315 hours of playing Real Racing 3

Since I got my iPad mini 18 months ago, one of the first games I played on it was Real Racing 3. A great game (despite its flaws) and I ultimately played the game for 315 hours before finally making the decision to stop recently. I’d like to give my account of playing the game and make some observations after playing the game for this amount of time. I have found that professional game reviews and online FAQs of this game that, whilst correct, give the impression that the game wasn’t played start-to-finish first. Obviously that would take a huge amount of time.

  • Initial thoughts

The structure of the game was very different when I first played the game. There were no locks in the game, meaning all cars and tracks were visible. This gave me the chance to see all of the cars in the game and I made a short-list of the cars I most wanted to have. I wanted to get the Lexus LFA and the Bugatti Veyron. Naturally, they were both too expensive for me to buy at the start, so I’d have to start at the bottom with cheaper cars and work my way up.
Since then the game has introduced locks on cars and courses, which means you really do have to grind through every level to get to the final levels. However the cost of the later cars would mean you’d have to do that anyway, so I don’t see it as any great loss.

Once a car’s condition expired I found I needed to repair, and wait for them to repair before using them again. Patience was certainly required to only race 2/3 races a day and wait till the next day before being able to use them again.

The game uses 2 currencies. Cash is fine because, while very expensive for cars and upgrades compared to winnings per race, you could replenish this by winning races. As for the Gold coins, these were much more rare as you earn them for competitions and levelling up. You earn 3/5 gold coins for levelling up (roughly 10 races completed) but this would take far too long to earn enough for a 800 coin car. As a result I had to be very thrifty with using gold coins to buy upgrades and almost never paid gold coins for skipping the wait times on car repairs, upgrades or deliveries. Patience was certainly a virtue in this regard.

  • Late comer to RR3

I was a late comer to the game, many of my Facebook friends already had scores that showed up in my scoreboards. This was good because it gave a deeper sense of competition than just playing a single player game. However I found that a lot of their times were impossible to beat if you have just scraped the entry requirements to enter a race. If you wanted to beat their time you’d have to come back to the race later with a more upgraded car. There is a small financial incentive to do this, but only in R$ (not gold coins) The first time you race on a course, the system selects reasonable opponents (including ones in your Facebook friends list) so it is possible to get gold. However after getting gold, the difficulty ramps up by using faster cars. For me it wasn’t an issue as I was trying to get Golds only to progress, not beat all my friends.

  • Cheaters

In my group of Facebook friends, I had 3 people who hacked to get all the cars and upgrades from the very start of the game. At the start I was annoyed because their scores show up in my scoreboard that I have to compete against, thus devaluing the work I put in to building up my own car specs and times. However I noticed a few things about those cheaters that in the end I was grateful for:-

-I had one friend tell me he never got into the game because there was no challenge or reward. At least when I played the game legitimately, I managed to get 315 hours play out of the game before stopping, not just a couple of hours before realising that there was no incentive to play.
-Another guy started and cheated to get all the cars late on in my career, after new upgrades and cars had been introduced in the game. This showed me that when someone cheats to get everything at the start, they get all the cars at that point in time, but after updates they dont get the new cars. This was useful to determine how much additional content was added between versions. Also, it was very useful to see garage value of cracked accounts. It give me a another metric to see how far I had progressed in the game (When I stopped playing my garage value was about R50 Million, the total value in the game would be R300 Million)

  • After first 100 hrs

Noticed that most of my competitors (friends in facebook) had many competition entries in the very early races, but as time went on only 1 or 2 competitors kept up the pace into later tracks in the game. At least for my friends, it that people tended to stop playing the game roughly about the 30 hour mark.

  • Game updates

Updates in the game typically added new cars and races to be done with those new cars. This is what ultimately made me decide to stop playing. I managed to get about 85% complete when I updated, and because of the new cars and courses, it pushed it down to about 70% complete. In addition to adding ridiculously expensive cars (which can only be bought in Gold) It made me realise the futility of playing to complete this game.

However, bug fixes were made (one I hit was in an Endurance race, one of my friends managed 30 miles in a previous version of the game, but the very best I could manage at that current version was about 12 miles (the 2nd place car did about 5) so I could not progress in the game. The update prevented the 30 miles entry from competing) There was a ‘hack’ in previous versions to race only in airplane mode, thus disabling any impossibly fast friends’ times to stop you from winning, but I never found this to be an issue with later versions of the game. Maybe also because so few of my friends played beyond 10% of the game so there would be no competition anyway.
Its clear that feedback was listened to in the game, as damage repair costs were taken from winnings before. This meant that after winning R$10000 in a race, up to R$9000 were taken in repairs, leaving a very small amount of winnings and made the grind to buy new cars unreasonable.
Additional elements were added over time too, such as the daily first race bonus (a multiplier that increases each day you play, reseting after 1 day of non-play.) This feature was key in allowing me to grind for cars later on. Another element was the 3 helpers who charged 1G for 2x winnings, experience or maintain car level on winning a race. These added massively in the strategy of ordering races to get as much playing time as possible before a car had to be repaired (and thus taking it out of action for 2hrs – 24hrs)

