[casual_games] Myriad

Audry Taylor talshannon at hotmail.com
Mon Oct 9 21:10:08 EDT 2006

I'm new here, so let me start by saying hello!  I had to wade through quite 
a few duplicate posts today because I'm on digest mode, but I enjoyed 
everything I read.  Here's a plethora of responses:

>I have spoken to one portal about a way for the game to know if it's in
>the try-to-buy period, and they were very against it, mainly because
>they didn't feel that the devs would use it effectively (i.e. turn off
>the wrong features, show an incomplete game, etc).  They felt that the
>user should have a true experience in the try-to-buy period.

Does the portal in question make money whether or not the players buy one 
specific full game?  (Do they make money off of ad revenue or subscriptions? 
  Then they would be less motivated to limit a player's access to one 
specific game.)

They are probably right that some devs would not use it effectively, just as 
some devs don't use programming effectively and build bad or boring games.  
Not using this method of try-to-buy because it might be used wrongly would 
be the same as not providing games at all because some of them might be bad 

>I don't
>agree.  I think building "demos" that people can play (maybe forever) is
>a much better idea that just letting them play the whole game for an

I think it would depend on the game.  If it's still got more to offer after 
an hour -- if, in fact, the best was yet to come, then the player might be 
seduced into buying it.  But if WYSISWYG, disabling some of the better 
features might be a preferable option.

> > We're seeing a lot of players focusing on the
> > single-player campaign (the story mode, or similar).
> > Once they've finished the campaign, their motivation
> > for actually purchasing the product drops
> > dramatically, even if there's still additional puzzle
> > or community modules that they haven't explored.

If you're playing a game secretly at work, it's not practical to get 
involved in a community module. ;-)  If you start a game from a "lone wolf" 
perspective, it's hard to switch gears to a "social butterfly" perspective.  
If you start a game from an "it's free entertainment" perspective, it's hard 
to believe that it's "worth" paying for later on.  These are the possible 
reasons that pop in to my mind for why consumers might not follow through on 
a purchase.  If you can get the milk for free, why pay for the cow?

I played the demo version of Bejeweled on my cell for months.  Finally, 
their gentle "payment" reminders became so annoying that I became motivated 
enough to purchase the game.  Getting the milk for free had become too 
difficult, but I was still interested in more milk.

>Also, I know that many companies have researched the time limit/product
>content/price ratios very carefully and, generally speaking, the 1 hour
>+ $20 + feature unrestricted has worked best for mainstream casual
>titles. Like many of you, we'd also wondered how they'd arrived here and
>had planned a series of tests.

That's interesting.  My company is developing a $10 price point, at which we 
would make our money back with only a small number of sales.  I have thought 
about whether or not this price point would strike our target audience as 
being "too low" but in our case, I have myriad reasons to think it's "just 
right."  We're an unusual case, though, as what we're developing isn't so 
much "casual" gaming as "episodic" gaming.  It's just that we share a 
similar demographic (females).

>Regarding the evolution of the $19.95 price point. Long ago Real Networks
>did some customer research and found that there's little price point
>elasticity below $19.95.  There wasn't any significant increase in 
>when the price point was reduced as a standard pricing.  And price points
>above $19.95 for the average casual games caused a significant reduction in

Do you know how long ago they did this research and who made up the 
demographic at that point?

>my opinion, the user may feel that the game is of lesser quality because of
>the lower price point.  A $19.95 price point may inherently give the game
>the feeling of higher quality.  Remember...it's not from the perspective of
>a Developer.  It's from the perspective of a 38yr old female who is the
>target market and not on this distribution list.

She is now.  ^_^  I'm 30 and female and I don't play hardcore "gamer" games. 
  Do I count?

For a "big" game, I would think $10 was too cheap and implied poor quality 
gameplay.  But for a "small" game (most online/casual games), I often feel 
"sticker shock" when I see a price tag of $20.  As a practical woman, I ask 
myself what else I could be spending that $20 on.  You're not just competing 
with other games for a practical woman's money; you're competing with the 
needs of her kids (if she has any), her wardrobe, her car, her iTunes & 
ipod, her DVD collection, her laptop, and any software she's thinking of 
buying.  If I play free games instead of buying them for $20 a pop, I can 
afford so many other things...like the shoes I *can't* get for free.

OTOH, if I couldn't get games for free (not even demos) I would probably 
subscribe to a portal that would allow me to access a diverse array of games 
for a set fee that I could work into my budget.  I would prefer a portal 
that themed its games toward me, so I wouldn't be wasting my money on games 
I would never play (golf, racing, FPS -- blah).  FYI, I'm on Puzzle Pirates 
because I'm a pirate fiend.

>My point is, we HAVE given them 5 hours of entertainment - 2x as long as a
>feature film that costs $7-10 bucks to see. So isn't that worth *something*
>- even if not $20?

No.  Not if you can get it for free.

