Diamond Dash by Wooga is one of those casual games that didn’t seem addictive to me because its simple basic mechanics. "Just find three or more similar items stuck together and click it. How much fun can that be?", I asked myself. But after I started the game I realized that what's really great in it, is the way the game teaches the player about the other possibilities of it.
JUMP RIGHT INTO THE GAME
The game starts with a simple welcome screen and one instruction of "Remove 3 or more similar gems in 60 seconds". It jumps right into the game. No story, no huge level selection, no introduction videos. Jumping right into the game is well-accepted as a good way to please first time players, but at the same time hard to do well. I believe Wooga nailed it there.
SCORE -> LEVEL -> SECRET
By the second game you get a level up and understand the importance of scoring and its connection with your levels. You do not yet understand how leveling is important to you though.
Each game or two, you pass another level. Each level you get a new Secret. This is the way Wooga teaches the player about the interface and the possibilities of the game: both social and gameplay. After the first level, e.g, you get to know the concept of Magic Fire.
HEARTS ARE KEY TO PLAY
By the third game, you understand that each time you play, you lose one heart. This is the first social lesson you get, because later on you would understand how you can get new hearts from the help of your friends.
SOCIAL GAMEPLAY IS KEY TO USER RETENTION
By the fourth game you get to know about the weekly tournaments. These occur between you and your friends (only people you know). Best three top scorers of each week get a reward. You get free hearts if you invite your friends to connect with you on the tournament. That's something you easily see through the interface, without the need to introduce or talk about. The weekly tournaments answer two big design challenges: how to make the player come back to the game over and over again, and how to give them hope they can get the first place.
After the fifth game, you run out of hearts. This is when the panda introduces the element of gold bars. These can buy you lives, you see. The panda gives you 9 gold bars, which are just enough to get 5 more hearts. Obviously, this leaves you inside the game for 5 more plays…
On the sixth game, you get to level 4, you are rewarded with gold bars. This is done to remind you of that concept, to make sure you don’t forget it. And you are presented with another secret of the gameplay: Magic Diamonds.
CONSTANT CONFLICT: HELP VS COMPETE
By the ninth game, two games before the end of lives, you are reminded to get more hearts. It is summarized really simply: no lives means no more play, and there are two ways to get it: buy them with gold bars or ask your friends. Then you realize that you need to be nice with your friends, in order for them to be nice with you. This is actually a great conflict the game poses to the player: be nice to your friends and give them lives versus compete with them on higher scores in the tournament.
At some point the panda doesn’t come back. I almost didn't notice that, and I see this as a design wonder, because the entire interface changes from a cute panda giving me lives and gold bars into a more "professional" look of tournament scores and countdown clock.
To conclude, Wooga's Diamond Dash is an addicting social based game. Its not the gameplay that keeps you inside, it’s the social elements of it. The instructional design of teaching the mechanics to the player is one of the best I've seen because it is being revealed to the player one step at a time. It is constantly being simplified and adjusts itself to the level of the player.