As a user experience designer for games, I keep a close watch on new trends and apps with cutting edge marketing and consumer psychology principles that free-to-play titles employ today for monetization & retention.

Selling match-3 boosters: how it’s done

Boosters are power-ups that most match-3 games sell to help player’s get through a level quickly when they are stuck, boosters can turn failures into victories and quicken player progression, like Jelly Fish and Color Bombs in Candy Crush Saga.

Jelly Fish and Color Bomb

As far as selling them is concerned, most games today use the good old “Try before you buy” approach, by giving free samples.

Standard practices in most games today is to gradually unlock new boosters by offering two to three free samples for players to try out and then start pushing for purchase.

image02

Above: “Try before you buy, by providing free sample is conventional. Question is, can this be improvised?”

In Diamond Digger Saga, King is taking it much further.

Diamond Digger Saga

But this seems quite conventional? So, how is it better?

Giving samplers post-sampling

If players are not buying the boosters when they run out of free samples (post-tutorial), they need a reminder of the power and capability of boosters by whetting their appetite once again!

Diamond Digger Saga 1

Diamond Digger Saga Strategy: Bite-size sampler creation

Diamond Digger Saga

  • SAMPLE: Rocket/bomb: This is on sale for hard currency; it gives two to three free as samples. They deal damage along 4 axis.
  • SAMPLERS: Mini-Rocket/bomb: is free as samplers in certain levels, and it deals damage along only two axes.

In a nutshell, Diamond Digger is routinely integrating powered/buffed down version (samplers) of it’s boosters in specially designed levels, post giving free samples.

What exactly is happening here? Let’s visualize this better!

image06

A sampler is a classic restaurant Promotion 101 tactic, where in small portion of a meal is free to whet a customer’s appetite. It primes them for purchase.

free samples

Above: Restaurants and grocery stories around the world use samplers to lure customers.

Diamond Digger, after giving away free samples (boosters that a player consumes quickly) in tutorials, often reminds players what these boosters can achieve by frequently giving them a taste of these bite-sized samplers (mini-boosters).

Still skeptic about the whole Sample vs. Sampler debate? Let’s see how King is reverse-engineering this in another match-3 game, Pet Rescue Saga.

Pet Rescue Saga: Sampler vs. Sampling

Pet Rescue Saga initially follows the same design as other match-3 games, wherein you can unlock boosters as you progress, you get a few to sample, and once you run out of those prompts, you have to buy them.

image08

Pet Rescue has many boosters, but a few appear frequently in many levels, like the Bomb (it’s not available for purchase in the game) and the Rocket.

image07

In early Pet Rescue levels if I fail, I would see the typical “Out of moves” buy +5 screen.

image11

But this initial behavior changes over time.

As you progress deeper in the game, this failure screen prompts changes to accommodate new kind of boosters, ones that the player cannot equip upfront and are only available at failure screen.

image09

Instead of buying +5 moves, above is what I have been receiving lately. You may ask, “What is the big deal? They just replaced “buy +5 moves” offer with a bunch of random boosters?or “… Are they random? really?”

Look closely! These new boosters are powered-up versions (that players occasionally consume for free!)

image10

Again, what’s happening here? Let’s picture this better!

image12

It’s the same sampler approach as Diamond Digger! But instead of buffing down the booster power, it has been buffed up. I call this Booster Scaling Effect.

image13

Between Diamond Digger Saga and Pet Rescue Saga, King is scaling the perceived value of it’s boosters at both ends, pushing default samplers in player’s path for consumption by designing specific levels that endorse power and abilities of their boosters in scaled sample sizes (up or down) priming them for purchase.

Studies also suggest a lot of match-3 players consider buying boosters cheating, sampler approach via pre-integrating bite sized boosters might make their use feel more natural.

As players get to see and use them more often, their resistance will naturally soften.

“Ask yourself … why scale or buff existing boosters? King could have simply used new boosters like a dynamite stick instead of a mini-bomb but that would break the priming association.”

Conclusion

  • Reason for the above approach is unique because it is differentt from just giving free consumable samples from time to time, which most games do as part of “Try before you Buy” approach.
  • King is consciously tweaking level design to integrate bite size samplers and place them in players’ paths for consumption at a frequency much higher than giving free samples.
  • Unlike free samples, these samplers have a very strongly noticeable scaling effect in terms of buffs and visual design, which resonates with real world mental model of restaurant promotion.

Is it hugely effective? Difficult to comment without conclusive data, but it surely is different from what most developers out there are doing – and King seems to be running with it for now.

“My underlying question is, can this sampler/scaling effect be applied outside the realm of casual match-3 games?”