Jul 212011

Title slideThis was my talk delivered yesterday at Casual Connect Seattle — somewhat shorter than my usual, as it was a 25 minute slot. The topic was designing for games-as-a-service; a lot of folks are migrating from casual games into social games right now, and need to know more about what the design best practices are.

I ended up reaching back to the Laws of Online World Design and many other older materials both mine and of others, on the grounds that it was likely to be new and perhaps educational for many who have been doing fire-and-forget software in the casual space.

I am fairly sure that the conference will be posting video of the presentation — they normally do — so keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, here’s the deck in a few formats:

I did try uploading it to Slideshare, but boy, did it mess up the fonts. I take a lot of care with the graphic design of my decks, and it was just too ugly to tolerate. :) I am sure I could figure it out given time, but I don’t have said time. So if someone else wants to take the PPT and get it uploaded in a way that actually resembles the PDF, go for it.

The slides should be pretty self-explanatory, but the core message is not unlike the much more detailed version of things I put forth in my recent blog on on Marketing.

Jun 302011

Warning: giant (4700 word) post on basic marketing principles, prompted by some recent discussion on a forum about what makes for a well-retaining game.

A lot of folks, especially in social, seem to use the word “retention” when they should think “conversion.” I tend to think of this as an emotional journey.

You can think of this sequence as going something like this:

  1. Sampling
  2. Converting
  3. Retaining
  4. Re-engaging

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Game talkNot an MMO anymore

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Nov 122010

Dusty Monk has a thought experiment up where he describes an MMO of the future. Core bullet points:

  • a single-player or co-op multiplayer campaign you can play through that is heavily narrative
  • a matchmaking lobby where you can select between types of games to play with other players
  • games include group PvP matches or co-op matches against the AI
  • A UI screen where you purchase upgraded gear and character attributes for real money

As he describes the game, it of course sounds like an FPS game with matchmaking, and that is exactly his point.

He’s not really advocating the evolution of the MMO in this direction; he’s merely saying it is inevitable.

But I think that it is also important to note that this isn’t a virtual world at all.

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Oct 062010

A few sites covered the talk I gave on John Donham’s behalf here at GDC Online.

I do think Gamespot commenters interpret my little dig at SWTOR a bit too negatively — it wasn’t a dis but rather a gentle dig, considering that most of the team leaders there are good friends, and one of them was in the front row. :)

The slides are actually John’s to post, so I won’t do so here unless he tells me to, but Tami’s liveblog actuall captures the specific slides rather well.

Game talkOne BIIIiiiillion

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Oct 012010

There are now one billion registered virtual world accounts, according to KZero, with 350m of them gained in the last twelve months.

More telling is the areas in which the growth has come. Around half that billion is in kids’ worlds (ages 10-15), which now boast many worlds over 10m users, including some shockingly large figures like Stardoll at 69m, Girl Sense at 18m, GoSupermodel at 18m, Neopets at 63m, and Club Penguin at 47m.

Universe chart Q3 2010: 10 to 15 year olds | KZERO – Blog.

The 15-25 bracket has the monster Habbo of course, at 175m registered. KZero picks this segment as the one to watch in terms of innovation. Meanwhile, worlds for ages 25+ have not seen nearly the same level of growth, but still have basically doubled in total registrations since Q1 2009.

Game talkDigital game downloads pull ahead of retail

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Sep 202010

NPD released a report today saying that the PC gaming market is now 58% download sales, though only 43% of revenue — mostly because retail prices are higher. Both retail and download sales are dropping though — revenue is down 21% and unit sales down 14% over the last year.

Why? Well,

“The overall decline of PC games when combining sales via both digital downloads and physical retail sales is impacted by the expansion of social-network gaming as well as the continued expansion of free game options.” NPD analyst Anita Frazier said…

Digital game downloads beat retail store sales | Gaming and Culture – CNET News

Interestingly, the top five digital retailers for AAA show the power of using connectivity in a strong fashion: Steam’s on top of the list, and they by default install a startup-launching login widget; two of the top five are Blizzard and worldofwarcraft.com; and the other top five entries are EA.com and Direct2Drive.com. (The list of casual downloadable leaders is quite different).

Retail has been pushing used game sales for quite a while in order to drive revenue, of course, which by and large game publishers have not liked much (supposedly last year John Riccitello of EA compared used game sales to piracy). It wasn’t very long ago that Best Buy announced they were moving over to that model.

The downside to this may be that used game sales may start running into legal issues, if the battle around shrinkwrap licenses and first-sale doctrine for software continues the path of the recent 9th Circuit Court decision — basically, it said that software publishers can indeed say that you don’t own software, but instead just license it; and therefore can block you from resale.

All in all, the shift to a fully digital future is well underway, and I would expect retail revenues to keep declining. Some are happy about it, such as this guy:

And why not? Digital music can be played on any device. Electronic books can go anywhere the user goes. And streaming movies on demand is far more convenient than mailing discs back and forth.

- “The end of software ownership–and why to smile”, CNet

Others will be less sanguine about the idea that their investments can be remotely deactivated, have curtailed legal (and illegal) uses, or simply obsolesce out of being usable when the licensing authority shuts down its servers.

Game talkGameBreakr interview

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Mar 142010

While at GDC I did an interview with Gary Gannon of GameBreakr, and it’s now up on the site as two video clips. They were posted up with Justin.tv, and I can’t figure out how to embed them here… topics discussed include why core gamers should be excited about social games, where do AAA MMOs sit, and trends at GDC like 3d displays. But the link lets you watch them both back to back — it’s about 20 minutes worth of me blathering on.

Edit: here’s the vids!

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Game talkGarriott goes to social games

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Feb 172010


The highlights:

  • A plugin to allow deploying games written as standalone titles. Torque2d is referenced as the tech for the first title, a poker game.
  • A virtual world hub called CenterPort, with a “semi-3d world”, minigames, ad-driven quests, housing, and microtransactions.
  • A social network. It looks like this will be tied into the OpenPlay network, which is a separate endeavor by other well-known ex-Originites that tries to develop an industry standard for social play data portability.

The requirement for a plugin will have all the same barriers all the other plugin efforts do, of course. (Unity is doing well, but it is having to fight hard for every user). One big example — it’s Windows only right now.

This is a play for anticipating the curve on the social gaming market lifecycle. The bet being made is that social gamers will ask for greater sophistication over time. It’s a good bet that this trend is valid — even “simple farming games” like the new sequel to Happy Farm feature farming, apartment decorating, and a central town; and Island Paradise has merged in a cooking game… showing that greater complexity is well on the way.

That said, the Facebook game explosion — social gaming in general — is more a phenomenon of distribution than it is one of game design or technology. The users tend to be older women, and not that technologically sophisticated.  Social gamers don’t care what technology you use. They only care how long the loading time was and whether it worked perfectly on the first try.

So the plugin choice may be banking on the wrong aspect of the trend. You don’t need a better rendering engine to make richer games.

Read more about Portalarium at this VentureBeat article.