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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Test Run: Dots, A Simple But Addictive Game from Betaworks

A couple of years ago, the Apple iPhone’s graphics reached a point that allowed developers to make video games for mobile phones that felt as immersive and complex as those for traditional hand-held game systems. But as the games became ever more complicated, I stopped downloading them.

Now I’m back â€" and quite frankly obsessed â€" with a new game called Dots that is very similar to the board game Connect Four that you might have played as a kid.

Dots, a free app, doesn’t have any fancy graphics. It is simply a screen of 36 colored dots â€" as simple, flat and clean as you can get. Which is what makes it truly wonderful.

Dots was created by Betaworks, a technology incubator in New York. It made its debut in the Apple iTunes Store last week and has already zoomed to the top of the charts, where it is now listed as the third most downloaded free application.

To play, you simply connect the dots. Drawing your finger across the screen creates a line that can be placed through dots of the same color. The more dots you connect, the higher the score. You can also share these scores with friends on Twitter and Facebook, taunting them to compete with you.

There are a few secrets to winning at Dots. As Patrick Moberg, the game’s creator noted on Twitter, if you draw a square on the board with four dots of the same color, “it removes all dots of that color from the board.”

In a phone interview, Mr. Moberg told me he played with a lot of old traditional board games while designing Dots. “As I was building and designing, the challenge every day was what could be stripped out and still make it fun,” he said, giving a nod to physical games.

Mr. Moberg said he is exploring building an iPad version of the game and adding more social integration to the iPhone app, including one-on-one game play with friends.

As I noted in a post last month, app makers are using flatter designs to make their applications easier to navigate on mobile devices. It seems this is now applying to video games, too. Letterpress, a clever word game for the iPhone and iPad, which is also very flat and beautiful, made a big splash among iOS users when it was introduced late last year.

“We’re constantly thinking about engagement, and how can you build things that become a habit in people’s lives,” explained John Borthwick, chief executive at Betaworks. “That led us to ask if we can build a game that is a beautiful and simple experience.

“We thought about design with a big D, and it is part of the complete process, embedded in everything from the user interface to the viral aspects,” he said. “It’s design through and through.”

Whatever the designers of Dots did, it seems to be working. A company blog post Tuesday noted that Dots is expected to pass one million players by the end of the day.