Friday, November 28, 2008

Good News for the Games Industry Week: Black Friday Edition

Below is a list of the top 10 most searched-for consumer electronics in the UK courtesy of Hitwise.

Eight of 10 are gaming platforms, one is a gaming peripheral (Wii Fit), and one is the iPod Nano. Yes, the iPod plays games and so does the Nokia N96.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just wanted to give thanks that I'm in an awesome industry with fantastic people. And in particular the great friends I've made since I started in this biz.

Note: image found on a random Myspace page. I think it's hilarious. Must be an L-Tryptophan overdose.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Good News for the Games Industry Week: Celebrity Edition

In this weekend's New York Times Magazine, Jennifer Aniston was asked about Facebook.

Here's her response:

It's not for me. I'd be opening myself up too much. I don't want to sound like a computer innocent - I've looked at things, of course....And I like to play Scrabble. And poker. I discovered Wii this weekend. I'm a late bloomer.
Think about it this way. Female, early 40s. Plays online social games (poker, Scrabble), though not on Facebook. Considers herself behind the curve because she just discovered the Wii.

Sounds to me like games are the new mainstream. (Thanks, Wii!) I mean think about it, Rachel from Friends plays videogames. Twenty bucks says Sarah Jessica Parker has played a set of Wii Tennis.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Good News for the Games Industry Week: UK Edition

According to UK market research firm Verdict, videogames sales will outpace music and video sales in the UK this year. Sales of videogames is expected to grow 42%, to $7.5 billion, while sales of music and video combined will total $7.06 billion. (Thanks Digital Media Wire!)

Big trend: videogames sales have doubled over the past five years. videogames are bigger than music and video combined.

There are some nuances here to extract.

1. Those projections include consoles sales. However, according the Entertainment Retailers Association, even taking that into account, videogames will still surpass video sales.

2. These projections only account for retail sales, so revenue from online games subscriptions and microtransactions are not counted.

Videogames are big people, aren't you glad you chose the right industry to be in during a recession. :)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Good News for the Games Industry Week: Retail Edition

A couple weeks ago I highlighted some bad financial reports from EA and THQ. Since then I've seen a few stories that cast a positive light. This week I'll highlight some of the positive trends. Today's post features insights in the traditional retail games sector courtesy of Acitivision most recent earnings call.

1. Activision projecting 2.2 billion in revenue for 4th quarter. Largely on the back of three franchises, World of Warcraft, Guitar Hero, and Call of Duty.

Here's a quote from their earnings call where Activision discusses their view of the holiday season in light of the current economic conditions (interesting bits bolded by me):

First, retailers are continuing to increase shelf-space allocated to the videogame sector, as games begin to take a larger share of consumer spending versus other forms of entertainment, and are viewed as a growth driver. Over the past year, global retailers have allocated up to 40% more in-store space to the videogame category at the expense of other categories.

Most of this increase has been dedicated to the music genre and Activision Blizzard of course is the largest beneficiary of the increase, given our strong market share in this category.

Second, we’ve all heard that foot traffic at retail is down but actually, the increased share of store in videogames appears to be mitigating this risk. Our survey samples at key retailers suggest that in September and October, while other categories were challenged, videogame software and hardware showed sell-through growth in the high-single-digits, helping to validate our market expectations.

And third, the cost per hour of entertainment of videogames provides a great return on investment for the consumer as they seek value. To illustrate this, last month NPD conducted a holiday shopping survey that found for most shopping categories, consumers’ intent to purchase were flat or slightly lower than in 2007. The most notable exception again was videogaming systems and games, where consumers’ intent to purchase rose seven points over the prior year, putting videogames in the top five holiday purchases for the first time ever.

With respect to retailer purchasing behavior, what we have heard is that retailers are ordering less up-front and are focusing on chasing the winners, and they are being more cautious with their open-to-buy dollars on second-tier titles. We do see some of this but much less so with top-performing titles where expectations remain high.

What this means is that publishers with top-selling titles will likely benefit disproportionately this holiday quarter. For the last three holiday seasons, on average 90% of the top 10 titles were based on proven properties and we couldn’t be better positioned with our strong lineup of proven properties like Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, James Bond, and Madagascar.

