It's become increasingly clear that games are an integral component of Home's success. Games attract the larger PSN population, many of whom lacking keyboards (and thus effective means of communication) to check out Home. Gaming microtransactions dominate Home's sales lists. And games provide the community with common topics of conversation to foster further social growth and interconnection. I firmly believe Home 2012 will be remembered as the Year of the Game, and while it is the social elements of Home which keep many of us on this forum returning to it, there is no question that games are an integral -- and growing -- part of the formula.
Here's the catch, though: not every game works in Home. While some games have realized fantastic ROIC and long-term visitor traffic in Home -- Lockwood's SodiumOne being, perhaps, the most prominent example -- other games have fizzled. And with some very high-profile games coming to Home this year (No Man's Land, Mercia, Home Tycoon, etc.), this becomes very important.
So the question becomes: can we define the elements of a successful Home game?
This discussion might be more important than you think. Home developers gamble a lot of time and resources on a game, compared to other forms of virtual commodities such as clothes or furniture. Which means that developers have a very keen interest in divining what will work and what won't for their target audience. And since we're part of that target audience, and this forum is the most direct method of offering feedback via an official channel, the more precise we can be with what we want to see as consumers, the more likely it is to be offered to us for our enjoyment.
For the purposes of this analysis, I'm going to exclude nDreams' Xi from the discussion, even though many here would still categorize it as the high-water mark for Home gaming. The reason why I'm not factoring it in is because it was a very expensive ARG developed for a limited-time run, and while I think everyone would love to see another ARG released in Home, it's a very specialized type of game which falls outside the boundaries of what is conventionally feasible in Home.
I also need to mention, up front, that this topic will be published over at HomeStation in the near future -- but I wanted to first get a lot of feedback here on the forum, in order to broaden the range of demographic responses as much as possible. So don't be surprised if you end up getting quoted in the HSM article when it comes out!
So: can we identify the elements of a successful Home game?
1. How long should it take to complete?
The enemy of a lot of Home games is brevity. When Cutthroats was released, for instance, some players maxed-out the game within twelve hours. Now, granted, you're always going to have a bell-shaped curve with the userbase and the average completion time, but there is something to be said for scaling a game in such a way that even the most ardent player needs to stick with it for days on end in order to beat it. nDreams' Aurora is perhaps the most prominent example of a scaling level system supported by multiple mini-games which takes a long, long time to complete. How important is it to have a game which takes a long time to complete in Home? Is it a turn-off or an incentive to keep playing?
2. How complicated should it be?
Mass Media and Digital Leisure consistently demolish SCEA Home's sales charts with their tickets and chips, respectively. They offer comparatively simple games (the Midway trio and the Casino) with broad audience appeal and a very short time-to-reward ratio. Is this a better approach, financially, than offering more complex games which make the player work harder to receive a reward?
3. How important is in-game currency?
Lockwood and Hellfire Games both offer in-game currencies to obtain power-ups (Sodium credits and Nebulon, respectively). Does this eat into revenue, or does it help promote revenue? On one hand, it would be easy to look at the sales charts and assume that Digital Leisure and Mass Media have the more lucrative business model by not offering in-game currency at all, but if we look at Cutthroats, it doesn't allow for in-game currency acquisition either (you have to purchase the coins), and it never charted. Perhaps a component of the answer can be found in the next question:
4. Power-ups: temporary or permanent?
SodiumOne offers permanent power-ups, as does OrbRunner. Sodium2 and Novus Prime offer a mixture of permanent and temporary. Cutthroats is completely temporary. And neither the Casino nor any of the Midways offer any enhancements of any kind at all. How important are performance enhancers to a game's commercial success in Home, and do we prefer temporary or permanent?
5. How important is the social element?
Home games are often compared unfavorably to PSN games or disc-based titles, due to the limitations of the platform (which, to be fair, is doing some amazing stuff considering how old it is at this point). The one ace up a Home game's sleeve is arguably the communal, multiplayer element -- yet relatively few games in Home have taken advantage of this, even after Home 1.5 introduced multiplayer APIs to utilize. A game like Cutthroats thrives in a multiplayer environment (as do Novus Prime and the Casino games), whereas SodiumOne and the Midway games are single-player experiences which are financially proven to be successful. So how important is it to experience Home games, either cooperatively or competitively, with your friends?
6. How critical are the graphics?
Sitting in at the Sony E3 press conference last week was insanely fun, if for no other reason than to get an up-close look at the remarkable photorealism the latest batch of PS3 games is capable of generating. Now, obviously, Home isn't capable of the kind of 1080p technicolor whizbangery that allows you to watch Kratos kick some dude so hard that his child is named Adidas. But it has to be asked: just how important are graphics to the enjoyment of a Home gaming experience, compared to other elements such as gameplay and story?
