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Social Games

2013 D.I.C.E. Summit photo
2013 D.I.C.E. Summit

Jesse Schell: Marketing BS and good games won't be enough

D.I.C.E. keynote 'The Secret Mechanisms'
Feb 08
// Jordan Devore
Dale has been at the 2013 D.I.C.E. Summit all week and left express instructions to pass along Schell Games CEO Jesse Schell's keynote speech to you kind folks. Having now watching it myself, I have to agree -- it's an enter...
Rockman Xover PVP photo
Rockman Xover PVP

Rockman Xover brings PVP back to the Mega Man universe

We're still not getting it
Feb 06
// Chris Carter
Recently, we found out that there are "no plans" to bring Rockman Xover, Capcom's newest Mega Man mobile game, overseas. But that doesn't stop them from continuing to support it, and today, we have some interesting news that ...
Rockman Xover photo
Capcom actually made a smart decision
[Header by samusmmx] Oh, Rockman Xover. What a foul, foul beast you are. I know it's not kosher to slam a game without having played it yourself, but just from watching gameplay videos, I think we can all agree that Xover is ...

Rockman Xover photo
Rockman Xover

Rockman Xover keeps on chugging with Star Force content

No domestic release date still
Jan 24
// Chris Carter
You know what they say about cash-ins, right? If people buy them, they'll keep cashing in? Ok nobody says that, I just made it up. But that seems to be the case for the infamous Rockman Xover, because Capcom keeps supporting ...

Did you start your morning with PS Vita's Wake-up Club?

Never hit snooze again!
Jan 16
// Kyle MacGregor
Let's face it: waking up in the morning sucks, but Sony has a new game of sorts to make that harsh reality a little more tolerable. Wake-up Club is essentially an alarm clock with social game elements for your PlayS...

Zynga cuts costs by shutting down 11 games

Some would call it karma
Dec 31
// Chris Carter
Zynga CEO Mark Pincus has just announced that 11 games will be either axed entirely, or stop accepting newcomers to cut costs. It seems as if assets will be funneled into their more popular ventures, and new ones as well. Yep...

Jimquisition: Friends

Jimquisition happens every Monday!
Nov 26
// Jim Sterling
Friendships are precious things that allow us to get through this horrific maelstrom we bitterly call life. Without friends, we would be but animals, hurtling cluelessly from one compulsive murder to the next. Nobody is an i...

OpenFeint shuts down on December 14

GREE pulls the plug
Nov 19
// Dale North
While it probably won't change the day of any gamers out there, you should still know that GREE, OpenFeint's parent company, plans to shut down the OpenFeint mobile social connection service on December 14. Many of mobile gam...
Big layoffs at Zynga photo
Boston studio shut down, others face closure
There were a number of layoffs at Zynga today, as you might have heard from employees who were affected and quickly spread the word. An internal note from CEO Mark Pincus confirms much of what's been said about the significan...


Study finds that 85% quit social games after one day

I quit after 5 minutes!
Oct 18
// Dale North
I just learned the term churn from our recent article on social game makers and how they track players. The term came up again today in a Gamasutra article on a new report from social game analysis firm Playnomics. This firm ...

Rockman Xover fan-made demo, plus actual game details

Might as well sit back and see how this train wreck pans out
Oct 14
// Tony Ponce
Capcom insists on seeing this construct through to the end, so I might as well keep abreast of the latest news and developments. First up is this fan-made Rockman Xover Flash demo that recreates the TGS build Conrad played. I...