So to summarize, proven franchises win (shocker). Music games are growing the market (awesome). People are going to be buying videogames systems this year despite the bad economy (yay!).

How does this affect social games? Not at all directly. Social games aren't exposed to the retail sector. However, the fact that retailers are devoting more shelf space to digital games is a pretty strong indicator that games are becoming more mass-market. Excellent news for social games which offer the lowest friction vector of adoption by non-gamers (free, invited by friends, low tech requirement).

Friday, November 21, 2008

EA Shuts Down Social Games Division, EA Blueprint

According to Edge Online, as part of its recent cuts, EA has shut down EA Blueprint.

From what I've read, EA Blueprint was set up to publish games on top of social networks, or as we like to call them, social games.

In its time, EA Blueprint released a Facebook version of Smarty Pants, developed by Context Optional, the apps-for hire company. It currently has a respectable 40,000 monthly users. For perspective, the cut-off for a hit game on Facebook is 1 million monthly users.

I'm guessing that EA will opt to focus on the other new games platform, the iPhone. It's already seeing success there, unsuprising since the iPhone is much closer to the traditional retail game environment to which larger players are accustomed.

Here's the big picture.

I learned recently from a brilliant guy that when companies fail to build something internally they usually opt to acquire a company with whom they have an existing relationship.

Social games are going to be huge. Eventually, EA is going to need to acquire a large social games company. They're going to want to either acquire the #1 or #2 player in the space, because that what big acquirers tend to do. Right now, that's Zynga and Playfish. I don't see anyone else challenging either company's dominance at the moment, but anything could happen. If nothing changes in the next 18-24 months, when EA is ready to acquire, I think they'll be TRYING to buy Zynga. Why? Cuz Bing Gordon, former Chief Creative Officer of EA is on Zynga's board and a key adviser. Relationships matter.

Note: while SGN is still a player, they've opted to turn their focus on iPhone games , a space in which EA is already competitive. An acquisition of SGN would be primarily to expand EA's mobile games portfolio - feels unlikely at the moment.

Let me know if I'm crazy or overlooking something in the comments.

UPDATE: Awesome Comments Aplenty. Lots of insight. Read them.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Virtual Goods Summit 2008 Video Now Available.

I'm sure many of my out of town readers missed the Virtual Goods Summit 2008 in San Francisco a month or so ago. I was there and missed most of the sessions due to intensely interesting lobby convos. So I suggest we both watch them. Believe me, no matter what it'll be more entertaining then this season of Heroes.

Check out the Virtual Goods Summit videos here.

And my notes from the summit (previously published) here.

BTW, just found out my parents finally discovered that I have a blog (I blame Google).

Hi Mom! Hi Dad!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Play Conference: Coverage of the Games Panel

A special treat today, I actually liveblogged (kinda) the Level Up: What's Next for Gaming? session at the >Play conference on Saturday. It's not word for word, because frankly some discussion points weren't interesting enough for me to write down. You'll notice that Mitch Lasky is quoted a lot. It's basically because I developed a mancrush on him as the session went on. You'll see why. What follows is a best-of. Enjoy.

Moderator: Dean Takahashi - Lead Writer on Digital Media, Venturebeat


Rajat Paharia - Bunchball - Founder, CEO

Frederic Deschamp - Trion - Marketing Guy

Mitch Lasky - Benchmark Capital - General Partner

Manuel Bronstein - Microsoft Interactive Entertainment Business - Director, Xbox LIVE Primetime

Kevin Bruner - Telltale Games - CTO, Co-founder

Q: Where is innovation happening in games?

Bronstein - integration between media, i.e. game show on TV but contestants can play along via Xbox.

Lasky. Distribution. Retail model decline. Service likes Steam from Valve.

Paharia. Gameification - applying game mechanics to other types of online experiences.

Note: Paharia did not use the term gameification. It's a term I coined to describe what he was speaking about.

Deschamp. Dynamic content. Rather than static content like in World of Warcraft. Imagine an online world that changed while the player was present.

Bruner. Distribution. Internet makes it possible for small teams to thrive.

