差異通常就在於劇情。”

他接着說道: “劇情包含了所有吸引點,讓整體的遊戲體驗得到提升。就像是在寫一部電視連續劇,玩家會不會回來看接下去的劇情要取決於你的劇本寫得好不好。”

傳統的劇情主導遊戲需要好幾個小時才能把劇情完整展開,但是休閒手遊不能這樣,開發者們必須在玩家第一次進入遊戲的時候就讓玩家明白這遊戲講的是什麼,努力吸引玩家,讓他們在接下來的幾個月沉浸在故事中。這就是爲什麼很多產品(尤其是解謎找物遊戲)是以連載的形式展現劇情,也就是在正式發行之後繼續開發工作,加入新的劇情內容。Wooga在《珍珠的冒險(Pearl’s Peril)》和《瓊的旅程》上採用的就是這種方法,而Mediatonic藉助了J. K. Rowling的創作,利用史上最暢銷的架空世界背景製作出《神奇動物:魔法世界探奇》,大獲成功。

要說成功的訣竅是什麼?當然是節奏。玩家們需要的是細水長流的劇情節奏,這樣可以避免在你發行新內容之前玩家就匆匆過完了所有內容,但是劇情進程也不能太慢,否則他們會對遊戲失去興趣。

Nguyen-Khac談到了《麻將犯罪:東方快車謀殺案(Mahjong Crimes: Murder on the Orient Express)》,一款混合了中國傳統遊戲和阿加莎·克里斯蒂代表作的手遊。如何確定這個遊戲的節奏?很重要的一個方法就是進行大量測試。

“最初,我們的設計是在每個關卡後加上劇情,”他說,“但是通過測試我們發現這對玩家來說信息量過大了,所以我們將關卡數量增加一倍,現在玩家要完成兩關纔會看到劇情。玩家們對這種模式比較能夠接受。”

“人們玩休閒遊戲就是想獲得一種輕鬆愉快的體驗,文字太多的話可能會打消他們繼續玩下去的慾望。因此我們儘量用圖片的形式來表達劇情。舉個例子,在其中一個關卡,我們用一張報紙的圖片揭露了一條關鍵線索。玩家需要在一個棘手的謎題中完成所有配對才能看見這張報紙,這樣一來玩家就不需要耗費更多精力閱讀大篇幅的文字。”

Tanton也同意他的說法,還附上了對話設計規則:“我們採取的做法一直都是保持精簡,不留廢話——除非這些句子真的能幫助這個角色贏得玩家好感,但即使是這樣我們還是儘量減少文字量,通過語氣語調傳達案件的關鍵信息。”

《瓊的旅程》的產品主管Georg Baumgarte還說:“爲了保證遊戲節奏流暢,每一章節的對話長度我們都有嚴格的限制。但是遊戲的其它部分我們就沒有掐得那麼緊,玩家可以體驗到額外的遊戲內容,自己掌控遊戲節奏。”

(像《神奇動物:魔法世界探奇》這樣的遊戲需要定期加入新的劇情亮點才能吸引玩家繼續玩下去)

雖說我們的目的是利用劇情吸引玩家回到遊戲中,但是過於頻繁的劇情更新和大量對話也會影響產品的核心——也就是遊戲玩法本身。Harwick再次闡明瞭她的觀點:在解謎找物遊戲中,劇情和玩法之間應該是不分你我的。

“玩法是什麼?劇情是什麼?”她說,“整個遊戲都是瓊的世界中發生的。所以遊戲就是故事。如果你想製作出一款成功的敘事遊戲,你就不能將這二者區分對待。

“不要把遊戲機製做的太抽象,不然你還要補充很多東西讓玩家明白他們該做什麼。這樣一來你就少了很多空間去添加有趣的東西,比如角色特徵、戲劇性、幽默、浪漫事件等等。”

Tanton拿《神奇動物》舉例,每一個關卡玩家需要進入哪些場景、跟什麼人交流,Mediatonic都有十分嚴格的規定,他們是根據一般玩家的流程速度決定的。

“就如上面提到的,的確是像在寫電視連續劇,定期發佈新章節對我們來說是非常重要的,”他說,“要維持這種‘公平感’,讓玩家覺得投入時間是有回報的。”