7. What's the sweet spot for pricing?
Most Home games employ various freemium business models. SodiumOne allows you to try out five levels for free. Midway offers free-to-play windows. The Casino gives you a stipend of in-game currency, as does Novus Prime. The list goes on. So what are the "sweet spots," so to speak, for power-up enhancements (both temporary and permanent), access to additional levels and so forth? And, perhaps more importantly:
8. What sort of game commodities will you pay a premium for?
Think like a game developer for a moment. You spend, say, $100,000 on a game (I'm using this number just for ease of math). Out of the hundreds of thousands of users which check out your game, how many of them will like it enough to play it consistently, and how many of them will spend money on it? Five-thousand? Twenty-thousand? Social games tend to have a very sharp power-law distribution, which is a fancy way of saying that the vast majority of people aren't going to spend a dime. So if we're developing a Home game, we need to figure out how to translate curiosity into repeat traffic, repeat traffic into spending, spending into repeat spending, and repeat spending into premium spending. Think back to all the various types of Home games you've played over the years. Which ones got you to spend the most money, and what was it about those enhancements that was worth it to you?
9. How important is developer interaction with the community? (proposed by Superlatives)
It it enough for a developer to simply release a new space with games into Home, or do they need to be actively and visibly engaged with the user base in order to maintain residual traffic numbers? Is there a measurable correlation between developer interaction and commercial revenue? Does good community outreach help drive sales volume and brand loyalty, or is it simply enough to have a good game for people to enjoy?
10. How important are leaderboards and a public ranking system? (proposed by Dr_Do-Little)
Gamers are inherently competitive people. Do public leaderboards help foster community growth around a game? If they're implemented, how long should they remain before being reset to spur on a new round of competition? Should user levels be publicly displayed (as is the case in Aurora and Sodium2) in order to spur on game participation, or is such public display a turn-off? What sort of leaderboard format works best for motivating a Home gamer?
11. How important is it to see avatars actively playing the game? (proposed by Back_In_Brown)
In most public game spaces, users do not actually see other avatars playing the game; there's simply the controller icon next to the screen name, but otherwise the avatar is simply standing there, motionless. Only a few spaces, such as Cutthroats, Midway or the Bowling Alley, allow users to see other users actually playing the games. How important is that visual element to stimulating interest and traffic in a space?
These are the questions I can think of off the top of my head. If anyone thinks of really cool additional questions, I'll add them to this post and cite you as the author for it. Let's see if we can define the successful elements which would go into creating Home's "it" game. I'm very curious to see what the spectrum of responses to this will be. Remember, the more detailed feedback we can offer, the more likely it is that we might see, as consumers, games which appeal to us more readily. So it directly benefits us to let developers know what we like and dislike.
What an insightful post; I should NOT have been surprised, given your previous posts on Home monthly sales rankings.
While I know you're searching for answers to the question "can we identify the elements of a successful Home game?" by soliciting for more QUESTIONS, from my perspective and experience let me offer input by providing an example, rather than another question.
Since its unveiling, I believe that Digital Leisure's Casino has seen success NOT SOLELY (and maybe even "not primarily") due to the nature of the games themselves, but due to the devs' ACTIVE participation.
To many of us who used Home in 2009, the EA Sports Complex was THE place to go; if not to play poker or the other games, just to chat. And A LOT OF THAT had to due with how active the devs at EA Sports were AT and WITH the space. EA Sports did not "flick a switch" to turn on the space, then let it operate unattended. EA Sports was active in the forums. They answered questions, problems, and complaints in a timely and open manner. EA Devs VISITED th Complex and interacted with Home users. EA Devs even took time out of their private lives to attend "meetings" held INSIDE Home.
Fast-forward to 2012: the devs at Digital Leisure do the same ... PLUS, they add and update Home rewards. DL even gets "creative" by modifying their SPACES, like the hotel water leak and robbery! And many have said that, just like EA Sports in the past, devs from Digital Leisure are REGULARLY seen in their spaces, talking with players.
In contrast: I have seen "officials" from SCEA Home only ONCE -- and that was during Hub beta during a scheduled stress test. The Home staff may be busy; but so are Home's devs. And Digital Leisure seems to find the time to chat with "normal users."
In the forums we've seen Digital Leisure respond QUICKLY to user problems and complaints. And the problems I've encountered with DL spaces and game, I've dealt with them via email. DL has ALWAYS been responsive and timely. And if I had an issue which they don't feel is a bug, they've been open about it. I accept and appreciate that ... much better than having complaints fall on silence, with an occasional "cricket chirp" :-)
At Oxford there's a saying: "If people don't know what you're doing, they won't know what you're doing wrong!" :-) Obviously, Digital Leisure doesn't feel the need to be silent because they're not afraid of their mistakes. And from my experience, so far they've made FEW.
