Solitaire

I come by my love of Solitaire honestly.

It is fair to say that I am one of the leading experts in the type of card game known as Solitaire (in the US), or Patience (in the UK and elsewhere).  I have been working with Thomas Warfield at Goodsol Development for more than a dozen years, and in that capacity I have implemented literally hundreds of different Solitaire games on various platforms, including Windows, Mac OS X, and iPad.

However, one would be very mistaken to assume that I had to learn about Solitaire back then, or even that these were my first Solitaire software products.  In fact, I have been a Solitaire enthusiast for more than 40 years (easily predating my first access to a computer), and I have been writing programs for playing Solitaire for 30 years.  That is why it was such a good match when Thomas and I started working together; he is also a renown expert, with a very successful Solitaire game, Pretty Good Solitaire, and there is not another company on the planet with more Solitaire expertise from which to draw.

I first learned to play Solitaire from my father when I was about 5 years old.  He taught me a traditional form of Klondike (which many people just call, “Solitaire”), and I clearly remember the first time he watched me deal out the tableau on the stone hearth in front of our fireplace.  I played that a lot over the years, as well as a few other games I picked up.  My neighbor taught me Pyramid, which I really liked, and “Clock” (PGS: Travellers Clock), which had an appeal due to the elegance of play and the physicality of the the cards, but got boring quickly because of the lack of choice.  My mother taught me “Idiot’s Delight” (a name used to describe many different Solitaire games), which in this case was a purely mechanical version of Aces Up.  When I was sick, rather than comic books, I just wanted a couple decks of playing cards and, perhaps, some word search puzzles. 🙂

In the early years of elementary school, I had a couple of friends with whom I had discussions (and disagreements) about the rules of Klondike.  We spent time debating whether one should be able to build Aces to the tableau and, if so, whether Kings could be built on Aces, whether one was allowed to pull cards from the foundations (which I now know is called “winnowing back”), how many cards were dealt from stock to waste, and if there was a limit to redeals.  These are the same kind of game design discussions I still have now as we implement more games.

I also spent a great deal of time working on designing my own solitaire games, the rules of which, alas, were never written down and have been lost forever.  I recall that much of my focus was on small tableau games, those which could be played, ideally, with just one or two piles, making them easier to play in a car.  I also recall at least one with a unique mechanic, based on Go Fish, where the player would declare a selected card, and the play proceeded based on whether (or where?) the nominated rank appeared.  Of course, it is fair to assume that none of my inventions were as compelling as the traditional Solitaire games; otherwise, I probably would still be playing them.

During middle school, an acquaintance (friend of a parent) taught me an unnamed Solitaire game, which had two mechanics I had never seen before: movement of card groups regardless of order (as seen in Yukon) and a “hand” of up to 4 arbitrary cards (like the 4 cells in FreeCell).  This game had a greater degree of calculation and planning, and was less reliant on the luck of the deal, so it was very appealing to me.  Around the same time, I also learned how to do a “bridge” shuffle, so I tried to wear out my hands practicing the two together.  A variant of this game is implemented in PGS as Scorpion Head.

By this time, I was already programming computer games, and the idea of playing Solitaire on a computer was never far away.  My first proper (read: finished 🙂 ) implementation was a text version of Aces Up on my Commodore VIC-20.  The program would shuffle and deal the cards, and one would play with simple keypresses for activating a column (i.e., discarding the top card or moving it into an empty space).  As I recall, my friend and I were the only two who ever actually played this game, but we started wondering about the chances of victory with the implemented rules, so I wrote a computer player that would play a hand using a specific heuristic (n.b., not a comprehensive solution search).  Once debugged, I ran the program overnight and the consistent result was that victory was achieved in just about 5% of the games.  (Clearly, a search would have done better… and taken much longer.)

Many other computer implementations followed.  Our friends showed us a game they called “Canasta Solitaire” (similar to Thirteen Packs, which has nothing in common with Canasta), and at their request, I wrote a version of that for the IBM PC (which, incidentally, became the scene of my biggest computer crash disaster 🙁 ).  I wrote very nice DOS (EGA) versions of Pyramid and other games around 1990, and I was working on the Windows/DirectX versions of the these near the end of that decade, when I also worked (in a non-Solitaire capacity) with MVP Software on some other card game packages.

