Significant Changes Incoming

One of the most interesting things about working on a mobile game is that you can change things pretty quickly. It's not like a console game, where submitting a patch takes months, and is super expensive. Submitting an update & getting approved is usually a matter of a day or two (these days), and some things you can just update whenever you want.

For us, we've been hard at work on a complete overhaul of the in-game UI for Give Me Fuel. Which seems like a strange thing to do after you launch, but we approach game development in a way that is different from most companies. Our process is that we launch as soon as we think someone will be able to find some level of fun in what we're building. The goal of our first release isn't "world domination," it's "validate that there's a core of something good, here."

With GMF, we were building a different kind of card game. An multiplayer turn-based card-combat game, where you can take a turn in just a few seconds. The mechanics for our game are pretty different than anything else out there. While we're shooting for the kind of experience that games like Magic: The Gathering or Ascension provide, we're structuring our cards in a really different way than either of those games. So our major question out of the gate wasn't, "Is this a world-dominating iOS game?" it was, "Are the mechanics of this game any good?" or "Will this stand up to having other people play it & not break in some critical way?"

The interesting thing has been that I think we've validated the last two of those points. We've had a good number of people playing every day since launch, and folks who've played literally hundreds of games against other people, who are still enjoying the strategy, and who haven't found game-breaking exploits.

Where we struggled, as we knew we would, was in the early user experience - that first session where someone who's never played the game jumps in for the first time. We knew we'd struggle, but we didn't know how much we'd struggle with it. For the most part, teaching someone to play a game is a relatively simple process. We could talk through new players to GMF, and get them to understand the basic strategy - seems like it'd be relatively straightforward to translate that to an in-game tutorial, right? But we tried multiple times, and the results were just as confusing every time. Until we made a striking realization - that this wasn't actually a card game.

Which is weird, because it obviously was a card game.

The thing is - it both is and isn't a card game. From a gameplay perspective, it basically is a card game. And that's how we were approaching it. With a physical card game, you read the rules, and then you play the game. But with a videogame, that's not the best approach.

The big problem we had with early players boils down to a pretty simple issue, but I'll have to describe it using a pretty wonky term.

We were asking you to make a decision before you had a mental model of how the game works.

It became clear one day when I was doing a revision of the tutorial text. The text went something like this: "To attack, pick a number, then drag it to the space that says Attack." This is what you'd do with a physical card game.

But one of the folks on the team read, "To attack, pick a number..." and said, "That's weird. It feels like it should be, "To attack, pick attack."" And in that moment, it all kind of came together.

We were asking you to pick a number without understanding what the number could do. Put a new player in front of a game, and show them four cards with numbers on them, and say, "Pick a card." Why? How? We haven't clearly been able to communicate which card is "better" and what actions you could take. But pick a number anyway at random, and then take a turn. Oh, you picked wrong and your turn did nothing good. Keep playing? No.

What we've done with this new UI revamp is that we've done two major things:

  1. We've put the process in the correct order. You'll now pick an action - Attack/Evade/Shield - first. This is much more understandable even without any explanation or context.
  2. The cards will dynamically change based on the action you've taken to reflect "how good" they'll be for that interaction.

One of the biggest problems we had was an assumption that "big numbers are good!" But in our game, big numbers weren't always good. If you were at a low range, say, 2, then the best attack is a 2, not a 13. But people were playing 13, because big numbers are good (right?). Now, if you select "Attack", and have a variety of Range Cards, they'll turn into "Attack Cards" that indicate how much you'll attack for as the "big number" on the card.

So if you have a 2, and the current range is 2, the big number on the card will be 10 ATTACK - which will be bigger than the 0 ATTACK that will appear if you have a Range 13 card. (Yeah, this explanation is confusing if you're not already familiar with the game.) So now, "pick big number" is a totally valid strategy, and if that's all you do, you'll still make generally good moves. The "deeper" strategy involves not always just going for the biggest attack, so it's not like we're showing you the optimal moves - mastery is still up to you. :)

We're shooting to roll this update out in the next few days (though there's some possibility that it won't hit before next week). We've been cranking away on this for a long time, but I hope you'll find it to be worth the wait!