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Category: Business

Indies and F2P

As a freelancer I work with many realities, but never AAA games. I work mostly with indies and free-to-play companies. I had some blockchain gigs, too. They paid very well even if the business was confusing, to say the least.

A significant difference between free-to-play companies and indies is their definition of success.

F2P CEOs are looking to solve a formula: CAC < LTV. Customer Acquisition Cost less than LifeTime Value. Indie founders, instead, want to be able to make another game. Everyone would like to become rich of course.

On one side we have people thinking of something scalable, on the other teams who want to continue making games. They both can learn a lot from each other.

  • The importance of thinking in a business
  • The importance of having the right KPIs to measure results
  • The importance of working on something you love.

The power of microculture

I am an optimist, and that doesn’t mean that “everything’s gonna be alright”. Being an optimist means having hope that my actions can lead to better results in the future.

In the last few years, I have been perceiving the development of two spaces in the games industry (and also in music and films).

The first is the space of big corporations and companies related to them; it’s the space where serious money flows. Where the top talent works. It’s the space that right now is struggling a lot.

The second are the solo developers, the small teams, and the people who serve the minimum viable audience. This space is the one that is growing right now.

Look at the good news of the last year and a half. More than 80% of them are about some project that seems to come out of the blue. And of course, it’s not the case. It’s just that until then we weren’t part of that small audience that was following the project for months and that creator(s) for years.

I went to Retrobarcelona yesterday, a local fair dedicated to the games that made me. Arcades, pinballs, classic consoles. Craftsmanship dedicated to the IPs that still make my heart beat. People with metal band t-shirts, and a better vocabulary than the average.

I spoke with friends making more money making games for SEGA Mega Drive than they made with Switch and PS4. I met a friend who is a brilliant marketing consultant for small teams with little budget. I assisted in 2 talks of local streamers with a strong, loyal, cultured audience. I purchased books from a guy who closed his retro games store during COVID and now writes short sci-fi stories, runs a podcast, and is making a game for Dreamcast.

These realities have become bigger in the last few years. The tools to grow are there and are free. Today it’s easier for one single guy to make everything needed to run a business.

Was the other side present too? I have met a couple of friends, with exceptional talents. They were working for some of the biggest brands that landed in “sunny Barcelona”. Or they were working for investor-backed startups with huge ambitions. They either lost or left their jobs.

I am aware that my perception can lead me to the wrong reading of things, but that’s my rant for today. There are opportunities for those who are not waiting to be picked. For those who don’t use the playbook.

It’s great to have a fancy title in a corporation that belongs to the macro-culture. I still dream about it on certain days. But belonging to the micro-culture, finding and serving that minimum viable audience, can be profitable. Reddit, Substack, Patreon, Kickstarter…

That can be exciting! Not easier, you have to work a lot on it. But a concrete possibility. Something that gives me hope, that makes me an optimist.

On sacrifice and duty

When you are an employee you are there because you can do the job. Also because you can make THAT specific job, you master certain pipelines according to your level of experience. Finally, you are there because you can work in a team.

When you build your own company, you are working on creating an environment that permits your employees to build a business.

When you are a freelancer, you have a 1-person business that helps clients (usually companies) solve specific problems.

The social media era, the dopamine times in which we live suggests us “not to work for other people’s dreams”. That’s a weird lens to use to see the World. We forget the importance of sacrifice and duty for our societies to prosper.

There are different sets of skills that you need according to what you want to do. It’s not easy for me to suggest “Hey, did you lose your job? You are an expert, why don’t you build your own company?”. The responsibilities you have to tackle are completely others, and your experience will probably give you also a lot of biases. And most importantly, you should focus on the business, not on the pipelines.

The odds for a specialist to be successful in a completely different field are higher than in building a business in the same sector. The games business is full of doctors who built successful companies.

Some game designers out there can help solve wicked problems, outside of games. At this moment we have quite a few of them. That’s my wish, honestly.

A forest

When I walk in a wood, I focus my attention on the path and stop to admire the trees. Some of them are like monuments, they grew a lot. Fantastic!

Then I discover maybe a little mushroom that has grown during the same night. That mushroom will last a few hours or a couple of days.

I don’t give too much attention to the little herbs, the underwood that’s everywhere. It’s common behavior, I think. Still, they are an important part of the view and the smell that I get from the experience.

The fact is that the big tree exists and it’s big thanks to the whole biome which permits that. It’s impossible and surreal to think in a forest made out only of trees with no herbs.

The underwood is fundamental to the ecosystem, it’s what permits the big trees to be big in the first place. And the underwood can grow up to a certain point, that’s a quality, not a limitation.

