Super Glyph Quest

Now with added "Super"
It's time to get back on the horse. Well, okay, it's nearly time to get back on the horse.

We're counting Glyph Quest as a success. In terms of reviews, it's done well. Crucially, the people that play it seem to really enjoy it. Some, it could be argued, play it too much - you know who you are.

Does that mean it's perfect? No. Not even close. With our limited timeframe, there were a few things that just didn't make the cut. We had many more ideas for Glyph Quest and just not enough resource to put them in or do them justice. In my mind, that's the perfect reason to do a sequel - to fix the bits that you didn't quite get right the first time out as well as add as many of the other neat features that you couldn't put in last time. Leanne and I have already had many "Wouldn't it be cool if..." discussions on this over the last month or so.

In truth, part of this was already done during the debacle that was post-launch - things like UI and tutorial improvements - but there are a bunch of gameplay things that we would do a little differently this time around.


The main gameplay overhaul would revolve around the spell parser. Possibly being a little more lenient on what constitutes a valid spell - so Fire, Light, Light would cast Blast rather than being counted as a non-spell. Also, the ability to chain through combos would be included. That means that you could go from, say, Air to Air + Water then either back to Air or Water or even throw down an Earth or Fire reversal.

Part of the reasoning behind this is to ensure that Challenge Mode doesn't just rely on a player sticking to a Light / Dark chain as that's the only one with the healing. This way, they'll be able to have a lot more choice in their spells and always be able to come back to Light for the healing.

Of course this means that chaining will become easier and it will be possible to rack up quite a large number. A large chain means more damage and could throw the balancing out a bit. Your first move as a designer would then be to try and mitigate it by possibly reducing the amount of damage attached to a particular chain number - but players don't like that so much. They like numbers getting bigger and whenever you 'nerf' a particular attack, this tends to cause problems. Unless, of course you balance it out with something else. In this case, we've still got Reversals. The initial idea for Reversals was that they were going to be some kind of 'dismount' from a chain. You'd build up a chain then 'spend' it on a Reversal for Massive Damage but clearing the chain in the process. It worked quite well, but as the rules for chaining only allowed one element, it was very hard to build it up in the first place. Well, the new parser would fix that straight away. But then you've got the issue of losing (okay, spending) a resource that you've built up. I mean, you get a cool payoff - Massive Damage - but there's a certain kind of player who just don't like to give up hard-earned 'ammo'. So the current thoughts are to halve the player's chain. That way you're not starting from scratch each time but it'll still curb players building up a huge chain.

Also, more Glyph types (and therefore more spells - especially combinations). Possibly even moving the basic spell up to require 3 Glyphs rather than 2, although the jury is out on that one.


The next major change will probably involve the levelling up process. Previously it was very much an LBD* thing - the more you used a particular element, the more powerful that element became. The main issue with that was to do with the glyphs themselves became available. In the end, they all evened themselves out, meaning that everyone had very similar element levels. Also, I'm not entirely sure how many people actually got the system though, so for SGQ we're thinking of a more traditional XP resource that the player can spend on levelling up. To still ensure a degree of personalisation, we're also thinking about a 'tech tree' arrangement. This will let the players specialise how they want and add another layer of exploration and revealing to the metagame.

For more personalisation, we're talking about loads of cool gear for your character to wear. Things like a Flaming Hat of Flame or a Ring of Nifty Darkness or the like. Items that will let you influence the spells you cast or the damage you take. Thing is, customisation only really comes to the fore when you've got a forum to show it off on.

So we're also thinking of a co-op type arrangement. Perhaps you can bring a friend along on quests with you. That way you'd get to see what kind of setup they were using and they could help balance your specialisations out a bit. We're assured that this sort of thing is pretty simple to set up**.


