Punchline: How to use humor to bridge player connection

Tips for creating amusing characters and storylines that keep players coming back to your casual game

Dexter Woltman
ironSource LevelUp
Published in
12 min readSep 19, 2021


Editor’s note: Brunette Games is a boutique storytelling studio headquartered in St. Louis. They’ve helped design multiple chart-topping mobile titles played by worldwide audiences, such as Tactile Games’ Lily’s Garden and Magic Tavern’s Matchington Mansion.

When used effectively, humor can engage players in the casual mobile space and serve audiences and developers in new ways.

We believe in three tried-and-true pillars of effective storytelling: conflict, mystery, and connection. Without all three, a story can fall apart. When it comes to connection, there are various forms. There are the connections characters forge between each other in a story, whether it be friendship, romance, or rivalry. A core form of connection is also the emotional investment players make with the characters and story in a game. One way to bridge this connection is through humor. But what is it that makes humor so pivotal to a successful story?

To answer that question, we have to first look at the state of the casual game industry as a whole. I preface this topic by saying a title doesn’t need humor to be successful, and in some genres, humor isn’t even part of the equation. But in the casual mobile space, humor’s inclusion can bring more benefits than it seems at face value.

When developing casual mobile games, you have to assume your audience plays in short, crowded bursts. We imagine our players in the most distracting situation possible: on a crowded bus with other notifications going off on their phones at the same time. By offering short, yet funny lines, we can get a player smiling in mere seconds. Sometimes, that’s all we have.

Humor can thrive in the mobile game space. In the casual gaming market, developers often stray from deep or edgy themes, often for good reason. Part of this stems from concerns over App Store or Google Play Store regulations, where there are more restrictions on mature content. Including edgier themes means the title reaches a more limited audience. There’s also the fear of straying from the path that’s proven to be profitable. Top-performing titles like Matchington Mansion and Lily’s Garden are financial successes, and you can already see the similarities in the “light and bright” art styles.

Both games have greenery, a big house to fix up, puzzle levels, and a light-hearted tone. Other games share these similarities, too, because that’s what’s performing well with players. Why would developers stray from that? Even Lily’s Garden’s edgy ads aren’t reflective of the content in the game. Without the ability to craft deep, emotional storylines, audiences’ connection with the game is easy to lose. This is where humor comes in.

Humor sparks an authentic connection between the medium of entertainment and the audience. In the lighthearted casual space, humor blends in perfectly with the genre. To help a title stand out in a flooded market, we try to craft characters who are quirky, charismatic, loveable, and engaging in ways that other games’ characters aren’t. A perfect example is Edna Downing in Matchington Mansion. Her bleak, yet funny outlook amuses players.

To drive humor in a game, you need a strong, funny character. Edna Downing is a prime example of comedic support, but she isn’t the only one. This leads to one of my greatest accomplishments in the humor space: Scoops.

How to use humor in casual games

Scoops: A lesson in building a funny character

Scoops is the foodie-loving penguin in Redemption Games’ hit title Sweet Escapes. When Sweet Escapes first launched, the story centered on a bunny, Joy, fixing up local sweet shops. She meets various friends along the way, the first of whom is Scoops. Even before I was involved with the game, Scoops was always a scene-stealer. His obsession with sweets, humorous antics, and adorable character design stole the hearts of many.

With my work on Scoops, he’s gone from humorous companion to sensational fan favorite. Players can’t get enough, and some have even written fan fiction about him. But what made our loveable penguin so popular? Surely, it’s not just his fancy scarf?

When I got involved with the game, I saw potential in Scoops. He wasn’t just comedic relief. He was the heart and soul of Sweet Escapes — and I capitalized on it. Unlike other characters, Scoops maintains a consistent presence in the story. He’s been there from the start, so his familiarity with players opens the door to potential. For me, it wasn’t about dialing up the jokes; it was making the world his joke. I expanded on his quirks, so his specific tastes didn’t only have to translate to sweets. He’s particular about scarves, occupations, and proper lighting. In one story arc, he’s a shop inspector with meticulous, albeit hilarious, attention to detail.

