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Belgrade 2014Video Coverage

Martine Spaans: Navigating the Mobile Landscape | Casual Connect Video

November 12, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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During her session at Casual Connect Eastern Europe 2014, Martine Spaans shared facts to understanding a female audience. One such fact was “female gamers spend more time and money than males,” she says.

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Martine Spaans, Owner, Tamalaki Publishing

Martine Spaans had been working with FGL Mobile Services from the beginning eight years, then as a client, building a great deal of trust and mutual understanding with them. She was immediately intrigued when they explained their new mobile service model and announced that they were now looking to develop a working relationship with some trusted publishers. Her intrigue and interest was the impetuous that culminated in founding Tamalaki Publishing. She has been working exclusively with FGL ever since.

The division of responsibilities in this relationship has FGL handling QA testing and the integration of their services, while Spaans manages communications with the developers. Together, they analyze how a game can be improved, how the monetization strategy can be optimized, and what theme and model would be most advantageous for future projects. She uses her experience in online and mobile marketing to help optimize the advertising revenue.

Working Together in the Industry

The satisfaction of working in the games industry for Spaans comes through seeing how the fun of their products is reflecting in the people working on them, as well as through working with development teams who are so eager to learn.

Spaans sees everyone in the games industry facing the same challenges: how to get a game discovered, how to break the circle of the self-fulfilling Top Games prophecy, how to compete with big marketing budgets, and how to monetize and retain players. Essentially, the problem lies in the nature of the App Stores and the expectations we have raised within our own audience.

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Spaans’ solution to the discovery challenge is focusing on the niche market

She decided her response to these challenges would be to focus on a niche market. Tamalaki publishes exclusively for the 30+ female demographic, mainly hidden object games, with some match-3 or time management content for variety. They ensure their games will get traction by cross-promoting and building audience loyalty through using all the tools FGL provides.

Vastly Changing Landscape

As Spaans looks toward the future of the games industry, she is keeping her eyes open to be ready to try new ideas. She notes that the industry has become very dependent on the hardware we create for. But in five years, the mobile landscape could well look completely different. Perhaps VR, Smart Glasses, or smart watches will have taken off to become a mainstream gaming medium. She says, “I’d love to imagine someone playing a hidden object game through augmented reality glasses, wherever they are.”

Her own gaming these days is generally done on her iPhone or Nexus 7 tablet since she is so frequently traveling. Her PS3 console is now neglected and gathering dust along with a complete collection of Ubisoft Games. She is a huge fan of Tamalaki’s hidden object games, but currently she is also enjoying Ruzzle Adventure, and occasionally, for a complete change of pace, she plays Critical Strike Portable.

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Martine Spaans, a car enthusiast

In her free time, Spaans is a car enthusiast who enjoys relaxing in her garage, tinkering away with her cars or motorcycle. Her most prized possession is her 1974 Aston Martin V8.

 

USA 2014Video Coverage

Henning Kosmack Finds The Fun In The Media Battle | Casual Connect Video

August 26, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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Henning Kosmack discussed how they manage storylines in their game Suburbia during Casual Connect USA 2014. “We are very analytical, and we really track a lot of the stuff that’s happening in the game,” he said. “We try to tweak it back and forth to make sure that it is really fitting the biggest amount of audience we can get for that plot line.”

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Henning Kosmack, Co-founder and CEO, MegaZebra

“The games are everywhere, so let the fun begin!” exclaims Henning Kosmack, the co-founder and CEO of MegaZebra. The biggest impact he sees coming to the games industry is cross-platform play. Computers, mobile devices, and television are all coming together as channels for game play. No matter what media outlet people prefer at a particular moment, the games will be there for them. And Kosmack believes this is great news for everyone in the games industry, especially for the players.

Assembling The Team

At MegaZebra, Kosmack fills many roles. As CEO, his foremost responsibility is to assemble an outstanding team of highly talented individuals. Kosmack also spends considerable time interacting with game producers. Since he loves numbers, he brings that into the creative processes in the company. And he is very involved with marketing and community work, where he has learned a great deal about user acquisition and the full life-cycle user experience.