On the final update I played, it introduced the SpeedRush TV Challenge. This 7 day event contained many challenges but required a serious amount of play at specific times to complete. It was quite enjoyable, albeit stressful to make sure I was on time to finish all the challenges within 7 days. There was a countdown timer in the game too.
In order to keep within the 7 days, I had to pay 1G to retain the car maintenance level, and if I lost enough times and the car required maintenance, I had to pay the 10G to skip the repair time.
Some of the race requirements were quite ridiculous, i.e. smash up every car’s rear window before completing the race yourself. I was stuck on this for a while, until I discovered you didn’t need to finish first to win. I let the cars lap me a few times before camping at a corner to bash them into I was assured that all cars were damaged before leaving.
The hardest race required 2 laps of an extremely long fast track with no skidding and no anti-skid controls. I was most nervous on this one because if another car touched me, I’d skid and lose the race. In addition, the other cars were faster, so the only way to win was to get in first place early on and snake on the road to prevent anyone from overtaking! Very stressful. But a real sense of achievement after winning.

  • Grinding to get money

As the price of new cars started spiralling up, I begun to realise the importance of taking advantage of the daily bonus and the occasional free bonuses from the 3 helpers.
If I missed a day, the daily multiplier reset to 20%, meaning I would earn significantly less on the next 4 days until it went back to 100% bonus. A hack I found was to play in airplane mode and set the iPad date back to the day after playing last to keep 100%.
I also had to take note of the best paying races so I could repeat them. The best I found was racing the BMW ALMS car or PORSCHE 918 RSR CONCEPT on the Final race of Accolade Open, Mastare Global Championships Round 3, 3rd race. It was a 5 lap race at Suzuka circuit. The race took about 8 minutes to complete and I raced it 226 times in total. Each time earning around R$131,000 (with the use of 100% daily bonus combined with a 1G 2x multiplier)
(As an aside, my Japanese buddy works at a company who has a racing team that races there (near Kyoto), I was asked to go see the race at that track in real life!)
On a daily basis, I got into a groove of racing this same track every day to earn money for progression with other cars and courses in the game. Despite being roughly 30% into the game, this was still the best paying race I could find even playing another 50% into the game afterwards.

  • Gold coins

Gold coins are like gold dust. They are obtained by levelling up and for winning tournaments. 3 or 5 coins for levelling up after about 10 races, and 50 or so for completing 100% of a series. For the most part of the game there was enough to go round and upgrade all the cars and even splash on new car colours, but I found that over time, cars required more and more coins to buy and/or upgrade (most expensive I found was 900gold) which, by the time I got into the realm of requiring cars at that price to continue, meant I would have to buy gold (using real money) to continue. The price was approximately 70 GBP for 1000 gold, it would cost approximately 1000 gold to buy and upgrade a car to win a tournament. Luckily by the time I got to that point, I had already obtained the LFA and Bugatti I wanted. The most expensive car I bought was the Agera, for 400 gold (320 gold after the 20% discount)

  • 20% one-time discounts

When cars became unlocked, they were offered at a 1 time price with 20% discount. This discount was especially meaningful if car had to paid in gold, it made a very hefty saving on later cars.
Strategy of playing
Aside from the obvious strategies of switching off automatic braking, learning how to drive and memorising the courses (essential to winning races after the first 10) I found various strategies I got into that I never picked up in other FAQs online.
Because cars only lasted a certain amount of distance before the cars required maintaining (and stopping my progress for 2hrs – 24hrs at a time) I had to plan my race order.
For example, If I had only a small amount of green bar left and I had the chance to do a Drag Race, Time trial, Cup and Endurance, I would always try to do the Drag Race first. This race used the least amount of car maintenance. An Endurance race would typically destroy any car that raced in it because of the huge distance, so I tried to make Endurance races when the bar was near red. This way, I knew I’d already done other races possible with the available green bar. It felt like I was making most use out of the maintenance. If a car started with any amount of green in the race, the performance was not affected until After the race had finished.

  • Free gold coins

In the Gold buying menu, there was an option to get free gold coins by watching adverts or completing surveys. Personally, I found that no survey worked. I completed the survey and tapped OK, and nothing happened. I went back into the game to find no additional gold credits. Watching an ad only gave 1gold, but it was better than no gold! I tried to watch 2 or 3 a day if they were available, they contributed to the cost of using 2x multiplier for R$ on each daily bonus race. The lastest version of the game seems to have removed these free gold coins, meaning essentially at one point in the game (after completing all the races up to a certain point) the only way to get enough gold would be to purchase the gold.

