Category Archives: Online Gaming

Are Virtual Worlds Over?

Are Virtual Worlds Over?

@RaphKoster blog post is very very worth a read. Not going to clip from it, cause no clip could summarize. I remember thinking some of these thoughts back in EQ1 days, but the social aspects of it, the real world connection in it, are much clearer now in the post-facebook world.

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A game company you never heard of – with 60 million registered users

Well, with 60 million users, you might be one of them – but their demographic is much more international than most gamers in my part of the world, and their demographic is much less needful of cutting edge consoles or computers. So my bet is you’re not yet one of them.

Gameforge AG is a privately held German company. They’ve been in business since 2003, and only have 90 employees. They just opened a San Francisco office.

They publish the most successful and popular browser-based game on the planet, OGame, and 26 other games.

Their active users number 10,000,000.

Their games run in 23 different languages, with users in 30 different countries around the world.

A couple of years ago I posted 2005 to 2010 projections for the game industry. Here’s the online drilldown from those projections:

Online gaming drilldown:

2010 long session market (eg MMOs) $4.82 billion
Compound Annual Growth Rate 26%

2010 mid session market $4.72 billion
Compound Annual Growth Rate 29%

2010 short session market (eg casual games) $2.5 billion
Compound Annual Growth Rate 34%

The short session market shows the largest growth, though all of the online markets are the hottest place in gaming growth. GameForge is completely focused on the online market, has a model that satisfies the short session market brilliantly, but that also engages users all the way up to the long session market. I think it’s fair to say they dominate the browser-based market – if you have other games or companies you’d like to suggest as competitors there, please do post a comment. Because GameForge is privately held, I haven’t found any revenues for them – but I am going to conservatively guess they are on the order of $10,000,000 a month, or $120,000,000 a year. The key question for them is how successful they are in converting free users (all their games can be played for free) into customers who pay for upgrades that allow them to play the games more successfully. My estimate is based on the conversion percentage being 5 to 10%. Whatever their revenues, I am quite sure their growth is better than those very high projections for the industry, since they are so succesful within the industry.

The only weakness I’ve seen so far is they haven’t also enabled good mobile access to their games. When people can also play from their cell phone browsers, GameForge will hook way more users, way more solidly. Surely they are working on that.

More about their gaming and revenue models in a later post. Meantime, if you haven’t yet, check out OGame, or any others they publish that look interesting. I’m in Universe 27 in OGame, btw, as Tor. Send me a note. 🙂

Opinion: MMOs Need a Wii

Here’s the Wired blog post:
Opinion: MMOs Need a Wii

Here’s my answer, posted also there as a comment:

Of course you’re right.

AoC rocks, but will be limited by how narrowly focused it is on adult guys. And I don’t think they’ve left themselves enough room to change that over time.

Hardcore gamers don’t want a Wii, and don’t want non-hardcore gamers to exist.

The problem of a Wii-style game is half a game design problem, and half a content problem.

The game design problem means the game has to actually contain within it multiple different ways to play the game, which variously appeal to the range of players. This primarily means the gameplay needs to make room for true casual gamers (note that’s different from “casual players” of current MMOs). Current MMOers call that “dumbing down” – but the point is the game needs to attract and interest and hook true casual gamers. If you think of this demographically, the game might abandon the attempt to hold hardcore MMOers, to better focus on casual gamers. There are way more than 10x as many casual games as hardcore, so this does not have to be a bad business decisions. Note this also has implications for the business model – casual players aren’t going to pay $15 a month as easily as hardcore MMOers do now.

And the content has to be content that appeals to the full range as well – this probably means the content needs to move toward or into the “real” world, because that’s the content humans have the most common interest in. Maybe a known brand could do it. Most everyone here (readers and commentors at the Wired blog) will piffle this, but here’s the answer, if they design it right:

Harry Potter

2D Pixel Art competition for Second Life

Kerry commented on my post from last week about Second Life competition with info about FakeTown and CityPixel, and they are interesting enough I certainly wanted to blog about and link to them.

Both are online avatar-based MMO communities based on 2D pixel art, rather than 3D modeling and rendering. I posted about pixel art last year: The funkiest art you’ve never heard of

Both are web-based communities/interfaces which thus require no download, are innately cross-platform, and work on far broader a range of computers than to the 3D-based MMOs. In the upper right corner of each of those home pages you can click to visit/play them directly. How’s that for proof of lightweight and immediate availability?

Faketown seems to have a more open model for users to create their own content and “sell” it to others in the community – and, of course, has to deal with people abusing the open model. CityPixel provides an address to email one’s art for review and inclusion. That’s a tough business model call, really. Very open to user-created content, with problems and lots of activity? Or less open to user-created content, with less problems, and less activity?

Either way, it’s an important point that anyone really can can make interesting 2D pixelated art, avatars and objects – a pixel paintbrush and some patience even allows me to do that, and I’m no artist. So these environments are way easier to add content to than are 3D-model based environments. Faketown specifically includes integrated browser-based tools to: “Draw Anything,” “Create Animation,” “Upload Photo,” “Upload Music,” and “YouTube Video Link.”

CityPixel seems to be more polished and/or better funded, and to have a bit more focus on social networking.

Anyone else have the sense these could be killer apps if they are done well and catch on virally and globally? Will one of them take off as an alternative to Second Life and the other 3D MMOs? I’ve mentioned the compelling reasons why they could – most particularly that 1) any computer on the planet running a reasonably current web browser gives someone access to them, no download/client/3D hardware required. And 2) it’s a lot easier for users to create their own interesting and goodlooking 2D pixelated art than it is for them to make 3D.

Caveat: both seem ‘early’ – CityPixel is specifically still ‘beta.’

Anyone using these have feedback for us?

