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Posts Tagged ‘business’

My Zomblobs! is a game designed in shells.  There are layers to the design, allowing for a “bird’s eye” game experience with little micromanaging, all the way down to a Civilization-like world conquering game with a Tactical RPG layer, between them plenty of opportunities to min-max your way into gaming geek happiness.

I’ve thought on more than one occasion that it could also be developed that way.  As in, develop the outer shell as a functional game and iterate down through the shells until it’s ready to weld to the TRPG (which could also function on its own) as a complete package.  Some of those iterations can stand on their own as playable games, perhaps even marketable ones.

This does spread out the work and allow for monetization to keep a project going, and even allows for design changes if it’s found that one of the iterations or directions isn’t playing well.  It also runs the risk of oversaturating the IP, making releases too disparate (in theme and/or release date) and therefore too easily ignored, getting lost in a crowd of shovelware (or becoming shovelware), dev team turnover, and code bloat.  There’s also the risk that all the shells may not play nice together if they have to bend to accommodate separate releases.

Still, there’s something appealing about the notion of breaking up a larger project into smaller bites to make it more manageable.  I’m not really sold on either approach at the moment, but it is still interesting looking at options.  The iPhone market and even XBox Live have allowed for smaller games to have decent viability in recent years, and I instinctively want to leverage that to make something bigger.  It’s a business sense that I haven’t honed very well, to be honest, but one that I can’t quite ignore.  I’d love to focus purely on designing the game and doing art for it, but the sad reality is that money makes the world go ’round, and if I want to turn the time I’ve spent on this into money (which really would be nice), I need to look at the business side of things.

On the other hand, since this is a one-man show at present, and I don’t have much programming ability or money to hire some, well… this may well all be academic anyway.  Sure, I’d like to learn the programming someday, but there are only so many hours in the day.

Still… dream big or go home, right?

At any rate, since I’m thinking of shells, here’s a rough concept of the outermost shell of Zomblobs!, the 3D globe Ataxx-variant I’m dubbing the Cytoglobe:

Cytoglobe layer

It’s a game that could stand alone as a smart phone game (or XBox Live or PC, whatever… though smart phone mobility and connectivity opens up a few new design options), and it could host a variety of variations, from multiplayer rule variants to a full map editor.  Ataxx-style play isn’t really all that mentally taxing, but it’s still fun, and I think a global geodesic version could be a nice spin on the idea.  (There’s also a fun tactile appeal of playing this on a touch screen… or even with Kinect controls.  Sort of a “megalomaniac conquering the globe” feel, as it were.)

Of course, from there it’s possible to drill down into discrete blobs with hit points instead of instant-capture, species-specific boons and weaknesses, location-specific special effects (with real world GPS twists, perhaps), progression mechanics (sometimes mistakenly called “RPG elements”), resource management, research trees and even stories.  The full Zomblobs! game would then only be a hop skip and a jump away, pulling all the elements together in a tighter fashion and welding them to the tactical game.

There’s a lot I want to do here, and there are good reasons to limit the scope of any single project.  Absent an organized plan of production, things can get hairy fast.  I’m still not sure what I’ll even be able to do… but it’s good to at least make sure I look ahead.  Forewarned is forearmed, and all that rot.

Any thoughts?

Would you buy a game that’s effectively a “slice” of a larger game?  Would you just expect it to be a sort of neo-shareware, offered for free, and the other layers monetized underneath for those who care to dig deeper?  Would you like a suite of games that work like cogs in a larger machine, or would you just want the larger machine?  Could you wait for new pieces?

…are any of you bored programmers with an itch to work on this?

…would a publicly readable wiki on the design be something worth making available?

…would Battle for Wesnoth eat my lunch anyway?

…EDITED to add the following great link to The Rampant Coyote’s recent article on “Feature Creep”… a highly relevant article as I sort out exactly what I want to do here.

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World of Warcraft finally steals the WarHammer Online “perpetual limited free trial” hook.

Too little, too late, says I.  The time to flank the F2P tide was a couple of years ago if not earlier.

It’s still probably a smart move.  It will be interesting to see what effects it has.

As for me and my house?  I’ll have a new baby Druid to play with when the itch strikes, and I don’t have to plunk down a sub for the privilege of picking up the game whenever I darn well please for a bit of sightseeing.  Oh, and I can patch the blasted thing without feeling like I’m wasting a couple of days of a month’s sub or firing up a new dummy trial.

…and I’d still pay for an offline version.

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If we’re going to lean in the direction of players being content in MMOs, and if we’re going to try to incentivize that with kickbacks, discounts or perks, we should probably get rid of levels and other barriers to playing together… and actually let the players generate content in a dynamic world, in addition to facilitating their ability to play together.

