Monday, April 1, 2013

Tomb Raider - game or movie?

What Games Are published an interesting post on the last TR game (see here) that argued that players do not have an emotional connection to the player character but rather project themselves on the player character. Hence, game developers should not spend too much time scripting the player character but rather those with which he interacts. Having played TR I beg to differ.

From my point of view the new TR is not so much a game as it is an interactive movie (IAM), not the kind mentioned on wikipedia, a category that will establish itself next to casual and hardcore games in the future. IAMs enable developers to tell stories in more depth and get players more involved than in a traditional movie, however it does not engross players in the same way a hardcore game (say Halo) would with a great multiplayer mode.

For example, the new TR game could just as well have been released as a movie, however Ms. Croft would have to run through the same developments she made in over 10 hours of game time in less than 2 hours of film time and it would have been a completly passive experience. As a game TR allowed players to become active observers better understanding the development of Ms. Croft since they were there and lived through it together.

As I see this as a completely new field of games some questions remain to be answered.

What can we expect of the future for IAMs? 
I would guess that we will see more coauthorship of games by game developers and Hollywood. Professional story writers will come into games earlier and earlier (for an example see this German article on Susan O'Connor and TR) and the script will be written before the levels are designed.

Who will buy them?
Most probably singles that do not want to go to a movie alone/under the week and potentially this could be another entry point for female gamers to console games away from casual browers games such as Farmville.

What does this mean for casual and hardcore games?
Casual games will stay the same whereas hardcore games will probably become more dependent on a great multiplayer experience.

What would I want to see?
Games as a series - shorter playtime but more frequent sequels. Imagine the Walking Dead not only being a TV show but being able to play short sequences out of it.

Hence, I think TR is a first glimpse into a more cinematic gaming experience from the story telling side and can open up several interesting venues for development. Differing views are more than welcome.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Puppy Games: ideas on business development

In "When game development stinks" Jeff Wofford recounts the story of Puppy Games' struggles and how it stinks not to get decent market traction even though the game is great (at least in the authors perception). It is a good description of the status quo, however it does little to actually address some of the issues Puppy Games faces.

1. Brand name:
My first search for puppy game yielded the expected results - numbero uno is the game studio, but after that the results go to the obscure world of pre-teen girl dog-related gaming that is cute and cuddly. Not exactly the association you want to have for a studio that does mostly arcade-style games, especially for people who have never heard of the studio before.

2. Google results in general:
Searching for potentially related phrases also doesn't get better results. "puppy games arcade" shows more results for an emulator called puppy arcade than for the studio. "Puppy games ultratron" fetches only 7.230 results (which is hopefully only due to the recent release - the other games fetch more results). Searching for "new arcade games" doesn't feature them at all, which is also not really great considering that this is their primary market.

3. Target market:
Neo-retro arcade games is quite probably at least toeing the line to obscurity. You know what it means, but the mass gamer market probably not. This will probably result in people browsing on instead of buying your product. You should cast a wider net for customers and try to find a bigger category to fit in if you are not satisfied with your current market size.

As a consequence Puppy Games is right now standing in front of Moore's chasm and has to cross, if they want to work profitably. Steps to consider (from my point of view) are the following:

1. Changing the brand name:
No surprise here, if searching for the company leads to confusion and strange results that is an indication that a change could be useful. However it does come with some serious caveats. Prior followers might be confused and not find your games any more - however based on the numbers the developers shared on their blog this should not be too great a risk.

2. Talking about the games:
The number of google results especially for the current game indicate that the marketing is not yet what it could/should be. Hence, it might be a good idea to do more promotions, go to other blogs (especially covering games) and talk about it. The world can only want your game if they know about it and considering how many games are released every year it is not their job to find the best games. It is your job.

3. Grow the market:
As mentioned neo-retro arcade games is well, a very specialised market. Many users will not know what to expect and hence rather try something else before they waste their time on something that might be good or might not be good. The broader categories of defence/tower/invasion games could allow the game description to be more accessible.

4. Kickstarter:
Already mentioned on the developers blog, a kickstarter financing could allow to faster make a new game. However, it would not help that much to promote the current games. An idea might be to make at least the oldest games free of charge and allow more demoing with the current ones so that people on kickstarter can see what kind of work you do and how good it is.

Most important from my point of view is enabling people to find your games even if they are only searching for something similar (and getting them to believe your game is something similar) and financing the next project up front so that you have time to not only develop but also promote your product.