Two and a half years ago, I left the security of a stable job at Electronic Arts to cofound a now failed start up with a longtime colleague. Based on our time making free-to-play games at EA, we saw an opportunity to build the business backend as a service for game developers. We were both burnt out from a challenging year at EA after our GM left to cofound a well-funded, all-star game studio. We both had enough savings to cover a year of independence on a tight budget. We both wanted the freedom to pursue side projects and agreed on a Google style 20% personal time plan.
I intended to check two items off my life goals list. I wanted to found a startup and I wanted to make some small, independent games. I had a partner I trusted and a shared vision. He found a technical cofounder from his network to join our team. We hired a lawyer. We incorporated. We pursued advisors, crafted a pitch deck, built a technical foundation and started hunting for investment. We went full Silicon Valley.
As my ultimate role was imagined as developer relations and evangelism, I started attending conferences and giving lectures on free-to-play game design. A strange thing happened. People started asking if I would consult on their games. Keenly aware of my bank balance, I started accepting jobs. I hired a personal lawyer and accountant. I set up a monetization design consultancy. Fearful of going broke and excited by the opportunities presented to me, the dream of making small games faded into the background.
12 months ago on the Jewish New Year, I wrote about our hours old decision to shutter the startup. Now I am celebrating the New Year again. It is a time for personal reflection and new beginnings. As I survived another year on my own, it feels like the perfect time to look back and detail the many lessons I have learned since cutting the corporate purse strings in favor of independence.
Continue reading A playbook for cutting the corporate purse strings
In my last piece, I wrote about the effect (or lack thereof) that spending $100 in IAP in Battlefield 4 had on my experience as a player. The conclusion was that spending money had little meaningful effect on my performance, and I actually enjoyed my play session slightly less for having spent money. I felt as though I did not receive much value in return for my spend, leaving me dissatisfied with the IAP and unlikely to make in-game purchases in future Battlefield entries.
In this piece, I will explain some ways that BF4 could have made me as a player feel more positively about my IAP experience without upsetting the balance of gameplay. Much of my work as a monetization design consultant is about UI/UX design that makes purchasing clear, present and rewarding for the player. For BF4, these are all areas where improvements would make the player feel awesome about spending money on IAP without upsetting the delicate game balance that is the foundation of this multiplayer shooter.
Continue reading Battlefield 4 monetization analysis
Back in March, Battlefield 4 started selling the Ultimate Shortcut Pack, the “ultimate way to level the playing field,” for $50 (now $40). In May, the game began selling bronze, silver and gold Battlepacks, giving players “a shortcut to catch up with their friends on the Battlefield,” at prices ranging from $1 for a single bronze pack to $12 for a set of 5 gold packs. These digital items are just a small part of EA’s digital extra content offerings that generated $794 million in revenue over the past 12 months, according to the most recent quarterly earnings report.
Although my work as a monetization design consultant has primarily been in mobile games, in-game purchase tactics similar to those from the pure F2P realm are undoubtedly becoming a regular part of the premium game business. However, for games like BF4, the desire to generate incremental digital revenue must be measured carefully against game balance and the long-term community happiness at the core of this blockbuster franchise’s annual success.
Continue reading What does $100 buy in Battlefield 4?
I was 9 hours into playing a mobile, free-to-play, build and battle game when I made the decision. I was going to pay to win. Not necessarily because I was loving the game so much as I thought it would be interesting to document. If I spent $100 on in-game currency, how far would my money go? Was it enough to ascend to the highest levels of that week’s PvP tournament leaderboard?
The tournament was only a few hours old. Having spent about 7 minutes fighting PvP battles, I was currently ranked #13,909 on the leaderboard. 7 days later, I will have spent over 6 hours and $60 in energy costs to finish in 15th place.
As a monetization design consultant, I have learned many lessons from games in the build and battle genre whose top contenders are permanent fixtures of app store highest grossing charts. I explain the importance of having a social elder gamer such as the PvP tournament I participated in for those games where it is appropriate. The game I played in this instance is not especially important. There was a city that served as an appointment center. There was a single player, PvE campaign, and what I will call pay-for-participation events including the PvP tournament, a form of guild warfare and a PvE boss battle system. There was energy gating. There was gear fusion. There were prize chests. It could have been one of any number of games, but I will say it is not currently on the top 150 grossing chart in iOS/US.
Continue reading Paying to win
As trumpeted by the recent Activision earnings report, Hearthstone – Heroes of Warcraft is off to an incredible start with 10 million registered users. Alongside a stable of Blizzard titles, Hearthstone’s launch has helped drive record digital revenues within Activision; 34% of all Activision revenue for the recently completed quarter comes from digital sources. As both a childhood Magic: The Gathering enthusiast and a monetization design consultant, Hearthstone’s release on the iPad has been one of my most anticipated F2P games this year. In a market dominated by a small number of genres, flooded with me-too clones, the game promised a welcomed blend of fresh air, quality and nostalgia.