From there, Scoops’ role in the story grew. He contributed to conflict, mystery, and connection. Even if he started as comic relief, he now caters to the whole game. I took this even further in the second season of the game when the characters travel to Dessert Island. Scoops rises up as the new antagonist of the game. He becomes the pirate Captain Cravy Cones, and he’s here for the island’s sweets. Cravy Cones isn’t a straight-up villain — I didn’t rewrite his personality to make Scoops evil — but his obsessions pit him against the other characters. I took his established quirks, built off them, and used that to seed storylines with conflict.

Now, players are connected with Scoops more than ever. They want to know what happens next. Testing shows that the longer the player is involved with the game, the more they are invested in the story. These connections drive player retention.

Comedic characters serve developers in more ways, as well. With captivating characters, you can test the waters of genres outside the audience’s norm, like with Scoops’ pirate storyline. Normally, pirates aren’t a genre that would be popular with Sweet Escapes’ target demographic, but with Scoops at the helm, the story sails ahead. Comedic characters also help the game follow its limitations in humorous ways. Sure, Scoops loves the sea, but he’s a flightless penguin who doesn’t know how to swim, leaving his pirate antics land-locked on the world map.

Make use of tutorials

Humor can also be effectively integrated in tutorials. We usually write the tutorials along with the character dialogue so that all the text in a game is consistent both in form and voice. By using funny characters to drive these tutorials, players are more likely to take the time to process a tutorial rather than just tap through it. An example is Archosaur Games’ Cooking Confidential. In this title, the character Elena’s unique and quirky voice integrates with new mechanics. Below, she’s showing players where certain ingredients are.

Use humor as a progression mechanic

Sometimes we get to take a cue from the very best humor writing in entertainment today. Brunette Games and the Jam City team work in collaboration with writers for the hit “Family Guy” TV show on two games: Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff and Family Guy: Another Freakin’ Mobile Game.

We helped revamp Another Freakin’ Mobile Game with a new story system. It’s a complete overhaul of how the narrative integrates with the rest of the app. Originally, Another Freakin’ Mobile Game was a straightforward Match-3 where players move along a map by completing levels. There were occasional scenes of the story, but they were long and sparse. But now that’s all changed.

Instead of following a map, players use levels to unlock the next part of the narrative. We took their existing story and broke it down into seasons, episodes, and scenes — much like a TV show. All its elements are highly comedic. When dialogue ends, players have to earn more clams to see the next part. To earn clams, they need to win Match-3 levels.

This formula also breaks away from repetitive calls-to-action, a long-established trope in the casual industry. Calls-to-action are the dialogue lines that set up the next task or decor options. For example, a character might say “We need a new door.” Then you play the required levels and choose a new door. However, there are only so many ways you can say what to build next in an original manner — especially when your level count climbs into the thousands.

Family Guy: Another Freakin’ Mobile Game uses funny, story-focused calls-to-action to set up the next unlockable part of the story. Instead of writing how you should build a new door for the tenth time, it’s making jokes to get players into the next scene.

How to write good jokes for your mobile game

To form a true connection between players and a game’s humor, the jokes have to be funny. Writing effective humor is no easy task. A writer must continually produce high-quality punchlines that are certain to land. The execution has to be flawless, or else the scene will flop. So, how do you write good jokes? Prepare to open Pandora’s Box.

  1. Know your audience

The first step is to establish what genre of comedy caters to your target demographic. Brunette Games works across a variety of titles, each with their own unique brand of humor. In Matchington Mansion and Sweet Escapes, the characters’ lighthearted quirks are on full display. Other games’ jokes are more grounded in down-to-earth storylines. Both the Family Guy titles we’ve helped worked on capitalize on abrupt and raunchy antics. Each title has its own audience, making it important to determine what the people playing your game consider funny.

