In this episode of Counterweight, Eric Brasure and Joel “HM” Goodwin discuss celebrated pocket puzzle game Threes (Sirvo, 2014). Yes, we know it’s not a PC game.


03:00 “It’s just a very well-constructed game and it’s also a joy to play.”

08:00 “The uncertainty can be devastating to your game.”

12:00 “The key to what makes it difficult is the movement.”

16:50 “It’s a very mindful game and you really have to be present when you’re playing it.”

24:30 “I’m staring at this… feels like an impossible board.”

26:30 “I think you just must be an old man, Joel.”

29:102048 trumps Threes straight away.”

31:50 “I don’t know why people like this sort of thing.”

35:40 “Trying to convince someone who’s played 2048 to read a 60 million word article on the development of Threes is not going to work.”

43:10 “If people can undermine you with free-to-play… then you might need to do that too, but that will change the game you make.”

Download the podcast MP3 or play it right here in your browser:


You can subscribe directly to Counterweight via iTunes or RSS.

Download my FREE eBook on the collapse of indie game prices an accessible and comprehensive explanation of what has happened to the market.

Sign up for the monthly Electron Dance Newsletter and follow on Twitter!

14 thoughts on “Counterweight 13: Threes

  1. From that “rip-off” article: “Maybe not a lot of people know Alexey Pajitnov made Tetris, but of those that care about that kind of thing, it’s fairly obvious to everyone that Tetris came first. If you’re aware of Dr. Mario, you’re almost certainly aware that Tetris exists.”

    Apparently, though, you can be aware of Dr. Mario without being aware that Columns exist.

  2. I guess it kind of bolsters the point about how easy it is to miss the lineage of ideas. This is partly what qrth-phyl was about.

  3. Incoming not very deep insights…

    I don’t have any iOS device, so the only one I have played is 2048.

    It’s the kind of thing I pick up when I’m on the train and want to do something for a few seconds that doesn’t require too much of my attention. On my mind, as a mobile gamer, the fact that Threes (apparently? I haven’t actually played it, see above reason) requires a lot of concentration and presence is a strike against it as a mobile experience. I don’t necessarily want that if I’m on the train.

    I realize that ya’ll aren’t fans of 2048 because the design is nowhere near as elegant, but, I think it’s clear why the simpler game that is also simpler to access and also free is so much more popular. Now if the games were both released at the same price point (even if that were free) who is to say which people would like better, but I think people might actually like the easier game better in this case even if they could access the harder one. Maybe they’d see Threes as a “greater challenge” when bored with 2048 and ready to move on. But sometimes people are just bored on the train.

  4. Amanda, it’s on Android as well if that makes any difference.

    I think you’re right about some people just want disengaging. It’s difficult to take away lessons here because it’s a single (interesting) data point and this isn’t a scientific experiment where only one variable has changed.

    I am still concerned that the obvious lesson might be to avoid design that is easily cloned. An indie red flag after a fashion. “Don’t do this unless you’re doing free to play.”

  5. @HM – Yes, that does make a difference, that’s good to know. Sometimes these things sneak out without an announcement that I see.

    I was at a conference just this weekend and people are a little worried about this lesson, yes. The bottom line is it’s really really hard to tell what will make a splash on mobile and it’s as much luck and randomness as anything else. “Throwaway” games seem to do really well as long as the dev cycle was fast. I think at this point, it works best to just make a lot of games and operate on volume hoping something will be a hit. If your design turns out to be easily cloned but you only spent a month on it, it matters less than a situation like Threes. Sadly it does seem to mean that great but elegant games will be thin on the ground and if one crops up it gets cloned immediately.

  6. @HM: Yeah, it’s ironic, but it does also prove their point — Columns was first but it might have got overshadowed by Dr. Mario right away. I don’t know if there was any direct influence from Columns to Dr. Mario or if it was common influence from Tetris; the Wikipedia articles I looked at (deep research here) said that Columns was a shareware (freeware?) title that had its greatest influence among commercial games and Tetris crossed over the other direction.

