Monthly Archives: May 2007

What Best Selling Casual Games Have in Common

The current best selling games at Big Fish Games are listed here:

  1. Escape From Paradise
  2. Big City Adventure – San Francisco
  3. Nanny Mania
  4. Agatha Christie – Death on the Nile
  5. The Apprentice: Los Angeles
  6. Private Eye – Greatest Unsolved Mysteries
  7. Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst
  8. Mystery of Shark Island
  9. Magic Academy
  10. Virtual Villagers – The Lost Children

Clones wars
Two games got my attention: Agatha Christie and The Apprentice. Both games could have possibility to be something different, but they fell into the same soup than everything else. Christie’s game has pretty much nothing in common how Hercule Poirot was working (Sherlock Holmes might spend his time on picking objects, but Poirot was more interested in using his gray brain cells and psychological factors). The other game – The Apprentice – could provide some business lessons… but no chance: it’s pretty typical clone in the restaurant dinner service genre.

I understand that best games aren’t necessarily the best selling games, but it still would have been fun to see some real innovation in these kind of games based on known brands. Naturally the games were done well, and polished – but after seeing clone after clone I would have expected to see something else.

I want to make this really clear: I have respect for all these production teams. Anyone who is climbing to the top 10 list in portal lists has done a great job polishing a game that people want to play – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Only about the innovation in games I might say a word or two.

The next coming of adventure games?
The same theme seems to continue in many other games. Mystery Case and Mystery of Shark Island for example are in the popular find stuff genre. I wonder when adventure gamers realize how great treasures they are holding their hands… there could be room for some extremely simple 2D adventure games where you need to find some items… and use them with other items. Add little speech, dialog, humor and fine art and we might see a miracle: adventure games might truly become one of the best-selling genre in games.

Or not, if they decide to make things complex with “look at”, “walk”, “talk, “use” and other commands – when they should only have one mouse button in use.

What all these games have in common
Besides being very well polished, family friendly and fun games – these best selling games seem to have something in common:

  • Almost all of them are technically simple or very simple. Just take a look at Mystery Case for example. That game is technically extremely simple: list objects, pick objects, get points. If you compare it to games such as Gears of Wars: I bet those guys spent more time making the facial animations (which is just one part in the game) than Mystery Case people spent on coding the game. (And by all means I don’t mean to bash the makers of Mystery Case – it’s good to keep things simple).
  • They usually belong to some quite typical genre. Serving, sims stylish, finding objects… these are the typical best selling genres for now (but only for so long after somebody figures out a bit better idea and cloning starts again). These genres are selling now, and developers and portals are catering for them. When somebody comes up with a better (simple) idea… there will be switch in genres. Match-3 type of games are not so popular anymore, although there are some of them still selling.
  • They are loyal to the “definitions” of casual games. They are time killers, they can be played by moms, they have a short learning curve, they can be played when somebody can spare a little time for playing. These games are defining what casual games really are.

It’s good to remember that best games and best selling games are two different things. Sometimes very different. Top selling games in the portals are really casual – keeping things simple, yet fun.

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How to Create Your First Game

I received an email from one of you readers, telling about a situation that must be familiar for many players. There’s people who simply love playing games, and would like to know how to actually make them. I got the following post from a player asking where to start.

Question:

I dont know how you can help me but all my life i have loved playing games but now i feel like i would like to start to make games but i dont realy UNDERSTAND how to make them i read your e-book it was intresting but i dont know if i need a certen program but i dont realy understad the websights to much but i just would like to make a game with my mates but we dont know were to start pleas help.

(He was referring to my free game production cookbook)

Answer:
I believe there are some fundamental elements one needs, in order to create games. While passion is necessary, there’s lots of more than having a great idea. Which brings me to my first point:

Game idea alone won’t help you
I’ve had lots of great game ideas (at least I thought they were great). I’ve had game ideas about RPGs where players would develop their character in a massive free world, bases on the choices they would make. I’ve had ideas about ants digging complex caves while preparing for flood. While these ideas were really fun to come up with, that’s as far as I got with them. Just to the idea level.

