'Power of Storytelling in Blockbuster Casual Games' - A Data-Driven Collaboration with Om Tandon

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Brunette Games Founder Lisa Brunette recently co-authored an article with popular industry analyst Om Tandon of UX Reviewer on the subject of why and how narrative fuels the rise of many blockbuster casual mobile games. "Power of storytelling in blockbuster casual games" is part of a series in which Om takes a deep dive into what makes top tier games in this space tick. In part 1, Om looked at how to crack the match-3 code, part 2 featured an interview with the Playrix team behind the Gardenscapes and Homescapes phenomenon, and here in part 3, Om interviews Lisa.

You can read the full article at GameRefinery, but here's an excerpt:

It's like the old saying goes: Trying to design a major hit game is like trying to capture lightning in a bottle. If there were one sure formula, everyone would have a hit, right? While many ingredients make a game popular with players - from a well-designed match-3 puzzle to the right blend of customization and progression pacing in the decorating element - it's our opinion at Brunette Games that a quality story is key.

With so many match-3 games on the market, and so many decorating games as well, story could be one of the key distinguishing factors you have at your disposal. 


Punchline: How to Use Humor to Bridge Player Connection

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Sam always has something to say in RollerCoaster Tycoon Story

By Dexter Woltman

Who doesn’t love a good joke? Here at Brunette Games, we’ve always believed in three pillars of game storytelling: conflict, mystery, and connection. While there are various forms of connection, one of its cores is the emotional investment players form with the characters and story in a game. One way to bridge this connection is through the use of humor. 

In the casual mobile game market, humor is essential to storytelling. It sparks an authentic connection between the medium of entertainment and the audience. Earlier this year, I wrote about Scoops, the comedic sensation in Redemption Games’ hit title, Sweet Escapes. While Scoops has been a long-time fan-favorite, the key for me is pushing Scoops beyond the traditional comedic relief role by using his humor to bring conflict, mystery, and connection to the narrative.

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Scoops is the comedic sensation of Sweet Escapes

Comedic characters aren’t just there to make audiences laugh. They can cater to the storyline and world of a game, as well as the goals of the developer. When done right, humor lassos in a player’s retention just as Scoops does in Sweet Escapes. Since mobile games are often played in short bursts, a good joke is key to making that time memorable. However, writing effective humor is no easy task. Not only does a writer have to continuously produce high-quality punchlines that are certain to land, but the execution has to be flawless, or else the scene will flop.

So how do you write a good joke? Prepare to open Pandora’s Box. The first step is to establish what genre of comedy caters to your target demographic. Brunette Games has worked across a variety of titles, each with their own unique brand of humor. In Matchington Mansion and Sweet Escapes, characters’ lighthearted quirks are on full display. Solitaire: Farm & Family finds its jokes grounded in more down-to-earth storylines, and RollerCoaster Tycoon Story puts eccentrics on center stage. Vineyard Valley is more raunchy and in-line with shows like Friends, and Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff capitalizes on abrupt antics. Each of these titles has its own audience, making it important to realize what kind of people play your game.

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Working Squirrel has an idea for Lois in Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff

The next step is execution. It’s not enough to have an idea. As John Cleese says, “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 simply roll their eyes or ignore it. To form a true connection between players and a game, the humor has to flow naturally.

And what if the jokes just aren’t coming to you? There are two ways to assist with writer’s block. The first is character compatibility. If two or more characters are in a scene and the humor isn’t coming through, you may be using the wrong characters. The best jokes blossom through genuine chemistry, whether it’s positive or negative. If two characters aren’t compatible, you may consider opting for a stronger pairing. This is especially true in titles like Sweet Escapes or Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff, where there’s a whole town of differing personalities. Some match-ups work perfectly, and others simply don’t. There’s a reason the hit show How I Met Your Mother produced a full episode on why main characters Robin and Marshall don’t pair together.