2. Use the right characters

The next step to writing effective humor is execution. Famous actor and comedian John Cleese once said, “It’s not that an idea is funny. It is that an idea done exactly right is funny.” If a joke feels forced, audiences may roll their eyes or ignore it. Setting up a joke is just as important as making the joke.

If two or more characters are in a scene and the humor isn’t coming through, you might be using the wrong characters. Humor blossoms through genuine chemistry. If your characters aren’t compatible, you may consider opting for stronger pairings. This is especially true in titles like Sweet Escapes or Family Guy, where there’s a wide cast of funny characters.

3. Use visual cues

Another important element is the text-image relationship. Humor can naturally flow from the visuals present in the game. For example, the joke above lands because Joy’s hair is mostly gray. Without it, the humor wouldn’t make sense. Fortunately, Redemption Games gives us plenty of hilarious animations and visuals to work with.

4. Include an element of surprise

Lastly, the key to a good joke is the element of surprise. Humor isn’t just about finding a punchline; it’s doing the unexpected. Audiences laugh because the joke doesn’t fit the norm of the conversation, such as with Jaqueline from Graphite Lab’s RollerCoaster Tycoon Story. The whole game is an amusement park, so it’s surprising when she’s so distasteful towards fun. So, when you’re brainstorming ways to punch up your joke, consider how to make it even more unexpected.

5. Use multiple comedic characters

Even if you master how to write humor, the market is evolving. Having one comic relief character isn’t enough anymore. If your game relies on a single character for all its jokes, it won’t be long before you realize that character must be part of nearly every storyline, which backs writers into a corner. Developers shouldn’t want players to connect with just one character in a game. They should want them to connect with the whole world. So, even with Scoops’ fan-fiction, we realized he alone isn’t enough. This is where Aggy came in.

While Scoops paved the way for success in Sweet Escapes, he isn’t the only character who walks the path. Aggy was a character we introduced on Dessert Island. Aggy is a quirky hamster who always speaks her mind in strange ways. To say “expect the unexpected” is an understatement. She is the element of surprise.

Not only are Aggy’s jokes able to match Scoops, but she gives depth to the new story arc. She’s a core catalyst of mystery, conflict, and connection on Dessert Island, which is only strengthened by her fresh perspective of the already-established cast. But even so, Sweet Escapes doesn’t just rely on her. We built off her quirks in the rest of the cast so anyone can shine under the spotlight.

6. Find your own brand of humor

Aggy is the perfect example of honing your own brand of humor. She’s unlike any other character I’ve written. While it’s great to replicate established comedic tropes in unique ways, something more original will be where your title stands out above the others. The more you practice, the more your brand will naturally develop. I wouldn’t have had the skills to design a character like Aggy when I first started writing.

Part of my brand of humor includes meta-humor, where characters reference the fact that they’re in a mobile game. While I didn’t create the idea of meta-humor, I use it to a degree further than other game writers.

Even in established IPs and worlds like Family Guy or RollerCoaster Tycoon, you can still find ways to make their humor your own by expanding your creativity to new audiences. Sure, Family Guy has been around for decades. But it hasn’t been seen in this format before. That’s where I give my own take on their established comedy.

When it comes to connecting players through humor, it’s more than making the right joke; it’s building a world that caters to its comedy. Once the comedy flows naturally, so will the connection. In casual gaming, we can’t always write edgy, dramatic stories about political espionage or overcoming tragedy. But we can still make players laugh. When someone smiles while playing your game — even if it’s only for a moment on a crowded train — you know the connection is there.

From time to time, we invite guest bloggers to post on our site. Although ironSource reviews the content for accuracy and relevance to our audience, the views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of IronSource or any subsidiary or affiliate of the same. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within each article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to Dexter Woltman and any responsibility related to alleged infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.



Dexter Woltman
ironSource LevelUp

Dexter Woltman is a Game Writer | Designer III at Brunette Games, having joined the team in 2018.