It could have all been so different. Today’s iteration of Monopoly Go is, of course, the Coin Master-inspired hit that recently led the US iPhone top grossing charts, and has now earned Scopely almost $180m to date, according to Appmagic.
But we understand it was once a midcore, Clash Royale-like PvP game. Scopely GM and product VP Massimo Maietti tells us that after soft-launching a first version of the game, his team “listened to player feedback, took time to analyse and really understand the fundamental lessons” – and chose a different path.
The project started at Scopely’s LA studio and soon expanded to include teams in Colorado, US and Sevilla, Spain. Today, the Monopoly Go team includes over 150 staff and also spans Israel, the UK and Ukraine. It is led by Maietti, a seven-year Scopely veteran who has led Monopoly Go’s development from the start. He also previously worked on Zynga’s FarmVille 2 as creative director.
“The Monopoly Go available today is quite different from our initial attempt at building the right Monopoly experience for mobile,” Maietti tells us. “We first explored building a synchronous real-time PvP experience, but in the process we realised that our players really wanted to play with friends and family, something that is not easy to do in a synchronous PvP game.”
Monopoly Go’s first iteration wasn’t delivering on the core fantasy of the board game and had to be revised, says Maietti.
“Additionally, we understood that in our first version we were not faithfully modelling one of the core values of the brand, that is, the fantasy of getting rich by being rich already!”
“In our original attempt, wealth was generated through the countless actions taken in the PvP matches. By demanding skill, effort and labour to create capital, we were betraying the classic Monopoly fantasy of capital effortlessly self-multiplying. In the new game players just have to press the big, red button, and wealth starts accumulating – we believe this setup better captures one of the central emotional cores of Monopoly.”
This mid-development swerve also chimes with what Maietti calls Scopely’s mantra: “iterating to greatness.”
“We prioritise patience when it comes to finding the magic of a game, but also ongoing experimentation and innovation in pursuit of the deepest resonance,” says Maietti. “This is what we did for Monopoly Go. Once we decided to go casual, we never looked back. We built the core loop, then the progression system, social layers and live operations.”
“Each step was validated by large playtests with both Scopely employees and external players, and it was in those playtests that we saw the power of the new format. When thinking about Monopoly, people vividly recall the first time they charged their mum rent or bankrupted their friend.”
“They recall the highs and lows, lucky breaks, bad streaks, going to jail and building hotels. We felt that with this second attempt we were able to capture the emotional rollercoaster of Monopoly in a format that was sustainable and interesting over the longterm.”
We also had to ask Maietti about the obvious influence of Coin Master and Dice Dreams. “Every game is built in relationship to and in conversation with the games that came before it,” he explains. “and even those games you mention were not the first to explore concepts such as randomness as a driving mechanic of casual game experiences.”
As is evident from this image created by game design consultant Jakub Remiar, Monopoly Go is one of several successful ‘big red button’ titles.
Maintaining players in a “flow state” – the spell which Coin Master and Dice Dreams casts so effectively – was “a guiding light” for Maietti’s team, he says. Scopely spent more than a year working on the dice roll mechanic, and tried to add social elements into “every layer of the game”.
There were also some particularly intense internal research exercises. At various stages of the game’s development, the team were asked to play the game and list 100 feelings about it. “When we would each list 100 items of feedback, everyone’s first thirty or so thoughts tended to be quite similar,” explains Maietti. “But as we got further down the list – the eightieth and ninetieth items – that’s where things got interesting.”
Maetti says combing through those thousands of insights to learn where certain moments left players deflated or wanting an interaction to last longer helped the team focus on getting the tiniest details right – and also to cater to every type of player.
“We knew that the fanbase of the Monopoly board game is very wide,” he continues. “Therefore, we tried to make a game that would not turn away any player. Our focus on social connectivity demanded that the game be attractive for a grandmother as well as for her grandson and anyone in between.”
So far, so good then – Monopoly Go is off to a phenomenal start. But now Maietti’s team must keep that early momentum going and establish the game as a longterm moneymaker – a slightly different task.
“Monopoly Go is still in its early days, and many features are in consideration – including ads,” adds Maietti. “Right now, we’re fully dedicated to building out the social elements of the game by investing our resources in live ops, minigames and other experiences that bring people together. We’re just at the beginning of delivering on the full promise of Monopoly Go, so stay tuned for more.”