Incidentally, Whirled does this pretty well, though under a *gasp* free-to-play system that lets players generate their own content that can then generate revenue.  Weird, I know… but another illustration of how the fantasy-steeped level-then-raid two-game paradigm isn’t the One True Path to MMO design.

Of course, since people can also sometimes be the worst part of MMOs, and many aren’t all that interested in good game design, there are dark sides to opening the floodgates.  Still, if the goal is to encourage player interaction, even going so far as to bribe them, that would probably work best if the moment to moment play of the game supported such a goal.

Oh, and this is a good excuse to bring out one of my favorite MMO developer quotes again.

Daniel James of Three Rings (Puzzle Pirates being their incredible flagship) as quoted by the Penny Arcade guys:

Every player, free or paid, adds value to the community and excitement for other players. Free players are the content, context and society that encourages a small fraction of the audience to willingly pay more than enough to subsidize the rest.

Edited to add:

Incidentally, there’s an interesting discussion raging over on the Escapist forums about Valve’s theorizing that kicked this discussion off.

Escapist thread on this

This comment stuck out to me:

I kinda like the idea, maybe I’m a little impartial because I have a really magnetic personality and general can get a dead silent server to chatting like best friends in 10 minutes. But I would definitely love to get benefits for just being myself in games.

What about the intangibles of being social and liking what you’re doing? As in so many other things, if you try to engineer good behavior with extrinsic rewards, you might get it, but the rewards have to keep coming and even get better. The gravy train can’t stop or you get withdrawal and bad behavior.  People aren’t doing the right thing because it’s right, they are doing it because it benefits them. Once again, it’s a selfish motivation, not a selfless one, a completely mercenary approach to socializing.  That’s one of the big problems with forced grouping in MMOs, by the way.

Syp wrote nicely about this over thisaway:

The Selfish Gamer

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Gamification.

It’s coming to get you, whether you like it or not.  (“Or not” being more likely for me and these fine authors.)  It’s soulless.  It’s relentless.  It’s remorseless.  You just can’t get rid of it.

It’s coming.  It will eat your brain and suck your soul.  In the end, you will embrace it, and you will be happy.

Be aware and beware.

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Yay, we have another slippery slope bit of HWFO to keep November interesting before Deathwing dominates blogs.  (Yes, those are icons I created for Puzzle Pirates.  Whee for self-promotion!)

Oh, right.  Context.  Here, have a few links.  (These cover a range of opinions, so I’m not endorsing any particular viewpoint but my own.)

RaviousSyp, Arkenor, Spinks, Tobold, Hunter

So apparently, Warhammer Online intends to sell a thingamawidget that lets player characters advance a single level (out of 40 possible), completely free of grind.  Naturally, that means the sky is falling.  (OK, OK, not everyone is saying that, but what good is a slippery slope argument without a little hyperbole?)

First of all, levels in a PvP game are a Bad Idea.  Player skill should be paramount in PvP, not avatar level grinding.  WAR is broken on a fundamental level because of this.  Not to be too pointed, but I think it’s actually a Good Thing to get everyone up to the level cap faster, since that’s where the playing field is more level… class imbalances aside, of course.

Secondly, this is pretty clearly a nonexclusive item.  Players who get riled up about someone getting ahead can just go grind to catch up.  As such, it’s not about the sale item itself, it’s about someone else having something that you don’t have yet… or in the case of level capped characters, it’s whining about someone else not having to walk uphill barefoot in the snow to reach the vaunted upper echelon of the game.  If you’re not having fun with the game, and have to denigrate someone else to feel superior, grow up.

Thirdly, it’s a single-use item, best used by characters in the apparently mind-numbingly slow endgame to bypass some grind.  I just don’t see it actually doing much.  Yes, this might set a precedent for selling advancement, but…

Fourthly, I’ve argued before that games like WoW should sell level-capped characters direct from the factory (conveniently with low overhead).  If the “game starts at the level cap”, why in the world are they forcing players to monkey around for months before they play the real game?  If someone wants to raid on day one, let them.  And charge them for it, naturally.  (Does anyone really complain about the dollar cost of the sub time that it takes to get a character raid-ready?  I don’t see it, but maybe I’m not reading the right places.)

Fifthly, I’m tired of the “those dirty capitalists” arguments, whether they are leveled at the producers who are running a business or those dirty, dirty people who have money to burn and want to spend it on games.  This is how markets work; they naturally evolve as demand and supply tease each other, and customers and providers jostle to get the best deal.  Funny thing about that; it tends to also improve the product offered as well, as honest competition makes everyone bring their best product to the table at the lowest price.  There are naturally growing pains as a market matures, but mature they do, even if some of the customers don’t.