I spent 20 hours with Hearthstone as both a free and paying player to research this analysis. The game is clearly driving a significant amount of revenue for Blizzard. In the top 5 countries for mobile app revenue, Hearthstone has performed strongly on the top grossing charts over the past seven days with average positions per country of 12 (US), 109 (Japan), 1 (South Korea), 12 (UK) and 8 (Germany) according to App Annie. These are ranks any company would be ecstatic over. The purpose of this report is to analyze the game and suggest features that will help turn Hearthstone into the next member of Activision’s billion-dollar club.
Continue reading Hearthstone – Heroes of Warcraft monetization analysis
On the face of it, one would expect The Collectables to make a big splash on the iOS marketplace. A high-end visual treat from proven developers Crytek built in partnership with mobile powerhouse DeNA. A core-gamer targeting, squad based RTS with a collectable card meta-structure. A feature by Apple upon release. These all sound like the ingredients for success. Yet at the time of writing, the game has failed to crack the top 200 grossing for iPhone or iPad in the US. This analysis seeks to identify issues with the design of The Collectables that contribute to its weak monetization and propose solutions to issues identified.
This analysis is based on 4 hours of play of The Collectables on iPad, spread out over two days. As the game uses a structure of rewarding the player for repeat wins on a level with progressive rewards, I played each level 5 times to get the maximum reward before moving on to the next. I spent my gold bar premium currency only at the very end of my 4 hour session, and only to see what the experience was like. As a player, I did not feel compulsion or need to buy additional card packs during my session.
Continue reading The Collectables monetization analysis
On the second day of GDC, I presented Escaping the Indie Shame Spiral as part of the Indie Soapbox session at the IGS. I wanted to expand on the information I presented it in the talk and share it beyond those developers who could afford to attend GDC.
Defining the Indie Shame Spiral
When I left EA after a 4 year stint at the company I had two goals. One was to found a start-up and the other to finally build and release some of the art game concepts I had been mentally developing for years. The start-up goal was realized, but after a year and half we shuttered our doors after failing to secure funding via the venture ecosystem or Kickstarter. My indie game aspirations quickly fell by the wayside as opportunities to consult presented themselves. I have been lucky enough to build a business as a monetization design consultant and my initial savings have been largely untouched thanks to freelance work over the past two years. I have contributed to a lot of games and have traveled the world to speak at conferences on the topic of F2P design. Yet the longer I go without filling my dream of completing one of my art games, the more regret I feel.
Continue reading Escaping the indie shame spiral
This article originally appeared on GamesIndustry.biz.
I’m 28 minutes into my 4th ever match of League of Legends when it happens. Another player lets me know that I “is noob” and “suck ballz.” Post game, the player antagonizes the chat room saying we are “so fricken bad” and the “worst team ever”. That’s when TwoBigButts comes to our defense, letting the abusive player know they were not so great either and that they should go back to Heroes of Newerth because “we don’t need more toxic players.”
And I was terrible that round. I had 1 kill, 11 deaths and 8 assists in a 40 minute match ending in a miserable defeat. I was roughly 5 hours into learning League of Legends as a complete neophyte to MOBAs and I experienced the oft mentioned toxicity firsthand.
I played 6 more matches and experienced one more act of toxicity. Despite 0 kills, 9 deaths and 13 assists in my 9th game I was not the target of the abusive behavior. One player on my team told another “go kill yourself.” Other than playing against a player named TittyQueef, the toxicity experienced in my first time user experience (FTUE) was much lighter than I was expecting when I started this project.
Continue reading Maturity and immaturity in League of Legends
EA is in a unique position as games publisher with a deep history. Between internally created games and a long history of acquisitions including Origin, Bullfrog, Maxis, Westwood, DICE, BioWare/Pandemic, Mythic and Criterion (just to name a few), the company holds the reins on any number of classic game brands. Like few competitors, any time EA wishes to develop a new game for a given genre or platform, there exists at minimum one IP that can be leveraged as opposed to developing a new brand. Browser-based strategy MMO? Games have been made using both Ultima and Command & Conquer settings. Casual city building game? Sim City is a natural choice, but so are Populous, Theme Park and Theme Hospital. Mobile based infinite runner? Mirror’s Edge, SSX and even Burnout would get the job done. Any time a new category breaks and EA feels the desire to be competitive, there is a reasonable case to be made for taking an existing brand and using it to build hype and awareness in the ever heightening competition for player’s attention and dollars.
EA is the company the internet loves to hate. It is the two time winner of Consumerist’s Worst Company In America. It has made its share of public mistakes as well as releasing its share of incredible games. Over the years, the company has used its stable of intellectual properties in a variety of ways. Although there is always some backlash, the recent release of Dungeon Keeper on iOS and Android has been met with an unprecedented wave of hatred.
Continue reading The demon driving Dungeon Keeper backlash
This article was originally published on Kotaku.
As another Steam Holiday Sale comes to a close, I have spent roughly $100 to purchase 22 games. In the past 2 months I have picked up 3 Humble Bundles. Not a month ago I spent around $50 on 11 games in the Steam Fall Sale. By the time the next Steam Holiday Sale rolls into town I will be lucky if I have played half of these games. I have a problem. I am a Compulsive Collector. And after 1,400 gamers took my recent survey on their game-buying habits, I know that I am not alone.
Continue reading The Perpetual Sale