We have a file on you: The tools & tricks of social games

Oct 13 // Allistair Pinsof used to be some site that you bought books at but then analytics happened. In the late 1990s, Brian Lent helped lead the Information Technology team that would create Amazon's recommendation system. The system that would rewrite how the expanding online store functioned. Instead of recommending random items for sale, stores now gain data from users' searches, purchases, behavior, and any other information available to analytical software. Recommendations covered 14 percent of Amazon's revenue when Lent still worked there; now, it's as high as 40 percent of the company's earnings. The rest of the Internet would follow and, now, so are videogames. Videogame developers and publishers are now reaching out to analysts like Lent, who currently works for Medio Systems. It is one of many third-party companies that offer analytical software which does the heavy number crunching for developers. Right now, Lent is giving a speech at GDC Online, a gathering of social and mobile game developers in Austin, Texas. His audience is a group of grey-haired businessmen curious to get some of this Facebook cash they have heard so much about through the success stories of Zynga, PopCap, and Chillingo. He is now covering stage three of how to make a successful social game: monetization. "This stage is really about optimizing the next best offer," Lent says. "If you have another thing to show the user, what is the best thing (analytically-speaking) they are most likely to purchase next?" "Metrics" is a word commonly used among social game developers that didn't exist in the industry until analysts like Lent arrived. You hear people say it a lot at a trade show like GDC Online. Sometimes in a knowing way, and sometimes with the excited gleam of dollar signs lighting up the eyes. In 2009, social games made $4 billion a year. According to Lent's research, the market will reach $30 billion in yearly revenue with downloads rising to 21.7 billion -- over five times what they were three years ago. The market is growing and it's attracting developers like Zynga that are well-versed in the visual design and analytical tricks that have made successful websites tick. Now, they are applying the same tactics to videogames. Once users are acquired, a social game must engage them. Since not all social games are fun enough to play on their own merit, developers hook players with a carrot on a stick. Analytical tools tell designers when an offer should be made to what player. For example, a whale may be planning to go back to reality and abandon their home in DragonVale. This is when a developers must "figure out how to cross-promote and move people." "Collect all the data you can!" exclaims Lent. "Location, time of day, offers shown that they didn’t respond to, offers shown that they did respond to, friends they invited into game ... all that data is extremely, extremely valuable. No matter how you work, make sure you are collecting all the data you can. That data is a gold mine." Once a user is placed into a "clustomer" (a cluster of customers -- yes, they really do use this term), analytical tools evaluate what should be offered and how the offer should be presented. For example, the software knows Melissa is a whale because the data tells the system that whales are likely to use iPhones, reach level 12 in the game, live in Germany, and purchase the golden sword. All of these traits fit Melissa, so she must be a whale. "Have your product guys look into the purchase path for the golden sword, since that unlocks the game experience and leads them to buy more things," Lent says. This analytical software has increased developers revenue by five times, according to Lent. Not only does the software tell developers the nature of a user, it can even decide whether something should be promoted as "best price," "hot price," "NEW!" or "50% off" even though these are the same exact offer. However, some aspects of targeting social players will always be in the designers' hands. Emmanuel Valdez has nearly twenty years of experience in designing videogames, and he comes to GDC Online to discuss how visual design can help drive sales in social games. Since most social games are free-to-play, they depend on real-money transactions in a marketplace. Depending on the game, these marketplace items may alter the way a player's avatar looks or how the game is played, often making it easier on the player. Then, the worst offender: there are energy systems that lock a person out from playing the game until they are let back in via a timer -- unless they pay up. "It's not the art; it's not the budget; it's the design that makes great games," states Valdez. Valdez pulls many time-tested design principles from across time and cultures and applies them to games. For example, colors can reinforce what a person should look at. Game designers often color a group of icons to imply they are of a similar nature, but Valdez presents an example where a social game greys out all buttons except the marketplace. This button, and only this button, is glorious, bright, and shiny. How can you not click on it? Why would anyone resist? "Design for free-to-play games changes how we see design because they are all about getting people to spend money, most of the time," continues Valdez. Have you ever noticed that many social games apply baby face features to game characters? They often have big round eyes, small noses, and heads larger than the rest of their bodies. Valdez says developer's do this because it makes players more sympathetic. Research shows that they are more likely to pay to level them up. Developers want you to fall in love with their characters and then pay for that love. Placement is another key design aspect of social games. Leading players' eyes to the marketplace and the most expensive items is a primary goal for many developers and it's a task that has to be dealt with subtlety. Valdez says that placing the most expensive items first in a store will make them more likely to be sold, since these items will linger in the mind of players after exiting. Another principle is the Gutenberg Diagram which shows that player's eyes are drawn from the top-left to the bottom-right of the screen, so of course you are going to place your store icon there! "A lot of people from Zynga come from the web and that industry has been doing this a lot longer than we have. These principle are second nature to them," Valdez explains. "That's where we need to get." But where is this place and what kind of place will it be? One where each user is studied by systems, manipulated by artists, and led with a carrot on a stick? Many European countries, such as England and Germany, forbid the kind of data collection these analysts provide for a good reason. That reason is that customers should be served a quality product, not serving developers' research and data mining. Nevertheless, companies like Medio Systems work within a loophole that strips individuals' data and places it into a group ("clustomers"). No one is that unique, after all. This keeps personal data one step removed and the data mining within legal bounds. Even great game developers analyze test groups, use design principles to guide players, and give players incentive to keep playing. The difference is that developers like Activision Blizzard make a game first and tune it around these tools and tricks, not the other way around. The more I learn about how social games are made and the people that work on them, the more I am fascinated by this new industry and the more I want to stay the hell away from it as a gamer. I'm not a whale. If Zynga has a file on me, I kindly ask for it back.
Social games datamining? photo
This is what social game developers say about you, behind your back
Meet Melissa. She's a forty-year-old mom who has recently become hooked on DragonVale, a free-to-play iOS game. She is what social game analysts call a whale. No, this isn't a comment on her physical stature or deep, raspy...


