Saturday, August 31, 2013

Casual Connect 2013: Message or Media? Marketing Context Matters

by Matthew Kellie, Player Acquistion, Supercell
·         Summary: Create ad programs that are non-invasive, which drives higher intrigue and higher value customers.
·         Developers are performance marketers. We are accountable for the money we spend.
·         Two important KPIs (key performance indicators) are CTR (click-through rate) and CVR (conversion rate).
·         “Games are still a form of art, not a form of science. Games cannot be designed in a spreadsheet.”
·         Sometimes, the simplest and elegant solutions are the best. During the space race, the Americans built a hi-tech pen that could write even when the gravity was upside-down. The Russians just used a pencil.
·         If you change your message, you can shift perception. Message matters, but context also matters. If I told you that the Hilton Hotel was on fire, about 99% of the audience in the room would care. But if the news was about a hotel in another city, then the message becomes much less relevant.
·         Clash of Clans ran an ad on Skout, looking like a dating profile for the barbarian king character. The ad program was not invasive and fit into the context of the ad provider.
·         Ad programs that are not invasive provide higher intrigue, which in turn provides higher quality users (higher CTR, CVR, and LTV).
·         The four tenets to focus on are transparency, creativity, ad execution, and higher eCPM.
·         Get demographic information from Flurry, Facebook Connect, and clickthroughs.
·         Not all creative ads work. Supercell created a rich media ad for Hay Day using the swiping mechanism from the game. The ad did not work so well but there could be several reasons for its failure. It might now have been the right publisher or the right audience.
·         A way to measure ROI for offline ads is to check lift in organic installs and a halo effect on CVR.
·         Global marketing depends heavily on localization. Use localizers to alter the message.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Casual Connect 2013: Making It Big: Monetization Strategies of Leading Game Developers

moderated by Heather Hromoho, Director of Developer Operations, Millenial Media
·         Summary: Make sure who your customer is and gain their trust.
·         Panelists include Joe Lazarus (CMO, Backflip Studios), Lou Fasulo (CEO, Z2Live), George Donovan (CEO, Gojii Games), and Andy Heinman (Scopely).
·         Be revenue agnostic (in-app purchases vs. ad revenue) as long as it provides a good user experience.
·         If you spend too much on acquisition, you need to monetize the user better and get higher value. CPIs are inevitably rising, so to counteract that, you need to generate higher LTV.
·         Start with the customer and work backwards. Have clear transparency about how to play and how you monetize. Don’t lose the customer’s trust.
·         Make sure who your customer is. Don’t make a game for “everybody” because not everyone plays and purchases the same way. Also, don’t build a game for yourself.
·         Making a paywall breaks the user’s trust because they won’t know how many other taxes they’ll run into later and will quit your game.
·         Merchandising is very important. Changing how your store looks likes changes purchasing behaviors.
·         Localization is important. Hire true localizers (who are also editors, not just translators). Localize to EFIGS and some Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean).
·         Evolution of a game mechanic is just as good, or possibly better, than innovation.
·         Use analytics well to see why people are engaging or disengaging, and how they are consuming the game.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Casual Connect 2013: Dissecting a Card Battle Game