In 2001 (one suit of years ago), the Goodsol Development years began.  My first project was implementing a comprehensive display library, allowing the original Pretty Good Solitaire [for Windows] more options, including more than 2 decks per game.  The second project was Pretty Good MahJongg, which includes 55 original Solitaire games played with MahJongg tiles, followed by Action Solitaire, including (now) 75 Solitaire games played against the clock, and Most Popular Solitaire, my interpretation on the most popular games in PGS, as well as one (Crazy Quilt) that was the first Goodsol version of that game.  Add Mac and iPad versions of Pretty Good Solitaire and Most Popular Solitaire and a Mac version of Pretty Good MahJongg, as well as other products: Goodsol Solitaire 101 (Windows/Mac/iPad), FreeCell Plus (Windows/Mac/iPad), and A Little Solitaire (iPad).

Counting only Goodsol products (not different SKUs) on each platform (including bonus games), it appears that I have implemented 2639 Solitaire games!  More is definitely yet to come, as Thomas is already up to 840 and counting (with PGS), so I am still trailing by 290 games (on Mac and iPad, as well as an internal Windows project).

Of course, with the implementation of so many games, there is a focus on rules.  Due to my love of Solitaire (and games in general), I began collecting books of Solitaire rules.  The first game I learned from a book and really loved was La Belle Lucie, which I played with the merci (draw) rule, implemented in PGS as Three Shuffles and a Draw.  Since high school, I have amassed around two hundred books of traditional game rules, dozens of which have Solitaire games.  An informal survey of my current bookshelves shows 20 books dedicated solely to Solitaire, dating back as far as 1883 (because my copy of Lady Cadogan’s Illustrated Games of Patience is a reprint of the original 1875 book).

So, while Solitaire may be a simple pastime to most, keep in mind that a few of us really know (and appreciate) these games inside and out.  When you want to buy a computer Solitaire program lovingly crafted by the leading experts in the field…

Pretty Good Solitaire Touch Edition 1.20

The BEST iPad Solitaire game has been improved even more.

Pretty Good Solitaire Touch Edition 1.20Pretty Good Solitaire for iPad has been updated to version 1.20, which is now available from the App Store for the incredibly low price of only $9.99 US!

Pretty Good Solitaire Touch Edition now contains 550 games, hundreds more than any other iPad product available.  These are the games you have come to know and love on Windows and/or the Mac, playable from the comfort of your recliner.  Act now and you will receive an extra 75 bonus games, a total of 625 games, as well as free future upgrades.

In addition to the 50 new solitaire games since the initial release, this upgrade also includes easily selectable favorites, position snapshots, a third card set (Tropical Card Set), and a number of bug fixes to make this app as robust as possible.

Too much honesty…

Just for the readers of my blog, let me lay a little bit of truth on you.  The fact is that developing an extensive app like this for the iPad is very time consuming.  Additionally, the price on the iPad ($9.99 US) is quite low for such a large collection of solitaire games, and Apple does absolutely nothing to promote updates, even ones like this which add major new features and games.  All of these factors are working in combination to jeopardize future work on this project.  As much as we LOVE solitaire, we cannot afford to indefinitely invest time and money into a product that does not provide some positive return.

What can you do?  In order make sure that PGSTE remains viable, you can help us by spreading the word, linking to this post, following Goodsol on Facebook and sharing posts with your friends, and most of all rating and reviewing the app on the App Store.  We have a very loyal core of iPad customers, but if we cannot reach critical mass soon, then we may have no choice but to disappoint them and discontinue the project. 🙁

My favorite game in the latest batch is Lower 48, similar to Forty Thieves, which is almost always winnable, but usually quite challenging.  I have won all of the first 100 deals (so far).

Happy Birthday, Demolish!

Demolish! Pairs celebrates one year since its launch on iOS.

One year ago today, Digital Gamecraft launched the original iOS version of Demolish! PairsDemolish! Pairs 1.11 is a challenging puzzle/arcade game for iPad and iPhone.

Demolish! Pairs 1.11 for iOSDownload and play Demolish! Pairs now!