Sixthly, for all the arrogant arguments about “a subscription is cheap if you can afford a computer and an internet connection” or “it’s cheaper than a movie and dinner” or whatever other knee-jerk mindless defense of the cost, there is an inordinate amount of moaning about how other people spend their money.  The same people who will look down their nose on other people not wanting to pay a subscription have no restraint in whining about other ways money gets spent, as if it’s any of their business.  Apparently it’s only OK to spend money the right way, which is to say, the way we do it.  Get over yourselves, folks.  The market is expanding, and your gated communes aren’t sacrosanct.  (Though I also support private servers for those who really want those gates.  Live and let live, I say.  Of course, that might cost you more.  This also applies to an argument Dblade rightly made at Spinks’ place, that advertising spam and item shop sales intrude on subscribers’ immersion.  Private sub servers should be able to have all that static turned off.)

As Spinks notes, this is possibly the clearest measure yet for how much time in an MMO costs in real dollars.  That cost has always been there, but it’s hugely variable.  I, for one, welcome a clearer basis of comparison.  That benefits the consumer looking to spend their money and the producer who wants to better understand what to sell.

Until we have a socialist utopia where MMOs are developed for the Good of Mankind with no eye whatsoever on the monetary side, we’re going to have to deal with the business of games.  More choices are a Good Thing, as they have a refining effect.  It’s entirely possible some incumbents will be burned in the high stakes game.

It’s about time.

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I’ve suggested it in a few comments recently on other blogs, and I’ve argued it for a while in one form or another, but I wanted to put a fine point on it for posterity.  Let’s not call this a prediction, since I don’t think Blizzard will do this (it’s potentially a lot of work and has a few wrinkles to iron out), but I’d recommend it.

The Cataclysm expansion is a perfect time for Blizzard to jump into the wider MMO market by diversifying their business model.  The recent trend of formerly subscription-only MMOs converting to item shop microtransaction business models isn’t a surprise, nor is it a move of desperation.  It’s realization that the MMO market is diversifying and maturing, and that the old ways of doing business aren’t going to work forever.

World of Warcraft is a bastion of subscription gaming, a behemoth that operates by its own rules, seemingly independant of the overall market.  Be that as it may, ignoring customers served by the so-called “free to play” or F2P games is effectively conceding strategic ground in the larger market.  It’s often suggested that converting WoW to one of these F2P critters may well not be more profitable for Blizzard, so it’s not likely.  I’m not convinced of that, but even conceding that as a given, as someone recently noted (Bhagpuss, I think, but please forgive me for remembering incorrectly if not), companies don’t always make moves for immediate profit.  Sometimes it’s about claiming market share or positioning themselves for future projects. *

* This is one counterpoint to my recommendation, actually.  Blizzard might be angling for the wider market with their next big MMO project.  Since that’s likely not imminent, though, I’m setting that aside, because the market is changing now, and Blizzard is oddly reticent to keep pace.

With that in mind, the release of Cataclysm provides a perfect excuse both in lore and in business to make a significant change to the WoW business plan.  What better time to break up the world than when a dragon is doing it for you?

Specifically, I would recommend that they take the Old World of Warcraft (the content from level 1 to 60, sometimes called “vanilla” WoW) and break it off into its own product, literally breaking the game into pieces.  They should then sell this like Guild Wars, as a single purchase that can then be played in perpetuity.  They should then keep the “live” Cataclysm-era world going for subscribers.  Players can upgrade from the Old World to the Live World, but not migrate backwards (maybe with some restrictions to keep gold sellers down, like no money migration).

This could neatly corner the F2P market by outflanking the other big movers in the field, including EQ2X, LOTRO, DDO and even GW and GW2, while still providing the subscriber experience that current users are accustomed to.

There are problems, to be sure.  There’s the possible need for two dev teams and consequent potential for divergent evolution.  There’s the need for new servers and the potential to confuse customers (who apparently don’t know how to spend their own money, the filthy proletariats).  There’s the likelihood of subbers just playing around in the Single Purchase Old World and losing some part of the WoW money pump.  There’s the banshee chorus of haters and fanboys who would proclaim the doom of Blizzard for deigning to let those people play the game.  There’s the work necessary to make things actually work.  There’s the question of what to let current players do.  (I’d suggest that anyone wanting to go to the Old World can do so, but it would be a complete reboot; everyone starts from scratch.  Current subbers who want to sidegrade can start new characters on the Old World servers like anyone else, without needing to purchase the game again.  They would have to pay a sub to play in the CAT era on CAT servers, but could play in the Old World without a hiccup, just starting over on the new servers.)  There is risk involved, as even WoW may not be able to function in its own shadow.  (But that’s a concern for their new MMO, too.)

