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.

Jul 192011

I’m speaking at Casual Connect tomorrow at 11:30, in the Recital Hall. Topic:

Ten Lessons from Game Design for Games-As-Service

Designers design inside of contexts: the business model, the distribution channel, the platform, the intended audience. Sometimes, these change, and the change profoundly affects how we create games that players like to play and pay for. Few changes have been as profound as the move from games as fire-and-forget products to services played for months if not years. Raph Koster, VP of Creative Design at Playdom, has been working exclusively in games-as-services for over fifteen years, and in this talk he’ll present to you the top ten lessons you need to learn for this environment: What does “service” really mean? What mechanics always work? Why and how do you measure things differently? And what, in the end, makes the games fundamentally different?

I’m only at the conference for one brief day — fly up in the morning, and back in the evening. As usual, I will have slides posted up here after the talk.

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Does a virtual economy affect player retention?

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Jul 012011

This Virtual World Economics blog asks the question “Does a virtual economy affect player retention?

The answer is unquestionably yes.

It is well-established that broken economies will chase away users. Two examples:

  • The economy in Ultima Online was severely broken because of limited resources being hoarded, resulting in items not spawning. Essentially, insufficient liquidity in the market results in player loss.
  • We have also seen that excess liquidity results in player loss; it’s well established that duping, which generally results in an excess of both cash and items in the game, shortens player lifespans as well.

It’s harder to see whether having a robust virtual economy extends player lifespan, since it’s proving a negative. But we have seen that the removal of economic features to simply the economy results in the loss of users; the removal of the merchanting professions in Star Wars Galaxies had a negative impact. We have also seen, via that same game and via Eve, that given the option, a substantial amount of players will choose economic gameplay as their primary means of interacting with the game system.

Economic play is not a tertiary feature in game worlds, unless you consider loot to be a tertiary feature. Loot is reward for labor, albeit in a crudely simulated fashion. You can’t not design economics into your virtual world.

The question the blog post is really asking is about the degree of player-driven economy. Typically, we see a few gradations:

  • A completely managed economy — you buy and sell only to the game
  • A centrally controlled economy where the NPC shops provide price floors and ceilings, but players can transact among themselves; all items are sourced from shops and loot.
  • As above, but items start to be sourced from other players as well via crafting. Typically this is also where you add item damage and decay as well.
  • A “player-driven economy” where items of variable quality are sourced primarily from players rather than from NPCs, and there is minimal price-setting performed by the game engine. This can reach the point of being a complete laissez faire environment.

Once you get to the top tier, there’s additional wrinkles you can add into the mix, the biggest of which is whether you have a perfect information economy or not (WoW’s auction house is global, and basically acts like eBay, flattening prices; original SWG merchants and UO vendors were local, and therefore you could hunt for the best prices). The degree of customizability not just in visuals but in statistics permits varying quality goods, etc. Price fluctuations over time can lead to more sophisticated play tactics such as shorting, arbitrage, and the like.

Economic play is a proven game mechanic of great appeal going back to the earliest games, because it provides varying challenges in a defined system model, susceptible to varying tactics and preparation. In other words, it hits all the items on the “fun checklist.”