  • Why stop playing?

There were numerous reasons why I stopped playing. Certainly not because I got bored of grinding races, but rather because the finishing line of completing the game seemed to be perpetually impossible and the requirement of paying real money to progress seemed to be required :-

-Each app update introduces more races and cars (went from 85% to 70% complete)
-Keep on introducing more expensive cars
-Removed the advert watching method to earning gold coins
-Already got the cars I aimed to get (Lexus LFA, Bugatti)
-Rough calculation, 5 cars at 700+ coins to buy, (1000 coins cost 70GBP)
-Impossible to get free gold coins for watching ads now. (Looks impossible to earn enough gold coins to buy expensive cars later)

In conclusion. An amazing game with some compelling hooks to encourage pacing of play and strategising races. Its unfortunate that it looks impossible to complete without paying a huge amount of money, but considering I managed to play this free game for 315 hours and get some real enjoyment and sense of accomplishment out of it, I don’t regret the time spent.

  • Some random things that happened as a result of playing this game

-I now have a much deeper knowledge and appreciate of super-cars, helpful when watching Top gear on TV or identifying a supercar when it passes on the street in Taipei or Tokyo.
-The Suzuka circuit is ingrained in my head now, and I eagerly look forward to visiting this course in real life
-Some friends in real life have commented on the time I’ve put into the game.
-I cant play arcade racer games now. I always brake too early!
-I cant use an Xbox or Playstation controller to play a realistic racing game now. I’m so used to using tilt controls on the iPad

  • Advice to others playing

This is an expensive game to actually pay money for. My advice, dont pay money to play.
Plan your upgrades, Those gold coins are like gold-dust
Plan your daily races, keep the daily 100% bonus and grind the cash-cow tracks. It makes the R$1,500,000 cars remotely possible
This game is for the long haul to see results. For the later cars you can really only get 2/3 laps out of a car before it needs repairing.
Plan races. After the grind race, plan the condition of the car to get as many races as possible to complete a series.
Plan the 20% discounts. Locked cars tell you how many races are needed to unlock. When you unlock, you get a 20% discount if you buy at that point. So make sure you have enough to buy. This is especially important for gold coin cars
Don’t cheat. From my friends experience of playing, you wont enjoy the game, no achievement for playing through the races
Don’t expect to complete the game. Even if you managed to get all the cars, a new version means more work to do.
Switch off auto-braking. This will teach you early on how to control the car which is essential later on, especially for the Speed Rush challenges

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Taking the MVP approach to product development

For the last six months I’ve been making apps on mobile phone platforms and I’m seeing some early successes that push me to keep on going with it.

Following the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) approach, test minimum ideas and pivoting on feedback when necessary. The approach is mentioned in the Lean Startup book, by Eric Ries. Definitely worth a read, even if you aren’t working on your own stuff. Its got some really interesting ways of looking at feedback which is invaluable.

The aim is to develop a successful product that are useable to other people and make sure that your efforts are as efficient and profitable as possible. I don’t just mean earning as much money as possible, but also to be useful to many people. Usually making money and usefulness to others goes hand in hand. If a product is useful to a lot of people, theres more chance a lot of people would pay for it.

The MVP and feedback approach went against my entire career of software development so far. Usually what happens in software creation is a more linear approach. Various design meetings come up with a blueprint for the new game or app. If I was lucky (or unlucky) enough I would be present at these meetings to hear what people wanted, and mock-ups some designers had made already. After the features and design was finalized, we went to work to create the app and it was released to the client or the public. If we did it right, the company was paid, or we saw the download counter increase. There the cycle ended and I was put on to a new project to begin the path again until enough projects failed that the company went bust, or I got bored enough to move on to a new company.

This is almost the exact opposite of MVP and Iterative development cycles. Instead of finalizing a design and creating the product, only the bare minimum is created to convey the core feature and is released to the public. Feedback is obtained to prove or disprove assumptions and a new version of the app is pushed out based on this feedback. This loop is an ever continuing cycle of feedback and improvements. At the start I found this a difficult process, but now I find this method a much more natural way of application development and I can see success and failure very quickly so I can capitalize or fix the problems as soon as possible.

Study’N’Walk, The road to my own language learning apps.

During my year in Taiwan, I used the flashcard app ANKI to learn Chinese which led to creating my own decks to tie in with my own Chinese books.

I realised early on that my listening skills were terrible, and reading text wasn’t helping. So I integrated voices into the anki cards, producing a spreadsheet and scripting process to help me do this more efficiently. I ended up documenting the process for others to see and try themselves.

