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Think Big. Move Fast.

I didn’t make it up to Casual Connect this year, so have been scanning the blog writeups. It sounds like Jim and Greg from Kongregate had a great session about some of the Fatal Flaws of Flash Game Design.

Adrian Crook notes that game plays are not as long-tail as expected:

  • 1st game – 12m plays a month
  • 2nd game – 10m
  • 20th game – 2m
  • 60th game – 1m
  • Top 1% – 50% of playtime
  • Top 10% of games – 90% of playtime

This won’t be a surprise for most game designers – it turns out that quality matters!

Greg from Kongregate posted his own notes, summarized as:

#1 You’re Making a Game, Not a Homework Assignment (i.e. start with the fun in the game)

#2 Ask the People Who Matter (i.e. get strangers to play test, not just friends)

#3 “Controls, Controls, You Must Learn Controls” (i.e. no one reads the instructions so make controls intuitive)

#4 Calling Your Game Art/Hardcore Is Not an Excuse (i.e. making your game difficult to use or play is not a good idea)

#5 Start from the Bottom Up, Not the Top Down (same as #1)

#6 Focus on Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses – Don’t Try to do Everything (i.e. make sequels, clone your own successes, and don’t try to be all things to all people)

#7 The Player Does What’s Efficient, Not What’s Fun (so make sure the efficient way to play to win is also fun)

#8 Show That You’re Human (i.e. funny is good, and don’t kill yourself on graphics)

#9 The Final 10% is Most Important (i.e. launch the game, not the beta). This last point is worth quoting more extensively from Greg:

When your game is technically done, there’s a tremendous urge to release it immediately. It’s like finishing a book report and not wanting to proofread it. It’s done! I can turn it in! I can be finished! The light is here!

But resist it. The final 10% of polish is by far the most efficient use of your time, even if it’s the most annoying and feels the least productive (since you’re changing things rather than building them).

But its importance cannot be understated. Maybe the boss on level 1 has too much health, and 40% of the people who play your game give up at that point. Five minutes of tweaking a health number could have been the best five minutes of time you ever spent in your entire life.

Don’t forget to add the little things! Having a mute button (separate for sound and music) and an intuitive save system will go a long way in making players like your game (or, more accurately, in preventing them from hating it).

Play your game. Play it again and again and again. Get others to play it. Get their feedback. Tweak, tweak, tweak. Continue polishing and ironing out bugs. Don’t be afraid to cut something out entirely if it’s not beneficial to the game – yeah, I know, you already put the work into it, but the player doesn’t care how much work you’ve put into it. If something is there that’s not fun, it simply shouldn’t be there. There is no advantage to your game being big and long purely for the sake of being big and long. Again, it’s not a homework assignment.

While I agree with this last part, I think that launching the game with good analytics built in will help you do this tweaking with real player feedback.

Erin Bell at Gamasutra has a couple more notes

Don’t Expect To Be Paid By The Hour

The Kongregate duo added: “Developers are shocked when they produce a game that they’ve been working on for four months and they only get a $1,000 or $2,000 sponsorship offer on it.”

“The thing is, no one really asked them to make this game. It’s something they did on their own, and reverse logic doesn’t really work when you try to break it down by the hour. It doesn’t matter how long you spent on the game, it’s the final product that matters.”

Don’t Equate Length With Value

A lot of developers feel like they need to have a long game, which makes sense if they’re trying to sell your game for $60 on a console, but not so much for a free Flash game, according to Kongregate.

The Several Journeys of Reemus series, for example, was a successful game on Kongregate, but most of the negative comments focused on its unnecessary length. The final level in particular, which was extremely repetitive, drove people crazy. When McClanahan asked the developer why he had made the final level so long, he said that the game would have been too short if he hadn’t.

McClanahan contrasted that example with You Have to Burn the Rope – a game that was one minute long to play, but has an average rating of 4.02 (out of 5) at Kongregate.

On this point, I hold more with Dan Cook’s view that the way to break out of the $1-2k/game mindset for Flash Games is by integrating virtual goods as the business model. Usually a players willingness to spend money on virtual goods is correlated with their level of engagement. This means short games (unless they are replayable) are unlikely to be able to get users to open their wallets. Equally, games that are long for the sake of being long (and lose the fun) are also unlikely to be able to get users to open their wallets as well. Long play sessions driven by fun are the most likely to be able to make the jump to a more lucrative virtual goods driven business model in my opinion.

