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6:09pm on Friday, 5th November, 2010:

Different Views


The Browsergame Forum differs quite a lot from the GDC Online conference I was at last month (where, I don't know if I mentioned, I won an award). Firstly, they're a lot more focused on games and gameplay here than in Austin, and although the big companies do keep metrics they haven't industrialised the process like in the USA nor do they want to. Basically, they take a game, launch it, give it 30 days to get some users and then either keep it or pull it. They may tweak it a little, but for gameplay reasons, not for revenue-per-click reasons. This isn't because the companies are all run gamers — many aren't — but rather that they think they'll get better games overall as a result if they don't homogenise them. They know that they will make all their money from between 1 and at most 5 games from their portfolio, but they don't know what those game will be. Rather than try squeeze every cent from a game that isn't in their top 5, they let it go and try another one. This way, they encourage innovation in the new games, not metrics-driven hill-climbing through a limited game space.

Well, that's the impression I got, anyway.

Other highlights include: competition on the iPhone is too great for new developers, who are seriously hurting their chances of success if they hope to get most of their income from an iPhone game; delivering higher-quality graphics for browser games puts off casual gamers (they think the game is hard core) but doesn't satisfy hard-core gamers (because the graphics aren't as good as in client-based games); cost of acquisition for players (ie. how much you have to pay to get someone to play your game) is rising and although average revenue per paying user is holding steady, average revenue per user is falling; the longer someone plays a free-to-play game, the greater the chance they will convert tobecome a paying user, but people are tending to play for shorter periods now before they move on to some other game (hence the drop in ARPU); daily average usage is falling across the board for Facebook games; there are many companies recruiting in this area at the moment because they all want to be one of the top 3 when the dust settles (fancy a job in Hamburg?).

Overall, there was less contempt for users than I saw in Austin (although to be fair, there wasn't a lot in absolute terms there, either) and a greater willingness for an old-style book publishing model, ie. fund 10 games and one will be a hit, you just don't know which one and no matter what you do to the others they won't be a hit so forget about them.

Personally, I'd keep even a low-performing game around in case it's a slow-burning hit — it's not as if it costs anything to leave it available. I don't run a big online games portal, though...

My own talk, by the way, basically said that people should enjoy the free-to-play model while they can because it's unsustainable at this level in the long term. The gamers present agreed; the non-gamers disagreed. I'll upload the slides when I get home, so you can fall into the appropriate line for you, too...

Hmm, now to find somewhere to eat, I'm actually quite peckish...

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Copyright © 2010 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).