Still, the timing is right for such a move, a grab at owning the best of both worlds.  In retrospect, perhaps, this will be obviously wrong, depending on whatever they do with their next MMO, but for now, looking at the market and the state of WoW, I’d say it’s an obvious move, and a smart one.  (This is, of course, totally ignoring the larger question of whether or not more WoW domination of the market is good for the players.  I think that could be argued either way, though, so maybe I’ll save that for an exercise later.)  There’s even room for more mutations, like true “classic” servers and private, gated communities for discerning customers, but one step at a time…

Of course details would need to be ironed out, and suits would need to be convinced.  Kotick would need to be bribed or something.  I’m convinced it’s not an intractible problem, though, and this may be the best time for such an earth-shattering, industry-shaking… cataclysmic business move.

…though I must admit, if it didn’t prove to sell well, just like if Blizzard’s new MMO doesn’t do well, leaving WoW as the clear aberration that I think it is, well… I’d laugh.

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Wizards in Wizard 101 can jump.  It’s actually more of a half-hearted hop, but they respond to the spacebar.

Jumping does absolutely nothing for gameplay.  Your character is just as much on spatial rails as Guild Wars characters who cannot jump.  Neither game lets you jump off cliffs or clamber over small obstacles.  Even a character who jumps in Wizard 101 doesn’t get any sort of “z-axis” benefit for getting around.

So why can they jump?

One of the silliest complaints that I’ve seen about Guild Wars is that their characters can’t jump.  Somehow that matters to some players.  Specifically, those players who come to the game with preconceived notions.  (And then they claim that GW is not an MMO, as if that meant something.)

I submit the notion that such is the reasoning behind letting W101 characters jump.  Some players are expecting video game characters, especially MMO third person characters, to jump when the player hits the spacebar.  No matter that the combat in W101 is radically different from any other MMO, no matter that the theme is aimed squarely at the tween crowd who may not be jaded MMO veterans, no matter that the art direction is more “last gen” than “next gen” and more “Rowling” than “Tolkien”, if those characters don’t JUMP, the “first fifteen minute” impression will somehow be lacking.

W101 jumping is probably not about smart game design.  It has no use in the game if it’s taken in a self-enclosed context.  A player new to MMOs likely won’t care, and if they play for a while, they may indeed question why it’s even an option as jumping obviously does nothing but play an animation.  It is more likely a smart business decision, a bone tossed to MMO veterans (or tourists, if you’d like) so that they can feel more at home when they start to play the game and get around.  Jumping in W101 is more for those players who normally play something else, a hook to hang their virtual hat on, so that they might stay a few critical minutes longer.

So, I ask again:  What evolutionary purpose does the combat trinity serve?  What purpose, levels?  Do you really need raiding?

Some have levied criticism against my somewhat revolutionary design tenets, saying that evolution, not revolution, is the likely way to go when proposing game design.  There is truth to this position, and a large part of it lies in just these sort of vestigial design elements.  People tend to dislike change, and too much, too quickly can be a considerable obstacle.  Sometimes, for non-game design reasons, you may indeed have to include design elements that make no sense.  It’s an unfortunate evolutionary necessity.  (And as has been noted, MMOs aren’t really the best stage for revolutions, for better or worse.  The critical mass and adoption curve concerns pretty much make MMOs evolutionary beasts, rather than revolutionary, to my chagrin.)

At least, if poaching existing customers is important to you, rather than carving out your own “blue ocean” niche.  When I talk about revolutionary game design, I’m not catering to existing WoW addicts or other MMO tourists.  I thought that much was clear, but perhaps it’s still nice to reiterate.

If you are jumping in the “red ocean” shark pool, I simply propose that such choices shouldn’t be made “just because that’s how things are”, but that inclusion of design elements catering to expectations be carefully weighed and considered.  Perhaps they are right for your game, and perhaps they are a waste of dev resources.  Either way, do not design or create anything just because “everyone’s doing it”, or because “everyone expects it”.

You’re playing directly into Blizzard’s hands, and you will be crushed, perhaps without even knowing why.  The established MMO design priesthood has a Vision for How Things Should Be, and steering your game design into their trendsetting mainstream is giving them control over your success.  You can make money as a cheap clone, but it’s a precarious position.

EDITED: In his link over at his place (the AFK trackback link below), Syp corrects me, noting that the word is “vestigial” rather than “vestigal”.  I have no excuse for this oversigt, other than that I’ve seen it both ways in more than one publication.  I thought it was akin to the difference between “color” and “colour”.  An appeal to Webster confirmed the error of my ways, though, so I’ve made the appropriate corrections.  I’ve left the actual article http address alone, though, so as not to break anyone’s links.  It’s an undying testament to my everlasting shame.

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