David Logan shared his thoughts on crowdfunding in his session at Casual Connect USA 2014. “The biggest thing I think is that people invest in people,” he said. “And that’s why, in my opinion, crowdfunding does so well, because you are investing in other people’s passion, in other people’s dreams, and you’re really helping those people take their project to the next level.”
David Logan, founder of Night Light Interactive, says, “Work is my hobby.” He loves creating and playing video games. When he plays new games, he is looking for interesting and unique mechanics and trying to learn from them. But he also enjoys hanging out with his pet tortoise, Chronos, and racing him around the yard.
Learning The Skills
Logan is a producer at Animax and also at Night Light Interactive. At Animax, he has worked with clients such as Paramount, Disney, Sony, and NBC. Currently, they are developing the mobile game Stick and Chick. He has been at Animax for over four years, where he learned the skills necessary to start his own company. These skills include management, budgeting, scheduling, marketing and more. He emphasizes, “These are really valuable skills that I’ve used in Night Light.”
The major milestones Night Light has reached with their game Whispering Willows has brought Logan the greatest satisfaction in his career. The first milestone was getting funded on Kickstarter. The other was getting the game approved on Steam Greenlight. The team had worked so hard at making this game a reality. These accomplishments made them feel ecstatic that their indie studio had made it so far and might actually be successful.
Logan’s view of his company changed completely when Whispering Willows won the Most Immersive award in the initial game jam they entered, the OUYA CREATE contest. He remembers getting home from work, lying down, and thinking, “Wow! We really can do this!” He found it very inspiring. After they won the contest, they wanted to ride the wave of their success, so they launched their successful Kickstarter campaign the following month.
Logan believes crowdsourcing and crowdfunding will take off in the next few years, even more than they already have. At Night Light, they are now thinking outside the box about how games will be funded and constructed.
Platforms of Choice
Consoles are Logan’s preferred platform for gaming. He admits to being a huge Nintendo fan and owns every one of their consoles. He also owns PS3 and PS4 and has a large PS1 and PS2 game collection as well. He has an OUYA a PC, and even a custom Dance Dance Revolution pad.
Currently, he is playing Mario Kart 8 with the Night Light team every week, and hosts regular Magic the Gathering and board game tournaments at work. He is looking forward to Super Smash Bros on Wii U and has also been playing TowerFall and Amazing Frog? on OUYA. However, his favorite game of all time is Unreal Tournament 2004. If anyone still plays, let him know, because he’d love to play again! He also makes an active effort to support other indie devs.
He also plays F2P and enjoys being able to try out a game for free. But he is intrigued that he ends up spending much more money than he would have on a non-F2P game.
Brain Connected is a German-based independent game developer studio founded in 2011 by Jannik Waschkau and Kolja Lubitz making games for mobile, TV, and PC platforms. Both being programmers and not good in creating art, they are currently looking for an artist to join the team, and telling how they managed to get to the point where they are now with their game Somyeol.
Everything started at the Global Game Jam 2011 where we developed a prototype of a platformer game which would later become Somyeol. Before the Jam, we had hardly any experience in game development, with our only project being an unfinished racing game which we programmed for fun alongside our studies. We stopped working on it in favor of Somyeol.
An iOS App for $0.99 Because Everyone Else was Doing It
Somyeol was released in the end of 2011 as a paid app at a price of $0.99 for iOS, because a lot of other gaming apps were doing it. As we were, and probably still are, an unknown developer, we didn’t attract a lot of attention and hardly anyone was buying our game. Because of that, we came to the conclusion that we had to make our game free-to-play with in-app advertising to reach more audience. That went a lot better, and around two years later, we can say that we are very happy to have gathered more than 1 million downloads over all platforms with our first game. While not commercially viable, we have made a few bucks and gained tons of experience about game development.
Somyeol HD: OUYA and Roku Because They’re Not Crowded
Somyeol was designed and optimized for pre-Retina iOS devices with little processing power. It runs perfectly fine on a device with only a 400 MHz single core CPU. The game is written in C++, which is a pretty fast programming language. The graphics have very low resolution, which looks fine on devices with resolutions up to 800×480.
To change that, we let our external artist Carsten redraw all graphics in high resolution, changed our rendering code, and released a Somyeol HD version for Android. The HD version can be used on screens of all scales from small smartphones and up to 4K displays. To get Somyeol HD to these big screens, we first ported it to the Ouya, but it wasn’t accepted well there despite being featured in their store.
We first ported it to the Ouya, but it wasn’t accepted well there despite being featured in their store.
We are not sure what the reasons are, but one of them may be that it’s a single player game, while lots of the successful games on the Ouya have multiplayer and couch co-op components. Because the Ouya is just another Android device, we will probably release our future titles on it. Releasing a game does not take a lot more time than compiling an APK and uploading it to their store system. We only got 500 downloads and to date, we’ve sold around five copies of Somyeol HD.
Before Christmas, we released on Roku because our middleware-added support for this platform, and it is not bad to be on as many platforms as possible. The only downside is that we can not access their in-app purchase API from C++, and that is why we’re not able to release a version where the first few levels are free to try.
It is not bad to be on as many platforms as possible.
Bringing the game to Roku was a seamless process, and they provided good support. They even sent us free devices to test our game on. There are not many games released for Roku, and so we do not have a lot of competition. Sales were a lot better than on the Ouya, and we are happy that we ported it over.
Try Available Engines, Eventually Make Your Own
Because we were building on top of the architecture from the Global Game Jam, Somyeol has not the prettiest code to read, let alone to enhance. Over the years, we were updating it with a lot of features which were not there in the initial design. Eventually, it got too time-consuming to maintain that code, so we decided to re-make our projects started long ago, transferring all new features into independent modules, which worked out pretty well. The big advantage is that the modules can be reused across all our games.
For Somyeol HD, we also needed to implement a new renderer, since the resolution of the textures got a serious increase, which was also programmed as a module, and is now (slightly modified) used for our unnamed 2D game engine, which will power our next title and hopefully all of our future games. We now have 40 different modules which we can use across our games, and will hopefully save us a lot of development time in the future. Without the making of Somyeol, where we made a lot of bad decisions engine-wise, and which we could learn from, we wouldn’t have the knowledge to do this properly.
We now have 40 different modules which we can use across our games.
Starting with the development of our own game engine and our next title, we thought about features we will need for both. One of the most important ones is easy 2D content creation. After a little research, we stumbled across Spriter, which is a pretty interesting 2D animation tool allowing bone animation for 2D graphics. While the format Spriter produces is open source, there are no good examples of how to integrate Spriter into games, and we had to invest a lot of time to get it working properly. We are supporting all basic features of Spriter. Because every game needs collision detection, we also wanted to integrate a 2D physics engine to get these for free, and also the possibility to run physics simulation. For this reason, we tried to integrate Box2D which only took us a few hours to get working. Sadly, we noticed pretty fast that integration with Spriter would take too much time. So we had to ditch Box2D as our physics engine and instead wrote our own collision detection. The good thing is that we now have full control over internal workings of our collision system, which makes it a lot easier to integrate into the other engine parts. Missing physics simulation would be no problem, as we can always integrate Box2D at a later point should we need it.
Kolja and Jannik are still students, so they can only work on their projects part-time, and that is why they are making slow – but steady – progress. Most time, they are still working on the different modules of their game engine and want to get their first prototype, which will someday be Somyeol 2, ready in the next few months. Up until now, the plan worked out and they are confident to have a great foundation with their engine for Somyeol 2 and their future games.
Cellar Door Interactive is an Israeli-based micro-studio consisting of Doron Kanaan, Leonid Haitov, and Saiphan Brunner. The studio is currently developing its first creation, a first-person episodic point-and-click adventure game named Rose. In Rose, the player acts as the protagonist, a 12-years-old girl who, with her brother and two friends, unwittingly gets stuck in the abandoned house at the end of their street. Doron shares the story.
The 80s: The Best Time to be a Kid
Contrary to popular belief, the 80s were a wonderful time. Trying to harness every bit of objectivity, I can say it was the best period in known history for being a kid. I had the most amazing childhood imaginable, and, aside from friends and family, I have to chalk that up to two forms of entertainment that stood out during the 80’s: adventure games and horror movies.
My love for horror movies and adventure games stayed with me through the years. When a combination of the two came along, I couldn’t be happier. Games such as Sanitarium, BlackstoneСhronicles, DarkFall, and Scratches are among my absolute favorites. When it was time for me to decide what I wanted to study, filmmaking seemed an obvious choice.
When I started attending film school, I had one thing in mind – creating horror movies. As an aspiring filmmaker, I was influenced by the horror films I grew up on and the games I mentioned earlier. So it probably won’t come as a surprise that Rose actually started as a movie script. I attempted it as homage to the 80’s ‘kids in danger’ movies such as The Gate and TheGoonies. I never got to film it though. Oddly enough, one of the most recurring criticisms I received on the earlier versions of the script was that the plot progression was more suitable for an adventure game than a movie.
