Franchises: Know thine own

One of the first steps is to get into your franchise. If you are new to a company or have been assigned a franchise that you may not be familiar with, start visiting by reading/watching/listening to your material. If you can’t tell me the 378th Rule of Acquisition, then you clearly don’t have what it takes to make a Ferengie stock market trading game. The reason for this is that your franchise probably has some *serious* fans, and if you can’t love your game topic you certainly won’t be able to come up with a game that serves the core audience. Not only do you need to have intimate knowledge of every character and setting, but find something to love about your franchises, some can be more difficult than others to love, I know! But if you look you’d be surprised what you can find within your content. For instance, for those of you who don’t watch Sponge Bob Square Pants, it is really hard to see why you’d want to. It’s a kids title right? Just some stupid over popular cartoon? If you took some time to get to know the show like some of us have, you’d see that there is a lot of innuendo and commentary that makes Sponge Bob really enjoyable, regardless of its targeted age range.

Franchises: Why working on them is awesome

Franchises work like this. An owner of an intellectual property (lets take the Wheel of Time series for example) has the ability to sell the rights to certain mediums at certain prices. Typically the IP comes from a media that they are totally qualified to do, in the WoT case, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson has the writing aspect of the series totally covered. But the books are really popular, and people really would love to watch a movie or play a game of Wheel of Time. So instead of opening up their own game studio, movie studio, bobble head production line, they sell the rights to WoT to another party so THEY can go make the game. Lets say they sell the WoT game rights to me (Which I would happily do). Now it is my job to create games since I just forked over a boat load, but I don’t have the development capacity to make a PC/DS/PSP/PS3/360/Wii titles efficiently, so I use my money to pay other people to make the game for me. These are production houses like Activision, SEGA, and Capcom. Often they also have some internal developers too.

The amount I paid for the franchise and the amount I invest in the game developers is going to be LESS than I expect I can make off the franchise. There’s a lot of fuzzy math behind the calculation of (DieHardMarket + CasualMarket) x (GameQuality-Cost) x msrp = MaximumProfit but it basically boils down to the fact that no matter how terrible you make a game, a certain number of people are going to buy it. Now, I am not advocating to put terrible games on the shelves, but because of this buying power you have, magnitudes of people will be playing your game while thousands of other highly funded developers toil in obscurity.

So this is the gift you’ve been given developers. No matter how terrible you make the game, people will buy it, probably a great many people. So now here’s the great responsibility to come with your great gift; you actually have to make a good game because your marketing has been done for you. Its freeing that you don’t have to worry about getting the word out there about your game like many indie devs. It is also immensely stressful, with a limited budget and a hundred voices yelling at you to create a game thats the opposite of the other voices, but its got its own reward. You are going to reach a huge audience with a design of your own making so do your best and enjoy.

What would a good micropayment system look like?

My previous post on micropayments got me to thinking about how I would go about designing a system like this.

Games are huge systems and charging piecemeal isn’t inherently wrong. But games that implement micropayments should follow guidelines when ever they charge money.

  • Each payment should purchase a system that was designed with the best intentions to provide the experience promised.
  • Each system should be a new or different experience that isn’t an upgrade of other systems. For instance, if we were to charge 5 dollars for each character class in a typical MMO, Knight, Wizard, Cleric, each experience would be very different, and each class could function correctly. It is a terrible idea to charge 5 dollars for “Knights who can do more damage” or “Clerics that can heal more”.
  • Players should not pay to shortcut an experience. Games are generally about the Beginning, Middle, and End. Buying a “max your level” upgrade is like paying an extra 10 dollars just to watch the end of a movie and is ultimately cheating a player out of the game itself.
    • This might bring up the argument, what about players that don’t want to level and want to skip ahead? If your game is so miserable that people want to pay in order to get to the good stuff that only happens after a 1000 of hours of grind, then you haven’t provided the players with a very good experience at all.

Micropayments destroy game credibility

Micropayments in videogames have gone on for a long time. But the way these systems are implemented today destructive to the credibility of games. Now, everyone needs to make a buck in order to keep producing games and I get that businesses are out to make money but the degree in which game design choices are viewed within the lense of “How can I convince the player to give me money?” instead of “How does this bring more fun/happiness/fear to the player?” is infuriating. To me, these games feel more like casino slot machines, using psychological tricks (like machines at the end of the rows payout more) to get quarters.

There are two goals of most current micropayment games. Increase the amount of users in your base. And get as many users as possible to buy as many things as possible. The way these games accomplish this is

  • Put artificial roadblocks or incentives that require users to recruit more users. Much like many pyramid schemes those within the user base have an imperative to recruit otherwise they cannot be successful within the organization.
  • Put shortcuts within the game that bypass intentionally clunky or difficult features. This would be similar to a Windows product charging an extra 15 dollars in order to use the mouse. Although technically you can use the keyboard to get to nearly everything in the OS, the OS is specifically designed for a mouse interface. The same with these games, you are specifically intended to harvest crops, build things, but in order to do it effectively you have to put money into it.

Ultimately these tactics cheapen games as a whole. As users begin to realize they are being bilked by these games which millions of users play, it will turn off users to playing all games as they generalize their own experience towards the rest of the games industry. This is not good design and the companies behind it are creating games to provide only enough incentive to continue paying out, not to forward our medium.