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Posts Tagged ‘mobile games’

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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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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Game journalist Leigh Alexander recently wrote a post on her blog Sexy Viedogameland about her encounter with a gamer on the subway who did not appear to be a gamer. Behind the ginormous baggy pants, askew ball cap and huge diamond stud was a man familiar with Final Fantasy VII (much to Leigh’s surprise). Neither of them expected the other to be a gamer, after all neither of them fit the “gamer” stereotype, but who does these days?

Video games are reaching that age where they have been apart of the lives of the generation about to raise their own families. I was even playing games on my parents old DOS based computer when I was as young as two and I’m on the young end. The kids who grew up playing the Nintendo and Sega have gone off and joined the working world, but they haven’t left those gamer roots behind.

At the same time, the casual and mobile game explosion has expanded the ranks of gamers across a spectrum that I would have never thought possible. My mother, a K-8 school librarian, plays Farkle and Plants Versus Zombies like nobodies business. Now your definition of a gamer might differ from mine, but I would consider her a gamer. She plays fairly regularly, when her schedule permits, and she can hold a conversation with my sister (definitely a gamer) using lingo that can make your head spin. Even if you don’t think that qualifies her as a gamer lets consider how much Solitaire she played before Farkle and PvZ. If I had to guess probably half the time my mother has spent on her home computer has been spent playing one game or another.

As Leigh plainly states, “We are proliferating. We should adjust our expectations of strangers.”

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