So despite bugs, I've played on. Because I have CONFIDENCE that Digital Leisure devs ARE working on the problem. And given their history of reward and "space" updates, I also have confidence that the Casino WILL see new games, new rewards, and new "types of entertainment" which make return trips to their spaces a "must!"
AT LEAST -- certainly MORE than a space from a dev who NEVER shows up, NEVER speaks on the forums, and NEVER responds to problems.
Generally speaking, superlatives, you're right on with this. The one exception to your rule is Granzella, which makes some excellent products but isn't active on our forums because they're a Japanese company. Part of their solution to dealing with Home bugs has been to perfect things in the JP Home before they get released here.
Otherwise, I agree: I'm giving my business to the devs who respond to the community. That's Customer Service 101. Lockwood, Digital Leisure and Hellfire certainly lead the pack in doing it right.
As for your question, Norse, I don't think there's a single answer. I think there are two broad categories of games that can work.
Nobody's doing this better than Hellfire and Granzella. These are games that can be played for hours on end, require some level of co-operation, and give the player the option to customize the experience by purchasing items of furniture or clothing (or a personal space, in the case of Great Edo). Granzella takes it a step further by adapting the challenge level for single and multiplayer games.
The only thing missing in both of these games is depth. Keep adding new missions. String enough of them together with a bit of story and a couple of items that are tricky to unlock, and you've got two games that offer everything one would expect to find in a disc-based title. So very, very close...
TankTop 1.0 is one of the best games in Home. No objectives, no rewards, just the kind of arcade fun that helped video gaming go mainstream a few decades ago. Buy it once, play it forever. Why are Veemee and Mass Media the only ones really taking advantage of cabinets? And where are the licensed games?
Everyone knows that Microsoft pooched Arcade. It wasn't because the concept was flawed, it was because the content and sales strategy were wrong. Is anyone seriously going to tell me that gamers wouldn't respond to an iTunes of classic arcade and home video games, where you can buy any title you want for $2.99, even $3.99, then throw a cabinet in your personal space? How many people bought Animal Crossing because it had classic NES games built into it?
Where are the Konami arcade classics? Where are the Home-playable Namco titles? Why is Atari giving away Asteroids for free when there are people in Home who'll pay $3.99 to buy it? There's a core of us who grab every arcade cabinet that comes out to add to our personal spaces, because we love building our own arcades, and we love the 10-minute game experience. Owners of these licenses have already done the work by porting the games to mobile and online platforms. Get a dev kit, slap some graphics on a standard arcade cabinet model and give us these games, because the one thing you can't get from playing on your iDevice is the full TV-screen experience.
There are hundreds of games that could be adapted to Home cabinets. New games are certainly welcome, but we need the classics.
Being fairly active myself in the old EA Spaces, and now the new Casino, I have to echo pretty much all of what Superlatives has said.
What I always found interesting with the old EA Poker spaces was that once you got the diamond bracelet, there wasn't anything else to really strive for in there. Yes, there was of course the seasons crown and tiara to try and win, but that was reserved for only a few really, and the majority were so far away from the top spot it wasn't something to even consider in trying to catch the leading pack up.
So even despite there being no rewards to strive for, the spaces were always packed. One of the biggest things to strike me and why EA was so popular with others and myself, was the sociability of the space. Many hours were spent playing poker, and having a good old chat. It didn't really matter to many of us that there weren't any rewards. The playing and socializing was enough, which is why it was so sorely missed when it was taken away.
Fast forward to the Casino. Everything EA had, I feel the Casino now supplies. The socializing side is there, we can all chat while playing poker, roulette, blackjack and big wheel. The Casino also gives us variety with these games, plus of course war, slots and keno. And they now add many many rewards to try to collect. The leaderboards as well, for each game, gives us all a chance to make fame by having our name in lights.
Some may not like the fact that it does involve spending money, as EA was always free. I think most of us accept having the 'premium' model now, and to be honest, i dont begrudge that at all to DL for what they have supplied.
I really feel the Casino is a model that others can look at for the elements of what makes a game successful:
Sociability, variety, realistically achievable leaderboards, rewards, space updates, and of course very attentive and responsive devs.
I can compare Cutthroats to Sodium 1 & 2 to illustrate my opinion.
