Blog - PlayScreen
In poker, sometimes you’ve just got to take a chance that the next card will be the one that gives you an unbeatable hand. Well, looks like that just happened for us with the new iPad.
You see, we had a feeling that this iPad was going to have a ‘retina’ display … 4x the number of pixels than the iPad and iPad 2 have. Turns out to be a pretty good bet.
So all along we’ve been building the iPad version of our iOS Poker game with this very detailed iPad retina display in mind (2048 x 1536 pixels to be exact). Just look at how cool this is:
Of course we’ll be supporting the existing iPads with this upcoming release, but isn’t it great when a bet like this pays off?
We think so.
William Volk, CCO
Post featured on Gamasutra
I’ve always believed that a “software meritocracy” … a market with entry to all and rewards to winners … would create a massive wave of game development … and the iPhone App Store has proved this true.
Meanwhile Nintendo has been having some problems. The 3DS has not sold as well as expected, even after Nintendo discounted the device (something they had not done for such a new item in quite some time … maybe Virtual Boy?). The Wii’s appeal has wained and the prospects for the next generation hardware are uncertian.
The last six months may have been much worse for Nintendo than the company has previously admitted. According to Japan’s Nihon Keizai Shimbun–as related by Reuters, Nintendo will show a fiscal first-half loss of 100 billion yen ($1.3 billion) when it announces its earnings tomorrow.
At the same time there’s a real hunger for Nintendo IP on iOS and other devices. An example would be “Duck Hunt AR” which was an augemented reality version of the classic “Duck Hunt” game. The app has already been pulled from the store, probably becuse of copyright issues.
Video demo here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgIhNIb1L5E
There is no doubt that Nintendo has created some of the greatest games in video game history and I for one, know they would be blockbusters on the iPhone and similar devices.
So, will Nintendo go the way of Sega and become a game publisher? Well unless some major changes occur, that seems to be a good probability.
And in the course of researching material for this talk, I took some time to play the latest social games on Facebook and iOS.
Grind to the nosestone
These are the grind games; games where the play is actually about tasks and not the traditional gameplay elements we’ve previously known. Thereâ€™s no win/lose, itâ€™s all about tasks and achievements.
Yet these freemium or free-to-play games (however you want to call them), rule the charts. They’re hugely popular with ten of millions of players, and payers.
For example, six of the current top ten top grossing iPhone games are of this type, while on Facebook, by definition, the entire business of companies such as Zynga and Playfish has been built on such games.
Back to nature
Much as in life, tasks are neverending. You plant crops, harvest food, buy more things, make the farm larger, plant more crops, harvest more food etc…
These tasks results in achievements shared with friends who are also playing the game, with the glue across friends being the items you can gift between yourselves.
Motivation includes pride of ownership in building a personalised world as well as effective rewards with the slot-machine-style awards of coins and the like. It’s very clever and much has been written about the system and how it’s tweaked to keep players playing.
The evil empire
Despite what the critics say, there is progress. Admittedly I checked out Zynga’s new Empires & Allies expecting to see a vast multiplayer strategy war game (hey, I got my start at Avalon Hill).
But it’s just another a task game, where you’re rebuilding your island that’s been attacked. As in FarmVille, you construct buildings and even can plant crops, while the addition is that some of the buildings create troops – something I fondly remember from games such as Total Annihilation, Starcraft andWarcraft.
Building these units enables you to eventually fight the mythic enemy who destroyed your army in the first place. Combat is simple, which is appropriate for casual Facebook gamers, but the clever thing is Zynga has extended theFarmVille grind into a broader gameplay with the simple combat sequences.
Work, rest and work
Personally, I believe much of the appeal of the grind or task game is you can drop in when you like and just play it.
This harkens back to digital plaything games such as Little Computer Peopleand SimCity. The difference now is the social networking element that motivates folks to create something worth bragging about. Productivity, even in a virtual sense, feels good.
Another driving force is the opportunity to build something with pride. For many folks, work is unfufilling paper shuffling. They donâ€™t have much of a creative win in their normal jobs.
In a very real way, task games are all about being productive.