Baumgarte詳細說明了Wooga是怎麼處理這個問題的。遊戲會根據玩家的分數獎勵星星,每個場景最多可以拿到五顆星,每章有五個場景。總共有25顆星,但是玩家只需要15顆星,也就是每個場景你只要拿3顆星就可以繼續遊戲了。

“意思就是說盡管這遊戲是線性敘事,但是玩家還是可以自己掌控遊戲進程,”Baumgarte說。“他們可以決定哪些場景要拿五星,哪些場景只要拿三或四星就好了。在劇情主導的遊戲中,玩家的遊戲節奏、方式在很大程度上決定了他們會獲得怎樣的遊戲體驗。”

Harwick還強調了遊戲需要爲付出時間達到目標的玩家提供對應的獎勵:“如果故事中的某個建築需要玩家等待很長時間才能完成,我們一定要給玩家一個大獎勵。我們還需要提醒玩家那些容易被遺忘的細節線索,這樣他們就不會因爲遺漏某些線索而覺得情節發展過快、不合理。”

(解謎找物中的劇情爲遊戲玩法填充了背景,顯得不那麼單調)

另外,還有一種平衡也是很重要,而且很不好把握,但是這會對一個公司的名氣以及收入產生巨大的影響。很多休閒遊戲都是F2P模式,所以後續的內容需要通過微交易創建。雖然那些喜歡這個遊戲的玩家會爲它投資一筆可觀的費用,但是如果強迫玩家們反覆搜尋場景,這會變成一種折磨,使他們對劇情失去興趣,甚至是對整個遊戲失望。

“我們嘗試着將劇情進度和盈利達到某種平衡狀態——不需要玩家多次重玩,但是重玩價值非常高,能帶來不錯的收益,” Baumgarte說。

Nguyen-Khac補充道:“我們不是直接平衡這二者。從我們的經驗來看,玩家不喜歡讓他們花錢的遊戲。我們的重點是遊戲要怎麼設計纔好玩——這本身就是一個大難題了。如果玩家享受一個遊戲,他們會經常回到遊戲中來,留存率上去了,收入自然就有了。”

休閒遊戲的劇情跟主機遊戲的劇情可以說是兩個完全不同的類別。玩家數量多意味着他們對遊戲的期待也有所不同,這三位業內人士欣然給出了他們在遊戲製作方面的建議:

“休閒遊戲跟小說是不一樣的,所以玩家對遊戲會抱有不一樣的期望,但並不一定是更低的,”Nguyen-Khac說,“故事需要被分成好幾個小節,而且能用圖片表達的就儘量用圖片表達,避免大量文字。劇情應該是優化遊戲體驗的東西,而不是成爲人們玩遊戲的阻礙。

“的確,一位好的編劇對遊戲劇情來說是十分重要的,但是他們也需要了解遊戲畫面和機制的相關知識。《麻將犯罪:東方快車謀殺案》的編劇就有設計遊戲的經驗。這就意味着寫故事和其他開發事項是可以同步進行的,而不是等遊戲開發都完成以後再把劇情插進去。”

Baumgarte說大家都在爭取玩家的時間,想盡各種辦法留住玩家,休閒遊戲開發者們要做的就是把重點放在劇情上:“玩家們對劇情的期待值很高。我們收到了各種反饋,他們發郵件、寫評論、寄明信片,甚至是找我們面談——這真的發生過,就在我們辦公室。我們從談話中得知玩家對我們創作的故事以及架空世界期望頗高。遊戲中有些不符合時代背景的物品,比如說有輛車看起來就不怎麼像是1920年代的產物。這就是情節漏洞,還有比如海島裝飾物的名字不太準確等等,玩家能發現所有的細節。”

然而Tanton則持相反的看法,他認爲現在玩家對休閒遊戲的期待實際上是很低的——但如果開發者們願意在劇情下功夫,這有可能會轉爲一種優勢。

“如果你能利用巧妙的對話、精彩的劇情將遊戲中那些眼花繚亂的東西串聯起來,那這就是產品出頭的大好機會。

“這筆投資我們永遠都不會後悔,而且我們一直都很重視劇情。去找個優秀的編劇吧,找個懂得人與人之間的對話方式、心理活動,懂得玩轉句子結構、懂得劇情節奏的人。

本文由遊戲邦編譯,轉載請註明來源,或諮詢微信zhengjintiao

Mobile studios discuss how they use serialised storylines to drive player retention far beyond launch

Retention is the key to any mobile game’s survival, let alone its success.

