Archive for the ‘ Game PR ’ Category

Kill them all campaign

Riftforge is an online RPG with tactical combat. The campaign raises $2730 to develop three end-game campaigns that culminate in an epic boss battle.

November 14, 2013 – Riftforge, an ambitious fantasy online role-playing game, has launched an Indiegogo campaign. The $2730 will be used to finish the game by adding two grand campaigns as well as a special super-monster campaign.

Riftforge has been in development for four years, the last two in open playtest mode. It has a quarter million beta signups and over 44,000 Facebook fans. The game features tactical combat in over a hundred handcrafted missions. In addition to the singleplayer content, Riftforge has an active multiplayer Arena.

“We have built a modern game that pays homage to 90’s RPG’s like Baldur’s Gate, the Ultima series, even Final Fantasy Tactics,” said Krasimir Koichev, Riftforge’s Producer. “With the Indiegogo campaign, we’d like to give our fans the ultimate choice: which enemies they want to kill in the epic end-game confrontation.”

Riftforge is the game world’s central location. It is a hub structure that seemingly exists out of space and time. With the new content, players will be able to go through the Rift to explore three new warzones and interact with their inhabitants. True to genre conventions, the majority of those inhabitants are both hostile and dangerous, thus the “Kill them all” slogan.

Riftforge features:

  • Deep and engaging tactical combat, within a familiar turn-based system
  • Three powerful, yet balanced RPG archetypes
  • Rare, elite, and epic units with over 70 unique skills
  • Free-to-play Arena and extra missions available for gold or cash

About Riftforge
Riftforge is a cloud-based roleplaying platform for gamers passionate about tactical combat. The game client is HTML5 and the platform is accessible on all devices with a modern browser.

Indiegogo campaign trailer:

Press release distributed by: GamesPress

Riftforge beta
Facebook fan page

Zynga’s new CEO

Don MattrickTo quote GamesIndustry:

Don Mattrick’s jump from Xbox chief to Zynga CEO left many observers stunned this week.

Why would he make this move? And what exactly does this mean for Zynga’s future?

For one, I’m not stunned in the slightest. After Andrew Mason “left” Groupon, it was only a matter of time (one quarter) for Mark Pincus to move on.

I’m always surprised when observers are stunned when someone goes from a division that has experienced its zenith to a company that is in its nadir. Makes no sense to a salary man but it’s great for a person with a career.

Daniel Kahneman explained this lazy thinking process that assumes unlimited growth (or unfathomable depths) in Thinking, Fast and Slow. There’s a much simpler “truth”: you sell the highs, you buy the lows.

Zynga is at its lowest, Don is interested in buying. Xbox has seen its dominance shaken with E3 fiasco, he’s selling it as quickly as possible.

Sometimes, it is that simple.

The real question is… how do you mix oil and water.

You had Mark Pincus confess he cut every corner and broke every business rule to ensure revenue, i.e. he focused on the short term with total disregard to long-term consequences. Now these consequences are upon Zynga.

Don had his success with Xbox precisely because Microsoft’s deep pockets allowed him the luxury of long-term decision-making. He built strong game franchises exclusive to Xbox and he also priced the Xbox aggressively and always cut the price before the competition had the chance to do so.

I’m not sure you can mix the two approaches but one thing is certain, Zynga can’t go any lower. So it must go up.

Kickstarter, gold, paper money

Tobold has a few posts on the subject of game funding via crowdsourcing, in other words, Kickstarter projects.

His main argument is that waiting for a game to be sold on Steam for 50% off offers a lot better value than supporting a project on Kickstarter. It’s true that you can get Endless Space for just 10 euro on Steam. You can usually get an AAA games for as little as 30 or 20 euro (recently released and with 80+ on Metacritic).

With Kickstarter you might succumb to the temptation to get some of the exclusive packages, say $5000 for a star system named after you. What’s worse is that you never know if the game will come out, and if it’s going to be any good.

My counter point is simple: crowdsourcing allows for a better alignment of the interests of a game development company and its future customers.

Right now, a corporate executive needs to greenlight a game project in order for it to get funding. What projects get greenlighted? Usually, the safest bets – the latest installment of a franchise, be it Assassin’s Creed 3 or FIFA 2013. Taking huge risks as professional manager is usually not the optimal path for career advancement.