TGS: Yep, the Rockman Xover trailer is really something

Sep 19
// Tony Ponce
I don't have to repeat myself, do I? You already know how I feel about Rockman Xover, so let's skip that dance and move on to analyzing the trailer above. Hmmm... a minute-long trailer with all of four seconds of in-game foo...

Rockman Xover will be at TGS, protagonist has stupid name

Capcom is sooooo good to us
Sep 06
// Tony Ponce
Since Capcom has decided that a Western release of Rockman Xover is crucial, I feel duty-bound to deliver the latest details so that you may prepare yourself against thine enemy. As mentioned previously, Xover is a social RPG...

Zynga apes Pokemon with suspiciously similar Montopia

Gotta copy 'em all!
Aug 30
// Jim Sterling
Oh Zynga, will you ever learn? Despite being embroiled in a lawsuit against fellow evildoer Electronic Arts, those wacky rouges at Zynga are hard at work with another "inspired" game -- Montopia.  Montopia casts you in ...

No More Heroes gets a free-to-play social mobile game

World Ranker comes to Android and iOS
Aug 30
// Jim Sterling
No More Heroes returns to your life as a free-to-play social mobile game. Something tells me that the unique blend of F2P, social gaming, and the mobile market isn't having NMH lovers jumping for joy. In fact it seems perfect...

EA vs. Zynga: EA claims it's a game industry defender!

Aug 21
// Jim Sterling
Electronic Arts' delusions of grandeur have reached new heights this week, as the company continues to milk its lawsuit against Zynga for cheap applause and gamer cred. Its latest claim? The lawsuit positions Electronic Arts ...

Rockman Xover is your new Mega Man game... for iOS

Aug 16 // Tony Ponce
That's just great. Relegate the once lofty Mega Man empire to the mobile realm for its 25-year celebration. I don't give two shits about how "valid" the iPhone is as a gaming device; the truth is that many companies still treat the platform as a dumping ground, Capcom included. From the available screens, it looks to be running on the same engine, sporting the same art style, as the infuriating Mega Man X iOS port. Considering what a disappointing turd that was, I have zero hopes for Xover. And check it -- notice the autoplay button? It's gonna be one of those RPGs, in which you can let the computer to do the grunt work while you touch yourself to farm porn videos or something. Are you kidding me? This is our 25th anniversary game? There better be something else in the pipeline, because this doesn't cut the mustard. I swear to baby Jesus, it's like Capcom wants people to hate Mega Man. Rockman Xover is looking at an autumn release in Japan, yet I'm certain it'll make it Stateside soon afterwards. Obviously, this is what we've all been waiting for. Here you go, fellas! No grand series revival or compilation discs, a la Kirby's Dream Collection or even the Classic and X collections on the PS2, GC, and Xbox! Nope! Have some iPhone garbage and say it tastes like Grey Poupon! Fucking ass. Rockman Xover Announced, Social RPG for iOS [Protodude's Rockman Corner]

Guys, I owe you an apology. The other day, I wrote about a fan-driven Mega Man Legends concept album, and I begged you all to stay on topic and not go off on a tangent about how you felt Capcom wronged you. I apologize becaus...


