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Tic-tac-toe is kind of a joke, but I can’t stop playing a new version of it on my smartphone.
It’s called Tic Tactics from developer Hidden Variable Studios, and it takes the universally accepted rules of tic-tac-toe and messes it all up with careful strategic thinking and sleek design. Head-to-Head Asynchronous Puzzle is now available on Android and ios as a free download.
On Android, Tic Tactics already has over 100,000 downloads, which is impressive for a game based on something so simple that most people give it up when they learn to tie their shoelaces on their own. The truth is, Tic Tactics is the tic-tac-toe checkers chess game, and Hidden Variable has been working to optimize its game for mobile platforms and gamers.
“The tic-tac-toe has that stigma of being a dead end party,” Hidden Variable co-founder Charley Price told GamesBeat. “Everyone knows it and becomes its master at 5 years old, but the interest then decreases.”
Help the noughts and crosses to grow
So how is Tic Tactics different? Well, instead of playing on a single 3 by 3 grid, matches are played on a “megaboard” made up of nine separate tic-tac-toe games. To win, players must get three in a row from three consecutive tables. On top of that, every move made by each player dictates where the opponent can move next.
“If I were to pass and make a move in the middle square of the lower right board, then my opponent has to make his move on the middle board for his turn,” said Price.
This opens up a number of strategies that players can implement. Players can coerce and channel their opponents into previously won tables or have them place an X in a table as part of a large diagram.
The problem with the Tic Tactics rules is that they are not completely original. The developers of Hidden Variable picked it up from a friend’s house, and they fell in love with it after casually playing it on a whiteboard in their studio. When the studio decided to turn it into a mobile app, the company was able to put its game design and development expertise to work to make Tic Tactics a viable smartphone gaming product.
“We thought we wanted to make it an asynchronous multiplayer game, but we had to understand the pros and cons of it,” Price said. “For example, there are a few early moves that players can tap into and the game is quite slow to build, so we’ve added a few more rules in Tic Tactics where you do your first nine moves to start a match.”
Players cannot claim a plateau in this phase, but it does help matches get into the deeper strategy much faster.
“This means that with your first shot you already have an organically populated board,” Ahrens said. “It makes the gameplay interesting from the first moment, which is obviously very important when dealing with a fickle and impatient mobile gaming audience.”
Build a game that consistently gets a player’s attention
Hidden Variable has built everything on Tic Tactics with casual and mobile gamers in mind. The studio knows that most people who play on smartphones only have 30 seconds here and there to play games, and they won’t waste those fleeting moments with clunky games that don’t respect their time.
“One of the great things with any mobile title is that you have to sell people on your game very, very quickly,” Hidden Variable developer Nick Ahrens told GamesBeat. “They have to participate in it for the first 30 seconds, then the first minute, and the first two, five and beyond.”
To achieve this, Hidden Variable has worked on optimizing every aspect of Tic Tactics for mobile. This includes rule changes to speed up games, but it also includes visual design and user experience.
Everything about Tic Tactics is clean and fast. The design is simple and easy to look at. Whether you are Xs or Os, you are always green and your opponent is always red. This helps to quickly understand the painting if you haven’t looked at it for a while. While Hidden Variable used a simple visual style, Tic Tactics appears with animated rockets and feels alive.
The result is an attractive package that is easy to spend time with.
A free game with a premium feel
Although Tic Tactics is free, players can spend cash to get coins to play more games at the same time. Players will receive a certain number of free coins each day and earn some when they win a match, but those who want to have games at the same time can purchase coin packs.
Ahrens and Price believe the way to get players to spend is by first presenting them with a product that already feels like a premium experience.
“When players download something for free, they always expect a certain level of value,” Price said. “They act like they’ve already paid, and we think we need to fill that up to some level as soon as possible.”
“Developers have a much smaller margin for error on mobile,” Ahrens said. “If a player is distracted and clicks away from your game, there are 1.5 million other free games they can download.”
The developers of Hidden Variable hope that by creating something familiar, attractive, and premium, they can keep players’ attention for a long time.
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