Puzzle & Dragons is a mobile game that’s currently sweeping Japan. Why is it so successful, and are we looking at the next Candy Crush Saga?
Recently, Puzzle & Dragons won the “Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Award” from the Japan Game Awards at the Tokyo Game Show 2013. This decision marks quite a milestone – it’s the first time a smartphone game has won the award, which certainly says something about the game.
Puzzle & Dragons has now reached close to 1 billion downloads globally, although most come from Japan, where the game was created. So, what’s the secret to its success? Let’s try to figure it out!
More than a puzzle game
In the mobile market, there are hundreds of puzzle games like Candy Crush Saga, most having been inspired by the popular Bejeweled series. Puzzle & Dragons gameplay is exactly like these games, but with added incentives that have managed to hook millions of iOS, Android and Kindle Fire users.
In Puzzle & Dragons, the gem-based puzzles in the bottom half of your mobile screen work as a pretext to completing the challenges in the top half of the screen. These challenges, which have a Japanese RPG style (role playing games), are actually battles against enemies with different powers and properties. When you eliminate all the gems in a particular color, you unleash your allies’ magic powers, weakening your enemy bit by bit.
The puzzles are a pretext for battling enemies
Basically, playing Puzzle & Dragons is like playing Bejeweled in order to take part in Pokémon-style battles, during which you can eventually build up new allies.
With this model of play, Puzzle & Dragons brings together two beloved genres. On the one hand, you have a puzzle, a simple format that’s proven to work well on tablets and smartphones. On the other, you have an RPG, a firm favorite from the country which has given us big RPG names like Final Fantasy and Pokémon.
Color and kawaii factor
It’s hard for a mobile game to really grab your attention if it’s not visually appealing, something that the game’s creators at Gung Ho Online Entertainment took into consideration when designing the game. Puzzle & Dragons is a colorful breath of fresh air, with perfect animé characters taking center stage, just as they should in a good RPG.
The game also has something really important in Japanese culture: the kawaii factor. Both the good guys and the baddies are “cute”, like in Pokémon or the well-known Disgaea series. You want to defeat the bad guys, but there’s no denying that they’re also pretty adorable.
This makes Puzzle & Dragons easily recognizable. In Angry Birds, for example, you only have to see one picture of a bird to know that it’s part of the Rovio universe; the same goes for the witches, monsters and warriors in Puzzle & Dragons.
Colorful animé aesthetics are Puzzle & Dragons’s secret weapon
To pay or not to pay… it’s up to you!
The free-to-play model is widely accepted by mobile gamers: you play for free, and if you want more, you pay a small fee. Puzzle & Dragons is a good example of this model, and while many users enjoy playing without paying, others can spend a good part of their savings without batting an eyelid. We can see proof that this model works in the game’s 2012 stats: it was the top paid app in the Japanese App store and number one globally in the same category in Google Play.
So why do people pay if you can play for free? Paying means that you can play for longer without having to wait, or to get power-ups that otherwise would take longer to get. It might not be the cheapest system, but for many users who only play games like Puzzle & Dragons, it doesn’t seem like a bad deal when they get hours of fun in return.
Even though it’s free, many users get hooked on Puzzle & Dragons and end up paying
Will it break over here?
So, will Puzzle & Dragons make it big outside Japan?
At the moment, the signs are good: since launching in the U.S. at the end of 2012, it reached the million-download mark this past August. It’s nowhere near the numbers downloaded in Japan, but with a bit of patience and people tiring of its rivals, Puzzle & Dragons could quickly climb its way up the charts.
What’s more, Gung Ho Online has announced that the game will be released in Europe and Australia at some point this year. Could this be the start of a global runaway success?