by Christopher Ory, Playforge
·         Summary: Card battle games drive retention and monetization through enhance and fusion mechanics, events, carefully balanced drop rates, and loyalty programs.
·         A card battle game (like Rage of Bahamut, Marvel War of Heroes, Legend of the Cryptids, Puzzles & Dragons) is not a collectible card game (like Magic the Gathering, Hearthstone, Cabals, Solforge). It is a separate genre that also uses cards as its metaphor.
·         Cards are a very effective tool for many reasons. First, your audience can intuitively read abstract mechanics of a card. Secondly, cards are cheap. With a card metaphor, the audience is willing to accept static art and even inconsistent art styles. This way, as a developer, you can out source the art to many studios and get a lot of art done quick and cheap.
·         The game mechanic of card battle games is just tapping. The strategy comes with the collection of cards and the deck composition. This model favors monetizing users who collected the most cards.
·         Rage of Bahamut has two core loops (the PvE loop and the PvP loop). They are both very similar, simple loops (PvE = go on quest -> collect loot -> unlock more quests, PvP = fight opponent -> collect loot -> find new opponents) with different resources. These core loops look exactly the same as World of Warcraft.
·         A very effective retention method is the Enhance and Fusion mechanics. Cards gain experience points and level up, and you can feed less desirable cards to power up other cards. This has two major positive side effects. First, it creates a system where everything (even bad cards) have value and the economy remains stable. Secondly, duplicates become desirable instead of a drag, because you can fuse several duplicates to create a more powerful version of that card.
·         Another retention method is the event system, which targets later-stage players. Have universal daily, weekly, and monthly events where players must coordinate together. This will create talk among players and naturally forge a community around your game.
·         Rage of Bahamut's drop rates are 38.5% normals, 60% rares, 15% high rares, 1% S rare, and 0.5% SS rare. The drop rate of rares are actually higher than normals because it's more desirable and rewarding to the player to get a 2 star card than a 1 star card.
·         Magic the Gathering's booster packs usually include 8 commons, 3 uncommons, 1 rare, and about 0.25% chance of a mythic rare. Magic's drop system is used for game balance (rares are actually more rare because they are also more powerful) and for secondary markets (retailers can make higher profits off rare cards). Rage of Bahamut's drop rates, however, are intended only to make money, so it's the model you should follow.
·         Kompu Gacha (translated as "complete gacha") is a monetization method where you must complete a set of random pulls. It's similar to prize vending machines at carnivals... you pay a small amount of money to receive an item at random, and you must complete an entire set of these random items to turn it in for a grand prize. Since the items are rewarded randomly, it's very difficult to complete a full set and players can easily spend a fortune getting a full set. This monetization method is so powerful, it was made illegal in Japan.
·         Loyalty programs are effective retention methods. Reward players for logging in or for making x number of purchases.
·         Puzzles & Dragons employs an arcade system where you can pay to continue a level after losing. In addition, it shows you everything you've gained up to that point in the level and you must pay an additional cost to keep those items, otherwise you lose them. This is their highest conversion to purchase.
·         Developers should be transparent about their retention and monetization systems. Don't trick players with dirty monetization methods. Players don't like to be lied to and they will always find ways around your tricks. They will only be more incentivized to "beat the system." Just let players know what they're getting into and it will build trust.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Casual Connect 2013: The Power of Touch

by Jesse Schell, CEO, Schell Games
·         Abstract: This talk covers the history of touch games and where touch games are heading in the future.
·         Touch games have swept the world because kids understand touch games intuitively. Even animals can understand how to play a touch game.
·         Humans works with symbolic logic for 3000 years. The computer mouse tapped into the history of tool use which stretches back 3 million years. The history of touch dates back 300 million years. The realm of touching and receiving a response is the realm of the primal.
·         When technology combines philosophy, it’s destiny.
·         Touch is really complicated. There are millions of sensors, and we are only starting to understand itching and tickling. The conscious mind has difficulty understand its own touch. But it’s still very powerful. With Braille, people can absorb so many letters per second.
·         We are still learning touch interfaces on devices. Early touch screens fell victim to heavy arm syndrome, requiring people to hold out their arms for long periods of time.
·         The Nintendo DS, despite many negative feedback before release, became a mega-hit because it managed to do touch well. It did use a stylus and years later, the iOS devices revolutionized touch by using only the finger.
·         “Why would you use a stylus when God already gave you 10?” – Steve Jobs
·         However, there’s still magic in the stylus and the 3-finger grip, especially for artists.
·         School stopped teaching cursive handwriting and even proper typewriting. Now everyone develops sloppy hunt-and-peck typing techniques, which is okay since the current standard interface is the virtual keyboard.
·         We constantly innovative with interface with the Tactus (tactile touchscreen), Senseg (haptic interface), Oculus Rift (virtual reality), Aerial (compressed air feedback), airborne ultrasound, and Kinect (full-body camera vision).
·         Robots haven’t entered our household because we don’t have anything for them to do. The things they can do now like making our beds or brewing us coffee, we can easily do better ourselves. But they will eventually enter to provide us haptic feedback while we’re playing with the Oculus Rift and the Kinect.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Casual Connect 2013: Technical Challenges of HTML5 Development

