Trends

Discussion in 'Development & Distribution' started by Phil Steinmeyer, Jan 17, 2008.

  1. Phil Steinmeyer

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    I've been away for a while am just starting to return my focus to casual games. While I paid fairly intense attention to the business for a while, I have barely been monitoring it much for the last ~12 months, and only paid moderate attention in the ~6 months before that.

    So I've been poking around a bit and trying to see what the trends have been over the last 18 months.

    It's kinda interesting, because there were some areas that I thought or hoped would change that really haven't, and some modest surprises as well.

    Here are my reactions (and questions) to what seems to have changed in the last 12-18 months. But I'm only in the early stages of catching up and may have missed some stuff - please correct me where I'm wrong, or otherwise add your comments (and answers to my open questions).

    These observations apply mainly to the traditional, portal-driven casual space. I've only played a modest number of the games that have come out recently - mostly the top 10 on RealArcade.

    Game Genres: Hidden object is dominant now. This is a bit surprising to me - I don't really enjoy most hidden object games that much. Presumably this is a phase, as Zuma-like games once were. Still, it's interesting...

    Production values: The hidden object games are mainly 3D rendered, which I suppose is a bit beyond the traditional 2D stuff. But overall, (and especially outside of the hidden object genre) production values don't seem to have gone up that much. There seem to be more particles, and download sizes seem bigger.

    Multiplayer: I keep waiting for multi-player, or even more community-oriented techniques (like MSN's badges) to become much more important. But not much seems to have happened here. Perhaps it's all happening outside of the portal-driven casual space, and/or the portals are actively stifling this (because they don't want developers/publishers to develop direct relationships with the players).

    Business side: It seems the major portal players are roughly the same, and there haven't been any really big/surprising entries/exits from the business. Am I missing anything here? Any big mergers or startups?

    Licensed games: There doesn't seem to have been much growth in licensed games. It seems that original titles with original IP are still dominant. This is slightly surprising (but mostly a good thing, IMO).

    Mobile: I never paid too much attention to mobile, as it seemed an impractical market for me (I'm basically a lone wolf) to address. Moreover, I don't really play mobile games myself, so I'm really out of touch here. But a few rumblings I get suggest that mobile has grown less attractive. Is that because the industry is slumping, the carriers are taking a bigger slice, it's become a province of only big and/or foreign developers, or something else? Or is my conclusion wrong in the first place?

    Mac: Despite Apple's overall health, and some signs I think I've seen of growth in the Mac platform as a whole, it seems that casual game focus on the Mac is still quite small. I did a Mac version of Bonnie's Bookstore, but I doubt I can really justify it going forward.

    Flash: Has Flash taken over as far as on-line play goes? (I know it was well ahead a year or two ago, but has the lead expanded further?)

    Ads: Have advertisements grown as a revenue source for portals? Are developers seeing a cut?

    Developer/Publisher/Portal blurring: Has the developer/publisher/portal line blurred further?

    Other stuff - What else am I missing?
     
  2. Michael Flad

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    I can only talk about the mobile side of things at the moment.

    It got harder and harder to get a game on the carriers decks as they're just not interested in much new content - quite the opposite. Reducing the number of games on their decks usually results in the same amount of revenues but with less work to do. The reson is obvious - users don't plan / search a lot before buying a $5 mobile game - they just buy whatever they get offered the most easy way (talking about brands).
    In general it's just too little a market to get more support $50 million is just peanuts for Verizon & Co and there's no way to skyrocket this at the moment.
    I guess/hope games will become more interesting as the other services get cheaper and cheaper over time.
     
  3. Greg Squire

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  4. Phil Steinmeyer

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    Michael - what you say makes sense. If the value is primarily in controlling the eyeballs (as opposed to offering a quality product), then the business of (mobile) game development is going to be hard, especially for a US-based developer with higher costs than, say, a Russian developer.

    ===

    Greg, thanks for the links.

    The State of the industry thread seems to have devolved quickly into the usual anti-portal rant fairly quickly. Not much there. It *is* interesting to see things were better in "the good old days" (a year or three ago). IIRC, people were making largely the same claim back then, too.

    I'd seen the Activision-Vivendi thing, but I don't think that affects this corner of the market much.

    I totally missed PopCap acquiring Retro64. Grats Mike!

    I'm a little surprised that there haven't been further significant transactions in the casual space.
     
    #4 Phil Steinmeyer, Jan 17, 2008
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2008
  5. jcottier

    jcottier New Member

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    > production values don't seem to have gone up that much

    I think this is inacurate. Production values is a lot higher than 18 months ago.

    JC
     
  6. Phil Steinmeyer

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    I just played Azada - now THAT game has high production values...
     
    #6 Phil Steinmeyer, Jan 17, 2008
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2008
  7. lennard

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    Phil Steinmeyer... not The Phil Steinmeyer? Dude I thought you had died or something. Glad to see you back.
     
  8. Adrian Cummings

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    Regards mobile (j2me/java)... it is much harder now than approx 18 months ago, although still possible of course to ship games content to aggregators and some deck partners through their preferred aggregators - albeit just not as easy now. Mobile 'portals' are usually always willing to take good 'paid for' content so no problem there, but sales via them alone are usually poor to moderate from experience.

    Very recently I switched all my own direct off site mobile content to FREE in ad-wrapped form, as that has done ok alongside normal paid sales. That way the consumer gets the choice of both perhaps and I get paid more importantly!

    I plan to do exactly the same with my own PC content shortly (hopefully).
     
    #8 Adrian Cummings, Jan 18, 2008
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2008
  9. Michael Flad

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    Btw. did some brainstorming about casual PC games and especially the Hidden Object genre.

    I don't think they will fade away in a way like Match 3 or Zuma clones did - and the reason is, IMO, the difference between what's the main focus of these genres.