After all, these are virtual economies, and when you think about it, much of real economies are virtual (just ask anyone who worked in the dot com era). Currency only has value because people believe it has value. The only items with intrinsic value are commodities, tools and land â€¦ even real gold’s current high value is a product of belief.
So the way to make something useful out of these sort of games is to apply the principles to the real world tasks we all have to do to survive and prosper, such as weight loss programs, fitness and other grind activities.
Still, the thing I really like about this is we’re encouraging the sort of audience that’s never played games in the past. Our next step should be to combine this mechanic with traditional game elements of strategy, action and adventure and make the best of both worlds.
William Volk, CCO
Post Featured on PocketGamer
MySpace, the social network originally purchased by News Corporation for $580 million was recently sold for $35 million. Back in 2005, MySpace was the social network, but Facebook ate its lunch.
If you want a good take on what went wrong, you could do worse than to listen to Napster co-founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker’s explanation – MySpace didn’t improve its system in response to the challenge of Facebook.
Riding high, falling low
So is it fair to compare Nokia’s situation to MySpace?
Yes and no. Nokia is still the number one phone manufacturer in the world, Symbian the number one operating system (in terms of installed devices) for smartphones, and the Nokia app store (formerly Ovi) generating over 5 million downloads a day. On the surface, things seem okay.
However, in some ways the situation for Nokia is far grimmer than it was for MySpace when Facebook started to take market share. In western Europe – a Nokia stronghold – the company’s smartphone sales have dropped by 15 percent to 4.2 million devices, despite Nokia having led its home market for sixteen years.
To understand the first part of why things have gone bad, we can look all the way back to 1983 and something called the Osborne Effect.
Too much information
In 1983, so the story goes, Adam Osborne, founder of the Osborne Computer Corporation, prematurely revealed a new model of his highly-successful Osborne 1 system.
In anticipation of this new version, dealers immediately cancelled their orders for the existing model and sales declined rapidly. But the new model was far from ready for release, meaning the company went quickly bust. (Yes, there were other issues, but for arguments sake we’ll stay with the conventional story).
So what happened to Nokia?
Elop decided to abandon Symbian and MeeGo, looked at Android and passed (it’s rumoured that Google wouldn’t give them special status), and choose Microsoft Phone 7 for Nokia’s future direction. No doubt Microsoft gave Nokia a billion incentives to do so, given the lukewarm reception to Windows Phone 7 at that point.
That may have been a brilliant or bad decision for Nokia, but announcing it well before any handsets were running the OS was a classic Osborne moment, as sales of Nokia’s current devices indicate.
In addition to the resulting decline in sales, many publishers launching titles for the Nokia app store rationally cancelled those plans. Why release titles for, and develop expertise in, a platform that was in the process of being abandoned?
Damned with true praise
It was at this point Nokia’s product development team released the N9, a new handset based on the MeeGo operating system, to critical acclaim.
Website Engadget, which had increasingly been critical of Nokia’s Symbian handsets, went positively gaga over the N9 in a podcast with a quote that went viral: “This is the MOTHER of all phones. This is the design of the gods. This is IT, like NOTHING comes close to this. This blows everybody’s minds out of the universe.”
Now that’s another problem – The Unanticipated Success.
I’ve lived through this with game releases: a product that has low expectations achieves wild success. Peter Drucker, the doyen of modern management, has this to say on the subject: “No other area offers richer opportunities for successful innovation than the unexpected success.”
Head in the ice
So, how has Nokia reacted to this slice of good news?
A day following its launch, Elop told a Finnish newspaper that even if the N9 succeeded, it will be Nokia’s first and only device on MeeGo. “In Elop’s words, there is no returning to MeeGo, even if the N9 turns out to be a hit,” wrote the Finnish daily, Helsingin Sanomat.
I know what the MeeGo team must feel like. The expression that springs to mind is “He would rather be right than rich.”
Now, I would be a fool to count Nokia (and Microsoft) out, but clearly Mr Elop has to make some difficult decisions if he wants to save Nokia: the company could collapse fast if more wrong decisions are made. I think it needs to look hard at the success of the N9 and make the hard decision to listen to the consumer. I fear if it doesn’t, its collapse could be more dramatic than MySpace’s.
