A New Model for Free-to-Play Games Design

Our friends over at GamesBrief have been working on hard on creating a graphic to represent a new model for creating great free-to-play games. As free-to-play has turned games design on its head it’s no wonder that GamesBrief has opted to use a funnel to represent the business of free-to-play and a pyramid to represent the game.

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It’s good to grind: choosing the right virtual currency model

Designing games for children is difficult. There are a wide spread of skills and abilities, even between narrow ages; a six year old girl is very different to a 10 year old boy. To cater to a range of players we prefer to design economies that reward grinding not just skill – we don’t want only the older, more skilful, players to be able to succeed. Grinding allows anyone (who spends enough time) to do well.

Grinding is a term relating to activity the player does over and over again in order to complete an objective or get to the next level. For example, it could be harvesting gold or completing fetch quests. Admittedly grinding sounds like a negative term, but it doesn’t have to be, grinding activities can be fun too.

Grinding games are monetized in two ways:
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The ten best social game articles of 2012 – part 1

Our This Week in Social Games newsletter is now into its second year, and what a year it’s been in the world of social games. We’ve had the meteoric rise of Draw Something, the confusing “Gacha-gate” in Japan and more Zynga stories than we know what to do with.

To celebrate, we’ve compiled the ten most popular articles from TWISG (that’s what we all it at Dubit) over the past six months and put them all in one handy blog post.

Want the week’s most insightful social gaming and virtual world articles sent to your inbox every week? Then sign-up to receive TWISG.

1. Why Diablo 3 is less addictive than Diablo 2

We love Diablo here at Dubit and it’s been a huge success. Forget all the news about server problems, the game sold 6.3 million units in its first week! However, the latest game in the series hasn’t proved as popular with fans as some would have hoped. Why? Well, blogger and software engineer Alex Curelea thinks it’s down to game’s lack of a reward loop which is leaving players frustrated. For more on this and why it’s a lesson all developers can learn from, read Alex’s blog post.

2.Billionaire loses $704m due to ban on social game mechanic

In May this year Yoshikazu Tanaka lost $704m when Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency said it was considering whether a social game mechanic called “complete gacha” violates the law. For an informed explanation of complete gacha take a look at this post on Gamasutra. Since then a council of major Japanese social game studios moved to outlaw the practice before the Consumer Affairs Agency could get involved, as Japan looks to clamp down on excessive spending in games. For more on the story, check out Pocket Gamer.
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All of the top 10 video games of 2011 are sequels

What does it cost to make a top selling video game? For Modern Warfare 3, over $45m. Gears of War 3, in excess $10m. Skyrim cost over $85m including marketing! And what do ten of the top selling video games have in common? In 2011, they were all sequels.

With some games having development and marketing budgets which exceed $100m (Star Wars The Old Republic cost $130), it’s no surprise that game developers don’t want to take risks on new concepts and new brands. And so every year we get the same tried and tested game mechanics repackaged with a shiny new veneer. But there are solutions to this, and many people believe Kickstarter is one of the best.

If you’ve missed the hype, Kickstarter the three year old crowd-funding site where every week tens of thousands of people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, games, fashion, food, and publishing. Of course, we’re mostly interested in games, and the best thing for game developers: They don’t have to answer to a pointy haired marketing manager they can make their game true to their vision.

To date, Kickstarter has funded some truly original games. To celebrate this uniqueness we’ve compiled a list of the nine most interesting games funded by Kickstarter. Why nine? Because we’re being different and Kickstarter is all about being different.
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The 2012 social gaming glossary: the 13 terms & 8 benchmarks everyone should know

There’s nothing we geeks enjoy more than inventing new words. Performant. That’s not a real word. It’s just another way of saying efficient: the server is performant. The world doesn’t need the word ‘performant’, but at least it’s meaning easy to guess. Online game jargon, on the other hand, is not so straightforward. K-Factor anyone? A new reality TV show? A new cereal? Nope, it’s the measure of viral growth. Obvious when you think about it…

That’s why I thought I’d start the year with a social game and virtual world glossary. I’ve listed the 13 most important terms, what they mean, and benchmarks.

So if you’ve ever wondered how much the average person spends in a virtual world, or what stickiness actually measures, then this post is for you.

