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Archive for the ‘Industry’ Category

Last week I lamented the passing of a great iPhone company. No, they didn’t go under, in fact, they are probably rolling in money as I write this, but as much as I want to congratulate ngmoco I just can’t bring myself to. I don’t want to get back into this rant, but its become fairly obvious to me that they are a company that has become more interested in profits than in creating the quality, fun products they use to.

In this same vein, Ian Bogost, has been creating turbulence within the game industry by being rather outspoken on the topic of social games and why he is disturbed by them. Trying to wrap his head around these traits, Bogost has created a satirical Facebook game entitled Cow Clicker which boils down the  social game to its core components, clicking on something every few hours to gain resources. The genesis of the game and more information on what Bogost is learning can be found on his blog.

Of the four ways Bogost cites as the reasons he despises social games the two I agree with the most are his enframing and optimalism arguments. Both of these arguments focus on how these socials games treat their players and the “play” they are participating in. I have often wondered how well a game like FarmVille would do without the social backbone of Facebook to hold it up. Even iPhone copycats like WeRule/Farm use a social network component to “virally” spread about their respective markets. Play is nothing more than clicking on a timer with the goal of the designer to keep the player in the game space for as long as possible. This often results in the starting crop netting the best returns offering no strategy other than trying to guess how long will sleep so they can set their crops accordingly.

This is why I like Echo Bazaar, a a narrative heavy, web-based game by Failbetter Games that utilizes Twitter as it’s social network. The writing alone makes the game worth playing, but amidst all the narrative twists and turns there is actually game play! There are items to collect, stats to raise and numerous ways to get your friends involved instead of just using them as a resource boost.

I’ve heard rumor that companies are starting to try and make social  games like Echo Bazaar; a product with more game in it, but I want to see it before I’ll believe it.

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If you asked me at the start of the summer if I was an ngmoco fan boy I probably would have told you yes. Their level of polish and craftsmanship towards their games fascinated me and getting to meet their president Neil Young at the past GDC was a real treat.

At the start of the summer they had just released WeRule and had announced God Finger would be arriving in a few weeks and I couldn’t have been more excited.

But as the summer comes to and end I find myself respecting them less and less as a company. Why? Well with the release of WeFarm a few weeks ago it has become apparent to me that ngmoco is no longer interested in making fun, compelling, high quality games like they use to. Instead they are content with pumping out re-skins of systems that create traffic to their Plus+ network.

From a business standpoint you have to applaud them. They are making boat loads of money but I miss the early days when they made boat loads of money because they made awesome games.

If anything, this experience has made me more determined to not let money get in the way of me making video games. I wouldn’t mind being successful, but I’d hate to “sell out” and start pumping out clones so I could roll around in piles of money.

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My apologies for the delays in posting. I had Internet issues the past few days which were finally resolved several hours ago. I will be posting over the weekend to make up for the lack of posts over the past few days.

Starcraft 2 landed on Tuesday leaving much of the gaming world silent for a few days as gamers tear into the long awaited sequel. The game includes access to the multiplayer and provides 30 Terran based missions for players to revel in along with tools to create custom maps. I must admit, I’ve been impressed with what I see and will probably buy the game at some point. The story looks very intriguing and the game itself looks gorgeous. Again, I will buy this game at some point.

I’m intrigued more than anything, however, by Blizzard’s decision to release the campaigns separately instead of combined as they did with the original Starcraft. It gives them more time to tweak and refine both the Zerg and Protos campaigns and it breaks Blizard’s “release when its done” cycle, both of which are good things.

But how much will the other campaigns cost?

At $60 the current release comes with a 30 mission campaign, access to multiplayer and a toolset. The Zerg campaign which could be months (maybe even a year) away will most likely cost an additional $60 (more if you want a collectors edition) that will have 30(ish) campaign missions access to multiplayer and a toolset; the same goes for the Protos campaign. I’m not sure how players are going to react to that. I certainly would not be interested in forking over an additional $120 for 60 new missions and two extras of the multiplayer and tools that I will never use.

