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Almost Lucid

October 24th, 2009 Comments off

Cross-posted from David’s blog, Game Tycoon.

Anyone developing an original IP for XBLA, PSN or Wiiware should take note of LucasArts’ Lucidity. Why should you take note? Because Lucidity is a truly delightful game that unfortunately showcases two of the most common “big mistakes” made by developers and publishers on XBLA. If the leaderboards are any indication, Lucidity’s sales are suffering as a result.

First, it’s worth recognizing how many things Lucidity gets right. It is beautiful, distinctive, and offers an original gameplay mechanic that actually works. Many game developers will never manage to create something that meets all three of those criteria in their entire careers. And many developers, with such a game on their hands, might assume that their success is all but assured.

There’s just two problems. If you’ve been reading this blog for any significant period of time, you already know one of those problems: insufficient marketing. Lucidity was unveiled mere weeks before it was released. No time to build consumer awareness. No time to woo the press. Nothin’.

The other problem is the game’s unforgiving design. (I won’t say the game’s “difficulty”, as something can be difficult without being unforgiving.) Lucidity lacks a checkpoint system, and that combined with a few other design issues causes the game to quickly become a punishing experience. This is apparent to players even in the demo.

It’s no accident that most modern platformers are more forgiving than their ancestors. While many XBLA and PSN users enjoy a stiff challenge, their patience is ultimately limited. Don’t let the success of a few insanely challenging retro titles fool you — those games have generally succeeded because of nostalgia, not because today’s gamer longs for the relentless butt-whooping of old.

1) Come up with a meaningful value proposition for your game. 2) Craft a gameplay experience that emphasizes that value proposition and that accommodates as many players in your target demo as possible. The latter can almost always be accomplished without noticeably diluting the gameplay experience. 3) *Repeatedly* communicate the value proposition far in advance of your game’s launch. –> These are the fundamental tricks of our trade.

PS. A year ago I wrote an article on game difficulty that is relevant to this post. The comments on that post were solid, too.

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DD Summit Video

October 19th, 2009 Comments off

Cross-posted from David’s blog, Game Tycoon.

Film Victoria was kind enough to publicly share the video of my keynote at the Digital Distribution Summit in Melbourne. You can find it here.

Quick summary: I focus mainly on what it takes to successfully pitch your XBLA/PSN/Wiiware/Steam game to a publisher or platform-holder. If you haven’t already endured too many talks on this subject, I think you’ll enjoy the video. I’ve gotten an unusually large amount of good feedback about it!

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, when I ask “are you all right?” in the first few minutes of the talk, it’s because some poor guy fell on his face at the back of the auditorium. I, ummm, probably should have let someone else — someone NOT delivering a keynote at the time — ask after him.  :-}

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A Cautionary Tale

September 9th, 2009 Comments off

Cross-posted from David’s blog, Game Tycoon.

If you are developing an original IP for XBLA or PSN, or hope to develop one someday, this post is for you.

Given the sales estimates being reported by Gamasutra (see these helpful examples), given what I’ve heard from individual developers as of late, and given the relative strength of established IP on the platform to date, I estimate that in general, no more than nine truly original IP-based games will succeed in any given year on XBLA. This is obviously a rough guesstimate at best; there is certainly the possibility that you will see more (or less) hit original-IP based titles in any given year. But even if I’m off by a few, you’ll see shortly that it doesn’t matter for the purposes of this post.

Now assume that approximately four (or more) of those original IPs will be successful partially because they are high quality, but partially because they are king-made by Microsoft. They might be included in the annual Summer of Arcade promotion. They might support a new 360/LIVE platform feature and be showered with tremendous dashboard and press exposure. They might be internally developed by Microsoft Game Studios. And the list goes on… (I would have included winning the Dream Build Play competition, but it seems like Microsoft is now keeping the winners in the Indie Games Channel.)

Now assume your original IP is not king-made. Darn!