Prior to founding MegaZebra, his career included everything from entrepreneur to VC. All along he has been detecting trends and finding the right team to execute new ideas, skills he continues to use in his latest company.

“Quality Over Quantity”

Kosmack stresses the pride he feels in his team. The MegaZebra philosophy is to emphasize quality over quantity, so the team still numbers less than fifty. Although they are small in numbers, they have crafted some of the biggest games in all the genres they have actively pursued, successfully competing with much larger companies. He says, “It feels like being the underdog playing soccer against the FC Bayern Munich, our hometown club and one of the best teams in the world, and beating them!”

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Although they are small in numbers, MegaZebra have crafted some of the biggest games in all the genres they have actively pursued, successfully competing with much larger companies.

One of the most significant trends Kosmack sees affecting the games industry currently is what he calls the “mass-marketization” of games. As social games emerged, they became accessible to an entirely new audience. Mobile devices further broadened this market. He believed, when founding MegaZebra in 2008, that all gaming audiences would follow this trend from narrow to broad. Although there are some genres, such as console-like gaming, which have not yet followed the trend, he expects them to be next.

The Media Battle

He claims this phenomenon produces another trend, which he calls “the battle of the media”. As games target the mass-market audience, they clash head-on with other media, particularly television. They are consumed at the same hours of the day, for similar session times, and by the same people. But TV is now losing reach and games are soaring. He says, “I think this makes sense. While TV is one-way, games are interactive, which is simply more fun.”

“I think this makes sense. While TV is one-way, games are interactive, which is simply more fun.”

Although there are other trends occurring, at MegaZebra, they believe these are the most important and are fully committed to focusing on them. They are now bringing their category-leading social games cross-platform. Because they have worked with Facebook for some years, they see the value of having mobile games synched to online, socially-connected versions, believing it offers a broader reach and significantly enhances the user experience.

Meeting The Challenge

To meet the challenge of competing with TV, they are currently working on a title that combines TV episodic-style storytelling with a simulation game. Kosmack asserts, “It will combine the narrative, excitement and drama that a television script delivers, with the interactive and social experience of a game.”

In his own gameplay, he is in the middle of migrating from Mac to iPad. He tests many games that come out on different platforms, but now his playing time is going to the new releases they have coming, Suburbia and Solitaire Chronicles. He says, “As we continue to tweak the games, I play, delete my scores, and play again, until it feels awesome.”

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At Casual Connect USA, he announced the official launch of Suburbia, MegaZebra’s take on the convergence of TV and gaming.

When not at work, Kosmack enjoys the original beer gardens in the beautiful city of Munich where he lives. He also visits the nearby lakes and the Alps, and participates in several sports, including beach volleyball, basketball and old-school squash.

At Casual Connect USA, he announced the official launch of Suburbia, MegaZebra’s take on the convergence of TV and gaming. It has already been playable in open beta, but because it is a rather unusual concept, fine-tuning it has taken some time.

 

OnlineUSA 2014Video Coverage

Zachary Present on Building A Great Team | Casual Connect Video

August 20, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“I think it’s really important that you are showing your vendors or the people you are working with where your quality bar and standard is because in the end, knowing your resource is about long-term relationships, it is about building relationships with these vendors,” Zachary Present explained during his session at Casual Connect USA 2014.”

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Zachary Present, the Co-Founder and Creative Director, Present Creative

Zachary Present, the co-founder and creative director of Present Creative, asserts, “The video games industry is the place where art and technology collide.”

For years before starting this company, he was a contract artist for video games, an experience which now helps him greatly in communicating with their contract artists. He definitely knows what it is like to be on the other side of that fence.

He is also very involved in martial arts, having trained and played Capoeira, the Brazilian martial art, for seventeen years. He has graduated to the level of professor and now teaches classes and workshops around the Bay Area.

Interest In the Art (Martial)

Interestingly, it was this interest in arts that led to the founding of Present Creative. In a martial arts class, he met Ben Sutherland, a fellow artist who shared his interest in video games. The two became friends, and, as sole proprietors, they hired each other for every project they worked on. Eventually, it made sense to join forces, and Present Creative was the result.

