Mobile Gaming – the titanic shift

The industry is undergoing a titanic shift, factors like the ease of publishing to the App Store, the extremely low cost to become a developer, the growth of Freemium games (games given away for free with revenues coming from alternative sources) and the rise of the female gamers (53% of mobile gamers are female) are rewriting the rules.

Anywhere, any-time, high quality gaming, that fits nicely in our pocket, is yours to have .  The mobile entertainment industry was worth $33 billion last year, which is due in part to the success of smartphones like the iPhone and the plethora of Android devices like the HTC Thunderbolt.  These high powered computers were just waiting for people to turn them into gaming consoles.

An interesting infographic by Geekaphone:

 

 

Social Media Games and Product Placement

We all have spotted an iPhone or Pepsi can in a movie scene.It’s a well known concept of “Product placement”, a form of advertisement, where branded goods or services are placed in a context usually devoid of ads, such as movies, music videos, the story line of television shows, or news programs. The product placement is often not disclosed at the time that the good or service is featured.

Games such as Mafia Wars and FarmVille, attract millions of active players. Mafia Wars, for example, is played by more than 25 million Facebook users each month.This huge audience, which includes a wide range of demographics, particularly women, is highly engaged and motivated to interact with brands, particularly those that reward them with virtual currency or progress their social game status.By using the same techniques as product placement marketing in movies, brands can be seamlessly woven into the fabric of a social gaming environment.

Genre of the game and player demographics are the deciding factors in matching a game’s story and/or player’s connection with a specific brand.FarmVille, for example, is the perfect place for food-related brands to get in front of a social gaming audience that stands in the tens of millions. Israeli chocolate brand, Elite Taami Nutz, did just that.

Saatchi & Saatchi BBR Tel Aviv and its digital subsidiary, Saatchi Interactive, developed a campaign in which FarmVille players were able to buy and grow Nutz branded peanuts.Non-profit brands are also finding success with in-game product placement. Water.org raised $13,000 in under a week through FishVille players purchasing a specially designed fish. Not only that, traffic to their website increased ten-fold during the campaign.

Movie promoters are also jumping on the social gaming bandwagon. A week-long, pre-launch campaign was run on Mafia Wars for gangster movie “Public Enemies” whereby players could undertake Public Enemies-themed “jobs” and unlock additional virtual items associated with the movie along with loot, clips and facts.Here Mafia Wars theme of gang violence was the driving factor to match the movie ( a product ) of similar theme.

In a game such as Seduction, genre is closer to humor and sex with flirtatious story lines.Our experiences suggest that this genre is enjoyed equally by both genders.Products where sexuality is used in advertising, certain values and attitudes towards sex are necessarily ‘sold’ along with a product. In advertising terms, this is called “the concept”.

The message may be that “innocence is sexy” (as used by Calvin Klein when it uses young people in provocative poses), or that link pain and violence with sexiness and glamour (as used by Versace), or that women enjoy being dominated, or that women come with a product (e.g. in the advertisement for Budweiser Beer), or that the use of a certain product is naughty but legal, or that use of a certain product will make the user more attractive to the opposite sex, and many other messages.

These messages are weaved into the story narratives through scenarios .Gaming experience is aided by the scenario graphics and seamlessly links player’s in-game activity with actual online purchase of a product.

Customer Engagement, Gamification & Social Games – 1

In this edition of my blog, I initially intended to write about analytics and how it helps in making sense of huge amounts of customer data generated by these games. But analytics won’t be of much significance unless we understand the role of social games in online marketing and in general,”Gamification”. To set the context of our discussion, here are the important heuristics (as listed in my earlier blog posting – “Game Heuristics Part 2”) that we considered in our game design

  • Accessibility – Making the game easy to approach, understand and play.
  • Interruptability – Taking advantage of asynch, spontaneous and irregular play sessions.
  • Continuity – Providing continuous game world which attracts the player to come back.
  • Discovery – Providing new experiences, content and surprises.
  • Virality – Supporting viral growth in the player’s social network.
  • Narrativity – Creating in-game and off-game narratives that elicit curiosity.
  • Expression – Supporting self-discovery, customization and virtual spaces
  • Sharing – Collaborating with friends by gifting and boosting
  • Sociability – Supporting sociability among friends in the game dynamics
  • Competition – Promoting playful social competition with others.

The common thread that runs through all these design considerations is the extent to which they encourage “customer engagement”. All game features consistently try to focus on giving experiences, activities, competitions, contest & sharing opportunities that foster player engagement and encourage them to come back for more. These design heuristic considerations don’t just limit customer engagement to in-game activities but also spawn hooks that tie the customers even off the game.

Games move up or down the leader board with metrics such as DAUs ( “daily active users” ) & MAUs( “monthly active users” ).All games are designed to ramp up these two metrics and keep them high to be the leader of the pack. It’s a very powerful mechanism to retain fleeting attention span of today’s customers suffering with information overload. Whoever cracks this Holy Grail is considered a winner.

It’s important to note that some of these heuristics are not just relevant to online gaming. Since 2010, there is trend towards “Gamification”.Gamification as applied in context of non-game applications encourage adoption of best practices.Gamification if applied to mundane tasks such as completing survey, filing out tax forms encourages users to engage in desired behaviors. Some examples of gamification (copied from here )–

  • Employee training programs
  • Wellness and other personal activities
  • Financial services websites
  • Online and in-person shopping
  • Primary education
  • Extreme sports
  • Project management
  • Enhancing loyalty programmes
  • Social Networks
  • Surveys
  • Sustainability
  • Call Center
  • Market Research

Contd..