From these posts, I got 3 major pieces of information,

1. Traffic to my website jumped quickly, it looked like lots of people were searching how to make their own ANKI cards.

2. I got a couple of comments asking how they could use this process to study a language other than Chinese.

3. I got a more than a few comments online about how the people who wanted to make their own ANKI decks were not technical enough to follow the process. Spreadsheets seemed to be OK, but scripting was a bit too much to ask for.

Next step was to simplify the process of creating decks by making an PC app to replace the difficult steps of scripting, and also add some flexibility to the languages.

I ended up with a C#/GTK+/MONO app that was much more flexible and convenient and after a few iterations I then had a system that could take in any language and output any language, with voices in a range of languages.

The feedback was not particularly good, because of the particular development environment I used, MONO, users had to download an additional component to make it work, similar to Flash for web browsers. MONO had allowed me to develop cross platform on Mac and Windows which I thought would be useful, however users of ANKI were not really prepared to get technical to install this software. A particular point of confusion was created in what I thought was a useful flexibility, the ability to create your own structure for each card type. Testers I showed this to were confused as they weren’t used to this level of control.

In one particular Test I made voices in both English and Chinese and then tried the deck in ANKI. This gave me the idea that I could study using my phone without looking at the screen and instead use only voice prompts. After a few trials using ANKI with this particular combination of text and voice in both English and Chinese, I found I could use my time while walking outside to study Chinese effectively.

The next problem was the  interface for ANKI was not quite appropriate.While functional, the button positions were a little awkward to press if not looking at the screen (at the very bottom of the screen) and the button positions occasionally changed. This was no good if you wanted to press the buttons without looking at them.

I decided to address this problem by making my own flashcard client on Android, called Study’N’Walk. The concept was to show the flashcards on screen, similar to ANKI, but have a much more consistent and easy to use interface that could literally be used with your eyes closed. This then opened the possibility of integrating monetization features such as IAP and adverts. Most importantly, it opened the reach of my app across the Android app store and gave feedback about numbers of downloads, current installs, daily use of the app, what language people opted to study. It also provided a very flexible platform in which I could release different apps and perform A/B tests and have different languages.

I began to realise that this app was now becoming available to people who wanted to study a language but had never heard of ANKI or a flashcard learning system. This was unexpected as I always thought of this as an addition to ANKI. These users had no problem getting the app into their phones, but they were unfamiliar with the ‘question’,’answer’ format of flashcards as a means to study vocabulary. I added some tutorial pages, but I found that users just seemed to click past them all without reading and then they found themselves stuck. I then added some interactive help bubbles which seemed to help.

I have since produced a variety of versions of the app (the first one being a 9 language demo pack) to Chinese and Japanese versions, and branching out to ‘Dictionary’ versions that have a slightly different UI, but present the data as a Dictionary primarily, with an option to learn the words in a training mode.

These A/B Tests let to an unexpected win when I was asked to about the possibility of a Plants Dictionary. The app lists many plant names with their Botanic equivalents. This has now become my most downloaded and profitable app, and it is used most in South-East Asia, a previously unconsidered market.

I also discovered that people do not care for the ability to make their own content. Users would typically search for a language they want to study rather than search for the ability to create their own content. Considering this was a core feature I was trying to push at the beginning, I was very surprised to hear this. Following this, I decided not to include the feature in the iOS builds, and I have found no negative feedback about the lack of this feature. This saves development time and the risk of anything going wrong.

The next lines of focus are now to look into Windows Mobile, whilst considering different content such as different languages and dictionary content. The design of software has allowed me to switch between content fairly easily whilst still using the same ‘engine’. I can make changes to the core learning experience and it is instantly reflected in builds for all the apps.

Major Points

The major points I have learned from this approach to application development are:

  • The traditional model of product development is not applicable here. You must be flexible to change the direction of the app in order to achieve the success you are aiming for.
  • Spontaneity is vital. For example I was impressed at how the swiping actions were used in one app, so as a quick test I added the swipe functions in the app to act in the same way as the buttons I had on screen. It was an immediate hit, because swiping a screen can be done without looking at the screen far more easily than pressing a button, even if it is big and in a set place. In the end, I removed the buttons altogether in favor of the swiping motions.
  • Get feedback as quickly as possible. Get the systems in place to give feedback and see what
  • Listen to suggestions, even if you think its stupid, see what can be done to accommodate. It might be a very simple change, and it might get a whole load of new users.
  • In my opinion, Dog Fooding (using the product yourself) is a major factor in getting it right. You’d have to use the product yourself in order to know whether you like it or not. Its one of the best feedback models.
  • Push something out to users as quickly as possible. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t look very nice or breaks a lot. The important thing is to get the feedback loop started as soon as possible so you know how to improve it.

It was a big deal for me to put in monetization elements into the app, even from the beginning (who likes to see ads in your app?) but I see now that the money part is still a huge driver in making me want to make great apps. If I started this without any way of making money, I’d be missing one of the most important parts of making this business work.

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