While there are many ways to bolster retention – regular release of new content, a compelling progression system, and so on – some casual games studios have found a much more creative route to keeping players engaged: telling a good story.

“Casual mobile games work best if they are speedy to understand and simple to get going with,” explains Spil Games CEO Tung Nguyen-Khac. “However, if a game is too simple then it stops being satisfying quite quickly.

“Narrative has become important in mobile gaming because it improves engagement and keeps people coming back to a game. Returning players are more likely to spend money, so narrative is a way to increase the revenue value of a game.”

Rebecca Harwick, lead writer on Wooga’s hidden object title June’s Journey, agrees: “You can’t form a relationship with a mechanic the same way you can a character. And it’s those relationships that stick in the player’s mind even when they’re not playing. In addition, there’s the ever present need to know what happens next, which isn’t so different from what you experience with your favorite TV show or book.

“But the other thing that game narrative does is provide additional meaning and emotional resonance to the mechanics themselves. When players play June’s Journey, they’re not just searching scenes and tapping on objects–they’re finding clues to solve a mystery, improvising solutions to challenging problems, exploring a character’s space.”

Of course not all casual games need a narrative, as Mediatonic’s creative director Jeff Tanton observes.

“A match-3 can probably survive without giving the players a complex, multiple-character-arc story-line to help them understand why getting those three bananas in a line is critical to saving the universe,” he says. “If anything that’s likely to get in the way, and there are far simpler ways of driving players forward and giving a sense of progression; maps, regular changing of background scenery, gradual introduction of new power-ups and mechanics.

“That doesn’t imply you ignore story or world building, it just means you need to understand the tone of your game and how players are likely to engage with it.”

Spil Games aims to tell the story visually in Mahjong Crimes to avoid bombarding players with too much text

Perhaps the most obvious casual sub-genre that benefits is hidden object games, which Tanton describes as “a beautiful little outlier, where the story is often the critical difference between you and your direct competitors.”

He continues: “It’s the glue that holds everything you’re asking of the players together and the aspect that absolutely elevates the experience. It’s a lot like writing a serial drama, where its up to you to ensure players will want to come back later to see what happens next.”

With traditional narrative-driven games, stories are told over a matter of hours but with casual mobile games, studios must spread them out and keep them engaging for months at a time. This is why many titles – particularly hidden object games – tell a more serialised story, adding new episodes as development continues long after launch. Wooga demonstrates this with Pearl’s Peril and June’s Journey, while Mediatonic has enjoyed success with Fantastic Beasts: Cases From The Wizarding World, set in the best-selling universe of J. K. Rowling.

The trick, of course, is pacing. Players need a steady flow of story beats so that they don’t rattle through your content before you have the chance to release more, but equally the progession can’t be so slow that they lost interest in the story.

Nguyen-Khac says that extensive testing was crucial when finding the right pace for Mahjong Crimes: Murder on the Orient Express, which mixes the ancient Chinese game with Agatha Christie’s iconic murder mystery.

“We originally had a story element after each level,” he explains. “Through testing we saw this overwhelmed players, so we doubled the number of levels so there was only a story element after every two. Players were much more receptive to this.

“With a casual game, people want to be entertained in a relaxed way. Too much text may turn them off. Therefore, we try to tell as much as possible of the story visually. For instance, in one level we reveal a huge clue to the mystery via an image of a newspaper. Players only see it once they’ve matched all the tiles in a particularly challenging puzzle so we don’t ask them to exert more energy by reading lots of text.”

Tanton concurs, offering this simple rule for dialogue: “Our rule was always to leave no excess fat in these interactions – unless they really helped sell a character and even then we’d always go back and try to get the same effect, through implied tone or dialect, in the lines that delivered critical information to the case.”

June’s Journey product lead Georg Baumgarte adds: “For the chapters we have a strict limit on how long dialogue can be in-between gameplay sessions in order to keep the flow going. In other parts of the game we are more loose and can provide additional content that the player can engage with when they want to and at their own pace.”

