Archive for the ‘HTML5’ Category
Betable’s Tyler York has a post about Facebook allowing the first real-money gaming social game in England here:
I applaud Betable for trying something new. They’re the only company I know that has a betting/gambling API you can drop into your existing game. And in theory, they are licensed, so you can skip the regulatory hassle, integrating gambling and betting into your game much more easily than if you went through the trouble of getting licensed yourself.
However, it’s no wonder Facebook is moving slowly here. There are major issues with gambling, it’s heavily regulated, and Facebook wants to be super-cautious as it tries out this approach. Of course they’re going to go with someone who already operates in the space where it’s legal; and they want to pilot it out.
It’s also not counter to how they’ve been doing things for the last few years. While Facebook initially opened up its platform for game development, they’ve been rolling out new features slowly and testing and piloting with select companies. This has happened for every new feature I can think of on Facebook — Web App/HTML5 integration, Credits, Offers, pricing in local currency, Open Graph, even the just rolled-out subscriptions. Companies like Zynga usually get first crack, because they have a high volume of players and a good relationship with Facebook.
Betable has a vested interest in having gambling in social games be open to everyone. After all, the more people who want to make gambling games, the more potential Betable customers. But it’s not just a matter of dropping gambling mechanics into your existing game; there are a host of other factors that go into making online gambling operations successful, as I’ve addressed previously (http://blog.gamzee.com/2012/07/trends-at-casual-connect-2012-new-game-game-nights-and-more/). And as discussed, larger offline poker, sportsbook, and casino companies and online gambling and sportsbook companies have an edge in this space. And those companies will get licensed themselves so that they can keep a bigger piece of the pie.
If you follow social games at all, you’ve probably seen that Electronic Arts’ Maxis division is suing Zynga over their game The Ville. I’m going to put aside legal considerations as to what constitutes copying a game. And I’ll even put aside ethical considerations (is it okay to copy someone else’s game?).
Zynga’s business model for a long time has relied on finding successful games that other companies came up with, copying them, improving on the user experience, virality, and/or monetization, and generally doing better with those games than the originals. Farmville was a copy of an existing game, as was Mafia Wars. Nimblebit called Zynga out for Zynga’s Dream Tower, which was a graphically different, substantially similar version of hit mobile game Tiny Tower. There have been quotes leaked to the press from Mark Pincus, Zynga’s CEO, stating that he didn’t care about innovation, just successful games, and suggesting Zynga copy those who came first.
Oddly, Zynga’s biggest success, at least in terms of total users, has been with Cityville, which is arguably an original game. Sure, it’s a citybuilding invest-express game, and there are familiar elements from a handful of games that came before (decorations from Wooga’s Millionaire City, the basic concept and layout from Playdom’s Social City, trains from A Bit Lucky’s Lucky Train, etc.). But Zynga combined those elements and added in several others to make something that really pushed the genre forward. And players really responded, making it still the biggest social game of all time.
Is The Ville a copy of the Sims Social? Well, if you look at the court filing, with the pictures side by side, they’re pretty darn similar. The basic mechanics, the look and feel of the game, and even how the Sims interact with one another, and the fact that you can do “nice” or “mean” things to your friends all feel cribbed from The Sims Social. Perhaps most incriminatingly, the characters in The Ville talk to each other in something very closely approximating Simlish, the Sims-specific cutesy baby talk/gibberish language that’s been a hallmark of the Sims franchise from its very beginning.
That also seems like an odd choice for Zynga, as it’s rather apparent that they didn’t come up with that concept; and there’s really no reason to put it in your game other than aesthetics (and trying to make the game as identical as possible to the Sims).
Users seem to be fleeing Zynga games lately, particularly on desktop. Some have posited that this is because the social game craze is ending, or because users as a whole are growing tired of microtransactions. I don’t buy either argument. Over half the people on Facebook have played a social game, and hundreds of millions still play titles like Farmville, Cityville, the various poker games, Bejewled Blitz, Family Feud, etc.
