Reality is a Game

Game thinking from Adam Clare

Tag: Zynga(Page 1 of 2)

Zynga and Rand Corporation on Educational Games

Navigating educational games can be an arduous process at times. Sometimes games are too blunt in their teaching while most educational games are difficult to find for a variety of reasons. Despite these difficulties there are more games being made every year with the goal to educate people. And a study this year found that 55% of teachers surveyed use games weekly.

Forbes recently had an article on Zynga supporting educational games with Co.lab.

Whether selling games and apps directly to consumers or to institutions, there are unique challenges. Sosnik and White find that most developers have great ideas but they are missing one (if not more) pieces of the puzzle. Perhaps they don’t know how to include assessments mapped to standards. Perhaps they don’t understand how to bring an app to scale. Perhaps they struggle with marketing, or engagement, or user interface. Co.lab has designed a program “tailored to the specific needs of games-based learning startups” that brings together “NewSchools Venture Fund’s educational and edtech expertise and Zynga.org’s access to best-in-class talent and resources from the world of commercial games.

Rand Corporation released a report on their take on educational games (Thanks to @Aidaneus!). The report looked at engagement metrics and reaches the obvious conclusion that it’s not a good idea to use screen time. They looked at more than that and reached some interesting conclusions on early childhood education games. Their recommendation are rather good (even if they are ambitious):

  • Changing policy mandates and funding at the local, state, and national levels, though typically a slow process, will be critical to redefining developmentally appropriate technology use in classrooms.
  • Simple, clear guidance (e.g., a short fact sheet that defines developmentally appropriate use, public awareness campaigns) could immediately begin to influence ECE providers’ and families’ understanding of appropriate technology use.
  • To address concerns among early childhood educators about the lack of models or exemplars of effective, appropriate integration of technology into ECE, demonstrations of appropriate use should be developed and distributed to provide support to these educators.
  • Existing software and application rating systems are useful in providing simple, accessible assessments of media content can help busy or uncertain providers and families, and these types of systems should continue to be supported and updated to provide support.

A Business Plan For Indie Game Developers Doesn’t Exist

There is a problem in the independent gaming industry that has been present for years but is gaining attention: there is no solid business plan to follow. For other industries there seems to be some rues, guides, or other ‘rules of thumb’ that startups can use. Not so in the gaming industry.

The gaming industry for independent (small) studios is an uphill battle. It takes more than just a good game and good talent.

This week TechCrunch posted about this problem in the mobile market space: Mobile’s “One Game Wonder” Problem. The notion that all a company needs to do is keep making games until they create the next Flappy Bird to make it successful. There is a  problem with that insofar that all these peaks in sales lead to treacherous valleys. From TechCrunch:

It’s barely a year since King unseated Zynga as the number one game maker on Facebook. A long-time purveyor of casual web games to a relatively small audience (30m according to Wikipedia), King had its one game wonder moment with Candy Crush Saga, a match-3 game not dissimilar to Bejeweled but innovative on its own terms. Beautifully produced and highly addictive, it transformed the company’s fortunes and led to a couple of other “Saga” games that rode its coattails. King floated an IPO at $22.50 and seemed unstoppable to some.

But then, not unlike Zynga, suddenly the news has turned sour. Despite generally-increased metrics across the board, revenue expectations have been missed, leading to a confirmation of the suspicion that the company isn’t able to grow. The fear is that the motherlode game has peaked, and with no obvious contended to replace it that means the party could well be over. And so the stock price fell (at time of writing it’s at $13.53).

Here’s more info on the present downfall of King in chart form.

Scrooge Doge

Sure, that’s an extreme example of very successful companies, but the peaks and valleys happen at all levels. It’s true for mobile and beyond. There are studios that had a great game but are barely heard from again. There are tons of examples of games that fail right from the get-go (here,here,and here).

Flippfly has tips for making a living by making indie games but it boils down to have a plan by researching more:

The takeaway here is: There are a lot of options for publishing your game, and the sands are shifting quickly. Don’t blindly jump into a plan without knowing what your potential audience size is there – talk with others who’ve tried it, read “numbers posts” and be realistic about your expectations. Get to know your distribution partners – their support is crucial to your success.

This leads me to think the only plan one can have is to try to make games!

The problem with that is not everyone can afford to put the time into game development given the low return. Its hard to pay rent and all that jazz when the annual take-home is so low for an independent designer.

In this context it’s easy to think that modern indie game development is akin to playing the lottery: you just need that one successful game.

In order to have a successful game you need to get it in front of people, something that indie game developers need to learn. I’ve looked at this issue before in regards to social media promotion and more recently how hard marketing can be for indies.

There are some good guides for marketing your indie game. It was only a few years ago that marketing was frowned upon by indie developers and that good games will get the attention they deserve. That’s not the case anymore. This could be a sign that the indie game studios are learning and growing.

