Train2Game news: Free-to-play can “give your consumers a better experience”

Train2Game students will have noticed the increasing trend for developers to use a free-to-play model in games.

Dungeons and Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online and DC Universe Online are among a number of previously subscription based titles that have made a leap to free-to-play.

And in his latest column for Gamasutra, games industry analyst Nicholas Lovell argues that this free-to-play model is better both for both consumers and developers.

“By enabling free-to-play games that allow people to play cool games for free, forever and choose – flexibly, with no commitment – to spend a little money or a lot of money on things that they value in the game, I believe that you give your consumers a better experience and make more money than you would with subscriptions.” said Lovell, who has previously spoken to The Train2Game Blog about industry trends including the free-to-play model.

He also did a video interview with Train2Game at The Eurogamer Expo, which can be seen here.

Lovell added that the rise of free-to-play means Star Wars: The Old Republic will be the last big subscription based MMO.

“I think that Star Wars: The Old Republic will be the last, massive, subscription MMO because new models have been proven to be better business, especially for games with a niche audience.” he said.

Last week, the Train2Game Blog reported that Ubisoft believe their upcoming free-to-play title Ghost Recon online will be AAA quality.

For the latest news about industry trends, including free-to-play, keep reading The Train2Game Blog.

So Train2Game, what are your thoughts? Is free-to-play better for both game developers and consumers? Is it a model you’d use?

Leave your comments here on The Train2Game Blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

[Source: Gamasutra]

Train2Game news: Mode 7 Games on Steam, indie development and free-to-play

Frozen Synapse by Mode 7 Games is published through SteamTrain2Game students should find this Gamesbrief guest post by Frozen Synapse developer Mode 7 Games very interesting.

The bulk of the post sees developer Paul Taylor take a look back at how both business and design influenced the design and marketing of their turn based tactical title.

As previously reported by the Train2Game blog, Mode 7 Games have argued that getting onto Steam is essential for an indie PC game developer. Taylor reiterates that this was vital to the success of Frozen Synapse.

“Steam’s position in terms of digital distribution right now is well documented; having seen the results, there is no doubt in my mind that aiming to create a game which would stand up against other titles on there was the right thing for us to do in this instance.” he said in the Gamesbrief post.

Taylor also suggests that release timing was an element in the success of Frozen Synapse, with Mode 7 Games releasing it in a quiet time for PC releases. His advice to indie developers is to avoid releasing titles during busy periods, such as the run up to Christmas.

“The end of May turned out to be a fairly quiet time and a good time to launch for us: I’d just suggest that indie devs focus on avoiding busy periods (e.g. Christmas and late June to early August) when they’re shaping up for launch.” wrote Taylor.

The Frozen Synapse developer also discusses the growth of Free-to-play, but insists that the ‘pay-once’ model was right for their game.

“Pay-once is the most maligned business model out there right now:I would suggest that even the most hardcore entrenched old-school developers have been won round by the raw data that free-to-play games have generated, so pay-once is in decline.” said Taylor.

“I’m yet to hear a sane scheme for an F2P Frozen Synapse – I don’t think that a free-to-play game along similar lines would be impossible; however I have not heard any viable suggestions for how we could have done it with this game, the game we cared so much about making.” he added.

The Gamesbrief post certainly makes interesting reading for Train2Game students and it can be read here.

Gamesbrief examines the business of games, and Train2Game students can watch an insightful interview with website founder Nicholas Lovell here on the Train2Game blog.

Lovell also spoke in-depth to the Train2Game blog last year, providing useful advice about indie and social game development.

So Train2Game, what are your thoughts on Mode 7’s post-mortem of Frozen Synapse? Will you take the advice on board?

Leave your comments here on the Train2Game blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

[Source: Gamesbrief]

Train2Game at Eurogamer with Gamesbrief founder Nicholas Lovell

Train2Game at Eurogamer with Gamesbrief founder Nicholas Lovell

The Train2Game blog interviewed Nicholas Lovell almost exactly a year ago, read the huge feature here.

Nicholas Lovell is a former investment banker and web entrepreneur who helps games developers become publishers. He also provides strategic and online marketing advice and is a non-executive director at developer nDreams. Clients have included Atari, Channel4, Channelflip, Dynamo Games, Firefly Studios (who recently self-published MMO Stronghold Kingdoms), IPC Media, Rebellion and Square Enix. He is the author of How to Publish a Game and blogs about the business of games at http://www.gamesbrief.com.