Zynga hasn’t really had an original game out in a while. They’ve had sequels, and they’ve had copies. But they haven’t put a big, new game that pushed the genre forward since Empires & Allies (which, by the way, was a smart, innovative title that layered some more complex PvE and PvP combat onto the familiar citybuilding genre). I think that’s what users are responding to. They want new games, and they’re having to go to other companies to get them.
Ray Mazza, Creative Director at EA and Lead Designer at Playfish, posted this rather lengthy breakdown of Sim City Social on his blog:
http://www.raymazza.com/1/post/2012/07/simcity-social-8-truths-of-facebook-game-design.html You should really read this if what I’m saying below is going to make any sense
It’s an interesting read, even if I don’t perhaps agree with everything he’s saying here. I have to say that the overall tone comes across as someone who’s trying to justify to himself why social games are real games. This is a common refrain in the game industry; lots of traditional game devs and designers have made the jump into social and/or mobile recently. It’s a big market, far bigger in terms of size than traditional console and PC games. And that’s where a lot of the money is going (thanks to Zynga and other players). But it doesn’t necessarily show a love of these types of games. NOTE: I’m not picking on Ray Mazza specifically, I don’t know him, and from reading his blog post he seems to genuinely like what he’s doing over at EA/Playfish. I’m talking more about others in the game industry I’ve seen who made the jump from console or PC into social games because it was a hot space.
On to the specific points Mazza makes in his post.
1. Strategy is Great, But it Needs to Cater to the Target Audience.
Agree 100% on this one. Facebook games are generally casual, although some top out into what’s now being called “midcore,” generally turn-based or pseudo-realtime strategy games or RPGs. And they cover a broad range of genres within casual, from invest/express citybuilders to match-3 arcade games to gambling and casino games. Like any other platform, you need to know your audience, and to design the appropriate level of complexity into your games. Stuffing PvP into a farming game probably won’t work.
SimCity Social conquers this, as Mazza points out, by adding in a lot of variables to building placement bonuses. That’s something we tried out in Skyscraper City as well — building placement bonuses, Happiness hard caps on Population, and scaling Energy requirements all mean you have to really try to figure out the best combo of Happiness, Population and Money payouts, and optimal placement of buildings on various floors for whatever particular goal you’re trying to accomplish in the game.
In my opinion, Zynga has done a great job of layering some complexity onto standard social game mechanics. Farmville had some interesting crafting mechanics, and Empires & Allies takes a standard city-builder and adds PvP and PvE combat onto it in a smart and easily-graspable way.
2. You Are Not the Audience: Half a Billion Other People Are.
Again, agreed 100%. While it comes across as a bit of a social game apologia, it’s a solid point. Different games have different audiences. Tetris and Plants vs. Zombies manage to cross almost all demographic boundaries, while World of Warcraft and the Call of Duty franchise appeal to more hardcore gamers.
3. Fast Load Times Mean Content is Spread Out Over Time.
Yeah, it’s hard to argue with this one. Social games do need to load quickly, because users aren’t investing a long download or cash into playing the game. If there’s any obvious problems — slow load, bad interface, crashing bugs — users will bounce. After all, there are a ton of other games on Facebook you can try out in 30 seconds for free.
4. Lots of Wall Posts Means More Players. But…
Mazza is conflicted here. He understands the product manager/business side of things, where gamemakers want to spam players so they can get more players. But he also thinks we should be a little better about only sharing important things.
I’d say that social gamemakers do a bad job with spamming notifications and requests. It’s why Facebook revamped the whole wall post system and hid games away for a long time — Facebook Walls used to be filled with Farmville requests.
Developers can definitely do a better job of handling this, integrating notifications/posts into gameplay better, sharing important content, and making the posts and links loop back into the game in cool ways. For example, citybuilder games could let you click a link about a friend’s city activity and actually go there in-game and see that city, even if you weren’t in-game friends with that person. Handled like that, posts and notifications would actually be of value to other users, other than simply blasting friends to try to get more players.
One area where social games are handling this well is in turn-based multiplayer games; notifications about what someone did in a turn on Words with Friends or if they won a game of SongPop versus a friend are interesting to other players. We’ve been playing around with some of that here at Gamzee on our newer games.
