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Tim Merel from Digital Capitalist writes a great piece on the future of consoles. Apparently it’s too early to write them off just yet.

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More evidence that the subscription MMO has a limited future. Sad news for all those affected.

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Re-blogged from A-List: Why Publisher 2.0 is M.I.A.

Feature: Why Publisher 2.0 is M.I.A.

Re-blogged from the A-List, great article by Steve Fowler on the current state of games publishing and where the future is headed. The original article can be found here: http://www.thealistdaily.com/news/feature-why-publisher-20-is-mia/

The video game business is changing rapidly thanks to growing access to and appetite for digital games. They’re everywhere, in your pocket, on your tablet, in your social network, even on your console. Look closely, however, and there is a disconnect in the digital game marketplace.

The audience for digital games, whether online, social or mobile, has continued to grow. Recent forecasts only point upward. There are quality products, and ever more sophisticated types of games. Yet there are an underwhelming number of bona fide hits, and evidently little marketing support for all but a handful of titles.

For nearly three decades the main source of revenue in the game industry has been packaged games sold at retail, and primarily for video game consoles. Early on these games were relatively inexpensive to make and could be completed in short periods of time. As technology advanced and the popularity of games grew, so did their complexity and sophistication. The perception that video games were toys shifted to seeing them as serious, and seriously lucrative, forms of mass entertainment. The business of games, from product development to sales and marketing processes, became scientific, formulaic, and with decision-making ever more reliant on predictability. It was increasingly beholden to major brick and mortar retailers as the predominant distribution channel, and with more and more real estate at stake inside these stores, distribution costs also began to soar.

As time went on, the industry became more risk averse. Once games settled into their role as mass market entertainment served through costly, controlled channels, they were like their Hollywood counterpart. The business evolved into primarily big risk and reward, with the chase for “mega” hits needed to offset investments. The side effect of this approach to creative enterprise is that it excludes many participants. It is more closed off to new ideas and anything seen falling short of having mass appeal. For games, these limitations meant fewer products coming to market serving segments of the core, or “mid-core” games, which have historically spawned game play innovations and new game IP.

Today, traditional games are more complex and expensive than ever. Console games can exceed $100 million in development costs and $50 million in marketing. For decades now the big publishers have scaled their operations to accommodate these “mega-games,” building massive infrastructure with huge overhead costs. Meanwhile, their interest in the “mid-core” market has shrunk drastically. They see successes in the category as contributing too little to their bottom line to be worth the effort. For the rare instances when they take on a mid-core game, their need to cover their risk introduces situations disadvantageous to the developer, usually with deal qualifiers such as complete IP ownership and exclusivity on future titles. These are risk mitigation tactics, essentially positioning the publisher so that it’s not left empty handed if the product or deal is doomed, even if it leaves the developer that way.

Without a channel to get their games to consumers, even if they had the means to turn their ideas into products, development talent was forced to fall in line. Then came digital distribution and things changed. Digital gave game developers direct access to players, hundreds of millions of them. It presented unprecedented diversity in gaming platforms, from hardware and interfaces to new types of games people were willing to try. The result has been a demand for innovative experiences unlike anything the industry has seen since the days of arcade cabinets.

Now that game makers of all stripes, from garage groups to crowd-funded industry legends, have made the jump to digital there should be a consistent string of hits. It hasn’t happened. The demand is there. The good games are there, and more by the day. Unfortunately some of the best experiences to ever target a gamer’s twitchy nerves are lurking out there with little to no following, or making a ripple when they should have made a splash.

It started with a bang. What happened?

Early on in the life cycle of these emergent digital platforms, if a developer had a great game it got noticed, and gamers likely told their friends about it. Remember when it was a novelty to see one of your friends had reached level 10 in Farmville. Suddenly people were asking, “Wait there are games on this Facebook thing”? Or when you got your first smartphone and immediately installed Angry Birds because it was the only must-have game. Now with over 700,000 apps on iOS and what seems like a new Facebook game every day, those days are over. Clutter is rearing its ugly head in every digital game marketplace, even in the free to play market where some mid-size developers are making big-time bets.

