Selling games without content

Discussion in 'Indie Related Chat' started by princec, Mar 30, 2005.

  1. princec

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    Occaisionally people moan that my games appear to have little or no content. Now that's dead true of Puppytron - it's especially content free - but Flux and Dudester aren't 10mb of nothing, they're packed full of content. The trouble is all the emphasis is on the gameplay rather than the content.

    A game with apparently more content than Flux, say, is Platypus - although in reality there's about the same, and a bit less gameplay to boot. The trick is how that content is applied to disguise gameplay with less depth.

    Zuma is a content-free game. It's basically the same all the way through. All that changes is the background pretty much.

    My question is, not related to Flux or Dudester or Puppytron please: what are the differences and techniques when trying to sell content-free games? I'm a big fan of games with deep gameplay that's derived from simple rules (and therefore minimal content).


    Cas :)
     
  2. etali

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    This reply probably isn't going to be much use to you, but I like games that are simple but fun too.

    What exactly do you mean by 'deep content'? An engrossing storyline? Lots of different levels with different things to solve?

    Games like that are fun if you sit and play them and see all the content, but I find their replay value isn't as great as something with a simple premise but that can just be picked up and played for a few minutes now and then.

    Who is complaining about the lack of content? Are they people in your target audience? To me gameplay is just as important, if not more so. If a game isn't fun and addictive to play who is going to stay around long enough to see everything you've put in?
     
  3. gpetersz

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    It is a hard question to answer. Zuma is great, but shame on me, I am starting to stop playing it, because it became a bit boring recently.
    Nonetheless, it worth all the money I paid for it, but as you said princec it is content-free. I got to level 9 in adventure mode and that is where my skills reached their boundaries, I cannot complete that stage, or if I could that would be a hard work. I experienced a bit with the survival mode, but it is not that fun (after trying 3-4 levels).

    So in my opinion, Zuma is the classic example of a casual game (and I am not a casual gamer ;) ). It is fun to play, addictive until it brings new features (new colored balls, some tricky level) then after some weeks (or days) it loses its shine a bit (my wife still plays it a lot).

    For me, it is a great game, without content what makes me to forget it and go on (but I already paid it, so the creators are happy! :D).

    There are some games that I do not even delete from my hard drive and they've been always archived (save games and so) for years, like Fantasy General, Age of Wonders (I-II). Very replayable, full of content.
     
  4. baegsi

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    Do you mean by content story and levels?

    I can only speak as a customer here. I don't see much difference in marketing, but I'd say: make the weakness a strength: content-free games are faster to play. While story based games require to play step-by-step and to progress in time, content-free games can be played instantly.

    Maybe you should ask yourself why you prefer games with deep gameplay.

    But if you find that lack of content harm your sales: why not add a simple story to your games? Shouldn't be a big deal. Last time I thought about how great this adds value to game was when I played Wik.
     
  5. svero

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    I think zuma is very content aware as are many other casual games. Zuma goes to great lengths to re-use levels while giving the player a nice long overall mission to complete the game. The "content" in this case is the mission length. The amount of time you have to spend playing before you can see all the game has to offer.

    Instead zuma could have just had you play the levels 1-20 in order and then go to a highscore screen. That would be like your games. I probably wouldn't have bought that game. It gives me a sense of completion. Nothing more to do.
     
  6. baegsi

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    I'd like to second that. Every game tells a story. At the beginning of computer games, the story was: you went from level 1 to level 20, made 1000 points and lost 5 lives. Nowadays, little more details are needed to create excitement. Typically, missions are used for that. But there're plenty of different ways thinkable. But that's off-topic, sorry.
     
  7. mahlzeit

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    Procedurally generated content allows you to re-use a few elements over and over again. For example, a 3D maze game where you have to escape from a mansion that is different each time you play. The actual content -- doors, walls, staircases, etc -- is limited but is combined in new ways by some fancy algorithm.
     
  8. princec

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    I specifically think that "story" is not content.. it is usually, for me, just something which I safely ignore and get on with the action. Zzed is a great example of false content. The reality is, Zzed is just a zumalike (ok, I know it's quite different, sort of a snood-zuma-asteroids fusion). It has a story which I simply clicked to get rid of to get to the next level.

    When I say content, I mean... like in Doom, the content was the levels. Not so much the monsters as there were actually very few monster types in Doom. You played Doom to see all the levels. Massive investment in level design.

    In R-Type, the classic shmup, you played to see the different levels and bosses and all the different wierdy aliens. There were tons of them. Massive art assets went into it.