Dreams Come True
Once I finished film school, I started a business with my wife, also a film school grad. We were creating corporate and marketing videos, and, as years passed, the dream of someday making a horror film became even more distant and unrealistic.
A few years later, I read an article about a game development program in a design school near my house, and the chips fell where they should. I may not have realized it back in my film school days, but in retrospect, it appeared pretty obvious that what I really wanted to make was an adventure game. I just didn’t think it was possible, since I didn’t have necessary skills. Now there was an opportunity to acquire at least some of those skills, and I wasn’t going to miss it, so I applied. After a few weeks, I felt that is what I wanted to do in my life.
I removed the dust from my script for Rose (and I mean literally removed the dust, since the only copy I had remaining was a hard one) and started adapting it to a game, which wasn’t a very hard task. I teamed up with two classmates – Saiphan Bruner (a 3D artist) and Leonid Haitov (a 2D artist), who shared my passion for adventure games, and together, we set off to this amazing journey.
A Working App with Bone-Chilling Bugs in 6 Months…But it Works!
The graphics department was all set, but I had no experience in programming or any other aspect of game development. While the program gave me the absolute fundamentals, I needed to know a lot more. I bought Sue Blackman’s book, Beginning 3D Development with Unity, and, armed with gallons of passion and motivation, set out to make Rose a reality.
Six months later, we had an alpha version for the first episode, and it looked pretty good. Sure, my beginner’s programming skills caused a fair amount of bone-chilling bugs (which I managed to iron out), but it was working, and I was thrilled. Rose was our final project for the game development program, and during the showcase, we caught the attention of Oded Sharon, a seasoned Israeli game developer who’s done a thing or two, especially in the adventure genre. He suggested publishing Rose, and we agreed.
Taking the Ouya Plunge
Our romance with Ouya began almost as an afterthought. Oded was one of the backers who received the console prior to the launch and started playing with it, trying to get games he was involved in to work on the console. When he came to me with it, my initial thought was that Rose, a point-and-click adventure game, had nothing to do with a gamepad-based console. But at a certain point, I’m not even sure why, I decided to give it a chance. Implementing the Ouya SDK was easy enough, and, after a few days of fiddling with it, I had a working version of Rose for the Android-based console.
I used the gamepad’s tiny touchpad for mouse inputs, and, while the whole experience was unintuitive and tedious (try controlling a mouse cursor on a widescreen HDMI TV with a one-inch touchpad, struggling to determine which cursor, the OS one or the custom one, you should pay attention to), it was working, and I was quite taken with the little gray console. We submitted the game to the Ouya market, and a couple of days later it was accepted. The demo for the first episode of Rose was in the sandbox. We were thrilled! It lasted about a week.
But then it turned out that people at Ouya made a mistake. They didn’t think two-mouse cursors were acceptable after all, and removed Rose from the market, suggesting we use just the OS cursor, and ditch the custom one. This was not an option for me, since in Rose, the custom cursor texture changes for each inventory item you want to use, and seeing the entire thing becoming quite a hassle made me think of giving up.
Taking Advantage of a System’s Strength Instead of Fighting its Limitations
I’m not really sure how the thought of changing the entire control scheme came to me, but I’m glad it did. It was one of those moments when you just know you’re on to something. I took advantage of the controller, and revamped the controls to use it properly, instead of fighting its weakness (the tiny touch pad). I decided to ditch the cursor entirely, and control the game solely with the gamepad: use the left stick for movement, the right one to scroll through interactive hotspots, and the buttons for interaction. It took me about a week, but it turned the game into a great experience on Ouya. It was leaps and bounds ahead of what it was before, even if I had to get rid of the second cursor. Now all I needed was to finish episode one, and start working on episode two.
When the Main Job Gets in the Way
Remember when I told you about my day job? Well, summer time is usually the most hectic when it comes to corporate and marketing videos, and the summer of 2013 was no exception. My days started to clutter up with work, and I didn’t have the time needed to properly finish the first episode. I became more and more frustrated. Starting up Unity became intimidating. What if I won’t remember how to do things? Luckily, I received a lot of messages to our Facebook page where people were asking when the full game is coming out. Some of them were quite angry with the fact that it wasn’t there yet, and I have to say it felt very encouraging.
November came, and my workload started to get thinner. I gradually went back to Rose, found a few things I wasn’t happy with (it always happens when you distance yourself from a project and then return, no matter what the medium is), fixed them, and started wrapping things up. I’m truly happy to say that the first episode is finally ready, or at least as ready as it will ever be. Now all I need to do is launch it.
If someone asked me about the most important thing I learned from this project, I’d use one of the most worn out clichés from books – If you want something passionately enough and are willing to put your heart into it, you’ll make it happen. I never thought this was true – until Rose. And I feel like the luckiest man alive for finding this out.
This article was written by John Gargiulo, SVP, Business Development + Marketing at BlueStacks.
When I was a kid, the most famous video games in the world were Super Mario Brothers, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, and Legend of Zelda. Today, they are Angry Birds, Candy Crush, and Subway Surfers. These are the games that 10 year-olds today will remember nostalgically when they are 34. The major distinction between these groups of games, of course, is that the former were all played on TVs, while the latter are, for the most part, played on screens no more than 4.5 inches big. There are several reasons why this line in the sand will be washed away over the next two years.
First, there is a perfect storm of technology that has hit just this past year that will serve as a huge enabler. We have reached a point where the pixel density on a smartphone is actually higher than on a 60-inch TV. This has never happened before. This means that games built for mobile phones look fantastic on TVs. With the right code in place to trick portrait apps into displaying in landscape (where possible), almost any mobile game looks like it was graphically designed to be played on the big screen. Android has also taken off both in numbers and in the imagination of the Amazons and Xiaomis of the world to fork it and march forward. For the first time, we are seeing extremely low-cost Android devices like Raspberry Pi and GameStick emerge. The hardware these are built on is getting commoditized very quickly. It is getting easier to bring Android to bigger screens beyond mobile.
Second is the promotion this past year by Amazon, Apple, and (more quietly) by Google of a controller standard for apps. By putting this forward, developers have been encouraged to keep physical controller schematics in mind when designing their games. I have spoken with several developers large and small who have been doing this for some time already. By the time a real vehicle for controller-based mobile-on-TV distribution becomes available, developers will be ready.
Third is the pure demand for this gaming content that has gone from zero to the moon in just five years. The people who are obsessed with Candy Crush Saga or Deer Hunter 2014 want this IP however they can get it. Why not on their flatscreen TV? So what’s holding things back? Why hasn’t this happened already?
One thing that’s important to remember is how fast all of this has been happening. The iPad only came out in 2010. The AppStore was born not long before that. Growth and innovation in the content and technologies making up the mobile gaming space has been epic (though some argue the content side is slowing down). It is only now that all the players have caught their breath and, concurrent with the technical perfect storm mentioned above, begun realizing they can work together to massively expand the screens on which we play “mobile-first” games.
There is also the matter of the Microconsoles, an apt term coined by Friend of the Casual Connect Community Tadhg Kelly. The introduction of Ouya, GamePop (full disclosure: our company BlueStacks has launched this one), Gamestick, and others represents the opening act of a larger show that will play out larger and larger over the coming years. While I won’t pretend to predict the winner of this race – and there very well might be more than one, it seems apparent that this is a category that is coming. In five years, that fact that mobile-first IP is on our TVs will seem as obvious a development as in-app purchases were a few years back (they were not).
In conclusion, there are a myriad of reasons why the white-hot content developers are building for mobile will be headed to your TV soon. How it gets there, who brings it, and the timing are anyone’s guess. However it happens, like the rapid development of the smartphone gaming ecosystem itself, it will certainly be fun to watch.
John will be at Casual Connect Europe next week discussing user acquisition secrets with people from some of the most popular games on iOS and Google Play. Find out more on the conference website.
Since its inception in 2009, the crowdfunding site Kickstarter has seen successful funding of hundreds of game-related projects. From modest one-man projects requiring only a few hundred dollars to over $8,000,000 raised by the microconsole innovator, OUYA, little doubt remains that crowdfunding, and Kickstarter in particular, is a non-trivial force in the creation of new video game content.
Big Viking Games Taps Kickstarter
London, Ontario-based Big Viking Games hopes to soon join the growing ranks of game companies that have found creative independence, funding, and community support on Kickstarter with their new project, Tiny Kingdoms – kicking off today, September 12, 2013. Founded in 2011 by Albert Lai and Greg Thomson, each individually successful social games industry innovators responsible for products like YoVille and Kontagent, Big Viking Games is “A passionate group of artists, designers, and engineers that love making great games as a part of a great team.” Big Viking pursues success through cross platform mobile and social game experiences based on HTML5. For more information about HTML5, make sure to check out Chris Shankland’s talk on The Technical Challenges of HTML5 Development from Casual Connect USA in San Francisco.