5. Energy and Time Gates are Used for Pacing.
Yes and no here. Energy and Time Gates are generally the function of grindy and/or lazy game design. They do pace the game out, in that they make it impossible for you to burn through content (unless of course, you spend money to refill your Energy or to speed up the time requirement). But most games other than social games and some mobile games don’t do this at all. Whether you’re playing Skyrim or SWOTOR, you can generally play as much as and as quickly as you want. You can burn through the content if you want to.
Social game designers are guilty of follow-the-leader thinking and even some laziness when creating their games. And we’re guilty of it, too — I’ve put Energy systems into two games because it helped us spread the content out better. But you could design your way around this instead. It would take a little more effort, but it could result in a better game — and one that would stand out from the pack. The Sims Social is a perfect example of this — EA could have made it so that you could play with your Sims as much as you wanted to, purchasing vanity/status items and unlocking special content and actions for monetization, rather than making it so that you had to buy more Energy, get gifted more Energy, or wait for your Energy to refill over time to see what your Sims are doing. I would posit that that’s a main reason why the game declined rather quickly compared to the interest people showed in the computer, console, and handheld versions of the franchise. Sitting around watching your Sims doing stuff (like setting their houses on fire) is half the fun of playing.
And of course, you could always add more content to overcome this problem (and engineer your backend so that content loads in stages after initial load and/or by area).
6. Facebook Games are Hard to Make
Again, agree 100% here. Facebook games, like any other type of game, are hard to make. Particularly to make good ones. Good ones that are fun are even harder. And good ones that are fun that make a lot of money are even harder still.
7. Yes, You Need to Play with Friends. But…
Again, Mazza is conflicted. He sees that the friend mechanism helps control progress and allows monetization by players paying to skip friend/gifting requirements. But he also would like to find a way to get past these requirements, perhaps by having these get fulfilled over time if the player is unable/unwilling to spam friends or pay.
I agree with him here. “Social games aren’t truly social” is a truism many game designers have uttered. If you look at Mario Kart or any MMO, you’ll see those games are far more social than almost any social game. More social games should start allowing players to interact with strangers through gameplay mechanics (PvP, help in finishing quests, guilds, visting strangers’ cities and interacting, etc.). That would result in deeper games. And Mazza’s auto-fulfill idea (where these requirements get filled automatically over some period of time) is an interesting one that I’d like to see tested in a game or two.
8. You Don’t Need to Spend Money to Progress
Again, this seems like a bit of an odd point. No, you don’t need to spend money to progress in a social game. Or any free to play game for that matter. And most people never do. But, if you want to be competitive in a midcore game or you don’t want to fill your friend list up with low quality “neighbors” from social games or constantly wait for Energy refills, you will generally want to spend some money to get past requirements.
And the bigger social games from Zynga, EA, Playdom, etc. tend to have very grindy requirements where you need a ton of rare materials that you can only get from friends or by purchasing in order to complete quests and buildings.
Also, the whole reason why Asian companies pioneered the F2P model was they realized that it made more money for them overall.
F2P works in that a small percentage of folks (generally 1-3% for social games, and 5-15% for MMORPGs) pay for items in the game. But instead of everyone paying $19.95 a month for a subscription or $60 once for a boxed version of the game on DVD, that 1-3% spend on average, way more than that. Social game “whales” spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on the game, re-upping constantly to get all the newly released “limited edition” collectible vanity buildings, refilling Energy, or buying other consumables to climb the PvP leaderboards.
So the fact that you don’t have to spend money isn’t done out of charity and a sense of goodwill, it’s knowing full well that if the game is a hit, it will make far more money than something with a fixed purchase or subscription price because there’s literally no cap on what you can spend in the game if you truly love it.
I think the bad rap social games get is because there isn’t a lot of innovation in the market place. Look how many games there were like Farmville, or how many Mafia Wars-style games there are. Or how many Texas Holdem Poker games or slot machine games you can find on Facebook. Social game companies have tended to use a fast-follow strategy for game design and mechanics, meaning that a lot of the stuff you see on Facebook is a copy of other things that have worked, whether that’s a ton of aquarium games three years ago, or the fact that most games have an Energy system.
