Part 3. Part 3. What are we making now?
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When I started to write this chapter I had a temptation to name it “We are not making games anymore”, but it’s too provocative and clickbait, even for me. Though it highlights one of the main issues that the game-developing industry faces at the moment “What is a game?” and “Who defines is it a game or not?”. From hyper-casual games to slots and poker, to hardcore wargames. What is a “true” game, and what is not? There is no single person or some “Council” that would solve this question, so everyone defines this for himself, according to his or her beliefs and tastes. But a person who would like to work in the game development industry should clearly understand what kind of games he will be creating.
As was briefly mentioned in previous chapters, PM mainly works with mobile f2p games, but even this definition is way too broad and still doesn’t clarify the future scope of tasks. Is it a hyper-casual game? Or is it match-3 with a deep meta mechanic? Is this game supposed to live for one week on a hype train or for years and be a starter for a great IP?
I would like to focus not only on free-2-play (F2P) games but also on premium games with long-term support and expansion through paid or free DLCs (downloadable content) including mobile and PC titles, as some features make these games similar in some key aspects of their creation and operation.
From mobile landscape, it includes many-many titles, like Homescapes, Clash Royale, Slotomania, and Marvel Contest of Champions. PC titles might be represented by PUBG, World of Warcraft, Lineage, Dota 2, League of Legends, World of Tanks, and so on.
So, how can we call this set of games from a wide range of devices and distribution models? First of all, let’s see what these games have in common:
- Long-term strategy. When I say “long-term” I really mean long-term one, that can last for years. Successful strategy with a proper game design might lead to years of game operation and be on top of revenue charts. For example, Clash of Clans and Candy Crush Saga were in the Top-10 Grossing Games for more than 10 years in a row, and Dota 2 and League of Legends have been the two most popular games for 9 and 13 years respectively.
The strategy contains the overall direction of a game development (what features, when) as well as how the game should co-exist with other titles of the same company. For example, King’s Saga series or Playrix’s Scapes series include numerous titles that share core gameplay (match3 in the case of both companies). The companies don’t release titles that would compete with each other, but rather complement each other and share the same user base, exploiting cross-promotion capabilities within one huge ecosystem. At the same time, Blizzard diversifies its portfolio with World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Diablo, and StarCraft titles that are aimed at various types of players.
- Long-lasting support. These games are being supported for years, having regular content updates and a saturated Live Ops plan (we will have a separate chapter on this!), While this aspect is mainly being associated with mobile F2P titles, paid PC games do release DLC, paid or free, maintaining player’s interest to the game before the sequel release. For example, Total War: Warhammer 2 game released 22 DLC during 4 years after the initial game launch, with a total cost of these DLCs around double compared to the original game price.
One of the core elements of the support is Game Development Roadmaps, which are being adored by gamers, as they provide sneak-peak of what expects of them in the future. But a team should be careful with them, as if an update / content is not being released on time it might backfire strongly and have a negative impact on the project trustworthiness.
- Community management. A community around a good game can form by itself, on Reddit, Discord, a dedicated Facebook group, or on some other platform that allows engaged gamers to communicate, to find like-minded people, friends, and, sometimes, significant other. If we talk about some grounded matters, the communication platform – is a key element for an end-game of any project, where players might face the most complicated and / or social-oriented mechanics, like guild wars or world-bosses raids, that require coordination of many people. For newcomers, these platforms help new users to learn the game thanks to guides and advises that are being created by experienced players and asked for their advice. It may serve as a “hook” for players by giving them social connections and by constantly providing news and updates about the game so players will get new portions of content about their beloved game. That’s why any company is interested in building such a community. For example, Candy Crush Saga facebook group has almost 70 million followers. Who wouldn’t like to have a possibility to reach this amount of people with their news?
In some cases, communities produce content that might be the main source of a game’s revenues in a form of user-generated content. Players create content for the Sims series, skins for CS: GO, and new games for Roblox, that are not only a source of revenue but also an engagement for other players as well. It’s true, that not all games are suited for UGC, especially on mobile, in terms of exact in-game content, but the community might be engaged in creation and participation in various art contests, creation of gameplay videos etc. Games like Skyrim and Fallout 4 utilize huge modding potential, and Dota game series was born out of Warcraft 3 community efforts.
- Data-driven. This sounds almost like a cliche when someone says “we are a data-driven company”, but it’s absolutely true that collecting, sorting, and analyzing data is vital for any long-term product to not only prosper but even to survive. Data collection starts not even with a game launch, but in many cases with marketing tests of so-called “creatives”, pre-created icons, screenshots, and even video trailers of a non-existing game and see users ’reaction to these creatives across social media and other platforms, and if these tests KPIs reach a level of target ones – a game is being greenlighted.
When a game is being launched, data flow expands even more, as now almost all players’ actions are being recorded, measured, and analyzed to find how they interact with various aspects of games – from exact gameplay mechanics to game balance to game economy and so on. It’s impossible to imagine that after a release of a new game update it wouldn’t be checked under a microscope to understand it was a success or not.
This kind of games is mainly known as game-as-a-service (GaaS), which has negative connotations, especially among hardcore gamers. My attitude to morals and ethics to f2p and GaaS was already highlighted in part 2, “Shades of gray”, so I will just say, that model is not “bad” per se, as this model was used by many great games that are still very popular and loved by the gamers community. Dota 2, League of Legends, CS: GO, World of Warcraft, Clash of Clans, and many more – all these are examples of GaaS.
But at the same time we know examples of failed Battlefield 2042 or controversial additions to Ubisoft games, such as XP boosters or skins in their premium single-player games.
That’s why I don’t think that gathering data about players’ behavior in games is “evil” as it is, as it, indeed, aimed at maximizing profits of a game owner, but at another hand, it increases satisfaction of players, and in this situation the both sides should win. Unfortunataly, indeed, there are companies that utilizes data and all possibilities of modern inforamational infrustructure to exploit their players, but at the same time there are companies that build great games without abusing players.
So, my personal answer to this question is that we are making games as products, products with great quality, and aimed on our players satisfaction, that provide not only core gameplay, but entire ecosystem to let players engage with their adored game on many levels.
And what is your answer?