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Mike Sellers
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@Greg: This sort of "VW" isn't really reaching the same heights of social interaction or artistic/design complexity you find in a major MMOG Not reaching (or exceeding!) those -- yet. I have hope. :) If the freemium and micropayment model works, there is some potential for getting games like FV that are less spammy and more interesting from a design perspective. It's an interesting (indeed, crucial) design question as to how to make these games work from a viral/virtual goods revenue model but without making them as crudely spammy as they are today. I think from a design perspective we're at the very beginning of learning how to do this well. The early successes of Zynga, Playfish, Playdom, et al., will be somewhat analogous to some of the early MMO/VW design efforts -- back when we thought 100K people was a huge number of players and before design tropes that are deeply entrenched were even known.
Toggle Commented Oct 19, 2009 on Farmville = 56 million at Terra Nova
This is an area I've been spending a lot of time in. It's exploding in ways that are difficult to comprehend sometimes. IMO, whether you look at this in terms of design, social currency, or commercial products, what we're seeing is the emergence of the next stage of VWs and MMOGs. I'm not saying that traditional heavy-client 3D MMOGs are going away, but the presence of these browser-based social games definitely changes the equation for any MMOG developer or operator out there. @Brian - to your points: 1. These games are making solid revenue: Playfish was on track to make around $75M this year (prior to being snapped up by EA for $250M), based solely on free-to-play games. As a rule of thumb, these games make about $25,000 per day for every 1M daily unique users. According to Developer Analytics, Farmville has about 22M daily unique users, which roughly speaking equates to about $16,000,000 in monthly revenue. So yeah, they're making money. (BTW, it's interesting to me that this translates into a relatively low ARPU of about 30c/month, when free-to-play MMOs are showing about $1.20/month ARPU. What this says to me is that there is significant ground to be made in optimizing our game designs for use with this revenue stream -- lots of lessons to be learned from existing f2p MMOs!) It's true that bigger isn't always better, but what's amazing about this area is that we aren't necessarily talking big teams or big budgets. Significant revenues can be found on games that are made for 10% or less of a "traditional" online games with small dedicated teams and little to no traditional marketing (Restaurant City, with 17M MAU, reportedly has had only word-of-mouth marketing). Also, these games are not ad-supported at all -- as someone at the Social Games Summit this summer said, from the player's POV, ads detract from the experience, while more objects add to it. The revenue model is virtual goods transactions, and it has been shown many times over to be a solid, predictable model, not as capricious as we on this side of the Pacific once thought. 2. While it's true that Farmville is much more popular than the next game, this is more a factor of the meteoric growth of the market than anything else. In July of this year, the top game had 12M monthly unique users, and that was thought to be dizzying. In the past few months, that's quadrupled, and shows no signs of slowing. More importantly, there is depth and breadth to this market. For example, according to, the top 61 games have more than 1M monthly unique users, and the top 230 have more than 100,000 MAU -- enough to make revenues of ~$150K-200K per month, or easily enough to power a small studio. This is a complete change from either the retail market, where maybe 5% of games on the shelf make money, or from the traditional MMO market, where the risk of getting your game completed and released kills probably 9 out of 10 before they have a chance. 3. Zynga in particular seems to be following the "polish and refine" strategy, but there are many highly original games out there. Again what's significant here is that a small team can launch an innovative title without huge studio backing and without distribution hassles. For once, if there's a lack of innovation, it's not because the innovation is being strangled, it's because we, game developers, are not providing it. Perhaps we've all been making traditional "kill monster get gold" games for too long? 4. There are both old and new game mechanics at work in this area (if not necessarily in Farmville, though Zynga has I think made some innovative twists on existing designs). If we're going to talk about "obsessiveness," then games are all really just variations on a Pavlovian theme, and there isn't much new under the sun no matter what we do. 5. It's useful to contrast the AppStore with web-based and social-network-based games. IMO, Apple has done a great job with the AppStore of re-inventing the retail game market circa 1990: back then you had to somehow score limited shelf space in a games store, most of which carried about 30 titles. Now on the AppStore if you're not on the "Top 25" list, your game is completely obscure. That is completely different from these web and SNS-based games, as multiple (the top 200 or so?) games have shown. At long last, we have a situation where developers are free from the hassles of difficult platform adherence, expensive normal-mapped 3D art, multi-year death-march schedules, not having market information, and the vagaries of retail and distribution, advertising, etc. You no longer need a publisher (though one can help). Oh and as a bonus, we've finally found the mass-market we've all dreamed of, where literally hundreds of millions -- not just hundreds of thousands -- of people are playing these games. They're not "gamers" but they nevertheless play games. They won't buy games off the shelf but they'll pay for objects in them. The question is, how does this change the notions of virtual worlds that have become not only comfortable but even orthodox within our community? How does this change how we envision worlds and games? And what will we do with these amazing opportunities in front of us?
