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Zynga photo
Zynga

Major layoffs happening at Zynga


Approximately 18 percent of staff cut
Jun 03
// Abel Girmay
Sad news been handed down to many employees of the massive social game developer Zynga, as the company is reportedly cutting loose 520 staff members. That's around 18 percent of the company workforce. As part of the cuts, the...

Review: Plants vs. Zombies Adventures

May 20 // Chris Carter
Plants vs. Zombies Adventures (Facebook)Developer: PopCapPublisher: PopCapRelease: May 20, 2013MSRP: Free (with microtransactions) The first thing you might notice about Adventures is that it features a city-building aspect, albeit on a very small scale. You'll start off in your tiny town, with one house to your name, as you wait at intervals for the house to "fill up" with Coins, so you can buy plants on go on missions.Yep, right away the game introduces an "energy" mechanic that so many of us loathe in social games -- but I'll explain why it isn't the worst thing the world in a moment. As you start to complete each set of stages, you'll unlock more quadrants in your town to expand upon, and thus, more room for buildings, which means more Coins, and so on. Your hub world basically serves as your interactive zen garden, as it hosts everything you'll need to actually keep playing the game. You'll grow plants here (for a Coin fee), and each plant has a waiting time (from one minute to over an hour) depending on how strong it is. The good news is for the most part, the bulk of the plants you'll need (the standard Peashooter, the long range Aspearagus and the sun garnering Sunflowers) only take a few minutes tops to grow, and cost a minimal amount of coins. This could just be a time sink that influences you to make real world purchases to keep playing, but Adventures actually lets you do a few things that keep the fun going outside of decorating your town. Mostly, you have the option to defend your houses from invading zombies, as well as visit other friend's towns and invade them with your own chosen set of enemies. While you ultimately still have to wait a while to earn Coins to buy plants to actually go on missions, you can mess around on these side excursions as you wait, which helps. Okay, so you hate the idea of tending to a town -- what about actually playing the game? Adventures is not a classic PvZ experience -- it plays out more like a classic isometric tower defense "world tour," as you progress level by level, unlocking new plants as you tend to your town meta-game. It's more simplistic in the sense that you can't create "mazes" and only set plants beside roads, but there's still a decent amount of strategy to it. Plus, the basic PvZ experience is still present, in that you need to build Sunflowers to earn Sun currency to place more plants on the map. Specifically, you cannot bring more than five of each plant type with you, and you can only bring six plants total -- so in a sense, the game forces you to pick the optimal loadout for each map. It's a double-edged sword, as it offers a neat way to challenge you, but can feel restrictive. The layouts for each stage tend to showcase a decent amount of variety at first, but after a while, some of the stages tend to blend together. Where the game's strategy element really shines though is through the use of "sprays," enacted by clicking on certain objects in combat. It sounds like a small addition, but the ability to both spray your own plants to power them up or spray enemies to freeze them for a few seconds is huge. At the cost of 25 sun, you have the power to do either function, and it can absolutely make or break a run. Many times I've stopped an enemy right at a choke-point at the exact right moment, or failed to boost a plant that had an enemy go just out of their range, only to lose the round. While placing towers in the right areas is still a major part of the strategy, there is a twitch element to it, and I really like that -- it also allows you to do something when you've already planted everything, which keeps you in the action. There are microtransactions, but I haven't really felt like they were necessary, and I never once hit a pay-wall in all of my travels. The major issue instead is wait-walling (massive amounts of wait-walling if you just want to do missions, as most of you will), as you have to wait to earn Coins, wait for plants to grow, and repeat the process as you run out of towers to place. Zombucks (earned through beating levels, they allow you to fix up your town and invade others), Coins (earned through farming buildings, which buys you plants), and Gems, which are the strictly real-money currency that can be used to buy either of the former currencies. Although Adventures sleazily tries to get you to buy and spend gems at every turn, even going so far as allowing you to buy "that one last extra difference making plant" in the middle of a stage -- again, they're not really required for the most part, as you can still get through the game with a solid mix of basic plants, and a few advanced ones. In what could have been a really annoying sleazy addition, you need to seek the help of friends to enter the next world (thus propagating the cult-like "conversion" factor that hurts the integrity of many social games) -- but thankfully, you can pay a nominal Zombucks fee to just skip the process entirely, making friends a mostly optional endeavor. Plants vs. Zombies Adventures is fairly inoffensive fun, and serves as the appetizer to PvZ 2's main course. The implementation of sprays makes combat a bit more interactive, and there's a decent variety of plants to keep your strategy liquid. It could stand to implement a more forgiving energy mechanic, but unlike many other social games, it at least gives you something to do while you wait.
PvZ Adventures review photo
It's not PvZ 2, but it's a decent romp
The Plants vs. Zombies IP is a particularly interesting case. After creating one of the biggest casual hits of all time in 2009, Popcap kind of just sat on the property, keeping quiet about future plans despite its popularity...

