Devs: How To Not Leave Your Audience Behind

Feb 12, 2016 by

Note: This piece was first published on RTSGuru.com in October, 2012. I’m republishing it here on my blog since the site is no longer live. I am highlighting this one, since more games lack campaigns, or release with ones designed as a blip, designed to be completed very quickly, thus leaving the focus solely on multiplayer once more. While multiplayer enthusiasts do drive attention in today’s market, the story-driven campaign still has a place. Original title, hyperlinks, and images are missing.

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A short time ago, I asked the question of whether or not the single-player campaign was still relevant. Ultimately, I do think these campaigns, even in an RTS, are indeed still relevant for various reasons, some of which are personal for players and sometimes overlooked by companies. That said, some startling numbers have emerged that highlight just how many people are still very much campaign-centric when it comes to their games. So, knowing what we know now, what can companies do to not forget these gamers?

According to Penny Arcade Report’s Ben Kuchera, when it comes to StarCraft II, “It turns out around half of the people who buy the game only play the campaign”, as confirmed by Blizzard’s Bob Colayco. While we’re consistently met with images of competition, players who are working on climbing the ladders and making new ranks, and an overwhelming rush of eSports competition and coverage, half the people that bought the game have never really taken it online. The game is the campaign for them. And these people are getting left behind as far as the attention goes. Many people claiming the single player campaign is dead somehow, and recently, all the drama erupting over the competitive scene and claims that Blizzard is not handling its franchise in a player-friendly manner, and yet, maybe we’re looking at things all wrong.

If fully half the players only play the campaign, that’s over two million people. Perhaps even Blizzard gets caught up in its own hype over eSports and multiplayer, when many players just never even touch that side of the game. I must admit that the story is one of the biggest draws for me to StarCraft and other games, so when reading these numbers, it made a lot of sense because sometimes I too, am this player.

When it comes to FPS games, I’m pretty terrible at them, even though I enjoy playing. I play them largely for the campaigns. Sure, I go online and I do play multiplayer, but there’s always someone more experienced, younger, faster, and who has way more time to spend practicing than I’ll ever have before retirement, so it can be frustrating. I bought Battlefield 3 partly for the campaign and partly for multiplayer. The Frostbite 2 engine did wonders for what a pretty shooter it turned out to be. I played the original Call of Duty for the campaign, which was great. After that series started becoming more multiplayer-dominated and the campaigns kept shrinking in length and other factors, they just didn’t seem like a value any longer.

And value is an important part of this equation when it comes to serving all of your customers. Blizzard recently entertained the idea of releasing some sort of free to play version of multiplayer competitive StarCraft II, though the company would not know yet how to monetize it. Talk of custom premium skins for your Zerg swarms is thus, premature. Blizzard is aware that a lot of players never take its games into online competitive play and makes it a point to highlight campaign material. But could splitting a game into separate editions actually serve all players better? Maybe if you’re a company the size of Blizzard and have the resources to provide teams for each release. But the idea of having separate tiers isn’t inherently a bad one.

Using StarCraft II as an example, let’s say there’s a free to play, monetized multiplayer edition. No campaign, just a freemium, accessible version of competitive play. That might lower the barrier to entry enough to attract some new blood into the StarCraft competitive scene since there would be no risk to try it. Then, let’s say, edition two would be the campaign alone. For the story fans, this could sell for say, $25 and feature the campaign portion. For completists, give them the full-fledged edition of the game, perhaps with a couple of exclusives as sweeteners.

For some, this might seem extra risky or like selling the goods piecemeal, but in terms of value, it might make sense for some developers, in certain cases, to release a game like this. StarCraft II might serve all of its players in this way, including the forgotten half that doesn’t compete.

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Will Your MOBA go Mobile? (from 2012)

Feb 11, 2016 by

Note: This piece was first published on RTSGuru.com in February of 2012. I’m republishing it here on my blog since the site is no longer live. I will be highlighting some of my older pieces now and then. I was somewhat wrong in this one, but this is the way the industry works. It’s good to look back and see where we’ve come from.

 

Though the death knell for PC gaming has been rung many times before, there’s no doubt that mobile platforms are changing at least some aspects of how we play games. PC gaming actually grew last year to an estimated $18 billion in revenue , fueled by growth in the free‐to‐play sector, as well as regions like China. Yet, mobile grew too. There are also many strategy games on mobile markets, and that now includes a huge franchise like Total War, which has launched its own foray into the mobile market from the ground up. Other games like Anomaly: Warzone Earth, Civilization Revolution, and Hero Academy have started on or quickly been ported to mobile. InnoGames, which specializes in browser‐based titles, has just brought its most popular game, Tribal Wars, to Android after a successful experience releasing it on iOS late last year.

The obvious big hitters and the AAA games aren’t quite there embracing mobile just yet, but how long might it be before they do? MOBAs seem like they’d be playable well on a tablet. Some predict that mobile will start to truly impact the PC gaming world in a couple of years. It’s easy to scoff, since it’s highly unlikely that PC gaming will die. After all, people have been singing that tune for a long time, but there might be a bit of truth to the assessment. PC gaming was there first, and robustly shared the market with consoles, even as those consoles became better and better and even started being multitaskers. This helped to put them into many more homes, and so the days of the PS2 and Xbox were monster years. One thing that consoles, which are compact PCs anyway, have that is appealing to developers and many consumers is a consistent hardware profile. Your Xbox is the same as my Xbox. Well, this is also one reason many developers like to work with Apple’s devices. There’s a lot of consistency across the iPhone and iPad that enables a developer to only have to invest so much into the process. Just like PCs, Android models are numerous and the profiles differ. It’s one limitation to Android that I’ve personally found a little annoying, since some games I want to play either aren’t available for the platform or don’t pass a compatibility check with my particular phone model. So there are still a few hurdles similar to the PC market at work here.

Bringing this conversation back to strategy games, the variety available has really grown to include many quality titles. The RTS and turn‐based strategy games are at home on mobile devices due to their pacing, so it’s a natural fit. This might mean a greater impact on the strategy genre than others if mobile does erode some of the PC market. Even eSports is going mobile. The World Cyber Games dropped all PC games from competition and became a mobile‐only event, while MLG and Sony just signed a deal to create a mobile eSports platform. It’s clear that the mobile platform is going to be around for some time.

The casual player is a huge part of this. You probably know people who play stuff like Angry Birds but little else. Will they suddenly convert over to StarCraft mobile? Probably not, but it doesn’t quite matter yet. A lot of strategy gamers are live and die by the PC gamers too, however, so while games in the genre translate well in current examples, it seems many of us complement our console and PC habits with mobile gaming.

Mobile apps are one of the latest successes though, tying the player to the game when not even at a PC. We previewed the recent app release for Dungeon Overlord and noted that the app kept dedicated players connected to the game. But how long until the game itself is what’s being played on the go?

Maybe not long. Nvidia released a prediction in April that Xbox 360 quality GPU will be available on mobile devices by 2014. So it seems that the graphics will be there. Will the players?

As habits shift somewhat, I do think we’ll be seeing a MOBA on mobile devices. In fact, I think one of the major ones will announce such multiplatform play in the future. I might be wrong, but all the signs point to a quality experience, as well as a graphically beautiful one in just a year or two, so why not? Paging

Riot Games, perhaps? The ability to play anywhere reflects our increasingly connected culture, and it’s a wise move to take advantage of that. Using MOBAs was just one example, but as a growing and popular subgenre, it’s fair game. The current limiting factors would seem to be touch controls and the need for a guaranteed stable connection. So, ultimately, it’s a just matter of when, not if.

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