More information from http://www.train2game.com

Train2Game interview with games industry consultant Nicholas Lovell – Part 3

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.

The Gamesbrief founder also told Train2Game about a special offer on his book, How to Publish a Game. The 200 page book is available for half price until December 7th.

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.

Part one of the Train2Game interview with Nicholas Novell is available here and you can see part two here.

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.

[Nicholas Lovell goes into much more detail about this on Gamesbrief. See ‘The future of the media, in 45 minutes’.]

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.

As usual, you can leave your thoughts here on the Train2Game blog, or on the Train2Game forum.

Train2Game interview with games industry consultant Nicholas Lovell – Part 1

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.

The Gamesbrief founder also told Train2Game about a special offer on his book, How to Publish a Game. The 200 page book is available for half price until December 7th.

In part one of this three part interview, Nicholas Lovell tells Train2Game about the games industry in general and gives tips to independent developers.

You can read part two of the interview hereand see part three here.

Train2Game: Can you start by giving a general overview of how the games industry works please?

Nicholas Lovell: There are three types of companies. There are massive triple-A companies, those guys need to invest a lot of money. Modern Warfare 2 cost $50 million to develop; it cost $200 million on top of that in marketing, distribution and manufacturing. That’s a total budget of $250 million. If Wal-Mart doesn’t pay within four months – which it doesn’t – and you want to have three games of that size out at Christmas, that’s a $750 million capital requirement. If you then want to have other games in development at the same time, you’re nearer a billion dollars.

The number of people who’ve got a billion dollars a year to put at risk making triple-A titles is declining. In my opinion there’ll only be six to eight of those in the entire world of which Activision, EA and Warner are likely to be three. The other slots are up for grabs for people like Ubisoft, THQ, Take Two, those kinds of people.

But the number of them is declining and what we are unequivocally seeing is people who aren’t making blockbuster games – who are making nearly blockbuster games – they’re suffering, they’re definitely suffering.

The second group of companies make persistent social online games, games which you can release relatively cheaply and then grow over time. The interesting thing is that World of Warcraft is essentially a triple-A game, but it has that persistent element.

So, at one extreme you have games like Farmville and We Rule and the other games on Facebook. In between you’ve got games from companies like Bigpoint and Gameforge, which are either client based or browser based relatively hardcore MMOs or RPGs free to play with microtransactions.

And then the extreme, you have your traditional subscription based MMOs like World of Warcraft. I think we’ll see much fewer subscription based stuff, as the market is moving strongly in the direction of the free to play browser based games.

The third category is what I call independent developers. Those are teams of  less than fifty people – usually less than ten people – who can because of the existence of PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, iPhone, Android, the browser itself – are able to make and distribute games themselves with no publisher and make a living, a decent living. Not enough of a living to be really threatening to triple-A and the persistent social world, but drawing time and money from particularly the triple-A market, which is one of the reasons why its harder and harder for the also-ran triple-A guys to make money.

So if you’re trying to work out where to work in the games industry in the future, there will be many fewer jobs at the triple-A companies than there were this year. There will be many more jobs in the persistent social world stuff – The Bigpoint’s, the Gameforge’s, the Zynga’s, The Playfishes – and there is a new opportunity to create, launch and make games, just two or three of you making games for fun, distributed via PSN, Steam, the web itself, Kongregate, any of those kind of things. And of course iPhone and Android.

Train2Game: What advice would you give to a small two or three person team who want to make and publish an independent game?

Nicholas Lovell: The first thing is as you go through your game design document – do the first part with a lot of excitement in the pub, that’s fine – but after that take lots and lots of stuff out. Ernest Hemingway famously said about writing, ‘write drunk, edit sober’ and I think that idea could probably apply to game development. I wouldn’t necessarily be certain about that, but the principle goes that what you need to do above all things is release a product, that’s the most important bit.

Until you’ve done that you can’t make any money. So what I see often is people going ‘This is going to be the best game ever’ – That’s the end of your career, not the start of your career.  At the start of your career, you’ve just got to have a game. To be honest, what we’re seeing from employers is that they want to see people who have on their own initiative launched something, anything.  They want to see that people can see something through from the beginning to the end.

So, have your napkin with a gazillion different races and structures and plans and everything else. But then start boiling it down to go ‘What is the core of this game, what is the heart of it, and how can I get that out’

I’m a big fan of agile development methodologies and of agile business processes, and a great description of agile I’ve heard is it’s ‘half a product, not a half arsed product’ So, everything you leave in has to be good. The secret is to take stuff out that doesn’t matter.