Q. Why is there so much investment in game right now?

Lasky. Because the internet has changed distribution. Games can now scale like a web service.

Bruner. Internet allows experiments impossible in retail.

Lasky. Also, because VCs are lemmings. World of Warcraft proved you can make a billion dollar business. VCs making me-too investments to be next Warcraft. Further example: $200 million was invested in mobile games between 1999-2004. In the six months after JAMDAT (Lasky's mobile content company) filed to go public, $250 million was invested in the space.

Lasky. Casual games is an overfunded space.

Q. Should VCs invest in content businesses?

Bronstein. Better tools will make content cheaper to make and less risky. At some point, 50,000 units sold will be a viable business. (My note: but not one VC's would be interested in investing in.)

Q. UGC games. Will they be big or not?

Lasky. Making a game is hard. Making a video is easy. Anyone will a camcorder can make a video or their dog rolling over. Games will not be democratized like video. Games are a fascist business. You need millions of Paul Preece (creator of Desktop Tower Defense - best Flash game ever) to have a Youtube of games.

(Note: I couldn't agree more. Companies focused on UGC tools are barking up the wrong tree.)

Bronstein. UGC doesn't have to be full games. Can be avatars, levels, recordings of gameplay, i.e. Halo videos.

Takahashi. It's interesting to me that XNA toolkit (to create games for xbox live arcade) has been downloaded over a million times.

Takahashi. 22,000 questions answered voluntarily by one user on dell's support site so he could earn a badge. (BT: the power of gameification, baby!)

Q.Why does innovation come from startups rather than big companies?

Lasky: When the budget for a game hit around $10-15 million, publishers require that developers either use existing game engines (same gameplay) or existing franchise (with new gameplay).

Bronstein. Big companies do innovate. Some bets too expensive for small comapnies. Example: only Nintendo could have created a system based around the Wii mote.

Lasky. Historically, most money lost in the games industry on failed peripherals. Exceptions: steering wheels, yokes (for flight simulators). Only succeed when tied to specific content.

Lasky: 16% of console games sales from Rockband or Guitar Hero.

Bruner: Establishment can't react to paradign shifts. Example. Broadcast TV lost to cable.

Lasky: EA and Activision will become little more than hedge funds.

Lasky: EA and Activision do not innovate. I worked at EA as an executive. EA does not innovate.

Bruner: NPD sales report only show one side of the games industry.

Q. Games: Silicon Valley vs. the World?

Lasky. Gaming is a monoculture. Terminator poster and heavy metal in game dev studio whether in Palo Alto or Vietnam. (BT: perhaps that's why traditional game are so focused on teenage boys. It's made by men in prolonged adolescence.)


Takahashi. Good November for games sale will lead to more investment.

Lasky. Xmas will be terrible. Talked to retailers. Cutting games orders by 30-40%.

Deschamp. Free 2 play biz model will be good fro Europe and Asia.

Audience Question: Mobile games. How do you get through the noise to the consumer?

Lasky. Needs to be free.

Takahashi. Don't rating solve the problem of finding good content?

Bronstein. Quality matters. Most expensive XBLA games often sell most units. Lack of price sensitivity.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Monetization: How Much Can I Make From Advertising With My Facebook App?

Another question I get from developers all the time: how much money can I make on Facebook?

Shocking, I know that some people care about money when it comes to Facebook apps. <cynicism>Wait...I think that's all most developers care about. </cynicism>

At the moment, there's only one publicly traded app developer, SNAP Interactive. <cynicism>Keep your fingers Max Levchin (Slide), it'll happen for you too one day, I'm sure of it!</cynicism>

Fortunately for us, SNAP Interactive has to publish their revenues, which currently comes exclusively from advertising on the dating apps on Facebook. Those apps: Are You Interested? (#1 dating app on Facebook), Meet New People, and Flirt With Me.

