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June 23, 2010 6:17 PM


Shapeshifted on a star pony yo

Downloadable Content (DLC) comes in MANY different shapes and sizes, and this is a quick look at three pieces of DLC and their perceived value.

Oblivion's Horse Armor

In the earliest days of the Xbox 360, Oblivion was released by Bethesda Softworks and was an amazing game (I didn't finish it though). Bethesda then went on to release what was the first DLC for the 360, in the form of 'Horse Armor' to be used on your in game horse. It was a purely cosmetic addition and Bethesda tried an experiment, by pricing the armor at $2.50 which wasn't exactly met with universal acclaim.

Since the DLC was cosmetic only and used on something you didn't really need in the game, it was easy to dismiss it and say it was over priced

Modern Warfare 2 map packs

The first of two map packs for Modern Warfare 2 (MW2) was release at a higher than expected $15 price point ($10 was the expected price) and was met with whining in the press and good sales from consumers. The pack contained three new maps and two remakes from the first Modern Warfare games (which was Call of Duty 4). Many people, including myself, boiled the DLC package down to "three new maps for $15 means five bucks per map." The original $60 game shipped with 16 multiplayer maps and a solo campaign, so it's reasonable to suggest that there's a price premium on these new maps.

The reason why it sold so well is that MW2 is the best game of its type and FPS players will tend to gravitate and stay loyal to one game, and in this case, it's MW2. If you want to keep playing and not be bounced from multiplayer lobbies when new maps are chosen, you need the new maps.

Since it's a multiplayer game and people usually form clans, the effect of socially obligated gaming comes into play and the perceived value of having the new maps (or just the game in the first place) is boosted.

Worth noting at this point is the comment from "amaan4ever" saying "i feel so left out for not buying this game".

In spite of the bad press about the price, and some whining on various forums, the second map pack was released at $15 and included the same distribution of new and rehashed maps.

The "star pony" in World of Warcraft

At $25, the Celestial Steed in World of Warcraft is the most expensive single piece of DLC I've ever bought (as an aftermarket addition). It's value is that it's an enabler. The horse can run fast and it can fly (assuming you have leveled your character and have paid for the riding skill (with in-game currency)). Every last person I know who bought the mount already had another mount that enabled the player to fly and travel at very high speeds.

The reason why the star pony sold so well is that you can use it on any character you have ever created in the game and it's very common for players to create multiple characters. Each new character you create can use this mount. You can go from a lowly level 20 nobody to an overpowered death machine with this one mount under you, and it will assume all new abilities (speeds and flying) as you acquire them in game.

Having a mount is, besides tons of gold, the greatest single enabling ability in the game. $25 buys you mobility for all characters you have or ever will have in the game. That's why a small pile of polygons sold at such an amazing rate.

DLC, when presented as a trinket, isn't very compelling, but when it's delivered as an enabler it can demand a lot of real money for something that technically doesn't exist.



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).



March 23, 2010 11:07 AM


We Rule logo.

More often I'm hearing people describing Twitter as the place to get all of your news and to connect to everything and everyone. More than a few times I've heard people say RSS is dead and Twitter now owns the empty hole in your soul that can only be filled with up to the second news. They may be right, but there's one hole in my soul that Twitter couldn't fill and that a good old fashioned blog could.

I've been playing We Rule on the iPhone, which is a Farmville clone (cue the moans and groans). Anyway, there's a social component to the game and I posted up my Plus+ name (which We Rule uses to connect players) and got only one reply. I then posted my name on a We Rule story on tuaw.com and got 20 replies that night (and they continue to come in as I type). So, maybe it's not a shocker that a specific story and a comment posted on it would garner more results, but consider the fact that I posted my name on Twitter in a standardized format.

There's an in-game feature that spams Twitter saying you're looking for people to play with. It's done in the same format every time and only the name in the post is different. You can do a search for that right now and you'll see tons of people looking for each other. Now, I'm just one person, but it's worth pointing out that a blog comment in the right place can be far more productive than shouting into the Twitter abyss.

Oh yeah, add Circk on Plus+ when you get a chance. :D



March 9, 2010 11:01 AM


An in-game shot of a BMW at Montserrat.

Even though I work, have a family and play Warcraft, I bought the Limited Edition of Forza Motorsport 3 (and then didn't play it as much as I wanted to). I admit that I'm a sucker, but I love driving games and Forza 3 is the best game of its kind (Sony fan boys can go ahead and eat their hearts out now). Anyway, I paid $80 for the Limited Edition which came with a bunch of goodies (that I don't use) and the price keeps going up.