    I know that svero thinks that Flux has little by way of content but in reality 99% of the players don't get to see at least half of the aliens in the game, which are all very, very different. How many people care that there are four bosses?

    This is my problem: I'm trying to keep content out of the equation because at the end of the day it takes a lot of investment to create, and as far as I'm concerned, it's a waste of money developing content if it only has a small effect on sales. In Alien Flux, the perennial example of all things wrong, we've got these four bosses which must have taken about a month do build, render, code, test and tune, and waste about a meg of download space to boot because they're really big sprites. But what's the point of them if a) no-one sees them and b) no-one perceives that they are actually content? Could I have gotten away without doing any bosses at all and just had all the different little aliens? I bet I could.

    Puppytron is a bit of a testament to minimalism.

    er.. back to my problem: I'm not sure I'm really marketing content-free games right. Most of the accepted wisdom in the world wrt. indie games marketing is written in the context of upsell based on more more more. More graphics, more powerups, more levels, more guns, more aliens, more bosses, etc. You pay for more stuff, but sadly this means that you spend all that effort on something that only a tiny fraction of people get to see. In effect it's totally wasted effort.

    So: rambling on... focus on selling games without content. Let's find some examples apart from Zuma (and even Zuma overdoes it a little)... Strange Adventures in Infinite Space - a very small amount of content cleverly jiggled in a huge number of combinations. Apparently sells well (anyone know if it does or not still?) Bejewelled is another one; bugger all content in it.

    What's the trick to selling these kinds of games? What cunning lure can you use to get that conversion? How does one make it addictive enough to make them want more of the same when the demo stops working?

    Cas :)
     
  9. princec

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    Yeah, but would you pay for it? As it sounds, it sounds "interesting" but not "compelling". It's the "compelling" that I'm trying to nail.

    Cas :)
     
  10. svero

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    I think i gave you the trick. Its how you re-use what you have. Alien flux could be re-ordered with a little map and missions in such a way as to appear to have a really big content rich mission to complete without adding more bosses or aliens etc..

    Take jewel quest for example. What has it got? Very little. You swap jewels and make combos just like bejeweled. But it seems to have a lot of gameplay simply because a map was added and they keep throwing levels at you and only minor differences from time to time. It's how they differences are introduced.

    I think maybe content is the wrong word. A better word might be goals. You have to give the player a lot of goals including really long term goals. Going back to zuma.. there's a game with 1 space level. The space level only appears after you've played every other level to death. Its just 1 final level to get to at the very end. The game still have 20 levels. You could play it 1-20 and be done with it. They chose to hold that level/goal off forcing the player to do a lot more and really get as much out of what content they had before letting the player check that goal off in their hypothetical todo game list.
     
  11. princec

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    But is the player going to hold off for that space level? I didn't even know there was a space level!

    I mean, very few people hold out to see the Alien Brain in 'Flux, and it's a pretty ultra cool boss if you ask me.

    But what it seems like you're saying is... you can get away with total lack of content, if you just have a few interacting elements that you can randomly mix and match up to make an apparently cool new level.

    Cas :)
     
  12. Savant

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    One thing that PopCap games do very well is drive the player forward. Sure, it's just level after level of essentially the same gameplay, but they typically wrap the game up in a story with progression between the sets of levels, they award you titles as you achieve higher scores, etc.

    That sort of thing makes the player want to keep playing.

    Big Kahuna Reef is another example. One of the big things that drives me forward to keep playing is that I want to unlock more fish to add to my tank. That's it. A simple little thing like that, but it kept me playing way beyond my trial hour and into a buying situation.
     
  13. Bmc

    Bmc New Member

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    I strongly disagree that story isn't content. In fact, story is one of the things that set Mahjong Quest apart from other Mahjong games.
     
  14. svero

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    >But is the player going to hold off for that space level?

    Yes. Players like goals. I think James C Smiths discussion of layered goals was essentially right on the mark. You don't really even need to know there's a space leve so long as you think there's something coming up. Although its best if the goal is clear.

    >I mean, very few people hold out to see the Alien Brain in 'Flux, and it's a
    >pretty ultra cool boss if you ask me.

    Right. Well that's where the maps and so on come in. If there had been some progress indicator in flux with something saying "here is the brain!" then it would have been more motivating. That's why I added a progress bar to my game with the nest at the end.

    >But what it seems like you're saying is... you can get away with total lack
    >of content, if you just have a few interacting elements that you can
    >randomly mix and match up to make an apparently cool new level.

