Written by Christian Reshoeft: Senior Producer, 8 Ball Pool
Five years ago online games hub Miniclip released a game called 8 Ball Quick Fire Pool. The game is a simple variation of the classic 8 Ball Pool: pot as many balls as you can before the timer runs out. Every time you sink a ball, it adds extra time to the clock. The game’s simple and highly addictive, and shortly after launch it quickly became one of the most played games on Miniclip, with over a million people playing every month.
With a successful game on their hands, Miniclip started looking for ways to develop the idea further, and so in 2010, work started on a multiplayer version of the game. This multiplayer version is now known as 8 Ball Pool, and since its launch in October 2010, the game has reached 18 million monthly active players. This is the story behind the game.
The main goal with 8 Ball Pool was to create a clean and simple-to-understand game which was completely accessible from the start. The best way to make people want to play is to get them playing straight away, so we made 8 Ball Pool as easy as possible. It only takes a couple of clicks once it’s loaded; press the big “play” button and in an instant you’re matched with an opponent.
It’s this simplicity which is one of the main reasons for 8 Ball Pool’s success: there’s nothing you need to “get”; you can just jump into a game and start playing straight away.
One of the main things the team focused on was making sure the physics in the game were perfect, so that when someone played a shot, the balls moved the same way they would as if they were on a real-life Pool table. The team went to Pool halls to see how the balls moved, even filming the whole sequence for reference. I am really happy now that the physics in 8 Ball Pool are pretty much perfect. I’ve even had emails from professional Pool and Snooker players telling me how accurate the game is!
This mix of simplicity and realism creates a game where we have thousands of new users trying out the game every day, and our regular players coming back to experience new challenges.
Growth from day 1
8 Ball Multiplayer Pool was launched in October 2010 on Miniclip.com and like its predecessor, the game was an immediate success, hitting the top of our games charts.
Growth came far quicker than anyone expected and it was around half past four in the morning mid-March when I realised how big this game was. I was woken up by a phone call from one of our server team in Miami who told me the game had just hit 30,000 concurrent users, the game had subsequently crashed, and I had to get up to help them fix it.
Getting the game back online at half four in the morning was a significant point. 30,000 concurrent users was a huge number to hit within the first couple of months, a number which put 8 Ball Pool ahead of many of the games on Steam’s most-played games list. People really cared about the game, and in those first few months we kept thinking that the new user numbers would level off, but that day never came so we started looking for ways to get the game in front of more people straight away.
A truly social experience
The obvious next step was to take Pool to Facebook. Miniclip had experimented with putting some of its titles on Facebook with mixed results, so to reduce risk initially we just directly ported the game. The Facebook version launched in early Summer and as on Miniclip.com the game very quickly caught on, so we started work on Facebook-specific features.
The obvious feature for us to migrate was the challenge feature, which allows players to challenge their friends and then play against them 1-on-1. On Miniclip.com, players add their friends and then wait for them to be online before they can play, but Facebook provides the perfect platform for challenges as players already have all their friends and can just use the game to send them a message, challenging them to a game. If someone’s not online, they will pick up the message when they next visit Facebook.
Adding this feature really kick-started growth of Pool on Facebook. Current players wanted to share the experience with their friends, who then joined, played for a couple of games, got hooked and invited their friends too. We accidentally built a viral game.
It sounds simple — and it is — but it works. We’ve not had to spend a penny on user acquisition because our retention rate is sky high and by allowing players to connect with their friends the game is fundamentally viral. The total number of players playing Pool on Facebook recently overtook the number of players playing the game on Miniclip.com, and the Facebook challenge feature is a major contributor to that.
The big update
It’d be wrong to give you the impression that 8 Ball Pool has spent the last two years experiencing unprecedented growth; early last year growth of the game was starting to level off and so we drew up a plan to revitalise the game. We set out a simple aim: add an extra layer of challenge to keep the game fresh for frequent players, but keep the barrier to entry low by retaining that simplicity.
The main way that we did this was by introducing a revamped ranking system, which we coupled with tiered matches (and tournaments), and an all-new virtual currency system built specifically for the game, Pool Coins.
By requiring players to pay a varying amount of Pool Coins to enter each game — from 25 to 50,000 — which then creates a prize pot ranging from 50 to 250,000 Coins, overnight Pool became a lot more competitive as there was a huge incentive for each player to win every game. Not only does a win now get you experience points to level up, but it now unlocks new challenges and you get a bunch of Pool Coins too.
To give players something to spend their new Pool Coins on, we vastly expanded the game’s store, the Pool Shop. Players can purchase cues, tables and power-ups which allow them to customise their game. There are 39 cues available in the Pool Shop at a variety of prices, ranging from the simple Cow Hide Cue, priced at 750 Pool Coins to the Millionaire Cue which is priced at 1,000,000 Pool Coins. My personal favourite’s the futuristic Blue Hope cue :).
The update launched in December 2012, and in the two months since, we’ve doubled the number of people playing 8 Ball Pool. We expected the update to bring some new players to Pool, but nobody predicted it would happen so quickly. This initially lead to the game becoming quite unstable as we were racing to increase the game’s capacity in line with the increase in players, but with some big efficiency improvements just before Christmas and help from some of the other Miniclip teams, we managed to get the game running smoothly again. Crisis averted!
In July 2010 Miniclip opened a new office in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon. The new office was opened for one purpose: to house a new Mobile Team. In just over two and a half years, Team Mobile’s iOS, Android and Windows Mobile games have had hundreds of millions of downloads, and they’ve been responsible for some of the most successful mobile titles in recent years: Rail Rush, Fragger, iStunt and the Android port of Plague Inc to name but a few.
With the infrastructure to create great mobile games already in place, it made sense to bring 8 Ball Pool to mobile. We started seriously thinking about creating a mobile version of the game at the start of 2012, but it was only in the Summer we were able to start working seriously with Team Mobile on the mobile version of the game.
We had previously released a mobile version of 8 Ball Quick Fire Pool, but we were never entirely happy with it and it was pulled from the App Store in early 2012. It was quite clear from the start that if we we were going to do it again, we had to make sure the multiplayer game was brought to mobile properly.
With such a dedicated following of the web version of the game, I was acutely aware it would be very easy to get the mobile version wrong. We thus set out to create a mobile game which shared the same ecosystem as the web, so when players logged in for the first time on mobile, they’d find that all of their data — their stats, levels and items — were as they left them in the web version of the game.
On a more practical level, it was quite difficult making a web game fit on a smaller mobile screen. We tried various different control mechanisms, trying to find something which “just worked” and retained the simplicity of the web. The main trouble was Pool requires immense accuracy, and large fingers on a small screen make that difficult. We persevered though, and to see how it turned out… well, you’ll just have to play it. The Android version of the game is available worldwide for free in the Google Play store, and an iOS version is coming very shortly.
So what advice would I share about making online games? Keep everything simple, keep your players coming back and make it as easy as possible to share the game. That way people want to come back and want to share the whole experience with their friends. It’s a winning combination. The future for us? We have some exciting new features we’re working on, but we’re not quite ready to announce them yet
I’d like to very quickly thank everyone involved in making Pool a success – from from my team, to the Miniclip Tech Team, Team Binary, Team Mobile and everyone else involved in the project. I also have to thank everyone who’s played the game; we wouldn’t be here without you!
The only thing left to do, then, is to have a quick game yourself and make sure you follow us on Twitter and like 8 Ball Pool on Facebook. If you’re trying out the game for the first time, let me know what you think in the comments