Demanding Excellence

Present’s main role in the company is to ensure that all artwork leaving the studio is of a high caliber and is in line with client expectations. He gives guidance to the teams on art process and helps to locate new talent for the studio. At times, he also works hands-on with both art direction and lead art. He emphasizes, “My most important and gratifying work is connecting with artists and building a culture of creativity.”

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“My most important and gratifying work is connecting with artists and building a culture of creativity.”

Having a great in-office culture is very important to Present, and is something the studio has always prioritized over the years. He claims, “My proudest moments are when I walk into the studio, and it‘s apparent that our team is creative, productive, efficient, and happy. I am always happy to see that mixture of hard work and fun reflected back to me in the faces of our staff.”

Focus on Unity

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Present expects his company to be greatly impacted by the increasingly widespread use of Unity for mobile platforms.

Within the next two to three years, Present expects his company to be greatly impacted by the increasingly widespread use of Unity for mobile platforms. They are planning for this important trend by making sure all art directors and staff members have a solid knowledge of the technology.

There is a second trend emerging that he expects to influence the games industry as a whole. This is the increasing use of digital downloads and service based subscriptions.

Present enjoys mobile gaming, playing most of his games on his iPad. However, he also enjoys deeply immersive games on his Xbox 360. He chose this console because at the time, most of his friends owned one, and he wanted to play online with them. Currently, he is still working his way through GTAV. He also plays free-to-play games, but his highest purchase in them was $3.99 to unlock the unlimited play for Triple Town, one of his favorite games.

He is a husband and parent who loves to spend time with his family.

 

IndustryNewsOnline

DFC Intelligence Expects Software Revenue to Increase to $100 Billion in 2018

July 2, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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DFC Intelligence has great news for the video games industry. For the second time this year, they have significantly raised their five year forecast. They now expect game software revenue to increase from $64 billion in 2014 to $100 billion in 2018. This includes only the revenue coming from PC games, mobile games, and console games, and does not include purchases of game devices.

“The game market in 2018 is likely to be split fairly evenly between console, PC, and mobile platforms.”

The market is growing on all fronts, according to DFC analyst David Cole, with new console systems doing well, but much of the anticipated growth coming from mobile platforms and BRIC countries. He says, “The game market in 2018 is likely to be split fairly evenly between console, PC, and mobile platforms.”

The mobile games market in particular is expected to soar from $10 billion in 2013 to $29 billion in 2018; 30 percent of total games software revenue. But this market remains both fragmented and overcrowded, even as it continues to grow. DFC analyst Jeremy Miller says, “Companies need to be very cautious about their platform strategy and understand which markets and platforms are best suited to their product.”

DFC intelligence takes a closer look at the freemium mobile game business as part of a more detailed report on business models, using actual usage data to offer revenue business models for the different game genres. The report is part of DFC’s custom game forecasting service, which gives clients the ability to build game revenue forecasts across multiple platforms to an individual country or region level.

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DFC intelligence takes a closer look at the freemium mobile game business as part of a more detailed report on business models.

They have changed their forecast for the console market considerably, raising it for Sony’s Playstation 4 and Nintendo Wii U and lowering it for the Microsoft Xbox One. Cole believes the main challenge for console systems is expanding beyond the core market. He says, “The Xbox One should carve out a solid share among dedicated action gamers, but due to some questionable business decisions, Microsoft’s broader entertainment strategy is in disarray despite the release of the new Kinect-less SKU.” They expect Playstation 4 to be the market leader in games systems for the next few years, but Cole questions whether Sony can continue to build on initial PS4 sales to reach an installed base similar to what they did with Playstation 2.

They have changed their forecast for the console market considerably, raising it for Sony’s Playstation 4 and Nintendo Wii U and lowering it for the Microsoft Xbox One.

DFC Intelligence now is tracking hardware and software spending separately. Later this year, they will be releasing a new hardware forecasting service. Cole notes, “Core gamer spending on high-end PCs, dedicated game devices and accessories is starting to soar. When you add in mobile devices, the impact of the gaming consumer on total hardware spending is huge.” He expects this spending to impact all major players in the consumer electronics space.