Ideas alone won’t get you very far. You need to do something to get to the next level.

You need to start doing
Okay, the next level is to realize that planning alone won’t do much good. There’s many people who would like to get started, if only they would know how. I’ve mentioned in the past, and I say again that you need to learn to program (or join with somebody who knows to program if you are more into art). There are lots of books and online resources about programming, so it might be a good idea to google for a programming resource or buy a book about programming games.

I’ve used Blitz3D, and it’s really easy & simple tool for beginners. If you don’t know much about programming, reading the manual and asking in the forums will help you far in getting your game done. There are lots of other tools, so just google for “simple 2D engine” or “3D engine” and find some suitable tool for you. Remember to check out DevMaster: it’s a website that contains lots of nice resources.

Besides DevMaster, don’t forget to check out tools & game engines listed on this blog – you’ll might find some pointers that could help you to get started.

The basic idea is to find some suitable tool for you, and simply get moving.

Prototype or create a mini-game
When you’ve picked your engine, learned a bit about programming you can start making your own mini game or a game prototype. I really recommend starting with a simple Pong project or something “easy” in the beginning – that will get you idea on how much work making games really is. My box stacking mini game was in production for about 21 hours, and it sure was fun break. I recommend doing something similar.

For prototyping, check out blogs such as Kloonigames (Petri does a great job making small free games monthly). Other resource to take a look at is: ExperimentalGamePlay.

Bottom line
To summarize everything: learn to program, get the right tools, prototype. That’s perhaps one of the fastest ways to get started.

Update: After getting thousands of visitors into this one post, I wrote an another one which gives a list of game making resources.

Wii Will Win

Last Friday I tested first time playing with Nintendo Wii. I thought the device is simply awesome, and my hunch tells me that it will sell a LOT (not just in the past and now, but also in the future). Interestingly, the I saw PCWorld reporting about the Nintendo Wii sales.

Nintendo Wii outsold competitors (although Nintendo’s DS Lite was bestselling): 366,000 Wii units sold in April. PS2 sold 194,000 systems (280,000 in March). The Xbox 360 sold 174,000 units, in comparison to March’s totals of 199,000. PS3 only sold 82,000 last month, a 37 percent drop from 130,000 units sold in March.

These figures are telling tough message for Microsoft and Sony: Nintendo is climbing to the top. I’m not an economist, but I would predict some things to happen (notice: most likely I’m completely wrong, but it’s nice to check later what really happened)

  • Nintedo stocks will get high (I’m not a financial expert either, so don’t take my word for this, but I bet buying their stocks now and selling after one year will make some people rich)
  • PlayStation 3 price will drop (To gain more market share, Sony might consider dropping the price, although I don’t know how much they will rely on PS2. This is all speculations, although it’s one of the basic marketing concepts to drop prices to gain market share. And Sony has to do something to attract developers and gamers.)
  • Microsoft and Xbox might wait what happens when their hit game Halo 3 comes out, and it probably will increase also the console sales as well. We’ll see.

I’ve written in my promise list to check out these by the end of the year. We’ll see how it went. And again: I don’t really have a clue what will happen (nobody can predict the future 100% anyway), so don’t blame me if you go buying stocks and it fails: I won’t take any responsibility regarding where you spend your money.

Anyway, it was great to test Wii. I believe if things go well, it might provide opportunities for indies to develop games. The Wii relies on fun concept in controls and fun gameplay, rather than fancy graphics. Nintedo has taken a wise move by creating an unique console that really provides a different gaming experience compared to Xbox or Playstation. It’s playing in a different league – and taking market share away from Microsoft and Sony.

Nothing is Impossible – Part 2

Yesterday’s post about doing impossible acts spawned some comments . I’m going to clarify bit further what I meant by the post.