There’s a lot of innovation to be done in the space — in terms of game design, mechanics, theme, use and integration of the social graph, and monetization. I know what we’re working on here at Gamzee, and I’m excited about it. I look forward to seeing what other developers come up with.
I’m making a commitment to updating this blog more often. We’re going to aim for 2x a week getting posts up.
I went up to Casual Connect last week for some meetings. While I didn’t get to attend much of the conference, the general air was interesting. At each conference I go to, you can pick up an overall feel for the new hotness. GDC a couple of years ago, for example, everyone was bullish on social gaming on Facebook. Loads of traditional PC and console game developers were getting into the space. Inside Social Games last year, one of the buzzwords was HTML5 gaming.
At this year’s Casual Connect, there seemed to be two themes. One, people were bullish on mobile and cooling a bit on Facebook as a platform. That’s not surprising — even Facebook game giant Zynga has had some difficulty lately on Facebook (difficulty being a relative term, they’re still the largest and most profitable social game company, period), and while there are some big publishers on mobile, no single entity dominates the way that Zynga has on Facebook.
Two, social gambling is the new big trend. There’s been talk for a while about Facebook pushing to legalize online gambling so it can grow its business by providing the platform for people to play poker and casino games together. It would be a smart move for Facebook, along the same lines as providing platforms for social games and payments. Having worked at World Poker Tour for a while, I know first-hand that the online gambling market is gigantic and that players monetize far better than even hardcore MMO players.
It’s a very hard business, however, one that’s dominated on the one hand by online gaming providers and by traditional brick-and-mortar casinos on the other. IGT and Harrah’s have both gotten into the social/online gaming space recently through acquisitions of social game companies. And Zynga’s made a big push with bingo, Slingo, their poker games, etc.
While I’m sure Zynga will do well in the space because of their size, ability to attract top talent, and marketing expertise, there are some challenges that people are probably not aware of.
Firstly, it’s a different audience than almost all social games. At WPT, we operated real-money gaming overseas, free games in the states, and a subscription gaming product in the US and Canada. Those are three different audiences. My mom may play Zynga Poker, but she’s never going to risk $500 playing no-limit sit-n-gos. And a hardcore gambler who likes to multi-table doesn’t care about playing with his social graph or having tons of stars shooting out every time he wins a hand.
There are also major regulatory issues and questions of fairness. Random number generators are licensed and inspected; you have to have certain cash reserves on hand for payouts; and even major online gaming companies have suffered from cheating scandals. It requires a degree of watchfulness and the ability to react quickly that other games do not. Think about the cheating and scamming that goes on in games like World of Warcraft, or others where you can’t officially take money out of the system. Now apply that to a game where you can literally win hundreds of thousands of dollars from other players. Flash clients are notoriously easy to hack.
A lot of the success of online poker/gambling sites has to do with building great affiliate programs and the type of offers you give to players. It’s not uncommon to see a CPA of $350 plus a portion of the player’s rake (for poker) or losses (for table games/slots). That’s because a player who deposits is worth thousands of dollars. And smart players shop various sites for matching deposit bonuses and other freebies, maximizing what they can get for free.
Finally, providers on Facebook and mobile will have to make sure their games are responsive. Rocketfrog is a cool game, but it’s very buggy and takes a long time to play a tournament. If I had real money on the line, I would never play there.
/end of gambling diatribe
We recently had a celebratory team-building event (because we finished up v1.0 of our next game). We went to go-karting at Racer’s Edge in Burbank, where they have electric karts that go up to 45 miles per hour (which is insanely fast on a small indoor track). Abe won both races.
Then we bowled. None of us are great bowlers. Although I did get the high score with 153 on the second game.
Stay tuned for news on what the new game is and where you can play it soon.
We’ve been playing a lot of 7 Wonders recently. It’s a fun competitive empire building game with a lot of options for win strategies — you can amass resources, build up an army (that you get points for having a bigger army each round than your opponent on either side), build wonders, collect money to trade for victory points, etc. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Race for the Galaxy, but with some more bits. And I’m pretty horrible at it, unlike RftG But it’s a great game, and I highly recommend it.