If we want more trees and a bigger forest, we should let the underwood spread more and not cut it off just because it’s not tall enough.

Dreaming of Switch 2

Nintendo said that during this fiscal year, they will announce Switch 2. As far as I remember, this is the first time that Nintendo has put a number on the previous one. That makes me think that they will not innovate that much, this time.

But maybe I am wrong, and I imagine which improvements Nintendo can bring to their business.

The first thing is that their controllers, influenced by the competitors I don’t know, got very complicated. We passed from the cross and two buttons to 2 sticks, a cross, 4 frontal buttons, 4 retro buttons. A simpler control system will make more people want the console.

What if my Switch 2 is also my mobile phone? I would buy that. A mobile smartphone capable of running WhatsApp, and LinkedIn and making my work that is also the console I can play with my daughter. A smartphone that I can plug on my projector and play bigger.

Being a smartphone, a camera can add AR features to games.

And maybe they could try to bring back the Gameboy printer why not?

GTM, Innovation and Marketing

I read a post from a VC firm looking for projects to fund. One of the points was “clear GTM strategy”. GTM stands for go-to-market. Experts claim that the next big company will figure a novel way of distributing games out. Distribution is part of go-to-market of course.

I am fascinated by this concept of the minimum viable audience, which is the minimum number of fans you need to serve to make your business viable.

Another concept I like a lot, better than agile IMHO, is the shape-up methodology, where you basically set up deadlines and deliver making the best you can in the fraction of time you decided.

Those would be part of my go-to-market strategy, for sure.

Innovation in mobile games

The playbook is not working anymore and Players are claiming innovation, too. For mobile games, there are elements from the world of apps that mobile games never adapted and I don’t know why.

The first is the infinite scrolling feed. Mobile games are still stuck in the world of Flash games somehow. We still use pop-ups as if we’re operating on the World Wide Web. In some cases, I spend precious minutes closing pop-ups at every session. Also, video ads have to be dismissed with the X in top right corner. It is incredibly slow and frustrating.

An infinite feed guarantees engagement and also ads and special offers can be put in it. Every game can become more streamlined, helping the Players do other things while playing.

The second element is the widgets. You know that things that are not app icons that appear on your smartphone. Why should I enter the game to see who attacked me or to collect a daily bonus?

A widget would also be a reminder that the game is there, why is nobody using it?

I think that one of the issues we have with innovation is that we are not making enough efforts to find ways of measure certain design elements and choices. Everything can be measured in certain fashion. But more often than not designers are in a company just creating content, not solving problems. The “everyone is a designer” reigns always in contexts led by product managers, and there’s nothing to do with that.

The company I dream of has that issue fixed. But, I know, I am a dreamer.


Marketing has become not about the brand, but about the people behind it. If you see the last ad from Supercell or you read about the last successes on PC, you will clearly see that.

Is it possible to make that scalable? Probably, yes. I would start from there.

The head of marketing from Larian Studios declared that marketing is dead and everyone is angry at him. He expressed quite bad, but I understood what he wanted to say. The marketing is super important, more than ever. But the old fashion of doing marketing is gone.

Happy 25 April, you all!

Today is a special day for the nation where I was born. 25 of April represents the Anniversary of Italy’s Liberation. It’s a national holiday that commemorates the culmination of the liberation of Italy from German occupation and the Italian civil war in the latter phase of World War II.

Today I want to dedicate a post to 3 Italians who are contributing to making a great industry. I want to share with you 3 talks that are available for free and online, that prove the Italian contribution to our fantastic micro-world where lots of people would work.

The first talk is by Riccardo Zacconi, who years ago founded King (nowadays part of Activision/Blizzard). I remember having seen this talk years ago and it made me dream about working for King.

The second talk is an interview with the solo-dev, creator of Vampire Survivors one of the top indie games of last year. Luca Galante created a simple game with lore that is not possible to understand if you’re not an Italian, but it’s SO FUNNY if you are. Clerici, Dommario, Rottin’Ghoul are all references to the Italian trash culture and irony.

The last talk is with Massimo Maietti, one of the creators of Monopoly GO! which is the last huge success in the video games industry. I like to recognize in this person something very Italian, the connection we always make with culture and history in everything we make.

What the 3 have in common?

  • They are all Italians
  • They all had to live out of Italy
  • They made success in Angloamerican environment (curiously the Angloamericans helped a lot during liberation)
  • They all came from gambling games, like me. I will always say it: gambling games can be bad to you, I respect that. But they put you in contact with something very innate in the human compulsion. It’s all about amigdala!