So in the crowded world of crowdfunding, what makes Tiny Kingdoms stand out? First – a clear focus on User Generated Content as value of the community experience that comes with any good Kickstarter program. The campaign promises future backers that, “Through this Kickstarter campaign, you will not just be helping to fund this project, you will be helping us create it! We want to reinvent the game design process, and change what it means to be a funder. You will receive game updates, dev diaries and partake in polls which will determine the nature of future game assets.”
The message is further re-enforced by the company’s press messaging which states,”…what really makes this game different from any other is the way players will be able to influence the development of the game, with unprecedented access to the game creation process. When players become backers in this campaign, they will help craft the vision and direction of the game, along with the developers at Big Viking. They will be given the opportunity to offer ideas and feedback on characters, environments, items, features and tactical gameplay modes. Big Viking sees the backers becoming part of a tight knit development team, as they experience rare insight into the development process. To facilitate this process, Big Viking will host live chats, provide designer diary updates and conduct polls throughout development. This feedback will begin when the game reaches beta and will continue through and after launch as the game evolves.”
Albert Lai, CEO of Big Viking, sees this as a unique opportunity for players to leave their mark on the game and build the game they really want to play, saying, “We want our fans to go beyond just pledging their dollars to also lend their ideas and creativity. The ultimate goal will be to re-imagine the way players interact with game developers, through both Kickstarter and collaborative online platforms.”
Second – a very modest initial funding goal of $50,000 coupled with the wide variety and professional polish of the assets developed to kick off the Kickstarter campaign suggests that while Big Viking Games could potentially bring this game to market on their own, they genuinely see value in letting consumers behind the curtain to become a part of the creative process. While a few thousand extra CAD isn’t anything a successful games industry indie is likely to turn away, it’s clear to anyone familiar with the genre Tiny Kingdoms occupies that both Albert and Greg conceive of a game that is far, far bigger than $50k will buy. In a super-savvy move, the founders of Big Viking appear to tap the passion of the games crowdfunding community to guide their offering AND build their foundational community at the same time. The low funding threshold also virtually guarantees funding success while compelling stretch goals like free new characters, Co-Op and PvP Multiplayer functionality give ample ammunition for convincing their backers to pony up to the next level for those popular features.
Third – virality is built in from the very beginning. Tapping into the natural social component of today’s games, the RPG genre, and the crowdfunding community, Big Viking has built in social benefits even before the game is available by rewarding backers with bonus “buddy” rewards to share with friends. Clearly, the folks at Big Viking understand that gamers, especially midcore online and mobile gamers, want to share the love with their gamer friends, and in doing so, promote the Kickstarter campaign to the exact market most likely to find value in it. With this core understanding of the power of virality and the gamer’s social networks, Greg, Al, and their team can surely expect to build strong social features into the game as well, completing and perpetuating social positive-feedback loops that enhance Tiny Kingdoms’ growth.
More about Tiny Kingdoms
Tiny Kingdoms is a free-to-play, RPG adventure game for mobile and social platforms. In this game, players take on the role of adventurers on a quest to prove their worthiness to become the next ruler of the kingdom. To do this they must defeat deadly creatures through hundreds of strategic battles as they conquer the most insurmountable odds. They will have to choose a tactical team, craft items and weapons and find the loot that will strengthen their warriors. The powerful enemies in this gameplay can only be defeated through tactical strategy, item and weapon crafting and obtaining the amazing loot. The game is built using HTML5, which allows player to seamlessly play across different platforms, such as Facebook and their mobile devices.
To learn more or to contribute to the campaign, visit Kickstarter. To learn more about Big Viking games, visit their website.
At Casual Connect in San Francisco, Tadhg Kelly spoke to the emerging trends of “Microconsoles” like Ouya, Bluestacks and Gamestick. His talk, Welcome to the Microconsole Generation, touched on the potential broad reach and appeal of microconsole and how it is different from the AAA Console market of the past. “You see the same adoption pattern for games as seen in music and books,” Kelly believes, “this is not the Xbox audience.”
For the next year, the biggest impact on the game industry will be made by microconsoles. There’s no escaping how much that story has resurfaced this year.
Jawboning about Jawfish
Tadhg Kelly is the Creative Director of Jawfish Games, a company focusing making on real-time multiplayer games a reality in mobile and tablet. As Creative Director, Tadhg is head of design and product strategy, as well as filling various related roles. His career has always involved game design in some form, so the position with Jawfish Games is the ideal situation for him. Participating in creating the next big move ahead for games is an exciting opportunity for him.
Writer and Entrepreneur
In his time away from work, Tadhg enjoys reading and exploring his new city of Seattle, as well as experimenting with cooking paleo food. He prefers listening to electronic music, especially ambient or super heavy bass, for the interlocking patterns this music creates. His most time consuming non-work interest is writing the game design blog What Games Are. He has also written the book What Games Are and writes for other publications, including TechCruch, Edge and Gamasutra. Among the notable articles that Tadhg has written is “The Four Lenses of Game Making”.
Smarter Devices and More Players
The most important trends Tadhg sees emerging in the game industry today are the rise of multiplayer gaming on smart devices and what he calls “the rising storm of microconsoles.” Jawfish is entirely focused on figuring out multiplayer gaming, with an outstanding team that has already developed the necessary architecture. Although the company is not presently working on microconsoles, Tadhg is “something of an evangelist on the subject and keen to see how we might work with them.” He believes that for the next year, the biggest impact on the game industry will be made by consoles. He maintains, “There’s no escaping how much that story has resurfaced this year.”
Springing the Trap
Tadhg believes the biggest challenge he has faced in his career was changing his mindset to get out of what he considers “the AAA trap.” He had spent an especially difficult year working on failed projects when someone close to him died suddenly, and he confronted the realization of how short life is. He decided he had to make a change. This painful experience taught him how important it is to set your own course.
Tim Chang is one of four Managing Directors at Mayfield Fund, one of Silicon Valley’s longest running VC firms. He leads investments in Consumer Internet and Mobile, Gaming and Gamification, Quantified Self and Health 2.0, Digital Media, eCommerce, and Adtech. His particular bent is the application of Social Science to business and technology, and hacking inner space.
When Tim has free time, he performs with two bands. BlackMahal is an original Punjab hip-hop funk band that has played the Vancouver Olympics, SxSW, and the Montreal Jazz Fest. Coverflow is a band made up of prominent tech execs and founders, including Kristin Segerstrale of Playfish. Tim also enjoys body-hacking, collecting graphic novels, and gamifying real life (Spouseville, Foodville, Moneyville, etc.); and, of course, listening to his favorite music, post-dubstep, electronica-infused, melodic metal.
Move over Growth Hacking. It’s time for Habits Design and Engagement Hacking!
One of the critical happenings in the games industry, according to Tim, was the collapse of virality on the Facebook platform. At Mayfield, they responded by shifting their focus from Growth Hacking toward Engagement Hacking.
Tim tells us some of the greatest moments in his career occurred when he got two of the big four gaming exits, ngmoco and Playdom. But even better was seeing Lumosity grow from a tiny series A investment to where it is now. He says, “This could turn out to be my most successful gaming-related investment yet.”
The greatest challenge for Tim has been watching the rapid “Hollywoodization” of Silicon Valley, where name-dropping, slapping together party seed-rounds, and comparing headline valuations matter more than quality of teams or business models. “Everybody thinks they’re entitled to be a founder and CEO before even working anywhere else, and the availability of easy seed funding bolsters this sentiment. As a result, we get thousands of seed-stage companies thinly staffed by mostly mediocre talent and ‘want-repreneurs,’ as opposed to hundreds of startups comprised of leveled-up, proven killers. Reminds me of what happens when a fish population is overfished: the remaining specimens decline in size and health on average.” Although he is still seeking the best way to respond to this challenge, he focuses on a few core themes that are leading edge, disruptive, and potentially new movements even though he admits, “Who knows if they’ll pan out to be fruitful areas? But it’s a lot more fun to try to hone a forward-looking thesis than it is to work on iterative or momentum-chasing ‘X for Y’ companies (Snapchat for Video, Pinterest for Pets, etc.)” The lesson he takes from this: “You can’t always control the outcome of what you work on, but you can at least choose and create the sandbox you will play in; you may as well do something different, new and unique. It’s very likely that you’ll fail, but you may have fun along the way and develop your own “super powers” in the process.”
Who knows if they’ll pan out to be fruitful areas? But it’s a lot more fun to try to hone a forward-looking thesis than it is to work on iterative or momentum-chasing ‘X for Y’ companies
Tim offers this advice on making a better product: “Never underestimate the value of social science, behavioral economics, user psychology and the potential to leverage ‘7 Deadly Sins’ as a design framework for user acquisition, engagement, retention and conversion to payment! Don’t just think about where the button on the app should go or how beautiful you make the chrome or UI animations – dive one level deeper and try to engineer for the emotional state that you want the user to feel as they go through your app. What are the specific elements of gratification they’re looking for along the way, and how might those change as the user evolves from 1st time newbie to power user?”