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Joy and Duncan have great chemistry in Sweet Escapes

The other way to help is by finding inspiration through real references. By comparing your character to a comedic source you’re familiar with, you’re laying out your own groundwork. For example, actress Betty White has such a strong personality. We used her antics as inspiration for the scene-stealing grandmother in Solitaire: Farm & Family. This isn't copying or stealing a character, but rather using them as inspiration for your own unique vision. Then, once you’ve had experience establishing engaging characters, you can work to create your own brand of humor with someone new, much as we did with Aggy in Sweet Escapes.

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Aggy is the new character introduced in the second season of Sweet Escapes

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. With Scoops or Aggy, it’s nearly impossible to predict what either of them will say next, and that’s what makes them so funny. So, when you’re brainstorming ways to punch-up your joke, consider how you can make it even more unexpected.

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Meemee says the unexpected in Wild Things

When it comes to connecting players through humor, it’s not just about making the right joke. It’s about building a world that caters to its comedy. Even when writing for already-established IPs and worlds—as we do for Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff—you can still find a way to make their established humor your own by expanding your creativity to new audiences. Once the humor flows naturally, so will audiences’ connection.


New Release! G5 Entertainment's Crime Mysteries™: Find Objects

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We're thrilled to announce G5 Entertainment's newly released game Crime Mysteries™: Find Objects. The Brunette Games team edits the dialogue and offers advice on United States culture and law enforcement conventions. Congratulations to G5 Entertainment on their excellent new game! 

Description

The BEST crime-solving game needs your detective skills! Step into a riveting world of danger, betrayal and murder! Are you ready to find hidden objects or master match-3 puzzles as you unravel the twists and turns of an LA homicide mystery?

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Download Crime Mysteries: Find Objects now and bring the perpetrators to justice! Play alongside wisecracking Detectives Cache and Blunt as they purge Los Angeles of criminals and restore law and order. A string of horrifying homicides has been reported across the city. Enjoy immersive gameplay and engaging storylines as you investigate mysterious crimes, interact with intriguing characters and catch twisted killers. As cases stack up on your desk, you’ll visit captivating locations across the city and inspect troubling murder scenes. Search for clues, review evidence and size up suspects by finding hidden objects or solving match-3 puzzles. Do you have what it takes to crack the case? There’s only one way to find out! Put on your detective hat because this is one criminal thrill ride you won’t want to miss!

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Are you a super-sleuth who can piece together the most confounding evidence?

  • FIND hidden objects or
  • MATCH gems in a row in hundreds of unique and challenging match-3 puzzles!
  • BLAST through with powerful bonus combos!
  • ANALYZE strange clues!
  • SOLVE mind-blowing crimes!

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You will also enjoy:

  • Gorgeous graphics that enliven a city full of landmark locations for you to explore
  • Rewarding collections to piece together and new areas and content to unlock
  • Absorbing quests that keep you entertained for months
  • Free updates: new cases, locations and special bonuses await you every month!

 Play Crime Mysteries: Find Objects today and solve baffling murders!

 While this game is absolutely free to play, you have the ability to unlock optional bonuses via in-app purchases from within the game. You may disable in-app purchases in your device settings.

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 Game available in: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Russian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese

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 Sign up now for a weekly round-up of the best from G5 Games! www.g5e.com/e-mail

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 G5 Games - World of Adventures™!

Collect them all! Search for "g5" in iTunes!

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 VISIT US: www.g5e.com

WATCH US: www.youtube.com/g5enter

FIND US: www.facebook.com/g5games

FOLLOW US: www.twitter.com/g5games

G5 End User License Supplemental Terms: http://www.g5e.com/G5_End_User_License_Supplemental_Terms

Crime Mysteries™: Find objects © 2020 G5 Holdings Limited. All Rights Reserved. Published by G5 Entertainment AB. Crime Mysteries™, G5 Games and G5 Entertainment are registered trademarks of G5 Entertainment AB.

 


Looking for Voice Acting Work? We Wanna Hear from You!

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Voice Actor (Contract, Remote)

We’re looking for an experienced, talented voice actor who can provide a wide range of female voices and regional accents for casual mobile games. Our in-house team of game writer/designers will provide scripts with direction.

Work will be offered on a contract basis, per-project.

Competitive pay commensurate with experience.