Blizzard has an interesting opportunity to do some interesting things by splitting up the campaign. There are a number of things they could do to make the $60 easy to swallow, but will they do them. Their recent merge with Activision makes me hesitant about some of the recent decisions they have been making regarding their business. Admittedly, these are fairly unfounded, but Activision has screwed over many gamers and a few studios before, so I wouldn’t put it past them to have influenced this decision.

Here are a couple of thoughts I have on how Blizzard should offer the future campaigns so they are attractive to their audience.

Sell the campaigns as separate games to new customers and offer the campaigns as downloadable DLC for $20-$30

This would allow players who purchased the Terran campaign to skip paying for the unnecessary multiplayer and tools they already have access to. It would also allow anyone who comes late by buying the Zerg or Protos version of the game to access the other campaigns easily instead of slogging through stores trying to find old copies of the game (or maybe that’s what Blizzard wants).Blizzard has shown that they are not afraid of implementing DLC in World of Warcraft so it makes sense that they might try something like this.

Sell the campaigns as separate games for $60 but allow the multiplayer to be gifted

Steam did this when they released the Orange Box which contained Halflife 2 which many players already had. By allowing players to gift the multiplayer access it could generate interest in the campaigns which might get purchased. Blizzard has the platform already setup to make this work with BattleNet and they even implemented a similar system with the current release of Starcraft 2 which lets you gift seven hours to two other BattleNet accounts. Still, $60 is steep for a new campaign and a free pass for a friend.

Be evil and expect people to pay $60 for a bunch of stuff they don’t need

I don’t see Blizzard doing this, but its definitely a possibility. They might go along the route of World of Warcraft and offer the Zerg and Protos campaigns for $40 like they do for the WoW expansions. Trying to sell players a bunch of stuff they already have seems like a way to make a lot of enemies really quick in this industry.

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I’m happy to announce that after being released a month, the iPad game my company 5 Minute Games produced has sold 200+ copies world wide! This is a small number compared to some of the big boys, but for us its a small victory and a (hopeful) indicator of more to come. This news comes just a week after I discovered that a website was illegally distributing Famished Farm Animal Frenzy (itunes link) for free. My company contacted the site (which had distributed the game 70+ times) and they kindly took the game down.

The illegal copying of electronic games has been a problem long before the Internet got started, but the ability for people to exchange information at such a rapid and easy rate has only exacerbated the situation. Please note, I did not say steal or pirate because I think the act of “pirating” electronic products has been portrayed in a negative light by the software and entertainment industries to try and prevent society from engaging in these acts. This is could really be another post all its own, so I’ll be short and say that I personally believe while illegally copying games is bad companies are going about it wrong by creating elaborate DRM systems or trying to find ways to fight against those who want to copy their software instead of using them to their advantage.

Case in point, the site that facilitated the illegal copying of Famished Farm Animal Frenzy had a running counter which indicated that our game had been downloaded roughly one third of our sales. Had our sales been ten times what they are 70+ downloads would have been a drop in the bucket and we might have turned a blind eye, like most big companies do, or possibly not even found the site hidden amongst the glowing reviews of how awesome our game is (really, you should play it). The reality is, however, illegal downloading of games hurts small indie companies like us the most. Copying a game like Famished Farm Animal Frenzy, unlike stealing, does not deprive everyone else from every obtaining their own copy of the game, but it does prevent me and my company from seeing some money from the lose of a potential sale.

Now in all fairness, not everyone who copies games has the intent of screwing developers out of money. In fact, Cliff Harris received a lot of attention, including mine, when he posted on his blog about a certain incident where he asked those who were copying his game why they were doing so. The answers surprised him and much of the game development community. You can read the post for yourself, but the gist of it is that many gamers HATED Digital Right Management (DRM) or were becoming disillusioned with the quality of games coming out at the time (and many still are).

