TwoDots Creator: This Is How to Win


Each week Yahoo Tech’s Alyssa Bereznak reviews the No. 1 free app in the App Store.

This week, the puzzle game TwoDots is topping the charts in iTunes. And since we’ve already reviewed it, I decided to reach out to co-founder and CEO of Dots, Paul Murphy, and ask him how to beat it.

The team’s first creation, Dots, is a wildly popular puzzle game that gained 5 million players in its first three months of existence. In light of its success, he and co-founder Patrick Moberg decided to launch their own gaming company with the help of well-known development studio Betaworks.

The duo’s latest release, TwoDots, is a journey-based puzzle game that combines elements from the original with a new sense of purpose. I spoke with Murphy about the best strategies to conquer levels, whether it makes you smarter, and what’s in store for the future of the app. Highlights from our chat:

First order of business: can you get smarter from playing TwoDots? Asking for a friend.

We’ve done a study, and Dots users are about 20 percent more intelligent than — no, I don’t know.

I was, like, whoa, BREAKING NEWS.

I wish we had some data on that. We’ve actually talked to people who are literally professors who study these things. There’s definitely a belief that game-play will not necessarily make you smarter — I mean, Lumosity will make that claim and that’s their business — but what we think is that it does ease stress. A lot of people equated the first game [Dots] to crossing things off on a checklist. So as you get things done, it always feels nice to mark them off the list. It’s almost therapeutic.

What about strategy? I know the app’s saying is “make squares.” But is there more nuanced advice you can give?

The game was built to really incorporate luck and skill. So there is definitely an element of luck in the game. But we designed the levels, and we can beat them most of the time. I’d say skill is probably stronger than luck in the game, especially with some of the harder levels.

The guide to make a square when in doubt is solid, but sometimes it takes actually looking at the map and planning it out, almost like chess.

Is every single level beatable without a bomb?

We’ve all beat all the levels without paying, so you can do it.

What a humblebrag.

I know. Some people say, “You really shouldn’t say that.” We’ve designed a system that’s not meant to optimize for revenue. We’re trying to build a game company that really values — and this sounds cliché but we mean it — we’re trying to build a game company that values how you feel when you play the games. We don’t want people to feel worse when they leave a session of Dots or TwoDots. We want them to feel better. So part of that is not feeling like you have to pay.

But we do want there to be an element of difficulty. You shouldn’t be able to blow through it in an hour.

What should you do if you’re really stuck on a certain level?

If you really want to try to beat a level, then finding a place that’s really quiet where you can actually focus is really useful. It’s not like Flappy Bird, where you could play it as you’re walking down the street with a single hand. Some levels require focus and thought.

Is there any particular level that really got to you?

Have you gotten to the fire? That one is a little stressful, because the fire feeds off of the other dots as its oxygen. If the fire consumes the other dots, you can’t make your moves and achieve your objectives. It’s the only level that has something that sort of encroaches or grows out of your control. So that was a little stressful.

Are you ever concerned it’s too addictive? I’ve seen some comparisons to Candy Crush out there.

There is a difference between frustration tied to addictiveness, and addictiveness because you have a sense of longing. The first one makes you feel bad and then you come back and still feel bad. We wanted to create a game that made you want to keep playing, but we wanted it to be addictive because you longed for the game and you thought about it when you weren’t playing.

One of the things that Candy Crush did, which I think is really smart, is they gated the amount of time you could play. The decision we made to have a life limit was not one based on revenue. It’s just really a way for people to put the game down and go live life, then come back. We think that’ll actually make the game more enjoyable.

Let’s talk about the adorable dot couple. Tell me all about them.

[TwoDots Director] David [Hohusen] had this storyline, which was based on Jacques and Amelia. We don’t use their last names, but some people know them as Jacques Cousteau and Amelia Earhart.

A lot of people don’t like to connect to Facebook, and so we had this story behind the scenes of Jacques and Amelia. But beyond that we deliberately left the story super vague.

I haven’t actually asked David how old they are. I’m curious. I’m going to ask him real quick.

[Background discussion]

He thinks that Amelia is, like, Jacques’ younger sidekick in her late 20s, and Jacques is in his mid-50s.

Very specific. Is there anything else we should know?

We have a lot more content in the pipeline. 

There are 85 levels to start, and we’re making more worlds. One is a week or two away from being released. We’re going to focus on design and animations. There’ll be new postcards that you get as you progress, and some of them will have little animations in them. And then there’ll be entirely new levels that we push out. Some of them are really creative, so it should be fun.

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