Now if you *can't* get it for free, 5 hours of casual gaming is still not 
worth as much as 2 hours of a really great $10 movie -- not if you go to the 
movie to cry and bond with your family or s.o., while you're only playing 
the casual game to pass five minutes of boredom at work.  The *reward* of 
playing a casual game is different than the *reward* of a good movie and 
therefore priced differently in the head of some consumers.  Some people 
will value gaming above a movie experience.  But some people consider casual 
gaming a way to "pass the time" and don't feel it's worth throwing more than 
a few dollars at.

>If they get even an hour of enjoyment from our game,
>what's that worth? A quarter? A buck? A couple of bucks? It seems that the
>casual game player is really looking for a few hours of entertainment - so
>we need to be looking for ways to monetize THAT - not looking at ways to
>cram a 10 hour game down their throat.

Sounds like a good idea to me.

>We're all still clinging to an
>outdated idea that games have to be AAA 24 hour masterpieces at a high 
>point to survive.

I've never understood this idea, as the longer a game boasted of being, the 
less inclined I was to buy it.  The same with the price point -- the higher 
it was, the less likely I was to buy a game.  As for those super-expensive 
visuals -- I thought many of them were ugly.  They generally weren't 
designed to appeal to a 30-something female, were they?

>What if we let go of that belief, and see our games for
>what they really are: popcorn entertainment for the masses.

The dime novels of today.  The cheap traveling carnival of the internet that 
lets you win free stuffed animals (or virtual ones).

>I hang out with my business school friends all the time. They are our EXACT
>target demographic: Over 30, primarily female, lots of disposable income,
>highly computer literate. They ALL play casual games. And NONE of them buy

Ask them what they'd rather spend their money on.  THAT'S your competition.

>They just surf the hour demos, and that's all they need.

Well, that's all they need that's currently available.  There may be other 
things they need/want that don't exist yet.  :::wink:::

>If THAT is the experience they want, lets give it to them in a
>way they are willing to pay something for. Most of them use Rhapsody or
>iTunes - so I know hey are willing to drop a buck or two every now and then
>for digital entertainment - but they are NOT willing to drop 20 bucks for a
>gem-matching game or Galaga clone when they can go down to Best Buy and 
>up WoW or Oblivion for 30-40. This is our audience, and they are TELLING us
>what they want with their buying behavior. Why don't we listen?

"Why don't they look?"

"You're deep, Ernie."

Ever thought of running a casual gaming poll in a women's magazine?

Or at an online community for women?

Can you offer it free, short, and easy?  (Size matters when it's too big to 
fit into our lives.)  Okay, if you're going to make me pay for it, can you 
offer me an easy way of paying and playing?  Will you cater to my individual 
tastes?  Will you give me discounts and bonuses?  Will I get an obscene 
amount of fun for very little money?  Maybe I should get some iPod skins 

>As for all of the problems with micropayments, etc., I think the solution 
>pretty simple. There are about 10 really big portals that sell the vast
>majority of games in the industry now: Real, Reflexive, Big Fish, Yahoo,
>MSN, Oberon, Boonty, Wild Tangent, Trymedia, a few others. If all of them
>could introduce a model that started monetizing a few hours of play, I 
>we would be on to something.

I'll stick with Puzzle Pirates.  Try and figure out why. ;-)

>Visualize this, from the consumer perspective:
>1) You go to PORTALX and buy $20 worth of tokens. The credit card charge is
>on that, and thus no bigger a problem than it is now.
>2) You can play as many games as you want, as often as you want. But every
>time you open the application again, it knocks off a quarter.
>3) If those quarters ever reach the purchase price, "whammo" - you own the
>4) That's it.

Thinking like consumer...okay, so I'm opening an account and putting $20 in 
it?  I use that $20 to pay for a quarter game.  This game costs $4 total, so 
when I've played it 24 times it's mine.  So from now on when I play it, it 
doesn't cost me anything?  But if I only play it once and don't like it, 
then I've only wasted a quarter?  I can see the value in that.

>There are a hundred things you can do with a model like that, like:
>- give discounted tokens when the player buys $50 worth

My inner non-spender likes the sound of this.

>- have brand new games cost 2 tokens for a week

I'd just wait until it wasn't new.

>- have the very first play of some of the discount games be free

Very interested.

>- give the first time buyers an extra $5 of tokens


>- Give out tokens for winning games of contests

Very nice.

>The list goes on and on and on - and we're not doing ANY of it - instead,
>we're straightjacketing ourselves in a very restrictive and inefficient $20
>a game model that's creating a very brutal crap-shot industry of a few 
>winners and a lot of losers.

Well, there will always be plenty of losers.  Sturgeon's Law.  But a lot of 
consumers might be happier playing 4 games at $5 a pop than 1 game at $20.

>if we
>STOPPED GIVING AWAY OUR GAMES FOR FREE, we might all make some money at
>this, no?

