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Swipe This!: The Guide to Great Touchscreen Game Design Paperback – June 11, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Exclusive Content: The Value of Free; or What Rhymes with Freemium?

by Scott Rogers, author of Swipe This!

The saying goes "few things in life are free." There are exceptions like oxygen, rocks, and bonus content on Amazon.com; but looking at today's mobile gaming market, free is the rule, not the exception. There are currently 48,000 free games offered on iTunes but how can developers "sell" their game for free and still make a profit? Have they gone crazy? Nope, they're just using the freemium business model.

The term freemium comes from Free as in "this game is free to download" and Premium as in "if you want to keep playing, you will pay a premium fee." Called "shareware" back in 1993, Doom (Id software) pioneered the freemium concept in gaming. You could play the first level for free but had to pay to unlock the rest of the game - which makes the saying "the first taste is free" a closer analogy - a strategy usually reserved for selling ice cream and crack cocaine.

The model is this: The developer offers the game for free. If the player likes the game, they will spend real money on virtual currency which can be used to buy a variety of in-game features and goods - like virtual hats for virtual people. Freemium games are already proven winners for the developer, but can leave the player feeling financially abused - like when you buy virtual hats for virtual people. To prevent this buyer's remorse in your customers, you must carefully design your game. Try these concepts (not hats) on for size:

Swipe This 1

Customization: What's better than zooming around on a jetpack? Zooming around on a fruit-shooting jetpack! As a zombie! With Abe Lincoln's hat! The characters and costumes found in Jetpack Joyride (HalfBrick, 2011) and Temple Run (Imagi, 2011) or color palettes in Draw Something (OMGPop, 2012) don't change the player's core gameplay experience, but they do allow for self-expression. Don't flood your players with options or make the items insignificant (like a color swap) unless it means something to the player.

Durable goods: These items offer a clear long-term benefit to the player, but often at a higher price. But sometimes they're a bargain, like Jetpack Joyride's counterfeiting machine that makes the player feel like they are "outwitting the game" for only .99 cents. Cost and timing is the keys when introducing durable goods; a player is more likely to buy a capacity-expanding barn later in the game when they are producing more crops than they can store.

Swipe This 2

Payment gate: The free price attracts customers and then additional fees are required to unlock full features. This one is tricky; Justin Smith's Realistic Summer Sports Simulator (Justin Smith, 2012) received criticism from the gaming community when day-one buyers realized that ten of the game's fifteen events were playable only by paying an additional fee. Many developers offer "Lite" versions of their game - free but diminished experiences that, when completed, lead to payment gates.

Perishable goods: These come in many forms - turns, energy, food - but they all have one thing in common, if the player wants to continue playing, they will need more of these. Often a game will award an allotment of perishable goods on a daily basis, building tension around "how long can I play before I need to pay?" Offer your perishables in cost-effective bundles to create an appealing purchase proposition to the player.

Upgrades: Known as "power ups" these temporary abilities give players an edge for a short period of time. Coin magnets, limited invulnerability, distance boosters, and one-shot resurrections let the player maximize their score and performance. It's up to you to determine whether they get to keep the ability permanently or pay for each use. These can be tricky, as many games just give these away for free.

Swipe This 3

Speed ups: Found in simulations like Smurf's Village (Capcom, 2010) and Hay Day (Supercell, 2012) speed ups allow players to pay a fee to speed up a time-based action - like growing crops or building a structure. While the player can progress much faster in the game, it creates an abusive cycle of "pay to play" that can lead to players dropping out.

The Freemium model has drawn its fair share of criticism from both the developer and player communities. Some call Freemium games "unethical", "player extortion" and even "evil." Consumers claim to have been "deceived" into spending more money than they realize and younger players have racked up large bills without realizing they are doing so. Don't let your game contribute to Freemium's bad reputation. Follow three simple rules:

  • Clearly advertise that your game has in-app purchase (IAP) features. Make sure the player knows what they are getting into before they start playing.
  • Clearly differentiate in-game currency from real-world currency. Make the currencies distinctly different in color, shape and theme. For example, stars could be your in-game currency while coins represent real-world cash.
  • Clearly mark payment gates with confirmation messages. A simple "Are you sure you want to buy this" pop-up message makes a player think twice and avoid an accidental purchase.

No matter which side of the Freemium model debate you fall on, the most important design rule is "be responsible."