Here are the top 5 reasons that you should get Demolish! Pairs:

  1. It is fun to play for gamers of all ages.
  2. It exercises your brain to help keep you mentally sharp.
  3. It provides relaxation during less interesting activities (such as watching Nigeria versus Iran in the World Cup).
  4. The programmer just got hit in the forehead by a fallen tree and could use any sympathy and support that he can get. [*]
  5. It is FREE (for one day only)!

As promised, to celebrate this anniversary, Demolish! Pairs 1.11 is completely free for TODAY ONLY.  There are no strings attached, though when you do take advantage of this special offer, it would be nice if you would rate and review it on the App Store.

Also, for those who already have the free-to-play version, Demolish! Pairs FTP 1.0.1, all in-app purchases are free for today only as well.

For more information on the game, please visit DemolishPairs.com.

[*] Medical Update: The injury was not at all serious, causing no extra brain damage. 🙂

 

Please… Download and Enjoy!Demolish! Pairs on the iOS App Store

Demolish! Pairs 1.11 for iOS

Another update to our challenging puzzle game is released.

Digital Gamecraft has published Demolish! Pairs 1.11 on the App Store, where you can buy it for only $3.99 (US). This is, of course, a free upgrade for all existing customers, downloadable from the ‘Updates’ tab on the App Store.

Demolish! Pairs 1.11 for iOSDownload and play Demolish! Pairs now!

Demolish! Pairs 1.11 is an upgrade that simply lowers the minimum version of iOS to 5.1.1, making it (again) playable on the original iPad. For more information on the game, please visit DemolishPairs.com.

Please… Download and Enjoy!Demolish! Pairs on the iOS App Store

Demolish! Pairs 1.10 for iOS

An update to our premier arcade/puzzle game is available.

Digital Gamecraft has published Demolish! Pairs 1.10 on the App Store, where you can buy it for only $3.99 (US).  This is, of course, a free upgrade for all existing customers, downloadable from the ‘Updates’ tab on the App Store.

Demolish! Pairs 1.10 for iOSDownload and play Demolish! Pairs now!

Demolish! Pairs 1.10 is an upgrade that updates the program interface for iOS 7.x and adds 64-bit support.  For more information on the game, please visit DemolishPairs.com.

While supplies last, readers of this Gamecraft blog may receive a code for a free copy of the game simply by sending an email request to marketing@digitalgamecraft.com.

Please… Download and Enjoy!Demolish! Pairs on the iOS App Store

A Dozen Days of Disappointment

Results show few opportunities for optimism.

When I wrote an earlier blog post, FTP: Early Results, I stated that it was too early to draw any conclusions from the very early data from Demolish! Pairs FTP.  However, now that we have almost two weeks of data from Demolish! Pairs FTP on the App Store, the results are beginning to look more conclusive.

Day-to-Day Play-by-Play

Here is a rundown of the basic results since the app has been available:

Day 1: [baseline]

As previously reported, the first full day of downloads was Thursday, November 7, 2013, which provided more downloads, from 24 different countries, than we had sales of the “paid” version, Demolish! Pairs; therefore, I will use that number as the baseline figure for downloads (i.e., 100%) and all other percentages are relative to this figure.

Day 2:

On the second day, we did not do any additional marketing in order to determine the approximate natural fall off.  The icon was no longer visible on either of the game category pages (and certainly not on the main game page).  Downloads were at 72%.

Day 3:

We announced the release (again) on the Digital Gamecraft page on Facebook, this time using ‘Boost Post’ to promote the message to two countries, the United States (our biggest market) and Australia (an unrepresented English-speaking market).  For $51.69, we “reached” 30848 Facebook users.  Downloads: 64% (none from Australia)

Day 4:

We stopped the Facebook post promotion and allowed for residual effects to accrue, which they did by virtue of Australian downloads outpacing US by one.  Downloads: 37%

Day 5:

This time, we tried a targeted Facebook ad, selecting for puzzle game players, in (6) English-speaking countries, who used iPads.  (Oddly, I could not find a way to target only mobile users, so some views would be on desktop systems. 🙁 )  Facebook reports our total reach to be 50541 (about 3% of the selected audience).  Downloads: 20%

Day 6:

After stopping this latest Facebook ad, there was an unexplained “blip” in the results, which could have been a residual effect.  Downloads: 27%

Day 7:

With the slight increase in downloads on Day 6 (and, frankly, with other priority tasks), we decided to wait another day to see if the upward trend would hold.  Unfortunately, downloads plummeted to the worst level yet:  Downloads: 4%

Days 8 through 12:

Risking “zombification”, we left the game alone to simply observe.  It continues to draw low levels of daily activity.  Downloads: 4%, 3%, 6%, 4%, 2%

Three Strikes

Clearly, the download figures were destined to drop toward a minimal level, with the Facebook marketing making no discernible difference.  However, there are three worse facts that make a big difference here.