Happy World Book Day

Someone is claiming that AAA is dead when in fact is quite the opposite. AAA games are still driving the vast majority of revenue.

AAA development is struggling, though. I have never had the pleasure of working on a AAA game. That’s because every time I applied to an AAA company the answer was that my resume didn’t show AAA experience.

One of the good things about mobile free-to-play, instead, was the inclusion of professionals also from outside of the games industry. I had personally the pleasure of working with marketers, product managers, and UX designers coming from the world of apps, fintech, and so on. That created an explosive new opportunity where also AAA professionals come to work.

Endogamy creates struggles. Specialization is good also because it opens the opportunity for generalists, people with broader knowledge, to enter into the “game” and create disruption. Why are we often closing those new windows?

AAA development is struggling with endogamy, in my humble opinion. And mobile f2p is starting to follow the trend, too. When you have markets with high risks and high possible returns, often experience can be a setback. We need more opportunities for people with different backgrounds.

We need frogs that go deep, hedgehogs that go straight forward, but we also need birds that can see the horizon, and foxes who can spot different patterns in the forest.

A great book that demonstrates this thesis is “Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World”, by David Epstein.

Use analogies to find new formulas

Videogames are sold online and physically to people. Some game is not sold, it’s given for free. Virtual good inside of the game are sold. Video games are fully into capitalism. And capitalism has many characteristics, one of them is that it repeats itself a lot.

You see constantly new trends appearing from nowhere, completely unexpected. And then the system copies, reproduces, re-skins. That’s because of the fundaments of capitalism. And there is nothing we can do about it. It is what it is, so let’s just enjoy and observe it.

Or maybe you want to build something disruptive, something new. In that case you better look from outside of the core of your business, games in this case. With analogies you can find something maybe in sports, or maybe in shoes business that can be applied to videogames.

It’s like repeating in the capitalistic way, but repeating something that out of our system. Something that can become new.

The present of videogames

In 1998, me and my brother were waiting outside of a video games shop, in Naples. The owner promised us on the telephone that the game would have arrived for the opening, the next day.

The game was “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”. Its cost was 120k lire. With the inflation and everything, today would have a cost of 100,52 euros – source

The game was made by a team of more than 200 people and a budget of over $12 million. – source

Today, games with that level of quality have a higher budget and are sold for less money. That’s because of a lot of factors, it’s not simply one reason or another.

Videogames yesterday

In 1998 video games were one of the things that shaped our future as persons. Playing The Legend of Zelda was a life-changing experience. And it was much easier for that Nintendo 64 in our room to catch our attention. We had no smartphones and no socials. We had guitars, a PC with a weak connection, school books, and lots of board games.

The controls of that game were simpler than the controls of the vast majority of AAA games nowadays. The console was offline, you had the game running in less time than today with your PS5. Everything was so simple and so memorable.

Videogames today

Today we have two main challenges, as game creators:

  • The discoverability of our games. There is no friction anymore in making and releasing a game.
  • Games are not the super hot thing anymore. Today there are many drivers of culture, influencers and streamers for instance.

I remember when I read about Zelda on Megaconsole, an Italian zine dedicated to Nintendo games. Nowadays, people have no right to focus on a single article without getting spammed by lots of ads and notifications of sorts.

Combat, puzzles, exploration: the promise was unique. Today, I see Zeldas over and over

I remember my eyes popping out of my head when I saw Soul Calibur running on an imported JAP Dreamcast in front of my eyes. The effect is not the same when you watch trailers on YouTube. Games have lost that spark they had when they were pushing the technology and the boundaries.

How to fix that wicked problem?

The future of video games passes by offering Players real life-changing experiences. Players should come out of a game better than they entered. This passes by really curating the content somehow.

At least, that was the promise. Try to sell a game for 100 euros these days, and see what the people will write about your prices. Why? Because of the value they give to the games today, compared to the value we gave them in the past.

Virtual shops should focus on leaving to the influencers the curation of their content. Imagine opening Steam and having tips from the streamers you love. That’s probably the first step. Steam and other shops should never filter people out, but it would be great for everyone to have a reliable curation of content.

But also we, designers and developers, should try to only push out things that matter at least to us. When I meet someone working for a company with a proper contract, too often I see a bored person who is just doing a job.

We have lost that push that differentiate our sector. We need more passionate professionals, preferably with a broader range of skills. We need to build games on top of what can really improve the life of people through fun.

I am not sure that would solve the issue, but if Players are able to find their games and these games will change their lives a little, also with a simple smile, that’s the way to me.