He identifies a number of themes which will emerge as important trends in the games industry over the next few years. These include:
~Device-as-a-service: consumer hardware 2.0, where mobile and cloud connectivity enable whole new software and service models for otherwise mundane and stand-alone devices. Interesting example startups: Basis, Ouya, Dropcam, Nest, Pebble.
~The Quantified Life: hybrid services combining self-tracking technologies and human coaching. While quantified-self devices and apps are all the rage right now, but the resulting data + insights alone can’t truly drive sustainable behavior change unless the system is adaptive, actionable, and — better yet – feeding back into human-based coaching, support and accountability. Examples: Basis, Retrofit, WellnessFX, Fitmob, Gympact, DietBet.
~The Future of Personal Development and Self-Help 2.0, or what Tim calls “Hacking Inner Space” — why the next wave of tech and business innovation will come from the realms of neuroscience, behavioral economics, game design theory, social science, psychology, as well as mindfulness, meditation, and spirituality. Examples: Lumos Labs, Happify, Focus@Will, bLife.
~The Maker Movement and the return of ‘Made in America’ — redefining the Future of Play, as enthusiasts and hobbyists can pursue “serious side projects” through crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, and off the shelf commerce solutions. Examples: Maker Media, DoubleFine, Quirky, Etsy, PCH International.
~The Future of Work – expanded by mobile-first service marketplaces, the sharing economy and collaborative consumption. Examples: Zirtual, Lyft, Airbnb, UrbanSitter, DogVacay.
~The Rise of Vertical Social Networks in the post-Facebook age — driven by the “6Cs” of C)ontent, C)uration, C)ommunity (especially meeting *new* people with shared interests), C)ommerce, C)rowdsourcing, C)rowdfunding. These truly community-led businesses and marketplaces may even require a new sets of metrics to capture user personas and “net goodwill contribution,” and Tim has been thinking about what “KPIs for Love and Belonging” might look like. Examples: Poshmark, Goodreads, HealthTap.
Getting Great at Android
At Casual Connect USA, Tim announced that Ouya is looking for great Android titles and developers/studios who would like to get additional distribution into the living room. Also, Mayfield Fund’s portfolio companies across enterprise, consumer, mobile and health/quantified self are all seeking top notch developers, PMs and analytics people. They are interested in people with gaming backgrounds who would like to explore careers in other fields.
Who would have predicted eight months ago that, on the tail of the big PS4 announcement, an independent Android-based upstart would be stealing the show? OUYA looks to radically change how consumers access and play games in the living room. With $8.5 million already raised, a super-excited audience, and a sleek, compact form, they are poised to give the big platforms a big bellyache.
From the perspective of console manufacturers, it must seem the largest threat to their primordial dominance of the Console Age are the tiniest of devices spreading faster than the “Harlem Shake”. Research from PlayScience being published by the Casual Games Association later this month (sign up to get your free copy) indicates children are fast adopting parent’s handheld devices as their preferred play device, and now the OUYA (and it’s competitor, GameStick – see a charming lecture from PlayJam CEO Jasper Smith) potentially takes another bite from the overall console games market. Even the mainstream press is picking up on the potential demise of “Big Console” despite millions spent each year on PR to suggest otherwise.
Even before launch, we’ve seen developers loving the OUYA platform. At the Indie Showcase at Casual Connect Europe this year, we happened upon a glowing OUYA box complete with a fun game named STALAGFLIGHT developed at the Nordic Game Jam.
Ready, set, go!
You better get going if you want to take advantage of a considerable head start in the mini-console market.
The long 9 month wait is over with Julie Uhrman’s announcement that games uploaded to OUYA, starting today, will be available on OUYA when consoles start to ship out on March 28th.
OUYA will select from the top games, uploaded before March 28th, to feature in a series of short documentaries about the game, the developer, and the story about making the game. These videos will be part of OUYA launch marketing campaigns starting in June. Since free promotion and distribution is pretty hard to come by these days, you better get going if you want to take advantage of a considerable head start in the mini-console market.
OUYA was created in 2012 by Julie Uhrman, a video game industry veteran who saw an opportunity to open up the last closed game platform — the TV. Julie and an initial team of game developers and advisors brought the concept to life, with the help of Yves Behar and fuseproject, and took OUYA to Kickstarter in July of 2012. It became one of the most successful Kickstarter projects ever, with tens of thousands of backers pledging to help bring OUYA to life. OUYA’s first consoles are planned to ship March 28th.
In case you missed it, more about the beginnings of OUYA directly from Julie this past summer at the IGDA Summit at Casual Connect:
Jim Ying is SVP of Publishing at independent developer 6waves. Prior to this, he spent five years at Microsoft as manager in the Xbox division, working on major franchises such as Halo and Age of Empires. Like so many of us, Jim has been carefully monitoring the progress of the forthcoming Ouya console, and his considerable experience in both console and mobile development provides a wide spectrum analysis of the potential challenges in store for the device and its digital services.
Gamesauce: Considering your current position at 6waves and an extensive console background in the Xbox business, you must have a pretty informed perspective on the Ouya. What’s the first question that popped into your head when you saw the Kickstarter console?
Jim: My first question back then was: are they really going to be able to get it out there for $99 bucks?
GS: You know all about the console ecosystem and how tough it can be to introduce new business models.
I saw plenty of models in my past when I worked in the Xbox division at Microsoft for five years, specifically on big first-party titles. I managed games like the Halo and Age of Empires franchises, and was project lead on partner games like Shadowrun and Too Human. So I’ve assembled quite a bit of console experience to compare this to.
GS: Do you think the Ouya needs to look to current consoles, in terms of following an established service model?
I think there are challenges unique to the console space, regardless of console. For the manufacturer, you start by selling the box at a loss, and you make that up through royalties on the games. The idea that the Ouya people will charge $99 for the device, and then take a 30% portion of the games to generate revenue, I kind of understand the choices there.
GS: The public seems to have a handle on the model, if you look at the tens of thousands of folks that have plunked down their cash for a console at launch.
I think generally, among gamers and fanboys, the Ouya has become this compilation of potential. Like, “Wow, it’s ninety-nine dollars. It’s Android, it’s Tegra 3, it looks great …” etcetera. Granted, things like the dual stick controller and touchpad do look pretty great – awesome design. And they’re saying the console could end up being about the size of a Rubik’s Cube, which could be pretty amazing.
They’re saying the console could end up being about the size of a Rubik’s Cube, which could be pretty amazing.
GS: That tiny size should make it easy to move around the house, and these days most households have several screens. But is there room for this console in the market?
My overall impression is still a bit skeptical, but as a player always looking for new experiences, I’d love to see this device happen. Right now, the console space is still fairly exclusionary, which is why to some extent guys like Apple have been able to snag such interest and market share. Anyone can jump right in; there’s some curation and preparation, but you don’t need to go through a rigorous process to get games on there. On the other hand, you have Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo still holding the keys in terms of which games get through to their devices and which don’t.
GS: Not to mention, strict checklists and compliance rules, and all that fun stuff we associate with developing in the console space. Presumably with Ouya, a lot of that baggage is going to disappear.
We’d love to see that happen. The reality is that it comes down to execution: can they get the box made with solid, stable hardware? Can they get a broad enough audience to sign on, and can they curate the games wisely? Even if you look at Apple right now: Hundreds of people are building content for them, but the discovery rate still remains a huge problem.
A lot of people have started to spend a lot of money on user acquisition, instead of relying on all sorts of unproven vendors that are often a little sketchy. So the right developers could jump on Ouya and start pumping out high quality titles, but the question remains: how easy will it be to actually find that content?
A lot of people have started to spend a lot of money on user acquisition, instead of relying on all sorts of unproven vendors that are often a little sketchy.
GS: There’s also a concern that you might see a glut of low-end Android titles rapidly ported to Ouya, as many developers won’t be in a position to risk funding an exclusive title, or dedicating meaningful resources to an Ouya version.
Agreed, we’ll probably see that, and we’ll probably see a lot of high end phone and tablet games coming over. I know there’s one or two studios committed to exclusive launch titles optimized for Ouya. I’d love to see more of that happen, because it’s really going to need those unique designs that show what the console is all about.
GS: We probably won’t see more than a handful of games on Ouya at first that actually exploit the console. When do you foresee developers putting serious effort into Ouya games, versus, say, simply porting high end iPad and tablet titles?
You could look at it this way: When the Xbox 360 and PS3 came along, the PS3, at least functionally and technically, did have higher capabilities. Other than the first-party side, nobody really exploited that at first because most developers wanted a game that played on both platforms. So if I’m a developer investing my time and money into an exclusive console game, even if it’s a high end game, and the Ouya becomes a viable platform, I’m still going to be looking into the lowest common denominator – the mass market Android player – early on. Some teams won’t have a choice.
