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Plugged In

Why you’re addicted to ‘match-3′ puzzle games

Plugged In

Whether you're wasting away a lazy Sunday afternoon stuck in line at
the supermarket, or need to decompress at the office during the last 10
minutes of your lunch hour, chances are you're doing it with a "match-3"
game nearby.

Oh don't act surprised. You know exactly what "match-3" games are:
these puzzle-based digital diversions have you swap adjacent objects on a
board — such as colored gems — so that you can make a match of at least
three of the same objects in a vertical or horizontal row. Completing
this gratifying little task causes the line to explode, resulting in a
cascade of new items to fill up the board. Create a line or letter (e.g.
"T" or "L") with four or five items and it'll result in additional
rewards and bonuses.

These games are so popular, in fact, that the granddaddy of all
match-3 puzzlers -- PopCap's decade-old "Bejeweled" -- still manages to
sell at a rate of 1 every 4.3 seconds today, says the Seattle-based
company.

So how could such a simple concept bring so much love to so many?

For one, these games are accessible. You don't need to read a
100-page manual or master complicated controls in order to swap some
jewels. Regardless of your gaming know-how, the rules are simple to pick
up but the game is impossible to put down. It's family-friendly content
that's appealing to all skill levels and both genders — something you
can't say for most video games these days.

"Having designed match-3 games for 10 years now, the thing that
impresses me most is their plasticity," says Jason Kapalka, co-founder
and chief creative officer for PopCap Games. "The original 'Bejeweled'
was leisurely, untimed, turn-based, and like Solitaire, had an outcome
determined more by luck than anything else."

"Later you saw such curious variants as 'Puzzle Quest,'
where deep role-playing game mechanics were welded to the 'Bejeweled'
chassis to create an entirely different kind of game," Kapalka
continues. D3 Publisher's "Puzzle Quest" games fold in combat, magic and
unique races to the classic match-3 formula.

"And most recently I've been working on 'Bejeweled Blitz,' which is a hyper-caffeinated action version for the Facebook crowd."

Ah, "Bejeweled Blitz." Playable on Facebook, on the iPhone/iPad/iPod touch and as standalone software for computers, "Blitz" gives you just one minute to see how big
of a score you can amass by feverishly matching colored gems. Top
scores are posted via Facebook Connect and the list refreshes every
week. The game currently attracts more than 3 million players -- per
day.

Another reason for the success of match-3 games? They work on any
virtually any platform. Regardless of your gaming platform of choice —
computer, television or mobile phone — the simple graphics and intuitive
interface make it ideal for any screen size and control option, be it
mouse, controller, phone button or finger swipe. Just how versatile is
this game mechanic? There's even "Bejeweled" lottery scratch tickets,
for heaven's sakes.

Kapalka, who serves as the deep-voiced narrator in "Bejeweled," by the way, waxes a bit deeper on the appeal of match-3 games.

"The lasting appeal of these games stems, I think, from the classic
puzzle game motivation: to bring order from chaos. Your tool for doing
that is pattern recognition: groups of three have an elemental purity to
them that makes them deeply satisfying to spot; some people theorize
that typical shooting games are a sort of training tool that appeals to
our primal hunter instincts…match-3 games may appeal on a similarly deep
level to our gathering instincts."

Whether you buy into its innate appeal, enjoy passing the time or get
a thrill out of the competitive nature of some match-3 games, the
popular puzzle genre isn't showing any signs of popping anytime soon.

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