The problem starts with discoverability or awareness, which has become significantly more difficult for digital games. That’s the first step, followed by a series of successive ones critical in generating and sustaining an audience for any piece of entertainment. Taking people on a journey to drive consideration, investigation, fondness, and purchase intent. Strengthening customer relationships through brand building, customer engagement and community relations. Establishing lasting affinity that translates to fandom and evangelism. These are about making people care, evoking an emotional connection to the product if possible. More than anything, the marketing presentation itself has to be compelling, even entertaining.

There are digital publishing and marketing entities who say they understand the landscape, that they’re the industry’s publisher 2.0. But they’re forgetting these fundamentals. They simply stop at solving the discoverability issue and call it marketing. They’ll partner with a developer and check off boxes, helping submit their game and guiding it through certification, if necessary. Then they might put out a press release and chase it with some PR, at most spend a little money with a media referral partner. If this is the new formula of success in digital games, then why are so few people making any money?

What about the very innovators hoping to establish digital and get a foothold, could they be hindering its growth? It’s true for some of them. “Self-publisher” has become a favorite categorization for indie developers. It’s a powerful label for what’s going on in the industry, emblematic of the haste with which many of them are shunning and running from the old publishing model. Ultimately, it’s a bit of a misnomer. It’s technically true that even a single individual who releases a game into a digital platform has now published that product. What they haven’t done is the most important aspect of entertainment publishing, building an audience.

Is there a fundamental shift in marketing digital games versus traditional boxed games? Yes. Is digital a new marketplace environment that traditional publishers and even the savviest marketers are struggling to adjust to? Yes. Does this mean developers should walk away from all of it and expect to succeed? No way.

There’s a way to blaze this trail into digital games and escape stagnant old models without running off of a cliff. The nature of digital distribution, including its reintroduction of a viable market for mid-core games and building an appetite for free-to-play, presents new fundamentals that allow for close, symbiotic relationships between game makers and marketers. There’s no more appeasing that self-interested entity known as retail. What’s more, there are unprecedented levers for efficiency, accountability and agility when it comes to marketing these games. These lead to a lot more transparency and relationships structured around mutual benefit for developers and marketing.

That’s what I’ll explore in the coming weeks in a series of articles for [a]list daily. I’ll look at not only tactics and strategies for this new approach to publishing, but give concrete examples for analytics driven, highly cost-effective and efficient ways to market games. Included in my analysis will be how the fundamentals of brand building still apply, with approaches that create an emotional response from and connection with the consumer. Let’s discover what publisher 2.0 is supposed to be.

Steve Fowler is a thirteen year veteran of the interactive entertainment industry. He is responsible for the brand identity and launch of the Halo franchise at Microsoft Corporation, Inc., and has held marketing and business development roles at Interplay, Sega Sammy Holdings, Inc., Square Enix, Inc., and Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. He is the chief architect of the one of its kind annual industry conference the [a]list summit, and has been incubating new digital game publisher [a] list games internally at Ayzenberg Group for the past year. For more information on [a]list games, visitwww.alistgames.com.

Minecraft’s success continues to defy all common games industry logic that big budgets, huge dev teams and quality graphics are needed to create a hit product.

Interview: Anthony Rosner director of “IRL – In Real Life”

Anthony Rosner - 2011

Anthony Rosner is a softly spoken final year film student at the University of Creative Arts about to graduate and an avid World of Warcraft player. He started playing in February 2005 and built up an impressive list of achievements for his in-game persona, Sevrin, that the average noob could only dream of. Sevrin was a bit of an in-game celebrity and for a while Anthony enjoyed the virtual glory and sense of achievement the game gave him. One crushed heart, a gap year in Norway and six years later he decided enough was enough and pulled the plug on his guild and digital alter-ego. The result is a short film: “IRL – In Real Life”, a cleverly ironic title that deals mostly with the very opposite.

What’s fascinating about this extremely well made project is the obvious nerve it’s struck with gamers and non-gamers alike. In less than 4 weeks it’s already received over 280,000 views and that number will no doubt continue to climb. Several major gaming sites have linked to it and Anthony’s inbox has been lighting up. Reading some of the YouTube comments is as fascinating as the film itself, apart from the usual un-intelligent quips like, ‘why did you quit?’, ‘dude can I have your mount?’. Gamers definitely indentified with the experience and applaud Anthony for making the brave step to share it as openly as he does. Some have had very similar experiences and quit, others say they’ve been playing for 7 years but it’s not an issue for them (denial?), but most just appreciate the story and how well it’s told.