First, although the number of iAd requests climbs steadily, the number of ad impressions is phenomenally low (as the fill rate remains below 3%), so advertising revenue is essentially non-existent; it has not yet eclipsed the $1 mark (total).

Second, despite the number of downloads, nobody has purchased any IAP product at all.  The game is being played, as shown by the iAd requests, but the conversion rate is 0.0% as everybody plays only for free.

Third, the existence of a free-to-play version has cannibalized “paid” sales.  Not only is nobody paying for any IAP, but sales of the original edition dropped to zero when the FTP edition was released, and it has not sold a single unit since.

Conclusions

Although I still have some things to try yet, my recommendation to anybody considering the mobile games market is not to waste any time on it.  In fact, I would suggest that anybody who is looking to begin a career in game development right now strongly consider a different line of work entirely.

Note: This is blog post number 405, which is the HTTP status code for “Method Not Allowed“.  Coincidence?  You decide.

FTP Design Thwarted

Problems with our free-to-play design emerged.

As we analyze the results of Demolish! Pairs FTP, the free-to-play edition of our fun arcade/puzzle game, Demolish! Pairs, this is good time to review the basic design of the IAP (In-App Purchase) products and other options we provide for continuing play.

The Original Design

The first complete plan included the following four IAP products:

  • Golden Ticket  [$3.99] – This product permanently removes all game restrictions and all advertising, providing the same unlimited experience as the “paid” version.
  • Silver Pass  [$2.99] – This product permanently removes all game restrictions (but leaves the advertising in place).
  • Express Pass  [$1.99] – This product permanently removes all advertising (but leaves the game restrictions in place).
  • Two Day Pass  [$0.99] – This product would offer a 48-hour subscription, or a 48-hour extension to a subscription, with no limits or ads.

As we considered the various views that might be necessary to provide notifications of game limits, as well as how we would offer products to eliminate ads, it became clear that one unified store view, which doubles as a notification message, would serve the purpose nicely.  (We plan to refine this idea further.)

Additionally, we added the idea of a button to extend play, for free, which can only be used once each 12 hours.  In practice, we implemented the countdown timer to only begin at the next restriction notification, to make the idea of “appointment” gaming work for us more clearly.  We also limited the extension to the current game (for each player).

The First Hurdle

In an earlier post, Free-to-Play Take 1: Rejected, I documented the initial rejection of Demolish! Pairs FTP due to the fact that the 48-hour subscription was against App Store guidelines, which require all subscriptions to be at least one week.

The original IAP was designed together, as a unit, so each of the buttons would function in conjunction with the others to create the desired “menu” of offerings.  The most expensive (read: still really inexpensive) option was deliberately the same price as the original (“paid”) edition.  The crucial part was to have a cheap option, at only 99 cents, which provided some value, and then another option at each pricing tier.  Once a player commits (mentally) to spending (less than) a dollar, it is only another buck to reach another level of value, and again and again, up to having it all for only $4.  A customer can purchase a middle level of value (Silver Pass or Express Pass) and then, later, obtain the equivalent of a Golden Ticket by purchasing the other one, but the ultimate price difference ($0.99) is the incentive to go for it all at once.

When the lowest tier caused rejection of the game, we quickly removed it, accepting that this destroyed the carefully considered equilibrium of the menu of purchase options.  Also, because of simple mathematics, we could not drop prices and make it work correctly.  We have now designed a replacement (non-subscription) product to provide that least expensive option, though that will take a little more implementation time.

The iAd Problem

As mentioned my last post, FTP: Early Results, the only thing that was absolutely wrong was that iAd had not started serving any ads, so that completely messed up the IAP design.  The Express Pass was pointless, and even looked like some kind of idiocy, because there were no ads to remove in the first place.  On top of that, of course, that also relegated the Golden Ticket to the same value as the Silver Pass, so essentially our whole menu of IAP products had been reduced to merely one logical choice.

