Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Casual Connect 2013: Free-to-Play 2013 Year in Review

Abstract: This talk covers the 6 trends that came out of free-to-play games in 2013 including the solidification of social and mobile markets, rise of the mid-core, King’s dominance, casino games, endless runners, and that nobody knows anything.
·         Speakers include Dave Rohrl (VP of Game Production, Funsockets), Juan Gril (Studio Director, Joju Games), and Steve Meretzky (Former VP of Game Design, Playdom).
·         Trend #1 – Facebook and mobile leaderboards
o    Top developers on each platform mostly carry over between years. Zynga, King, and Wooga were top of the Facebook chain in the last two years.
o    Lessons – it’s very tough to break into Facebook and the platform solidified fast, mobile is more open but it’s getting harder
·         Trend #2 – Rise of the mid-core
o    Clash of ClansModern War, and Kingdom Age have proven that more men are playing mobile games. Supercell and Kabam have built businesses off this premise.
o    These games have lots of social aspects like guilds, collection aspects, and high production costs (ie. Injustice and Real Racing).
o    Lessons – men play casual games, combat and collection mechanics are successful, production values are rising very fast
·         Trend #3 – King
o    King started their saga series with Puzzle Saga and Bubble Saga. They became successful with Bubble Witch Saga andCandy Crush Saga, and has since followed with Mahjongg Saga, Pyramid Solitaire Saga, HoopDeLoop Saga, Pet Rescue Saga, Papa Bear Saga, and Farm Hero Saga.
o    When Candy Crush Saga came to mobile, it launched a true cultural phenomenon like other many hits in the past such asTetris, Pacman, Guitar Hero, Farmvile, Angry Birds, and Clash of Clans.
o    Lessons – strategy matters, persistence matters, quality matters
·         Trend #4 – Chipping in
o    Casino games remain dominant. Tables are social and offer multiplayer.
o    The pros of casino games are reduced design risk, reduced learning curves, and an understood monetization model. The cons are that it’s easy to replicate the mechanics, players resist game variants and innovation, and development requires premium math skills to maintain a stable economy. The market is also saturated with big name players like Big Fish, Zynga, and GSN.
o    Lessons – casino games offer great monetization, it’s a crowded field, legalized online gambling will expand the market
·         Trend #5 – Endless runners
o    Endless runners have had successful iterations since its introduction with CanabaltJetpack Joyride added an alternative movement to simple jumping and missions, Temple Run added the third dimension along with tilting and sliding, Subway Surfers added customization features, Despicable Me: Minion Rush added stages and boss fights, and Running With Friends added asynchronous multiplayer. There’s still plenty of room to explore for the genre.
o    Lessons – simple and addictive, missions and alternative actions are key, production values are rising
·         Trend #6 – Nobody knows anything
o    A common myth was that “word games are dead,” but Words With Friends, Spelltower, and wurdle have become big hits.
o    “Dragons are for core gamers,” but Dragonvale and Puzzles & Dragons have disproved that myth.
o    “Zynga will always be #1,” but King has surpassed its dominance.
o    “Hidden object games don’t work on Facebook” but Gardens of Time changed the paradigm. The new mantra became “Hidden object games are the biggest thing on Facebook” and a wave of clones came out, all failing one after the other. The mantra went back to “hidden object games don’t work on Facebook” and now Criminal Case came out and proved that wrong yet again.
o    “Casual players want easy fun,” but Candy Crush Saga is an extremely difficult game.
o    Lessons – metrics only help you sand off the rough edges

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