Anthony's virtual alter-ego 'Sevrin'

We’re grateful Anthony took some time out of his schedule to talk to us about his experience. Please be sure to check out his Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/irlmovie , and you can follow him on Twitter: @antronoid

TDM: Anthony, thanks for agreeing to talk to us. Congratulations on the success of your short film “IRL  – In Real Life”, you’ve already received over 285,000 views since it was posted on January 15th. How does it feel? What have some of the reactions been?

AR: Thank You! It seems very surreal, for the first couple of days I had it set to private and only showed a couple of people. Then on the 18th January where I made it public and received over 1000 views within 24 hours, I was quite amazed by how quickly it spread, and then the rest was history! I really am quite speechless about the whole experience, it’s great! The reactions have been very positive and supportive too, although there are some negative comments, they are actually really great to read too as the majority provide interesting topics to discuss. The comments that have had the most impact however are the ones where people have decided to change their own life to some extend from watching my film. Having that effect on some else, is something that I don’t think words can describe.

TDM: It’s quite a personal film that feels extremely honest, what gave you the courage to make it and put yourself out there like that?

AR:  When I first thought of the idea, I wasn’t really sure about making it, it did feel too personal to me it is a large part of my life that I tend to keep hidden, however, I thought this is my chance to tell my story. I wasn’t even sure about releasing it on YouTube either, I’m glad I did however!

TDM: Did you find that MMO gamers have reacted differently to non-gamers that have seen the film, like people on your film-course? I thought you did a great job describing things like raids in layman’s terms (“it was like a team sport, you’d have to play together to defeat the hardest bosses in the game”), was that deliberate to make it more accessible to non-gamers?

AR: Yes, well first and foremost, my film was aimed at people who did not play games or WoW, so the film would be understandable for everyone. I also wanted the film to appeal to gamers too, from all sorts of games that people may have had experience with spending seemingly endless time on. I would say the variety of reactions even between MMO players has been quite diverse. I’ve gotten everything from “Get a life” to “I just un-installed WoW”. Some people being able to relate to the film directly with their own experiences, whilst others have a more objective view. People on my course have reacted very positively, as they are looking at it more from a technical viewpoint alongside the story of course. There is definitely a huge variety of opinions. 

TDM: Although the film could be described as lighthearted in tone it certainly deals with what must have been a difficult time. You tried to quit more than once, how hard was it to finally follow through? What was the turning point?

AR: The turning point really was the need for me to focus on things that could potentially affect my future, whilst I enjoyed playing Warcraft, it is not something I wanted to do forever, although I believed it could have easily become that. The first few times I tried to quit, I found difficult, one time I uninstalled the game before a raid was due to take place and went for a sleep, vowing not to play again, however 2 hours later, I was back on again, I didn’t feel right without it back then, but back then I wasn’t thinking about the future as such so when I finally decided to call it a day, I knew I was doing it for the right reasons and I eased myself away from the game, so I didn’t just cut it off. 

TDM: Why do you think your film has had such resonance within the gaming community? 

AR: I think that the subject matter has hit a hard or a soft spot amongst gamers, this is something that a lot of people enjoy after all . Understandably some people do not like to see the game they play and enjoy be attacked in a film, I should point out, I was not attacking the game in my film, at least that was not my intention, this is a comment that I have seen a lot. But it is a relatable subject, that was my intention with the film, to create something that people could relate to and on the whole a lot of people could see themselves in my film, which is great for me!

TDM: Game addiction is at times a somewhat controversial subject. What’s your take on it especially in regard to MMOs?

AR: It is really hard to say, there are so many opinions about it, however, I did feel like I was addicted to Warcraft, I needed to play, I was always thinking about it, I couldn’t live without it. Whether it can be called an addiction I have no idea, but I feel it is up to the individual, if they are aware they have an addiction to the game then that is the first step of realising that something isn’t going quite right for them. I mean, I used the game as a means to escape my real life. Whilst it is dangerous to become absorbed into the game, I do recognise the fact that games can be played in moderation (and for most games I do play in moderation quite casually) however, that isn’t so easy for everyone to do.

