Time runs fast

I can't believe it is only three years ago that Apple announced the iPad. 66 million sold in 2012 alone, the 100th million unit sold in October 2012. The iPad is responsible for the change in computing and even gaming.

It single handily destroyed the Netbook market.

It made the Notebook market suffer.

It changed the gaming market.

 Even my boss carries around an iPad 4 now - 24h a day.

Studies show that iPad gaming happens mostly on the couch and in bed. That iPad players are more core than we might think. That iPad gamer has more disposable income. That console gaming time suffers as soon as there is an iPad in the house hold.

And the best as last: the iPad is the only wife compatible gaming device so far.

And it just has started 3 years ago. How will the tablet market look like in 3 more years? The power of the console in your hands on 8 hours battery on a resolution larger than most monitors in your household.

Update, you should follow Asymco for recent data: https://twitter.com/asymco

I didn't know the iPad outsells the iPhone by performance relative from the start. Amazing.


Video Games and Age

I owned nearly every console there has been including exotic ones like the MB Vectrex. I noticed that with age comes an inability to play certain games.

It started with first person shooters. I was trained with the mouse on PC using AWDS keys for movement. Using a controller was very alien to me and since Halo I am not used to it nor very skilled. So I stopped playing shooters. A pitty as there are many good ones including Halo, Gears of War etc.

So it happened that a game was released in 2011 my game industry buddies still talk about today. Rarely does this happen. Usually we go on and talk about the latest shiniest new releases. But this game tends to stick around for many - although some of my friends hate it, can't even understand what the fuzz is about.

Of course I talk about Dark Souls.

A game I would love to play but can't. I tried on my PS3 and failed due to controller incompatibility with my hands and brain. Then I had hope that the PC version helps as it supported mouse and keyboard. No, it doesn't help either.

So there it is - the game I would love to play and experience the fascination my friends have - but I can't as my hands simply don't work with the controllers.

So the question I pull out of this is: are controllers like the XBox 360 one coming of age? Is the future generation which is not trained to D-pad, analog sticks and omg 10 buttons dying? Are we forced to play games with touch even if they don't work with touch? Is history repeating itself and genres are not as popular anymore as before simply because they don't work on new formats? (happened to RTS as they don't work on consoles)


The "Bottomless Bag" problem

The bottomless bag is an item from World of Warcraft and refers to a classic D&D item called "Bag of Holding" which could store items larger than its own size. Even Eve Online has containers which store more than their own size.

When designing online games there are certain limitations you have to be aware of like data base size. Databases tend to grow over time when operating an online game. This growth is not bad unless you hit a certain limit where maintenance of that database takes simply too long and can shut down a game for a day.

So why do databases grow? Because designers are lazy and too generous.

Let me give you an example: the in game mail in Settlers Online.

In Settlers you can send mails to other players. you can also attach items to mails and send stuff around. You get your rewards from certain quests via mail with the items attached. You get your trades via mail and you get some event items or gifts via mail.

Over time you stack up considerable amounts of mails in your inbox. Multiply this by thousands of players and your mail database can explode to immense proportions. This is made worse as "deleted" mails aren't usually deleted but only flagged as being deleted (there are reasons for this).

The reason for the exploding database? Because the designer was to generous: he gave you unlimited mailbox space!

So here it is: limit the users mailbox space. But how?

Expiration Timers
This method was made popular by MMO RPG'S like World of Warcraft. You attach a timer to a read mail (note "read!") and the mail gets deleted after that expiration timer (usually days or weeks). This self cleans the mail box of read mails.
Problem: assume there is an item attached: do you delete that mail as well? That's a no go.
If your answer is no then I attach a crap item to all my mails so they never get deleted - exploiting your system.
So what now?

Mailbox hard limit
If you limit the mailbox to lets say 50 mails, what do you do with mails being sent after the mailbox is full? Delete? What about mails with important items attached like compensations or trade? Exception? Then you can exploit the system - again.
So no mailbox hard limit. What then?

Auto Accept & Expiration Timers
So lets say we use expiration timers and auto accept items attached to expired mails. Where do we put those items? Into the users inventory? What happens if that is full? Oh god, why can't the world be easier.

Of course there are solution which will fit your needs. But I just wanted to explain that this simple designers decision not to limit the mailbox can have dire consequences to your game operations.
And fixing this problem can cause a myriad of additional work for your programmers, designers or even support.

Take Away
Generally do not give anything out for free in an online game. Not even mailbox space. Or number of items you can collect. Or number of horse you can have. Or anything - only if the player invests time, skill or money - yes money.
Limit numbers is a key design decision to any mechanic which involves "gains" in an online game.
The positive side effect is of course that you can monetize those limits suddenly by loosening the limit for paying players. Why not pay for larger mailbox sizes? Or inventories (which many games do already) or even pay for having the ability to collect more treasure maps than anyone else.

p.s.: the easiest solution to the mail problem is not to limit the mailbox but to incentivize the user to delete mails himself - like Ultima Online did to clean up their database from trash items.


The World will end as we know it - in 2013

I mean the game industry world - the one we are used to. The one with PC games being niche, the one with consoles being the big revenue makers. Where there is only one MMO RPG dominating the world. Where games are usually all around the big IP's of the top publishers - on console.

The major trends which we have seen in 2012 surfacing which will be even stronger in 2013 are:

Crowd Funding
It is an additional source for money. And as most people know in the gaming industry - money is the #1 problem of all developers. So this is an alternative. Not the best, but it is in addition to what we already have. And it also is able to fund games which are under the threshold of publishers - this means single man games, small teams, games with budgets of less then 1 million.
Of course there are the big million budget funded games - but those will be the "AAA" of kick starter. The important thing is not the money or that users decide which games are being made - the important thing is that the industry will see a new source of creativity from that funding. This impulse is desperately needed as otherwise CoD 10 and Fifa 2014 and Halo 5 and xyz 10 are all the same again and again.