About the Author

Once upon a time, Scott Rogers played video games, Dungeons and Dragons and drew comic books without realizing he could do these things for a living. After being "discovered" in a coffee shop and realizing game designers have more fun, Scott helped design video games including Pac-Man World, the Maximo series, God of War, Darksiders and the Drawn To Life series. A lecture about his two favorite things – level design and Disneyland – led to writing "Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design," lecturing at the prestigious Interactive Media Division at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and employment with the Walt Disney Imagineering R&D team. Scott is currently living happily ever after in Thousand Oaks, CA with his family, action figure collection and an iPad full of games.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (June 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1119966965
  • ISBN-13: 978-1119966968
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.7 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,567,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Lewis VINE VOICE on October 19, 2012
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I acquired this book expecting a how-to, hands-on guide for actual or aspiring game designers. What I got instead was a very general, rather pedestrian commentary on how great games and game design is. There are some useful bits of real and practical info scattered throughout what is basically a work of boosterism and cheer-leading for the idea of gaming and game design; but only a few bits. This book might be a useful gift to very young enthusiasts of gaming as a way of getting young gamers to begin thinking of games and game design on a more sophisticated level, as intellectual puzzles and challenges that can develop their mental skills and as potential career fields, not just as consumer products and idle distractions. Its chatty, simple prose and repetitiveness makes it ideal for that type of reader. Parents with kids who are big gamers can use it as a hook for expanding that interest into broader channels and activities. Adults interested in trying their hand at game-design, however, will find very little practical direction from this "guide."
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was expecting this book to read like a beginner's development book with examples or perhaps with some implementation discussion. The book actually focused on the idea of mobile applications as a whole with a general discussion on the pros and cons of gestures and input strategies. It was well-written and entertaining, but mostly useless as a "how-to".
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is not about a lot of the things associated with game design, such as graphics algorithms, or how to create artwork. What it is, is all about the design of games meant to be used with devices controlled by fingers on the screen.

To do this, it goes through a lot of well known games, such as Fruit Ninja, and discuss their design. It also has interviews with developers of games. These give you insight into how the people that design games think about their design.

It also categorizes games into generas, such as puzzles, arcade games, racing games, etc., and talks about each one, explaining how games of each genera work.

However, the real magic of the book is in all the things it covers that you don't normally think about. It is a really unique book on game design.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Scott Rogers is always a good bet for insightful, practical advice on game development. Both this and his first book, Level Up! are consistently entertaining for any game enthusiast, and educational for those hoping to pursue game development as a career. Full disclosure: I've worked with Scott and lived to tell about it.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I understand some people think this book is incomplete or pointless
because you can't develop a game with this book.

But I believe this book is still a MUST read for game designers ESPECIALLY console designers who started to think about developing a game for smartphones or tablets.

The author Scott Rogers was a great game designer/creator for consoles and HE KNOWS how console designers think.
The way Scott thinks about what makes great games, which game genres you should pick, or whatever... is the way a great console game designer thinks.
To me, it was really easy to read, understand, and follow.

If you are wondering which way to go next,
a big project AAA console title or an independent small project iPhone app,
then this is the book for you.

After you read chapter 11, the final chapter, you'll make up your mind.
(At least I made up my mind.)
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Format: Paperback
Rogers is back with another fun romp through his video gaming knowledge. This time it is about touchscreen games and a how to on the fast changing market. My favorite part of his book are the countless drawings he uses to make his subject accessible to the non professional. I also really like how his personality infuses his writing with quick asides and snarky comments. This book will interest anyone who likes trying out new app games and has flung a few angry birds.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Highly recommend this to anyone looking to design a mobile game!

I'm a veteran software engineer/programmer recently contracted to create a mobile game. Since I haven't made a game since first learning the art of code (in the days of monochrome monitors) a refresher course was needed. This book really does a good job of getting you in the mindset of the mobile gaming world, which has many distinct differences from the console/PC environment.

It's not technical in the least... A welcome break from my usual books full of code samples and algorithms! If you're looking to get an edge on the overall design side of things this is an excellent read. Clear, concise, informative, and entertaining. Now back to the gritty stuff!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
My first exposure to Scott & his stories was at a GDC - Game Developer's conference. His topic was "everything I learned about gaming, I learned at Disneyland". It was wonderful. Since then I have read his blog, his first book - Level Up, and now his second book, Swipe This.

Particularly funny title for me as I grew up when Abbie Hoffman's "Steal This Book" was first published in the 70s.

I paid for my copy of Swipe This! because it is quite good and useful, and I want Scott to write more.

If you are interested in learning, and also being entertained while you read about tablet and phone based games and apps, then this book is for you. Good for teachers, students, journalists, and people wanting to break into or improve upon their positions in the game and app creation world. Write more, Scott!
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