These forecasts are part of DFC Intelligence’s Worldwide Marketing Forecasts for the Video Game and Interactive Entertainment Industry Service. The service offers a complete look at the overall market while providing information by region, country, platform, business model, genre and other dimensions. With individual reports and online analysis tools, the service can be customized to each client.

DFC Intelligence is a strategic market research and consulting firm. Their focus is on interactive entertainment and video game, online game, interactive entertainment and portable game markets.

 

Asia 2014Video Coverage

Weiwei Geng and Working With Hit Games | Casual Connect Video

June 10, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“We all know for games, we need new content to keep our players entertained, but the key thing here is not just to push out content, but to figure out the right cadence of content releases,” Weiwei Geng said during Casual Connect Asia 2014. “If you do it too soon, too fast, your players will actually get burned out, but if you actually do it too slow and too late, your players get bored and they might quit playing the game.”

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Weiwei Geng, Executive Producer, Kabam

Weiwei Geng, the executive producer at Kabam, believes the games industry is the perfect spot for art, science, engineering, interaction design, and music to come together as a true multidisciplinary industry. He joined the industry just as social games were taking off on Facebook. He started off in a friend’s company, helping them to set up their North American operation. What he enjoys most about being a part of the video games industry is that he gets to work with talented people all the time and that the platforms he works on allow him to interact directly with their players.

Making A Hit

At Kabam, Geng is leading The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth and Kingdoms of Camelot franchises. He joined Kabam in 2012 just as they were beginning their mobile effort. His previous experience in understanding the free-to-play business, including design, live-ops, marketing, and customer service was a tremendous benefit; he says, “I couldn’t have done my current job without it.”

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The successful launch of The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth for mobile and ramping it up to quickly shoot up the top grossing chart is what Geng considers the proudest moment of his career.

The successful launch of The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth for mobile and ramping it up to quickly shoot up the top grossing chart is what Geng considers the proudest moment of his career. He believes, “A true dedication of the team and the seamless teamwork led to this moment.”

Geng’s spare time activities include sports, music, and spending time with his family. And don’t forget gaming! Currently, he is playing Boom Beach, which he calls elegant, simple, and engaging: a step up from Clash of Clans. He prefers playing on iOS because of the indie community Apple is trying to foster on the platform.

His intense focus on mobile games had him playing on a high speed train going 350 kilometers per hour. He says, “Due to the high speed of the train, my cell phone had to keep switching to new station towers for reception. It was quite an experience!”

Global Outlook

Geng sees globalization as the next important trend in mobile free-to-play. He notes that Asia is known for being advanced in the free-to-play business. He claims, “With the growing market in the West and global hit titles such as Candy Crush and Clash of Clans, a merge in understanding free-to-play will happen on the global level. Companies and talent will try to leverage the learnings from all markets, and those that can take advantage of these key learnings will become valuable.”

 

Asia 2014Video Coverage

Rustum Scammell is on a Unique Journey | Casual Connect Video

June 9, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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“As an evangelist, we’ve seen many projects and spoken to many developers and the central issue whenever there is a problem with a project, it’s always architecture,” Rustum Scammell told his audience during Casual Connect Asia 2014. “The problems that are faced from a shaky foundation arise much later on in the project, and by that time it’s really too difficult to go back and start all over again.”

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Rustum Scammell, Product Evangelist, Unity Technologies

Rustum Scammell is a product evangelist at Unity Technologies, as well as the owner of the game studio, Craft Colony. He describes himself as a traditional gamer with a preference for playing on PC. Recently, he has been spending time playing Tropico 4, saying it has amazing production value and is very immersive and funny. He does become involved in free-to-play games and admits to spending far too much gold on Travian many years ago. But he must be less immersed in console play, since as yet he doesn’t own either Xbox One or PS4; he just hasn’t bothered to get them yet.

When not gaming, Scammell loves to travel where he can see things beyond his comfort zone. Not long ago he visited Masai Mara. He says of this experience, “It hits you pretty deep when you realize you are so close to where it all began. It’s also a unique feeling to know you could easily be dinner out there!”