Here's the numbers from the SEC filing:

Revenue increased from $286 for the six months ended June 30, 2007 to $1,053,159 for the six months ended June 30, 2008, an increase of $1,052,873.
That's right, zero to a million in revenue in one year. Not bad. Especially, if you look at the expense side.
Operating Expenses for the six months ended June 30, 2008 increased to $717,349 from $277,634 for the six months ended June 30, 2007, representing an increase of $439,715.
That's ~$300,000 in profit. A 30% profit margin. And it looks like that doesn't include the founder's salary. Nice.

Hosting costs, <cynicism>for all you STILL writing business plans...poor bastards</cynicism>are as follows:
Hosting Expense for the six months ended June 30, 2008 increased to $87,512 from $0, representing an increase of $87,512. These increases are attributable to the need for substantial hosting infrastructure and server capacity to handle the high volume of traffic that our applications receive. Our need for a customized hosting solution was minimal at this time last year.
Read the rest of their filing here. Trust me, if you haven't learned to enjoy reading SEC filings yet, you will.

By the way, SNAP Interactive's money comes from ad revenue. The real money is in virtual goods.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Super Awesome Resource For Games Industry Info

David Perry, super awesome developer and games industry thought leader, and if you ask me the most honest panelist ever, has a great site compiling data on the games industry.

Here's some highlights:

A list of every known MMO out there. Around 650 MMOs and counting.

A list of all games industry acquisitions and investments.

And the venerable games industry map, which shows the location of 1000+ game development studios worldwide.

It's fueled by users, so if you notice some missing info, submit it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Zynga's Live Poker Bridges the Gap Between Mobile and Social

I'm excited. It doesn't happen much any more, perhaps I've been in the social gaming space for too long to be impressed by the new entrants rehashing the same game mechanics over and over again. And for business models, we've settled into virtual currency sales via CPA offers from companies like Offerpal and Superrewards for monetization.

Since I got into social games about two years ago, my vision has always been this:

Play. Anywhere.

It's what I was trying to do with my failed company, and to me, it's still the greatest opportunity for social gaming.

Imagine being able to play a game with a friend while you're waiting in line at McDonalds and they're halfway across the country sitting on their parent's couch with their laptop.

Think about this: tens of millions of people play social games every day. They all have mobile phones. It's going to be huge market.

And Zynga is going to be the first company to really capitalize on it.

Today, Zynga released Live Poker, which is the first iPhone game to use Facebook Connect, giving it access to Facebook user info, so they can display user photos and such. It's a real-time game fully integrated with their Facebook version of Texas Holdem Poker.

It's a significant move and part of a larger trend of social gaming companies moving onto a mobile platform.

Social games company, SGN has already had some successful iPhone games and are working on integrating them with Facebook but has yet to do so. New market entrant, Socialdeck managed to have a iPhone connected to friends, but did not use Facebook Connect.

I actually expected social games company, Mytopia, to be the first company to launch a mobile social version of Poker for iPhone. They currently have a Poker app that runs on Windows Mobile that lets people play in real-time with their friends playing on Facebook. However, they've opted to be a platform company rather than a games company.

I've decided to coin a new term to describe games like Zynga's Live Poker: mobile social.

Sample usage:
BIZ DEV GUY: Hey, looks like Zynga really ripping it up in mobile social.
BLOGGER: Yeah, the mobile-social industry is at the nexus of three major trends...blah...blah...blah. (we bloggers tend to pontificate.)

Anyway, here's the press release (so you can see who the lazy bloggers are who just regurgitate it - I'm so mean.):

Zynga Launches "Live Poker" for the iPhone; First Live Game Turns iPhone into a Social Gaming Platform

San Francisco – Nov. 13, 2008 – Zynga, the largest social gaming network, announced today the launch of "Live Poker," the first truly live game on the iPhone. The game, a mobile version of Zynga's popular Texas Hold'Em game, turns the iPhone into an always-on social gaming device.

"Live Poker" allows iPhone users to compete with 1.4 million daily players in the web's largest free poker game. The game makes it easy for users to play with their real friends from Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and Hi5 as well as make new poker buddies. Players can easily see which of their friends are online, and join them with just one click. Since the casino is always open, users have people to play with at all levels.

Zynga's new application turns the iPhone into a social gaming platform. "Live Poker" is the first application to leverage Facebook Connect, delivering the first social game to the platform. Using Facebook Connect, "Live Poker" allows social information such as real photos to be displayed.