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Fred Wilson recently posted about the importance of SMS as a mobile interface, saying that in the debate between web apps and mobile apps on phones, you should not ignore the least common denominator, SMS.

I believe that Twitter’s native implementation of sms is an important part of its success. The 140 character limit was driven by the 160 character limit of sms and the initial design of the service put sms compatibility up there near or at the top of the system requirements. Other competitive services, including Facebook, are just not as natively available via sms the way Twitter is.

In general, I agree.

However, he also notes that:

Of course most people access Twitter and Facebook and other web services via mobile web interfaces and apps. I don’t know the current percentages but I think something less than 15 percent of Twitter updates are posted via sms. And the number of people following via sms is also relatively low.

I”m sure a lot more than 15% of Twitterers tweet some of the time via SMS,  so the 140 character limit has its benefits for making it easy to tweet. However, I think that there is another very important advantage to limiting tweets to 140 characters, and that is that it keeps the cost of spam down.

Many people have complained that Twitter is getting spammy, and that as a user follows more twitterers, they see a decrease in the signal-to-noise ratio in their feed. Obviously, it is always better to have a high ratio of signal-to-noise.

But if the “cost” of noise is low, then you can tolerate more noise. Twitter’s 140 character limit helps keep the “cost” of noise low; it is easy to scan the feed and skip over tweets that are not interesting to you. Since Twitter has few ways to filter the feed to minimize noise, short tweets are important to reading as well.

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Sunday’s New York Times Week in Review writes about the power of the brand as a verb:

Perhaps nothing better illustrates how far behind Microsoft is in the search engine wars than a recent comment by the company’s chief executive, Steve Ballmer, about why he liked the name Bing for Microsoft’s new competitor to Google.

The name, he told The New York Times, “works globally” and has the potential “to verb up.” That is, some day, Mr. Ballmer hopes, people will “bing” a new restaurant to find its address or “bing” a new job applicant for telling events in his past.

Notes the Times:

The leader among Internet brands turned verbs, of course, is Google. Imagine the glee in Microsoft headquarters if Google lost its trademark protection to genericide. If “google” becomes synonymous with conducting an Internet search, then Microsoft could legally and confusingly advertise by saying: “Use Bing for all of your most complicated googling!”

On the other hand, when your brand becomes a verb, you know you’ve reached mass market consumer recognition, usually a pretty good indicator for value creation. So far the internet brands that I can think of that are commonly used as verbs are Google, Skype, Facebook, Yelp and Twitter (tweet). What am I forgetting?

UPDATE: Digg was a good suggestion

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Dan Cook has a great post about business models for flash game developers over at Lost Garden. He says:

Ads are a really crappy revenue source
For a recent game my friend Andre released, 2 million unique users yields

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AdAge has a good article today about how AOL has been attacking web publishing where it notes:

In the heady days of early 2000, the megamerger of AOL and Time Warner heralded the web-based future of publishing. It would create

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I moderated two panels at the Social Gaming Summit 2009 today. The first was about building social games at scale and featured the CEOs/COOs of the top three social game companies; Mark Pincus of Zynga, John Pleasants of Playdom and …

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Worlds In Motion plays Mafia Wars and compares it to other web based massively single player games, including ForumWarz, Kingdom of Loathing and Urban Dead:

There are plenty of other MSOs … but the successful ones all have

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A couple of years ago I posted about how improving copy is an easy way to increase user interaction. Bokardo recently posted on a similar topic, about how microcopy can improve your user interface:

Microcopy is extremely contextual…that’s

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Internet Retailer shares a bunch of interesting ecommerce stats from the E-tailing group. Notable for me is the conversion rate for retailers in 2009:

Conversion Rate: % of retailers
<1%: 4%

1-3%: 44%

3-5%: 21%

5-8%: 17%

8-20%:

9% …

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NY Times has a really interesting article about who buys extended warranties:

The study reported that consumers are far likelier to buy warranties for products they consider enjoyable (like iPods) than for dull products (like landline phones), simply because,

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