A good friend of mine sent me this WSJ article I am quoting pieces of below and wrote; "See, we are not the only crazy ones." He was talking about the Brickbreaker game on the Blackberry. It is such a game that one addict, the CEO of Lehman Brothers, had to have the game removed from his Blackberry, only to have it put back. So why has this simple little game become so popular and addictive? It's not a new game either. The Atari 2600 had it and it was called Breakout. So why now? I think it's mostly luck, I doubt the RIMM had any idea that it would be successful and the article appears to confirm that. However, whether you call it serendipity, luck or divine intervention, this game has got three essential elements that's made it successful. It's worth exploring not just for the sake of game developers, but for any consumer electronics product that wants to have an addictive user base.
1) It fits the delivery medium. In this case, it fits the hardware form factor it's on. It's simple, you need to use only two fingers. You don't need any kind of dexterity that you do in say, sports games or even games you have to move a character in 4 directions. It can almost be operated with one hand.
2) It fits the audience. Blackberry owners are mobile, they don't have a lot of time, but they have a lot of dead time. The game can be paused and continued at another time. Any kind of time based, beat the clock game would be a big failure here, in case the player got interrupted by a phone call during the last 10 seconds.
3) The game is social. This is by far the most important feature. A social game is one where you are not trying to beat the computer but your friends. Even though it appears you are playing against the computer you are actually playing against your buddy because all scores are globally tabulated and players ranked. Because of the bragging rights and the conversations that ensue (as the one from Mt. Everest in the article), players bring more to the game than the game brings the players. When a game achieves this, it is more than a game. WoW does this masterfully, so did the genre started by Doom.
I believe this feature was serendipitous, and the makers of the game didn't intend it to become social. The article suggests that they "just wanted to have a game on the device". So why did it become social? The stars lined up in two ways. First, it was the only game on the device and the players had to play it, and secondly, the game was available to people who are similar to each other and interact with each other. The blackberry user is a special kind of demographic. It is also people within the same company more often than not. If all Director level employees and above get a Blackberry, you are effectively selecting people who are similar to each other and likely to interact. So the game was available to the perfect group of people who would make it social. What a nice surprise.
Now here is what I suggest. How much more usage would RIMM get out of the blackberry if they offered prizes, cash prizes, to the top gamers? I bet that the usage of the game would materially increase if players knew that the winner every year got say $40K. Just the marketing PR would justify the expense. Moreover, they could make up the cash outlay and more if they put a tiny feature that connects to the Internet every so often to download the top 100 list after every game and reported where the individual stands. The added data charges could recover the cash payout. Of course the carrier would keep a big cut, but that's about to change and that's the subject of another blog post.
Enjoy the article...
Also Can't Resist
This Little Game Playing BrickBreaker Is
Executives' Guilty Pleasure;
Phoning From Mt. Everest By SUSANNE CRAIG and GREGORY ZUCKERMAN
February 17, 2007; Page A1
When Richard Fuld, chief executive of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., couldn't control his addiction, he took drastic measures. In October, he had the game BrickBreaker taken off his BlackBerry.
"I was playing so much," says Mr. Fuld, who had used it to relax on the plane or in the car. He missed it so much he had it reinstalled, but it's no longer on the main menu. That removes the temptation, he says, "for the most part."
In this era of startlingly realistic video games, BrickBreaker is straight out of the Stone Age. Yet it has developed a cult following, not among the young Gameboy set, but with executives chained to their email. Players swap strategies in chat rooms, brag about their prowess and pay homage to BrickBreaker superstars -- a few with top scores of over one million.
BrickBreaker's premise: Move a paddle left and right with your thumb to bounce a ball so it demolishes "bricks" atop the screen. Most bricks earn 10 points. Clear a screen of bricks, and move on to the next level. Drop the ball too many times, and the game is over. Occasionally, "pills" appear containing bonuses such as a gun or laser, or an extra "life." There's also the deeply hated "flip pill."
Messrs. Fuld and Handler have high scores of 16,000 and 15,135, respectively. But they are rank amateurs compared to lawyer Gabriel Berger, who has a high score of 476,000. He's in the top ranks of BrickBreaker players. (Players with the latest BlackBerries can register high scores on a Web site sponsored by BlackBerry maker Research in Motion.) In general, a novice has no trouble scoring three or four thousand points. But as the levels get higher, things get tougher.
Mr. Berger took three lawyers to a Yankees game last fall, hoping to drum up business for his company. But the bonding didn't really begin until one of the men pulled out his BlackBerry.
Mr. Berger saw his opening: "What's your high score?" he asked. The lawyer brightened, instantly recognizing a fellow user. Now, Mr. Berger regularly asks the question as an icebreaker. "Everyone has played the game if they've got a BlackBerry," he says.
One thing that makes the game so addictive is that players can pause the action at any time, then resume it later. Skilled players can stretch out a game for days, weeks or months as they rack up points. Last year, Jed Wider, an attorney at Morgan Lewis & Bockius in New York, got a phone call from a hedge-fund friend in Nepal who had just finished scaling Mount Everest. "The first thing he said was, 'Level 24 calling from Everest Base Camp. Beat that!'" Mr. Wider recalls.
"I knew exactly what he was talking about," namely, BrickBreaker. The highest level in the game that Mr. Wider has reached is 22.
The current registered record-holder is Daniel Allen, a 34-year-old economist in Santa Monica, Calif., who has racked up 1,392,260 points. He started playing two years ago on a business trip -- and once he got on a hot streak, he just had to keep going. Mr. Allen estimates that he played a total of 90 hours, over the course of a year, on his record-setting run. He now fields daily emails from bankers, lawyers and financial executives asking for playing advice.