"We have just seen the creation of the next important social gaming platform, thanks to 'Live Poker,'" said Mark Pincus, CEO, Zynga. "Delivering the first social game on the iPhone is a logical extension for us. Social gaming continues to grow, and this is another giant step towards taking it to the mass market."

"Live Poker" is available on any iPhone with 3G or Wi-Fi access, and will also work on the iPod Touch. "Live Poker" is free, and an upgraded version giving players a larger chip package and access to tournaments is also available for $9.99. The application is offered in the iTunes store at:

About Zynga

Zynga is the largest social gaming network with more than 5.4 million daily users. Zynga's games are available on Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Hi5 and Friendster and include Texas Hold'em Poker, Mafia Wars, YoVille, Vampires, Street Racing, Scramble and Word Twist. The company is funded by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, IVP, Union Square Ventures, Foundry Group and Avalon Ventures. Zynga is headquartered at the Chip Factory in San Francisco . For more information, please visit .

# # #

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Is Myspace Games Cannibalizing the Audience From Social Games in the Myspace App Directory?

So what if I told you the following:

  • Myspace and World Poker Tour announced that they had partnered to launch a real-time poker game on Myspace, and
  • World Poker Tour would get prime placement in the Myspace Games directory.
Do you think it would cannibalize players from successful poker apps, like Zynga's dominant Texas Holdem Poker?

Now, if I told you Texas Holdem Poker had 80,000 people playing right this second, how many people do you think would be playing World Poker Tour at the same time?

80. That's right. Eight-zero. Or 1/1000th of the people playing Zynga's version in the app gallery. Games in the App Gallery have nothing to worry about.

I'd always assumed that Myspace Games would compete with games in the app gallery to the advantange of Myspace Games. Turns out, they have no apparent effect on each other. They serve different userbases.

I took a look at the growth curves. Myspace Games was around before the App Gallery, so it seems reasonable to expect that the launch of games in the App gallery would cannibalize traffic from Myspace Games. Nope, traffic remained flat. As the months wore on, traffic to the App Gallery grew steadily. Meanwhile, Myspace Games growth remained flat.

It looks to me that rather than serving the existing market of casual gamers (which Myspace Games does very well - it's powered by Oberon Media, a powerhouse in casual games distribution), social games in the App Gallery are creating a new market of gamers.

I'll say that again for emphasis: social games is opening up an entirely new audience for games. A massive audience. A mass-market audience.

For the curious, according to Quantcast (whose data is always a bit suspect), the Apps Gallery has 5.2M monthly visitors (about 8% of Myspace's total traffic), and Myspace Games gets about 688k monthly visitors (less than 1% of Myspace's total traffic).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Flash or Java - Which One Should I Use?

One of the most frequent questions I get is whether to build games in Java or Flash. It's a debate that's been going for some time. The early entrants into the casual games biz opted for Java, which overall was a better language for quality game development. Back then, Flash was pretty terrible for game development.

Since then, Flash has improved significantly with the most recent version Flash 10 offering improved 3D support (whether it's any good for 3D games, you'll have to tell me, I haven't played with it yet).

I think Flash is the clear winner, and I'm not the only one. Sharendipity, a company that's spend over a year building a game creation tools platform for user-created games recently announced that they're abandoning the Java for Flash. It's a significant move that's requiring them to port over 60,000 lines of code.

Here's their reasoning (from their blog):

Up front, I’ll say that the reason we are moving to Flash is because of Java’s adoption rates. It is not, in fact, because of the language itself but because of Java’s deployment model. We suspect that we lose somewhere between thirty and fifty percent of users due simply to the fact that we are in Java.

This isn’t pure speculation, but backed up by a significant amount of internal data. There are also other game companies that have experienced the same thing.

Daniel James, CEO of Three Rings, has been advocating the move to Flash for years now. He estimated that Puzzle Pirates, his company's Java-based casual MMO, while successful, suffered from an extremely low conversion mainly because it was in Java.

Fact is, Flash has ~95% penetration among Internet users. If want people to play your game, Flash is the only option.