One of my games Das Game

Das Game

Indeed, Radiangames  just posted the sales data on the games they released at Gamasutra. The impact of good marketing is evident (it also shows that having a plethora of games is an advantage). I have no idea how one gets featured on the any app store, I’d like to as it means a greater chance of success:

I feel very fortunate to have my games featured as often as they have, as it means thousands more in sales.  At the same time, getting an Apple Editor’s Choice or top banner is worth far more than being in the middle or latter part of the New & Noteworthy list.

Over at the New Statesman (of all places) they look into how the very notion of the one game wonder is bad for both the longevity of the industry and games as a culturally expressive medium. This raises the issue of what we’re sacrificing as a gaming culture to ensure good profits.

The dominant story of this video game-making generation is the one about the struggling artist who made a breakout hit and never needed to work again. As a result, the industry’s conferences obsess over how to make effective moneymaking games or, at very least how to make a sustainable business.

This focus on financial gain rather than artistic gain is, arguably, at risk of turning video games into a cultural backwater. The big business side of the industry is characterised by creative conservatism, sure-fire bets based on bankable precedents.

So what to do?

Rosenberg

After writing the above I feel that it paints a gloomy picture of getting into indie game development. As someone who makes independent games for a living I assure you it’s tons of fun and very rewarding (plug for my company Wero Creative). It is possible to make a living off of games even if you don’t make a Flappy Bird. Don’t worry things are good will always be able to cheer you up.

Personally, I know that the lack of a clear business plan is a problem but I also love it. With no clear set way of doing things it means that anything is possible. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the person to shake up the industry with a radical new approach!

Most game projects fail due to scope and ambition, so start small if you’re just starting out. Remember even AAA level games suffer from scope and sometimes stop development because of it.

To encourage a note of optimism here are some ideas to help change the business world of indie games:

  • Don’t make a business plan, just wing it.
  • Make games in your spare time as a hobby and hope that one day the revenue will add up.
  • Don’t just learn how to make games, learn to market them.
  • Get a publisher.
  • Check your scope.
  • Start small and build.

Lastly, here’s the tally of revenue of that Radiangames posted on the sales data.

  • $24K – Inferno+ (twin-stick shooter/action-RPG-lite)
  • $17K – Slydris (block puzzler)
  • $12K – Ballistic SE (arcade twin-stick shooter)
  • $11K – JoyJoy (arcade twin-stick shooter)
  • $10K – Fireball SE (arcade dodger)
  • $10K – CRUSH (arcade block puzzler)
  • $6K – Fluid SE (arcade overhead racer)
  • $3K* – Bombcats SE (physics puzzler)
  • $3K – SideSwype (block puzzler)

*Does not include iOS sales

That’s a total of $96k, even with the costs associated with developing a game that’s a good chunk of cash money.

Notes on Creating an Economy for a Social Game

Creating an effective game economy is hard no matter what sort of game is being created. The relationship between the economy and game flow cannot be understated.

Amit Mahajan from Zynga provides a good overview of economy and social interaction.

The Dubit Platform looks promising as a tool for creating the basis of your economy. The image at the top of this post is from their good post on designing a social game economy.

I haven’t used their tool yet, so I can’t comment on what it’s like to use it. You can access it here.

Cafe World is a Facebook game that has an economy that you can see in spreadsheet form. An obviously out of date spreadsheet of their game is available on Google Docs.

If you know of any other tools for designing an in-game economy please let me know!

Two Cool New Things for Mobile Game Developers

This past week there have been two really nifty things that have caught my eye that are relevant to people trying to get on iOS. The first is an augmented reality tool that looks easy to build for and the other is a platform that is like Zynga-in-a-box.

Aurasma is a tool for the augmented reality lover inside of all us to easily generate AR content. The future will in some way incorporate AR and the more tools like this that are bring finessed the better. Right now the company seems focused on marketing experiences to sell products but the gaming aspects that are possible with this technology are quite enticing.

But the thing is growing out of hand. Lots of people are using it in education, for example. We saw several clips, one showing a five-year-old girl holding an iPad up to pictures drawn by other kids and seeing the pictures of the subjects of these drawings. Another clever project was a puzzle, made by a teacher. When a kid puts the colored shapes together correctly, the app will then recognize it and show a short animation as a reward. Kids — apparently — love this thing

.

Read more about Aursama at the Cult of Mac.

Now, if you’re interested in making a Facebook-style social game on the mobile you’ll want to take a look at PlayHaven. They have updated their toolset to basically allow any company to do what Zynga does in terms of analysing their players and providing easy ways to inform players of in-app purchase opportunities.

With the monetization features, PlayHaven can help game companies maximize profits by segmenting and managing customers. The tools can generate real-time metrics and insight that are actionable. Yang said that these features can help sort customers into batches of “minnows,” who can be monetized with ads but never have to pay for anything; “dolphins,” who are regular customers who come back often; and “whales,” who make huge in-app purchases. PlayHaven says it can help convert users to pay via up-sell and cross-sell tactics.

Read more about PlayHaven at Venture Beat.

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