A very short post about F2P

Read Daniel Cook’s post about the “Free 2 Play” misnomer. My thinking has been along the lines of GAAS, but the question is: will creating the kind of hobby/service Daniel talks about require procedural generated content?   Minecraft is obviously a hobby and a GAAS (with a single payment).  An MMO like World of Warcraft is obviously a service.  However, Mojang got lucky and MMO’s are very expensive to make.  What is the minimum viable content volume for GAAS?  And how do small game companies put out the content needed to be a service?

Or is my basic assumption, that GAAS means content updates, faulty?

Can a small company crank out enough, say puzzle games, to form a service?  Would it have to be some kind of open world?  At what point is there a critical mass of games to move from a ‘Fremium’/’Free to play’ model to a service model?  It would be interesting to find out.

What is the value of a good story?

What makes the D&D brand compelling?  What makes it valuable?  The game is valuable because it is a system of creating emotional meaning to the players (players find it fun and enjoy playing).  The best DM’s are those who can invest meaning in the worlds they create and then use that meaning to emotionally affect the players.  Likewise the best games are those that can invoke an emotional response.  The best way to do that is to create a meaningful game world.  How much is a good story worth in game design?

This Fast Company article discusses ways to measure the value of a good story in quantifiable amounts.  Without this kind of research it would be impossible (and has been difficult) to really value the kind of ‘Good Will’ generated by branding.  Usually you pay X number of dollars to someone to create a brand, so on the balance sheet you record it as being worth X.  But often the value of a good story is worth more than simply the cost of creating that story.

Ultimately product branding in the real world is not much different from great storytelling.  Take an object, say a stapler.  Not terribly valuable until you need to fix two pieces of paper together.  But what if that stapler on my desk is a Red Swingline Stapler?  That red Swingline stapler (something which was not on sale before the move Office Space) was so compelling it became a product you can buy.  Normal object  + meaningful story = increased sales of staplers.

How does a game company measure the value of the story the game designer has created?  This work directly applies to game companies because it allows the business end of the company to evaluate the value of the developers in a more resolute way then they have been able to in the past.    Imagine trying to calculate the value of the HALO story.  Not the franchise, the story.  How much should you charge if someone else wants to license the intellectual property you have created?

Imbue your games with good stories and you make them intrinsically more valuable.  Leave off storytelling and you run the risk of having a great game mechanic that no one is really interested in.  It would be fascinating to see a company A/B test this in the online marketplace.  How would you design the experiment to reveal the value of a story in your game?

3 Business Models for your mobile game.

The topic of business models happened to come up at the GAMBIT event at MIT titled “Indies will shoot you in the Kneecaps”.  Eitan of Firehose Games, Ichiro of Dejobaan Games, and Scott of MacGuffin Games and now of Viximo, talked about working for Indie Start ups in all stages of operation.  The moderator was Alex of Owlchemy Labs who stepped out from behind the lap top to answer a question himself.   For PC games check out a business plan for a computer game…  But let’s shift focus to mobile games for a moment and take a look.

Some of the MIT students had questions relating to the business model for releasing games as apps.  They were concerned about spreading the game while also recovering some money.  The price point of most games needs to be low in order to attract an audience.  Competition is fierce to drop the price and get more players.  But development costs need to be recouped.  How do you make sure to have some kind of return on investment while still attracting an audience?  From that discussion came these suggestions about business models for your apps.

The Long Game: Give away your app for free to build a fan base.  Worry about recouping development costs later.  This method works if you are in college and have the time to really focus on community development.  In college you have time and a roof over your head to make games which build a name.  This is not a great option for those who do not have resources to cover their expenses up front.

The Guilt Game: Give away low cost of free app, have in app purchases.  This requires using a system that allows for in app purchases.  Which apparently completely excludes Microsoft products.  Some players may have negative attitudes towards in-app or in-game purchases, and this may drive some audiences away.  Many times gamers feel that a free game should be completely free.  They erroneously believe that games appear as if by magic, and there is no cost associated with the production of said games.  Free to play games are slowly eroding that stance.