BTW, if you're interested the technical aspects of moving from Java to Flash, Sharendipity is doing a series of blog posts on their experience. Check it out here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Slide Turns Popular Facebook App Top Friends into a Game

Screenshot from Slide's Top Friends app

This weekend (or earlier - hard to tell since I don't use Top Friends regularly), Slide added a game element to Top Friends. It's called Ownd. The name might sound familiar, since it's one letter off from the name of a very successful game on Facebook called Owned. Like Owned, Ownd is a game where you call buy and sell friends.

I think gameifying Top Friends is a great move on Slide's part. They've finally jumped on the games bandwagon after sitting on the sidelines for the last year. However, I don't think this signals a major push into social games by Slide. It feels more like an experiment.

And I don't think it will impact the popularity of existing friend exchange games on Facebook, Owned! and Friends For Sale. Ownd will simply makes existing users of Top Friends more engaged.

Looking at Top Friends for the first time in a while, I realized that had recreated the old Facebook profile design. Perhaps that's why Top Friends grew 13% since the redesign, according to Developer Analytics.

I've always thought that Slide's strategy with Top Friends was to create a social network within Facebook under Slide's control so Slide could collect data on users.

Ownd doesn't help with that goal as far as I can see. But Ownd does open up another avenue for monetization. After all, for the moment games do monetization better than anyone, and Slide famously needs help with that. Hey, we might see them end up in social games, after all. :)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Recession-proof? Game Industry Giants THQ and EA Layoff Hundreds

Many, including myself, have touted the fact that games are a recession-proof industry.

Together, THQ and EA have posted hundreds of millions of dollars in losses and laid off over 750 people in the last two weeks.

Doesn't sound very recession-proof.

Meanwhile Zynga is still hiring like mad (check out their open jobs here).

I'm not surprised. I expect social games companies to do better than traditional games companies in the recession.

Here's why:

Traditional games - $30-80 upfront.
Social Games - $0 upfront.

If you don't have a job, which one is more appealing to you?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Recent Fundings in the Social Gaming Industry - November 4

Rockyou. $17 million. From Softbank (Japan) and SK Telecom (Korea). While Rockyou is not a social gaming company, they are a social entertainment company with quite a few gaming properties. Apparently, the fresh cash is for expansion into the Asian markets, most notably the Chinese socnet, Xiaonei, which btw, already has a virtual currency system. Since China already has a robust virtual goods market, it will be interesting to see how Rockyou fares. Oh, and Xiaonei already has clones of the most successful games on Facebook, so don't get too excited.

Playfish. $17 million. Series B. From Accel Partners and Index Ventures. With 10 million monthly actives, 4 of the top ten games on Facebook, and this round of funding, Playfish has cemented their place as the number 2 social gaming company behind Zynga. According to Playfish CEO, Kristian Segerstrale, the cash is to be used to expand into other platforms, notably Myspace. I suspect they'll be launching mobile games sooner than later, Kristian did run a successful mobile games company for six years, after all.

Crispy Gamer. $8.5 million. Series A. From Constellation Ventures. For a Games Review site. Yes, a games review site. That had 1 million uniques AT LAUNCH. I mention this funding because it's further evidence that games are HOT.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Favorite Commentary on the Virtual Goods Summit

I've been following Adam Martin's commentary over at his blog T-Machine for a long time. He covered the Virtual Goods Summit for Free to Play and his insights are awesome. Unadulterated, opinionated goodness. His posts came a week after the initial burst of coverage, so if you missed them, here they are.

Virtual Goods and Social Networks

Making Virtual Economies Work

Branded and User-Generated Virtual Goods

Here's some choice quotes from the coverage (bolding by me):

Outspark - Susan Choe
At the end of the day the gameplay will keep some of the users, but not all of them. Half the gamers in our ecosystem come because of social interactions; the gameplay is good, but really the events and social activities is what gets them to come back, even in monster-killing games.

