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The Power of Relativity

May 10th, 2013 Comments off

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

This article was originally published in Game Developer Magazine. It was the seventh in a series of business columns that I am writing for GDM.

One of the most frustrating things a game developer will ever hear is “that [PERCEIVED GENRE] game isn’t worth [PRICE]—I can get [OTHER GAME] for [LOWER PRICE].”

It’s frustrating for a whole bunch of reasons. Your game might not be very similar to the games to which it is being compared, or might offer more content or replayability. Heck, you might simply think your game is “better” and deserves a higher price. But it doesn’t matter. The comparisons are being made and now you’re getting 2-star reviews calling your game good but your company “greedy.”

If that sounds familiar, congratulations: You are part of the very large and growing club of developers who underestimated the power of relativity. No, not E=MC2. I’m talking about the fundamental human tendency to compare everything in our lives to something else we’re familiar with. An organic apple seems ludicrously overpriced to you at $1.99 because conventional apples sell for $0.79, but that same apple would have seemed cheap if your grocery store only carried the organic variety and if organic mangos appeared nearby for $5.99 each. It’s all relative.

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Avoiding Tunnel Vision

April 13th, 2013 Comments off

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

This article was originally published in Game Developer Magazine. It was the sixth in a series of business columns that I am writing for GDM.

Back when I worked for Xbox LIVE, I frequently commented on the dangers of what I called “developer tunnel vision.” Nearly all of the devs I spoke with were not paying attention to a diverse set of industry news sources. What’s more, they were focused on at most couple of similar platforms, and were ignoring the rest of the market. (Back then, everyone was talking about XBLA/PSN; today it’s Steam/iOS; tomorrow it will be something else.)

At the time, this seemed completely insane to me—even suicidal. Didn’t these devs understand how quickly things change in our industry? How quickly their current efforts could be rendered irrelevant by shifts in the marketplace, or by strategy shifts made by the platforms? Developer tunnel vision…it was so obviously reckless and short-sighted!

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Your First F2P Game: Where You Will Go Wrong

August 21st, 2012 Comments off

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

A video of my 2012 Casual Connect lecture is now freely available online. TY to Casual Connect for sharing it!

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The Magic of F2P

July 17th, 2012 Comments off

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

This article was originally published in Game Developer Magazine. It was the fifth in a series of business columns that I am writing for GDM.

The first successful f2p games — aka “games whose primary revenue source were in-game purchases” — hit the market over a decade ago. Now they’re everywhere. They account for 8 of the top 10 grossing games on iOS as I write this. Rumor has it that all the major consoles will support f2p games in the next generation. Even our industry’s most prominent, respected developers (i.e. Popcap, Valve, etc) have begun to embrace the model.

And yet there are still many game developers in the West who have mixed feelings about f2p, worrying that it is “evil” or that it perverts gameplay. But f2p is just a tool, and like any other powerful tool it can be used to create beautiful things or it can be used to create ugly things.

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The Complexities of Revenue Sharing

April 15th, 2012 Comments off

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

This article was originally published in Game Developer Magazine. It was the fourth in a series of business columns that I am writing for GDM.

Some lessons are harder to learn than others. One of the toughest lessons you may ever learn is that granting someone a generous share of the revenue from your game in exchange for a service (assistance with development; publishing; etc) does not mean that you can assume your incentives are properly aligned.

Say that you give a publisher 50% of the revenue from your game in order to promote the game, to handle customer service, etc. Or perhaps you’ve agreed to develop a game in tandem with a few other individuals and split the future revenue equally. In either case, you’re making an important assumption: that a significant percentage of future profits will ensure that all parties will do their “best” to make the game a success. And sometimes, that’s exactly what happens. But not always, unfortunately.

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Bucking convention with RotMG

February 8th, 2012 Comments off

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

This article was originally published in Game Developer Magazine. It was the third in a series of business columns that I am writing for GDM.

What would the typical publishing executive do if someone came to them and said, “We’ve taken open source, 8-bit art and created a f2p, nethack-inspired MMO with permadeath. You can attain the maximum character level in just 30 minutes of play. The game currently has no means of generating revenue and can only accommodate 60 concurrent players per server. Will you work with us on it?”

That’s essentially the question posed to Spry Fox one year ago by Alex and Rob, co-creators of Wild Shadow Studios, when they presented us with an early build of Realm of the Mad God (RotMG). And I can guess what others might have said to them, because when we subsequently described the project to contacts of ours, the reaction was inevitably one of skepticism. Permadeath? In 2011? How the heck are you going to retain users? And surely you mean 600 concurrent players per server, not 60?!