GS: That’s a pretty sensible response, but I’ve been asking people: choosing a low risk title, maybe an existing phone or tablet project, and slapping on some gamepad support and 1080p resolution – doesn’t this compromise the purity of making an Ouya game?
It’s where we run into the chicken and egg problem. Imagine if they were launching a brand new console? The barrier would be even greater. At least now, this is for a well known platform in Android. But if I were developing for it, unless I had ridiculous amounts of money or maybe big co-funding from the Ouya backers, I simply can’t bet my studio’s fortunes on an exclusive for an unproven console.
But if I were developing for it, unless I had ridiculous amounts of money or maybe big co-funding from the Ouya backers, I simply can’t bet my studio’s fortunes on an exclusive for an unproven console.
GS: With the potential for so many slipshod conversions of phone and tablet games to Ouya, could “bad ports” become an early stigma associated with the console?
I think the reality is we’re going to see plenty of games early on, and the majority of the ones that succeed will probably be regular Android games. If the console is successful, suddenly a lot of people, and maybe those same established Android developers, will look to really harness the Ouya. On the other hand, if we aren’t seeing a meaningful amount of new, unique content for it near the beginning, right away that’s going to get consumers asking, “Why do I need this in the first place?”
GS: The fact that it will stream Netflix is a nice bonus, but services like OnLive could make a difference. For a gamer, having a bunch of casual and core Android titles is great, but being able to play high end PC games could be the cherry on top.
I think the whole OnLive element brings up a bigger question: if OnLive-type services become really successful and more widespread, do you even need a dedicated console with its own software? In theory, OnLive can provide game content that is far more advanced than what the Ouya can offer – or at this stage, more advanced than the current consoles.
So the people interested in that kind of feature are the hardcore gamers, guys that aren’t satisfied by smaller phone-style games. If they have that experience to compare to on Ouya, the console’s native games might not get as much play.
In theory, OnLive can provide game content that is far more advanced than what the Ouya can offer – or at this stage, more advanced than the current consoles.
GS: Most OnLive users tend to be players who don’t have the computer spec required to play the latest, most sophisticated titles. There’s already that built-in expectation, so I don’t think having OnLive on Ouya will result in a direct comparison to the console’s own capabilities. Not to mention, the PC developers…
…They’re still making money when you stream their game on Ouya.
GS: Right, so it’s not exactly cannibalizing the console’s native games market.
That brings up another question: selling the actual Android console. With current consoles, your goal is to have a major presence in big box stores like Best Buy, and with that you understand you can handle a margin of loss because you know the stores will be stocked with software as well. So you’re making money back right away. Whereas the Ouya, they don’t have all those games to sell with the box and offset the hardware costs.
GS: Right, but unlike a new Xbox or PlayStation, where they’re swallowing huge initial losses on cutting edge hardware, this Android box could drop real fast in terms of manufacturing costs. Heck, it’s dropping as we speak.
Just like the current generation. You can pick up an Xbox 360 today for $99 with an Xbox Live contract, but it’s taken years for us to get here. Even with mainstream parts, realistically it’s going to be another year, year-and-a-half before the Ouya people have their manufacturing situation streamlined and cost-effective.
GS: To your point about software sales at retail: the Ouya will be the first home game console in thirty-plus years that doesn’t use physical media to ship games. No discs, no flash media; it’s just pure download. Could bandwidth for the storefront and services end up becoming a cost issue?
Right now, that figures more into internet service providers and less into actual connected users, numbers of megabytes, or simultaneous downloads. But we’re seeing a major shift there on the mobile side, with proprietary markets, streaming, cloud sharing and storage. If that becomes a dominant model on Ouya, then we may begin to see more costs filtering down to the consumer, and that may be a tough sell.
GS: It needs to be wrapped-up in a high quality user experience, where the service itself is top notch. It’s likely going to be more streamlined than buying digital goods on current consoles. Even the console itself apparently boots up lightning fast.
There’s a lot of cool potential there, like the fact that Ouya is going to be in an Android ecosystem where instant in-app purchases are the norm – unlike the current consoles in this area, where it surprises me how slow they still are in many ways.
GS: Could the Ouya become a champion of smaller, casual, shorter-session games in the living room? Maybe something that appeals to Mom and Dad for quick plays on the big screen?
Just knowing that I would have to come back to my living room to continue a casual game would immediately make it less casual.
In theory, sure it could. I think the wave that they’re maybe fighting against is the rapid adoption of the smartphone, iPad and tablet as gaming platforms. Granted, it’s really nice to play games in the living room on the big screen, but for most casual games you really don’t need that big screen to play. And if I had to trade-off between playing casual games in my living room versus carrying the game wherever I want to go, I would choose portability.
GS: Do you see a trend happening where developers create shorter-session game experiences on Ouya, but they include some form of extended gameplay for mobile devices that people can take with them?
The reason why most casual gamers are more comfortable with their smartphones, to some degree, is the interface.
Overall, for those casual players and games, I have to wonder if the controller will be the right device. The reason why most casual gamers are more comfortable with their smartphones, to some degree, is the interface. Especially for folks that don’t have the deep console background to draw from.
GS: The kind of players, when you put an analog stick controller in their hands, they start waving it around to move their character – even when there’s no motion-based gameplay involved?
[Laughs] Yeah, like: “This is too much! How do I move? What button should I press? Oh forget it, it’s too intimidating. I don’t even want to play now.”
GS: I suppose good developers will find ways to use the controller’s front touchpad. You could figure out some pretty accessible control schemes for casual games that use the touchpad and – let’s say – just a single analog stick, or a couple of buttons.
But I think at the end of the day, instead of fitting into that, what they’re going for with this console is the console demographic and the console business. And despite what the doomsayers talk about, I think there’s always going to be a place for consoles and dedicated console gameplay. There’s always going to be hardcore fans and players who want the latest and cutting edge, in terms of graphics, story, and immersive play.
GS: Do you think it’s that type of player that will speak up and say, “Hey, why should I buy this when I can pick up an Xbox 360 for $99 plus contract, and it’s actually X amount more powerful than the Ouya?”
Right, if the game quality is still that much better on a dedicated console than it is on this, people are probably going to go for the dedicated console option – especially as the price range tips over.
GS: That brings us back to the software scenario. Some people are simply burnt-out on spending big bucks for premium games on traditional consoles. They might be genuinely excited about having another way to get their games.
I agree, and if anything, the Ouya serves as a forcing function: to force Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft to get their shit together and do the things that people are clamoring for. Clearly people want in-app purchases and a variety of digitally downloaded games at varying price points.
Obviously we’re moving in that direction, with more free and upgradeable games on Xbox and other console app stores, but it’s only a matter of time before they figure out: look at social, look at mobile, look what’s going on in Asia – all the stuff happening there. You can make a lot of money with in-app purchases, and yet still price your games sensibly.
If anything, the Ouya serves as a forcing function: to force Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft to get their shit together and do the things that people are clamoring for.
GS: So if you were working with Ouya developers, you’d be encouraging Freemium across the board?
Oh, definitely. From what I’ve heard, all the games are going to be, at minimum, free to try, or with significant free gameplay. There are so many smart ways to do that without compromising your game.
GS: There’s also open pricing on Ouya. Let’s say studios start doing larger, more premium experiences. It’s console, so people are used to paying fifty dollars for a major game. What becomes the high price point for those premium games on Ouya?
Well, the nice thing about cutting out the physical retailer is that they can also cut out that margin completely. So a totally AAA game could potentially get away with being $30 on Ouya. I think the idea of opening up to in-app purchases could make a huge difference there. By the time it comes out, once some developers are actually building larger games for it, the console’s marketplace will begin to carve out those prices and settle into a model.
GS: A lot of mobile guys have told me that they think the Ouya’s controller has the potential to be a big seller as a general purpose Android gaming accessory. With Google pushing controller-based gaming now, and the controller’s slick design and approachable price, why not?
Yeah, why not? If you’re going to spend that much effort on the design and making a beautiful controller that works well, and if I’m going to use the controller for some of my favorite Android games, then yeah, I’d definitely go ahead and pick one up.
GS: But how convenient is it, spatially speaking, to prop up your tablet and find a way to comfortably play a game with a controller?
Granted, it would be kind of strange to be playing a tablet or phone game using a controller. In that case, I’d probably just boot up the Xbox 360 or PS3 instead.
GS: Or you might just go ahead and connect your tablet or phone to the TV via HDMI, and off you go. Where’s the Ouya in that equation?
That makes me think of the Phantom console. At first it was meant to be this whole set top box thing, and then bit by bit it was reduced, until all of a sudden it was just narrowed down to this keyboard accessory.
