I recently achieved my 3 month goal of getting to level 95 in Tetris Friends Battle, so here's some Tetris. ^^
Tetris is played all around the world, with good reason. It's very addictive, easily accessible to all ages, has a high skill ceiling for improvement and the Tetris tune is just plain catchy. It has become one of those words that everyone knows, regardless of culture, race, age or job.
However, you can easily when Tetris can become a monotonous grind. While the levelling system pushes the speed of the game up, the skill ceiling and time commitment goes exponentially up with no other gains, other than the joy of being really good. Which is sometimes enough. But over time, this monotonous grind loses the casual base. Sure, every once in a while you'll squeek out a quick Tetris game since it's good for your health. Once and done for a while, though.
But enter Tetris Friends.
Tetris Friends hit the world via Facebook, and it spread like wildfire in its first few years. Now, it has seemed to die down, but it took the great Tetris formula, kept all the fun of stacking blocks, added enough social and game elements to cause Tetris's recent resurgence.
It actually wouldn't be wrong to say Tetris Friends is a strong reason as to why Tetris is still on a lot of people's minds.
What makes a Tetris
Because Tetris has become so mainstream, a lot of its meaning has been lost. The basics of the game are very easy to pick up, but there are a lot of nuances different versions have added that people say improve or detract from the game. I tend to think most of them improved upon an already winning formula.
The point of regular Tetris is to finish the game. Many variants set the bar at level 20. Some have a limitless mode. More hardcore clones like ones posted on Youtube go invincibly fast, then turn off the pieces so you play blind and by memory.
The end goal is always to get the highest score possible. How? To make lots and lots of Tetrises. In the world of stacking and clearing size-4 blocks, a Tetris is clearing 4 lines at the same time with the 'I' block.
An equally viable method is to get lots of T-spins, which involve making a spin left or spin right in the half second when the block is about to drop onto the stack.
These are really simple concepts. T-spin was not in the original Tetris, but you can imagine how much more depth it brings to the game. Tetris Friends does even more to this formula.
What makes a Tetris friendly?
While T-spins and Tetrises have become fundamental to the game, they don't add the much needed 'game' elements that makes a game really successful. Being a puzzle game is often enough to garner interest, but what really pushed Tetris into the mainstream is really making it more friendly to new players by introducing a lot of new, cool and most importantly fun elements.
Perhaps the most important element of Tetris Friend's success is their integration into Facebook. Recently passing 1 billion users, Facebook is by far the most successful and widespread social platform. By integrating an application successfully into Facebook's network, you can interact with all those users, which is a huge market and makes the game very accessible compared to client downloads.
Tetris Friends put a bunch of game modes on the grid, and made them accessible to a lot of people very easily with their integration with Facebook.
Sprint races players against other players to see who can clear the fastest 40 lines. Marathon is like limitless mode, but amplifies the speed and point progression a lot better than other game variants do. Battle 2P and 6P pits players against players in a refreshing take on the Tetris formula. These modes work heavily to improve the replayability of the game by switching up the skills required to succeed in each, and expand the skill sets of the players.
But what game modes do is simply reward and spread player improvement equally. While Battle 2P is always the premier game mode, being good at any of the game modes automatically makes you better in other game modes, and this adds to the time spent in each mode. Get good at Sprint and suddenly you'll want to be as good in Batle 2P as you are in Sprint. Which brings me to my next point.
Basic Tetris has no metric on where your skill level stands. While you can judge a fair bit by saying, "Oh, I can't beat level 14", beyond these generic statements you have no information.
By including this ranking solution, you can suddenly compare yourself to your friends: boast, cry, whatever. You have a standard, physical goal to work towards. You have a lot more concrete information to judge your own performance in that you're weak in sprints, but good at battles.
My personal favourite element of their ranking system is that it makes you feel good.
If you keep track of the labels they have defined for the ranking system, you will notice it is always positive. And this is amazing in keeping you interested. Do you want to be called a Hero or a noob? So instead of insults, we get all these Tetris Gods Grandmasters, Rock Stars and so on. It's amazing how they decided to keep the attitude positive like this, and how effective it is.
Some people will argue that it hides information a lot more, but in reality, good players don't care about their label. They don't even care about the number. But improving or stalled players don't need to feel bad about being stuck at the Grandmaster level this way.
Plus, the name obscures the fact that the skill level is dramatically higher at the top levels. An extremely interesting observation I found with Starcraft is that the professional gamers, the highest tier of players, are at a skill level way beyond even the top players. If you are familiar with the Starcraft 2 rankings, it goes
Bronze < Silver < Gold < Platinum < Diamond < Masters < Grandmasters
where Grandmaster represents the top 200 players, and Masters represents the top 2% of the Diamond ranking. In this same example, you can easily see how someone in Diamond who is not award of Masters may think that he is one of the best players, and this makes him continue playing. I mean, Diamond sounds like it's a pretty high rank, no? The same thing applies in Tetris Friends.
Expert at level 13!
And then adding rewards keep you coming back to the game. A really annoying, yet smart decision was to include a slot system where you opened more slots the more consecutive days you played. Diabolical? yes. Smart? yes. And running these slots more meant you got more Tetris money to spend for Tetris: adding skins, getting slight gaming tweaks. Rewards keep you coming back to play more.
Tetris Friends just does so many things right, it's very easy to see how it has become so successful. And hopefully you can see how much it more it brings to the base Tetris game. However, it will need to continue to innovate and improve the user experience, because being a Tetris clone, there is definitely a limit to how many blocks casual gamers can handle stacking before moving on.