Two or three hours after I posted that article, iAd suddenly began serving some ads.  I actually discovered it while playing the game on my iPad just for fun and, unexpectedly, getting an advertisement for Small Business Saturday, after which I was able to confirm a handful of ad impressions (for thousands of requests).  I had never been so excited to see an online ad, and it briefly looked better.

Unfortunately, though ads are being served occasionally, the fill rate is still far below 4% (i.e., 1 ad for every 25 requests), which is almost worse.  Now, the very irregular ad appearances make them almost novel, so there is no real incentive for an Express Pass (nor for choosing a Golden Ticket over a Silver Pass), and there is no indication that the fill rate is going to improve substantially.  As an unexpected twist, most of the few ads that do show up look fine and unobtrusive; in fact, the blue and gold of the most common banner, from Progressive Insurance, almost matches our menu color scheme exactly.

The Next Step

Our next step will be analyzing customer behaviors to see if we can glean any useful information from the limited number of downloads so far.  We have a custom analytics package (that I developed) built into the app but we were waiting to see how the initial release progressed before “flipping the switch” to begin actual reporting.  It now seems fairly clear that our server will not be overwhelmed…

Demolish! Pairs FTP 1.0.1 for iPad

Our first “Free-to-Play” game is now available in the App Store.

Demolish! Pairs FTP, the free-to-play iPad version of Demolish! Pairs, our hit arcade/puzzle game, has now been released on the App Store.  Price: FREE

Demolish! Pairs 1.0.1 for iPad

Download and play Demolish! Pairs FTP here (no charge).

This version is our initial (and, perhaps, terminal) entry into the mobile free-to-play marketplace.  We would truly like to see this fun game in the hands of as many players as possible, and if we can recoup something for our efforts (on a simple game that took more than a dozen years, during which time half of the development team died), that would be nice, too.  Seriously, it is important to us to get this product as widely spread as possible for the integrity of the data/results, which I intend to (mostly) share on this blog.

Download and Enjoy…  and then please Rate and Review it on the App Store!

Pretty Good Solitaire Touch Edition 1.0

Our iPad Solitaire game with 500 games is now available.

Pretty Good Solitaire for iPadPretty Good Solitaire for iPad is now available in the App Store for the low price of only $9.99 US.  That is less than 2 pennies per game!

Pretty Good Solitaire Touch Edition contains 500(!) games, which gives you more different ways to play Solitaire on your iPad than any other app.  Just to sweeten the pot, we have included another 70 bonus games, which are variations on included games providing slightly or significantly different challenges.

This is the best iPad Solitaire game, bar none.

There are many nice, new features and, of course, lots of games, which are detailed on the PGSTE web page.  While visiting, you can also check out the new website design at Goodsol.com, which also includes all of our Windows Games and Mac Games.

This Pretty Good Solitaire release is the culmination of years of development effort on the Goodsol Solitaire Engine.  Of course, this does not mean that we are done…  Oh, no!  We have already started beta testing for the second development phase (first updates) on our iPad games, and now the cross pollination among Windows, Mac, and iPad continues, with popular iPad features being added to the engine for Mac and Windows, and the core GSE product for Windows rapidly approaching the 810 games in the flagship game.

When I am not developing games, or playing Demolish! Pairs, I am frequently enjoying Pretty Good Solitaire on my iPad.  Really.

Demolish! Pairs 1.0 for iOS

Our arcade/puzzle game has been released!

Digital Gamecraft has published Demolish! Pairs on the App Store, where you can now buy it for only $1.99 (for a limited time only).

Demolish! Pairs 1.0 for iOSDemolish! Pairs represents a true milestone.  This is the first truly self-published title we have released in more than 23 years, and at the same time, it is the very last title on which we worked with our late friend and partner, Rick Tumanis, who did most of the artwork, and all of the sounds, for this game prior to his passing in 2011.

We are providing a limited number of free review copies to press (traditional or online) and, indeed, to the first three people who send an email to us at support@digitalgamecraft.com and tell us you read about Demolish! Pairs on this Gamecraft blog.  [Editor note: Press copies are still available, but the giveaway codes are gone.]

Please…  Download and Enjoy!Demolish! Pairs on the iOS App Store