Introduction to Match 3 Puzzle Market
Hello, my dear game developers world! Glad to see you here! I am starting a series of blog posts with an ultimate goal to help us as a community to understand the puzzle market better. Why should you pay attention to my opinion?
Firstly, I was a lead match-3 designer on Homescapes – one of the most played casual games of all time.
Secondly, I have been making match-3 games for almost 20 years.
Thirdly, we, as a community of casual game designers, can do so much better job when it comes to the experiences we are trying to create.
For now, I plan to write a whole series of articles about the current puzzle market:
- Intro, where we will cover the basics
- Red ocean, where we will add more games and even subgenres
- Flavors, where we will go full throttle through some niche match 3 and puzzle games
Also, I am planning to go deeper on some other exciting puzzle topics:
- Puzzle history and evolution
- Different power-up systems
- Current market state and emerging trends
- Some basic principles of puzzle Level Design
- Homescapes puzzle creation postmortem
And some more intriguing things for sure.
This particular article targets game makers who are unfamiliar with the puzzle market but still want to tap their fingers into this beautiful world.
Our industry is so focused on extensive discussions among executives that we often neglect very basic questions that would help inexperienced people begin to understand the market realities of the casual category.
You wouldn’t believe how many times people came to me for advice on what games to play. So if you are an industry veteran, you might find this article redundant, but as my day-to-day practice shows, there is a lot of value in discussing the fundamentals.
Let’s imagine you are curious or new to this puzzle space. You can be easily overwhelmed by the number of games available on the market. Just type Match 3 in your App Store search bar, start scrolling the list, and wait until your finger starts to hurt.
No worries, with this article series, I will guide you through this heap of content and help you identify the current hits, the timeless classics, and intriguing flavors of the month.
Three games rule
When you enter a new genre, you should never download and play just one game. After a lot of experiments, I do believe that the golden number for absolute beginners is three. You will have a pretty diverse sample to start from, but at the same time won’t be lost in the overwhelmingly big pool of games.
Also, you will not be biased by the game you started to play first, and you will protect yourself from considering it as an industry standard.
Here are my three starters for you from the Match 3 genre:
Candy Crush Saga
I hear voices saying, “Oh, this Candy game is so old. I would rather explore something fresher”. And this is partially true. But only partially. I would say 10-year-old-and-still-running success advertises itself pretty well.
Let’s check why CCS is still relevant:
- The game is growing year to year.
- It makes way more money than the second-best Match 3.
- It constantly evolves in general and improves art, effects, game speed, and the early experience of the game.
- It has a nice community feeling with all those live ops connecting you with other players.
- The amount of additional events is very high, which can keep you engaged for a long time.
- And you can still visually check how far you progressed on the Saga map!
Even if you played it in the past, you should refresh your experience. Believe me, it is different now, and every successful puzzle designer I know has been following this game since the very beginning.
After many years after Candy and its clones dominated the market, three bright new stars appeared:
Fishdom, Gardenscapes, and Homescapes.
What made them fresh, you will ask?
- Meaningful “meta” layer of the game where you can disconnect from falling pieces and enjoy some side activities: following the story, watching nice animations, decorating the house – all those things leveraged standard puzzle experience.
- Easy power-up activation. It sounds simple, but believe me, it’s magical. Just tap or swipe power-up, and you will get your shiny explosion pushing you to the goal completion. No need for Candy tricks where you have to find two green pieces to activate the green candy power-up. Why should I do it? I already did something remarkable. I’ve created it. Let me just benefit from easy usage!
From those, I specifically recommend Homescapes.
- Power-ups are easy to activate, but their logic is quite close to Candy Crush. So it will be easier for you to switch between them.
- The story is deeper than Gardenscapes. It simply has more characters and more opportunities for plot twists.
- The puzzle art style is subjectively better. You will like those beautiful pieces and rich explosions.
- On top of that, you can check yourself why those story deco match 3 games are so sticky and have high engagement KPIs.
Don’t forget to enjoy a bunch of live ops and events. The game is packed with additional action. Sometimes the development team adds other games as live ops, but I won’t spoil the surprises. Simply go and experience it for yourself.
In the beginning, we had an army of Candy clones. After Gardenscapes and Homescapes success, we got a new wave of their respective clones. But somebody has done the homework and took a couple of steps back.
And you should pay close attention to whatever the creators of Royal Match are doing.
Why Royal Match is so important:
- It took Homescapes puzzle and made it faster, simpler, and better.
- Developers removed a lot of things from the meta: the story, animations, dialogs, and a lot of other fluff. You will rebuild a king’s castle without any narrative, without additional characters. Super simple but somehow engaging.
- As they cut a lot of content, their meta team budget went significantly down in comparison with meta deco-heavy projects. And they were able to use that money wisely to level up the puzzle experience. You can feel it if you are paying attention to meticulous polishing when it comes to match-3 execution.
- They developed a simple, efficient, and easily marketable art approach, making the game easier for player’s perception.
- Also, they came up with an interesting level design approach making almost all levels pretty straightforward and accessible for every player. But Level design by itself should be and will be a good topic for an article.
- Fun, a lot of pure puzzle fun. The game delivers it for sure. And it looks like the market is answering positively to this message. KPIs are high and growing.
But please don’t stick with it too much, you need to play three games, remember?
Candy Crush Sage, Homescapes, and Royal Match should be your three starting pillars to build match 3 expertise. Not too many, not too few. It will be enough to get a first impression of the current state of the match 3 market. Enough to say: “Yes, I’ve played successful Match 3 games and have a basic understanding of what is hot and how it works right now.”
Last but not least. One important question. “How many levels and days should I play those games?”
The answer is simple: “As much as you like but not less than 100 levels per game, and the calendar play time for every game should be at least one week”.
Where did I get this number, and what’s the rationale behind it?
- During your first 20-30 levels you will mostly see a bunch of tutorials. You should go deeper to get a “clean” game experience.
- The first levels are usually packed with a lot of goals and blockers. You need more time to get used to them.
- Closer to 100 levels the game will be deep enough to get an early feel for the difficulty curve.
- Every game will introduce you to a lot of non-puzzle-related stuff that will be distracting initially.
- And one of the main things. Every person needs time to “digest” a new experience and form a solid opinion. It will take some days to get the aftertaste for each game.
One more thing. I would recommend you to play all three simultaneously. This way, it will be easier to compare different aspects of the games.
When you are done with these three, it would mean that the time has come to read my next article (which is coming very soon.) I’ll have an extended list of puzzle games you absolutely need to play, sending you deeper into the rabbit hole. Cheers! See you soon.