GDC: MMOs, past, present and future

Here’s Alice’s post with notes from the panel discussion

And some highlights here.  So the moderator asks them all for three predictions – veeerry innnteresting!

Raph [Koster]: I would say we are about to see a truly massive explosion in the quantity of online worlds, like Korea saw. The vast majority will not be retail box products. We’re starting to see… you saw darkstar just open sourced a perfectly viable MMO engine. You can pick it up for free. We’re going to start to see a helluva lot more… stuff. Number 2: no offense to megapublishers: I think the most important and significant pubs are going to come from the film and television industries. The most active virtual worlds publisher in the last six months is VIACOM. I really really think that anybody in this room who is not watching the way big media is moving into this space is missing a major, major story. This is a short term prediction. My third one… these are all things happening now that no-one’s noticing, so I’m cheating. 3 is the non-game: the poster child to this is Second Life. That stuff is not going to decline. It’s drawing in insane amounts of investment and attention, all this writing on SL. You saw PS Home? Would that exist without SL? No. Recently on the web you see people checking out all these SL clones… Kaneva, HidiHi…no-one here is paying the slightest bit of attention, and their bragging about the three fundamental concepts: user generated upload, the ability to cash out and make money (whoa ! World of Warcraft it AIN’T!)… And entertainment isn’t going to slip from the number one spot. But they won’t necessarily look like what we think is an MMO.

Mark J[acobs]: we’re going to see a lot more types of games. We’ll see rps, fps,.. explosion in different types of games. After that… lots of corpses. So many failures its’ going to be unbelievable. There’s so much dumb money chasing around this space it’s shocking. Here come the mass media, and they’re shouting, omg we wanna be just like World of Warcraft. Here’s a lot of money, make a great game, but there’s only a handful of people who know how to make it really well. I’m predicting disaster. Number 3 prediction: you’ll see someone beat wow. It wont’ be us. But World of Warcraft, like every other game, will have its day.

 Rob [Pardo]: … because of wow, and all the dumb money and all the publisher pressure, there’ll be lots of games that shouldn’t have been MMOs but would have been great boxed products. Lots of publishers are pushing for that subscription pie, but they’ll fail. Last prediction: from here on out everyone’s going to be thinking globally about their MMOs. Previous to us everyone thought Europe didn’t have a market for MMOs, but we have more than a million and a half in Europe.

Mark K[ern]: our definition of MMO is going to change. The line will blur. Xbox Live Achievements. Lots of box games will take on persistent attributes. The way we pay for our games is completely going to change. No box product gets sold in Asia. Once those channels open up, it’ll be hard to tell what’s an MMO and what’s not. It’s also going to get really cheap to start an MMO. It used to cost 10m dollars to launch a website, once upon a time. It was an arcane art. But nowadays there are solutions out of the box to allow people to build persistent communities. Content is still expensive, but getting in on the ground floor? Much easier to do. Last prediction: lots of experiments in convergence of social networking and MMO virtual space. MySpace… and MMOs. There’s all sorts of crossover opportunity. If you’re running a socnet without a virtual bit of some sort in 5 years you’ll look like a dinosaur.

Daniel [James]: I don’t think big media companies will be able to execute their way out of a paper bag. A lot of people will lose their shirt in this space. Yes. This medium’s going to destroy television. This is great! The advertising business will migrate to this medium. Big media are throwing money away because they realise this is happening. The wrinkle on the social networking… […] … ok going in to wacky land now because everyone’s said all the sensible stuff, I think there’ll be lots of regulatory things arising between what players want and what the government wants.. I’m wondering whether I should offshore myself now in case they think I’m gambling or porn or whatever because of what my players like doing in my virtual space. It’s a television-eater.

U.S. students make politics a fantasy game

The Reuters news story is available here.

Politics has become a game for a group of California college students who have launched an online video game, “Fantasy Congress,” in the lead-up to next month’s U.S. congressional elections.

The game, officially launched on Monday, is a new spin on the popular online fantasy sports games where players chose a team of real-life players and tally points based on their statistical performance.

In “Fantasy Congress,” found at http://www.fantasycongress.us/fc/, a player drafts a team of actual U.S. lawmakers and then competes against other teams.

Andrew Lee, a senior at Claremont McKenna College in the greater Los Angeles area and one of the game’s creators, said lawmakers were ranked based on the progress of their proposed legislation, picking up points on its journey to possibly getting passed into law.

Lee said he hoped the game would inspire people to pay as much attention to politics as they do to sports.

“If people cared about politics as much as they care about sports, we’d have a better democracy,” said Lee

And check out this cool detail!

The creators said they are funding the game with $5,000 in prize money from winning a school-sponsored Web-based entrepreneur of the year award and volunteer labor.

My first reaction was lol (for the uninitiated, that’s laugh out loud in text speech).

My second reaction was, that’s not exactly what most people fantasize about.

My third reaction was, hmm, could this go viral? Would it actually make people think more about politics? Margin of victories are often very small – could something like this going viral just before the election influence some results here and there, which of course can influence some things on the national level (as we know from all the talking heads right now)? Is someone watching what they do with this game and it’s code to make sure it’s non-partisan, and not manipulating the thinking of players in one direction or the other? That wouldn’t be hard to do in a good game. Could online games like this be the next wave of grass-roots and/or online political activity that surprises people in its impact? Might this help some people get engaged enough to actually vote?

Did you know that in the 2002 midterms, 65% of eligible US voters didn’t vote? For the presidential elections in 2004 we did better, only around 40% of us didn’t vote.

Seems to me the best jokes are deep, have layers, and have as much truth as humor in them.

At any rate, I’ll bet you a dollar that $5,000 entrepreneur of the year award turns out to be a very wise selection indeed.