Train2Game recently caught up with founder of Gamesbrief and industry consultant Nicholas Lovell. In a wide ranging interview he discussed subjects including the different types of game development studios, advice for small independent developers, social gaming and the business side of the industry.
In part the final part of the interview, Nicholas Lovell tells Train2Game about good examples of independent games and how the ways they make money are changing.
Train2Game: What do you think are the best examples of successful independently published games?
Nicholas Lovell: Best examples… [pauses] The reason I’m hesitating is because the Rovio guys, Angry Birds wasn’t their first title. Somebody told me it was their tenth, so that’s a lot of shots on goal before they scored. You’ve got to be doing that for a long time for that to work. In fact, most of these overnight sensations have been working for years, before they became over night sensations.
If you’re starting out now as an indie, I think what you should be doing is finding a way to keep putting shots on goal, rather than going for ‘I’m going to get one shot, it better be brilliant’ – because frankly that’s pretty unlikely.
It’s got to be good but I’m not saying do shovelware. I’m saying reduce the game to its basics, then put it out. See if the concept works, and then add the extra content, the extra levels, the Halloween editions, the Christmas editions, and so on.
Other titles which I think are interesting: Gourmet Ranch which is from a UK developer [Playdemic], it had Angel funding though so they didn’t do it completely just them coding in their bedroom. That’s a Facebook game which has got 650,000 monthly active users.
Obviously there are the famous ones like Cut the Rope, Angry Birds, and my favourite which is Doodle Jump. Now Doodle Jump is a really interesting example, that’s a company [Lima Sky] who made a whole bunch of games like a pattern matching one for toddlers, and that’s still doing well, called Animatch.
Again, Doodle Jump wasn’t their first game, they did relatively low budget experimental iPhone games which were popular and then Doodle Jump really kicked off. But it’d meant they’d experienced launching on those kinds of platforms.
And then at the other end, I won’t tell you that this is successful, but it’s a great game – it’s not a business yet – it’s an indie game I play a lot called Darkwind. One guy – he’s a lecturer in programming in Ireland – he runs it as a hobby. It’s coded in PHP and elements of the Torque Engine. One guy, a really dedicated community – only a few thousand people – post-apocalyptic, turn based, car based combat…quite niche! But its one guy running it in his spare time and it makes him decent pocket money at that level.
When you’re starting to look at platforms like PSN, Xbox Live Indie Games and so on, you’re getting fewer and fewer true Indies; you’re getting more to small studios. And then on the PC platform, you’ve got people like Cliff Harris of Positech with Gratuitous Space Battles. That is one guy coding a relatively complex hardcore strategy game. You can’t not mention Minecraft if you’re going to talk about those kind of titles, so there are plenty of examples.
My basic premise for an indie studio is that what you need to do is build content. Don’t assume that content is going to make lots of money, make sure throughout everything you do you have ways of talking to your customers again, and ideally have ways of charging your fans more than the 99 cent entry price. Not ripping them off, but giving them real value that the hardcore fans can really enjoy. That can be $10 worth of value, it could be $100 worth of value, and it’s much, much more than saying it’s just zero or 99 cents.
Train2Game: Is there anything else you want to add about the area of value?
Nicholas Lovell: I think we’re hearing a lot of talk, and I think we’re going to hear a lot more about the nature of whales. The old business mode said there is only one price point, that price point is around $40 for a traditional triple-A game, and $10 to $15 a month for subscription service. That was how you charged.
We’re seeing a whole bunch of new business models, which say you play the game for free and then you can spend a dollar here, five dollars there, and that’s how people monetise. A bunch of people don’t understand that business model because they never choose to spend money. That’s fine, they’re adding value in a bunch of different ways, they’re providing a social context, they are being sorted into buckets – they don’t know that – they may be seeing advertising, they may be telling their friends.
But what you begin to see is that there are people who really value certain aspects of the game, those aspects are normally status led, or progress led, they’re very rarely content led. Those people are quite happy to spend $10, $15, $20, $100, in very occasional cases $1000, on that game. And that changes the dynamic. It means your marketing budget is much lower because the game is there for free and it’s easier to get people through the door – that’s changing. The marketing is going up but it’s still lower than what Blizzard would spend on marketing their next World of Warcraft expansion for example.
But it means that you can offer the chance for people who love your title to spend more money on it, and I strongly believe that if you do not have that business model, you are leaving somewhere between 75% and 90% of your potential revenue from your game on the table, and there are very few indies who can afford to do that.
How to Publish a Game by Nicholas Lovell is available for half price until December 7th.
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