I believe any imaginable outcome is possible
I belong to the group that thinks there is no such thing as impossible if given enough time- and if you look at the outcome or results. I’m quite aware that some ways to achieve the results might be impossible or temporarily unavailable, but I believe there’s always some alternative ways to achieve what we want.

Let’s take an example: let’s suppose somebody wants to fly from one continent to another using just his arms. The guy might be waving his arms really fast, but I’m pretty confident he won’t be able to fly (at least not very far). So this specific way of achieving the results might be temporarily unavailable. (I say temporarily because who knows what kind of wings evolution might give us). But, if the guy realizes that waving his arms won’t get him very far and concentrates on buying a ticket to an airplane, he can fly where he wanted. The result – flying from one continent to another – can be achieved.

Let’s suppose some really poor person wants to be a millionaire. While it might not be possible to become a millionaire doing the things she has done so far, there’s lots of other people who are millionaires. That’s why I see know reason why she couldn’t become one too. It might take some time, but if she models millionaires, focuses on her goal, thinks like millionaires and does what millionaires do – eventually she’ll become a millionaire.

If somebody wants to get a job in the gaming industry, he can achieve that. I’m not saying it will happen in the company where you wanted and in the time frame you wanted, but I’m confident that there’s no reason why he couldn’t get a dream job in the industry.

If somebody wants to create a hit game, I’m 100% she can. Maybe she cannot do that alone, maybe she is focusing on a wrong genre, maybe her marketing skills are poor – but if she 100% concentrates on creating a hit game and openly looks for opportunities, I see no reason why she couldn’t achieve her goals. Others have done it, so what’s stopping her?

How do you achieve the impossible
Billionaire Donald Trump has a formula for success, and I kind of like his 2-step ‘program’ (it works in other areas than just money):

#1: Do what you love

#2: Never quit

Simple, yet brilliant piece of an advice for anyone who wishes to achieve the impossible.

Nothing is Impossible

I was watching martial arts from Eurosport, when I saw Shaolin monks performing kung fu. After kicking and jumping and waving their arms, I saw something I almost couldn’t believe was happening.

One of the monks took a meditation session that didn’t last for long. He was obviously focusing on the following act. After staying silent and calm for about 30 secs or so, he started. He went on, and soon the monk was standing on his 2 fingers, like in the picture below.


Do not try this at home!
This picture is from an another similar event that was reported by BBC

I was amazed… the camera zoomed close showing how the 2 fingers were bending strongly, and this maybe 70 kilograms (or 130lbs) heavy guy was standing there on his fingers. The monk have trained their kung fu for years, so I really want to make sure you get the point that do not try this at home. I tried doing pushups with 10 fingers (like they do in volley ball trainings) and it gave me an impression how darn hard standing on just 2 fingers would be. If using 10 fingers to do pushups feels that tough, you can realize how hard would it be to stand on fingers. That’s many, many, many times tougher.

When somebody claims that something is impossible, I can ask them would they believe standing on one or two fingers would be impossible… and tell them this story.

And for the record, there are pictures on the web where these monks are standing on just one finger.

Anything is possible.

3 Lessons That You Can Learn From the Halo 3 Release

I picked a story from BBC. They report that Halo 3 release date will be on September, which will mean it might be one of the hit selling games in Christmas time as well. Halo 2 sold 2.5 million copies (that’s more than $125 millions) on the release day. Reuters mentions that Halo 3 is expected to sell even more. There’s 3 interesting elements business-wise:

Timing and Christmas sales
The big boys will fight to get their AAA games in boxes before the Santa Claus arrives. Those games that win the Christmas sales, are going to be big time winners – at least in the AAA world. I assume that Christmas sales are important for hardcore titles, although they might have little less meaning for casual titles. Casual titles can be sold for years, while hardcore titles life span can be much shorter (naturally there can be exceptions to this rule).

The importance of the brand
Halo is a Brand with a capital B. Any game that sells 125 million within the first 24 hours is definitely doing something right. Microsoft is doing a wise move to leverage the brand by bringing the sequel in a form of Halo 3. Sequels sell.