The Twin Game: Release a free version of an app that contains ads along side a paid version of that app which contains no ads.  This requires more work, and more development time.  Not only do you have to code a version of the game which contains some kind of ad support, but you also have to code one without.  While this may not exactly double the amount of work you have to do before launching a title, it will require more resources.  However, it will allow players to self select into the kind of game experience they prefer.

Have you launched any games under these models?  Mobile or otherwise?  Any horror stories about a method that you will never use again?  If you know someone that can use this information don’t forget to +1 the post!  Or share with them directly through twitter.

1 Free business plan for your computer game.

What happens if while making a game you run out of money?  Do you have a plan in place if that happens?  Is there a way you can get funds while still developing?  Let’s face it, if we’re in the game making business we have to think about the business part of things.  Development is a giant Expense so you need Revenue to pay for it. There is a business plan that you haven’t thought of yet, that will get you at least a little Revenue during each stage of the game design process.  Which could make the difference between closing a game project, or continuing to develop.

(I couldn’t help putting that old South Park gag in there).
This suggestion is based off an older post about the 4 Stages of Game Design.  Check into that if you don’t know what the four stages are yet.  At GameLoop 2011 this weekend a fifth new 5 step that some dev teams are implementing was mentioned.  Look for that post coming up soon.
  1. Prototype: distribute freely.  That’s right, give it away.  It acts as your demo.  Maybe use something like paywithatweet.com to get the word out.  But don’t forget to ask for donations.  Gamers can be really generous when they like a game.  Use these funds and the feedback to rev the game into Alpha.  
  2. Alpha:  charge a low amount for the alpha version of the game, promise that if people buy it now they will get all upgrades included with this price. Suggestion: 1/4 of the Full Release price.  Use these funds to rev the game into Beta. Make sure people know that the price is going to go up if they wait.
  3. Beta: charge a higher amount for the beta. Suggestion: 1/2 of the Full Release price.  Use these funds to rev the game into Full Release.
  4. Full release: Once the full release of the game is ready, the price should increase to the full amount.  You need to set this price first, and then decide what the others will be.   Tell everyone what these numbers are going to be ahead of time and stick to them.

If you think this business model sounds familiar, you’re right.  This is really a recap of the sales of Mojang‘s first title Minecraft.  More recently QCF Design was inspired to use this model to release Desktop Dungeons.  They released a freeware version of the game, then charged for Beta, more for Alpha following in Mojang’s footsetps.  Notch and crew didn’t have the benefit of hindsight or success to think of this as a good publishing methodology, but I bet they had a good idea it would work.  Given the right set of circumstances it could work for many independent games.

A word of warning: this would not be a good strategy for developing a console game.  At this stage asking console users to download many small chunks of data, getting them all vetted through the console makers, etc would be a huge hassle.  For a game on Steam or self published it could do alright.  Additionally restrictions in how games are published via app stores might also make this a bad business plan for an app.  We’re going to cover three great business plans for apps in the future.

Is this business model going to work for absolutely everyone?  No. So what should come from this post?  Hopefully a good conversation on your team.  If you haven’t even thought about business development yet (and most beginning developers don’t), then use this as a jumping off point to explore the idea of monetization.  You might not have a business guy on the team.  But you still need to spend some time considering ‘business’ aspect of game design.  Most game developers come from the coding or art world.  Tweet this to a fellow team member and take this as an opportunity to walk for a moment in the business world.

If I could ask Carl Mennah one question it would be: “What are the steps to building the infrastructure through these stages?”  This is something they had to piece together themselves.  Some of their trials and tribulations were rather public (IE issues with Paypal).  Some decisions were private and that insight would be valuable to future attempts at making this method work.  If anyone has an opinion on that, please comment.

*** Edit ***
There is some great discussion about this topic over on Reddit.  If you like the post, head over and give me a up vote and jump in the discussion!