Category: Mobile App Design

Where the value of a game is concerned, most players have four concerns relating to pay models:

  1. How much can I afford to spend on games per month?
  2. How much of that am I willing to spend on a specific game?
  3. Are there other games out there that will provide the same level of satisfaction but cost less?
  4. Am I invested so heavily into a game now that, “I have to keep playing it”?

These are questions developers should be asking about their players, too. There are thousands of games out there representing every pay model permutation possible. Each has its own level of financial investment to fully experience.  Money, while very important is only one element in the equation.

According to Scott Rigby, author of “Glued to Games”, there are three core reasons why people play games:

  • Competence – The potential to show progress and achievements – better stats, better equipment, more achievements, more gold, better skills.
  • Autonomy – Having choices, ability to make decisions and have control over the outcome – the option to try different things, decide moral dilemmas, etc.
  • Relatedness – To feel like we matter and are making a “contribution” to the world and to things to which we associate ourselves.

This correlates closely with findings from a CareerBuilder.com Survey of over 6,000 people from 2007. Their survey indicated that when it comes to work, people’s “dream jobs” are more concerned with having fun (39%) and being able to make a difference in society (17%), than making money (13%).   “Having fun” is functionally a combination of Competence and Autonomy, under Rigby’s analysis.

Games provide a means to fulfill the things that we may not be realizing in other areas of our lives.  That is, if we are not having fun at work, when we are on our free time, we are likely going to seek out “whatever it is” that we call fun.

When it comes to game design, one of the first questions a developer needs to ask is, “Why is someone going to play this game?”  What will it provide that the player really wants, or even needs?  Game theory and psychology plays an important role in the success of a game, and it is directly demonstrated when “virtual vanity items” such as a +5 Tome of Epic Uper Strength in one MMO is available for US $24.

Games that offer a strong social or competitive environment depend upon the Internet, while games that focus on solo play generally don’t. Players are willing to play more and pay more when they have a strong social connection with other people playing it. Their investment in the game is no longer just measured in monetary terms, but social ones, to friends, teams, guildies, and sometimes even responsibilities within a guild or team environment.

Where Competence, Autonomy and Relatedness apply to all games, it can be generally said that most hugely successful games that do not rely upon an internet connection depend upon delivering an immersive experience – in play, graphics, etc. Most that do rely upon an internet connection rely upon a variety of strong social components. It is hard to get both via a mobile app today, but that will not always be the case.

This is all important as it relates to defining your position within the market. This does require some competitive analysis and surveys of your beta-team and players, alike.  Compare your app against what other games of a similar nature offer players.

Everything has a cost, whether it is measured in time or money. Without getting into the philosophical connotations too deeply, Aristotle asserted that the more intangible something is, the greater its value. We have farmers who sell food that is essential for life making very little. Basketball players, movie stars, fashion companies and diamond dealers make big money for providing entertainment and prestige. Shoes are relatively inexpensive until you through a Nike branding symbol on them.

Time can be considered the most valuable commodity of all as it is an abstract concept.   For however much time we may have, it is never enough and no amount of money can really buy us more. The inconvenient fact is that some are able to monetize their time better than others. Some people have more time than money, some people have more money than time.

These are relevant factors both in game design, monetization and lifetime value. Some games are very casual and may only involve a few hours of play to experience all they have to offer; others may involve hundreds – potentially thousands of hours of game play – just to reach the “end game”.

Games tend to offer an incredible “value” for the amount of entertainment they provide. Compare, for example, paying a $5 or even $15 monthly subscription for “All you can play” to seeing one movie at a cinema, or ordering one pizza. This dynamic goes all the way back to the 1970’s, if not earlier. TSR, the company which originally produced Dungeons and Dragons founded by Gary Gygax, priced its “modules/adventures” for about $5 to $10, or about how much someone would spend on a pizza. The idea was that adventure would offer 4-5 people entertainment for 3-4 evenings.

Perhaps a digression, but “back then” it was frequent for people who played D&D to have a dedicated group of players and one “game master” (DM). Each adventure had suggested levels like 1st to 3rd, 4th to 6th, and so forth.

What happened when a new player joined the group? Did they start out at 1st level like everyone else?

No, the game master usually had them roll a “new” character that was slightly below everyone else’s level. That way they could play, be relevant and have fun.

Things are a bit different today, but the dynamics are still very similar. Many games are offering very similar options to new players. A game that has been out for some time will see most of its player base in or close to the end game. Where does that leave the new player? In the starter zone and 120 hours away from being able to play at the same level as their friends?