William Volk, CCO
Post Featured in Gamasutra
So, in a few weeks I’m going to give a talk at DevCon5 on ‘GAMIFICATION’, how non-game apps are taking on gaming aspects to motivate users. In the course of researching material for this talk, I took some time to play the latest social games on Facebook and the iPhone.
What I’m seeing is more and more of what is known as ‘Grind’ or ‘Task’ games. Games where the play is really about ‘tasks’ and not the traditional game play elements we’ve known.
The popular example is Zynga’s Farmville (yes, I know they didn’t invent the concept). You plant crops, harvest food, buy more things, make the farm larger etc… These tasks results in achievements that are shared with friends who are also playing the game. Items can be gifted to friends. Motivations include “pride of ownership” in building a cool world as well as very effective reward systems with slot-machine sounding awards of coins and achievements. Very clever and much has been written about this.
The games are “Free to Play” (I prefer Freemium) with in-app purchases driving revenue. These are hugely popular games with 10′s of millions of players. Six of the current top ten iPhone games (in terms of revenue) are of this type.
I recently checked out Zynga’s new “Empires and Allies” as well expecting to see perhaps a vast multiplayer strategy war game (hey, I got my start at Avalon Hill) but it’s also a ‘Task’ game, where you rebuild your island that has been attacked. As in Farmville, you construct buildings and even can plant crops … but the addition here is that some of the buildings also create troops and weapons … something I fondly remember from classic games like “Total Annihilation” and of course Starcraft/Warcraft.
These units that you build, will eventually combat the mythic ‘enemy’ who destroyed your army in the first place. Combat is simple, which is appropriate for the casual Facebook gamers, but the clever thing here is that Zynga has extended the Farmville ‘grind’ into a broader game play with the simple combat sequences.
I believe the appeal of the ‘Task’ game is that you can drop in when you like and just play with it. This harkens back to the “digital plaything” games of “Little Computer People,” “Sim City: and other titles like it. The difference here is the social networking that motivates folks to create something worth bragging about. Productivity, even in a virtual sense, feels good.
The thing that I like about this is that we’re bringing in the sort of audience that never played games in the past. I expect to see this mechanic combined with traditional game elements of strategy, action and adventure. It’s a good thing.
William Volk, CCO
Post Featured in Gamasutra
On a Facebook group dedicated to Veterans of the Video Game Industry, the topic of Activison’s Shanghai game came up. Created by Brodie Lockard and launched in the mid 1980′s, this casual game was a popular casual game title for 15 years. When I was at Activision (1988 to 1994) I always wondered why we didn’t try harder to build the next Shanghai.
A typical topic at the GDC (Game Developer Conference) was “how do we bring in more people to gaming” often that was “how do we bring in more women into gaming.” The success of Shanghai in these segments was always of interest to many industry folks.
Fast forward to today. Zynga’s successful IPO (and EA’s impending $1B acquisition of PopCap, creators of the hit casual game Bejeweled) shows just how far casual games have come. Of course the social aspect, the interaction of players via achievements, gifts and invites, has added to the richness and popularity of these games.
So Congratulations Zynga. Not just for the IPO, but for expanding the audience for gaming for all casual and social games.
William Volk, CCO
Post Featured on Gamasutra
While this point can be argued with some persuasion, it’s far too easy to down the freemium Kool-Aid without recognition of several other factors that point to its designation as an important trend, but not a keystone for the future of the portable gaming.
There are some good points in the article, specifically the issues Ngmoco and others have had with the financial side of supporting these games, but the article ignores the current state of iPhone gaming. Here’s today list of the top grossing (revenue) apps in Apple’s iPhone App Market:
As you can see the top four grossing apps are Freemium games. Six of the top ten grossing apps are also Freemium apps.
So why is this so? Here’s my opinion:
1. Users are more likely to download free apps.
2. Players will stay with a strong free game if it has good game play value.
3. If in-app purchases make the game more enjoyable, a recurring revenue situation can occur which may drive more revenue than just a one time sale would.