If there were no free professional games, I could spend my time playing 
student's games and experimental games and a million other free things 
online.  I could spend my time on youtube and myspace and d/l music.  
Eliminating free games won't force people to pay for games.  To get them to 
spend money, they need to feel like they're getting their money's worth.  
The games have to be good, affordable, convenient, fun, easy, and probably 
offered in bulk.  They have to be a *better experience* than the free 
experiences they will always be competing against.

If you can make a game that is better than all the free demos people already 
play, people just might pay for it.

>How do we fix this model, and get our window shoppers to pay up?

Does it come in green?

>As of May I believe they were at 1.4M subscribers
>paying $35/year or $5/month - for a premium version of the web game
>experience. The biggest selling point of the subscription are the enhanced
>community features - badges/challenges, private chat, members only chat
>rooms, etc.

I'm still sticking with Puzzle Pirates...but feeling slightly tempted...$5 a 

>We will be something of a "YouTube for web games" site - anyone can upload 
>game, though only the highest rated ones will make it to the homepage. When
>you upload a game, it is auto-magically wrapped with chat, profiles, rich
>media ads, etc. With just a smidgen of programming you can use our 1-click
>microtransaction payment system, and make your game part of our
>challenge/card system. We share revenue from ads and microtransactions.

For that demographic, that sounds like a stellar idea.  My brother will 
probably flip over it.  He isn't old enough to have a credit card yet, 
though, so we'll see how he pays for it.

>I think the big issue isn't price, but the 1-hour try to buy.  We're
>created this "kid in a candystore" mentality with players.

More like a kid on Halloween, because the candy doesn't cost anything!  The 
same kid would pay for candy in the store, if they didn't have so much free 
stuff sitting in a bag at home already.

>There are so
>many of these games, and most are just clones of each other, that you
>can play for days and days and do nothing but download demos.  There is
>very little reason to buy anything.

Yes.  Absolutely.  You betcha.  From now on, there will always be free 
entertainment available to the masses, thanks to the internet.  Always.  
Welcome to the age where you have to compete with the worst competition in 
the world -- anything that's fun, easy, and free.

>How well would movies work if the only way
>you got people to go see them was to let them watch the first 10

Crappy movies would certainly suffer.  Gripping movies might do better.  It 
would depend on the movie and whether or not the story "hooked" you.  But 
movies are different than games.  You can get a game's entire experience in 
10 minutes, whereas a movie is only just getting started.

>The fallowing is based on the actual sales data from the last 12 moths of
>game sales in Reflexive Arcade. I have no idea what percent of the 
>are made by the top games. But I can tell you exact numbers for the games
>that generate the most gross revenue.  In a 12 months period, the top
>selling 20 game accounted for 42.6% of the gross revenue generated in that
>period by all games combined.  The top 30 games accounted for 51.3% of the
>revenue.  To get to 80% of the gross revenue you have to include the top 

That doesn't sound too different than publishing, movies, or any other 
entertainment industry.  The top stuff sells the most, and everyone else 
just manages to get by.

>But the market can only handle so many. There is
>a limited amount of shelf space. There is a limit to how many brands the
>consumer can recognize. There is a limit to how small the differences
>between the cereals can get before they don't really matter anymore.

And there is a limit to how much the human brain can handle.  As Average 
Jane, I can remember the names of maybe three games 
(Bejeweled...Pong...Sudoku...);  one portal (Pogo, because I heard it in the 
last five minutes); three movies that are currently playing 

I suspect there IS a glut of casual games out there.  Or rather, a glut of 
unorganized derivatives.  There are MILLIONS of books in the world, but I 
don't feel confused when I go into a bookstore because I know what section 
to go to, and from there I can just browse a select few books.  But online, 
there are so many game choices with so little organization that it can get 
pretty bewildering.  Maybe that's why my Average Jane side tries out the 
famous ones and skips the rest.

>It is normal in almost any industry for the top 30 items to generate half
>the revenue. It is not a side effect of the 1 hour demo or the $20 price
>point. I am willing to bet that if every game cost 25 cents per play you
>would still see the top 30 games taking 50% of the revenue. If all games
>were free to play and supported by advertising revenue I believe the top 30
>most popular games will still generate 50% of the ad revenue.

THAT I can't argue with.  I've seen it in every other entertainment industry 
I'm familiar with.

>There are many thing the casual games industry could change to maximize
>revenue for all parties involved. There are some customers we are not
>effectively reaching.  But don't use type mythical "80% of the sales coming
>form 20-30 games" as proof that the industry is broken.

I have no idea if it's broken myself, but I do know that some customers are 
not being reached, and that other customers could probably be reached 
better.  This is probably pretty normal for any entertainment industry, 
though.  Focus for most industries tends to be on one reliable demographic 
catered to in one reliable way -- until some upstart comes along and shakes 
things up with their newfangled ideas.

I'm glad I found this list.  There seem to be plenty of upstarts here and I 
look forward to seeing the newfangled concepts you come up with!

Audry Taylor
Creative Director
Go! Comi

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