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April 2010 Archives


April 28, 2010 10:56 AM


ipad_pvz_multitouch.jpg

There are varying levels of gameplay depth, from the one button jump in Canabalt to the incredibly complex Yogg-Saron fight in Warcraft. A given depth of gameplay is good or bad depending on who is playing the game, how much they paid for the game and the platform the game is being played on. The PC allows for very complex/deep gameplay and I think it's obvious by now that the iPhone lends itself to 'shallow' gameplay. The iPad is somewhere in between.

It's my hope that over time we will see iPad games evolve beyond single button style gameplay. This video of multitouch gameplay in Plants vs Zombies is an indication of where games can go, it's the point where "the iPad is just a big iPod Touch" argument starts to fall apart.

Think about the size of your thumb as it compares to the iPod Touch screen. It's a huge percentage, maybe as high as 10%, but then think about the iPad. You can literally have two people using five fingers each, and still see most of the screen. Also, those 10 fingers will not max out the iPad's ability to deal with those inputs (11 seems to be the max). Those physical and technical facts make it possible to create more complex games that involve more than one person.

Now, as an aside, does "complex" = "deep"? Well, the answer is of course, "not necessarily." For me, "deep" gameplay exists when you have these three layers stacked up...

  1. What I'm doing right now.
  2. What is the other guy (human or AI) doing right now?
  3. What should I be doing after this.

After that, anything stacked on top is flavoring and anything below is more meat. The leveling system in Call of Duty or the gear progression system in Warcraft is flavoring on top of the gameplay meat. Good design and great execution can make or break that meal of course, but (I think) you have to supply that basic framework to say the gameplay has any depth.

The iPad is uniquely positioned to allow head-to-head multiplayer on the same iPad due to its physical size and its ability to cope with a lot of incoming multitouch input. I can see an opportunity to create very social games that have much more depth than Canabalt (which is awesome, not bashing Canabalt) that you play in person. Of course, you'd have to support playing over the internet, but I think there's a great opportunity to make compelling meatspace games right now.



April 22, 2010 3:27 PM


godfinger character

The theory goes like this, if you make an element of the gameplay involve other people, such as leaving a gift for someone in Farmville, then you're more likely to return and play more due to the social obligation. Another framework is layered below that, which is to have everything take a specified amount of time to complete. Farming crop X takes 2 hours and crop Y takes 4 hours. Two of ngmoco's freemium games use these dynamics, but they follow two models. As a player, one is clearly superior in my mind (We Rule), but as a business owner, I think they got it backwards.

Note: this blog entry doesn't address the use of 'for pay' instant gratification gameplay. Each game uses it in the same way and isn't the interesting story (imho).

  1. GodFinger is a god sim where you run your tiny little planet like a god. You can raise and lower land, refresh your followers and have them do some work. Each part of the process can earn you gold (affording you the opportunity to buy better stuff and do bigger things). There is a decay model in the game that is based on time and fatigue. Your followers do work, then they get tired and they stop working. You have to log back in, make conditions right for them to be refreshed and they get back to work. Meanwhile, your friends can view your planet and 'enchant' one of your followers. Doing so, and approving it will yield some gold for each player after a certain amount of time (a day).
  2. We Rule is a kingdom sim, but you'll more likely think of it as "Farmville for the iPhone." You plant crops, they grow, you harvest them. That's the basic gameplay. Over time, you earn enough money to build more farms and a variety of businesses that will, automatically earn money for you (but slowly). As in GodFinger, people can visit your kingdom and place orders at your businesses. Approving that will yield some gold for each player after a certain amount of time.

Both games leverage a social obligation and a decay of 'stuff' in the game, to encourage you to login and do some stuff. That of course increases the amount of time you spend looking at the game which generates ad impressions. In terms of the ad supported business model, I think GodFinger should be an ad supported game, just like We Rule. Here's why...

In We Rule, I have many options for the types of crops to plant, each with its own time to maturity. Those time periods range from 5 minutes to a full day (or longer). If I know I don't want to, or can't, play for a set amount of time, I just plant a long term crop and then logoff. If someone places an order at one of my businesses, I can let it sit there for a long time before approving it. So, the bottom line is that I can control the amount of time I put into the game and how often I play it. The incentive to come back and login RIGHT NOW isn't very strong since I scheduled my crop maturity time period. Any orders placed at my business can be safely ignored since those business will generate money anyway, albeit more slowly.

GodFinger on the other hand is NOT ad supported but has a "you should come back and play right now" model that I CAN'T control. If I want to optimize my cash flow in the game, I have to log back in much more regularly to deal with things. Since, I have to log back in when the game wants me to, it would be the better game to use an ad supported model, but for some reason, it doesn't have ads and only wants me to spend money on something the game gives me anyway (slowly).



April 12, 2010 10:34 AM


ipad_overview-in-the-box.jpg

I'm writing this from an iPad, comfortably from my lap at just about the same word entry rate that I usually get on a real keyboard. I'm going to email this to my Evernote account (free) and post this tomorrow after doing some editing in TextMate (not free but is awesome). I haven't bought a single piece of software for the iPad yet and have been able to be productive. I've also had fun playing a few "freemium" games (eg, We Rule and GodFinger).

This isn't a review but here's a few things to think about...

  • The iPad is the Xbox of hand held computers. Think of it as a console rather than a "PC" and you'll be in a better mindset to make a potential purchase.
  • I'm not going to do html markup on the iPad. Getting to all the characters needed for that is slow and annoying. I'll finish this post in TextMate on my MacBook Pro (with an attached monitor, keyboard and mouse).
  • If you think about Apple's products you can place the iPod, iPad, MacBook, iMac and desktop machines in a line. If you have one neighbor of the iPad, you probably shouldn't get one, if you have two neighbors then I'd say that there's so much overlap in those devices that buying an iPad is a waste of money, for now. I agree with the sentiment that when these things are three or maybe even two hundred dollars, the industry will experience a sea change. iPhone OS4 on an iPad that weighs less than a pound at $200 would be the revolution Apple keeps talking about.
  • Due to the race to the bottom on game prices for the iPhone, I'm much more sensitive to iPad app prices. $10 feels expensive now even though I'd get a lot more use out of something like NetNewsWire than from a new Moby record (note: Moby rocks, not bashing Moby) that would cost a few dollars more. I'd buy a new record without thinking, but I hesitated to buy NetNewsWire.
  • The iPad has one critical issue, weight. It's way too heavy to be a hand held reader. It sounds pathetic to say that my hand and wrist get tired while reading on this thing, but, they do. The battery life is *so good* that I think they might have made a mistake by wrapping an iPod Touch around a huge battery. I'd think I'd prefer to have this thing weigh a half pound less and just deal with it having shorter battery life (it stays at home anyway).
I don't regret my purchase like some folks do if only because my career is better informed by having one. I also happen to like the device. If you're a open source libertarian, then this isn't for you in the same way that socialism isn't for a red state tea party attendee.
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