Monthly Archives: November 2005

Nokia Announces MMOG for Java Handsets

Nokia has announced that “Space Alliance,” an MMOG for Java-ready phones, will be released in Q1 2006. Game players work together to fight enemies, build starbases, and develop / coordinate defenses. A live moderator will coordinate the actions of the enemy alien fleet over time.

The game is designed to be purely cooperative. While this might alienate some people, I think it’s a great attempt to make the game more accessible. With no fear of being PK’d by merciless 12-year olds, you might just see players of all types getting into the game.

Equally interesting is Nokia’s decision to avoid restricting gameplay to Nokia-only handsets. Any phone with a recent version of Java can support the game, apparently. Really good call, IMO — reaching critical mass is crucial for an MMOG. I’m sure Nokia can find ways to encourage players on other handsets to eventually migrate.

“Family Entertainment Protection Act” Unveiled

So much for “slow news day.” A few hours ago, Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman unveiled a bill that prohibits selling games with mature content to minors.

Predictably, the ESA responded almost immediately with a polite but firm rejection of the bill. The bill calls for the use of the ESRB as the yardstick via which content is judged, so it isn’t a total disaster for the industry. Ironically, the ESRB just got (very publicly) bashed by the The National Institute on Media and the Family… and Lieberman took part in that, too. Don’t politicians normally wait at least a couple of days to contradict themselves?

Kudos to GamePolitics.com for its coverage of all this, btw.

MMOrgy – Sex in Games Has a New Home

Slow news day today. Most interesting thing I’ve read was a post by Kotaku drawing attention to MMORGY, a new site focused on virtual sex in multiplayer games. “Porncraft” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

The phenomenon is neither new nor surprising, of course. The zillion-dollar question is: what will happen when game developers manage to transmit the feeling of sex, not just the visuals? Might not be as far off as people think… remember Sony’s non-invasive, brain-sensory patent? Good thing we’ll probably have perfected growing babies out of test tubes by then. We might need to.

PS. I read somewhere that porn-related queries account for 25% of search engine traffic in the US. I wonder if 25% (or more) of the content in games like Second Life will ultimately shift towards sex?

Aside

By now you’ve heard the rumors that Xbox 360s are crashing with great frequency. I’ve tried to collect the most interesting (and relevant) info: Kotaku has posted a poll asking people if their Xbox is “crashy.” Over 30% had responded … Continue reading

Casual Games: Interview with Ed Allard (Popcap)

Ed Allard, Senior Producer for Popcap, was kind enough to answer some of my questions about casual games via email:

How have casual games evolved since the days of Tetris?

In a way, the games haven’t changed that much at all. The best casual games of today have a lot in common with Tetris – they have simple approachable mechanics, relatively low production cost, extremely wide appeal, and are insanely addictive.

Beyond that, there has certainly been some growth in the overall presentation of the core mechanics. Production values are increasing, which means better graphics and sound, longer game play, and on-line features such as high scores or user-contributed content. One key trend along these lines is the movement from abstract presentations of shapes and puzzles to strongly-themed presentations with real-world (or imaginary) characters, objects, and places. Many have simple stories that carry you through the game and provide a sense of progress and achievement.

Read the rest of the interview!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Consumers Losing Interest in Game Sequels?

Wedbush Morgan Securities predicts a less-than-cheery Christmas for the game industry, blaming their forecast (in part) on consumer indifference to sequels. Analyst Michael Pachter was also quoted in Smartmoney as saying “When [retailers are] scared, they revert to what they know. And they know what sold last year, so they buy sequels.”

Hard to comment on the reliability of this “consumer indifference” estimate. (How’d they gauge sentiment? What was the sample size? How was potential bias accounted for?) It’s also notable that Pachter has been complaining about sequels for some time now. That said, I’m pretty sick of sequels myself, and my gut tells me that consumers will ultimately exhibit fatigue.

