A quick guide through microtransactions and free-to-play

Although microtransactions and free-to-play look like the flavor of the month, they have been part of the industry for years, garnering enthusiasts and critics alike. Part of the prejudice around this type of monetization comes from many poor implementations and a lot of excessive use.

Microtransactions

However, when the free-to-play approach is well crafted and an inherent part of a game, it can be successful not only for the companies, but also for the players, reaching a broader audience and catering the experience to different needs.

Given that now even Nintendo is experimenting with free-to-play, I thought it was a good moment to bring the Extra Credits team to give a quick guide through the art of microtransactions.

Hearthstone (2014)

Hearthstone (2014)

In this 9-minute video they cover why you should allow non-paying players to earn hard currency, and at the same time, why you should never sell power, but convenience. There other practical tips as well:

  • Make the game more enjoyable.
  • Make paying more palatable.
  • Make the whole experience feel cohesive.
  • Never split your community.
  • Market test your prices.

In summary, always keep your monetization model in mind when building your game.

Here’s the video:

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GameMaker Standard edition for free!

As many of you already know, GameMaker: Studio is a really interesting engine that allows amateur and experienced developers to create their own games without the need of being skilled programmers.

According to its creator YoYo Games, using this software is “80 percent faster than coding for native languages“, enabling people to “create fully functional prototypes in just a few hours, and a full game in just a matter of weeks“.

GameMaker: Studio comes in 4 versions: Free, Standard ($49.99), Professional ($99.99) and Studio Master ($799.99). However, until March 2nd the Standard edition (which includes unlimited resources) is free, and the upgrade to Professional only costs $35. You just need to download the Free version here, and follow the instructions that appear inside.

GameMaker sale

Some people use GameMaker: Studio for creating quick prototypes or trying a rough concept, while others take it one step further and build full-fledged games, ready to be marketed. Either you are curious about game development, need to test a great idea or are ready for start creating your own game, this sale is for you.

If you’re still hesitant, take a look at some of the best games built with GameMaker: Studio:

Sonic is back!… with long legs and a scarf

Remember Sonic?

Of course you do! Born in 1991 as Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s Mario, Sonic quickly became a system seller and one of the most iconic video games characters. As a matter of fact, he was one of the first members of the Walk of Game, alongside Mario and Link.

Sonic's 1991 version

Original Sonic

Since Sega abandoned the hardware business, its mascot jumped to other platforms, increasing its fame (even if the last games were poorly received). Ironically, in May 2013 Sega announced a partnership with Nintendo, so the next 3 Sonic games will be developed exclusively for the 3DS and Wii U, being Sonic Lost World the first. Following that deal with Nintendo, Sega has been busy doing a total makeover on its flagship character, and the result is Sonic Boom.

Sonic BOOM!

Sonic's 2014 redesign

Sonic’s 2014 redesign

In a clear move to change the franchise’s appeal to Western audiences, Sonic Boom will be developed by American studios: Los Angeles-based studio Big Red Button for Wii U and San Francisco-based studio Sanzaru Games for 3DS. Both of them will be focused on combat and exploration, but with slightly different content (mostly environments and enemies).

“One last thing”

But don’t be confused. If Sega hosted a press event in New York wasn’t just for announcing a new installment in the decades-old franchise. No, Sonic Boom is a whole new universe for the blue hedgehog, comprising 2 games (3DS and Wii U), a toy line and an animated Cartoon Network TV series (with 52 11-minute episodes). The Sonic Boom characters will exist in parallel with the original ones without replacing them.

The business reason behind the “cross-media” launch is to cover as many obvious, and follows the same strategy a lot of other properties have had: to cover , being The Simpsons a clear example (even South Park is investing heavily on its long-awaited The Stick of Truth).

The artistic redesign, in turn, seems to focus on each character’s skillset: Sonic’s legs (because he runs), Knuckles’ upper body (because ha can throw a punch), Tails’ wrench (because his tails are evident) and Amy’s hammer (because… well, I guess she’ll use it). The blue hedgehog’s new scarf is a different case, and it may have to do with Uncharted Nathan Drake’s influence.

Fast feedback

Of course, this deep makeover didn’t go unnoticed for fans and the Internet community in general. Some elements like Sonic’s scarf, bandages and long legs (along with Knuckles’ new passion for the gym)  have become the center of many jokes. Here are some of them:

Sonic loves bandages

Sonic loves bandages

What do you think of Sonic’s new look?

Sources: IGNKotaku

The illusion of choice

If games have become an insanely popular part of our culture, is in great part due to its interactive possibilities. Unlike movies, games provide the opportunity of choosing … or, better put, the illusion of choosing.

Here’s the great Extra Credits team explaining this key subject as only they can:

Google Glass Gaming?