Japanese social games funded by Yakuza, says expert

Jul 12
// Allistair Pinsof
Yakuza, Japan's mafia, has a long history with games: card games, Pachinko machines, and now social gaming. Some of Japan's current social games, including one about Yakuza, are funded by Japan's mafia, according to Tokyo Vic...

Square Enix: Long console generation a 'big mistake'

Jul 10
// Jim Sterling
Square Enix's worldwide technology director, Julien Merceron, has accused Sony and Microsoft of making a "big mistake" by prolonging this console generation, claiming that iOS and browser games have flourished as a direc...

Twitter or Facebook won't be supported in Wii U Miiverse

Jun 21
// Chris Carter
When asked about the Wii U's possible integration of Facebook and Twitter, Nintendo of Europe's Laurent Fischer was pretty upfront in denying the capability: "I have three devices permanently doing that already, what is our b...

E3: More details on EA's SimCity Social

Jun 04
// Victoria Medina
As reported earlier, EA has brought out the white glove on Zynga with SimCity Social for Facebook. This isn't just a rehash of any well-known farming games, though. Players will get to watch their cities evolve based on ...

E3: FIFA is 'football's social network'

Jun 04
// Alasdair Duncan
EA has announced a wealth of new features for the upcoming FIFA 13, both in the gameplay and EA's football-centered social network, Football Club. Gamers who progressed through FIFA 12 will have their stats and progress carry...

E3: EA bitchslaps Zynga with SimCity Social

Jun 04
// Jim Sterling
EA is preparing to invade Facebook, and it has Zynga in its sights. What is it about EA and its obsession with picking fights via passive-aggressive game slogans? In any case, SimCity Social is a city-building game for your F...

The Sims Social promises to be a good woman if you return

May 30
// Samit Sarkar
Numerous online games send messages to lapsed users in an attempt to get those players to come back. Sometimes, they try to guilt you into going back; other times, they look to entice you into returning by offering free goodi...

The Japanese government squashes social gaming's dreams

May 10
// Hiroko Yamamura
Usually I have the pleasure of reporting the latest fun and silly stuff coming from my homeland of Japan to our readers. Today I get to tell you about something so ridiculously dumb my head is actually hurting. ...

Ex-EA man says traditional consoles are under pressure

May 04
// Jim Sterling
Former Electronic Arts and Xbox Live bigwig John Schappert has joined the growing band of rebels who believe traditional console gaming is in a risky position. With social and mobile games encroaching on their territory, Scha...

Swordfight will get your joystick hard

Apr 29
// Tony Ponce
I stand corrected. This is the weirdest story of the weekend! If you read Joseph Leray's "Nordic New Wave" feature from the other week, you ought to be familiar with Johann Sebastian Joust, a game using accelerometer-powered ...

