Experts from all over the World are claiming that a recession will hit hard the games industry in the next few months. I am no expert, but I can clearly feel something is going weird.
What about the Players? Will they prefer to spend $70 for a premium complete game or will they still prefer $5 microtransactions? Will microtransactions be considered a luxury good? We really cannot predict that. Players are very diverse and scattered all over the World, it’s hard to make predictions.
The only thing I can say for sure is that there will be always space for good games. With good games I mean games that engage Players in a meaningful way. “Artisanal touches and magical moments that make up a rich and unique player experience”, as the CEO of this brand new company says here.
During a crisis especially those who struggle to understand how to make good games will struggle. Anyway we should remember that with a crisis always come new opportunity.
Can be the new subscription triad game pass/playstation plus/netflix the saver of the old f2p World?
I was playing Bloodborne, because my brother made me a gift. After a few hours I started arguing with myself: why is this game so successful? It is SO complex to me. It wasn’t hard, as everyone says. It was complex. It was complex because I didn’t understood it.
We believe that games can be simple or complex, but simplicity is in our mind, not in the games themselves.
When the mechanics that compose a videogame are understandable, we call the game simple. When the same thing is puzzling, we call it complicated. The combat system of Bloodborne is very puzzling, especially if that is the first game you get of From Software.
Good game design has to inspire, motivate, and be understandable. It is only when all three of these come together that we label the result as “simple.”. Bloodborne is very inspiring and the challenge definitely motivates you. But in order to really understand it you either deal many hours with absolute frustration or speak with your friends and watch YouTube videos.
The skill and knowledge may decay over time, but with well-designed systems, the recovery can be quick. Which is not the case of Bloodborne, if you leave it for a while you definitely lose your ability of beat it.
The future of games is made of better games. Did you saw the last Bethesda announcement?
Imagine Bethesda saying something like: “and then you can sell your space ship to other Players. You can earn money by playing our game!”
What would have happened? In my opinion, from one side core Players would have been explicitly against that. Also with ignorance, it doesn’t matter. Why? Because Players want to play a game. They want to invest their money to receive entertainment.
From the other side, that would be still a Bethesda game. And it seems a very well made one. So that, of course, some Player would definitely buy into that. What happens when you can earn money? All the motivation levers inevitably shift towards that. At least for the end game.
Some Player may start just playing and living the story with their character. After they complete the game, then, the game has the opportunity of becoming a revenue stream for them. A job.
Bethesda didn’t do that. They could, of course. But they didn’t. They are true game developers and they have clear their business. The future of games is made of better games, not funny jobs.
I am very outspoken and I work mostly remotely since 2017. Way before of the pandemic I was providing my game design services to many companies all across Europe. My specialty is game economy and gameplay design for free-to-play. Companies contacted me for three main things:
To set up the vision for some new project of their.
To review and design a new tutorial for their game.
To add more monetization features to their games.
My main tasks are always been to become aware of a certain context, study a specific market and provide concrete solutions. All of that online, by remote.
I remember back in the days when I had to wait for the producer to call me after the internal meeting. I wasn’t allowed to participate to their daily standup because they were too lazy to set up a camera and connect with me.
Then the pandemic came and this is now the new normal. Now most of my work is online, but the processes are still the offline ones. I mean, I didn’t saw relevant updates to the game development practices. And that’s a problem.
Game development has many moments, good and hard ones. Especially the hard ones, when you need to tell the others your truth about something are getting always more complicated. Sometimes you notice that things are just not working out. So you should take the courage and speak with your boss and colleagues about that. You can do it by writing on a “public” slack channel or by contacting the leaders in private and have a virtual face to face with them. Still, with the remote something is missing. You always have that colleague with stays silent most of the time. And most of the time that colleague is one of the smartest. But they don’t talk, so you will never know. And possibly then they quit for a better job. And you remember that you never asked them directly to express themselves during meetings.
The games industry is estabilishing its processes step by step. Year by year. You work on a new feature and you are constantly studying other games. How is that feature implemented there? Why?
Then you discover an article or a video and you see that there are best practices to do that. Maybe a colleague, maybe your own boss show you the best practice. Often time you discover the best practice AFTER you did your breakdowns, your wireframes, your flows, your brainstorming with your team.
Best practices are the best because there is nothing better, right? They are based on facts. On data. On results. On money.
The temptation with best practices is to just implement those, because someone already figured that out. Why reinvent the wheel?
The risk is design something without even understanding why it should work and how to measure its effectiveness. In the meanwhile, a new trend and best practice popped out. Your design is old, maybe you should iterate on that.
Best practices are those things that, when they are publicly available and well defined online, are already surpassed. So that those are just common practices waiting for a new best.
I have learnt this the hard way. Often, people like to make experiments. They hire people like me as freelancer and then they hire juniors fulltime. They want results, good results in possibly a short time. Then our collaboration ends, experiment failed.
Why is that? Because people hardly accepts the reality of games. Making games is a serious thing. You will never make a good game with people part time. You can use part time freelancers, like me, to create specific content for something that already works. But if you want to make a new game you need to really invest heavily time and energies in doing it. 100%. There is no shortcut.