To apply, please send demo reel or link to Anthony Valterra, avalterra@gmail.com

About Brunette Games LLC

Brunette Games is a woman-owned narrative design and writing studio headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, in the United States. In collaboration with both independent game studios and publishers, we design game narratives, task and quest layouts, branching dialogue systems, and choice statistic systems. We also write dialogue scripts, cut-scene storyboards, and all manner of in-game text. We're joined by voice-over actors on the West Coast, who voice our scripts, and we serve clients all over the world, from Helsinki to L.A. Our primary player audience is females 30+, and our credits include top-performing, genre-defining games Matchington Mansion, Lily's Garden, Sweet Escapes, and many others.



 


The Top 5 Games on Our Roster - and the Stories They Tell

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By Lisa Brunette

In our work with casual mobile game developers, we like to talk about three main aspects of storytelling: conflict, mystery, and connection. Through these three narrative elements, we've worked to push the genre forward, and that's evident in the top five games on our roster. I'll break each one down for you.

1. Matchington Mansion, Firecraft

When a developer in stealth mode reached out to me in early 2017 to help design a match-3 game, I had no idea what an impact it would have on my career. But today Matchington Mansion is still the top-performing game we've had the privilege to work on.

We pushed innovation on this title in several ways. First, we introduced conflict - something many casual mobile games at that point tended to avoid - by adding to the cast list a conniving casino developer named Rex Houston. Upping the ante is the fact that as a blood relative of the mansion's deceased owner, he arguably has more claim to its inheritance than you do.

There's also a mystery. You're given the mansion by a bestselling author whose books you helped popularize (you're a New York editor). You uncover the author's long-ago forbidden romance as you set to the task of renovating the old, crumbling mansion.

The connection comes in with the character relationships - you meet neighbors, a contractor, a gardener, the delivery boy - and rather than merely introducing new features, these characters engage you with their foibles. They're part of the story. Connection's also there as a visual tie between the match-3 gameplay and the story. The tile icons in the match-3 thematically link to the story, such as pillow tiles while Tiffany is fluffing pillows in the living room. This sounds obvious now, as so many games link them, but it was an innovation at the time.

Fun Fact: 'Matchington Mansion' was originally just a placeholder, internal name for the game, but I argued it would make the perfect game name. Don't you agree?

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2. Lily's Garden, Tactile Entertainment

In early 2018, I flew to Copenhagen to work onsite with the Tactile Entertainment team. I was a huge fan of their Bee Brilliant collapse mechanic games, so the opportunity to work on a narrative sequel was exciting.

With Lily's Garden, the important innovation was to step a bit beyond the "bad guy" antagonist trope and instead focus on a love triangle, with a romantic sit-com storyline. As far as conflict goes, we still offer many:

  • The antagonizing force of the time-limited contract Lily must fulfill in order to inherit her great aunt's home and garden
  • Lily's cousin Larry, who has his grimy mitts all over the place her great aunt wanted her to have
  • The setup of Lily's bad luck streak, which instantly makes her a relatable character

The mysteries aren't trapped in the past, but rather set in the present. Will Lily fall for scrappy neighbor Luke, or come under the sway of her ex? Will she keep Larry out of her inheritance? Will she be able to fix up the garden in time to fulfill her great-aunt's dying wish? Who was this Great-Aunt Mary, anyway?

The connection is first and foremost to the woman whose gift sets the stage for everything else, Lily's great-aunt. Her quirky, warm spirit comes through as Lily restores the home and garden to its former glory. After that, it's friends and love interests... when family doesn't get in the way. Another innovation? The diverse cast, which includes characters of color and a wider array of sexual orientation than you normally see in casual games, especially if you include the viral ads.

Fun Fact: Very little of the content in the famously viral Lily's Garden ads actually appears in the game.

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3. Choices: Stories You Play, Pixelberry Studios

Interactive novels can make a tough go of it, and we've been involved in more than one project that's never quite gained traction. But Pixelberry's Choices is an exception, here at No. 3 on our list for performance.