    @Amanda: Yeah, I had the same thought about 2048 vs. Threes. I’ve been giving the Threes developers a bit too much of a hard time because they’re in kind of a painful situation, but even leaving price aside, I don’t think that Threes would be attaining 2048’s market share if not for 2048.* They have a deep design which mean every move counts and you can spend a lifetime mastering it, but that’s another way of saying that you can really screw yourself early if you’re not paying attention from the start and that the difficulty curve is steep; and when they boast that no one’s beaten Threes yet that’s not what a lot of people want.

    It’s like someone makes a great recipe, after months of Cook’s-style experimenting (you should check out Cook’s sometime even if you don’t plan on making the recipes, I find the process fascinating), and they come up with this perfectly balanced dish that you can make by sauteeing it just so and it’s absolutely mouthwatering. And then someone else comes up with some hacky ripoff of it that you can make by taking most of the ingredients and putting it in the microwave. And now the originator is mad and points out, rightly, that the microwave recipe lacks all the subtle taste of theirs but so what? 90% of everybody doesn’t want to come home from a hard day at work and spend two hours peeling and chopping and fricaseeing which honestly I don’t even know what that is even if the results are tastier. They want the stuff that you can throw in the microwave quicker. Hmm I see Melissa Clark-Reynolds also hit on the culinary metaphor (at Gamesbriefers).

    Which is to say “rip-off” isn’t the right term. 2048 is a popularization of Threes. (And maybe could serve as a gateway?) Don’t know what this means for the elegant game but it’s kind of like, game for connoisseurs reaches connoisseurs.

    I don’t know what this means for the

    *This is all second-hand; I’ve only played 2048, not 1024 or Threes, because I don’t have a mobile. Mostly academia edition. Which I liked much better than Numberwang; the joke in Numberwang gets old fast but keeps trying to tell itself, but whereas in Academia** there is the initial joke about the long climb up the ranks, and then it pretty much makes itself transparent to you in play, but there’s still that impulse to play to see what comes after emeritus, and when you get there it’s perfect.

    **And again maybe it’s because I’ve spent most of my life in the milieu*** and can appreciate the message.

    ***Oh, God.

  7. I don’t think anyone has any problems with the idea of building on designs, I think the issue here is when someone beats you to a market you have created and pretends you don’t exist – this is why 2048 had no memory of Threes because its inspiration, 1024, deliberately avoids referencing to the source material. The speed of technology is faster than a small team can cope with.

    2048 definitely has a place in the world, but it’s difficult to shake off the feeling that some of its success is due to Threes’ design efforts.

    I’m still playing Threes, incidentally. I have no interest in 2048.

  8. So I finally gave Threes a try since I was able to download it.

    Hey, you know what’s really great in Threes? The sound design. Wow, good stuff.

    You know what nobody really cares about in a mobile game? I think you know where I’m going with this.

    It is a pretty good game, but playing it I still get why the simpler easier version did so well too.

  9. I did tell Eric that I played with the sound off all the time; so whatever work has gone into the audio has been wasted on me (i.e. not factored into my appraisal).

  10. Hmm, what’s that mean for Sword & Sworcery? It was supposed to be The Big Thing in mobile gaming, and was obviously lovingly designed for the mobile interface, but it’s up with Bit.Trip Beat and Johann Sebastain Joust on the “pointless with the sound off” scale.

  11. @matt w Well, when I say ‘nobody’ I mean the average pleb rather than a game connoisseur. This is a distinction I have to be careful to make without sounding like a snob, but I hope you see what I mean. (S&S is awesome, but it isn’t like a 2048 kind of thing.)

  12. Pleb is the snobbiest thing ever I realize. 🙁
    There’s no non snobby way. Casuals. Normals. Muggles. NON-ENTHUSIASTS

Comments are closed.