PopCap’s Zuma Blitz has been around on Facebook for nearly two years now, but the game has been picking up some traction again recently, showing up as the No. 5 top gainer by MAU this week. This is probably due at least in part to a major game update that completely revamps and simplifies its structure and monetization, bringing it more in line with the simple but effective approach that Bejeweled Blitz has been making use of.
Zuma Blitz is a simple one-minute action puzzle game in which, like Bejeweled Blitz, players must score as many points as possible. Colored balls gradually roll around a track towards idol mouths, and the player may fire additional colored balls at them from a frog somewhere in the middle of the arrangement. If the idols swallow a ball, the player fails regardless of how much time they have left, so the ever-advancing tracks must be kept at bay by matching groups of three or more like-colored balls, at which point they disappear. To further help the player manage the tide of balls, if creating a match causes two groups of the same color to be on either side of the resultant gap, the “lead” group will snap back to the trailing group, creating another match in a combo. Generating combos like this is key to attaining particularly high scores in Zuma, as is performing skilful shots such as creating a match after firing through a gap in the tracks, or hitting fruits that occasionally appear in inconvenient places.
In order to help the player attain higher scores, various powers unlock as the the player earns “stars” by leveling up. The game’s soft currency may be spent on activating these powers for a single game, at which point special balls will occasionally show up in the tracks and used by incorporating them into a match. Some special balls, including those that provide time extensions and score multiplier increases, show up regardless of whether or not the player has activated any other powerups.
Zuma Blitz’s recent revamp primarily revolves around the way the game’s monetization. Rather than the two currencies of the original version, the player now has a single bank of coins. The first time the player fires up the new Zuma Blitz after the update, any Mojo and Idols they had left over from the previous version are automatically converted to coins, and they are also provided with an extra bonus if they were a past player — though unfortunately even past players have to go through a fairly lengthy tutorial and unlock process regardless of how much progress they made in the old version.
Coins are earned through play and may be spent on anything from powerups to additional lives, meaning that it’s possible for players to earn everything available in the game simply by playing it enough rather than having to pay. Naturally, those who are willing to pay are rewarded with the ability to unlock additional powerups and more powerful upgrades early, but this implementation keeps the divide between paying and non-paying players less pronounced — particularly important in a title whose main social feature is leaderboard-based competition between friends. That said, just as Bejeweled Blitz has its Rare Gems, Zuma Blitz still carries a few expensive items (here called “monuments”) that provide significant benefits to those with enough in-game currency on hand — or those with friends willing to share them on their Timelines.
Zuma Blitz is an excellent game that has only got better with this update. While its reliance on a play-throttling lives mechanic is a little frustrating, for the most part this is a game that exemplifies how to do social gaming right. Perhaps most importantly, it is simply a good game at its core, with social and monetization features built out from there — it’s fun, and it respects its players enough to not badger them to share and pay at every opportunity. It is highly competitive, addictive and easy to understand for casual players while remaining challenging for more experienced gamers. It is well-presented and does not feel as if any compromises have been made to put it on the Facebook platform. In short, a lot of developers would do well to follow PopCap’s example by focusing on attracting (and retaining) players through solid, fun core gameplay rather than manipulative compulsion mechanics. In the long term, a broad spectrum of players will stick with a game that treats them with respect, and will thus be happy to open their wallets to show their appreciation — because they want to, not because they feel they have to.
Zuma Blitz currently has 2,100,000 monthly active users, 1,200,000 weekly active users and 390,000 daily active users. Follow its progress with AppData, our traffic tracking service for social games and developers.
PopCap prove once again that they understand what makes a great social game that is friendly to casual and core alike.