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Posts Tagged ‘iPhone’

This ability to transport the player to impossible worlds is what I love about video games, and it’s what great art and entertainment has been achieving for thousands of years. It’s also why I don’t worry too much about the rise of Facebook and iPhone games turning these sorts of experiences into dinosaurs, rendering them obsolete and then extinct. As a species, we will always want to visit new places, born out of the imaginations of our most creative minds; we will always want to be immersed in worlds other than our own.

Steve Gaynor, source

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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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The big news floating around the net yesterday concerns the Library of Congress announcing jailbreaking cellphones to be protected under fair use. This is big news for iPhone users who are now free to jailbreak their phones without fear of being penalized $2,500 and spending up to 5 years in jail. An article released by Ars Technica outlines the Library’s decision on jailbreaking along with several others including DRM circumvention for security research and cracking eReaders so programs can read the text aloud.

This development originally concerned me, because in my mind jailbreaking is synonymous with illegal app copying, but upon further investigation I discovered that this is not the case. In fact, jailbroken phones retain all of their abilities including the ability to access the App Store and purchase apps. This is probably why the Register commented that jailbreaking holds up under the four factors of the fair use test stating that, “since one cannot engage in that practice unless one has acquired an iPhone” the act meets all four requirements.”

So what does this mean for mobile games? Well, it means that we might see more people using iPhones either jailbroken or on T-Mobile which is rumored to be getting the iPhone as early as this Fall. More phones means more potential customers which translates to more sales potential for the platform. It also means that if Apple wants to keep their precious ecosystem within their walled garden they are going to have to find a way to keep the jailbroken phones out which is a lot easier said than done.

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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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I’m excited.

There is a new app coming out for the iPhone called Epic Win which looks awesome. It’s a ToDo list with a twist, one that has you completing task like an RPG and leveling up a character, finding loot and generally being awesome. It’s being created by Rexbox (one of the artists who worked on Little Big Planet) and Studio FungFung (who made MiniSquadron for the iPhone). It looks spectacular and a lot of fun!

I have tried a number of ToDo applications and computer programs. None of them are really my thing. My problem with them is I never feel like there is any incentive to actually use them. I start off with good intentions and slowly stop using it because I don’t have a reason to come back to it. I’m hoping Epic Win will change that by making my activities more than things I cross off a list.

Things like this have been done before in the app store, but there’s something about wrapping it up in a fantasy world illustrated by Rexbox that appeals to me. I’m also really interested in the loot they talk about (who doesn’t want a Helm of Questionable Appeal?) and seeing how they are going to pull off the app in general.

One question many people have been asking about the app is what is going to keep people from cheating? The answer is simple: nothing really, but that’s not the point of the app. While there are game elements wrapped into it, the app is suppose to encourage users to actually use there ToDo list and feel a sort of exhilaration from completing tasks. It a great example of Alternate Reality Gaming at its finest and I hope it comes out soon.

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We all commit design sins while making games. Whether it’s because of producers, time constraints or just plain ignorance, things get put in or removed that should not be. It’s time to take a look at our transgressions so we may cleanse ourselves and become better.

Earlier this week, I wrote about my concern with transferring Fuse to the digital space because it might possibly neuter the social aspects of the game. As an artist and a game designer, I feel that games (especially games with multiple players) are often much more than systems players are interacting with. There is something very special about gathering in a place, real or digital, and interacting with other humans.

As an iPhone developer I’ve seen and heard a number of ideas from colleagues for ports of games onto the device that  shouldn’t be. This often comes from a lack of understanding about how the device cannot support the social aspects that make the game they want to port a well designed game.

I encountered this about a week or so ago when I was approached by a fellow student who want some information about iPhone development. The game he wants to make is an iPhone version of Egyptian Ratscrew (ERS) which is a card game with an interesting system of mechanics. It also has a large amount of social interaction encouraged by the “slapping” mechanic. Regardless of the coding challenges involved in porting ERS to the iPhone, what concerns me most about the idea is how the social aspects of the game will suffer. Even if a player can network to play live with other players the feeling just isn’t the same. The excitement of slapping the pile and taking someone’s jack or misjudging and slapping the pile at the wrong time causing the player to draw cards isn’t the same. There’s no smack talk or interesting alliances/betrayals to be had.

It’s all cold, sterile game mechanics and where’s the fun in that?

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