A large number of dedicated gamers are happy to do that, but for some, that’s not practical. Offering them a fast start option is not a game breaker. Neither does it need to be free, especially in an otherwise free to play game. Most of the larger MMO’s are catering directly to this niche, offering advanced set-up or fast start options to new (and old) players alike.

Is that fair? Is that Pay to Win? That requires spending some time evaluating what Pay to Win really is – which really is not within the scope of this article. However, there is a distinct different between Paying to Win and just Paying for the Potential to Win.

The Lottery is by nature a Pay to Win game. To win, you have to buy a ticket. But just because you buy a ticket or a thousand tickets, there is no guarantee that you will win… anything. That does not advocate giving away Lottery Tickets for free.  So the Pay to Win argument really only goes so far. Its relevancy applies most when games involve direct competition between players. That is not characteristic of most games; definitely some.

Gear and Skills. For most players, the concept of “you need the gear in order to get the gear” goes without mention. Depending upon the game, the same can be said for inherent game attributes and skills – like Strength or Power Attack. So also, there are games where actual physical player skills, hand and eye coordination define winning or losing. There are “challenges” in some games that I’ve personally spent hours trying to complete and still have not completed. There are no Pay to Win options for those, and rightly so.

Crafting. One other thing needs to be considered. In many games, you might be able to get a head start in terms of “character level” but not professions or other crafting options…

I might be a powerful 90th level Paladin and can subdue large dragons with a wave of my hand, but I don’t know how to make you a glass of water…

Well… Crafting is not just a matter of time, but resources. Whether to try monetizing crafting abilities depends very much upon the structure and vitality of your game world’s economy. It influences supply and demand within your game world, so needs careful evaluation.

The functional point though is that your game is not a “job” – it is or should be aiming to be a form of entertainment.   And if your game involves groups or other forms of socializing, you also want to aim at making it easy for new players to associate meaningfully with those who introduced them to it.  That does not, in all cases, mandate a fast start.  Indeed, in many cases, it does mean starting out from scratch like everyone else, and letting their more advanced friends help them get up to speed.

Ultimately, if your game involves a large trek from starting area to end game, monetizing the ability to jump in closer to the end game is an option useful and valuable to your players and to your bottom line.

Deciding on Your Next Mobile App Development Project

Mobile app development is best pursued as an investment of your time, skill and resources – they will certainly consume them. It is worth reiterating that you should have several possible app ideas available for consideration versus being locked into one. With just one idea, there’s no real choice or means of comparing possible outcomes (in ROI). But, just because you have lots of ideas for great apps does not necessarily mean you can run with all of them, or even your best idea, immediately. There are many things to consider when you come to decide, “Which app will you work on next?”

While you want a constant stream of app ideas, you want an efficient decision making funnel to help in sequencing your future projects. You can’t fear tossing aside a bad idea or bog down in prematurely investing in projects that are beyond your means.   The funnel works by applying 3-4 of the following sequences:

  1. Is the app idea worth investigating?
  2. Do you have everything needed to make the app?
  3. Are you going to adopt the app into your development planning?
  4. Are you going to develop the app?

These questions are not asked all at once – because you normally will not have all of the information available to make an informed decision.

1.  Is the app idea worth investigating? - This is the gateway question – and can usually be answered fairly fast and on an informal basis.   Does the idea have the potential to be marketable?  Does it sound within your ability to do?  Do you have an affinity for the project?

Ideas can come from many sources, including your end users (customers) – suffice that some ideas simply are not worth investigating and should be tossed aside.

If an idea for the app is worth investigating further, then you can add it to your prospective projects folder.   By deciding the app is worth investigating, it is worth your time to make a detailed description of the app.  You will need more information before you can take it further, but this is the starting gate question.

2.  Do you have everything needed to make the app? – The second stage of evaluating an app is much more involved and complex.  There are many questions that you should answer.  There are some very good ideas out there, but the cost in time, money or other resources are too great for what you can reasonably expect.  Likewise, some ideas might look good at first glance, but come up short in a marketing analysis.

The aim of this step is to classify each app idea as a) worth doing, b) Not worth doing, or c)  better for someone else to do.  It involves answering the following kinds of questions:

  • Is your team technically capable of doing it? (programming, graphics, payment system/s, etc.)
  • Time to market – how long will it take to develop?
  • Will you be financially viable in the time it takes to bring it to market?
  • Do you have everything you need to do it? If not, who and what more is needed?
  • Target market and marketability assessment?
  • Pricing or business model (free/freemium/premium/subscription)

When defining whether something may be worth doing, you do not necessarily need to base your assessment on current conditions.  It may involve learning a different platform or be based upon a device that has not achieved market maturity.  As long as you can reasonably expect that you will eventually be able to do it, it can be designated as a “keeper.”

