1 April, 2014
Let's face it. MMOs are dead. We've waited for over a decade for a worthy game to realize our dreams of hacking the Gibson with our VR goggles and gloves, and nothing has appeared. So, I'm calling it: MMOs are over and done. There's no purpose for this blog anymore, I guess.
But, I still like writing. So, time to write about my second favorite genre: Match 3 games! Let's dive into some discussion about what makes an interesting match 3 game.
Oh, and do make sure to check out my site at http://psychochild.org/ to see the new site redesign!
What is match 3?
Match 3 games have a long history that pre-dates computers. Originally played on physical game boards, modern computer games brought back this venerable game of the ages.
The important elements in a good Match 3 games are the board, the items you move around and match 3 of, and the sound effects. It's also important to hide the fact that you ripped off another game in order to create your own. Using some other icon besides gems is probably a good start.
What makes match 3 compelling?
Match 3 games combine two things that humans love: discovery and the unexpected. Our brains reward us when we discover something. Finding that move that will match 3 things together makes us happy. As we play the game more, our discovery becomes more complex: we look for larger matches for greater rewards. Matching a group of four or five becomes more frequently, and we enjoy the rewards the game gives us for those bonuses. We also look for cascades and chains of moves that will allow us to get even more rewards. The visual and audio rewards enhance the feeling we already get from our brains.
But, there's also the unexpected. As you make matches, and cascades, more objects enter the board. Our brains become especially excited as we see more matches and chains formed by these unpredictable gems fall into place. Even though it's likely entirely random, our brains still enjoy the feeling that we brought a little bit of order to the chaos appearing on the screen.
Match 3 games are also endless games. Even though you can set a limit on it (such as being able to play only one minute so your boss doesn't catch you playing games at work), the core game is something that can be played endlessly, going until your skill is exceeded and your luck runs out. The idea of being able to play forever is appealing to people trying to escape the mundane world; which is why you play so many levels of these games while on the clock.
Variations on match 3 games
Match 3 games started simple, but have become more complex over time as games have sought to differentiate themselves. For example, Bejeweled 2 added a new type of gem if you matched 5 or more gems. This new gem would "explode" if matched, created a lot more dynamism in the board, leading to a bit less predictability for people who were very experienced in the original game. This trend continued to Candy Crush Saga, where different types of matches would create new types of pieces, and the combination of these special pieces created yet more complex interactions. Then the game's creator went to the public financial markets and found out that having only one gem isn't enough for a successful high score in stock valuation.
Other games have tried other variations to the rules. My favorite is Bret Airborne, a competitive match 3 game you play against the computer. The game features a dividing line that separates your side of the board from your opponent. If you match 4 or more items, you get another turn and the dividing line moves to give you a wider area to make moves in. This leads to an interesting dynamic where you can plan your moves with some accuracy, but a brilliant string of moves can either give you more freedom, or give your opponent the opportunity to disrupt your plans. Of course, if you cared about innovation and interesting gameplay at all you'd have already bought the game.
The final variation is the objects being matched. There are gem match 3, jewel match 3, precious stone match 3, bauble match 3, bead match 3, and abstract object match 3 games. Matching any other items is heresy of the gravest order.
The future of match 3
Obviously, match 3 gameplay has a long history. Because of this, it can't help but have a bright future. I think in the future all games will become match 3 games.
To this end, I'm going to write a series of articles talking about how various games could be improved by adding match 3 mechanics. My next article will be about my idea for a match 3 MOBA!
What do you think? Is match 3 a great gameplay genre, or the greatest?