I always speak this clear before with my clients “this is hard, it will hardly succeed. I cannot dedicate more than X hours per week. You need more.”. Nothing. They want always to try. And sometimes they get upset because of the results.
I have an idea for an indie game and I am pretty bored at my dayjob, lately. So that I will explain it here, let’s see if thanks to that I meet the right people to do it.
Do you remember Duke Nukem 3D? Well, the idea starts from there. I was taking a mooc on Unreal Engine 5 and the project was a fps. What’s the best shooter I have ever played? Duke Nukem 3D.
Why? Because it was simple, with a great level design and lot of monsters and you could really feel the character. Was funny, me and my brother were continuosly joking around his sentences and that badass attitude.
So that I was thinking: how would it be a character like that nowadays? Well, I believe it would be the opposite.
Duke Nukem was a white strong male. Duchess will be a skinny black girl. That’s the vision, basically.
How about the gameplay?
I would like to try out a game which could be possibly exported to many platforms, also mobile. Recently I discovered Vampire Survivors, a great indie game on power creep. I would like to test out the same mechanics on a 1st person shooter.
You fire automatically. Just worry about moving and put in the right spot to kill monsters. Collect XP and coins. On level up, the Players will improve their arsenal. On game over, Players will unlock new things with the coins.
Who’s in for that? I think I need a 3d artist first and find out the possible artstyles.
The other day I was listening to a video where the speakers named the terms they most hate to hear. One speaker said he hates “web3”. The other “I hate metaverse”, and so on.
The term I absolutely hate the most (well, hate is a strong word isn’t it?) is: User.
To me there are the People. When the People start to play your game, those become Players. Players may become also Clients in free-to-play, if they decide to invest some money. And some of them become a Fan.
Players, Clients, Fans. Those people deserve their degree of respect. Users is a bad term, reminds me the abuse of illegal substances. I hate to say “Users”. Yet, I say it a lot because is very common used.
In this post I will try to explain the basics of the freemium economics, because without those is impossible to understand why free-to-play games have to rely on strict calculations in order to work and scale properly.
When you run a business you have costs, a f2p business has many costs that I can resume like this:
Installs: number of installs we want to achieve with our acquisition campaigns
CPI: cost per install. Each install will cost this
%FTD: first time deposit percentage. Basically, the part of Players that decides to invest something into our game
Team Members: our team is composed by…
Salary/Member: the cost per month of each member
Development Months: the number of months before of publish the complete game, ready for live operations.
If you are working right now in f2p you can notice that those numbers are VERY optimistic. Ad the end of this article I will propose something nearer to the reality. Another thing is that every company has its way of naming things, my approximation is just for the sake of explaining.
When you design a free to play game you should be aware of two things:
Vast majority of players (in my example 95%, but again it’s optimistic) never pays a dime
The payers have different spending profiles:
Minnows: they are the majority of payers and they invest just a little in your game
Dolphins: they are a big chunk of players and they invest a little bit more. Their spending habit is similar to PC/Console players somehow
Mermaid: they have a higher acquisitive power, and they decide to invest more over the time in your game
Whales: they are the real target of your monetization system. Without them, the f2p business is not sustainable. Here’s why:
You can clearly see that Whales are the vast minority of all payers (players that spend something). But:
With this configuration, you can see the weight on your revenue of whales and mermaids.
In this perfect scenario, those are the results:
UA Cost: CPI*Number of Installs. We spent one million dollar just to get people into our game.
Team cost: Members * Salary/Member * Development Months. We spent six hundred thousand dollars to develop our game. Development costs are cheap compared to marketing.
FTD: we have fifty thousand people paying something
Revenue: according to the cohorts, the total revenue is this
RPI: revenue per install. Total revenue divided per number of installs.
Profit: what we really earn. The total revenue less the costs. In this ideal case, it works!
We don’t want to make games for whales!
Ok, let’s make a game that doesn’t permit whales to pay that much then! We believe that FOMO, pay to win and lootboxes are the evil, so that we put a maximum cap on our spend depth.
The cohort whales, then, disappears. Let’s say we just have mermaids, that will increment their presence among the cohorts:
In this case, the impact on revenue will be HUGE. Still, with the idealistic costs structure it works! we can have a business:
Lately, a lot of press is writing against the monetization of Diablo Immortal, the last game from Activision Blizzard. They say it’s too agressive, I have a different feeling. To me is not aggressive at all. Let’s study its costs.
A game like that from a company like that will have a cost structure more similar to this:
With those cost structure, without targeting whales, the final result will be:
Which is why Diablo Immortal, because of its quality and narrative and everything it gives for free has to target heavily whales. This is for the vast majority of people to have fun. A possible cohort configuration can be:
For the whales to arrive spending ten thousand dollars, the spend depth of Diablo Immortal has to be high. Still, in this way our business barely works:
So, I get that many of you don’t agree with f2p and don’t like this business model. But it exists and if you want to be there you have to do very well your math!
Hope this post helps!