There are ideas that would simply work better or be more profitable if done by someone else – perhaps a big player, a specialist or a friend.   You could just “give the ideas away”, but you can also try to monetize them.  That needs to be treated separately.

3.  Are you going to adopt the app into your development planning?

By this point, you have an idea that is fully fleshed out and you know that you CAN do it.  The questions now are If and When are you going to do it?  You may have several viable ideas, but you finite resources with which to engage them.  Some good ideas may be abandoned or perhaps placed in the “give away” folder for not fitting into your overall business profile (i.e. a focus on games vs. utilities), appear to offer a lower ROI, or any number of other reasons.

Here though, you are able to define which projects you are going to pursue and assign a sequence to them.  This is obvious for games with planned sequels or utility apps of increasing complexity for a particular niche.

4.  Are you going to develop the app?

This is the final analysis – an ultimate do or don’t.  Here we recognize that conditions may have changed since we decided to add the app to our development plans.  Maybe a key team member left, maybe the market for an app has dramatically changed, maybe our finances are not up to the task, or any number of reasons.   Ideally, you have a few apps which have past your third decision point – others that you have plans to do.  If so, you can likely switch over to one of them whether you decide to delay or drop the other one.

 

Usually these decision points are not made simultaneously.  It is not uncommon for #1 and #2 to be consolidated into one step.  Sometimes the idea for an app is handed to you in a fully fleshed out form (employee proposals), so you may go straight from #1 to #3.

The process itself may seem cumbersome, but attention to the decision making process can help save thousands of hours pursuing projects that had no chance of getting anywhere before they even left the starting gate.

With my own projects, the primary project I want to pursue is ultimately the last project that I will pursue, partly as a matter of project sequence, secondly in relation to potential funding.  If I did what I really wanted to do though, it could easily translate to thousands of hours of wasted effort.  Having seen several companies invest considerable amounts of effort into projects that get killed before public launch is indicative that the decision making process was lacking at some stage – usually in defining everything needed in the second decision point.

Today, we’re going to take a field trip to see what those “other guys” are doing on the PC side of game development, and see – what, if anything, is useful for game development on the mobile side. For this, we are looking at Panzer General Online, produced by Ubisoft. Gaming veterans will remember the original Panzer General as a very popular war game originally produced by Strategic Simulations, Inc., in 1994. It was a turn-based game played out on a hexagon-based map featuring all the varied types of military units from World War II – infantry, armor, artillery, aircraft and more.

Panzer General Online is a different breed of game (or wargame) as it is, essentially, a Trading Cards Game. I never thought I would play one of them. That I would like it enough to sink some money into it? Not a chance in Hell.

So, here we are…

800x600_1

 

System requirements:  current browser (Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox or Chrome are recommended), Flash version 11.7 (or higher) and a working internet connection. Additionally your PC should have at least 1 gigabyte of RAM, a CPU with 1,5 GHz and a video card that supports DirectX 9 or OpenGL.

Panzer General Online features worthy of developer interest:

Variety of Play Options:  Loads of PVE (4 campaigns); Endless PVP (Fixed skirmishes, Ranked Play, Survival Mode), plus plans for alliances.

Truly Free to Play: There does not seem to be anything that you cannot get by earning in-game currency. It can be a grind to get the best “stuff” – as it is with any game. It is not “Pay to Win” because there is a difference between having the best stuff and knowing how to use it.

An Interesting Economy: It has 2 types of in-game currency which can be earned through both PVE and PVP play – Prestige and Coins. You can purchase Prestige for real cash. How currency is used involves strategic decisions across a variety of options.

A Monetized Game Market: All players can sell their unwanted equipment on the open (black?) market, but not all at once. It costs Trading Tickets to post something for sell and the number of tickets required varies relative to the quality of what is being sold. Players can buy “expanded” access to the market via prestige. Players get the trading tickets back over time. Personally, I ended up getting 2 Rare Cards of the same type

Strategic Crafting: There are two parts to each card in the game – the Unit Type (like a King Tiger, Sherman or T-34) and there are the “Commands” available to it. A single card can have up to 3 commands. Some commands are very basic, let you perform One Action. Others can apply a global effect, let you make 4 moves, or do something detrimental to your opponent. This adds depth, complexity and a lot of thought because frequently the orders you want are not readily available on the equipment you would prefer to use.

Highly Competitive: Basically, doing PVE content helps you get what you need to be competitive in PVP. As you go up in the rankings, you have a chance to win even more prizes on a weekly basis.

