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.
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!
As several news outlets have discovered, we have amicably settled our lawsuit with 6waves. We are very happy with the outcome and glad to be finished with this matter. The full terms of the settlement are confidential, but I can disclose that as a consequence of the settlement, ownership of the Yeti Town IP has been transferred to Spry Fox. We look forward to putting 100% of our time and energy into our games, like the upcoming Leap Day, Steambirds 2 and Panda Poet mobile. :-)
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.
It is hard to let go of something you’ve worked on for such a long time, but such is life. After a rather successful launch of Realm of the Mad God on Steam and Kongregate, our partners at Wild Shadow Studios decided that the best course of action was to sell the game to a larger operator, and we agreed to sell our stake alongside them.
Kabam will be operating the game from here on out and Willem Rosenthal, who has been designing the new dungeons and loot drops in RotMG for several months now, will stay on board to guide the project going forward.
Spry Fox is looking to hire a senior-level engineer/developer. If you are not this person but know someone who is, we would be very grateful if you introduced us!
Job title: we don’t really do titles. Call yourself something amusing and/or impressive. What we’re looking for:
Senior level engineer (five to ten years of work experience, minimum.)
Can program both the front end and back end of an original online game – by themselves or as half a team of two.
Has worked on multiple shipped games in the past
Very comfortable with frequent, rapid iteration (daily to weekly)
Excited about original, free to play games
Familiarity with Flash and Unity is a major plus but not a requirement. It’s actually more important for whomever we hire to be flexible and not wedded to any given language, as we frequently find ourselves adjusting our tech to meet specific circumstances.
You must be a self-starter who can work effectively without being closely managed or prodded. This is a company for entrepreneurs, not worker bees.
Reliability and honesty are the two most important traits to us.
Location is not an issue; we all work remotely. But if you live in Seattle or the Bay Area, you’ll get to have lunch with us pretty regularly. :-)
About us: Spry Fox is a successful developer of online games that have collectively reached over 30m people. Our titles include Steambirds, Triple Town, Realm of the Mad God and Panda Poet. We are passionate about two things: making great original games and bringing happiness to the world.
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.
Danc and I do more than our fair share of taking platforms to task for their failings. We’ve (rather bluntly) advocated for shorter approval periods on Apple’s App Store; we’ve railed against Amazon’s poor management of the games marketplace on e-ink Kindles; we’ve given whole lectures about the ways in which platforms, in general, can become abusive when they become large and successful. What we — and most other indies, IMO — don’t do often enough is publicly thank platforms when they do something good for us. So I’m going to put away my cynic’s hat and call attention to a few nice things that platforms have done for us lately, in hopes it encourages said platforms to do more of this for more indies.
Apple and Google both take a lot of flack for allowing blatant clones on their respective platforms. So I think it’s worth pointing out that both companies have taken down some Triple Town ripoffs. Google has delisted two clones on Android Market… and one of those was taken down within literally three hours of being reported. Apple just recently delisted one Triple Town ripoff after a period of a few weeks. There’s certainly more than Apple and Google could do to protect indies from total ripoffs, but I think it’s worth mentioning that they aren’t just sitting on their hands right now.
Want to learn more about the exploits of Spry Fox from its co-founders? Looking for insights into the nutty world of f2p, web-based, and/or mobile games? Curious to see if Danc and I are as relentlessly and unforgivably opinionated in the flesh as we are on the Internets? (Spoiler: we are.)
Well, here’s where you can find us at GDC:
Realm of the Counter-Intuitive God (SOGS Postmortem)
SPEAKER/S: David Edery (Spry Fox)
Monday 11:15-12:15 Room 135, North Hall
Social and Online Games Summit / 60-Minute Lecture
Description: Realm of the Mad God is a web-based f2p MMO with a penchant for breaking rules. It’s a MMO bullet-hell-shooter… in Flash. It is based on open source art. It features permadeath (the ultimate in retention challenges)! And it just so happens to be surprisingly popular and very profitable. This lecture will review some of the unusual design and business choices we made and explore which worked, which didn’t, and why. Financial and other data will be shared (and not just the stuff that makes us look good).
Create New Genres (and Stop Wasting Your Life in the Clone Factories)
SPEAKER/S: Daniel Cook (Spry Fox)
Tuesday 3:00-4:00 Room 135, North Hall
Social and Online Games Summit / 60-Minute Lecture
Description: Re-releasing old designs with pretty new graphics means me-too titles fighting off a crowd of similar products. This is the path to mediocrity. To become a master designer, you need to break past a slavish devotion of past forms and create vibrant, new experiences. This design talk covers practical techniques for reinventing game genres. The goal is the invention of a unique and highly differentiated customer value proposition that makes both strong business sense and is also deeply creatively fulfilling. We cover designing from the root, reducing design risk, and igniting original franchises. We also cover the pitfalls of design innovation including fending off shark-like fast followers and other cloners. The presentation covers personal examples from recent titles such as Steambirds, Realm of the Mad God, Triple Town and other innovative successes.
How F2P Games Blur the Line Between Design and Business
SPEAKER/S: Soren Johnson (Game Developer Magazine), Ben Cousins (ngmoco Sweden), Matthias Worch (LucasArts), Tom Chick (Quarter to Three) and David Edery (Spry Fox)
Friday 4:00-5:00 Room 2003, West Hall, 2nd Fl
The free-to-play movement is here to stay and will touch every corner of the games industry. However, the format blurs the line between game design and game business, so that business decisions will become increasingly indistinguishable from design decisions. Free-to-play content must be fun enough to attract and retain players but not so much fun that no one feels the need to spend some money. Managing this tension makes free-to-play design extremely difficult, especially for traditional game designers who are used to simply making the best game possible. Our panelists will discuss this transition and best practices for building free-to-play games with soul.