Nordic New Wave: Technology and the new social game

Apr 19 // Joseph Leray
[embed]226044:43438[/embed] In addition to studying interaction design as a Ph.D. candidate at the IT University of Copenhagen, Wilson co-owns the game studio Die Gute Fabrik and is the lead designer of Johann Sebastian Joust, which has been popping up in bars, arcades, and conventions since its birth at the 2011 Nordic Game Jam. J. S. Joust is a bare-bones, slow-motion game played with some sort of accelerometer controller -- it's usually played with a PlayStation Move wand, but was developed using a Wii Remote. A Mac client with Wilson's UniMove plugin plays a selection from Bach's Brandenburg concertos while the game monitors the controllers' movement. During the slow stanzas, each player's movement window is restricted -- if your controller shakes too much, you lose. In the faster stanzas, that window opens a bit wider, giving players a chance to knock, shove, or jostle their opponents out of the game. Hence, jousting. There is no screen. "Moving in slow motion, no matter what you're playing, is f*cking sweet," Wilson said during his Independent Games Summit presentation at this year's Game Developers Conference. "That really is the inspiration behind Joust. 'Let's make a game where we just f*cking move in slow motion.'" The real trick to Joust, though, is that it changes players' relationship with the technology behind it. The truth of the matter is that accelerometers have limited use in traditional gaming -- they lag or they're imprecise. "Despite all these promises and optimism, all of these technologies kind of sucking is the reality," he continued. "To me, that's awesome. It's precisely because these technologies suck that makes them really interesting and fun. Part of the key is to embrace the set of technological limitations rather than trying to fight them." Joust embraces the accelerometer's clunkiness and makes it a central mechanic -- not knowing exactly how much the Move can shake at a given moment adds tension and excitement -- rather than trying to compensate for it. The mechanics and the technology work perfectly together because the mechanics are the technology. It only works with accelerometer-based controls and a large group of people. The same thing that gives PlayStation and Wii developers fits is making Joust a huge success on the indie games circuit. [embed]226044:43437[/embed] Wilson's brand of do-it-yourself tinkering isn't limited to his own ideas, though -- he recently reconfigured Foddy's GIRP, a physics-based rock-climbing game, using four stitched-together Dance Dance Revolution pads. "It was actually originally an unauthorized project," says Foddy. The Copenhagen Game Collective, a group of Danish artists, academics, and game developers co-founded by Wilson, was partying on a boat when MegaGIRP was born. Foddy continues, "[Doug] hacked together a keyboard controller out of four DDR dance mats, so you could play it in front of a crowd, with the game projected on a screen. They told me about the idea on Twitter while they were working on it." The original GIRP assigns different letters to golden rings set into a rock face. When a letter is pressed on the keyboard, the nameless free climber grabs the ring and hoists himself up. The goal is to get as high as possible before the rising tide swallows you up. Like in Johann Sebastian Joust, there's an interplay between the technology and the mechanics of the game. "There is an important correspondence between the virtual cliff face and the flat control mat in MegaGIRP," Foddy explains. "But the real 1:1 correspondence comes from the use of your physical body rather than the technology." Playing MegaGIRP is a full-body experience, the dance pad having replaced the keyboard. "The reason nobody has made it more than halfway up the cliff so far is not that GIRP gets a lot harder as you progress," says Foddy. "It's that in MegaGIRP, you get too tired to go any further." Using the dance pad instead of the keyboard may have pushed MegaGIRP closer to "real" rock climbing, but it also invites other social possibilities -- it seems a little awkward to play, like Twister but more difficult. "I think it's crucial that you look a bit silly playing it, and you're constantly at risk of falling over," says Foddy. "That creates a sense of excitement for the onlookers. Also, the crowd tends to participate, yelling out advice or warnings." Given that it takes a large screen and projector to work, and that it's designed so that players can't always see the the action, it's virtually impossible to play MegaGIRP by yourself -- it requires at least one other person in the room with you but is at its best with a group of friends. If both Johann Sebastian Joust and MegaGIRP seem tailor-made for large events, it's because a growing number of independent games festivals and art collectives have been sprouting up like weeds. These are organized staging grounds for the types of physical experiences described by so-called "folk games," an expression Wilson used in his GDC presentation to describe his projects. "The Kokoromi and Babycastles events have been running for a while, but there's also Wild Rumpus in London, Juegos Rancheros in Austin, Prince of Arcade in Montreal, and a bunch of other, newer groups all around the world," Foddy tells me. "For these parties, it's all about social gaming (in the real sense, not the FarmVille sense), and so there is a call for games that can be enjoyed in a loud place by a large crowd of drunk people. "For games to work at these events, it helps if they are multiplayer games, but even the biggest multiplayer games can only be played by a subset of the people there," he continues. "So the games need to be fun to watch and big enough for a large crowd to see what's going on. And traditional videogame tech isn't really conducive to that." While many of these social games are rendered somewhat inaccessible by their size and scope, or limited to large events or one-off art installations, Doug Wilson and Bennett Foddy's approach to non-traditional tech isn't taking place in a vacuum. Wilson is determined to make Johann Sebastian Joust commercially available sometime this year, convinced that a few gyroscopes and a music API can bring friends together in a physical space in a way "social gaming" can't. Follow the conversation on Twitter at #IntelAlwaysOn.

With support from our partner, Intel, we're exploring how technology is evolving and improving the gaming experience. The company's goal is to develop tools that, in the right hands, allow us to play new and exciting games. A...


Zynga has bought OMGPop, developer of Draw Something

Mar 21
// Conrad Zimmerman
In a conference call today, social gaming megalith Zynga has announced the acquisition of OMGPop, the developer responsible for the wildly popular Draw Something for iOS devices. According to a post at the Wall Street Jo...

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