By Benoit Freslon
I’m Benoit Freslon, I’m 31, based in France, and I’ve liked making games since my childhood. I studied in a gaming school and earned experience in a game studio in Paris before becoming a solo indie game developer in 2009.
EnigmBox on iOS is a compilation of 56 different puzzles that make you “think outside the box”. Use all the iPhone functionalities: move it, touch it, take pictures, capture videos, plug in accessories, use location service, all buttons and the mobile features.
At Casual Connect Asia this game won the Best in Show Critics Choice and the Most Innovative Game awards.
MyLife.com (DON’T INCLUDE THIS CHAPTER)
I’ve always loved to entertain people, making all kind of games with my own hands being main motivation. Like creating a “Coin pusher” machine with Lego, a soccer game with marbles, or designing a treasure hunting quest in my garden.
For example, when I was 9 (in 1994) I designed a roleplaying game, a board one with Lego figurines inspired by Heroes Quest. But when I got the official board games my friends still wanted to play my version.
At university I studied Macromedia Flash and learnt to code. So I developed some small games for school projects during 2003 and 2006.
But in 2007, I was in a gaming school in Paris and made an online game called Nano War alone for a student contest in France. I won, so I just put this “prototype” on Kongregate. However, 1 year later Nano War surpassed 2 million plays. I didn’t expect that at all. The game has been reviewed and loved by many famous websites across the world. Since that day I knew I wanted to continue making indie games!
So in may 2009 I decided to quit my job at a small game studio in Paris to be a freelance game developer, a video game teacher and a solo indie developer at the same time.
The “outside the box” concept
Actually before creating EnigmBox for iOS in 2009 I already tried that concept out with 2 Flash games called Take Something Literally: Episode 1 & Episode 2.
In those games the main idea was: “Why not play literally with the environment of the player?”
If you step back from your computer, you’ll see that everyone has a browser with many functions, a mouse with at least 2 buttons, a keyboard, sometimes a webcam, a microphone, etc. So everything around me was inspiring to think outside the box.
Obviously that concept recalls the Metal Gear Solid 1 game on PS One with the Psycho Mantis scene when the player has to find Meryl’s frequency on the CD cover of the game. Only few games break the 4th wall. However, it’s very striking!
I developed 25 puzzles in only one week and just put the game on the web. Actually I thought it was just a tiny experimental project.
The concept was risky because some people didn’t have the required devices to solve some puzzles, like a webcam, microphone or printer. Their game experience was a little ruined but for the others it was amazing!
In fact, it was a huge success! That game has been played a million times, it got lots of reviews and I got encouraging comments to make new episodes.
So in 2013, after many fails in mobile games with publishers, I decided to develop my “last mobile game” alone: this time without a publisher, without resources, and within a few months. So I had to make this game as fast as possible with a simple design but interesting gameplay.
Surprise the player
The most exciting part of the development process of EnigmBox is surely the moment when I had to imagine how players would react when they try to solve each puzzle.
Though, the main difficulty in this kind of game is to anticipate all the possible walkthroughs of a player. The game should push them to “think outside the box”. Every detail is important and the hints must be helpful but not too much. It’s like designing an escape game, but there is no game master to interact directly with the player at the right time.
However, most of the time, the surprises work just in the first play session. Puzzles can be solved in a single way only. The replay value is close to zero but the players like to show the game to their friends.
Today we can play a ton of “new” indie games, but how many can really surprise you? Players want to be surprised: that’s why there are so many horror games with jump scares.
If a game can’t astonish with an interesting narration or an amazing aesthetic aspect, it’s possible to use the gameplay or the interactions instead. With a low budget and constraints the only chance is to try something new but risky.
“Can my mobile phone do that?”
The mobile phone is an amazing tool that we use every day. But we don’t know how it really works and what functionalities are inside our phone.
For example, we will play a game right now. Just follow these steps:
1. Take your mobile in your hand. Take your time… I will wait…
2. Now list what you can spot on your mobile phone.
3. So you can spot: a screen, maybe some buttons just at the bottom, a front camera and a speaker at least. That’s it?
4. Nah! I didn’t say that you can’t search everywhere. Did you spot the volume and the power buttons, the earphone jack and the USB plug, the brand logo, the flashlight and lot of other things?
Many players don’t know that you can get data or use hidden inputs like the magnetometer inside the mobile phone. Actually the compass is a magnetometer.
The potential of interactions with a mobile device is huge! It just requires to “think outside the box”.
The funny thing is that the kids are usually more imaginative than the adults. Because they try everything without asking any questions like: “Can my mobile phone do that?”
Shoot First, Then Ask Questions
EnigmBox for iOS was released in July 2013. It was clearly not a good time to release a mobile game. It wasn’t much reviewed by press, nevertheless, got really appreciated by the players. Still, I didn’t have direct feedback from them, and the downloads were low but constant. Probably because the game was interesting yet not mainstream enough.
At the beginning, because of the gameplay, the game was not freemium. Only the first 9 puzzles were free. Then, the“Keys” unlock new puzzles and the “Light bubbles” unlock hints. These “Light bubbles” were just hidden and free in the game. The player could also get 2 free keys every day by watching video ads. However, the last 18 puzzles were locked by an in-app purchase. It was maybe too restrictive. So the monetization has been modified into a freemium model.
Now all puzzles are playable and everyone can complete the entire game for free. And the “Light bubbles” and “Keys” are available for purchase. Also, 11 new puzzles have been added.
In the end of 2014, the game was translated into Russian by a fan. Suddenly EnigmBox was downloaded about 100,000 times only in Russia in 1 year. It turns out Russians play a lot of mobile games, but few indie games are translated into Russian.
70% of EnigmBox players are women. This was not expected but the look and feel of the game like the heart symbol suggests that it’s a game for girls.
Casual Connect Europe 2015 was the first showcase of EnigmBox. The importance of the players observation and other developers feedbacks are priceless.
The 2 Indie Prize awards at Casual Connect Singapore in 2016 are really motivating. The success of the iOS version is enough to develop an Android version now. The game will be similar but some puzzles should be redesigned or removed, the hardware of Android mobile devices is different.
The next plan is to develop a new game with a similar experience for PC, Steam. The potential is big and many ideas can be implemented. But this time the game will contain a narration and an immersive world.
Here are some interesting tips:
- Surprise the player every time;
- Break the rules and the limits;
- Invite the player to share or rate your game to win a reward;
- Reward the player to come back in your game;
- Make a good trailer;
- Choose symbols wisely;
- Translate your game in Russian;
- A lot of French people will love your game but they write bad comments just because the game is not free. We are so French. We complain all the time;