Scammell initially began working for Unity Technologies externally and found the experience went very well. So when the opportunity arose to become their product evangelist, it made sense to him to join the company. An aspect of his work that he particularly enjoys is sharing his story and hearing how other people’s lives have led them into the industry. He points out, “I have heard so many journeys, and so far each is unique. I suppose that’s why we all get attracted into this world. It’s really varied, and there’s always a surprise around the corner.”

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Not long ago he visited Masai Mara. He says of this experience, “It hits you pretty deep when you realize you are so close to where it all began.”

Finding The Path

The most exciting time Scammell remembers in his career came when he shipped his first game. He believes everything he went through to reach this point was necessary and emphasizes this belief, “All experiences in life, good and bad, shape you and lead you down the roads that you visit in your life.”

When considering the future of the games industry, he insists the most important direction to proceed is a return to the basics: good story, characters, gameplay, and high production values.

 

BusinessExclusive InterviewsIndustryOnline

Sergio Salvador: Passion, Inspiration, and Creativity

May 19, 2014 — by Catherine Quinton

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Sergio Salvador
Sergio Salvador, Head of Games Partnerships, Google

Sergio Salvador, the head of games partnerships at Google, developed an interest in video games at an early age. He was 12 years old when he received his first computer, a Sinclair Spectrum 48k (a popular choice in Europe at the time). He was expected to learn to code on it, but quickly discovered he enjoyed the end product much more. So he spent many hours playing games like Elite, Manic Miner, Skool Daze, Gauntlet, Way of the Exploding First, Fury of the Furries, and Atic Atac.

Salvador’s career has also focused on the end product, as he has served as business development, product marketing, product management, and general management. Most of his career has been spent with Electronic Arts spanning several countries, including Spain, UK, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

A Life of Games

While studying for his PhD, he made his first entry into the serious side of games with an online games magazine he founded with a friend. The magazine had reviews and editorial content and was a great success, becoming the most popular games magazine in Spanish in the world.

One particularly rewarding experience in his career was the international launch of Battlefield 2 while he was based in London. He decided to do something rare for EA at the time: launch a special edition of the game with a great box and memorabilia inside. It became incredibly popular, and the game did well overall. He still owns one of these special editions in an unopened box.

The games industry when he started out was quite different from today. One of his first roles with EA was in the online division in Europe, working on the launch of the online games services, known as EA.com at the time, a very early predecessor to the Origin service. The launch of the service was difficult at the beginning; it came just after the dot.com bubble burst. He emphasizes that it was hard going at first, with uncertainty and diminishing support both internally and externally, but eventually, as the online industry overall began to recover, the service started getting off the ground.

Focus on the People

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Salvador’s career has always focused on the business side of the games industry, and he finds the skills necessary for success are interchangeable with those needed in other industries.

Salvador’s career has always focused on the business side of the games industry, and he finds the skills necessary for success are interchangeable with those needed in other industries. One of the skills he feels is critical to develop is a laser focus on the user, whether external, or, less commonly, internal. He insists, “Identifying a problem or need a user has, and doing everything in your power to find a solution for it, almost always results in a positive outcome.”

Unfortunately, Salvador has noticed it is common under certain company and industry conditions to feel pressure to focus on driving revenue. He asserts, “This is anathema to a great partnership. Focusing on the partners’ needs and working to help them find a solution is the right premise to any partnerships-focused work. Solving the problem a partner has will routinely end up being beneficial to both partners, with revenue being a common desirable side effect.”

Leave Room For Fun

These days, he is spending quite a lot of his time in China and Japan meeting partners and presenting at conferences. Working globally requires flexibility and long days; early morning is a good time to connect with the team in North America, work with Europe starts at about 3:00 PM, Singapore time, and in between, he is involved with the Asia-focused work, reviewing the status of different discussions or working on overall strategy for different partners.

Salvador believes it is essential to take time away from work; he normally does this on weekends. Usually he devotes this time to his family, but when he is not with them, he is training for marathons, playing tennis, attending yoga classes or learning to play the electric guitar. He also lectures on digital marketing one evening a week at a local polytechnic, claiming this change of pace feels like free time, and is on the boards of a local NGO and a global games conference.