Now that we're pretty happy with the way the gameplay works, we can also afford to devote a little more time to stuff like story and exposition. It's fair to say that Glyph Quest didn't really have a story at all - I mean the Bad Dragons only ever existed as boss monsters and weren't even named until we put the text on the end game screen. We still don't want to get tied up in a big, linear story experience but there's plenty of room for interesting quest arc narratives. Also, we'd quite like there to be dialogue between the player and both villagers and boss monsters, so some kind of conversation system will have to be made. More JRPG than Mass Effect though.

The current thinking is that the Glyph Quest happened a couple of hundred years ago and magic has all but gone out of the world. The Village is now a bustling city and that's when the Bad Dragons decide to put in another appearance. You must relearn the Old Ways to defeat them, seeking out the various secret Masters and the like, helping all sorts of people along the way.

We've even had offers of help from actual story people, so it may not just be crap that we've come up with. And there may be proper speling and goodest grammar even.


So hard to get anything done
Easily the biggest issue with the new game will be the logistics of getting it done. I mean, last time we had one hell of a deadline. This time, not so much. Instead what we have is a tiny child that makes it very hard for us to get things done. Part of this is down to the relentless demands of parenthood - feeding, changing and the like - and part of it is down to just staring at her for being so damn cute***.

Either way, it's going to be a very interesting issue to solve. Whereas before we were both able to spend every waking hour hammering away, this time we're going to have so little time on our hands. I guess it means that we'll just have to be a bit smarter about the way we do things.

Actually, it's made a little easier by the fact that this time around a lot of the questions have been answered. In theory we know what we're doing, both with the production and release side of things as well as the gameplay.


When it comes to money, we're also counting Glyph Quest as a success. Sure, it's no Candy Crush and we can't retire on the proceeds. In fact, we really need to get another game out there pretty soon. I've been tinkering with a little title that we're just going to push out as a Paid App pretty soon, but that's hardly going to pay the bills now, is it?

The way we see it is that we've got three options:

Paid App

The simplest option by far. The vast majority of the problems we encountered at launch were to do with the IAP system. Actually, let me clarify that - the vast majority of the problems we encountered at launch were to do with my lack of understanding of the IAP system and not the system itself, which worked fine thank you very much. But it's true that releasing a Paid App is the easiest thing we could do. The problem with Paid Apps is that it's kinda like the old Retail model - the customer gives you some money in good faith and is rewarded by a product that they may or may not like. These days, the modern App Store customer is highly reticent to take a punt on something that actually requires money. I guess we'd be able to allay some of their fears by the fact that some of them might already have played the original Glyph Quest and enjoyed it so should be more likely to snarf up a sequel but we're not fooling ourselves about the size of our user base.


This is the option to choose if we'd like to make a bucketload of money. This is also easily the most controversial and tricky option to go for. Controversial in the amount of bad press it gets and tricky for the amount of resources it would require to actually get it right. See, it's not just a case of throwing in some IAPs and hoping for the best. For an F2P title to actually work, you need a user base. Because you're only relying on <2% of that user base to actually give you any money, it needs to be huge and that's not the sort of thing that just happens overnight. It needs marketing and a really big acquisition push - something that we just can't do.


Chances are, this is where we're going to end up again. For the uninitiated, let me break it down like this. Imagine a hybrid of both Paid App and Freemium. We borrow the Free bit from Freemium but lock the game beyond a certain point until you actually pay. This means you get to download the game for free and try it out. If you like it and want to see the rest of it, that's when we gate your progress until you pay. Personally, I think this is the fairest method.

We got the balance of this a little wrong last time. All of the cool features didn't really appear until after you'd got through the paywall, meaning that the trial period wasn't necessarily indicative of what you'd get when you spent your money. In short, we needed to bring things like the combination spells into the game a little earlier. Of course, it's a delicate balancing act as if you give too much away in the free bit, players may well think they've got enough out of the game before paying and simply walk away when you ask them for money.