Here's the scary part, I could spend another $15 on additional downloadable content (DLC). One more cap pack, which would normally sell for $5 will push the total price to $100, and that makes me wonder how much DLC should a publisher try to sell. It's 2010 and the world's economic foundation is circling the drain, yet we have a video game that costs almost $100. Even in better times, I would question the sanity of someone trying to sell that.

DLC has an added effect of segmenting or partitioning the online community. If 10 people buy the game and only 5 buy the first DLC pack, then there are two segments of players, over time, with more DLC, you continually segment, and eventually fracture, the community. I think the fracturing of a community is just about the worst thing you can do to the long term life of your game (other than shipping it broken).

The goal of DLC should satisfy a few goals...

  • Make money
  • Keep the player base engaged with the game so they won't sell their copy to Gamestop
  • Keep the fans of your game happy so they will buy the next game

I assume, that thru price sensitivity and the fracturing of the community, that you hit diminishing returns on those goals very quickly. I have bought one DLC pack so far, and if I want to play the game online and be able to participate, then I pretty much have to commit to all of the DLC and throw down more money. That has an inertial effect where I have to keep up with the Jones's and keep on buying! Well, I'm not going to keep buying, because it's 2010 and I have a credit card I need to pay off. Sorry Turn 10, I love your game, but it costs too much for me to keep going.



March 1, 2010 11:12 AM


cod_xp_screenshot.png

Call of Duty 4 tried something "new" by including a player leveling system that was attached to a complex unlocking system. As you leveled up by killing people and doing a variety of other things, you got experience points and those points fed into your level. A new level meant you got access to new weapons and other gear (including perks).

Initial reactions to this idea were that people who play a lot, and thus hone their skills, would be rewarded with the best weapons and the scrubs of the world would be doomed to a world of hurt. Infinity Ward did a remarkable job balancing the unlock progression so that the super hardcore didn't earn themselves a god-like immunity to everyone else. The first weapon you got was a capable weapon and the best unlockables (such as the Red Dot sight) didn't require weeks of playing (perhaps only an hour or two).

CoD 4 Level 10 icon

However, given a system where there are levels, some people will figure out a way to game the system and "boost" their progression thru the levels as quickly as possible. The "prestige" mode, by which you give up all of your unlocked goodies after you hit max level, served to encourage this behavior. It's more prestigious (aka, my "epeen" is bigger than yours) to give up all the goodies and still pwn noobs. Ultimate epeen-ness (my apologies for using a non-word and adding suffix to it) in Call of Duty is achieved by hitting the max level in the game and 'going prestige' 10 times. At that point you're done and get a shiny icon that shows everyone in the lobby that your epeen is large and throbbing (and/or that you have no life).

That well designed incentive system, that begs you to keep playing, encourages people to "boost" and people inevitably answer that call.

Now, if you create a system with a reward at the end and then have people that want to circumvent that system, you are obligated to keeps things fair for everyone (even though it's all meaningless). In Call of Duty, and in any other game with this system, the method used to keep things "fair" is to not allow any leveling in private games. Those games would of course be the best method for someone to boost, because they could just invite their friends and grind thru the matrix of levels, unlocks and achievements. This wouldn't be fair to the player base, so XP gains in private games are always disallowed and are instead only allowed in public matches, which are predominately populated by assclowns.

The result is that people usually don't play private games, at least until everyone has unlocked everything and there's no more progress to be had. In Call of Duty 4, the progression system was so long that private games were rare. The same is currently happening in Modern Combat 2 since it has the same leveling structure. Battlefield Bad Company 2 appears that it will follow the same pattern.

The reason why this is bad is that the general public ("GP") on Xbox Live is the internet's version of Mos Eisley ("a wretched hive of scum and villany"). Many online gaming communities have been formed due to this exact issue. A 30something like myself doesn't want to play with 15 year old kids and listen to them pretend to be tough and whine about their homework. It gets much worse than that too. I'd rather play with men (and women, and not sexually harass them) closer to my own age and closer to my own tolerances for bullshit. The older people get the better they are able to divorce their sense of self worth to their in-game icons, the inverse is also true.

bfbc2_screen.jpg

Being forced to play in public matches will especially hurt when Battlefield Bad Company 2 comes out tomorrow. More than any other game I've played, teamwork in BFBC2 is an essential part of success and having fun. The reason why I play video games is to have fun. It's as simple as that, and playing a game with random GP assclowns is rarely fun, especially when the game itself is so focused on teamwork (which is a rare commodity when playing with random people). But, if I want to unlock all of the weapons and attachments, then I have to play public matches.

