January 25, 2011 § Leave a comment
If you were asked to remember the first game that came to your mind, chances are that it would be “Angry Birds“. This insanely addictive and immensely popular game has captured the minds and fingers of mobile users all over the world. Be it on iOS or Android, the game has taken its place in millions of mobile devices and promises to go even further with smartphone proliferation. Angry Birds is not alone. The Internet is abuzz about a 14yr old kid whose game, Bubble Ball topped the iPhone App Store game download charts recently. And most developers by now have read the BackFlip Studios case study presentation from GDC, where the company charted its growth from a one man operation to a developer whose primary game is a free app that generates over $1million a year in ad revenue.
Are console games on their deathbeds?. Is this the end of full sized blockbusters like Gran Tourismo, Call of Duty and Halo?. No. But there is an undeniable paradigm shift in the kind of games that attract attention and sell. Gone are the days when blockbuster games were PC or console only experiences. Today, the standard for console and PC blockbusters are very high. For developers with smaller pockets and not so infinite resources, the world of bite sized games is much more preferable. The mobile game market is exploding with all sorts of players big and small. Electronic Arts makes big blockbusters like its Madden NFL franchise. It also generates a ton of money selling Scrabble and Sudoku on every conceivable platform from iOS to Android to Kindle. The risk with these smaller games is much lesser than the budgetof a console game which can run a few million dollars. There is also a greater appetite for such games from users who dont mind spending 99 cents to $4.99 compared to the the $49-$59 that pc and console games cost.
To point, consoles now have a significant library of download only titles on the Xbox Live, PSN and WiiWare platforms where smart and addictive games are cheaper to build and play, not to mention, easier to obtain via direct downloads. Game developers and publishers will continue to build multimillion dollar blockbuster titles for the PC and consoles. But they will also prop their calendar and revenue with smaller download only titles that have the potential to turn into goldmines. They will also port such games to as many platforms, mobile and otherwise to reach the widest audience possible and maximize their revenue from the small investment.
It is a great time to be a small developer who can build breakout game hits from the confines of his home office. It is also a great time to be a gamer to experience fascinating games, indie and otherwise on all platforms at a very affordable price. Game On !
Disclosure: I did not invent the title moniker. I first saw its usage here. Since then, some references have popped here and there.
November 8, 2010 § Leave a comment
With the launch of Kinect for XBOX360 last week, all three console makers have a motion control based offering. This is a good time to check in with what they offer and how they differ from each other.
The Wii was a revolution when it launched. It was an underpowered console that didnt pander to the graphics hungry Xbox360 and PS3 lovers. Yet it sold much more than the other two consoles thanks to the motion control gaming it introduced. It brought in legions of players who hadn’t played before- moms, kids, grandmas and grandpas. Most of us have a Wii if not to play extensively, atleast to see what it was all about. After three extremely successful years, the console’s growth has slowed down considerably due to the motion control fancy waning and lack of interesting games that made best use of the motion control ability.
The Playstation Move was launched in Sept 2010 as a PS3 add-on. Many have termed it a late Sony gimmick to match the prowess of the Wii and convince non-gamers to embrace the console along with its Blu-Ray capabilities. It is too early to term it a success or a failure or a me-too entry but time will talk of its prowess. Sony for its part has unveiled a strong set of upcoming games across multiple genres that will use the Move controller.
The Microsoft Kinect is the most recent and most intriguing entry into the motion control gaming segment. It uses no controllers but a complex camera arrangement to detect hand and body movements and adjust accordingly. For lot more on the Kinect, this link is recommended. The Kinect seems to have started off well with good reviews and people intrigued by the technology. It might do as well as the Wii did when it first came out which is what Microsoft is shooting for. With a reported $500 million ad budget, it needs to do well for the company to keep itself relevant in technology.
As consumers we get to experience and enjoy motion control based gaming irrespective of the console we own and love. And that is definitely a win for us all.
Links to the official websites for the consoles are here:
July 30, 2010 § Leave a comment
Often times we see something odd in the marketplace that doesn’t make sense at first glance – a glaring deficiency in one product does not translate to lower sales when compared to a better engineered and a more wholesome offering. It took me a while of looking at such examples to understand the critical common thread that causes it – product relevance. In what is a first for this blog, I hope to do a detailed analysis of this phenomenon over examples spread across multiple posts. The first of these examples is the story behind the rise of the Xbox360 gaming console from Microsoft overtaking the incumbent home console champion, Sony.
Alive after Death: The 360 degree perspective on the Microsoft’s success
Back in 2000, Sony introduced the Playstation 2 gaming console to unparalleled expectations and eventually tremendous success. Microsoft which had realized that it needed to get into homes for the next digital revolution brought out its own console in the form of the original Xbox a year later. The original Xbox was a decent console with some interesting features like an inbuilt HDD and a fledgling online service for gamers titled Xbox Live. The Xbox was a poor cousin to Playstation 2’s in most homes and non existent in many others. Publishers continued to release console exclusives on the PS2 and shoddy ports for the Xbox. Most Japanese publishers stayed away from it completely. Losses on the Xbox continued to mount and shareholders called for an early exit from the business.
Years passed and Sony and Microsoft were getting ready to launch their next generation consoles. This time, Microsoft had enough market data and experience in the US market to tailor its offerings to the right audience. They knew the relevance of their product to the right consumers. In the meantime, Sony had gotten cocky with the success of the PS2 and assumed they could do no wrong with the PS3. What followed was a true David vs. Goliath episode (although calling MS a David isnt entirely correct considering their 40 billion dollars in the bank). Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 a year ahead of the PS3 and garner critical early audience. They also targeted the console squarely at the best audience- teenage first person shooter loving players that spent countless online hours on the console playing death matches and shoot outs. With Halo and Gears of War franchises, the 360 sucked up all the key buyers before the PS3 even launched. It also helped that Sony priced their console so high to recover a portion of the cost of the expensive blu ray drive included in every unit.
Drunk with initial success, Microsoft kept the hits coming by tailoring their partnerships, games and offerings to the target audience. More FPS’s followed. More exclusive relationships and improvements continued on their online offering, Xbox Live. The most interesting part about the ascendancy of the 360 was the fact that the product was inherently defective with a reported 30% of units replaced. For any other product with that level of defective units, the reception would be non-existent. But the strong teenage FPS loving audience lapped up even a defective console. On the other hand, the PS3 had very minimal defects, a Blu-ray drive built in and free online gaming. None of this lured as many buyers as the 360. Price cuts on the PS3 and a slimmer version have improved sales but it still does not match those of the 360.
The only rational explanation is that the early mover advantage worked for the 360 and the deluge of core gamer audience friendly titles kept them coming. For the PS3, until recently, there has been little thought given to the relevance of the product in the marketplace. Until the release of the cheaper Slim model backed by blockbuster titles, it was languishing in stores without many takers. So there is something to be said about how Microsoft spent time to understand its audience and tailored its product accordingly.
Yes, I did not talk about the tremendously successful Wii in this post. It was not the topic of this post because Nintendo took a risk in building a console for non-gamers. They succeeded but could well have failed and we would be talking otherwise in that context. The PS3-360 case study could be extended to the Nintendo DS-PSP situation but the circumstances are different with the DS being the successful incumbent and the PSP being a still challenging competitor.
More on this topic with additional case studies in the coming weeks.