GREE layoffs photo
GREE layoffs

Layoffs hit GREE offices in San Francisco


Mobile and social game company lays off 30 employees
May 11
// Kyle MacGregor
Japanese mobile and social game publisher GREE has laid off roughly 30 people at its San Francisco offices, GamesIndustry reports. "We have recently aligned GREE's US studio to focus on creating the next generation of mobile ...

Preview: Plants vs. Zombies Adventures

May 10 // Chris Carter
Plants vs. Zombies Adventures (Facebook)Developer: PopCapPublisher: PopCapRelease: May 20, 2013MSRP: Free (with microtransactions) Adventures has a pretty straight-forward setup: you'll have access to your own town (much like FarmVille -- wait, where are you going?), which you'll manage and build, and there's an opportunity to go on "Road Trips" which are essentially missions. As you take on more and more missions, you'll unlock new areas (and thus, more plants, content, buildings, and quests) in your town. Sound simple enough? Missions themselves are a tad different than the core game. Instead of an intimate grid-based setting, they take place on an isometric-style map, and feel like more of a traditional tower defense experience. Each plant has a different attack radius or ability just like in the core Plants vs. Zombies, and for the most part it plays out in the same way despite the change in view. Sunflowers still earn you sun, plants still need a certain amount of sun to build, and so on. There are a decent number of new plants -- some of which may make it into Plants vs. Zombies 2. One major change I actually enjoyed more in Adventures is the new spray mechanic. Using increments of 25 sun, you can choose to either increase the range (or use a hidden ability) of one of your plants, or freeze an enemy zombie for a few seconds. It adds a lot of strategy and can easily mean the difference between a win or a loss, even later in the game. While most social games would enact a paywall fairly early, these sprays help break down that wall and add more of a skill element to the experience, which is welcome. But of course, this is a social game, and you can't just go willy nilly and do missions all the time. The way PopCap "gets you" is by requiring players to go back to their home base of operations to create more plants. For instance, in order to use standard Peashooters and Sunflowers, you have to grow them at your home plot (it takes 60 seconds for standard plants to grow), and each plant costs a certain amount of Coins. So how do you earn Coins? By gathering them at structures in your town, which refill at periodic times (on average, they run on a two-hour timer). Normally this would result in a paywall of some sort, but I haven't experienced a hard paywall yet in many hours of play. Plants vs. Zombies Adventures has a lot to do, which is partially overwhelming, but it also (mostly) alleviates the annoying "wait-wall" (energy mechanic) found in most Facebook or social games -- depending on how enjoyable you find the other activities in the game. When you're waiting on Coins for missions, you can spruce up your town, invade other towns, defend your property from encroaching zombies, or do quests, like creating a certain amount of plants, or upgrading buildings. While a lot of people will most likely want to just go out and do missions all the time (you can't), at least there's some sort of option here. For instance, at one point where I'd normally have to wait an hour or so to earn more Coins to buy plants, I invaded a friend's town and stole Coins from his settlement, giving me enough money to do a few more missions while my Coin cache went back to normal. In order to actually do all of these things, you'll need to utilize three forms of currency -- Zombucks (earned through beating levels, they allow you to fix up your town and invade others), Coins (earned through farming buildings, which buys you plants), and Gems, which are the strictly real-money currency that can be used to buy either of the former currencies. To elaborate, Zombucks are the bread and butter of building a better town. You'll be able to clear out debris -- and thus, plots for buildings -- erect more coin-gathering buildings, and so on. Again, Coins are the lifeblood of actually playing the game, because without them, you can't buy plants, and as a result can't actually embark on missions. Coins follow the typical FarmVille-esque "wait then harvest" scheme, but it's a lot less sleazy and more upfront. Every few hours, your buildings will generate enough coins to handle a massive amount of stages -- at least five in the early game. Depending on your tastes, Plants vs. Zombies Adventures may be up your alley. The good news is while there is some form of an energy mechanic, there's a lot to do while you're waiting. Stay tuned for our full review shortly after launch, which is currently slated for May 20.
Plants vs. Zombies photo
A more traditional tower defense on Facebook
Well, Plants vs. Zombies Adventures certainly came out of nowhere. Many people feared it was actually the rumored Plants vs. Zombies 2, but alas, this is a completely separate project held entirely within Facebook. I can't ta...