Pricing and different editions
Did you know that Halo wasn’t priced just like “normal games”? Halo will have the $60 price tag, but in addition it will have 2 more expensive editions. A something called “limited edition” for $70, and a “legendary edition” for $130. These prices are for the US market and don’t know if these special editions are available elsewhere, but what’s important is the lesson about pricing: your product could have different editions with different prices. Can you imagine having special editions for casual games? Perhaps the typical version could cost $20. The special/legendary edition could cost anything from $30-50 and would come with additional material (such as mouse pads with the game logo, game T-shirts, sound tracks or anything).

Timing, brand, pricing: three important elements in releasing and selling games.

Lord of The Rings Online is the Top Selling PC Game Across North America and Europe

I picked this story via GameIndustry.com. Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) is the top selling PC game across North America and Europe. The game has received good ratings from various reviews, and the powerful brand must be one reason for game’s success.

I think this news is a pleasant surprise in the MMO field: it’s good to see that developers come up with new ideas (and aren’t making game “like World of Warcraft, but bit better”). The “monster play” mode sounds like a fun idea in LOTRO, and also the beginning of the game isn’t just about killing rats, but you get on a guest right away.

Now we’ll wait to see when some casual MMO climbs to the top of the charts.

The 2 Things That Everybody Ought to Know About Press Releases

I’ve heard developers asking what press releases are, and if they are anything useful. I’ve asked those same questions years ago, and I’d like to share my thoughts about why press releases are important. They are important because they can get you to places like this:


Image of our Hightailed game review in PCZone magazine – click for a bigger view

Couple of years ago our Hightailed game got featured at PCZone magazine, thanks to sending a press release. We got some tough comments, but that was okay – the next step is simply to improve the product. If it wasn’t for a press release, our game would not get reviewed in that magazine.

The key point here is that: press releases will help you to promote your products. They are important. They will get the word out. Press releases help you reach reviewers, websites, magazines, bloggers and other members of the media. These journalists and reviewers can write about your product (like you can see in the picture) and let players know about your product.

And now the sales pitch
That is exactly the reason why I’ve set up the GameRelease.net PR service that can submit your press releases to lots of people. Here’s how I would sum up the benefits of this service:

  • Low-risk investment: GameRelease lets you send one release per week, while keeping the price low. This way you can send a PR story, and if it doesn’t work at least you have chance to try again. Most PR distributors charge “per release”, we charge “per month (or year)”. With GameRelease service, it’s easy to create a marketing campaign where you can send a new release whenever you have new screenshots that show major progress, a new demo, major update or other things you’d like to announce.
  • Helpful community and press release aid: GameRelease comes with a helpful Insiders community, where other like-minded people (with a goal of making a living making games) are also using the PR service – and can give hints on how to write it. There’s also a ready-made professional template which will give you tips on how to write a good press release.
  • Only actives subscribers: There’s not a single email that would be bounced, because I delete every email address that gets bounced when distributing releases. This makes sure that all the contacts on the list are real & active people. Everybody on the list has an opt-out possibility: every subscriber on the list has given their permission to send them news. We don’t hunt press people’s names, and then say we have thousands of contacts – all of our contacts are active and want to hear about you.
  • Public list of contacts. You can see (almost) every subscriber on the PR list. I say almost because I’ve simply parsed the domain part of the emails and some review sites use free email addresses such as gmail or hotmail. I’d say the list is about 95% accurate.
  • Lots of other benefits: GameRelease.net service is part of the Insiders membership and comes with variety of perks such as discounts, ebook, etc.

The 2 things everybody needs to know about press releases
Alright, the previous chapter was a sales pitch for my service, so remember that as I’m doing the talk here I’m also selling a service. If I were you, I would ask somebody else whether press releases are anything useful. Don’t just believe what I say.

