The Building Blocks of Games

From a high-level perspective, a game is made out of four major components: its core gameplay (e.g. First Person Shooter or Switcher); its Meta progression layer (e.g. building a character or progressing through a narrative); its theme (e.g. aliens or farm); and finally its art style (e.g. cute or realistic).

This knowledge of the building blocks allows us to think in those terms when coming up with concepts for games: “It’s a cute zombies lifestyle game with a strong co-op element!”; we can draw a pretty good mental picture of the audience who might play such a game, while still allowing for a multitude of manifestations for the concept.

Exploring the map taught us a great deal about the importance of the different components. Let’s have a look at a few examples and then see how these learnings may be implemented.

Core vs. Meta — which is key?

First let’s take Puzzle RPGs as an example; a genre that incorporates a core of a match puzzle with an RPG style character driven progression layer.

Created Using App Annie data, August 2018, iOS US

In this case, we see that Puzzle RPG players have more in common with RPG players than with Switcher or other Match Puzzle players; indicating the Match Puzzle is somewhat of a vanilla flavor easy to incorporate with other Meta Layers.

The exception (blue dot on the top) is “Best Fiends”, a lighter puzzle RPG, that puts more emphasis on the puzzle core than the RPG meta (it also has a ‘cuter’ theme and style than most Puzzle RPGs- but more on themes later).

Still not convinced? Let’s have a look at Gardenscapes.

Gardenscapes is a popular Switcher, with a light decoration / narrative meta layer. While it was released in August 2016 it took about a year until it reached the US top 10 grossing games.

These are the audiences from which Gardenscapes’ players originated around that time.

Created Using App Annie data, July 2017, iOS US

Taxonomy-wise Gardenscapes would fit into the Switcher genre However, its players originate mostly from audiences of genres who incorporate a light narrative and customization, and it is not as connected to the vanilla Switchers’ audience; further reinforcing the importance of the meta layer.

A final word about genre and core; on a separate post I wrote about player motivation and how we measure them. We’ve found a correlation factor of 0.6 between the motivational profiles and affinity; this means a large part of observed audience preference can be explained by the meta and core.

How important are theme and art?

Let’s have a look at Resource Management games, a genre that’s all about getting, well um, resources and using them to upgrade buildings (or spaceships, restaurants, hospitals etc) in order to get more resources.

Created Using App Annie data, August 2018, iOS US

The different Resource Management games are not very strongly connected, and are dispersed all over the map. But clearly we see the trend going up from more mature themed games like Fallout Shelter and Jurassic Park Builder, through a relatively neutral Sim City to the lighter themed Hay Day and My Hospital.

Art style is also a bigger deal than you may think. Take the audiences of these two games: Fire Emblem Heroes, a strategy RPG and Love Nikki-Dress UP Queen, a lifestyle game focused on dressing up and collecting outfits. They may seem totally unrelated — but these games have an affinity score higher than 10 — surprising? Take a look at the app icons and think again.

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