Today, we launched an MMO called Realm of the Mad God (RotMG) in partnership with our friends Rob and Alex at Wildshadow Studios. It is, I believe, the first-ever massively cooperative bullet hell shooter. 85 people rampaging together, in real-time, through a bullet-riddled landscape. Oh, and its all Flash. Must be seen to believed. :-)
RotMG is available exclusively via the RotMG website and via Chrome Web Store for the next several weeks. The game has been in open beta for over a year now, but we’ve never attempted to drive traffic to the game via portals (or announcements on our blog) before now.
Spry Fox and Wild Shadow
When Rob and Alex first approached us with RotMG, we didn’t know what to think. It was an insanely ambitious game from a technical perspective (several engineers who we trust said of the game, more or less: “that simply isn’t possible.”) It was Hardcore with a capital-H: difficult to play without practice and skill, very retro in its aesthetic, and it featured perma-death. When your character dies, it is truly dead forever, and all you get is a bit of virtual currency (we call it “fame”) as a silver-lining.
I’m pleased to share the news that Microsoft’s Ribbon Hero 2 is now freely available to all users of MS Office 2007 and 2010. If you have any interest whatsoever in the educational power of games or business-related uses of games, you absolutely must check this out.
Danc and I had the pleasure of assisting in the development of RH2, which improves on its predecessor in a variety of ways, including: the addition of a narrative, a more polished feedback system, substantially more interesting and creative challenges, and a tighter, more streamlined activity loop in general. Each of these changes are notable in and of themselves; together, they represent a remarkably evolved and polished gameplay experience. (See Danc’s just-published thoughts on the design.)
Most serious gaming projects fail because the organizations behind them lack the will to iterate on, test and polish their prototypes as needed. Microsoft, on the other hand, has been working on the Ribbon Hero franchise (can we call it a franchise now?) for approximately two years. The development team behind Ribbon Hero has approached the daunting challenge of “making it fun to learn Office” with humility and persistence. Its members have attended GDC, studied game design, consulted with expert designers, and playtested/polished the heck out of this game. Most importantly, they have developed skills which represent a significant competitive advantage to Microsoft. Two years may sound like a long time, but once you’ve figured out how to make learning fun, there are an unlimited number of ways in which you can dramatically improve the fortunes of your business.
So here’s to Ribbon Hero 2! May it be the first of many such educational experiences to emerge from Microsoft.
This article was originally published in Game Developer Magazine. It was the first in a series of business columns that I am writing for GDM.
Ask anyone over the age of 30 how many times they’ve had to “learn something the hard way.” Most people can’t count that high. Businesses are just like people in this regard: they need to experiment in order to gather the data that will enable executives to make informed decisions. And experimenting often means failing.
Despite this, most game publishers and developers are profoundly averse to experimentation and risk. “Little” mistakes, like failed prototypes, are not embraced. “Big” mistakes, like failed attempts to capitalize on new markets, are assiduously avoided until those new markets “prove” themselves, by which point it is deemed necessary to spend a fortune acquiring a successful competitor.
Dan Ariely, the author of “Predictably Irrational”, has noted that there’s plenty of research to explain this behavior. In his own words: “Experiments require short-term losses for long-term gains. Companies (and people) are notoriously bad at making those trade-offs.” Put another way: short-term risk aversion is a major psychological handicap for businesses… one worth recognizing and confronting.
A belated post to help explain why I’ve been so quiet on this blog as of late. :-)
Mama Eve and baby Aria are doing great; the former is glowing and the latter is a champion eater and sleeper! She’s also got awesome hair, like her papa. ;-)
When I posted debating F2P monetization back in August, it attracted quite a lot of attention. In the post, I argued that most F2P games cannot rely on purely aesthetic monetization features — not enough consumers are willing to pay for that alone.
Some folks were grateful for my post. Some folks were furious because they felt that I was advocating for the sale of items that “make a game less fair.” (I had done nothing of the sort, but it’s no surprise that the charge was leveled at me.) However you feel about it, here’s another proof point worth paying attention to. EA has been kind enough to share some details about the profitability of Battlefield Heroes before and after its development team resorted to selling items that impact gameplay.
I highly recommend reading this article, especially if you’re still convinced that Western gamers will reject “aggressively” monetized F2P games.
For a long while now, the video game industry has had a very simplistic definition of a “good customer” and a “bad customer.” A good customer is someone who pays you $60 for your game (and better yet, pre-orders it.) A bad customer is someone who buys a used copy of your game or worse, pirates it. The problem is, this worldview ignores a variety of important factors and doesn’t translate very well to the digital markets that most indies are focused on.