Another reason people pirate games is because they are easier to obtain that way. The iPhone and iPad in particular are having this problem because there are plenty of people who own them in countries who either don’t have their own apps store (a complaint I will save for yet another post) or they want access to the apps available to the American market which they can’t otherwise get. China was a big sink hole for developers for nearly a year before the okay was given to allow sales of iPhones in China back in 2009 because anyone in China who had an iPhone was using it illegally to begin with.

It’s fairly safe to say that we can’t stop people from illegally downloading our games. No matter how much we try locking the system down, someone will find a way around it and put all the effort to waste (jail breaking iPhones being a case in point). In my mind, the logical thing to do is to figure out a way to make those who “pirate” your game into a benefit rather than a problem.  It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while and I honestly have no idea how to do it. the video game industry is so focused on creating and selling a product that it will take a major shift in philosophy to make pirates work in the developer’s favor. Some of the companies that are moving towards making their games into more of a service might be shedding some light on a solution, but I find that most of their games are not as entertaining as the traditional games. More to the point, not everyone has the resources or the ability to create them.

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Steam released a new game yesterday called Alien Swarm. If you keep up with my twitter you know I’ve been super excited about it and really enjoy it. The game is great and plays well, but the best part is the price, free.

Over the past year or so I’ve been noticing that Steam views their games as more of a service than a product (which is a weird way to think about things), but there are a number of game structures that allow developers to make money by offering their game as a service rather than a product. When I say games as a service, I mean that the companies are no longer creating a game and then leaving it on a shelf and never touching it again. Instead, companies are finding it viable to offer their players an extended experience by creating and altering content.

There are several ways to do this, and I’ve compiled a list below:

Content Delivery

Steam and flash based game sites like newgrounds.com and kongragate.com use this model. Games drive traffic to their platform, traffic which can then be turned into cash. Steam in particular is good about this, because the games made by Valve are always being worked on (it seems) which attracts new and old players back to their games. The genius thing is that in order to get to the games you have to pass by the store where they advertise new games and sales. So the more players play their games the more they are likely to buy other games.

Subscriptions

Many massive multiplayer online (MMO) games like Word of Warcraft and Eve work this way. Users pay a monthly subscription fee to gain access to an ever changing world where content is being updated and changed. Game companies do this to keep players interested and focused on their game instead of wandering off to play something else. World of Warcraft is easily the king of this arena since they have even gone beyond the digital space and creating boardgames, graphic novels and even toys based off of the online world.


Freemium (Free-to-Play)

Free to Play games are another area where you see games offered as a service rather than a product. This is due to the free-to-play model works off of players paying for premium content versus the masses who simply play the game. Games like Maple Story or one of my favorites Lost Saga keep updating their content like MMO’s to keep people interested and to lure people into buying new things. Lost Saga for example, is an action fighting game where players “rent” heros to use in battle. These heroes can be purchased with in game currency, which is won during matches, or bought permanently using real money.

Mobile

Mobile is an interesting area because it can fall under any of the other areas. I decided to separate it though because there are a number of reasons why a developer would want to think of their game as a service rather than a product on the mobile market.

First, by offering regular updates, developers are (generally) increasing the chances of people noticing their game because the game’s download rate goes up. This also has the added benefit of increasing the perceived value of your product which encourages future purchasers and keeps the current user base happy. Players are more likely to get excited about your game and tell their friends who will in turn buy your game as well. Mobile games also have an advantage the many games don’t; player have come to except advertisements as a part of the game space. This can give developers a reason to keep players interested and coming back to their game which means content updates are a must for games with advertisements in them. Finally, the mobile space is rapidly changing and requires developers to keep their products up to date if they want to stay competitive. Changes to operating systems and new phones being released on a regular basis pushes mobile games into the direction of a service over a product.

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