1. Churn

The percentage of users who leave your game each month, or sometimes measured as the percentage who leave each week. For example, if a game that has 100 users at the start of the month, and 70 of those users are still playing the game at the end of the month, then we would say the churn rate is 30% because 30 of the original 100 people left that month.
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Fighting against free is like fighting against gravity

Digital content will be free. Tv will be free, games will be free, books will be free, music will be free. All digital entertainment will be free. Fighting against free is like fighting against gravity. Why? Because digital distribution is free.

The internet is the most efficient distribution network ever invented. If something can be digitized if can be distributed for almost zero cost. It sounds obvious, but the impact is profound.

In the past businesses relied on distribution to protect their prices:

  • Writing the news is easy. Creating a network of printing presses and distribution centres to get the news across the country in the same day is hard.
  • Creating music is easy. Recording an album, burning a CD, and setting up a network of shops to sell the music is hard.

When you buy a newspaper or a CD only a small part of the price goes towards the cost of creating the content. You’re really paying for the distribution.

Today anyone can write their own blog or create their own music. But it’s not the citizen journalists that are threatening the newspapers. The real threat are the millions of ordinary people who email news stories to their friends!
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The ten best social gaming articles of 2011 – Part one

We’ve been publishing our This Week in Social Games (TWISG) newsletter for six months. It’s our weekly e-newsletter that contains that week’s most insightful articles on social games and virtual worlds and delivers them as a digest into our subscriber’s inbox.

But that’s not meta enough for us at Dubit. So now we’ve scoured all the issues of TWISG and produced this list of the top ten articles (based on clicks). It’s a bit like those annuals you used to get as a kid but you don’t have to wait for Christmas.

Want the week’s most insightful social gaming and virtual world articles sent to your inbox every week? Then sign-up to receive TWISG.

1 . Do you speak metrics? (free sign-up required)

Do you know your WAU from your ARPU? What’s the K-Factor? If this makes no sense to you then you have been one of the many people who clicked this story. Unfortunately it requires registration to Games Industry Biz but if you’re not signed-up already, now’s the time.
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How many friends does a Moshi Monsters player invite? And what is Moshi Monsters’ viral growth?

Way back in 2010, as Moshi Monsters signed up their 30 millionth user, Michael Acton Smith (Moshi CEO) presented a breakdown of registered users by marketing channel.

There’s a couple of interesting snippets from Acton Smith’s presentation, I want to focus on two of them:

  • The power of TV advertising
  • Moshi Monsters viral growth

If you’re in a rush, scroll down the post to see Acton Smith’s presentation slides.

The Power of TV

For a long time online kids games and virtual worlds have left TV advertising well alone; it’s expensive, can’t be tracked, poor conversion, and all the other reasons (or if you prefer, old wives tales).

Those myths are just not true any more. At GDC 2010, Acton Smith revealed that Moshi Monsters’ targeted TV campaigns have been one their most cost effective marketing channels. And it isn’t just true for Moshi Monsters, we’ve seen very similar results with the campaigns we’ve run for our clients.
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Design a social game economy: how much should a virtual t-shirt cost?

What have FarmVille, FrontierVille, and Facebook’s most popular game, CityVille, got in common? All made by Zynga, all very popular, all making barrels of cash, all have the suffix “Ville”… so lots of things in common really. But for this post, we’re interested because they share a game design built around a virtual economy. Zynga know that a well designed virtual economy will make a game more fun, players will stay longer, and more of them will pay. That’s the good news. Get the economy wrong and even a great game won’t make money.

In this post I’m going to show how to use a ‘scientific’ approach to design a game economy – where ever possible we try to use data models to set the prices of virtual goods rather than hopeful guessing!

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Converting players into payers in five steps

Remember the first time you played Farmville, why did you do it? Were you looking for more ways to spend money online? Or was it because you were bored? Maybe a friend recommended the game? Or the advert just sounded fun? Unless you’ve got more money than Mark Zuckerburg, I’d bet it was one of the later reasons. Your players are no different: no-one plays Farmville because they just can’t wait to buy more virtual goods, and yet some do get their wallets out. This post is about how to convert some of your players into payers.

Remember, your game is not just a game, it’s a marketing and sales process. When a new player joins your game, he’s not just a player, he’s a sales opportunity. Your job is to design an experience that, over time, converts those opportunities into sales.

We start by thinking about the end of the sales funnel. Why will anyone get excited enough about your game to get their credit card out, because I’m pretty sure virtual goods don’t fall into the bottom two levels of Maslows hierarchy. Then figure out the steps between a new, yet to be convinced player, and one who has become excited enough to open their wallet.

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