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Pictures, news and coverage from the 2012 Chinese Game Developers Conference
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Christine Lee, VP & GM of Tapjoy, gave a talk about mobile advertising and in-app purchasing. This is the focus of Tapjoy's business model so she had plenty of case studies and data to show as well, such as the fact that 87% of the iTunes App Store as of May 2012 consisted of apps that used some form of in-app purchasing as opposed to charging money to buy the app initially. Despite the popularity of the model it requires proper use to be successful, as demonstrated by the pyramid diagram she used to show your user base:
Here you can see how a paltry 0.5 - 5% of your players are actually spending a good deal of money on your game. These are the big players in your market or the "whales" as they are referred to. Beneath them you have players that are playing your game a lot but perhaps not buying a lot. Below them are players who haven't purchased much if anything at all and below them are the new users, who you want to work their way up the funnel to the top.
Many of the in-app purchasing revolves around in-app currency. You play the game and earn points that you can spend on new features or items. You also have the option of simply paying real money to get points. TapJoy ads a third option - having players look at ads for in-game currency. If done right, these "rewarded ads" can be very successful for both the advertiser and the game developer. An example Christine gave was how Samsung placed an ad in an app (Mega Jump) that instructed people to click through to visit Samsung Mobile's Facebook page. After doing so the user would get around 200 Mega Points to spend in the game. Samsung saw over 1M visits in response.
There are more traditional ads in use for mobile apps as well, and it's important that you know how to use them to get the best effect. For example if you have an app that plays like a TV game show, it could be a great place to use a lot of interstitial video ads between rounds like a commercial break. Placing ads in your game is as much an art as it is science and Christine has a few suggestions for you:
Balance your ad delivery: Take stock of things like the number of game sessions your user typically partakes in for a given play period. If your game is meant for short play sessions during a subway ride or standing in line, you don't want to waste too much of your player's time with ads like video interstitials. Make sure you are not showing more full-screen ads than the number of various game screens your players will see in a given play session.
Match ads to your game content: This is what I meant with my earlier example of video ads for a game show app. It also applies to game with currency that can use the rewarded ads ad type. If your game only takes place on a single screen for the majority of its play (like Bejeweled) then banner ads could be best to fit in up top
Target ads to users: This is tricky but can be worthwhile. Some examples Christine gave were not delivering currency ads to players who pay for a lot of their items (and vice versa) and rewarding players who play longer with less advertising interruptions.
There was plenty more data included on Christine's slides, which I have attached below.
Lars Butler, Founder & CEO of Trion Worlds, Inc gave a lecture on the success Trion Worlds has seen within the MMO space in the West. Coming off the success of the MMORPG game Rift, Trion is looking to expand into other genres of the MMO space including the RTS genre in the form of End of Nations (developed by Petroglyph) and also the action game genre via Defiance, which experiments with a whole new gameplay format where the online world's continuity runs alongside a live action TV show being produced by the SyFy network. So lots of REVOLUTIONARY stuff coming out of Trion Worlds in the coming years - and I use the caps to emphasize how many times Lars tossed the word out there during his speech. The talk was very broad and high-level in breaking down how Rift became such a success in the West (the other two unreleased games were merely previewed) but general concepts covered were: Building off previous MMOs, Games as a service, and interconnected devices.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Lars attributed much of Rift's success to it being the "next generation" of MMORPG. By this he means it builds directly off World of Warcraft, the current dominant MMORPG on the Western market today, which in turn built off of Everquest, which in turn built off of Ultima Online. Each of these games had their breakthrough features that attracted the masses but came along with their own set of shortcomings that left people yearning for the next best thing. The slide Lars put together for this part of the talk says it best:
Here you can see the progression, where each product's shortcomings are addressed by the next successful game in the genre. Obviously Rift comes with its own set of shortcomings, though I suppose Lars wasn't willing to give away the keys to success for whoever plans to try and upset Rift from the top of the heap.
Games as a Service
Giving the players what they want in a game is only part of Trion's success in the MMO market. Trion doesn't just make a game that is released and then patched to fix only bugs and issues, they put in place an entire service functioning around the game to provide the players with constant updates to the world and functionality of the gameplay. Using Rift as an example, Lars revealed that there have been 9 major updates since the game's launch in June of just this year, bringing along with them a 60% increase in the amount of features in the game. Their latest planned update is set to be the biggest yet, tripling the size of the original game world and adding a whole slew of new features to the game. Trion aims for the AAA quality experience you find in single-player games along with responsive support and heavy commitment to flawless game operations.
Trion realizes how connected we are to the internet these days, whether it's through our desktops, laptops, mobile phones, tablets and even now our TVs are getting in on the party (fridges too but lets draw the line somewhere okay?). Therefore they have devised RIFTconnect, which extends the Rift experience to social, web and mobile apps to keep the players engaged and immersed even when they aren't actually playing the game at home on their PC. As the power and capability of these devices continue to grow there will only be more ways to leverage them to extend the game world beyond a single machine and make it available to the player wherever they go.
One of the things from the talk that would be most interesting for GameDev.net readers is the service known as Red Door. That's the link to the original press release and although Lars only briefly touched upon the platform during his talk and didn't reveal any new information, he and his manager now have my business card so hopefully when more details are revealed I can share it with all of you.
