Crossy Road, developed by Hipster Whale – Melbourne-based and winners of the Apple Design Award (among many other accolades) – is most definitely a game to take notice of. Having reached the significant milestone of 100 million downloads last week, I’d like to take a look at some lessons in design that we can learn from what is one of the most successful mobile games of the last few years.
Simplicity is key. If the barrier to entry is low and players can discern the core game loop without obvious language-based cues, the user experience is likely going to be a great one. Crossy Road displays clarity and consistency in all facets of the game, from menu design and interaction, to the simple one-touch or swipe interaction used to control the players block-like avatar.
Crossy Road is a game experience that offers the same challenges and entertainment value at all levels, to all players, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any other point of individual diversity.
Low Level of Friction
Friction is a concept that describes the delay of engagement with what players would consider to be the core experience of a game. Crossy Road has a very low frequency of this. The only points at which a player is delayed from engaging with the core play loop (i.e., crossing the road for as long as they can) are firstly, watching a video advertisement, which is an optional action players are rewarded for with in-game currency; and secondly, the 0.5-to-1 second loading time between player death and restart of play. It should be noted, though, that as soon as either of these actions are over, players are able to return to play with a maximum of two button presses, but in most cases only one.
With a plethora of language options available, Crossy Road has opened itself up to the global market. Too often a great game is prevented from reaching the highest number of players it can due to language barriers. Again, due to the simplicity of Crossy Road and it’s brilliant design practice, necessity for language to communicate key concepts is pretty much nil. Even playing the game in Korean – which I do not speak nor read – I can come to understand how to engage with almost no effort, simply due to the symbolic nature of the prompts for action.
Competition/ Positive Interaction
The only form of competition present in Crossy Road is by way of leaderboard position. This is a feature that the player can easily choose to ignore if it isn’t important to their individual game experience.
Some may argue that if there was synchronous or asynchronous competition (think a friend’s ghost present in many racing games), there could be more potential for engagement. However, it can also be argued that not allowing for direct competition between players is a move that allows the positive nature of the game to shine without being marred by competitive attitudes or calls to action.
This isn’t to say that Crossy Road doesn’t give you a friendly reminder of your friend’s achievements in comparison to your own by way of in-game markers. The inclusion of score markers from a design standpoint serves as a subtle call to action that may drive further engagement born from the desire to outscore a friend. As an aside, it also serves as a potential talking point amongst players, which doubles as a handy bit of free marketing for the game when you come across someone who may not have engaged with Crossy Road yet.
While there isn’t much new going on in the world space as the player gets higher and higher scores, the purchase of certain characters may change the entire visual experience thematically.
For example, if the player were to unlock the ‘Dark Lord’ character, the world lighting will dim with a red tinge, trees will spontaneously burst into flame as you pass by, and the character will trail flames behind it as you hop. Although the change doesn’t change the way the player interacts with the game, the potential for a visually new experience seeks to foster discovery and drive players to unlock new characters, whether that be through real world or in-game currency. In the case of characters that can only be unlocked through real world currency, there is a certain level of expectation that the gameplay experience will change more, such is the case with characters like Psy, the Korean pop-star. By purchasing Psy as a playable character, the player is promised a unique experience that can only be had with the transaction of real world funds.
No single game experience can be said to be perfect, but developers can certainly follow solid and established design practice while making use of a little creativity to ensure that they are providing a positive experience for their players. Put plainly, Crossy Road makes use of brilliant design practice bundled into one experience where it can shine. It respects the player’s time, and never demands they spend money to progress. It provides a positive environment that takes very little effort to navigate through, is globally relevant, and it doesn’t force competition on all of its players. Crossy Road is a great example of how big of an impact a small experience can make, and a great source of inspiration for video game designers the world over.