Games like Fantastic Beasts need to deliver new story beats at a regular cadence or players will lose interest

While the goal is to use story to keep players coming back to your game, frequent story beats and extensive conversations mustn’t get in the way of the title’s core: the gameplay itself. Then again, Harwick argues that in the case of hidden object titles, there should be little to distinguish the two.

“What’s gameplay and what’s story?” she says. “Our whole game is set in June’s world. It’s all story. If you want to make a great narrative game you have to dismiss this idea that you can separate the two.

“The more abstract your mechanics, the more work you have to do simply to make your player’s actions clear. That leaves you with less space for the fun stuff: character, drama, humour, romance.”

Tanton says that for Fantastic Beasts, Mediatonic laid down some “pretty rigid rules” around how many scenes players would visit or characters they would interact with per case, all based on how fast the average player might move through the game.

“The serial-drama comparison is accurate again here, delivering a story at a regular cadence was very important to us,” he says, “Maintaining a sense of fairness in what players are getting out of the time they put in.”

Baumgarte details how Wooga’s titles handle this. Players receive stars for reaching a certain number of points with up to five stars per scene and five scenes per chapter. That’s up to 25 stars, but players only need 15 – just over three per scene – to continue the story.

“It means players feel agency over the chapter progress, even though it’s a linear story experience,” says Baumgarte. “They can decide in which scene to go to five stars and which scene to leave at three or four. Player agency in a story-driven is key to having an interesting game economy.”

Harwick stresses that rewards need to match the time spent reaching them: “If the player’s been grinding or waiting for a building to complete, we want to be sure to give them a big payoff, narratively. We also want to be sure to remind them of any necessary plot details that they may have forgotten so that they don’t feel as if the story has raced off without them.”

The narrative in hidden object games gives context to otherwise simple gameplay – ‘You’re not tapping objects, you’re searching for clues,’ says Wooga

There’s another important balance to be maintained, one that’s far trickier but can have a huge impact on a company’s reputation and revenue. Most casual games remain free-to-play, so future content and additional chapters need to be funded through microtransactions. While engaged and satisfied players may well invest in their progress, forcing them to grind through hidden object scenes over and over again will frustrate them and endanger their interest in your story.

“We try to balance the progression and monetisation in a way that there is a low replay demand for the story, and high replay value for the game economy,” says Baumgarte.

Nguyen-Khac adds: “We don’t balance progression with monetisation directly. Our experience is that players don’t like games that are all about getting them to spend money. Instead, we concentrate on making the game great to play – that’s a tough enough objective on its own. If players enjoy a game, they keep coming back and if you have good retention, then monetisation tends to flow from that.”

Writing for a casual audience means developers almost certainly won’t be telling the same type of narrative you’ll find in console games. Instead a much broader audience means different expectations, but this trio of studios is happy to offer advice to fellow game makers.

“A casual game is a different thing to a novel and so gamers have different expectations, although not necessarily any lower,” says Nguyen-Khac. “The story needs to be told in little nuggets, and as much as possible should be visual rather than textual. It should add to the experience, it shouldn’t get in the way of playing the game.

“Yes, a good writer is vital to putting the narrative across, but actually they need to understand the visual aspects and the game mechanic too. For Mahjong Crimes, we used a writer who also had experience of game design. That meant we could develop the narrative in parallel with the rest of the game, rather than bolting it on as an afterthought.”

Baumgarte says that given the competition for mobile user’s time and engagement, casual developers need to go “all in” on story: “The expectations are high. Players send us emails, comments, postcards and even show up – it happened in our office – to give us feedback on our story. We know from interviews that players have high expectations towards our story and our universe. Anachronisms in the hidden objects – like does this car really look like a 1920s model? – plot holes, inaccurate naming of the Island decorations… players notice everything.”

Tanton actually disagrees, positing that expectations for casual game narrative is actually very low – but this can work to a developer’s advantage if they’re willing to put the work in.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to make your product stand out if you can deliver some decent, crafted dialogue to complement all of the other sweat, toil – and frankly dark and insane alchemy – that goes into making a game.

“It’s an investment we have never ever regretted, and something we take seriously. Get yourself a good writer. Get someone who understands how people talk, and how much they’re saying when they’re not talking, who understands how the structure of a preceding sentence, or the number of taps between set-up and delivery makes critical difference to a joke landing or leaving everyone feeling kind of sad and awkward.”(source:gamesindustry.biz