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Salvador wanted to take a fun picture while in Ho Chi Minh City.

Tips for the Next Gen

To people starting out in the games industry, Salvador recommends focusing on the future with mobile, mobile, mobile! He recognizes that the online games industry is large in Asia and consoles are a big part of the industry in Western countries. But he insists, “The future is in mobile, and that doesn’t mean only smartphones.” He recommends, “Settle on an idea you are passionate about and start experimenting with it on phones, tablets, wearables, and virtual reality platforms.”

Passion is the attribute he feels is most important for the next generation of games professionals. “Games are a form of art, possibly the most interactive and entertaining form of art,” he insists, “Players are almost always passionate about games they play and games they love if they can feel the passion that went into making them, whether they are hardcore or casual gamers.” So professionals should be passionate about the work they are doing, whether that work is directly designing and creating the games or is the business side of the games industry. It all contributes to great gaming experiences.

Defining the Market

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Saturation and business models are always important concerns when he is working with partners.

Saturation and business models are always important concerns when he is working with partners. To some extent, he says this is an Asia-focused view of the world, particularly China, where games markets are reaching the point that makes long-term business unsustainable for small companies. Business models are now gravitating to micro-transactions and in-app purchases, models which are essentially the same for different platforms. Today, with the number of games available in online and mobile, only the top developers are making any real money, while the majority of companies only generate enough revenue to continue plodding along, but are limited in how much they can innovate. Salvador recognizes that this will be damaging to the industry long term until a painful market correction happens.

He believes that mobile platforms will continue to define the market in the foreseeable future, with new platforms bringing both challenges and opportunities. This evolution of the games industry will allow games to be more portable, possibly more customizable, and will make them significantly more mass market. He points out that there are great experiments going on now, such as Google’s augmented reality game, Ingress. Salvador says, “The team will be working this year with a select group of developers to build games using geographic data from the game, with a full API expected to release to the public in 2015.”

As a gamer, Salvador is excited about virtual reality technologies, claiming we now have the right talent and the right computing power in small formats. He believes, “Both Morpheus and Oculus seem to be inspiring developers, and whether they deliver what they promise or not, inspiration always leads to creativity and new ideas being generated. That can only be good.”

Sergio Salvador will explore solutions for the challenges facing developers who can’t live on in-app purchases alone during Casual Connect Asia 2014. More on his session can be found on the conference website.

 

BusinessContributionsDevelopmentGame Audio ArtistryGame DevelopmentIndustryOnlineSpecials

Moving with the Latest Pendulum Swing: Right Before Our Eyes, Another Gaming Industry Transformation

April 4, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Nick ThomasNick Thomas, CEO and Co-Founder of SomaTone, Inc., is a video games industry veteran and thought leader with 10+ years of proven executive leadership results with a focus on developing strategic industry partnerships, innovating creative outsourcing solutions and managing talented teams that contribute to more than 100 games annually from nearly all major publishers and developers, as well as independent developers. He discusses the transformation occurring in the industry in this article.


It’s happening again, right before our eyes; we’re in the midst of yet another era of redefinition and reinvention in the ever-evolving gaming industry. While the landscape is changing dramatically, history shows us that something new and good will invariably emerge. After all, (and despite many attempts), you cannot own or control creativity, or predict the future of gaming.

We at SomaTone are ten years deep as a leading provider of creative content for mobile, social, and casual games, working at the forefront of gaming over the last decade’s explosive growth. Having produced audio content on hundreds of games for many of the top publishers as well as for the indies, our vantage point gives us a sweeping perspective across the landscape of the games industry– from AAA console games, to MMO’s, to Social/Mobile, to Casual, and beyond.

We’re seeing the cyclical pendulum swing of innovation, homogenization, and reinvention continuing to keep the publishers of gaming content guessing as the smaller, faster, and more creative start-ups are yet again redefining the gaming industry.