So, the first thing I would say is as you’re trying to work out what’s in your game, try and reduce it to something which is fun – which works – and save a lot of the extra stuff for the sequel. Because you don’t know until you’ve got your first game out if anybody likes it, so why waste time building a whole load of stuff?

For example, I see a lot of people building anti-cheating mechanisms into relatively simple multiplayer games which they’re trialling. You haven’t got any cheaters until you’ve got any customers,  you don’t have any customers and the way you’re going you’re going to run out of money building the anti cheat system before you launch, at which point, what was the point of having an anti-cheat system?

Anti-cheat systems are the kind of thing you should build after you’ve launched in this indie world; the world is different if you’re Blizzard trying to launch a new mega title. But in the indie world, minimum viable product is the absolute heart of it.  That product needs to be fun.

There are a couple of other wrinkles with that; it does depend on the platform. So, with iPhone and Android, it’s pretty easy to update content, Facebook it’s easy to update content. If you’re building for PSN it’s harder, if you’re building for Xbox Live Indie Games it’s harder. Those businesses expect you to create content which feels more like a finished product.

I’m much more excited about platforms where you start off with something if people like it, you keep building it.

Part two of the Train2Game interview with Nicholas Lovell can be seen here. His book, How to Publish a Game, is available for half price until December 7th.

You can leave your thoughts here on the Train2Game blog, or on the Train2Game forum.


Gamesbrief founder Nicholas Lovell speaks to Train2Game about ‘How to Publish a Game’

The games industry is a competitive place, with many independent developers each trying to produce, and make money from, games.

It’s possible that a relatively inexperienced developer could think of and produce what could be great online or iPhone game. But without knowledge about how to market and distribute it correctly, the game this would be classic could disappear without a trace.

Fortunately, there are professionals who are experts in this area, and one of them is games industry consultant, Gamesbrief founder, and author of ‘How to Publish a Game’ Nicholas Lovell. The former investment banker spent a decade helping media companies – including those in the business of games – adapt their strategies right through the dot com boom of the late 1990’s.

Train2Game recently met with Nicholas Lovell, and discussed many aspects of the games industry. He begun by telling us how since leaving the world of investment banking, he’s struck out on his own and helped various developers with the distribution of games:

“In 2003 I set up a small corporate finance boutique, who helped games companies raise money and with strategy”, he told Train2Game. “We worked with companies like Blitz and Kuju, EIDOS, we worked with Codemasters, so we worked with a number of different games design companies.”

“I then decided I actually wanted to get my hands dirtier, and joined a gaming portal called Game Shadow to run that business, to turn it from a subscription based business to a free to play business growing revenues by a factor of ten,”

“Did that for two years and for the last three years I’ve been helping companies make money from games.”

“So at one level I’ve worked with investors trying to understand the industry from the very small up to the people where a $500 million investment is too small. I’ve worked with publishers like Square Enix and Atari and Channel 4 to help think about their game strategy, and I’ve worked with developers to launch new projects.

“Pretty much all of those developers have been who’ve been trying to move from console or mobile to this new world of Facebook or free to play social, online titles.”

Away from consulting, Lovell writes about the business of the games on his blog, Gamesbrief. However, it isn’t only a blog that the consultant writes. Nicholas Lovell has also written a book called How to Publish a Game.”

He told Train2Game about what’s in the book; how it can help developers publish games and about the promotional offer running until Tuesday 7th December:

“It’s about what are the different business models, what are the four key skills you need to get a game to market – sales, distribution, finance and marketing. It’s about different ways of using free as a marketing technique, and it’s all structured around giving you a framework about how to publish a game rather than a playbook.”

“Until December 7th – at midnight- the book is half price. It’s not the worlds cheapest book… it’s aimed at prosumers, the people who expect to make money from that game, so the standard price is £100 and it’s currently going for £49.50.”

“You can get the first the first two chapters for free, and there’s also valuable stuff on GamesBrief, so check out Gamesbrief, if there’s stuff you like, then you’re more likely to want to buy the book.”

Nicholas Lovell discussed many subjects about the games industry in a wide ranging interview which will appear on the Train2Game blog in the near future. Be sure to stay tuned for that, but in the meantime, you can get an overview of some of the subjects discussed – including how freemium games make up 34 of the top 100 grossing iPhone apps – on Gamesbrief.

If you do want to buy ‘How to Publish a Game’ while the half price offer is on, you can do so here.

As usual, you can leave your thoughts here on the Train2Game blog, or on the Train2Game forum.