Mobile Game Audit Framework for PMs

A Deconstruction on the Free-to-Play “The Simpsons Tapped Out”

For this particular framework I will focus on the Simpsons Tapped Out iOS Game. I’ve been playing this game for about a year and half and really understand what the game is about. Essentially, Homer Simpson blows up Springfield in the early cinematic and needs to rebuild the town we know and love from the TV Show. Let’s get started with the breakdown. I will be focusing on different elements related to the game using the Mobile Game Audit Framework.

A. Targeting

Game Type — This game has a set of challenges and interactions that are targeted for casual gamers — ones that prefer to be social.

Skills and Core Layers — The Simpsons introduces us to multi-dimensional layers within the game from building homes to buying new characters to completing side quests. This game teaches players to multitask many decisions at a time, but for a longer duration.

Target Audience — Using Flurry Analytics and their Top 200 iOS Games, we see that Simpsons falls in line with a (75% male to 25% female) audience in their 25–30’s. I would expect the game to be heavily male focused since it is more of a strategy/build your base game.

B. Gameplay

Activity Statement- The objective of the game is to build your own Springfield and play as your favorite Simpsons characters.

Core Loop- For this particular section, I want to dwell deeper in the Hook Canvas which describes the steps necessary in achieving a habit. Let’s take a closer look at the model.

  1. Trigger — The trigger will be gamers itching to explore a familiar universe with friends. The feeling of nostalgia will be the internal motive to play the Simpsons game. This will ignite their curiosity as to how game creators will reconstruct the world of their favorite TV show while giving them a sense of FOMO. Other external triggers like notifications come to play after the initial play through of the game.
  2. Action — The gamer will take action by opening the game from his/her phone and being able to start immediately. There is no login needed.
  3. Variable Reward — This is where we get to a chain of events that happen randomly in the game. The gamer feels inclined to keep doing character missions and unlock new treasures. An example would be when Sideshow Bob would make an appearance and the player gets loot for tracking him down.
  4. Investment — The gamer can choose to level up his or her character in the game which is our investment. Or once a mission is complete will get either donuts or money in the game. Now, the gamer can use his/her new skills to play more missions and spend more money on building resources fast in the future.

Compulsion Loop — This has to be one of my favorite features of the game. Simply doing missions, getting money/donuts, and buy stuff are some things I really enjoy doing. It makes me feel like I am building a big world, which is the whole purpose of a strategy game. Now it doesn’t last hours everyday, but playing the game for about 5–10mins everyday is enough to turn it into a habit.

Difficulty Progression — Within The Simpsons, they do a fantastic job in keeping the game fresh. For example, when Christmas comes, the entire game is oriented around Christmas themes. This creates a feeling of newness when doing some of the repetitive tasks in the game. Linear progression occurs with the Simpsons because the game gets difficult as you level up.

C. Retention

Storyline — The storyline in the Simpsons is great because it piggybacks off the original T.V show which had a huge fan base. This is similar to Pokemon Go. The actual game story is simple enough, but makes me want to explore how all the characters are connected.

Hedonic Adaptaton — This is the human tendency to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness. In this game, I feel a sense of happiness when I open the game and see all the loots hanging over the houses of missions I completed. This creates a habit for me to check the app at least once a day to get the loot.

When I get open the app after waiting a day.

Goal-oriented Gameplay — The game makes sure you complete different mini-missions based on your level. In order to unlock certain missions for characters, you must be a certain level. This creates linear gameplay to help the character level up. This could be a negative concern since doing the same mundane task with the same character is quite repetitive and could become tedious fast.

Progression — With The Simpsons game, you easily see progression bars on the main UI(Levels and Experience). The ways to grow your empire is to build so you have more income. Another way is to spend donuts on structures to build your city faster. Progression happens slowly which is good in my opinion so that the game does not get boring quickly. The onboarding process was fairly straightforward and easy to follow.

D. Virality

The main point to address here is that the more a player shares this game with others the greater the likelihood of bringing new players into this world. Virality helps with the brand and here are a few techniques The Simpsons game does really well.

Friend World — The Simpsons Game has a mechanism where you can help neighbouring worlds with XP and money. This lets you interact with other players to make you play longer in the game.

Friend Prizes — In the Friend World, you have the ability to get new structures and bonuses which helps the player focus on helping friends. This would lead to longer playing times.

Invite Friends — The Simpsons integrates with your EA Account so you can connect with your pre-existing friends. You can also connect on Facebook as well. Typical ways to share this game include Email or SMS messaging to friends.

E. Monetization/Revenue/Economy

Since this is a free-to-play game, item purchasing is the main revenue source with soft currency and hard currency. In The Simpsons, soft currency is earned by completing tasks, hard currency can be obtained by spending real money.

The main reason EA does this is to control the monetization of the game. If any item could be bought with money earned in-game, players could eventually buy the whole game without spending a dime. Another advantage of this dual-money system is that it gives a premium value to whatever can only be bought with hard money.

Hard money in the game.

Key Items

Game Resources — The main resource in the game is Money and XP. XP helps you get donuts and level ups.

Customization of Items — You have the ability to buy and customize the roads and buildings within Springfield. This helps the player in their overall quest of the game.

Comfort Items — With The Simpsons, you have the ability to get unique characters and items that are unnecessary to the main game. Items include Mount Carlmore, Tetherball, etc.

Collectible Items — They have no contribution to the main game, but make the experience authentic. For example, buying the “Yes Guy” for 100 donuts is close to $10 USD.

To Conclude.

The Simpsons Game is fun to play and has key design elements to make you play a very long time.

  1. It provides immediate satisfaction. There is no obstacle in purchasing the game, you just install the game and you start the missions.
  2. EA has designed the game to be played for a very long time. The aim is to convert the non-paying users into paid players.
  3. They design for new audiences being primarily young male mobile users.
  4. Easy to follow onboarding. They help the player get started and get the player accustomed to the habit loop.
  5. Open Loop. This creates an innate desire to complete tasks, but the tasks are never-ending and never close the loop. In this game, there is always room to expand, build new buildings, and keep leveling up.
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