GS: Hopefully a year from now the Ouya console hasn’t been reduced to the Ouya controller. Realistically, I think the Ouya has more going for it than the Phantom ever did – not to mention great timing.
It has multiple elements going for it.
The fact that it’s a new digital-only console and they embrace in-app purchases already opens the doors for new possibilities.
The big question about Kickstarter campaigns is that they tend to build a ton of excitement early on, but the actual follow-through hasn’t performed. There are no guarantees. You’re often asking, “OK, what happened to all this money?”
Eight million dollars is a lot of money, and while it seems to be going forward, if they’re not able to produce the console for whatever reason, it’s going to raise a lot of questions about Kickstarter.
GS: I guess they’re legitimized by high-profile early backers and board members, but even the Phantom had some of that. Big name investment is no guarantee.
Yeah, just look at 38 Studios. A lot of big money there, and unfortunately we see what can happen.
GS: This type of venture is all about early adopters and pre-sales. Do you see yourself as one of the early guys taking an Ouya home as soon as it’s available?
Me, personally? Yeah. It’s because of my background in console, and I’m also interested in in-app purchase games and where that’s taking us. Also, I’m just a fan of interesting gadgets like this. My bigger question, though: The current audience that’s interested in console, will they be on board?
GS: Regardless, is it going to come too late? I think if something like this, a very cheap new game console and media streaming box, was available right now –
— If it was out right now, I’d probably buy it in a second. I’m not sure it’s going to be too late, though. Right now there are a lot of transitions and trends happening that could help push its adoption. We’re pushing the adoption of smartphones and tablets for gaming, shifting away from a sharp console focus with the traditional hardware vendors.
I think a lot of the Ouya’s functionality, by the time it comes out, will have been adopted by a lot of other mediums – whether it’s new Smart TVs, OnLive, or progressive digital sales on console. So people are currently being exposed to the kind of trends that Ouya is pushing, which absolutely benefits them.
People are currently being exposed to the kind of trends that Ouya is pushing, which absolutely benefits them.
GS: It’s interesting because it gives developers time to work on an Android game for a designated spec. You look at the fragmentation on Android today, and it’s difficult to tell what device can run a particular title. The Ouya is sort of like a unified Android spec in a sea of fragmentation.
That’s very true. As a player, it could be interesting to experience the full range of Android games out there, but also have those games that were built primarily to exploit the console.
GS: Plus, how many of us own multiple consoles? A lot of people. An inexpensive Android console might find a place by the TV alongside your “main” game console.
But is it ever going to replace my full console experience? Like, I’m probably going to want to play Call of Duty and Halo on whatever the latest platform is. Not just because I’m a gamer, but because it’s going to provide the superior overall experience for those types of games.
GS: Something that seems to be trending in consoles is the second screen device. It’s obviously a key feature for the Wii U, Sony’s been poking around with it on portables, and Microsoft has the Glass technology. Do you see any pressure to mimic such features on Ouya?
Potentially, I could see maybe a handful of games being able to really, truly take advantage of that. Fundamentally, I wouldn’t be playing a console game just because it has two screens going. It’s one of those things, at the end of the day, it adds to the experience, but it doesn’t crucially alter it. Not yet.
Compared to – let’s say – motion control like Kinect: that can fundamentally change the experience and expand the console’s demographic of players. I think the kind of people that would be nerding-out on a second screen – “Wow, I’m pressing buttons on my phone and it’s doing stuff on the other screen, but I’m still using my controller, cool!” – are still the same demographic happy to play with a controller.
GS: Let’s suppose the Ouya really explodes, and one of the major firms in the industry looks to acquire it. Who do you think would be an ideal suitor for the Ouya?
That’s funny, I was talking about this with some folks recently. We were thinking Google and Amazon.
GS: My first pick was Google as well. How about Nvidia? It might be surprising, but the console could be a vessel for them to propagate the Tegra 3 chipset – or possibly Tegra 4 – into the TV console market.
That might be a cool idea, and probably great on a tech level, but from my experience it seems Nvidia is more about driving their technology, whether it’s physical tech or engineering, into other devices. If they really needed a more key product to help push the rest of their line-up, then maybe, but the PC essentially serves as that function.
GS: It’s a stretch, but the Ouya would sort of be a way to showcase their mobile chipset on a very inexpensive, download-only game console.
I’m sure there are already plenty of mobile devices being made and largely targeted towards core gamers out there looking for a deeper, richer experience on their phone or tablet. So I think it’s a bit of a reach for Nvidia.
GS: You’re probably right, and Nvidia already gains from the exposure their hardware is receiving without betting the farm on the device. Google is a safer bet, and Amazon seems to be jumping into the gaming space significantly on Kindle. That Amazon model could work just as well on Ouya.
Absolutely; this could represent – similar to Microsoft’s play with the Xbox – a way for Amazon to get into the living room. Amazon has all these media delivery services, whether its books, music, or games, so this type of device could only benefit them. I think everyone agrees at this point that the strategy Microsoft took with the Xbox, especially with Live and getting so many people to subscribe, it’s been very effective for them. It’s especially true now, with being able to have all these channels and streaming services on the TV. So if that’s a strategy that Google and Amazon are aiming for…
GS: And if they don’t want to start from scratch –
— Right, here’s a real opportunity for them to do something. Especially if they have an OnLive-type service rolled up into the product, here’s an opportunity to play the latest and greatest PC and console games, plus all of Amazon’s other services, with a sophisticated in-app purchase system.
GS: It may be pretty compelling for families: a simple little box with high-definition capabilities and large quantities of media available for every person in the household, plus games you can’t get elsewhere.
If nothing else, I think it could push the big console players to act faster and do what people are asking for.
If nothing else, I think it could push the big console players to act faster and do what people are asking for. Things like comprehensive in-app purchases, opening up the console demographic and environment so there’s not so many hoops to jump through, tweaking and re-balancing the way revenue shares work, and taking a fundamentally different approach to developer relations.
GS: For the old school gamers, you hear a lot of excitement about emulation on Ouya. Besides all the other content, the idea that people could run retro console emulators on an open console is pretty compelling.
The first time I heard that, it started to make sense pretty fast. You know there are companies in China that sell these all-in-one boxes equipped with emulators and games? Apparently there’s a big fan base, globally, that wants that.
GS: If you look at how well retro re-releases do on iOS and Android, it makes sense. People seem to accept playing smaller, retro-style games on their phones and tablets, even when elements like the control scheme are inferior to a console experience.
Often on phones and tablets, the reason why people are willing to accept a lower quality bar is because they assume, hey, I’m not playing a full-on console so I need to make compromises when I’m on the go. But if there’s an option to play sitting in front of my TV in high-fidelity on an Xbox 720, is that acceptance for compromise still going to be there?
GS: I think expectations scale with the games. If you’re expecting a smaller, simpler experience, you aren’t necessarily shopping for the next Gears of War, and nothing less.
True – but again, there’s nothing stopping a Microsoft or Sony from also opening that up on a larger scale, with larger collections of smaller, free games and expanded services.
GS: The idea of a low-cost HD console with cheap downloadable games might be well-suited to regions of the world that lag behind more industrialized nations. Look at South America: up to a few years ago, the PS2 was still considered a leading console.
If bandwidth is an issue in the US for a download-only console, it might be even tougher for that model to work in developing nations with limited broadband reach and speeds. At this point in a lot of the developing world, mobile penetration is now increasing at a faster rate than PC or console penetration – and so is the support. So a lot of games that here, in North America, may still be aimed at PCs, you find they’re actually being targeted to mobile now in those other nations.
GS: It’s certainly moving with mobile infrastructure. Look at India: they recently jumped from basically 2G speeds to 4G speeds overnight in several urban sectors, and it’s spreading quickly. Other rising nations are in the process of similar, country-wide mobile infrastructure upgrades.
For the regions that don’t necessarily have the experience of moving through several cycles and generations of consoles, and their first experience with something resembling a core game experience is on mobile, it’s going to be difficult for them to go back, or to the side. Especially as they become accustomed to gaming on those widespread devices and services.
GS: I suppose in that regard, the mobile gaming experience – stuff like smaller downloads, in-app purchases – may help to groom those users for similar features on new consoles.
Yeah, but it’s mainly the console guys that are tracking the Ouya at this point. The reason it isn’t on the mobile radar just yet? It’s probably because so many people are moving with this shift to social and mobile gaming.
People are stepping out of the console world, not because they think that market is going to disappear, but because it’s definitely going to get smaller.
As the mobile devices get more sophisticated and gaming experiences get more complex, the subset of people looking elsewhere for a more core gaming experience is dwindling.
GS: I’ll bring up the hobbyist argument there: when somebody takes an interest in a hobby or past-time, you’ll always find a subset of people for whom casual interaction eventually isn’t enough. It’s the graduation effect. When people recognize that their hobby provides richer, more complex options, a portion of those users will seek a way to graduate to a deeper experience.