What’s interesting is that in the Smartmoney article, Pachter implies that EA’s sequels will do really well (and says “Harry Potter still kicks butt.”) So what’s a little contradiction between friends?

Aside

Joystiq reports that 110,000 copies of Mario Kart DS have been sold in the past week, and 45% of those copies have been played online. They note that Halo 2 only managed to entice 18% of users online after three … Continue reading

Game Developers’ Bill of Rights

Eric Zimmerman has published a “Game Developers’ Bill of Rights” on Gamasutra.com. The bill is based on the Creator’s Bill of Rights, which was written for comic developers in 1988.

It begins with article #1: “The right to full ownership of what we fully create.” The other rights derive from this one, including final say over creative, distribution, licensing, and marketing matters. In other words, ultimate control.

Zimmerman quotes Greg Costikyan, who once argued that developers should retain the rights to their games “because they fucking should.” Points for succinctness, but not much else. In any industry, when you take money from an investor to fund an embryonic venture, the investor usually ends up owning the venture. There are two ways around this:

  1. Fund the venture on your own to start, then negotiate for more control based on your initial, demonstrable success.
  2. Become respected enough that you can negotiate for control rights from the very beginning of the venture process.

As an entrepreneur and small business owner, I wish things weren’t this way, but they are. Why not focus on practical solutions to developers’ problems? Working towards greater solidarity would be a good start. Support of digital distribution initiatives would be another.

Ultimately, a developer is free to negotiate their own deal — or to walk away from an “unacceptable” offer. A publisher that does business with an inexperienced developer is taking a big risk… which explains (however unsatisfyingly) their ownership demands. Do I think publishers abuse their control? In many cases, yes. Are they wrong to negotiate for ownership in the first place? Probably not.

How to Indulge the “Low Playtime” MMO Gamer?

There’s an interesting discussion taking place on Slashdot… a user of A Tale in the Desert says he cancelled his account because he wasn’t playing enough to justify the monthly fee, and asks “where is the metered model for the casual gamer?” The lead designer of Tale responded that he might set up a server especially for casual gamers that limits playtime to a few hours a month, but costs the same amount. His rationale: most casual gamers complain that they can’t “compete” with hardcore players who give the game more time; they don’t complain (at least outwardly) about cost.

First, I think it’s really important not to lump “low playtime” users into the larger category of “casual gamers.” Someone who wants to play WoW for eight hours a week is not a casual gamer; a dedicated user of Pogo.com probably is. That said, I think a “casual” server is a compelling idea, but I doubt you can charge all players the same amount. People feel very strongly about fairness, and as a game developer, you violate those feelings at your own peril. If a casual server is identical to a “hardcore” server but has limits on playtime, gamers will probably expect a discount (and I see no reason why not to indulge them.)

Of course, there are other pricing models that remove emphasis from playtime altogether. Second Life’s “play for free, pay monthly fees for land ownership” model, for example. This could be extended to MMOs like World of Warcraft by, for example, charging a small monthly fee for ownership of a mount, a guild hall, etc. Ultimately, hardcore players would still end up paying a fair amount.

Pricing solutions aside, I’d love to see an MMO that makes both “low-playtime” and “high-playtime” gamers happy by truly addressing the problem of competitive disadvantage. WoW tried to do this via rest experience bonuses (the longer you’re offline, the easier it is to gain experience while online) — but it only helps so much. How about designing an MMO in which “important” functions only require a limited amount of time (say, one hour a day) but “less important” functions can be enjoyed endlessly? For example, a space trading game that limits crucial mercantile functions to a given number per day, but places no limits on exploration, combat, etc?

The game industry is currently underserving two markets: people who would love a casual MMO (like Yo Ho Ho Puzzle Pirates), and “low playtime” gamers who enjoy hardcore games but hate to be left behind by high playtime friends and/or enemies. Going after those markets would probably entail less risk than making the next traditional hardcore MMORPG, too.