A group of Google developers prototyped 5 simple minigames to test some of the gadget capabilities. According to them, “with tons of tiny sensors and a screen that fits neatly above the eye, Glass is an exciting new place to play”. Here’s what they put together:

However, they aren’t the only ones to see gaming potential for Google Glass. Back in November, Niccolo de Masi (Glu Mobile CEO) told VentureBeat that he considers Google’s wearable device “a brand new paradigm for interactivity, so it’s a brand new paradigm for games”. In his opinion, it could even trigger another “iPhone moment”. His company has recently developed Spellista, a word game exclusive to Google Glass.

“My prototype is cheaper”

You can learn more about the Google Glass minigames here.

Source: Polygon

OK… but what does a Game Producer really DO?

I get this question a LOT, mostly from relatives and friends, but a couple of times I also heard it from other team members (who probably were trying to mess up with me a little).

It’s a fair question, though. A programmer, programs. An artist, creates art. A game designer… well, designs the game. So.. what does a Game Producer really DO? (and why do I keep writing ‘Producer’ with a capital P?)

The Producer role according to the jobs matrix

The Producer role according to the jobs matrix

In general terms, a Game Producer is akin to a movie director or a TV producer: the one who owns the general vision and, at the same time, is responsible for keeping the message consistent across the areas.

Most of the times, a Game Producer must wear many hats, being the Project Manager hat one of the most common. This involves managing resources, planning and implementing processes that help to improve the workflow.

Too many hats for this Producer.

A Producer going too far

For example, when I was part of Three Melons, my job description included generating proposals for potential clients and being the point of contact for them once the project had been approved. Working at Playdom, in turn, demanded some deep content creation and game design skills, as we had to deliver a great game to millions of players. Those players needed new content regularly and a balanced experience that let them enjoy the game wether they paid or not.

However, one of the best definitions of the Game Producer role comes from the amazing Extra Credits team, which talks about core gaming subjects in a very accessible way. Here’s the video. Enjoy it!

UPDATE: I’m adding an interview to Ed Perkins, Lead Producer at NaturalMotion, in which he “describes what it takes to become a studio’s all-important production guru, overseeing how its projects go from concept to completion.” It can be useful for getting a more in-depth look at the Producer. Find it here!

Is a multiplayer game tougher to market?

Titanfall is, without question, one of the most anticipated games of the year (it will be launched on March 11). Let’s sum up:

  • It’s a multiplayer-centric first-person shooter, a combination that has proven successful when executed smoothly.
  • It’s exclusive for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. Actually, Microsoft hopes that it becomes a system seller for Xbox One (it’s even getting its own controller).
  • It’s going to be published by Electronic Arts (the world’s third-largest gaming company by revenue after Nintendo and Activision Blizzard).
  • It’s being developed by part of the original team that turned the Call of Duty franchise into a billion-dollar business.
  • It’s been receiveing extremely positive buzz from the press, winning over 75 awards after its E3 2013 reveal.
  • And last but not least, it will let players fight each other as elite assault Pilots or as HEAVILY ARMORED TITANS.

So, it’s a game that’s being created by a team more than skilled in that genre, backed by Microsoft and Electronic Arts and with enough hype to fill a stadium. Therefore, a dream came true for marketing, right?

Apparently, no.

According to producer Drew McCoy, the multiplayer nature of the game forced the team to take a different approach to get the game noticed.

It’s actually been really tough trying to accurately market Titanfall. If you look at what we’ve done, its a lot different than what most FPS games do. Without a bunch of highly scripted singleplayer moments to recam from different angles, the usual ‘movie like’ trailer is just about right out.

Although Titanfall will provide some narrative moments, the main core of the experience is to play with other people, and that’s what they’re trying to emphasize (along with driving HEAVILY ARMORED TITANS, of course). So, their current marketing strategy consists in releasing full unedited 3-5 minutes segments, showing the flow of the game.

What I find interesting about this is that, when McCoy says that they have  had problems ‘accurately’ marketing Titanfall, what he’s really saying is that, because of its multiplayer nature, they had no choice but to use actual game situations to get audience’s attention.
The marketing guys didn't get the chance to build their own Titan (?)

Marketing guys didn’t get the chance to build their own Titan (?)

And actually… that sounds like a good thing to me. There are lots of games that were marketed in a dubious way, frustrating players (because they weren’t getting what they were expecting) and creators (because their game was being advertised as something else) alike. As a matter of fact, in the only trailer they published (the one at the top of this post) there are no first-person sequences… and it’s a first-person shooter! But I’ll write later about that.

Titanfall is a hardcore game (there’s nothing casual about it) that’s being marketed to its potential hardcore audience through actual footage, even minimizing risks. Instead of showing a more controlled experience (i.e. a regular trailer, like the one they used for presenting the game), they are simply showcasing gameplay.

I understand that it may be a change from the more classic way of advertising a game like this one (and that, at some stage, an edited video can be useful for awareness) but I hope in the future more companies start to be more transparent regarding their actual products. Or, as McCoy himself admits,

There’s no amount of polished marketing that can replace playing the actual game.

Source: IGN