Sequels in the gaming industry are a dime a dozen. Every successful or even moderately successful game finds itself venturing into sequel territory faster than its users even finish the original. They have become a staple in the gaming industry (among other industries as well), often an effort for gaming companies to try and overcome challenges they’ve detected in their original game, while expanding on and preserving the game’s existing fanbase.
Upopa Games, a small mobile gaming studio, knows a little something about building sequels, as they’re currently knee-deep in creating the sequel to their first game - Hopeless: The Dark Cave.
When creating Hopeless 2: Cave Escape, the team’s goal was to fix the original game’s two main issues: low retention and monetization rates, all while preserving fans’ high expectations of the game. Their main motive for creating a sequel? To “squeeze the metaphorical lemon”, as they describe it. An assortment of efforts made to squeeze out the best possible product from your original game, thereby increasing the potential of the sequel to boost retention, monetization and, most importantly, users’ overall experience.
Still, Upopa’s process of creating a sequel was not without its challenges. Creating a sequel meant the team had to balance different dynamics, the most of important of which involved the need to mediate fans expectations of a game world they knew and loved, while also building an effective monetization model for what would remain a free-to-play gaming app.
If you haven’t yet played the original Hopeless, the game involves a bunch of cute hopeless blobs that must shoot the monsters attacking them while avoiding killing their friends. Their efforts often lead to humorous mistakes and some dark humor along the way (the blobs are sometimes so hopeless that they commit suicide. Yes, true story). It’s an incredibly successful game, but nevertheless, there was room for improvement, and that needed a redesign on a deep level.
“We tried everything, changing the game 46 times over the past 2 years by implementing new mechanics, weapons, levels, everything. We recognized that the core game was very limited and we needed a fresh start.”
Currently knee-deep in the release of a sequel to Hopeless: The Dark Cave, the studio’s Head of Games, Niv Touboul, offers his sound advice on the correct approach to creating a Part Two to your game. Below are five key aspects to address as you begin the process of creating a sequel:
1. Break your boundaries
In order to create a groundbreaking new game, be it a sequel or an original, adding new core mechanics are a must to defeat the existing limitations of the user experience. The Hopeless designers accomplished this in two ways: by adding the concept of movable characters and by shifting the user's’ point of view.
In the original Hopeless game, blobs were static and quite literally ‘hopeless,’ as monsters came and attacked them. In the sequel, the characters are much more mobile - all because of a change in their basic motive as characters. Instead of just shooting the monsters, the blogs now have to escape the cave while shooting the monsters. A new dynamic has been added - the element of escape - and the motive shifts from simply remaining alive to the possibility of escaping.
The Hopeless team also changed the perspective of the game. The first game had a top-down format, where players’ point of view was above the characters, looking down on the situations and actions in the game. In the sequel, the designers of the game created a new viewpoint, from the side angle, where players are on the same level of the characters in the game. Shifting from a top-down to a side-scroll angle was a tactic which helped expand the game’s landscape, giving more context to the user experience.
2. Add monetization opportunities
In other words, help people buy more guns. Many games are reflex-based, meaning that most of the experience and progress a player makes comes from outside the design of the game itself, based more on a player’s reflex than anything else. With reflex-based games, the learning curve is not in the control of the game designers, resulting in limited access to managing a user's success in the game - i.e. making it easier or harder on them.
What this means is that often, a player’s reflexes can limit their progress and engagement in the game, as they either give up or manage to overcome each challenge in the game with their quick reflexes. The solution is to add new and exciting parameters that did not exist in the original, like hit points. In the original Hopeless, clicking in the direction of a monster resulted in its death. There was minimal complexity in the one-click process, which minimized the likelihood of users making in-app purchases for more powerful guns.
In Hopeless 2, Niv and his team created more challenges, such as varying shooting ranges and directions, as well as adding more powerful guns that are needed to kill the more powerful monsters. Through these added obstacles, and in order to truly succeed in the game, players are instantly directed to the game’s IAP funnel, further improving monetization.
Other potential options that can be implemented in order to improve complexity in the game is to build a world with physical rules, where the game designer has more control of the forces in the game (such as the speed at which a character is moving or other external forces that can impact their success in completing the game).
3. Create an evolution to the game
By implementing a moving background to their original Hopeless game, the team at Upopa Games added a feeling of progression and a sense of exploration and evolution to the game. With something as simple as a moving background - something that can be done in almost every digital game - users get a heightened sense of progression throughout the game.
A prime reference here is Best Fiends, a top-rated puzzle game that combined a moving background with Candy Crush-style mechanics to establish both an evolution in the game, and utilize a player’s positive familiarity with Candy Crush.
4. The endless discussion - levels vs. endless?
When creating a gaming app, a hot topic that often comes up is whether to create a levels-based game, where your user has to beat each level one at a time to advance, or an ‘endless’ game without levels. While levels may involve more effort on behalf of the developers, and are slightly more costly, they tend to create maximum excitement for the player.
The game Dots by Playdots illustrates the financial success that applying levels can provide to your game. The original Dots was in endless mode without levels, making monetization tough, so when creating their sequel (Two Dots), the designers added levels into the game, which made it a huge success financially.
The multiple levels equate with a variety of different goals for longer retention while adding a concrete competition value and more opportunity for monetization with expanding IAP offers throughout each level progression.
5. Preserve the original style:
When the game designers at Upopa found themselves stuck on a specific question or issue while creating Hopeless 2, they relied on their tried and true method: what would the blobs do?
“Throughout the entire creation process of the sequel, we always stopped to think, ‘what would the blobs from the first game do in this situation?’”
It’s essential not to stray too far from the original DNA of your game, preserving the style that your fans loved in the first place. In Hopeless, the theme of the game was the title itself - the blobs are in fact hopeless. They are doomed from the start and will never have great power, and so keeping the original theme in mind, the sequel’s progression remains both new and exciting while meeting the audience’s expectations of the game series and sticking to what attracted users in the first place - the cute and doomed blobs!
Sequels are a tricky endeavor, having been proven to be both amazing successes and utter failures. With hundreds of sequels being released daily, it’s essential not to rush the process, as the approach taken to create a sequel to a game is critical to its success. Hopefully these tips from Upopa Games developers on the creation of their sequel are helpful tools to consider when approaching the possibility of a sequel.