Toggle Commented Oct 17, 2009 on Farmville = 56 million at Terra Nova
I've been thinking about (and working on) this too, Ren. And there have been way too many presentations pointing out the numbingly obvious -- at least, obvious to those of us who have been paying attention for more than a few months. To be fair, every generation (as you've listed them above) comes up with the same breathless wide-eyed amazement at their incredible discovery of online communities, games, revenues, etc.. True to human form, everyone from generation n-1 or earlier decries the late realizations of the newcomers as we scoot over to make room for them, like people looking sideways at those loudly entering a movie already in progress. And yet, with each generation there are tectonic shifts, and this current time is no exception. Not to go too far back, but many of us here are on record as thinking WoW would not break a million users. And for a long time TN -- like much of the gaming/VW media -- has been accused of being all about WoW and SL with minor field trips to talk about EVE or a few other games. How many even paid attention to the early days of social games, and how many of us thought that somehow these casual games were just a bit below our notice? This is an attitude I see even now -- "oh right, games on Facebook. Well those aren't really MMOs or virtual worlds." Right, as if we get to be the arbiters of how this area evolves. What strikes me most is that while the orthodox MMO/VW crowd (and my, can we be orthodox) puzzles over the long-term fate of WoW, Warhammer, and Conan, eagerly awaits The Old Republic, and pokes now and again at this odd free-to-play stuff, the new kids with their shiny casual/social games are out actually bringing the online community experience to many times the number of people we ever did. Remember how before WoW, Everquest was this daunting mass of players, almost 500,000 strong? There were rumors from Korea that Lineage had more, but no one could really be sure, and so mostly we didn't believe it. And then WoW became the 500-pound gorilla, the big Kahuna. It made what seemed to be an impossible and impenetrable wall of a million players -- then two, then five. Now, almost five years after its launch, the game is a juggernaut approaching twelve million players. All great, for its generation. But let's put it in perspective. In three months the number one social game on Facebook has gone from zero to over 50 million players. Not registrations, but actual unique monthly players (about 20 million daily uniques). As for breadth, WoW would rank about #18 on the list of Facebook games (by MAU), and Everquest at its height would rank somewhere below #200 (right around "Doorbell" or "Send Tattoos"). We're all playing in a much larger pond now, like it or not. So yes, while there's a lot that's being said that's stupifyingly obvious... we who have been around the track a few times may also be missing some obvious things. We (and I mean us, as writers and readers at places like Terra Nova) need to be careful that we don't roll our eyes and discount yet-another-speaker making a hash of the history that we lived through, and in so doing slip from our jaded impatience at the newbs to simply being cranky. To put that another way, is it more important for us -- individually, academically, and collectively -- to stay current with how people are creating and using online community now, or to mistake debating the minutiae of tank/dps/healer combat forms so ritualized as to rival Japanese opera with actually looking forward?
Toggle Commented Oct 4, 2009 on History Version 3 at Terra Nova
"Onverse has evolved a lot since the idea first came to me in 1996, while I was working at Sony Online Entertainment as a Design Manager on EverQuest II." EQ II in 1996? Someone has their dates or their history wrong. "Savings, family and ramen noodles." I salute these guys and anyone crazy enough to jump into this pool. Still, at this point I don't see a lot of differentiation for this VW in the marketplace from SL, There, or other worlds. In an age of easy-in browser-based worlds, 162Mb had better bring the user something completely different. Best of luck to them though. This is a tough area to jump into.