You’ve got approximately five chances left to turn a serious profit on your XBLA game. You’ve worked endless hours and paid yourself peanuts, all in the name of making a great game. You’ve taken the time to create a decent demo experience. Still, it feels like you’re forgetting something… but what could it be? Frustrated, you decide to take a night off and have some fun at PAX. But when you walk through the main entrance, it hits you:

Twisted Pixel, showing off The Maw, Splosion Man, and their upcoming title, Comic Jumper Slick Entertainment, showing off upcoming title, Scrap Metal
Ankama Games, giving private demos of upcoming title, Islands of Wakfu Klei, showing off the upcoming title, Shank

You spent so much time developing your baby that you forgot to get out there and talk about it… but the competition didn’t! There were at least six different XBLA development shops parked right by the main entrance! Handing out toys. Showcasing their games. Kissing hands and shaking babies. (Or is it the reverse? You’re so distraught that you can’t remember!) And for many, this isn’t their first conference. The Behemoth… what conference do they not go to? And Twisted Pixel… those wacky guys never cease to charm the public with their adorable Maw plushies.

You play a few demos and grudgingly admit that these guys are making pretty decent games, too. A pit forms in your stomach as you realize that you might be screwed. But hey, that won’t happen. Marketing is bullshit, right? Quality always wins, Right?

Right.

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The Hits Get Bigger

August 11th, 2009 Comments off

Cross-posted from David’s blog, Game Tycoon.

I’ve been meaning to post a followup to my Develop keynote on digital distribution, and was reminded to do so by Raph, who lately has been speaking his mind about the realities of the Long Tail (good stuff — worth a read.) Raph also highlighted a report that Zynga is spending millions of dollars advertising its games and wisely predicted that new digital ecosystems will eventually be “much more hit-driven” as marketing and development budgets escalate. Raph’s right, as he frequently is, but I have one minor correction to make: the new digital ecosystems already are remarkably hit-driven! Put more bluntly: the people who thought the Long Tail would promise the end of hit-driven market dynamics were completely wrong (both about the nature of digital distribution and about the companies that digital distribution benefits.)

With rare exception (see my comments on niche markets at the end of this article) the Long Tail primarily benefits platform holders and the creators of hit content, not the broader creative community. Of course, I’m talking about financial benefit here; one could easily argue that the social benefits of digital distribution touch a far greater number of creators and consumers, and the social benefits are what make digital distribution truly wonderful. But that’s a story for another blog post.

It turns out that the hits get *bigger*

As many prominent journalists, analysts and scholars have recently argued, it turns out that hits are no less important in the new Long Tail world. Lee Gomes noted in the Wall Street Journal that in 2006, Amazon.com still derived 75% of its book sales from just 2.7% of its titles. True, 2.7% of 3.7 million books is nearly 100 thousand books — a great deal more than the total offered by any brick and mortar store — but that doesn’t change the financial situation for the authors of the other 3.6 million! Gomes also noted that, wherever he looked, hits remained vitally important to a given ecosystem (or in his words, “iTunes looks like Billboard, not some paradise of niches.”) And research by Anita Elberse, a professor at Harvard Business School, has shown that in some “Long Tail markets,” success has begun to concentrate in progressively fewer best-selling titles, and worse, that independent artists have actually lost share to major labels. And via Raph, another recent research study with similar findings: of the 13m songs for sale online last year, 10m never found a single buyer, and 80% of all revenue was generated by less than half of one percent (.004) of all songs.

Read more…

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Mending Broken Promises

June 20th, 2009 Comments off

Cross-posted from David’s blog, Game Tycoon.

The Wii is a funny thing. When it comes up in conversation, half the time I find myself arguing with people who claim it’s just a fad. The other half the time, I’m arguing with people who seem to think that Nintendo is beyond reproach or that anyone who criticizes the Wii simply can’t see past their own hardcore biases.

I think the fundamental issue at play is far more subtle than “the Wii is a fad” vs. “hardcore gamers don’t get it.” You can’t rationally argue against Nintendo’s success at this point… too many units of the Wii and games like Wii Fit have been sold to call this a fad. And you can’t deny that the Wii was a strategically brilliant move on Nintendo’s part. At the same time, it’s troubling to see how many people — casual OR hardcore — are allowing their Wii to collect dust. Why is that the case?

Read more…

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It’s Alive…

April 24th, 2009 Comments off

Welcome to the new website of Fuzbi LLC. There’s not much to see here yet, but that will change eventually. Meanwhile, feel free to send a note via the contact form, below:

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