TDM: Do you believe developers/publishers can and should do more to protect gamers from playing excessively? Some games have time out warnings, and if you play too long the game will eventually lock you out forcing you to take a break. Of course gamers can overcome this with alts (multiple accounts), but from your perspective where is the line between personal responsibility vs. game design?

AR: I think some developers are aiming to do this, I know Blizzard are doing this with Warcraft currently allowing players to join into raids and such quite easily, without pressures of being in guilds, which offers a wider variety to players and how to manage their time effectively. But there are elements to games, especially MMO’s that require a huge time commitment, especially in the cases where, if you want to be the best you have to play the most. But yes moderation really is the key, I think it comes down to the fact that it is just a game, and players should have a sense of responsibility when deciding to play games, it is after all an entertainment device and should probably be treated accordingly, which is something I can do now, but unfortunately did not do back then.

TDM: Have you played any games since you quit WoW? 

AR: Yeah, I played Minecraft for a little while and dabbled into Skyrim, MW3 and SWTOR (for a little while). Although now I feel I have my priorities all worked out I can enjoy these games in moderation and organise my time effectively to have a balance of my real life and my gaming lifestyle.

TDM: What are you future plans, are you going to keep making films?

AR: Well, firstly I am going to finish University, which will end in June, so not much longer to go. And then after that I hope to become a film director and work in the film industry, I am not sure if I will make another film about games, although who knows!

TDM: Thanks again for your time Anthony it was a real pleasure speaking with you, all the best for the future! For more on Anthony and IRL please check out his official site http://anthonyrosner.com, Facebook and Twitter @antronoid

IRL – In Real Life

“IRL – In Real Life” is a short, light-hearted documentary looking at the effects of World of Warcraft addiction, produced as part of a 3rd Year Film Production project at UCA.

After losing six years of his life on World of Warcraft, third year film student Anthony Rosner decided that enough was enough and started living in the real world. His documentary, IRL, takes a look at the effects MMORPGs can have on people and show that there is hope at the end of the tunnel.

Originally posted on GeeksAreSexy.net it’s been on YouTube since January 15th and already received over 100,000 views. The comments below the original Youtube upload also make for some interesting reading.

Don’t Listen to Your Community

January 30, 2012 2 comments

Community has emerged as one of the most critical aspects to successfully maintaining an online game. Even the most backward box publishers have come to realize the importance of community management and have teams that interact with the players on a daily if not hourly basis. If you get community management right you’re setting yourself up for success, get it wrong and it could ring the death knell for your product. A strong community following can sustain a games longevity, and a weak community can end it quicker than you can say /ragequit.

Image Courtesy of Penny-Arcade.com

MMORPG’s lead the way with community management long before there was a Facebook or a Twitter. By their very nature MMORPG’s are social creations (massively multiplayer) and at some point or another the most anti-social gamer will be forced to group up to complete a quest line or an instance. As such community forums were a natural evolution for players to take discussions, complaints, feedback and flame wars outside of the game world. For some developers they remain a critical tool in managing alpha test feedback to fine tune and improve the game-play experience.

Fast forward 10 years from some of the first MMO forums and even big brands like Nike and Coca Cola now employ whole teams of community specialists to manage their social networks and community initiatives. However community and or social media is not the best way forward for every brand, McDonald’s recently learned this the hard way when a twitter hashtag campaign backfired quite spectacularly.

The trick to successful community management is actually not about listening to your community, it’s about knowing what not to listen to. It’s about being selective about what you hear. For most large MMOs it’s estimated that out of the total player base only about 3% – 10% of players actively participate in forum discussions outside of the game. For social media usage and mentions this % probably skews upwards quite a bit. The point is that a small vocal minority usually represents a much larger silent majority. And usually because they are the most vocal they tend to be the most opinionated, but they may be complaining about things that 80% or more of the silent player base are totally happy with. Therefore it’s about weighing up the feedback carefully and reacting to what makes sense. The instinct is often to react to highly critical messages first rather than to look at the full picture. Game data, and internal QA teams can sometimes corroborate what players are seeing. Also seek other data sources to cross reference feedback where you can. Experienced and talented community managers will understand what player feedback to pay attention to and what to disregard. Reacting to the wrong feedback can be as detrimental as ignoring the valid complaints.  It’s about intelligent filtering of the white noise.

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