by Chris Shankland, Lead Developer, Big Viking Games
·         Tools to use
o    Chrome Developer Tools (turn on the experimental tools). Use the profilers – the data profiler, the heat profiler to track memory leaks, and the canvas inspection tool to look at draw calls.
o for Javascript performance benchmarking.
o    Crankshaft for optimization profiling.
o    Safari Remote Debugger for mobile devices.
o    Webkit Bugzilla for webkit debugging.
·         Performance techniques
o    Don’t use .eval() since it kills optimization.
o    Try-catch blocks cannot be auto-optimized with Crankshaft.
o    Function calls are expensive especially on iOS, so use inline functions.
o    Branching is expensive.
o    Always use the profile.
·         Memory management
o    Javascript is a garbage collected environment and everything creates garbage ([], {}, new, Object.keys, strings, etc.). Mobile makes memory situation exponentially worse.
o    iOS kills your app if it uses too much memory, but how much memory is arbitrary. It will kill the app anywhere between 200mb to 400mb.
o    ECMAScript specifically disallows you from knowing how much memory you’re using.
o    Solutions – create pools, adopt an “our parameter” convention, use Emscripten-style pre-allocation
·         Asm.js is a subset of Javascript that enforces types by casting and allows for ahead-of-time compiling. It’s currently available in Firefox and is spearheaded by Mozilla.
·         The biggest pro of HTML5 is that it allows developers to patch game without submitting to Apple. It’s cross-platform and enables you to keep game in-sync across platforms. Also, since it’s just Javascript, QA can send stack traces and console dumps to developers easily.
·         Make in-app payments done in native code to make it secure from decompiling.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Casual Connect 2013: Finding the Needle in the Haystack: Prototyping Culture at Wooga

by Antti Hattara, Pocket Studio
·         Summary: Make a one-page pitch with a clear objective, make a prototype with scoring, and launch an internal company competition to drive people to playtest the game.
·         This talk is about how to evaluate and recognize prototypes with potential. Antti is the lead of a Wooga subbrand called Pocket Studio, which focuses on casual, mass-market games.
·         They show a case study, an idea called Lines. It's a match-3 game where you draw lines between same colored blocks. Yes, it is exactly like Puzzle Craft andBayou Blast...
·         Their prototyping process is a 3 phase framework.
1.     It starts with the idea being reduced into a one-page pitch. Using a lot of visuals helps a lot. The idea must have a clear objective and concept specification, so the prototyping team would know exactly what they have to build. It must also have some market potential for it to be considered. Lines was pitched as a line-drawing match-3 game with a move limit and a map. There was nothing in the market that was exactly like this, so they decided to go forward with it. This is how the one-page pitch looked like...
2.     The next step is to create a prototype with scoring. While building the prototype, there are two key elements to focus on. The first is that the game is intuitive. Do a lot of user testing to make sure the game is easy to understand and play. The second is that the game provides meaningful choices and replayability. You can achieve this by adding a meaningful scoring system in the game and testing to see if users are driven to improve their scores. Lines had scoring which was attached to a 3 star system. This was used to prove if the game had any retention and replayability.
3.     Finally, release the game internally and hold a competition to get your users into the game. Wooga has about 250 employees, but they found that you only need 50 users as a good sample size for this test. Hold a competition (over the course of 2-3 weeks) with actual physical incentives (prizes, t-shirts, toys). This will test the depth of the game, its extendability (how much the game requires on the content side), and its engagement factor. At Wooga, they create a private Facebook group to run the competition, which adds a social element and the benefit of wall posting. If there's a lot of talk and buzz about the game, you may have a winner on your hands.
·         Lines was a successful prototype and they greenlit the game, soon releasing as Jelly Splash. The idea was pitched in July 2012, the initial prototype was done in Sept 2012, and the competition was held in Dec 2012. Their process takes roughly 3 months of prototyping and 3 months of hardening with a team of 2 engineers.
·         They have about a 20% greenlight ratio. 4 out of 5 games are thrown away.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Casual Connect 2013: Why the Time is Right for AAA Quality on Emerging Platforms

by Greg Richardson, CEO, Rumble Entertainment
·         Building a great core mechanic is not enough.
·         Give your employees a monthly allowance to spend on other free-to-play games to study them.
·         Word of mouth is the most important discovery tool. Rumble Entertainment buys less than 5% of its players and relies on word of mouth.
·         Touchscreen first-person shooter is difficult right now, but people’s perceptions will change when a killer app comes out. Console first-person shooter was thought to be impossible until Halo came out and changed everybody’s perceptions.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Casual Connect 2013: Removing the Risks from Building Games and Maximizing Profits

