I recently had the pleasure of attending Quo Vadis in Berlin. For those of you who don’t know it Quo Vadis is one of Europe’s longest-standing game developers’ conferences. It moved to Berlin in 2007, and has established itself as one Europe’s top conventions as well. It is also the centerpiece of the International Games Week Berlin. One of the major themes of this year’s conference was free to play which is of course a topic GameSparks have plenty of thoughts about. There was an interesting workshop on this and one of the major topics was what is “free” within “free to play”. It is a question that relates to game design as much as it does business models and the arguments were varied. What I took from the debate is that as an industry there is a sense of fluidity about both the nomenclature as well as the practice of free to play. This is no surprise in many ways as it is arguable that we are are at “day one” to borrow a phrase. The logical extension of the market immaturity is an environment that can be thoughts of as a large experiment; at technical, design, service and business levels. This was a theme explored brilliantly in Oscar Clark’s workshop, “Games As A Service”. The main thesis of his talk was that if you are designing a game as a “service” then almost everything is different.
One of the things we at GameSparks think a lot about is that all this means for indie developers. In fact it is something of an obsession of ours. The answers, which of course can change, can ultimately be summed up as “focus all efforts on your core idea and making the game play great. Leverage other people’s platforms to help you keep the focus ”
This is important because if things are fluid, and you really don’t know what is going to work (or when it might be successful) then the less time spent on “non-unique” development the better . In other words, bespoke work to do virtual goods, leaderboards or chat is not helping a developer to answer the fundamental question of ” is there really an audience for this game?”
Which was another theme Oscar built on with an great analogy taken from Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” The gist of the argument is that in designing a game as a service you need to cater to different kinds of “audience” depending on where they are in their journey. This means you need to not only design different kinds of experience but also deliver their differentiation in real time to your audience as they are playing. And this is one of the major reasons why using external platforms makes lot of sense.