Of course “good game play” value is key here … but I have to say given the market acceptance of this model … Freemium is here to stay.
William Volk, CCO
Post Featured on Gamasutra
A late game is only late until it ships. A bad game is bad until the end of time.
- Shigeru Miyamoto (Creator of Mario Bros)
Crickler was a difficult app to get out. How difficult? After checking my old emails, I realized that I first started to think about getting this onto a phone back in 2003. Why did it take so long for this to happen? Well that turns out to be a very interesting tale.
The story of bringing Crickler Daily Word Puzzle to mobile is in a way, the story of the evolution of mobile gaming. The time it took to bring it to mobile is a reflection of the desire to do this game right, to match and in some ways exceed the user experience of the original flash based title.
First some background. Crickler was launched in 2001 and currently runs, in Flash on over 40 Newspaper websites worldwide. It can be thought of as an â€˜adaptiveâ€™ crossword puzzle. The puzzle consists of sentences missing a word or words that needs to be filled in by the player. Letters are shared between words. The adaptive part is a handicapping system that changes what words are selected and how many letters are shared. Here is a picture of a section of the Flash game (you can sample this at Crickler.com):
The typical puzzle is based on the news of the day, but the puzzles can be about any subject.
So why did we want this on a mobile device in the first place?
When I first started in mobile gaming (2002 or so) the games I saw were â€œJust like Gameboy tltles, only worseâ€. The screen sizes were tiny (I recall doing one title for a 64×64 pixel display) and memory limited (64KB or less in the worst cases).
The thing I didnâ€™t get was that the games didnâ€™t seem to be taking advantage of the connectivity of the device. To be honest, when I looked deeper I was shocked at how poor the development systems were. Anyone who struggled to get network play (multiplayer) working on a mobile phone in the 2004 time-frame knows how crazy it was.
Crickler looked promising. It could take advantage of the connectivity of the device to present a new News Puzzle every day. It didnâ€™t require â€˜real-timeâ€™ data connectivity which was critical given the state of the platforms. By 2004 we even had a prototype running on some Nokia handsets:
The problem was, it was frankly â€¦ awful to play. Multi-tapping in letters and all of that. So that was out.
Fast forward to 2007/8. The iPhone shows up with a pretty decent web browser for apps. We started putting out web apps for the iPhone the weekend it shipped. Initially simple stuff like a â€œwhack a moleâ€ game called iWack â€¦ but eventually a collection of casual games like blackjack, bowling, backgammon etc… and of course, Crickler:
But the user experience, while better than the old Nokia handset, was still cumbersome. You had to click in each letter space and then enter a letter. An impressive achievement in web scripting, but still lacking. We choose not to make it public.
Luckily Apple did launch native apps, so the effort to have a native Crickler was begun. Even then, until we had the ability to modify the pop-up keyboard to add â€˜arrowâ€™ keys, it still wasnâ€™t quite the experience we wanted to provide. Eventually all the pieces came together, not the least of which was the in-app purchase system to enable a way of monetizing the application.
So as the mobile platforms matured, it became possible to match the experience of the original game. Care still had to be taken to insure proper operation in the case of signal loss. For example when the catalog of available puzzles is looked at, all the new ones are preloaded so that if you were to take the iPhone onto an airline flight, you would still have the ability to select a new puzzle to play.
Even today, mobile phones and tablets still have limitations that need to be respected.
So here’s a little ditty I composed after reading another “oh, what has Apple ever done for us” post, with apologies to Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
YouTube Video of the scene from the film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExWfh6sGyso
They’ve bled us white, the bastards. They’ve taken everything we had, not just from us, from our fathers and from our fathers’ fathers.
And from our fathers’ fathers’ fathers.
And from our fathers’ fathers’ fathers’ fathers.
All right, Stan. Don’t labour the point. And what have they ever given us in return?
Oh yeah, yeah they gave us that. Yeah. That’s true.
And the App Store!
Oh yes… the App Store, Reg, you remember what publishing mobile apps used to be like?