by Chris Dewolfe, CEO, SGN
·         Summary: Follow the analytics closely and make daily updates to the game.
·         Create a great FUE and be very analytical about the metrics. Check when people are dropping off and reduce the long load times.
·         Launch on Facebook, iOS, and Android at the same time. Look at stats and analytics on a daily basis.
·         Difficulty curve should look like a step ladder, not a linear straight line going up.
·         It’s good to monetize free users with ads if you are smart about it. Wait a few weeks before showing the first ad to the user and show the ads sparingly.
·         The biggest challenge of game development is staffing up with passionate talented people.
·         Chris started Myspace and left at 2009. There were many business mistakes with Myspace. They tried to add e-mail and classified sections and staffed up quickly to do that. The company ended up growing to 1600 employees too quickly with very little focus.
·         Be on the forefront of cross-platform development. Develop once and deploy everywhere. Zynga failed to quickly move their games to all platforms.
·         Do remarketing programs to grab users back and fix any balancing problems for all future new users.
·         Game profits are a mixture of retention and average revenue per user.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Casual Connect 2013: Welcome to the Microconsole Generation

by Tadhg Kelly, Creative Director, Jawfish Games
·         Summary: Microconsoles (small Android consoles) will make a big splash in the games industry, as it offers an experience that maturing casual gamers are looking for.
·         “Microconsoles” are small Android consoles like the Ouya, Gamestick, Bluestick Gamepop, and the Madcatz Mojo.
·         Imagine a casual gamer who plays lots of games and pays for a few of them. They are frustrated with small mobile games and becomes interested in something else. However, they don’t want a big black hardcore console and they don’t want to buy discs. They will want microconsoles because the business model is something they’re used to (free-to-play downloadable games).
·         As an industry, we like to think about things in paradigms. The games industry will be puzzled with microconsoles blow up. “Why would people buy weak devices? Why would controllers get dumber? Why would games devolve?”
·         Microconsoles will become popular because we like small, simple, easy, immediate, features that suit us, sharing, flexible pricing, playful… all properties of microconsoles.
·         There’s a fidelity fallacy… “people will never buy a A because B is so much better.” But history has proven that people are willing to buy the weaker hardware if it suits them better.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Casual Connect 2013: Inside the Saga Series

Inside the Saga Series (by Jong Woo, VP Business Development, King)
·         Summary: King’s hit games follow a three-step process (launch a short Flash game on the web portal, port to Facebook with social and monetization features, and build a mobile version with cross-platform synchronization). Deliver snackable, satisfying, social experiences where players are rewarded for winning.
·         King follows a 3 step process to find their hit games
1.     They have a small team of 3 developers who build about one new game a month and put it on, their online portal. They track analytics and play times to see which of these small Flash games have the highest potential. This process allows them to fail faster and cheaply.
2.     The best games on their portal become candidates to be "saga-fied." This is when they add social, viral, monetization, and retention hooks into the games and put it up on Facebook. Facebook allows them to do heavy A/B testing and fine tune the game.
3.     The best performing Facebook games are brought over to mobile. Mobile versions are built natively (not ported over) and they focus heavily on cross-platform synchronization.
·         They have four pillars that guide their design decisions. Their motto is "the player is king" and they're all about optimizing the player experience.
1.     "Winning is the name of the game." King entered the social space pretty late and they intentionally strayed away from making resource management games that have no win conditions. They make sure their games always have clear and concrete goals, immediate feedback for winning or losing, and great rewards when you do win. They adopted the coin-op arcade framework, where you enter a quarter and play as long as you can survive. Their games have a lives system, in which you only stop playing if you lose. This is a "merit-based" system that rewards players positively for their skills.
2.     Rethinking the "social" in social games. Many social games treat your friends as resources, where you receive benefits for having more friends. King focuses on quality of friends, rather than quantity. When you see your friends on the map and leaderboards, this is an inherently social system that drives players to continue playing to stay competitive with their friends.
3.     Create snackable and satisfying experiences. The game should provide fun and meaningful interactions in a 3 minute session, as well as 3 hour sessions. It's unlike a slow sim, where you login for 3 minutes, and all you end up doing is buying something and placing it... then waiting 15 minutes to make another interaction. With Candy Crush, when you login for 3 minutes, you are delivered a complete satisfying game experience.
4.     Play where ever and whenever. King games provide a cross-platform experience with synchronized progress. The company invested heavily in the tech infrastructure that allows this and it was well worth it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Casual Connect 2013: Building an Amazing Sutdio Culture: There is More to It Than Free Lunches