One of my lectures finished early and instead of sticking around for Q&A I decided to duck into a neighboring session that was still in progress, which turned out to be the COO of Cryptic Studios, Craig Zinkievich, talking about how they leveraged user generated content (UGC) for Neverwinter and Star Trek Online. Even though I only caught the tail end of the talk I pulled a couple of nuggets of information out of it.
Obviously the first step that should be taken is providing the user base with decent tools. I'm sure Craig expanded on this earlier in the talk but we can fill in a lot with common sense: make them accessible, intuitive, and basic. Unfortunately I wasn't around to hear how much extra effort the team put into these tools - whether they were built specifically for the players or simply polished up versions of the developer tools. Either way you should decide very early on in development whether or not you want to be supporting UGC for your game.
When it comes down to learning how to use these tools, even ones that aren't designed to be used by outside parties, Cryptic has found the community to be largely self-sufficient. This makes sense, as you have to remember a large portion of games that don't support mods end up having them anyways - a lot of your players are very smart and a good portion of them are very generous too, setting up websites and wikis to help inform other people through written tutorials or videos on how to use the game's tool set. Craig admitted with no shame that he and the team feel the players do a better job of documenting the tools than the dev team does. So be ready to offer assistance, but keep an eye on the community to keep your dev team from wasting hours on docs that have already been produced.
With any game, the amount of UGC is always going to start out very small, with a few authors willing to take on the challenge of learning the tool set and providing extra content for other players to enjoy. If you don't make this content easily visible to the rest of the community this spark will quickly fizzle and die as more people are willing to produce UGC for recognition than they are strictly for themselves. Or rather, those that produce the UGC for themselves won't bother attempting to share it if doing so doesn't get them any recognition. For STO, Cryptic has numerous built-in portals within the game and the website that displays highlighted UGC to make it easy for players to find and download new content.
It's important to realize that the majority of UGC will not be good, and even less will be close to the original development team's standards (although this also depends on how powerful the tools are that are provided to the community). Finding the good UGC to deliver to the player base was easy enough - Cryptic implemented a simple 5-star rating system for players to use once they had checked out the UGC. The participation of the players in this voting helped them to realize that of the 50,000 hours of additional content added to the game by the players, 200 or so was actually of decent quality.
Still, that's 200 hours of gameplay the actual development team didn't have to spend time creating to keep the players occupied as the product remained active on the market months after release (about 22-23% of players are taking regular advantage of extra UGC). Instead the dev team got to focus on new in-house additional content as well as fixing bugs and resolving issues with the gameplay - plenty of which turned up as people tried to get the game to work a certain way when creating their own content.
Once your UGC base has grown to a size that begins to have an effect on your community, with people playing and creating content on a regular basis, you may feel the urge to try and perhaps maybe sort of... monetize it a little bit. Charge a few bucks for better tools or for uploading content to a premium portal. Craig emphasized that under no circumstances is this a ever good idea. Just don't do it. Remember what you're already getting out of the UGC in extra player hours. On the flip-side, you may consider trying to entice players to develop UGC by having a way for them to earn money creating content. Cryptic has stayed away from this approach so far due to the financial and legal issues involved, however Craig stated that they are keeping a very close eye on Diablo III's real money market and is wondering if Blizzard will succeed in breaking new ground in this area.
The organizers were kind enough to fly out myself and my friend Mathew Anderson from Events For Gamers to check out the 5th annual China Game Developers Conference. The 3-day conference took place alongside many other ChinaJoy events happening in and around the Shanghai New International Expo Centre including the ChinaJoy Gaming Expo, the Business to Business Expo, the China Game Outsourcing Conference and the China Game Business Conference. We both mainly stuck around the CGDC although we did make a few forays into the Expo halls to check out the gaming expo and Mathew popped into the BtoB area as well.
The CGDC took up a large ballroom at the Kerry Hotel just behind the Expo Centre that was subdivided into several rooms to host simultaneous sessions from various tracks including online, mobile and social gaming - which makes up the majority of the eastern gaming market. I attended several talks each day although I have only found several of them with information that is worth writing home about. This doesn't mean the talks themselves were bad, but a lot of the Chinese talks I attended weren't well translated and the slides were all in Chinese. One talk had an English speaker and a Chinese speaker taking turns for each slide however all the slide were in Chinese. I've never experienced foreign-language lectures before so I can't relate the translation quality with previous experience, but I had trouble following the few Chinese talks I attended.
The gaming expo was massive, occupying 4 halls of the expo center and as with any major expo was completely jam packed. Unlike all the US expos and conferences I've been to where you simply walk past security guards who glance at your badge, ChinaJoy required you to pass through a turn style for each event (as pictured above). Your badge's RFID chip would activate the turn style and while it did cause a bit of line jam entering (and exiting too required a badge scan) people seemed used to it. While there have been a lot of changes recently regarding the use of booth babes in China they still factor strongly into the culture of the expo - many huge booths are built with stages for performances featuring the girls and even the ones simply staffing the booth's counters were being crowded by photographers.
The CGDC, CGBC and CGOC held a combined reception the second night of the conference at a rooftop revolving restaurant that was well catered and attended by all the various conference attendees. The various outsource companies were of course walking around handing out business cards to anyone that would take them, looking for new clients. The views over Shanghai were stunning, especially at sunset.
Over the next few days I'll be posting write ups of several talks, and Mathew will also have stuff up over at Events For Gamers which we will most likely cross post here (and vice-versa). In the meantime check out the photo gallery over to the right (or on Facebook).