My question for the industry and community is, why do we care that people will "boost" themselves? I don't care that some kid spent his weekend with a friend getting himself an icon (that is only shown in the game lobby). What I do care about is having fun when I play a video game, and the GP usually ruins that, so I want to avoid them.

The status quo of only allowing leveling/unlocking in public games hurts the people who want to play private games. The irony is that private games don't get formed because of the boosting issue that that was created by having the leveling/unlocking system in the first place. Again, why do we care that some people will boost? Because he got the achievement for stabbing 10 people in one game? I DON'T CARE. I want to play with my friends and not be penalized for it. EA and Infinity Ward need to think about that (imho).



November 21, 2009 5:36 PM


It's cool to see performance as a way to play a video game.



November 20, 2009 7:59 PM


I suspect only newly minted middle-aged men will find this video by @ashens funny. As luck would have it, I'm one of those. For the younger folks, you can think of this as a slow motion Zero Punctuation review.

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November 9, 2009 2:36 PM


canabalt.pngCanabalt is an amazingly simple yet fun game to play, but that simplicity results in some terrible UI issues. The only interaction you have in the game is to touch the screen to jump. If you die, touching the screen restarts the game and you're running for your life again, but the result is that there's no way to see high scores without restarting the app.

Another issue is that you have to 'click' on the screen to jump. Many iPhone games share this issue, but since the game is a fast scrolling game, every last pixel of the screen is precious. Hovering your big fat thumb over the screen so you can jump is either a nasty side effect of the iPhone's interface, or an added difficulty bonus (ie, it's not a bug, it's a feature!). To me, it's an unfortunate side effect.

Also, I find the ease of posting to Twitter compared to the difficulty of seeing your high scores to be a funny little commentary on the game.

There's also no online leader board, so I have no idea if this 7k run is good or not. But I's only $2.99 and is a great distraction during commercials or when recovering from yet another wipe on heroic 25 man Anub'arak. You can play it online for free.



April 8, 2007 7:02 AM


A lot of LOTRO players have taken on a Napoleonic type complex when it comes to LOTRO vs WoW comparisons. Too bad the breadth and depth of comparisons is as great as it is, even if I'm just 7 levels into the game.

You kill stuff, you gather stuff, you run around and talk to random idiots who can't do things for themselves and you get XP for doing all of the above. The only thing I've run into so far that is different from WoW and represents and innovation is how certain events will permanently change the game world.

After you've been questing in the newbie area you will get a quest to go kill a head bad guy. When you initiate the quest you zone into an instanced 'dungeon' (it's a town) and you go thru the dungeon killing mobs and talking to NPCs. After you've done the quest and killed the bad guys you zone back out and the town has physically changed (it's on fire in the instance and afterwards is all singed/burned/under-construction). That right there is a HUGE differentiator from WoW and it is worth playing the beta just see how it works.

For those who haven't finished that quest series yet, they will see the town in it's pre-inferno condition and have quests that apply to the timeline before the fire. For those who have done that quest, the town is all burned and new/different quests are available. In WoW nothing changes until the devs patch in new content, so seeing this change was pretty neat and breaths some life into the game.

Unfortunately, there are too many comparisons to WoW and all of the basic MMORPG mechanics to make LOTRO feel fresh (for me, right now, as a level 7 Burglar). I played WoW for a year and a half and had 86 played days on my main (an undead warrior specced for tanking). As a tank you get used to tedious gameplay and repetitive actions and watching timers, and then you burn out and quit. I did that recently and picked up LOTRO at the urging of my best WoW friend and I'm afraid I might eventually let him down.

The game will certainly evolve into it's own game and the WoW comparisons will fade away into those endless "mac vs pc" threads that only insecure nerds take part in (ahem). I suppose that's a measure of success though since no game has come close to challenging WoW's MMO hegemony. There's enough here to warrant a $5 preorder at EB to try the game out, but the fact that I had to run around and kill piglets to get 6 pieces of pork for a quest says that Turbine hasn't avoided what makes WoW tedious and has instead embraced it. That leads me to believe that I'll let my friend down.

To reiterate; collecting 10 apples for an NPC that is too lazy to walk 5 feet in front of him to collect them himself is NOT FUN. A long quest series that tells a story and yields permanent changes to the game world IS FUN, so I'm causiosly optimistic about the game while being worried that I might end up playing another tedious game. There's other issues with the game that are easily explained away since the game is a beta. There are animations that need to be smoother, textures that need to be smoother and much of the textual elements in the UI need to be refined (WoW's ability to make something clear via text is unrivaled in my opinion).

At any rate, the MMO market is ripe for an FPS, that's for sure. My guess is that LOTRO might be able to be the game I play until a good MMOFPS comes out, but then again, it might not.


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