The other thing we got wrong was our communication. After we got the launch sorted, the version that was out there just boldly asked for your iTunes password - something a lot of people were rather reticent to do. It took a couple of iterations for us to get that bit right and, even then, there were still some people who didn't get it. Another thing we need to look at is the wording on the App description and maybe bump up the "Try before you buy" bit a little. In fact, App descriptions is going to take on a whole new level of importance now the OFT are getting involved.

More IAPs

Loot (phat)
Some of my friends reckon we're missing a trick here though. The one-off payment that we ask for is all well and good but they feel we might be missing out on revenue from people who want to pay more. In short, we should be thinking about more IAPs. But how can we do that without being accused of attempting to rip people off?

Two words - balancing and trust. Firstly, any IAPs we introduce should be balanced in such a way that they are entirely optional. You don't have to purchase them at all - they're entirely opt-in. We won't stop you playing because you didn't buy them (no energy mechanics) and all they'll end up doing is speeding things up a bit (by meaning you can shortcut the accrual of in-game currency) or giving you some aesthetic change. If you're a particularly impatient person, you could drop a load of cash on the game and get enough money to buy whatever you wanted for your character. The stuff you could buy is totally available to everyone else - you're just getting it a bit sooner.

This might seem like we're veering dangerously close to Pay To Win but I don't think that's the case. I think Pay To Win only really matters in a PVP scenario and that's not something we have. Sure, we've got leaderboards but anyone who's really serious about those bad boys will normally wait until they've maxed out their character before paying any attention to them. We wouldn't be introducing premium items or something else that would give you an advantage over a 'free' player. A player will be able to reach max level and buy any of the items you want using just in game currency. All we'd be doing is allowing impatient people to speed up their progress. Personally, why you'd want to shorten your game experience is anyone's guess...

Secondly, the player has to trust that we're not doing underhand things behind the scenes. They have to believe that what they're entering into is a fair transaction and they're not being tricked or manipulated in any way. By restricting our IAP to a simple currency purchase and having it as transparent as possible (prices don't change, we don't gate any progress based on amount of currency earned) we should be okay.

The way I look at it is that I want to be able to recommend this game to my friends and I can't do that in good conscience if it includes underhand trickery to make them part with their cash. I mean, who does that to their friends?

Never Read The Comments

Of course, none of this is going to help with the perceived notion that IAPs are evil or that we're trying to run some kind of scam. Here, for example, are a couple of our user reviews:

"Would be a fun little game if it wasn't such a scam to get you to pay 1.99 to go past a certain point least if you made it possible to pay with earned money in the game I'd keep playing hell even if it was only a dollar I might but it's not 2 dollars good how much more will they charge you later I wonder"
- a classic example of someone who a) is used to paying $0.99 for all of their entertainment these days and b) has clearly been burned with traditional F2P trickery. Sadly, also a bit of an indictment on our communication skills.

"I got to level 5 and deleted it. There's no effing way I'll buy a freaking game app!! >:|"
- and this person clearly expects to be able to play everything for free forever. A dangerous opinion. They're happy to be in the 98% that don't actually have games made for them and let someone else do the paying for everyone.

Everyone's favourite Bad Dragon
Thankfully, the majority of our ratings are positive and it's just a vocal minority who either don't get it or weren't going to like it anyway.

But we're very pleased with what we achieved and are happy to have this game on our CVs. Now we just need to get on with the next one****.

* Learn By Doing - think Oblivion or the Ultima series of games.
** Although that's what he said about IAPs
*** Also, Dark Souls II constantly demands our attention. Praise the Sun!
**** And moving house.


  1. Great stuff. Can't wait for SGQ. There is a 4th model - free with ads. This is becoming more and more prevalent and popular, and for a game with high replayability like GQ, it's a good way to avoid the "I'm not paying to get past level 4" folks, and have people play more of the game. Your ARPPU goes down a lot, but your monetization effectively hits 100%, meaning your ARPU may stay the same, if not higher. Couple that with discretionary IAPs and not having 90%+ of the audience stop at the paywall, and it's an attractive model in theory.


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