For me, Cutthroats was a lot of fun for a few days but the novelty wore off quickly. It was just way too repetitive. No objectives, no progressive challenges, so-so rewards and limited incentive to level up. So many sessions just devolved into a bunch of boats sitting in the harbour blasting away at each other. Many captains never ventured out into the open water and there wasn't much strategy involved. As much as I enjoyed it at first, I haven't played it since the first week or two that it was released. I don't believe that I ever completed all the levels. Why bother, really? The only difference between completing level 30 versus level 1 was the number of points required. Plus, I certainly never saw any incentive to buy upgrades.
Salt Shooter, on the other hand, can be somewhat of a repetitive grind as well but at least the levels get progressively more challenging. Each level unlocks new tank enhancements, power upgrades and bigger enemies to defeat. Granted, you don't have the teamwork aspect of Cutthroats but the game itself has way more to offer. On top of that, the Sodium credits and rewards system offer valuable incentive to keep playing even after completing all the levels. Earning half a million credits to buy Gold VICKIE is the ultimate grind but I still went through it for the reward.
Furthermore, Sodium 2: Project Velocity is the one game in Home that actually prompted me to spend any significant amount in upgrades. Multiple rewards, craft upgrades and the extensive leaderboard system all provided incentive to level up beyond just increasing the number on your avatar's back. You could grind out all 40 levels without upgrades but you needed to spend money or credits to be competitive. It was always gratifying to me to improve my times, compete with my friends and see my name on the leaderboard. How satisfying is it to sink your friends' boat in Cutthroats only to be sunk yourself 5 seconds later?
Cutthroats could've been so much more but it kind of "missed the boat" as I see it. It turned out to be just another quickly forgotten novelty game dropped into Home with no effort from the developer to offer updates. Like superlatives said, community interaction from the developers and space upgrades go a long way towards making games successful.
My faves by far are the arcade games in the namco arcade space. Well they are really well known and long lasting games. They also have the advantage of being played off home as well. Unfortunately as of next week, june 20th to be precise this space and many others will be gone for good
Another I used to play was that sodium tank game. Paid for the full version on home but I grew tired of it once reaching the end and haven't been back in almost 2 years.
I do like what this thread brings attention to though. Home was a social place for gamers and the games seem to be slipping away lately. I'd like to see more good gaming related places on home not less.
The best games in Home have variables built with in the game.
Take Gnome curling.. same game play, but each time you play it, because of the options, choice of character, the game variable outcome is different with each curl. your choice of object, path and skill level.
Its not so linear.
Same can be said for other games in home as others have mention.
All home personal space games, should have computer competition built in (AI) and multi-player.
If its 5 am in the morning and I want to play Brimstone poker, all of my friends are offline. You should be able to play with AI.
So the question becomes: can we define the elements of a successful Home game?
The answer in simplicity is fun and rewards and/or prizes and satisfaction in completing a task plus atmosphere.
For me, Midway 1 has atmosphere in that it reminded me of a carnival. It helped that it had some early 60s songs including Freddy Cannon's Palisades Park playing in the background. It was fun to visit but they didn't get any money from me. I was not about to pay for for tickets not knowing how much I would have to spend. When I looked for the free games I couldn't stay in long at all and won nothing. It's my understanding some earned rewards by playing the free games. Hat's off to them. The following Midways I didn't care for as much.
But they were successful going by the crowds and and remarks made on the forums.
The Casino is fun. I even bought the maximum amount of chips and soon enough I lost them which was OK because I enjoyed myself. I never did get around to playing poker. When Digital Leisure added the roulette wheel due in part I would guess to requests, it added a new dimension of fun. I doubt I'll buy any more chips but the roulette addition and the goofiness DL pulled in the magnificent free hotel was fun. It helped they posted in the forums also.
DL won't likely make any more money from me as to chips, but I'll go back even if only to toss a few coins in the fountain.
Cutthroats is fun however it seems there's less people there than there used to be. People know about the coin buying glitch which turned many of us off to buying any more. I tried to buy some but couldn't so I will not likely do that again. I still enjoy the game and will play it whether going out by myself (others usually join) or hopping on a partially full ship.
It has atmosphere also but except for the coins and the store, is there enough income to keep it going?
I wish there were some rewards to be won, a total of gold we picked up, and perhaps public stats of other users. I'm not sure about the latter.
Some players like going for gold while others are just out there to kill.
I'll go back.
The Dolphin races are fun and besides the races people can talk with other if they wish. It's a fine social setting.
After staying away for awhile, I've gone back and found that if I do half an hour a day, that's enough for me to have fun and not get burned out.
One needs a dolphin home space to race dolphins so there is a built in money maker. They apparently make other games but I haven't played them. And they have a store which means more income. Cutthroats could learn from the Dolphin space in this regard by making a private pirate's space. But not a ship. How could one compete against the Pirate's Galleon?
Fun, rewards and atmosphere.