Game Heuristics – Part 2

Knowing your audience is half the battle won.But the other half was yet to be won. Now the focus was on defining the game specifications.Google search did turn up lot of material about general game heuristics.But there was one Powerpoint presentation from a research paper published by a Canadian university that really pulled everything together.I will soon track down that url and post it “here”.

In a nutshell here are the bullet points of each of the game design heuristics that we considered –

  • Accessibility – Making the game easy to approach, understand and play.
  • Interruptability – Taking advantage of asynch, spontaneous and irregular play sessions.
  • Continuity – Providing continuous game world which attracts the player to come back.
  • Discovery – Providing new experiences, content and surprises.
  • Virality – Supporting viral growth in the player’s social network.
  • Narrativity – Creating in-game and off-game narratives that elicit curiosity.
  • Expression – Supporting self-discovery, customization and virtual spaces
  • Sharing – Collaborating with friends by gifting and boosting
  • Sociability – Supporting sociability among friends in the game dynamics
  • Competition – Promoting playful social competition with others.

All our efforts were directed towards crafting game features in ways that are unique to the game.SEDUCTION is our maiden effort.We welcome all feedback from our players and will continue to improve .All bouquets and brickbats are most welcome.

Try out the game and let us know about your experiences.

Next.. team building..

Game Heuristics – Part 1

Let’s talk about ‘Heuristics‘ and start with sharing wikipedia thoughts about this word.

Copied and pasted verbatim from here:

In psychology, heuristics are simple, efficient rules, hard-coded by evolutionary processes or learned, which have been proposed to explain how people make decisions, come to judgments, and solve problems, typically when facing complex problems or incomplete information. These rules work well under most circumstances, but in certain cases lead to systematic errors or cognitive biases.

In philosophy, especially in Continental European philosophy, the adjective “heuristic” (or the designation “heuristic device”) is used when an entity X exists to enable understanding of, or knowledge concerning, some other entity Y. A good example is a model which, as it is never identical with what it models, is a heuristic device to enable understanding of what it models. Stories, metaphors, etc., can also be termed heuristic in that sense. A classic example is the notion of utopia as described in Plato’s best-known work, The Republic. This means that the “ideal city” as depicted in The Republic is not given as something to be pursued, or to present an orientation-point for development; rather, it shows how things would have to be connected, and how one thing would lead to another (often with highly problematic results), if one would opt for certain principles and carry them through rigorously.

But here we are more concerned about heuristics as it relates to human-computer interaction in the context of  browser based online game.

A proper Software Requirements Specification (SRS) models the heuristics of how a user will process the information being rendered on-screen. An SRS is ideally shared with the end-user well before the actual Software Design Specification (SDS) is written and the application is developed, so users’ feedback about their experience can be used to adapt the design of the application. This saves much time in the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). Unless heuristics are adequately considered, the project will likely suffer many implementation problems and setbacks.

We had one very vague  objective when we first started thinking about the design of the game.It was to make sure that we don’t follow the herd but make it as unique as possible.

It was easier said than done.Like any other tech startup,we had no SRS in place .We also faced the challenge of not knowing anything about our target audience,who may or may not have interest in online gaming.After days of painstaking efforts (thanks to Felice),we narrowed down our target audience to a subset of players that were active on other facebook games.Player population was segmented on the basis of some identifiable attributes.There were some segments in this population that were already super active on other facebook games.Some segments were underserved or had very little choices in existing set of games that matched their interests. Genre of the game was selected based on target segment and it was to be our USP(unique selling proposition).

contd..

Genesis of ‘SEDUCTION’ … a Facebook game

These blog posts will follow the timeline of SEDUCTION, our first Facebook game title, from concept to launch. In this long series I will share my views ,experiences & challenges about design of the game,characterization,stories,look and feel,heuristics,technology,team building,graphics,game construction, quality testing ,in-game player analytics, monetization ,final launch and marketing.

Work on SEDUCTION started in March of 2010. I had never played a Facebook game nor had any prior experience in social media space. I had spent previous six years as IT architect/Project manager/Business development manager for another start-up,a dual shore technology consulting firm that I founded in September 2004.All my previous experience was in managing technology projects for telecom,insurance & retail banking domains but had no clue about social media gaming.But I responded to Mickey’s call and we ended up discussing his idea of “SEDUCTION” sipping latte at Starbucks.Needless to say,I was floored by Mickey’s narration of his idea.Somehow it seemed strikingly similar to a rule based enterprise application that I worked on few years ago. By the end of the meeting, I was excited about this concept.It was a unique concept,different from anything I had ever attempted.

It became evident early on that the real value of our venture lies not just in one game, genre, title or a nice set of graphics but a reusable rule based gaming framework. We needed a framework that could enable us weave multiple virtual worlds of interesting never ending story lines, capture and retain player’s interest with a family of games of different genres. This framework had to designed to provide flexibility ,re-usability and follow all well proven design patterns.The end goal was to support the launch of a series of innovative games quickly and efficiently. SEDUCTION seemed to be the best candidate in that series of games from our gaming studio “CherryBelly”.

Next.. Game heuristics