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Characteristics of high-performing teams

July 11th, 2011 Comments off

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

This article was originally published in Game Developer Magazine. It was the second in a series of business columns that I am writing for GDM.

Spry Fox currently has several original f2p games in development, not including ports of our existing IP. Each game is being produced by wholly separate teams that are geographically dispersed, using different technologies and tools, under different contractual arrangements. And each team is compensated entirely via their future royalty; none are being paid cash in advance.

While we won’t know for a while to come whether our development strategy has been wise or flawed, we’ve already learned a great deal about the ideal composition of small, geographically-dispersed development teams. Some of our active teams have exceeded our expectations in terms of game quality and development time, while some are significantly behind where we expected them to be by now. A few of the characteristics shared (or not) by the high-performing and slower groups may obvious to you, and some may surprise you:

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A serious attempt at serious gaming

April 26th, 2011 Comments off

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

I’m pleased to share the news that Microsoft’s Ribbon Hero 2 is now freely available to all users of MS Office 2007 and 2010. If you have any interest whatsoever in the educational power of games or business-related uses of games, you absolutely must check this out.

Danc and I had the pleasure of assisting in the development of RH2, which improves on its predecessor in a variety of ways, including: the addition of a narrative, a more polished feedback system, substantially more interesting and creative challenges, and a tighter, more streamlined activity loop in general. Each of these changes are notable in and of themselves; together, they represent a remarkably evolved and polished gameplay experience. (See Danc’s just-published thoughts on the design.)

Most serious gaming projects fail because the organizations behind them lack the will to iterate on, test and polish their prototypes as needed. Microsoft, on the other hand, has been working on the Ribbon Hero franchise (can we call it a franchise now?) for approximately two years. The development team behind Ribbon Hero has approached the daunting challenge of “making it fun to learn Office” with humility and persistence. Its members have attended GDC, studied game design, consulted with expert designers, and playtested/polished the heck out of this game. Most importantly, they have developed skills which represent a significant competitive advantage to Microsoft. Two years may sound like a long time, but once you’ve figured out how to make learning fun, there are an unlimited number of ways in which you can dramatically improve the fortunes of your business.

So here’s to Ribbon Hero 2! May it be the first of many such educational experiences to emerge from Microsoft.

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Acquisition vs. Innovation

April 11th, 2011 Comments off

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

This article was originally published in Game Developer Magazine. It was the first in a series of business columns that I am writing for GDM.

Ask anyone over the age of 30 how many times they’ve had to “learn something the hard way.” Most people can’t count that high. Businesses are just like people in this regard: they need to experiment in order to gather the data that will enable executives to make informed decisions. And experimenting often means failing.

Despite this, most game publishers and developers are profoundly averse to experimentation and risk. “Little” mistakes, like failed prototypes, are not embraced. “Big” mistakes, like failed attempts to capitalize on new markets, are assiduously avoided until those new markets “prove” themselves, by which point it is deemed necessary to spend a fortune acquiring a successful competitor.

Dan Ariely, the author of “Predictably Irrational”, has noted that there’s plenty of research to explain this behavior. In his own words: “Experiments require short-term losses for long-term gains. Companies (and people) are notoriously bad at making those trade-offs.” Put another way: short-term risk aversion is a major psychological handicap for businesses… one worth recognizing and confronting.

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Who is a bad customer?

January 17th, 2011 Comments off

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

For a long while now, the video game industry has had a very simplistic definition of a “good customer” and a “bad customer.” A good customer is someone who pays you $60 for your game (and better yet, pre-orders it.) A bad customer is someone who buys a used copy of your game or worse, pirates it. The problem is, this worldview ignores a variety of important factors and doesn’t translate very well to the digital markets that most indies are focused on.

Tell me which of these people is the best customer:

  • Customer A: pays 99 cents for a copy of your game immediately after launch, gives it a 1-star rating for some trivial reason and deletes it forever.
  • Customer B: pays 99 cents for a copy of your game, gives it a 5-star rating and even tweets regularly about it, but is such a toxic presence in the forums and/or in-game that she drives other customers away.
  • Customer C: pays 99 cents for a copy of your game and enjoys it, but never rates it and does nothing to promote it.
  • Customer D: pirates your game and regularly tweets about how awesome it is to her hundreds of followers. She also eagerly and politely answers the questions of newbies who visit your forums and happily beta tests your new games.

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