When you play games but don’t make them, you probably have the select few platforms that you access- be they your phone, tablet or other device, PlayStation or Xbox, or your PC (and maybe you have spent thousands of dollars on a custom rig with that), or maybe you have taken the steps into Virtual Reality. In the industry there is always talk about which vector lets you do what and what the pros and cons of each vector are.
For this article, I spoke with Matt Ditton, a veteran game designer and managing director of Mighty Games Group and Many Monkeys, who is currently focussed on mobile games in both forms but Free-to-Play (FtP) and Premium (paid); Game Development industry icon Morgan Jaffit, director of Defiant Development; and Mark Thompson, a young developer recently relocated to Victoria and working on a mobile game based around a free trial and paid content. And then there’s myself, CEO of Stirfire Studios. We concentrate on producing games for console, PC and VR, although we do make mobile games under contract for business, NGOs and government.
From a creativity perspective, each platform offers various possibilities. I have heard mobile described by extremely accomplished and senior developers as a “beautiful medium” and I am growing to agree. There is an intimacy about mobile games, featuring a touch screen and a tactile quality around a well-designed mobile or tablet game that you do not get with a controller.
Matt pointed out FtP mobile games are a massively broad space and an evolution of the casual market*, and of course this lets us engage with a mass-market. People who do not identify as “gamers” play FtP mobile games all the time, be it Angry Birds, Crossy Road, Rodeo Stampede or any number of other titles. Matt went on to describe how FtP does not let you hide your bad design decisions behind a pay-wall. The game has to be instantly entertaining and that means certain decisions are made. And it’s true, I have played Mighty’s Shooty Skies a lot over the last year, whenever I am stuck for a few minutes and just want to zip a quirky character around a screen shooting enemies in a bizarre cartoon version of the classic River Raid from my youth.
Mark and Morgan both mentioned something that made me think as well. He actually mentioned the words “low pricepoint.” So that means that mobile games are a very accessible medium, where as we tend to charge a premium price. It also means you can get a very mass-market experience with a large player-base to sell back into if you do it correctly.
Morgan also expressed that he believes the mobile market is flooded with content.
As someone who runs a company focussed on designing premium experiences where the user pays up-front for content, this provides an interesting contrast. I have to convince you to part with your $US15 before you can play, where as both Matt and Mark’s experiences, you can try first and if you enjoy, then you can pay money to enhance your experience. It is not like there is any less art in what they do (bear with me, non-art fans, videogames are a creative medium) then what we do. Matt pointed out that something that is artistically bankrupt is not interesting, and I tend to agree.[MD2]
Morgan’s company, Defiant Development focuses more on PC, through the Steam platform. “Steam is definitely not as flooded as mobile, and the Steam audience in general is a great audience, they buy a lot of games, and they’re willing to pay for them, but regardless you’re seeing the shift towards a requirement to stand out from the crowd.”
So Steam is a market where the audience are more at home paying for content initially and from experience I have seen that platform is still very crowded.
Stirfire has also moved onto a console market with our April release of Symphony of the Machine. An interesting fact I have learnt is that Steam users will browse through titles more freely than console users, who will tend to hit the one title on the appropriate online market, download that and play. So the marketing strategy has to reflect this. You have to get the user to make the buying decision before they log into the online store most of the time, where as Steam users will look more freely through titles and recommendations.
All four of our businesses are constantly looking at new and emerging platforms. Market opportunities can be generated in new platforms but one has to manage expectations. A new device will not have the same player base that an existing one has, but generally a developer will have less competition on that new platform with fewer titles available. Sometimes it can be more of a challenge to carve out a space with a new title and then expect to make far higher returns on the sequel.
VR is also finally getting the system-seller games** as were announced at E3 recently, so hopefully we will see a higher take up of those devices.
Choice of platform is a key strategy for any game development business. It forms a lot of the basis for the structure and development cycle of the products you are working on, be they a mobile developer with several titles in development at any one time, like Mighty Games Group or a Steam-focussed developer who will spend two years on a single title, like Defiant. There are market opportunities on most platforms and finding a niche that suits your company is key.
After speaking to these other developers and based on my own experience with my company, I would suggest to any developer that they need to observe the platform-specific characteristics of any title they are working on and then work that back into the business strategy and production pipeline of their business. If one’s business is more suited to longer-term projects, then mobile titles may not be the best opportunity, or at least require a specific strategy with which to market and publish them, where as other companies may not have the runway to spend two year making a title. In any case, it is about finding the right match for your title, the platform and your business.
Stirfire Studios have announced their Initial Public Offering. View prospectus and investment details here >
*Casual games are considered to be games targeted at non-career gamers AKA “hardcore gamers.” They are normally quick to get into, simple, fun and not requiring too much commitment from the player in an ongoing sense.
**System-sellers: Games with large audiences that attract players and become the reason why many users purchase a new console or device