Category Archives: Game Business

The free-to-play opportunity in VR

Don’t feel like reading? Watch this video analysis instead

CES 2015 has come to a close and one of the big stories as it relates to gaming is VR. Oculus Rift had a huge presence, Razer and friends announced the Open Source VR ecosystem and headset, Samsung showed off Milk VR and we all had a good laugh about 3Dhead’s taughted Oculus Killer.
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The messy interplay between Steam and uPlay in Assassin’s Creed: Unity


Don’t feel like reading? Enjoy this analysis video of the AC: Unity checkout flow

In many ways we are in a golden age of PC gaming. Nowhere has this been clearer to me than the ease with which I turned down current gen Black Friday console deals. Most of the games I want to play are on PC. There are platform exclusives I am eager to play, but no one system has a critical mass of exclusive titles that demand a purchase. With my overflowing backlog of games purchased in endless sales and bundles and most multiplatform games being available day one on PC, there has never been a better time to be a PC gamer. However, with the dominance of digital distribution has also come a glut of digital platforms.

Steam, Origin, uPlay and Desura are all installed on my gaming rig. Soon GoG’s Galaxy will make my backlog of classics much less of a library and more of an active collection. Of these platforms, 3 have a clear place in the world. Steam is my primary gaming platform. GoG is a repository of classics. Desura is home to all the Humble Bundle games that have not made their way through Greenlight.
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Paying to win – guild vs guild events

For those mobile games angling to dominate the top grossing charts, few features are more important than a limited time event system. For instance, in August of 2013, Gree released an infographic for hit game Modern War trumpeting a 600% increase in average daily revenue when events are running. Further, the infographic states that the game makes as much as $2.3 million during an event weekend and, at the time, the game was making its highest revenue to date two years after launch thanks to events.

Whether running the epic, 48 day Clash of Clones event in Simpsons Tapped Out or a 24 hour Faction vs Faction flash event in Modern War, limited time events are the key to long term retention and monetization among many of the app store’s top games. As a monetization design consultant, one of the critical features I most commonly point out as missing from design documents or beta builds is some form of social elder game. Social, event based elder games are something many developers know they need, but have very little experience designing, let alone participating in as a player or spender.

I only play pokemon
Last month, I wrote about what it was like to spend $100 climbing the leaderboard in a weekly PvP event in a fairly standard mid-core game. This month, I wanted to explore what it is like to be a high value player participating in a limited time Guild vs Guild (GvG) event. In the same game I had already spent $100 and many hours grinding away in, I left my starter guild and found a more competitive team with active, higher level players. I participated in a 3 day event as a free player, bought $200 in currency and participated in the next 3 day event as a high value player. As not all game developers can make this sort of time and dollar investment into event participation, I thought this article would be a valuable resource for those looking to implement a time-limited event system in their game. Continue reading Paying to win – guild vs guild events

A playbook for cutting the corporate purse strings

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.
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Battlefield 4 monetization analysis

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.
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Hearthstone – Heroes of Warcraft monetization analysis

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.
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The Collectables 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.
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Maturity and immaturity in League of Legends

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.

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The demon driving Dungeon Keeper backlash

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.

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The Perpetual Sale

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.

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