moderated by Chris Ye, founder, Uken Games
·         Summary: Co-locate the team for face-to-face communication and keep them motivated.
·         Note: I only caught the first half of this panel.
·         Panelists include Joshua Nilson (Co-founder, East Side Games), Tim Teh (Co-founder, Kano Apps), Emily Greer (Co-founder, Kongregate), and Sonia Ryan (Outreach, A Thinking Ape).
·         Culture outlasts every company and allows them to be innovative and creative.
·         East Side Games printed their three pillars and posted it on the walls near the entrance. Their pillars are “fiercely independent,” “community,” and “fail faster.”
·         A Thinking Ape is decentralized by product. They make their core hours 1pm – 4pm, and everything else is up to the team itself. The teams can choose to work from 1pm to 11pm if they choose to. They try to centralize the company through town hall meetings and “Ask a Founder” Fridays where anyone in the company can ask the founders silly questions.
·         General tips – stress communication between employees, put people in the office at the same time for that face-to-face communication, deencentivize people working at home, give employees rewards if they’ve been there x months, have annual all-company off-site meetings if your company has several offices.
·         There’s no silver bullet for company culture. Everybody will organically grow their culture in their own ways.
·         Hiring out of the player base will ensure very loyal and passionate employees.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Casual Connect 2013: Start-up Survival Lessons for Indie Developers

by Kenny Huang, CEO, BlueBat Games
·         Summary: Be able to take on any role, take on projects to bring in cash, and remain persistent.
·         Wear lots of hats. You have to be an engineer, designer, producer, and even the janitor.
·         The first three people to hire are the CEO, CTO, and UX (someone who does art, UI, and usability testing).
·         Pick your evil dictator at the start because dictatorship moves things a lot faster.
·         Need to hire slow and fire fast. It’s important to build a really good team at the start.
·         Need to bring in cash. If you’re really passionate about something and you’re not making money, then it’s a hobby, not a business.
o    Do work-for-hire and take some contracts.
o    Pitch and get fundraising, though this is a full-time job in itself. It’s especially tough in the games industry since it’s a hit-driven industry. Investors aren’t looking for a good project, they’re looking for a good company. You need to instill confidence in your investory, which may mean building out your portfolio beforehand.
o    Get government grants or tax credits. There are less strings attached.
o    Crowdfund using Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, but make sure it is project-based, not company-based.
·         Learn financial statements, at least at the surface level.
·         Don’t trust the statement: ”If you build it, they will come.” Almost in all cases, they will not come. You need to budget for post-launch and marketing.
·         Use lean methodology. Build a MVP (minimal viable product), launch fast, test it, and iterate on it.
·         Get lucky. When all else fails, listen to the wife and ask what she thinks (assuming she’s the casual audience).
·         Remain persistent. BlueBat Games had 94 rejections before finally getting VC backing.
·         Further reading – Get Lucky (Miller & Becker), Lean Analytics (Croll & Yoskovitz), Made to Stick (Heath & Heath), Financial Intelligence for Entrepeneurs (Berman, Knight, Case).

Monday, August 19, 2013

Casual Connect 2013: Three Things to Think About When Designing Free-to-Play Games

by Tim Letourneau, CCO, Zynga

·         Summary: Have a long-term creative vision, balance your economy, and emphasize the social element.
·         Michaelangelo’s Sistene Chapel is considered fine art, but we often forget that it was also commercial. The work was commissioned by the church. This is similar to games; it’s both an art and a commercial product.
·         Free-to-play games are like a tv show. There’s no inherent cost to entry or initial investment, so it’s very easy for the audience to leave if they’re not engaged in the first few minutes.
·         There are three important things to think about when designing free-to-play games.
1.     Have a long-term creative vision. The future will be here before you know it, so you must have content planned out at least a year in advance. Don’t be like Happy Days and “jump the shark,” adding in content that don’t fit in well with the pillars of the brand. Create an “onion skin development model,” mapping your game out as a series of concentric circles. The core of the onion is the core of your game and each successive layer are new features that prolong the lifespan of the game. In the case of Farmville 2, the core features were crops, animals, and crafting, and the second layer included the country fair and competitions.
2.     Balance your economy. Tuning will make you or break you. The economy can’t be too complex for the player or too easy to exploit. Think about sessions per day, session length, virtuous consumption models, compulsion models, and strategy vs. grind vs. luck.
3.     Emphasize social. The common languages for social are awareness, togetherness, commitment, and community. Get people to talk to each other and share your game.