Creative comrades in the face of an ever-changing industry
Creative comrades in the face of an ever-changing industry, SomaTone’s Nick Thomas with Tap4Fun CEO Kevin Yang at GDC 2014

The Ripple Effects of Converting Players into Users in Mobile Gaming

Casual games continue to go through a familiar pattern, and we are currently emerging from a decline of the smaller “Mom and Pop” game developers, who have been squeezed out by the realities of mobile publishing and the dominance of Free-to-Play (F2P) games. This economic model has sought to systematically convert game “users” into a currency that has been hoarded, sold, and traded in an effort to control access to “game players.”

As a consequence, the industry was stratified into large game publishers–who controlled the access to “users” and thus the majority of the market–and new start-ups and Indies, who were either being gobbled up by these same publishers, or self-publishing and hoping for a Flappy Bird-style anomalous hit.

The middle-class of game development–studios of 20-50 working on games that were sold via standard pay-to-play standards with supportive publishing partners–has suffered. With limited access to users, who are carefully controlled by game publishers, it was nearly impossible for mid-sized independent game developers to make and sell their own games and support their teams. The result was a polarized and stratified industry in which a small fraction of game publishers own the vast majority of market, making it extremely difficult for small game developers to independently make and sell their games without yielding to the requirements of the publishers, who will own the IP, take the lion’s share of the revenue, with no clear obligation to bring “users” to their game.

“Every time the industry has homogenized itself by the few having control of the many, a new era of gaming has invented itself.”

Now while all publisher models attempt to control access and distribution to customers (this is in fact what publishers are supposed to do), there is a dramatic new variable at play, with the F2P economy. This “race to the bottom” business model, which has led to disruptive game-play mechanics designed to extract fees from “users”, in their efforts to enjoy a fully featured game-play experience and be “players”, is highly dependent on publishers’ access to users, and their ability to monetize these users. Those “old school” game designers, who sought to develop great games, that offered fully featured immersive game-play experiences at the outrageously expensive price of $.99, never stood a chance against “free” games, which are developed by game publishers and promoted to their “users”, requiring players to pay for the features included in a 1-dollar competing title.

This Latest Cycle Will Induce a Painful Rebirth

This cycle of innovation, homogenization and reinvention is not a new trend. We have seen this same cycle in gaming in the past, with Big Fish Games‘ consolidation of the PC Downloadable market and subsequently, Zynga‘s dominance of browser-based Facebook, and in both cases, there was a painful rebirth of the industry. Those fastest to adapt to the new ecosystems survived, and those who could not evolve, died away.

However, it is also true that every time the industry has homogenized itself by the few having control of the many, a new era of gaming has invented itself. Just after Big Fish unequivocally took control of PC downloadable, Facebook came along and completely disrupted their reign. A few short years later, the kings of Facebook (Zynga, Playdom, Wooga) have been dethroned, only to be replaced by the current leaders of the mobile industry. With each successive attempt to control and “own” the industry, new life has begun.

“You cannot control game players or ‘own’ creativity. A new era is currently percolating under the thin crust of the mobile/casual games ecosystem, and by my observations, we are onto a new dawn of gaming.”

This reminds me of Jurassic Park. Life finds a way. In this case, creativity finds a way, and despite the attempts of the current reign of publishers to own and control this inherently creative marketplace, they are discovering, just as all others before them have, that you cannot control game players or “own” creativity.

A new era is currently percolating under the thin crust of the mobile/casual games ecosystem, and by my observations, we are onto a new dawn of gaming. One in which King.com, and Kabam, or perhaps even the Apple Store and Google Play store, will soon find themselves trying to catch up, and wondering what happened as the world they felt so sure of has shifted beneath their feet.

“Mom and Pop” developers, take heart. The pendulum swings both ways. And from our vantage point, which reaches from the largest publishers to the smallest indies, the playing field is leveling.

2014 will be a year of reorganization and consolidation, as the bubble of Mobile/Social games refocuses its efforts, and quality will retake its place as the leading factor in a company’s success, rather than simply a publisher’s control of access to users. And developing innovative and high-quality games has always been what the “Mom and Pop” game studios have done best and are continuing to do.

Look forward to the next installment of this series next month, a case study on Zynga’s Puzzle Charms!

 

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