Most hit casual games are loaded with examples, but Popcapâs games are commonly cited with good reason. Plants vs Zombies, Peggle, and earlier games all exhibit great examples. So many of their tiny actions, whose meaning is vanishingly small, satisfying and building holistic player satisfaction.Â Among the many reasons Popcap has given for their success, juicy design ideas were in there. Producer Matthew Johnson explained it like this:
"...it's about that thing that happens right now, that feels great and sounds awesome â that's always been in the DNA of Popcap games."
Letâs find where "juicy" fits in other design ideas (aimed at the beginning game designer, as a FAQ).
Q: How is Juicy different from basic good software interface design practice?
A: Most designers are comfortable with logical or factual design lenses: e.g. a âclickâ sound helps the user realize they clicked a button. SimplifyÂ the screen so the important ideas pop out. These make sense.Â Â By contrast, Juiciness is not as logical. Juiciness is an emotional lens on design.Â A well-designed juicy game matches the players subconscious feelings of fairness and reward/punishment âI did that well, so something good should happen.â
Q: So, Juicy is a description of reward / punishment, Skinner Box type game design?
A: Juicy is not that coldly logical. It is about tiny player actions than overall scoring or rewards.Â When you collect a coin in Plants vs Zombies, after doing a successful move, notice your feeling of expectation of âgood stuffâ.Â Notice the satisfaction of the coin appearing. Then, before you click, imagine the coin just vanishing when you clicked it.Â Now, click it. That little flash and spinning of the coin, traveling to your points? Thatâs juiciness. Itâs all the small stuff.
Q: So, Add fancy animation and your game is juicy?
A: Maybe.Â A failed attempt at adding juiciness to a game will add fancy animations that donât relate to the playerâs experience. It will feel âtacked onâ, or unrelated to the game activity.Â It's also possible to overdo it: Hearing "crowd goes wild" sounds for every tiny decision will feel false to the player, who knows that a minor action shouldn't generate major cheering.
Q: Does juicy relate to the big picture â the gameâs purpose â or is it only about small picture - the UI, in the moment, tiny things?
A: Itâs small picture, but it can add up to the big picture.Â Popcap's Johnson explained how early arcade games had juiciness as the key reward:
"... with Pac-Man. Partly, the reward was the high score table, but primarily, it was the emotional feedback - it had to be immediate.
"If you think about the voice in Bejeweled that rewards you when you make a match or the 'extreme fever' in Peggle, or the little things in PvsZ that make you connect with the characters, it's not about the player building up stats over a long period of time, it's about that thing that happens right now, that feels great and sounds awesome â that's always been in the DNA of Popcap games."
Q: Is juicy a design approach? Is it better than other ways of designing games?
A: No to both. âJuicyâ is a narrow but useful lens to view a gameâs design.Â One cannot simply âmake a game juicyâ and be certain itâs better.Â
For example, consider characters in a casual game.Â A mascot game character, like the Bookworm worm, reacts to player choices and personified game outcomes. I feel Bookworm's primary function is to mirror and validate the playerâs internal, emotional state (it also gives hints and instructions, but as a secondary function).Â This is a âjuicyâ character.
Now consider the player character in a serious first-person immersive war simulation game (e.g. WWII Online).Â Â Â Can the enemy see the playerâs head above the barrel?Â This is not an emotional, âjuicyâ design decision. This decision requires rational thinking.Â The primary purpose of such a 3D game player characters is not to reflect the playerâs emotional state (though it is part of the purpose â for a richer discussion see Gee).Â Imagine âimprovingâ the game by having player character thinking snarky comments, celebrating head shots or wiping tears away, when the game is primarily strategic.Â Hopefully itâs obvious that making this character more âjuicyâ could easily hurt the playerâs overall satisfaction.
In short, I find the term "juicy" to be useful, if irritatingly catchy, and hope you do too. I would be delighted to hear that there is another word that other designers already use with substantially the same meaning, but I fear that we are stuck with "juicy".Â I look forward discussing with you in the comments.