Tell me which of these people is the best customer:
- Customer A: pays 99 cents for a copy of your game immediately after launch, gives it a 1-star rating for some trivial reason and deletes it forever.
- Customer B: pays 99 cents for a copy of your game, gives it a 5-star rating and even tweets regularly about it, but is such a toxic presence in the forums and/or in-game that she drives other customers away.
- Customer C: pays 99 cents for a copy of your game and enjoys it, but never rates it and does nothing to promote it.
- Customer D: pirates your game and regularly tweets about how awesome it is to her hundreds of followers. She also eagerly and politely answers the questions of newbies who visit your forums and happily beta tests your new games.
Lots of people have been jumping onto the anti-gamification bandwagon lately. I’ve been surprised by the thoughtfulness and intelligence of the critiques that I’ve read… particularly those that are short, sweet and to the point. And since so much has been eloquently said about the problems with gamification, I won’t bother to repeat the arguments here. Instead I want to address something that everyone else has ignored up till now: why some of gamification’s proponents have allowed it to devolve into the mindless application of points, achievements and leaderboards.
Is it because the proponents of gamification are generally not game designers and don’t understand how hard it is to make a good game? In some cases, probably so. But there’s a deeper and more pervasive problem that is driving the “dumbing down” of gamification. The problem is: gamification is a very tough sell.
2010 was a very special year for me. From founding Spry Fox (which I would never have had the courage to do without a great business partner like Danc), to releasing our first games, to winning the IndiePub mobile games competition, to finding ourselves at the top of Amazon’s “top rated games” page… it’s been a better ride than I could have hoped for. But all of this pales in comparison to the most important news that I received in 2010: Eve is pregnant with a little girl — our first child — and due to give birth on March 4th. So here’s to a joyous and sleep-deprived 2011!
And, lest I seem ungrateful, I’d like to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for your kind comments and encouragement. When I started writing this blog almost five years ago, I never really expected it to become a meaningful part of my life. I’m mildly astonished and grateful that it has done just that.
Happy new year, everyone. :-)
I thought some of you might be interested to know how our experience launching Steambirds on iOS and Android worked out. So I’ve written up a little post-mortem of sorts, below. But first, some important notes: the excellent iOS version was developed and published on our behalf by Semi Secret, best known for their wonderful game Canabalt, and the equally-excellent Android version was developed by Flat Red Ball and published by us.
Both the iOS and Android versions of the game were featured by Apple and Google, respectively; the iOS version was featured immediately upon launch, while the Android version was featured a couple weeks later. We did little in the way of traditional marketing to support the game, but we did put a very prominent link in Steambirds: Survival to a page advertising both the iOS and Android version, and given that SB:S has already been played by over two million people, that’s a fair amount of promotion. We were also fortunate enough to get a shout out from Penny Arcade, among other notable sites.
So, enough background information. Here were the pros/cons of each platform we released Steambirds on:
Today we launched Steambirds: Survival (SB:S), the first true sequel to the original Steambirds. It’s essentially “Steambirds meets ‘Horde Mode’ from Gears of War” — your goal is to fight off ever-growing waves of enemies for as long as you can manage. Aside from this central conceit, the key differences between SB:S and the original SB are:
- In SB:S, you can choose from 24 planes, all of which need to be unlocked, and nearly all of which have very distinct characteristics which heavily impact your play style.
- In SB:S, when enemies are shot down, they leave a collectible powerup where they crash. Judiciously deciding when to collect these (and how to use them) is key to your survival.
- In SB:S, there are microtransactions. Seven of the twenty-four planes in the game can only be unlocked with cash. One of the twenty-four planes is unlocked for free, if you create an account and sign up for our newsletter.
Adding microtransactions to SB:S proved to be non-trivial. To understand why, you need to understand our distribution strategy. We’re excited about Flash because it opens up such a huge audience to our games. Part of that huge audience comes from the hundreds of Flash gaming portals who will happily host and promote your game for free, without any negotiation or formal arrangement needed, in exchange for the opportunity to monetize the game via their own site’s advertising system. Normally, all you get in return (aside from exposure) is a prominent link (or links) in the game to other websites of your choosing. But we wanted more than that – we wanted to monetize content inside the game, no matter where it was hosted. That turned out to be a huge pain in the butt.