We’re trying to keep this blog updated. Generally failing in any reasonable sense of the word “udpated,” but we are trying
We had a small game night last night, just me, Sean, and Jordan, our new(ish) QA guy. We opted to try out Fiasco, a “storytelling game,” I purchased a digital download of last week. Fiasco aims to replicate a kind of loose, short-session Dungeons & Dragons, only with far less rules and no Dungeon Master. Drawing from small-time caper films where something goes horribly wrong (BLOOD SIMPLE, A SIMPLE PLAN, THE KILLING, FARGO, etc.), players take on various roles, have relationships with one another, and then most of us try to do something stupid, with the end result being catastrophe. The goal being to simulate in about two hours one of those caper films. Our first play session went reasonably well. We chose an Old West scenario, with Sean playing a grizzled ranch hand (Billy Bahb) and partner to Jordan’s ranch hand (Skeeter Montana). Years ago, a drunk Billy Bahb tried to convince Skeeter to purchase his railroad pushcart and goaded him into taking it down to the haunted mine, where Skeeter found old pirate gold (no idea why there were pirates in the Old West, but hell, it’s our first time playing). Back to the present of our story, and Billy tries to convince his no-good stepson Bobby Bahb (me!), a janitor at the hotel Skeeter owns with part of his gold proceeds to rob the hotel safe and get the gold back that should be rightfully his. Bobby sleeps with Skeeter’s wife after nailing him into the outhouse. Billy Bahb tries to (unsuccessfully) burn the outhouse down with Skeeter in it (Skeeter rocks the outhouse over on top of Billy Bahb). Billy Bahb’s wife, Dolly, tells him she slept with someone else, setting off a drunken rampage where he beats Dolly.
Billy Bahb asks for Bobby’s help again, with Bobby agreeing. Skeeter overhears and becomes paranoid. In the second act, Skeeter sends goons out to beat Billy Bahb and Bobby up and tie them up. Dolly comes in with a gun, shoots her husband in the leg. The Bahbs get free and open up the safe with Dolly’s help (she had the key due to her relationship with Skeeter; and of course, I have to sleep with her again). Bobby turns on his dad and knocks him unconscious. He and Dolly get the gold. Billy Bahb shoots his son in the head, Dolly shoots her husband a few more times, and Billy Bahb rides off on the handcart with the gold, down to the old haunted mine. Skeeter dies of his wounds, Bobby ends up mentally handicapped, working as a janitor in the new hotel in town, no longer a ladies’ man, and Bobby haunts the mine. Dolly winds up with the gold that conveniently fell off the handcart and takes over the town.
Fiasco was a lot of fun, and even with people who aren’t the strongest at improv, the suggestions and twists gave us a decent little story. Rules are fairly limited, which lets you craft a story fairly easily and also adds some tension and complications. I’m interested to try the game again.
We also played Small World, with Sean edging me out by a single gold coin at the very end (120-119). What a frustrating way to lose!
On to actual Gamzee product news. We’ve been working hard away on a few things. First is the iOS version of DownWords, which we actually finished and were ready to release. But then we realized we should wait, because we’re also adding some cool multiplayer features to the game that will make it that much better.
And we’ve also been working on our mysterious third game, which is seeing great progress. I can’t say what it is, but can say that it’s a very social, multiplayer game that should appeal to people who like things like Words With Friends and Draw Something.
Well, not really news. But our very own Sean Soria wrote a guest post for Facebook’s HTML5 blog on Skyscraper City and making a speedy HTML5 cross-platform game.
Now if I could only get him to blog here, we might have some more content.
500,000 MAU for Skyscraper City! (And we’re #9 on this week’s list of emerging social games, too.)
#18 again on the list of Top Gainers. 420,000 users and counting…
Read all about Skyscraper City.
The game continues to experience some truly awesome growth. As you can see from the chart on Inside Social Games/Appdata, we’re the 4th fastest growing emerging game on Facebook this week! Woohoo. Check it out at apps.facebook.com/skyscrapercity.
We’re super-psyched with all the attention the game has been getting. We’re a featured game on Facebook, and we made Inside Social Games’ top fastest-growing Facebook games this week (#18).
When you take into account that almost all the other games on the list are from gigantic companies like Zynga, EA/Playfish, Wooga, etc. that makes it all the more impressive.