Meez - Sean Ryan
we start with the holiday theme. Then look at what the advertisers want to see. Then we look at the upcoming features, and make sure we have compelling items there. A lot of our prod dev driven by trends/fads in the userbase - pop culture influences etc.
Meez - Sean Ryan - what is a VG? We all talk about it like they’re just clothes, but that’s just one third. Another third is world-features (can I levitate, can I glow like a lightbulb), and final third is privileges, access - “can I sit in a special seat in a public space?” etc. [Adam Martin - think this is the future - VGs that open up new activities, as opposed to merely being about status etc.]
I agree with Sean and Adam. When we designed our virtual goods economy at Tenuki, it was based on Legend of Zelda, i.e. acquiring items that unlocked abilities that opened new areas of the world or new functionality. Players could customize those special items, so functional was tied to decorative. (We had the problem of trying to innovate everything we touched - don't make that mistake. Honestly though, basing all our game design decisions on Nintendo games is probably the smartest thing we could have done.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Why Game Developers Should Vote For Obama

Obama has already invested in the games industry.

According to Gamespot, he's spent $44,465.78 on in-game advertising. Meanwhile, John McCain passed on the chance to advertise in games. Here's the text of the article:

For weeks now, Obama has been running in-game ads in games such as Burnout Paradise for the Xbox 360 across 10 battleground states. The full campaign started on October 6, runs through November 3, and spans a reported 18 games. According to the Obama campaign's pre-general-election filing with the Federal Election Commission, the Democratic challenger paid Massive Incorporated $44,465.78 for online advertising in early October.

Massive has previously said that it also approached Republican presidential candidate John McCain about advertising in games, but the senator from Arizona passed on the offer. As of press time, Massive representatives had not returned GameSpot's request for clarification as to how much of the ad campaign that payment covered.

Honestly, I'm more impressive with Obama's grasp of the startup ecosystem and its importance to the U.S. than a nominal ad spent on games, but hey at least some money is coming our way. :)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Does Facebook Consider Social Games to be "Trivial" and Why?

"Facebook itself fully understood the pain the redesign would cause third parties. It consciously made painful-to-app changes, like pushing apps off of user profile pages and onto a sub-tab called “Boxes” that users have had a hard time finding. The changes, it believes, reward the most meaningful apps while punishing the trivial ones."
- Eric Eldon, Venturebeat
If you agree with Eric, and I do, then here's the question: does Facebook consider social games to be trivial?

As Mark Pincus, CEO of Zynga, reminded app developers at the most recent SNAP Summit: the app platform is not a revenue center for Facebook. If we don't align ourselves with Facebook's interests, then it's reasonable to expect more punitive measures.

If social games are trivial or even counterproductive to Facebook's goals, then as a group we should be looking to become independent of Facebook ASAP. Perhaps, this is why Shervin Pishevar, CEO of SGN, believes the future of social gaming lies off of social networks (@ VG Summit).

Here's the problem that social games present to Facebook. For Facebook, the most important thing is the social graph, particularly, an ACCURATE representation of the social graph. For an accuracy, the social graph requires you to only "friend" people with whom you're actually friends. Many games, such as Mob Wars (and its many clones that incentize invites) passively encourage Facebook users to befriend strangers as a consequence of gameplay. Check out the forums on Friends For Sale, Zombies, or Mob Wars and counts the thousands and thousands of friend requests. Anecdotally, these "friends" do not become real friends or even acquaintances as some wish to assert.

Fake friends are a serious dent in Facebook's goal of an accurate social graph. They can attempt to algorithmly address this problem, and I'm sure they do, but I suspect it's easier to remove the problem at its root.

I'd say the fake friend problem is at the core of Facebook's apparent hate of trivial apps. It's a reason why a company would try and suppress features that their userbase clearly enjoy, an action that otherwise makes little sense. I think it's also the primary reason that Facebook created a policy against incentivized invites, rather than their argument that it hurt user experience.

So as game developers if we want to avoid being "trivial" and thus the wrath of Facebook in the future, we should be avoid incentize fake friending.

Zynga has addressed the fake friend problem in their Texas Holdem Poker game, by adding a meta-friend layer called Poker Buddies, where people can friend with whom they enjoy playing poker but do not want to Facebook friend. I'd encourage other developers to take similar measures, if they haven't already, so we don't risk angering the beast.