Kickstarter allows game developers to appeal directly to their customers, bypassing corporate decision-making. Is it better? Well, it’s an alternative, and having alternatives is important.

Which leads us to the analogy with paper money. Even as recently as 60 years ago, paper money was a kind of “promisory note”. The bank that issued them promised to give you a certain amount of precious metal in exchange for your paper money. You had to trust the bank that issued them and banks were hard at work to persuade us their vaults are filled with precious metals.

Buying a game from Steam is like taking your gold nugget to the market and exchanging it for a horse. It’s one piece of value for another, ideally, identical piece.

Supporting Kickstarter games is more like taking a promisory note for your gold. You are hoping the game company has gold in its vault and often, they do! It also allows you to carry a lot more value as mentioned above – you get $5000 worth of game, instead of the universal $50.

So what could be done to address the main objection when it comes to Kickstarter projects, i.e. accountability?

Using the analogy, the result would be to have an exchange rate. But we could do better! Why not start a secondary market.

I’m selling my right to name a star system for $3000, even though I bought it for 5000 a week ago. Why? Maybe I don’t believe in the company or maybe my wife saw my credit card statement. Either way, my loss is your gain. It’s also a way to see which projects are going well and which projects are hopeless.

I know I’d be shopping for a deal on those Bones miniatures that sold out before I could get one of the bigger packages!

Facebook’s downhill slide

Facebook has been a great story and as human beings we often fall in love with great stories (like Casablanca or The Godfather).

The problem comes when people invest in companies buying a piece of this great story. Unlike watching The Godfather for a n-th time, where the story remains the same, watching Facebook’s shares continue to slide is like seeing Michael Corleone being gunned down by Sollozzo and McCluskey, instead of the other way round.

What happens now? Is Fredo taking over the Corleone falmily.

Without further confusion courtesy of the inappropriate Godfather analogy, I’d like to share this excellent quote from Clemenza, I mean Sharyl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO:

Ms. Sandberg said it would take more time for marketers to figure out Facebook. “It took a long time for the TV market for advertising to be understood,” she told analysts. “We are still in the learning curve.”

Of course, Shotgun Sheryl is right. She basically admits Facebook ads have an abysmally low ROI and it’s up to the marketers to ascend the learning curve. Not to dissect her comment too much but any analogy with TV advertising screams “brand” advertising that doesn’t (necessarily) translate into sales. Also, marketers embraced Google’s search ads and Facebook ads are remarkably similar, except when it comes to results.

The truth is the only ones currently able to monetize Facebook’s users are Zynga and we know how (not) well they are doing lately. Bingo games and more gambling apps will follow.

Update: Social in the enterprise is another matter – see SharePoint with Jabber.

SWTOR free, WoW loses a million

If you follow the news, you already know that SWTOR will become free-to-play in a month and that WoW has lost another million subscribers (down to 9 million globally).

The funny bit comes from Michael Pachter, a consultant and game industry pundit, who projects some amazing stats for this brave new world for no-subscriptions.

Ultimately, Pachter believes that Star Wars now has the potential to “attract at least 10 million MAUs indefinitely, with upside to perhaps 50 million.” He added, “Thus, we believe that contribution from the model shift could be significant for years to come.”

Yes, just imagine 10 million Jedi fighting against 40 million Sith. The force [of imagination] is strong with this one.

Zynga games sustainable or not?

Tobolds is one of the few gaming blogs by a non-industry professional that I follow. It provides a pretty good perspective on how non-cliched and different every hardcore gamer is.

Yesterday, he discussed whether Zynga games and MMOs like WoW fail to deliver a payoff at the end, a thesis proposed by Professor Castronova, a self-proclaimed “leading scholar in the field of online game studies and an expert on the societies of virtual worlds”. In short, the Professor says that Zynga’s stock decline comes from a game design that is based solely on grind with little or no payoff at the end. In his view, this makes Zynga games unsustainable in the long-term.

Although I agree with some of the points about the gameplay, I don’t agree with the conclusions. Tobold doesn’t agree either but he claims Zynga games offers small payoffs along the way and that gamers who have played MMOs have become used to “the road is the reward” mentality.

I think they both miss something that isn’t immediately obvious because it’s not a general rule, it’s what I’d arrogantly call “the rule of huge populations”.