All right, I’ll grant you that the iPhone and the App Store are two things that Apple has done…
And the iPad …
(sharply) Well yes obviously the iPad… the iPad goes without saying. But apart from the iPhone, the App Store and the iPad …
Another Masked Activist:
Other Masked Voices:
Game Center … In App Purchases … iAds …
Yes… all right, fair enough…
Activist Near Front:
And the Multi-Touch Interface …
Oh yes! True!
Yeah. That’s something we’d really miss if Apple left, Reg.
Masked Activist at Back:
Timely App Sales Payments!
And you can make serious money on apps now. Used to take 90 days to get paid.
Yes, they certainly know how to build a Profitable Marketplace for our apps …(general nodding)… let’s face it, they’re the only ones who could it in a economy like this.
(more general murmurs of agreement)
All right… all right… but apart from the most advanced phone ever released and a market that didnâ€™t require you to fork over $1000â€™s just to get published and the iPad which pretty much created the consumer tablet business and Game Center and In-App Purchases and iAds and Timely Payments and the Multi-Touch Interface and a Profitable Marketplace for our apps … what has Apple ever done for us?
Paid App Developers Two Billion Dollars so far!
(very angry, he’s not having a good meeting at all) What!? Oh… (scornfully) Two Billion Dollars, yes… shut up!
William Volk, CCO
Post Featured in Gamasutra
In marketing iPhone apps it is useful to see the effects of app description, screen shots, advertising campaigns and public relations on the sales of your app. The best way to do that is to see how these changes effect the number of downloads you are seeing on a daily basis.
There is a problem with this approach. What developers have long observed is that download volume varies, based on the day of the week. For example: If you changed a screen shot in your app description (on the app store) on Friday, is the 10% increase in sales on Saturday (compared to Friday) a good or bad thing or just a reflection of more downloads on Saturday vs Friday?
You could always compare the sales numbers to last week, but that could reflect larger trends. If you are making frequent changes itâ€™s good to have a way to compare day to day sales/downloads. So we set out to determine the day to day trends for app downloads.
We started with a free popular game that had been released in January, Bocce-Ball. Bocce-Ball had hit #6 in all apps, and was continuing to see a good number of downloads even after promotions and advertising had stopped. Whatâ€™s more, we were weeks away from an update so we believed we would see consistent download numbers and definite patterns emerging on the sales based on the day of the week. The weekly download volume remained relatively stable during this time.
We used the daily download numbers starting on Monday Feb. 28th (2011) and ending on Sunday March 10th. For each week we normalized the numbers to an average of 700 downloads a week (100 per day) and looked at the daily trends for these six working weeks. Once that data was complied, we removed two of the weeks with the greatest deviation from the norm from the analysis and came up with the following results as represented by these graphs:
In tabular form this came out to the following matrix:
Whatâ€™s surprising was how small the deviations for the entire data set were from this model:
The average deviation was approximately 4 downloads (normalized). Even with the â€˜badâ€™ data folded back in, the deviations are still under 5 downloads on average.
As a check, we ran the same measurement for all six weeks to see if the model deviated greatly, even with the two previously removed weeks added back in. The values and deviation still indicated that the model was an accurate model of sales by day of the week. The averages were:
And the deviation (of the new averages) from the prior model (at the same scale) is:
What does it mean?
The implication is that you can scale your daily numbers by the inverse of these values to normalize sales number by day of the week. For example if you saw 6000 downloads on Friday and then 6500 downloads on Saturday, the normalized values would be 6451 and 5803 for Friday and Saturday respectively. Normalized Value being equal to the Actual Value divided by the modelâ€™s number for the day (as a %). The model for sales by day of the week would indicate that the sales for Saturday, given 6000 downloads on Friday, should be 7226 if all other factors remained the same.
So in the example given at the start, a change in a screen shot resulting in a 10% increase in downloads from Friday to Saturday (say from 6000 to 6600 downloads) â€¦ the corrected result is actually a 8.6% decrease in downloads when the day to day trends are used as a normalization. Better go back to the original screen-shot in that example.