    Yep. But to use it to best effect mix it with some kind of goal. Sometimes people try to use stories but it doesnt work that much if the story is not very compelling. I agree for isntance in zzed that the story adds little or nothing to the game. The map of the galaxies to visit is very effective though.

    You see the map is not a play device. It's a motivation device, and a marketing device. That is to say.. adding the map doesnt really fundamentally change the game or the levels you have. But it does show the player how much they've completed, how much more they can expect to see, and what their next medium term goal is. (ie reach the next galaxy). It's all about goals. There are other ways to motivate players like collecting stars and so on, but that's why we re-see the map or the thumbnail selection screen. In downloadable games maps aren't just play/goal devices, but they also double as a selling tool because they make clear to the player what the difference between the demo and the full version is in an implicit very visual way.
     
  15. princec

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    I could stick in a story in Puppytron that is gradually unveiled every level... but let's face it, you wouldn't call that compelling content, would you? (Cheesy maybe ;))

    Ok, let's qualify "content" as being "stuff you are compelled to see more of". I don't think that any game that is not intrinsically based on a storyline has compelling content if it's got a story. Case in point: Zzed. Worthless story, has no effect on playing the game if you read it or not. I didn't read it.

    Cas :)
     
  16. princec

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    Hm, now, I've tried the map in Dudester but it hasn't helped at all. Medals are where it's at I think. The primary goal is to escape in record time; the secondary goal is to get all the medals; the tertiary goal is to see all the levels.

    Cas :)
     
  17. luggage

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    I think there's good content and poor content to be honest. Alien Flux just didn't grab me - first few levels felt exactly the same. Stuff teleported in and off we go again.

    A lot of it was to do with the style, just having an empty play area, and then moving onto the next level just felt like the game didn't have much content. You could have a thousand individual handcrafted levels with dozens of bosses but if the first handful of levels are too similar people won't continue to play and won't see them.

    Svero mentions having a map like screen to find your way around. This is quite a good way to sell a game with not much content. Gives you a chance to see how much of the game there is to play, you can look and see how well you've done, you can see there's boss stages, you can keep some things hidden, etc. And it's not that much extra content.

    Likewise you could maybe have a few tiles that... ermm.. tile. With these you could build some simple levels. For the amount of effort to knock up a few gfx and a simple map editor it would add a lot of gameplay\content.

    You could tie all this in together for Alien Flux by maybe having a solar system with 5 planets in. Perhaps you start with the closest planet, clicking it gives you a planet view where the individual levels are. Maybe there's 5 say. You can do these levels in any order. The background graphic can look fiery as it's closest to the sun (furthest out would be icy), the tile for making the level would fit into the fiery theme as well. Then have a boss at the end of the planet. You could give each player an award they can see for each level. Let them go back and improve if they wish.

    For 5 background graphics, tiles, bosses (granted the bosses might be a bit heavy :) ) - maybe a hidden planet\level or two you've increased the perceived content in the game.

    waffle over.
     
  18. Bmc

    Bmc New Member

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    The map wasn't really clear. Just a bunch of boxes with a start flag and an end flag.

    Honestly, I've played super dudester and it's not bad. I can see reasons why it may not be selling, but it certainly doesn't suck. The only thing is I don't think I'd be willing to pay for it.

    Also, it's probably old news by now by I would like to point out a few things:
    1) First time it's ever been installed. I run the game and get an alert that says the game did not shutdown properly last time. Strange since I just installed it.
    2) After clicking OK on the first dialog I get a second. This once is an Older version alert warning. It tells me to visit puppygames.net and download the newest version (or something along those lines). Strange since I just downloaded it a couple of minutes ago.

    I'm running Windows XP Pro.
     
    #18 Bmc, Mar 30, 2005
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2005
  19. princec

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    Maybe Flux 2 eh? Hehe. I'm sick to death of tweaking that game. TBH I had thought that the fact that every level, a new alien appears, would seem like content to most people. And every alien is very different from the last and requires a different strategy. That's what I was getting at... how would I manage to make this feel like loads of new stuff? Puppytron for example only has 5 basic alien types or so and it's selling OK. So you're saying the trick is to actually lay out in front of the punter a map of all the content, whether there is any more or not, and that'll help?

    You know, svero said this to me over a year ago :) Dammit. But just at the point he said it I'd finally gotten sick of tweaking Flux and moved on.

    Cas :)
     
  20. svero

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    Well its not exactly right though. The map in dudester does not provide long term or medium term player goals. It's not "Add a map any map".. its "provide a 1 month goal for the player, a 1 minute goal, a 1hr goal"
     

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