Digital Distribution
It took long enough. We had hoped it will happen back in 2000 but the internet bubble bursting destroyed our master plan. Finally digital distribution has a break through and I expect this to quickly push into the console space as well.
There are more games being sold on digital platforms than on retail. Add it up. You will come to the same conclusion. Note I said "most" as in numbers, not in revenue. That will follow. Quickly.
What does this mean? It means retail becomes secondary, not the major platform anymore. The time as we went to stores to get games are over. Amazon does the rest of the death push of retail - but games will be a niche shelf space pretty soon. - if consoles push digital.

'Mobile' as major game space
I put mobile in quotes as studies shows that the main space people play mobile games is the couch or bed - so its not really "mobile". Still Smartphones and iPads will push the games market to bigger segments as even the console market. Even now the mobile market is the only one where western game makers have even access to all Asian markets. Note that consoles don't exist there and most western online games (the only one popular on PC) do not have a single chance of being published there. But hey, now even Asian's play single player games - but on mobile.
Why is Asia so important for mobile? Because it doubles, nearly triples the revenue potential of games on the devices with no major investment. This is huge. The Asian games market is so big that we (in the west) have not even a glimpse of its power.
So will mobile destroy consoles? I think it will push aside handheld gaming as we know it but AAA console games will stay - at least for the next generation. But as more and more developers find it easier to publish on mobile the creativity and cool games might move away from consoles to tablets.

Free to Play
F2p seems saturated 'they' say. I hear that often but always shake my head. F2p has just started and shows some saturation - but only in spaces where big companies are located and all their copy cats - as those copy cats don't know how to enter the f2p market but to copy the lead publishers - and of course fail ;)

Believe me: there are many game genres and types still to be published successfully as f2p as big as League of Legends or even World of Tanks. There is still plenty of space. Want proof? Which publisher would have accepted a Counterstrike type game with World War II tanks and persistent development? NO ONE!

Of course now they say "yes of course it works". But before? Nah, they wouldn't even have gotten an appointment.

So there is lots of space. The primary reason is being online: when you got the world internet population as potential customers it is easier to reach a critical mass to be profitable then in retail or any other publishing platform.

Online - Persistent
Games have shown that if they are online (even if only basic asynchronous) and persistent that the success doubles easily. The recent example of Clash of Clans and Hay Day shows that also on mobile it is a pre-requisite for huge success potential.
So the time of Fantasy MMO RPG's might be over, but hey, the time for online MMO's just has started!

If you want to be on the ride combine all four from above. Do a tablet/PC online persistent crowd funded free to play title.

Cheers, Teut


Metric (design) (marketing)

In a time where most of the entertainment happens in the internet there is a craft creeping up the companies which is tied into metrics. Companies love metrics. Why? I explain below.

First: if you read this you are being tracked by Google. It just so happens that blogger.com is owned by Google and they just look at you where you came from before you read this and where to go when you leave. They also like to peek around your previous visits what you did there and save from which country and provider you came, and which OS, resolution etc. you were using. Don't worry though, the info is anonymous, so they don't actually know "its you". Its all about statistical analysis.

This information gathering is used by business intelligence to judge their strategies. But here is the catch. Metrics tell you WHAT happened, but rarely WHY it happened.

Again: WHAT happened. Is this enough to base your strategy upon? Hardly. Without understanding the WHY you might be completely wrong. You might be obsessed with the difference of correlation and dependence. This gets even pro's confused when they see data, so don't worry if you mix those two up all the time.

Why do I write this? Because here is an excellent article about why marketing might be so mislead by metrics right now. Go ahead and read it, its excellent:


And as promised above here is my explanation why companies love metrics: because for the first time their suits understand what's happening - every single day-

Yes, you read that right. Often in the past marketing did some magic and was great, but management didn't really understand the fundamentals. The same was with game design in the past. It was considered sometimes black magic why certain game designers always seem to hit the good stuff. A mystic. Now with online games you clearly can see what element sucks and which rocks. Its all in the numbers.

But did you notice here what I did write above?

Let me quote myself from above: "their suits understand what's happening"

But not WHY. Think about it. This will change how companies operate in the next few years. Its already happening and the metric companies lead the pack. You have to go with them and hopefully teach them that people who know WHY are still important.

Cheers Teut


Numbers - from end of 2012

8 Million
The number of Angry Birds downloads on Christmas eve December 24th

30 Million
The number of Angry Birds downloads between December 22nd and 29th

17.4 Million
The number of new Smartphone/Tablet devices activated during Christmas, up from 6.8 Million last year

50 Million
The number of new smart devices activated between December 25th and January 1st

328 Million
The number of total apps downloaded on Christmas eve.

1 Million
The average daily revenue of Supercell with only 2 games in the iOS Appstore

The number of Minecraft sold aross all platforms on a single day on December 24th (thats more than lifetime sales of most PC #1 hits)

5 Million
The number of Minecraft sold lifetime on XBLA

5 Million
The number of Minecraft sold on Smartphones/Tablets

627 Million
Last quarter revenue of DeNA with an operational profit of 254 million

30 Million
The number of active users in all Bandai games combined - only in Japan on social networks. This was "only" 10 million in January 2012, that is 3x more in just under a year - in Japan only.

Yes, the industry is changing. If you still believe the next 5 years will be similar to the PS3/XBox360 Generation then it is time to wake up.

Sources: Flurry, Notch, Rovio, Business Insider.