Rockman Xover photo
Rockman Xover

Rockman Xover shows off Arcade Man footage


In other news, the game is still Rockman Xover
May 09
// Chris Carter
The strangely popular iOS abomination Rockman Xover is still getting new content, despite the fact that the localization is on hold. Specifically, the retro themed Arcade Man is now a part of the game, compliments of the Meg...
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EA scrapping The Sims Social, SimCity Social


Oh, and Pet Society ... ha ha
Apr 15
// Jim Sterling
The Sims Social is being scrapped by Electronic Arts, along with fellow Facebook games SimCity Social and Pet Society. In the case of SimCity, this will be a case of a game shutting down less than a year after launch. That wh...
Namco Bandai photo
Namco Bandai

Namco opening new studios in Vancouver, Singapore


Some positive news!
Apr 11
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
It seems like we've been hearing nothing but studio closers happening left and right. Well there's some good news in this field as Namco Bandai is opening up a new studio in Vancouver, Canada. The British Columbia Ministry of...
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Zynga: Tablets are becoming the ultimate game platform


Farmville dev praises your iPads and your Samsung Notethinkers
Mar 18
// Jim Sterling
Console fans will protest, PC fans will bellow in outrage, but Farmville developer Zynga believes tablet devices are on track to become the ultimate platform for gaming experiences. According to games president Steve Chi...
Zynga silliness photo
Zynga silliness

Zynga: Copying games is no big deal, don't worry about it


Who has time to be creative when you are providing a "service"?
Mar 12
// Tony Ponce
"Zynga is often accused of copying games, which is mostly true." Those were the words spoken by Dan Porter, General Manager of Zynga New York. It's no secret to anyone with the capacity for rational thought that the social ga...
BioWare SF photo
BioWare SF

BioWare San Francisco has reportedly been closed


'Too expensive' to make social games in Redwood Shores
Mar 04
// Jordan Devore
BioWare San Francisco (formerly EA2D), the developer behind Facebook game Dragon Age: Legends and Mirror's Edge 2D, has been shut down according to information provided by internal sources to GamesRadar and IGN. The closure o...
Social games photo
Social games

Social game with a conscience Half the Sky launches today


Trying to smack injustice in the face
Mar 04
// Daniel Starkey
Within the past year or so, there's been a new crop of social games that, one might say, have a conscience. Their goal isn't so much taking your money as it is encouraging you to be an organ donor or convincing you to give mo...
Rockman Xover photo
Rockman Xover

Rockman Xover going to Android, accepting boss designs


I'm sorta impressed that this game is still a thing
Feb 21
// Tony Ponce
[Custom boss by Heat Man] According to various hands-on impressions, we certainly dodged a bullet when Capcom decided to hold off on localizing Rockman Xover. Nonetheless, the free-to-play social title continues unabated in i...
PS4 Social photo
PS4 Social

PlayStation 4 social features revealed


Beyond the living room
Feb 20
// Kyle MacGregor
As a part of the PlayStation 4 reveal Lead System Architect Mark Cerny discussed the social features of the new platform. With PS4 Sony endeavors to make sharing video as easy as easy as it is to showoff a screenshot is today...
LovePlus photo
LovePlus

Collect women and save Japan from giant pudding


Konami unveils latest project from the team at LovePlus Production
Feb 17
// Kyle MacGregor
Konami has unleashed the latest project from the team at Love Plus Production upon the world. Fu-Un! Nadeshiko Collection launched back on Thursday via Japanese social networking service GREE and it looks...
God of War photo
God of War

God of War: Ascension's single-player demo hits Feb 26


Participate in Facebook "experience" to get early access
Feb 15
// Conrad Zimmerman
Sony has revealed the release date for the single-player demo of God of War: Ascension, which we have been told will be proliferating through the tubes of the internet on February 26. Not soon enough for you? There's also way...
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 ...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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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...

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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 ...
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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
Amazon.com 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...

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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...
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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...






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