If you’ve read Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow, you’d remember the “rule of small sample sizes”. It goes like this. Do you know that a small rural community in NC has the highest rate of testicular cancer? How do you explain that? Most people will start telling a story how the remoteness of the community prevents them from getting regular examinations, or how the area is poluted, or there’s a cancerogenic agent in their water supply, etc. Then he will reverse the example, because in another rural community nearby the cancer rate is almost zero, 100 times lower than the national average. Why is that? You might have guessed that this is the rule of small sample sizes. Even a few incidents lead to a very skewed distribution, especially when compared to a “national” average.

So back to Zynga and the rule of huge populations. The rule of huge populations states that in every population there are fringe “communities” who display attitudes and behaviors that very different from the rest of the population. In a normal-sized population, it is economically difficult to “exploit” these fringe segments effectively because they are so small – 2 or 3% of the population, sometimes even less.

However, in a population of 300 million Zynga users (and 700+ million FB users), you can definitely make a fortune focusing on a small but profitable minority. Dilbert strips usually refer to it as the 5% of the people who are rich and stupid:

Zynga calls them “whales” – the 1-2% that actually spend tens or hundreds of dollars on virtual items. The other 98% play for free (both Professor Castronova and Tobold focus on the 98% and who could blame them?).

So who are these whales that support Zynga? The term whale itself is borrowed from gambling which should give you one hint. The other is dropped casually by Eric Schiermeyer (co-founder of Zynga) who admits:

[he] has helped addict millions of people to dopamine, a neurochemical that has been shown to be released by pleasurable activities, including video game playing, but also is understood to play a major role in the cycle of addiction.

In short, Zynga targets people whose compulsive personalities are especially vulnerable to the kinds of “rewards” Zynga gameplay offers. The Professor, Tobold, you, me – we are just noise on Zynga’s radar. We are no different than a grandma with a pocket full of $50 in coins that enters a Las Vegas casino.

So the question is not whether Zynga loses 100 million users in the next 12 months. They can well afford to lose the 250 million that don’t spend a buck on Zynga’s virtual items. The short-term question is whether the compulsive 2% can be retained effectively. I believe Zynga will do an OK job in the short term with new flashy games that offer the same gameplay in a different setting.

The question determining Zynga’s long-term sustainability is whether they can still make the “rule of huge populations” work if the population naturally contracts because of general fatigue with the gameplay they offer. Their costs have been rising dramatically, and it’s not unforeseeable that they’ll need at least 200 million hooked on The Ville, so they attract enough of the 2% whales to make a profit.

If we take a look at Las Vegas, America’s playground, and draw a comparison to Zynga, the world’s virtual playground, Zynga still has a long way to go before it achieves the Las Vegas metrics, mainly the average gambling budget per visitor:

Annual visitors to Las Vegas, in millions – 36.7
Percentage of visitors who say they come to Vegas mainly to gamble – 5
Percent of visitors who end up gambling during their stay – 87
Hours per day average visitor spends gambling – 3.9
Average gambling budget per trip, in dollars – 559

However, with their plans for virtual casinos launching in 2013, they are definitely counting on new offering new attractions to the “dopamine junkies”.

Always Hardcore

Experimenting with game apps at Apple’s appstore, I’m even more convinced that indie developers are left with an “interesting” conundrum: with the low price point of the appstore you need a pretty big market to recoup your costs; at the same time, the casual game market is so saturated that you are forced to differentiate your product by addressing a genre audience.

So the question for indie developers is: Do I go after casual players (like Rovio) or do I focus on hardcore players?

In the appstore, Rovio is equivalent to the sound of the jackpot being hit that is heard all over the casino. It reinforces a compulsive behavior that benefits the casino. Apple are getting tons of apps for no development cost at all. If you make a Flash game for Kongregate or Miniclip in the good old days you could expect at least $5,000 plus a profit-sharing agreement. With Apple, you pay to get access to the appstore (was $99, now at $29) and you only get a few pennies from each purchase.

So the answer for indies could be found in the video below (or in the title above). Go hardcore and stay out of the appstore (unless you have a free app with a marketing angle). Finding a hardcore audience on a platform that you can support long term – be it the web or mobile – is the only answer for building a game company that survives it’s first release.

With Riftforge, we have targeted hardcore fans of fantasy RPG tactics. It’s developed with HTML5, so it’s compatible with all Apple devices (you should check it out on the new, retina-quality iPad!) but you don’t need to go through the appstore. Just fire up Safari.