Tangible Daily Reward: You get a small, but steady amount of in-game currency every day you log in. This includes coins, prestige and other valuables which can only be purchased through prestige.

Fast Matches: The vast majority of content can be completed in 5 – 15 minute matches.

Encourages Making Friends: Some of the PVE content would constitute a “grind of unimaginable proportions” if you tried to do it solo. These are “boss challenges” – that need to be completed in a certain amount of time, or you start over. By having lots of friends, these challenges become easier and equate to “rewards” for everyone who contributed.

Good Graphics: However you slice up a World War II game, it all comes back to having little “figurines” to move around – like we had back in the 1970’s and before… The graphics are attractive, maybe not mind-blowing, but authentic. A Panther tank or US Army Jeep in game looks almost exactly like it did in real life – just a lot smaller.

The combination of all of these points makes for an authentic wargame despite its very non-traditional format. There’s always something “more” or “better” to go after and always new strategies to try.

Panzer General Online convinced me to purchase in-game currency first for hitting the sweet spot as a game, secondly for appealing to innate “greed” and “curiosity”. I wanted to see what was in the random booster packs and maybe get lucky.   Okay, call it gambling in a sense. You can “grind” your way to being able to afford “anything you want”. Contrast that with spending a little to possibly get “something you want.” Do I want to spend 800 coins on an enhanced booster pack for 4 random units or do I want to spend it on 1 unit that I could definitely use?

What I think is especially valuable for developers – for PC and mobile, is the “incredible ease” Panzer General Online of bringing players to the point of “wanting something” in the game. It is sometimes easier to write after reading what others have written. So also can it be easier to develop after examining what others have developed. In this line, I recommend Panzer General Online as a game worth investigating to developers.

Back in the first stages of the “global financial crisis”, an idea came to me that I presented as a 22 page “open source business plan” under a slightly different name. That was in 2008, and now I would like to submit the core points of that plan to mobile app developers.  The idea can be defined in different ways – “Information Crowdsourcing”, “Social Networking Management”, or any number of others.   Take from it and apply to it as you like.

Core Issues – The Problems

Social networking requires time searching for relevant people and data. Social networking is also substantially segmented by hundreds of social networks of scale (Facebook, etc.) and thousands of other smaller ones. It does not help to search on LinkedIn if the people you are searching for are not there. More time is spent searching than making decisions or acting upon the data found.

The Internet is a means of connecting people with people and information. Where there is an extreme supply and demand for information, there is a relative lack of tools to reduce saturation and increase relevancy.

Social Networking is a very personal function. Heads of state have ambassadors. Even ambassadors have vice-ambassadors.

Per Wikipedia –  Six degrees of separation is the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps.

The Internet and Networking ultimately has the potential to reduce this to being 1-2 degrees of separation. That is saturation and it hinders relevancy. The decline in relevancy can be cited as basis for the declining effectiveness in television, radio, and newspapers.  People are wanting increasingly specific vs. very general information.

Solutions?

U-Borg – Help Customers Connect with the Right People and Information in a Timely, Efficient and Actionable basis.

John sells Specific Stuff.  He wants to connect with other people who buy and sell the Same Specific Stuff – regardless of their language or location; or maybe he wants a specific location but where everyone speaks a different language. 

He could spend a lot of time searching for this or he could sit back and let people feed it to him.  This is a very basic situation and there are all kinds of ways John could go about it, now.   But how actionable is the information he finds going to be?  How efficient is it for him to be doing that research?  How efficient is it?

The aim is not simple “lead generation” – but something more like Help A Reporter Out, except even more specific in focus and detail.  HARO makes it easy for journalists to find sources for information – spanning any topic.   On a business basis, it enables all contributors to the network the potential to monetize “what they know” and/or “who they know.”

The simple point is that information is a commodity, it exists in abundance but is relatively difficult to monetize unless you are able to achieve very good matching.   Whether sourcing information, making industry specific introductions, the business concept is readily given to be extremely niche specific while not confined to the likes of “one network.”

Numerous possibilities for monetization exist, both for the business itself and for participants on a crowdsourcing basis.  These consider everything from personal introductions, information sharing, personal assistant services, or bundles on a pay per use, package or monthly subscription basis.

[Note:  Reading through this, I realize a few things – a) that it differs significantly from the business plan fleshed out in 2008; b) that the overall idea may be somewhat nebulous, but c) the core principles are the same and even more pronounced now then they were then.   The need for “ultra specific information” is only increasing; so is the ability to provide it – but it is the “matching of supply with demand” that is still a long ways from being optimal.]