Reality is a Game

Game thinking from Adam Clare

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Free to Play, Whales, And Clash of Clans

The free to play (F2P) business model has been with the games industry for years, yet we hardly understand it. This past week I’ve chanced across a few different items which explore aspects of the F2P model.

Back in November, the IGDA Phoenix group had a presentation on F2P methodologies. It’s a good presentation and provides some insights into a few popular F2P games and how their design decisions make sense.

Whales

Whales are people. In social and F2P games, developers refer to people who spend a lot of money on a game as whales. The vast majority of gamers (>90%) who play free games never spend on them regardless of how many in-app purchases a game offers. So the business model has boiled down to getting as many players as possible then hoping that someone out there will love the game so much they spend a TON of money on it.

Game developers have always assumed that this random approach is logical. Even though, developers also assumed that the people spending ~$50 on a game must be crazy.

Ubisoft just did some research on whales and why found out that whales are more rational than assumed.

“One thing that came across was this concept of ‘whales’ was really framing how developers and our marketing folks were thinking about what drives high-value spenders. [The assumption was] it’s impulsive, more irrational, kind of hedonistic behavior,” Yee said. “What we found was almost the exact opposite. Instead of being impulsive, they were long-term thinkers, cool-headed, methodical, and they really supported the game.”

The article continues…

“It’s really understanding those people as hobbyists,” Ducheneaut said. “They’re committed to a hobby. They invest resources in their hobby, just like someone would in model trains, figure skating, or whatever. It’s no different than that.”

Ducheneaut and Yee can relate, as they have their own sometimes costly hobbies. For Ducheneaut, it’s sailing. As for how Yee gets rid of pesky disposable income, he said painting miniatures helps. Of course, they’re no strangers to gaming either, and hope that their work will help make the industry a better place for anyone who counts gaming among their hobbies

Clash of Clans

Supercell’s Clash of Clans has been a huge success and their sequel of Boom Beach looks to prove Supercell’s design choices are rather smart.

Redditor wolfawap spent some time and researched how Clash of Clans puts a price on time. The short of it is “they seem to set fixed prices for fixed time milestones like 1 minute = 1 gem, 1 hour = 20 gems, 1 day = 260 gems, etc.”.

Having looked into F2P social games on a few occasions it’s nice to see pretty graphs backing up what we already know:

Let’s try interpreting the data differently. Think of it in terms of cost in gems to skip 1 second. Skipping more time costs more money, but you get a better deal. Think of it as a set of increasing discounts.

graph_costpersecond

Coverage of Some Toronto Game Studios

Toronto has a bunch of small indie studios that are constantly making great games (just look at Capy’s success). Thanks to some keen efforts by the Ontario government bigger studios have been eyeing Toronto too, Ubisoft came to Toronto because of those efforts.

What I find interesting is that these efforts have changed the digital industry in Ontario and these changes have reverberated down to the the street level.

Ubisoft has moved into the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto and has had a positive impact on that section of the city. The area suffered from old manufacturing industries closing down but saw artists moving in to fill the gap. Ubisoft hasn’t pushed out the artists (thankfully) so much as they brought new local food options for them.

Since Ubisoft Toronto opened its doors, the list of notable new restaurants and cafes to set up shop in the neighbourhood include the aforementioned Wallace Espresso, Cafe Neon, and Wallace and Co. The businesses that were open before the studio came, such as the Starving Artist, continue to flourish.

If one extends the list to include nearby Brockton Village, which is reasonable given that the studio is a short walk away from the neighbourhood boundary line of Bloor Street, then the list of new businesses expands to include places such as the Whippoorwill and Brock Sandwich, the latter of which opened as recently as this month. Obviously not all those businesses opened with the express purpose of servicing Ubisoft’s employees, but a workplace that is set to grow to 800 strong before the end of 2019 is going to have an effect on business nonetheless.

The first game to come out of Ubisoft Toronto is Splinter Cell Blacklist and the reviews have been positive. I’m proud to say that a former student has been working on the game’s story. The success of the game is a great sign for a new studio that only opened in 2009.

The CBC recently covered the studio and they quote managing director Jade Raymond:

“Setting up a new studio from scratch, hiring over 300 people in three years and shipping the biggest game ever to come out of Ontario and the biggest game in the franchise to date is quite an accomplishment,” says Raymond.

“The game industry and our team here is full of people who want to outdo ourselves each time, so we’re setting the bar even higher with all of our next projects.”

Back to the independent studios we find that Phantom Compass, They Bleed Pixels, and Little Guy Games are getting praise for their work too (there are too many studios to list!). These smaller studios benefit from support from the province too but mainly rely on contract work to keep them going while they finance their own intellectual property. Organizations like Interactive Ontario help in that process (FYI: I worked for IO a few years back).

One of the ways Interactive Ontario aims to help its members is by connecting them with potential contract opportunities, which often involve creating interactive elements for web and television.

“A lot of companies start out that way,” Henderson says. He’ll also be speaking at today’s conference. “They take some jobs to pay the bills and keep the lights on while they work on their own intellectual property (IP). Eventually they get to the stage where they’ve created their own IP and now they own it.”

Read more about these developers mentioned above and what they are up to in Yonge Street.

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