    With Match3/Zuma it's basically about the core game mechanic and it doesn't add much to change the background images etc. On the other side, with HO it's all about the locations and all the little objects to find. So even if the mechanic is pretty similar it's a more different experience than playing another Match3/Zuma.
    It's a it like reading different books ... but well I can be way wrong f.i. if another new major genre hits the casual market.
     
  10. Phil Steinmeyer

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    At least some of the hidden object games seem to have weak themes - too much random stuff scattered about with little overall consistency.

    Of the handful that I've played, I liked the recent Agatha Christie game (nice implementation of a theme, and I'm an Agatha Christie fan anyways), and Azada as well, although that one's not really hidden object in the conventional sense. Azada reminds me a bit of 7th Guest and the like, and from way back in the day, The Fool's Errand.
     
  11. James C. Smith

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    Your analysis of the changes seems dead on.

    There has been little growth in Mac causal games but I think that growth will be accelerated soon.

    Hidden Object (HO) games are dominating most portals but Click Management (CM) games (like Dinner Dash) are also extremely popular. Sim games have also gained a lot of traction. It is interesting how biased some portals are to some game types. Big Fish is dominated by HO games and has relatively few CM games compared to most portals. They also have more Adventures games than most portals. But Yahoo is dominated by CM games and has very few HO games. See this article of mine to see a summary: Top-10 Data Review: Q2 and Q3, 2007. Also check out the beta version of my new and improved World Map on Game-Sales-Charts.com. Now you can highlight games by core play mechanic, see any day in history or a summary of a date range, and select which portals to show. For example, here is a summary of Q4 2007 for the major portals. This makes is very easy to highlight the HOs vs. the CMs on all the big portals in the past 3 months.

    If you want to play a really good HO try Mortimer Beckett or Little Shop Big City. If you want to play a really good game, that sold really well and is not a HO then try Build-a-lot
     
    #11 James C. Smith, Jan 18, 2008
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2008
  12. Michael Flad

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    +1 for Build a Lot - very addictive game - it's some kind of RTS light (or an extended Click Management game).
     
  13. NielsK

    NielsK New Member

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  14. Phil Steinmeyer

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    Eh - you guys got me addicted to Build a Lot.

    It's a clever game (though it does get repetitive after a while).
     
    #14 Phil Steinmeyer, Jan 19, 2008
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2008
  15. Fastestmanintheworld

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    Apologies if I'm a little OT here - in the spirit of throwing far-future-thoughts around, I'm interested in the indies' role in:

    - the possiblilites of gaming on the iPod/Zune/iWhatever, taking advantage of the 20-30 age-group who grew up with a GB in their hands

    - touchscreen game mechanics on the previous

    - transfer of community-based 'achievement' systems to casual/PC/mobile as replay-drivers - in a few years, whole generation of gamers growing up with XBLA expectations

    - the possibilities of political/reality-based gaming (Fatworld/Super Chick Sisters/etc)

    - small games based on existing engines/mechanics as 'political cartoon'/op-ed pieces on web-based publications

    - a new overall focus on/attention to real, interesting story/character/art/music development within pre-existing gameplay mechanics - see Narbacular Drop > Portal (or, to continue the Orange Box refs, Peggle > Peggle Extreme, CS > Team Fortress) - but I'm a little biased here :)

    Duncan
     
  16. Tex Pine

    Tex Pine New Member

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    Take a look at Diner Dash: Hometown Hero. It has community features and support micro-transactions for in-game items.

    Well, it is not really surprising, if you think about the try-before-buy business model. On retail and mobiles IP is a big thing because the player doesn't actually play the game before buying it and is much more cautions on picking the next title. Hence the need for widely-known IPs, to provide an extra "security" the game will be fun.

    That's not the case on trial model. So original IPs can indeed succeed, much more than licensed ones. For example, compare the success of Build-a-lot and Burger Rush with the medium-low awareness The Apprentice Los Angeles could achieve.

    Many games and sites are trying the ad-revenue source, but this is not promising. PopCap made a study with Zuma, trying 3 different ad-based models: trial with ads, free game with lots of ads and free game with ads that you could remove by buying it.

    The conclusion was the trial model is still the best. Revenues from completely free models are dimer, and if you consider that US may go into recession in 2008, advertising-based models will really suffer.
     
    #16 Tex Pine, Jan 28, 2008
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2008
  17. MerscomMan

    MerscomMan New Member

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    I would not discount properties too quickly. Agatha Christie definitely was a hit and our Blood Ties game has stayed on most sites top-5 since launch. For us, internally at least, Blood Ties has shown that a property can really help.
     
  18. lennard

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    Lloyd, this is hard to prove. Hidden object games have been doing well in the past year and Blood Ties is a good looking game in that genre - I'm a little out of the loop being an HBO snob but I hadn't even heard of Blood Ties until I saw the video game.

    BTW, those of you who haven't seen The Wire should do yourselves a favor. Aside from hockey during the playoffs this is the best thing you can watch on tv - run don't walk to your nearest video store and prepare for hours of goodness.
     
  19. Grey Alien

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    Interesting thread thanks. I've just had another good look at the game sales charts - sterling work there James (found my games in a few charts I didn't know they'd made it high in!)

    Hey Phil, check out Fairway Solitatire if you get a chance. It's a card game but not as you know it and it's taken the card game lovers (and all sorts really) by surprise.
     
    #19 Grey Alien, Jan 29, 2008
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2008
  20. mooktown

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    I too hadn't and still haven't heard of blood ties outside of the game.

    Totally coincidentally I just came to this thread and read your post advising watching 'the wire' after watching a program by charlie brooker called 'Tapping the wire' which was a show telling people to "go out and watch the wire for f***s sake". :cool:
     

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