That’s an interesting one that everybody likes to talk about. So let’s look at Zynga games: say you’re starting out with something like Farmville, and you move to Cityville, then you work your way into Empires & Allies. There’s an increase there in gaming complexity, a path you can measure. You could envision eventually graduating to a StarCraft complexity, let’s say. Now take your typical mid-West mom. She’s playing Farmville and Cityville, maybe she’s trying out Empires & Allies. Do you think that interest level is ever going to leap to something like a StarCraft? There’s a hurdle there.
GS: I’m thinking about the massive wave of younger users that make up the majority of casual game players right now. Users in their teens and twenties are more likely to seek greater complexity or challenges, and are more interested in developing their skills.
But that’s kind of assuming that right now the younger generation in their teens and twenties all play games. Right now there are young people who just don’t play games. Granted, it’s pretty tough to find people in that age group that didn’t grow up playing video games in some capacity, like with an Xbox or PlayStation in the house.
But I think in this case it’s more about the older generation of gamers, the folks who grew up with Atari, the ones who have been through that whole spectrum of increased interest. I think the people in our generation that were raised on that, we’ll probably still be playing hardcore console games when we’re 60 or 70.
GS: You’re right. It’s kind of what we love playing, and we can’t necessarily go backwards.
And there’s this huge potential audience out there that didn’t grow up with games like we did.
GS: Think about walking into a store back then: we had very little knowledge of the consoles, but a fondness for the idea of playing video games. We didn’t obsess over specs; it was often games in their simplest form that attracted us. Isn’t that analogous to the current situation – not for the mid-West mom, but an influx of younger players?
Potentially, yes, but if they’ve moved on to graduate to the next step, they’re likely to choose the dedicated console out there. The devices made for those types of more advanced experiences. At the end of the day, if you look at the Ouya and its capabilities, a lot of it is really catering to the existing hardcore fanboys and gamers who are maybe looking for another community or a new, different library.
GS: Certainly if you look at the Ouya demos, you see a dashboard loaded with stuff like Minecraft, Madden, Torchlight 2, shooters. Obviously the initial pitch is a shout-out to hardcore gamers.
But if you think about it from the perspective of a more hardcore, mass-market gamer, are they going to want to deal with things like constant downloads? If there’s the alternative to use an easier-to-play console, something you can optionally just drop a game into, it might be a preferred choice.
GS: That loops back into the concept of owning multiple consoles. It may be more prevalent than any other generation: today you find so many gamers that own both a PS3 and Xbox 360, or more likely a Wii and one of the HD consoles.
That’s a credit to the consoles themselves this generation, and people seeking fundamentally different experiences offered by each console. Someone with a PS3 and 360, usually it’s because they want the killer exclusive or a type of gameplay unique to the console. Someone with a Wii and an Xbox, it’s because they wanted to experience the Wii’s unique type of content.
Whereas with the Ouya, what’s going to be the fundamental differentiator there, compared to – let’s say – an Xbox 720? Especially when, presuming they get their shit together, the big console guys move into in-app purchases more aggressively and intelligently.
GS: Until the Ouya really establishes those key differentiators, it may have to rely on a low cost of entry and optional services – like getting consumers to buy the box as an extra streaming device for a TV in the house. The games will have to sort themselves out, right?
You need people – users, developers – to ask: does it make sense for this Android game to be played on the TV?
You need people – users, developers – to ask: does it make sense for this Android game to be played on the TV? If anything, the control schemes will have their basis in touch gameplay. The majority of mobile games that I play which use a touch joystick, honestly I’m left feeling that clearly they didn’t think this one through. If developers really spend the time to come up with something that plays properly, naturally, using actual control sticks, it’s going to feel a lot better than those experiences. That’s what it’s going to take.
GS: Right, you don’t want to see a dozen games built for something like a high end tablet, where they’ve tacked-on substandard gamepad support at the end of production, and presto: It’s an Ouya game, but with merely average gameplay.
That’s a good point. The reality of porting over to Ouya is that you’ll have to consider dedicated peripheral support from the start, with a completely different control mechanism from the mobile version.
GS: To be fair, some developers have come up with pretty tight control schemes on phones and tablets for hardcore genres. You can even find shooters with fairly decent interfaces. Ideally, these are the studios that will know how to work with the Ouya’s spec.
But would I want to play that ported game on my big screen TV, when I can play a major Halo or Call of Duty title – games fully optimized for the console space? I’ll play those hardcore games on my phone when I want to check out something on the go, but when it comes to spending ten, fifteen, twenty hours of my time to sit down with an experience, I’m probably looking to my dedicated console.
GS: Maybe what’s needed is the “medium-session” game? No multi-gigabyte, 100-hour beasts, and no mobile-style two minute time-killers, but instead, a happy medium. There’s a fertile middle-ground on console between monolithic Skyrim epics and accessible PopCap-style experiences.
With the quality levels in smaller games today, and you can see where we are right now with XBLA and PSN games, I really think there’s an opportunity on Ouya similar to Xbox Live.
Why can’t the Ouya free up some of those developers and maybe welcome them with more open opportunities?
The advantage of the Ouya spec is that you could potentially see indies and smaller teams making games for both dedicated console digital storefronts and the Ouya.
GS: I think the OnLive element is going to play a role there. It sort of allows the Ouya people to say, look, obviously we’re not Xbox 720 or PS4, but here’s access to the latest AAA masterpiece, and here’s a proper controller to play it. Even basic consumer knowledge tells the average buyer that a $99 console couldn’t possibly be as powerful as the new Xbox or PlayStation.
Yeah, and if it’s able to smoothly stream the latest high end multi-platform releases, it could provide a similar gameplay environment and still satisfy those users.
GS: It’s interesting, as you mentioned earlier, how that plays into the popular notion that all gaming will be done by proxy or via the cloud going forward.Funny how the Ouya loops back into so many hot topics, huh?
I like how it gets us talking about the game industry as a whole. As I said earlier, it has become this big compilation of features and trends that everyone is talking about. Whether Ouya manages to find an audience or goes on to fade away, it’s getting people to talk about stuff that matters.
Whether Ouya manages to find an audience or goes on to fade away, it’s getting people to talk about stuff that matters.
GS: Agreed, and I’d say it’s the most tangible piece of vaporware we’ve seen in a long time. Thanks so much for a great round of observations, Jim.
In our three part series on the Ouya console, we ask industry leaders in social, casual and mobile gaming if the surprising Kickstarter console can bridge the gap between core and casual, and successfully transition the Android OS to a living room entertainment device.
Part 3: Luis Ongil – Managing Director, Americas, GameDuell
What GameDuell does: Driven by over 170 employees and game enthusiasts stationed in Berlin and San Francisco, GameDuell has been figuring out ways to monetize high quality social and casual games since 2003. With games released globally in seven languages and over 12 million user plays each month, GameDuell offers its own in-house development in addition to harnessing over 200 distribution partners across its network.
Why OUYA could matter to GameDuell: The Android console’s M.O. seems well-aligned with GameDuell’s own development efforts, as the firm continues to assemble a powerful network of developers, targeting key markets of growth – as evidenced by the company’s current push into Amazon’s Android gaming expansion to Kindle Fire.
GameDuell excels at helping developers optimize for different devices and specs, getting games prepared to publish on major digital marketplaces, and accelerating their adoption and monetization. As they asses all new potentially viable platforms, GameDuell is keeping a careful eye on Ouya’s progress.
Gamesauce: What advantages do you see in an Android home console that offers a single hardware spec for developers, versus what’s typically offered on smartphones and tablets?
Luis: Well, there are many smartphone players that just aren’t pushing the devices to the level that they should be, or want to. Same goes for developers. A lot of users are comfortable with having a device they can bring home, then pass it over to the kids, let them have some fun – and that’s almost the extent of their relationship with games on the device.
GS: The Ouya could become a simple device you could let the kids play. It’s around the size of a Rubik’s Cube, and comes with a familiar twin stick controller that has a touchpad.
Right, so it’s a device that can probably be understood and used by a lot of people in the house. That’s a smart design.
GS: It should encourage a wide range of play preferences, but when you check out the Ouya promos, you see stuff like shooters, racing games, Madden, Minecraft, etcetera – pretty much all core-type games. Is it wise to focus on the expected core titles, when it’s also ripe for casual opportunities?
Right away you know it’s going to be a good match for core games, and that’s good. We play casual games very easily on the phones we own, and the target player has a need and desire to play those games, since he has a phone he already knows how to use. When you have a specific device to play certain types of games, introducing the other end of the spectrum may not be so easy.
Could I see people playing casual games on this Android console? Sure. If it’s there, part of your entertainment center, I can see mom coming in to play a quick game, or a father and son playing a game together. But you need to establish if you’re making a game for a phone, or this device.