Veil of Secrets was a huge innovation for Choices as its first book in the mystery genre. So for both conflict and mystery, it pushed the boundaries even within a format that had already proved its success. What I tried to do with this title as remote scriptwriter was deepen the villains, giving them a bit of nuance... if not outright sympathy, then at least an awareness of what shaped them. That was a tough call for WASP-y New England characters, a world I have very little first-hand knowledge of, but luckily, my experience as a lover of the mystery genre came in handy.

All of the Choices books excel at connection, with a wide variety of dating and intimacy moments available to players. It was gratifying to write in that space, for a team that values diversity.

Fun Fact: In the premium scene in Chapter 1, your bestie Kate explains that she and Tanner met when he took cover from the rain in her bakery one night. They spent all night flirting... and eating cupcakes. Serious girl fantasy, right? Or maybe that's just me.

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4. Bingo Bash, GSN

Early in the evolution of casual games, we used to encounter a lot of resistance from designers who feared that more story in a game would mean too many words. Our next top-performer proves that narrative needs scant wordage to steal the show.

In late 2017, we were tasked with the seemingly impossible: Write a love story in 27 characters or less per chapter. The tiny tale would appear in a new room within the Bingo Bash app, just in time for Valentine's Day. 'Dear Diary' was, I think, the first of its kind, another innovation in the casual mobile game space. While for a long time narratives were paired only with match-3 decorating games, Bingo Bash: Dear Diary showed story could be hybridized with other types of gameplay. These days, we're seeing narrative meshed with solitaire and other genres as well.

The 'Dear Diary' bingo room had conflict in the form of the obstacles the would-be couple encounters, mystery in the question of whether they'd ever work things out, and connection when they end up together - and married, before you can say, "Bingo!" 

Fun Fact: I turned this '27 characters or less' restriction into a classroom assignment when I taught narrative design at a local university. Dexter Woltman, now Brunette Games writer/designer but then my student, wrote a micro romance story... about a rock. You can see why we hired him.

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5. Sweet Escapes, Redemption Games

Speaking of Dexter's quirky sense of humor, the game in the No. 5 spot on our roster really takes the cake in that regard, and all credit to him for the achievement. Sweet Escapes definitely pushes innovation in the area of casual mobile game comedy. Between the Redemption Games team's hilarious animations and Dexter's laugh-out-loud dialogue, the title has gained a huge fan following. It's even spawned fan fiction.

Sweet Escapes has connection in spades. The game also traffics in interesting conflict, with an inspector who seems to be thwarting our heroes' attempts to win the highly prized Sweetstakes trophy... or is he (mystery)? It's been a year and some months since the game's initial release, and the mystery has only deepened. It now involves a crusty ol' pirate named Snackbeard.

Fun Facts: Yes, Scoops really has held all of those jobs. And no, he doesn't wear the same scarf every day.

What's Ahead?

With all of this past innovation behind us, what do we see in the future? It's a question we don't take lightly here at Brunette Games.

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One of the best HOPAs ever created, by Artogon and Big Fish.

Personally, I have yet to see the dark, edgy content in casual mobile games that was a regular feature of the hundreds of hidden-object puzzle adventure games I worked on at Big Fish back in 2011-2016. Those games had me on the edge of my seat, and the jump scares at least in one case actually made me jump - in the middle of a cubicle pod at work. While those games were at times dark enough to require a warning label even though they were still casual fare, most of what passes for story on mobile today falls squarely in the cheery camp. When there are mysteries, they tend to be a bit 'Scooby Doo' in tone. A notable exception are two titles we consult on for G5 Entertainment - Homicide Squad and the just-released Crime Mysteries. But the rest have all been light and bright.

Does it matter that we're playing on the phone now instead of PC download? I don't think so. While designers often come to us because they want to compete with the top-performing games above, we think the real competition lies elsewhere - on Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO... We'd like to work with you to tell stories no one can put down, or scroll past. Ready?

YOU SHOULD ALSO CHECK OUT

Redemption Games' Scoops: From Fan Favorite to Fan Fiction

Narrative Design 101: Do We Need Stories? How Do We Make Them Work in Games?

Brunette Games GDC Talk on 'Conflict, Mystery, and Connection' Now Available on YouTube