Anyway, the 2 things everybody needs to know about press release:

  • Press releases are important to get the word out. They are not magical solution to make your game sell, but they will be helpful to get the word out.
  • Press releases are not ads: writing a good press release takes practice. I’ve written maybe a dozen press releases with variety of impacts. Sometimes they’ve worked, sometimes they didn’t. It’s mostly about having fresh and newsworthy news. That’s at least my experience.

Bottom line: press releases are important, not magic. Sometimes they get you traffic and sales, sometimes they don’t. If you got interested, google or search some forums for information about the benefits of press releases and take a look at GameRelease.net.

Your Questions to Professional Producers?

I’m completing the first batch of ‘producers of the round table’, where several professional game producers share their insight. The original producer entry is here (where you can find the almost complete list of producers). Basically we discussed about getting a job in the industry. Producers answered to questions such as “what’s important in job application” and “what you need to get a job in the industry” – and others. Hopefully we’ll finish the first batch soon, so that it can be put online.

Meanwhile… I’d like you to ponder: what would you like to ask from these producers? Please let us know.

Feel free to comment to this entry or contact me and tell me what kind of questions you’d like to get answered. I cannot guarantee that everything will be answered, but some will.

Let us know if there’s something you’d like to get answered.

Are you a producer in an AAA game studio?
If you happen to work as a producer in studio that makes games with million dollar budgets, and would be interested to participate in the discussion – please contact me. There’s room for couple of more producers.

The Most Important Factor in Digital Rights Management

Digital Right Management (or DRM) means “taking action to prevent illegal copying of digital products”. That definition might not hold in court, so those who want more information go read some book about DRM or read wikipedia, but for this article it’s clear enough. I believe one of the most important factors in DRM is how they will use it to make sure customers (those who legally buy their products) can enjoy their products, while minimizing the impact of piracy.

In a perfect world, digital rights management would keep pirates at bay and let customers happily pay for their products. But unfortunately we live in a world where DRM is sometimes keeping customers at bay, and letting pirates eventually get a way around it.

Recently, there was a huge fight about DRM, when digg users were revealing HD-DVD disc copyright encryption. The admins deleted the digg post, but users got so angry that they started posting and digging even more stories revealing the encryption. Soon the encryption was revealed in so many posts that the administrators couldn’t control it anymore – they had to give up, and let users post the stories. For more information about this incident, read what Forbes reported or do a search for Google. Basically this incident shows how there’s always way to hack encryptions. No matter what kind of copyright system you use, there’s always a hack for it.

And as companies try to keep up with the pace of hackers… they might forget their customers.

Has any of the following things happened to you:

  • You cannot skip movie copyright notice (even if you press MENU) – even when you bought a legal DVD. In pirate version you don’t have this problem (so I’ve heard). And I must really think how hard could it be to let me (the owner of the DVD) to skip the notices the way I want. No wonder people pirate stuff.
  • Have you ever bought a game, forgot key codes and then couldn’t install the digital product again – or that it was made annoying for you?.
  • Have you thought about buying a console game (when abroad) just to notice that it’s “for different region”, and left the product in a store.
  • Or have you bought a game, and then found out that you cannot install it on your second computer because of “security reasons”?

Yet companies wonder why their don’t have customers. No wonder “piracy is killing their sales”, since DRM is “forcing” people to use pirated software!

Okay, that’s a “bit” exaggerated statement, but I’m sure you get the point that DRM might annoy in some cases.

While companies might have “legal reasons” for doing this they are forgetting the most important rule: it’s the customers in the end that pay your salary. The more they keep annoying their customers, the less customers they end up having. When movies, video and games DRM systems push the customers too far, companies start losing customers.

Bottom line
I want to make this really clear: I’m in favor of some kind of copyright measures. I’m in favor of digital rights management – when it’s executed properly. I’m also favoring customer above everything. The DRM system must be done so that it has some copyright restrictions, but it must be done so that (so called) honest customers can purchase, use and enjoy their products easily – without even knowing about DRM.

As the digital products become more popular, the greater importance DRM will have. I believe this will become one of the most important issues in digital rights management in the future – and the customers must be put above everything.