GS: Right, you have important details like a twin stick analog controller to consider…
Exactly, so you test your games with gamepad support, you tweak the gameplay. You make sure the game is highly adapted for the household if it’s going to this device. Of course it’s very tough to devote those resources when the device hasn’t become large enough to be a focal point yet. It’s like the Kindle Fire wasn’t originally a focal point for game developers, and now it’s suddenly starting to be a great place for games.
GS: The Kindle Fire is a good example, actually, in terms of it being a unifying force in the Android environment – a target spec. Would you agree that one of the issues with Android game development tends to be fragmentation across varying device specs?
Absolutely – when it’s one device and one spec, it takes a lot of pressure off the team on different levels. One of the biggest advantages for us, using Kindle as an example, is the payment system. As developers, we can do the same experience that we do on iOS with payments, and it’s a great system for users, for payment security, and so forth.
Absolutely – when it’s one device and one spec, it takes a lot of pressure off the team on different levels.
GS: So you guys are actually starting to back a specific Android experience like the Fire.
We’re right in the process of Kindle Fire implementation and developing games for it, truly optimizing for Kindle Fire. We want to start moving more heavily into Android, and this is the platform with a fantastic payment scenario. So a lot of our QA and bug testing is going to focus purely on that device. The users of that device are precisely the target for casual games, so it makes a lot of sense.
GS: From your perspective, then, this is becoming your unified development environment for Android. And obviously a lot of other people are hopping onto the Kindle Fire platform. Can the Ouya assemble its own circle of dedicated third-party studios?
Certainly, if the Ouya reaches a very wide level of distribution, it will quickly become a platform that makes sense.
GS: The Kindle Fire is a good environment to facilitate in-app buys. The experience is designed to gravitate towards store purchases, whether books, media or games. It’s a little different for a very games-focused device. Do you think today’s console gamers are prepared to buy all their games digitally, thanks to XBLA and PSN?
Absolutely, since they’re already doing it. Not just there, but everywhere else too. It’s across all entertainment now, like digital delivery on TV where you can get a movie with a couple of clicks. People are consuming all range of digital content now and it’s come to the point where they’re really comfortable with it, whether it’s clicking to get a movie or a game.
GS: Excellent point, and we’re seeing more attempts at convergence. Look at the new generation of Smart TVs coming along, loaded with both multimedia and game offerings. When the TV itself becomes the delivery unit, does it make ideas like an Android game console somewhat trivial?
There’s the catch: The experience with Smart TVs won’t be as game-centric as the Ouya. The Ouya considers games its primary focus and business. When you’re doing a complex device designed for all kinds of entertainment and not games primarily, you’re going to see some flaws in the gaming experience. So in that way, I see some opportunity for core games on Ouya to help define what it is.
GS: Core games, at least in today’s AAA console ecosystem, tend to rely more on device specs and pushing technology trends. Many people have suggested the Ouya’s base specs, a Tegra 3 chipset and 1-gig of RAM, will age quickly between now and the proposed spring 2013 release. Do you think it has enough power to last?
Yeah, maybe it’s going to be tight. It’s good technology right now and not fading yet, but it’s going to become a tougher race next year. But remember, the world is a very big place and you have a lot of early adopters, but just as many potential late adopters, for everything.
GS: On a global level, one of the big hooks for Ouya adoption could become price. With a new round of consoles coming in the $300 and higher price range, this $99 alternative could represent an affordable path to HD gaming in the living room.
It’s true, $99 is a good price. What I like about the device is that the games will be cheaper too. So you have access to a cheap device, the games definitely won’t be priced like full console games, so the content and games are now cheap too. I can see low income families finding another choice there. Or any type of household.
GS: Do you think enough mainstream buyers are aware of the Android name, such that it carries extra weight to have an affordable console that runs on the OS?
No, I don’t think that’s really relevant up front. People aren’t familiar enough with it that it would influence the buy. Maybe later on it becomes a nice bonus. What I can see is a family finding out the device is cheap and the content is cheap, and deciding to get a console for the house. It might be because I don’t want the kids to use, let’s say, my Kindle Fire, because maybe I travel with it. There, the Ouya is a different game device for them to play.
There’s room for several devices in our lives. We have this mentality that everything will be in the phone, but that’s not true, because the phone goes with you wherever you go. When you have family-centric living room entertainment that is needed, you need a device better suited to that.
We have this mentality that everything will be in the phone, but that’s not true, because the phone goes with you wherever you go.
GS: For game studios, diversifying to multiple platforms and services can be a wise move, so I imagine the Ouya is being cautiously observed by many Android developers across the world.
Well, there’s a lot of hype since it’s trying something new, but I think it’s kind of a no brainer: You have a cheap HD console with a popular OS, and consoles still manage to sell tens of millions across the world every generation. People still want new and different consoles.
GS: Right, and there are parts of the world, developing nations, where people are still playing old consoles and the notion of an expensive HD console is out of reach for a lot of people.
The idea of very expensive new devices, like phones, tablets, consoles – that’s still a very first world idea. Developing nations, we have a few billion people in the world there, and they’re all going to have access to entertainment on a large scale soon. Can a cheap new console find a niche in that rising market, a device made for gamers by people that know games and demographics? Sure.
GS: Consider the small indie teams all over the world with dreams of developing for console, but nowhere near the resources to pull it off. Ouya could be a gateway to console game development for them.
If you’re ready to develop for console, and prepared to make something more hardcore, for sure. I don’t know about purely casual games, but that depends on who ends up buying the console. It’s certainly a disruption from what console gamers and developers are used to, so maybe that disruption opens the door for different types of console games.
GS: Will the Ouya become a real console development environment, or because of the mobile hardware and OS, the lack of physical game media, does it operate in a mobile development environment?
Mobile and console game development are really the same environment. To me, the Ouya may be a little closer to mobile. The difference between the two is that in console development you finish the product and ship it. Here, you don’t ship it. You put it live, you iterate, and you service it. So you’ll still be developing a console game, but thinking of it more like games as a service, not games as a product. So you can push the content and improve it as you go.
The console game developer will probably love to be able to do games that are cheaper, or free, with in-app purchases. You don’t factor in shipped software. Of course a lot of people are already doing that, and if you’re connected to Xbox Live, you’ve probably experienced it. With Ouya you have to be connected, so I think it’s going to give developers a lot of different ways to distribute their games.
GS: Given that console buyers are accustomed to paying higher prices for games, and have expectations for bigger experiences, do you think Ouya developers can get away with significantly higher pricing than typical mobile titles?
It’s different from both traditional console and mobile, but I don’t foresee any games priced above the $29.99 range. That would be the highest range. People are probably going to compare game prices to what they are on tablet, so a lot of buyers will be expecting up to $9.99 at most, or $14.99 for a very premium game. Remember, you’ll be seeing different price tiers, and that market will have to decide on its prices. It’s up to the developer to create the model, and the developer can choose his upfront fee or in-app purchases to support the game service.
GS: Do you think developers may feel obliged to include add-on features in Ouya games that also work on your mobile device?
Some will be happy to just release and support their [Ouya] game, and others may decide if you purchase the game for console, you get access to extra features you can use on another device. Play it on your console, and then take something with you on the phone.
We’re doing something similar with our new Android games. We’re creating one version with optimizations towards Samsung and Kindle devices, and we have to tweak the game for both. On both devices the experience is beautiful. We have to actually go in and make adjustments to graphics, tweak it for screen sizes, make sure the gameplay is perfectly consistent.
So there would be nothing to stop us, or other developers, from approaching Ouya the same way.
GS: We’re talking mobile, touch-based experiences versus sitting in front of the TV in the living room with a game controller-in-hand. So there’s going to be more involved than mobile-to-mobile adaptations.
Well, you need an adaptive design and flexibility. I remember doing an iOS game for iPhone and iPad, and having to take care of very specific tweaks for each version. It’s going to take some focus to adapt for the console. Sometimes it takes a main team on the game, working with specialized people assigned to making the game excel on other devices, as we do.
GS: Do you see yourself as an early adopter of the Ouya?
No, not me [laughs]. I don’t play enough games. But I see a lot of people giving it a shot. Look at the success of the fundraising, the traction it has there; a lot of the people that have invested in the company are actually consumers with an intention to own the product. That says a lot.
Ultimately, it’s really cheap to be a part of it for a consumer or developer, and in the end you simply can’t know how it’s going to perform – so maybe you want to be onboard now, beta testing, and ready to go if it really starts rolling. I think a lot of the money came after that breaking point – like when it broke about $1 million, suddenly a ton of money and interest starting coming in, and developers said: “Hey, it looks like there’s something here.”
It’s impressive when your potential customers are ready to pay for the device to be built. They’re paying for something that doesn’t exist, but they believe it is cool, and they want it as soon as it’s done. Having that type of installed base is a good start for anyone.
GS: It’s all based on uncertainty, but a lot of people would love to be the focus of this much uncertainty. Cheers for your superb insight, Luis.