The Sewickley Arts Initiative is readying an intriguing exhibition that should attract gamers and people interested in social issues and education, not to mention art-lovers. Input/output is a show by artists who use games to present interactive art addressing social issues such as immigration. (via Games as art in new gallery show | Program Notes)
The counterintuitive move of giving away apps — or games — for free seems to be gaining ground. The trick is to charge power users for more features or goods:
Game Makers Give Away ‘Freemium’ Products - Brian X Chen via NYTimes.com
Natalia Luckyanova and Keith Shepherd, a husband-and-wife team in North Carolina, learned this lesson when, in August, they released a 99-cent iPhone game called Temple Run. In the game, players must stay a step ahead of angry apes while avoiding booby traps and collecting coins. The game had some initial success but soon started losing traction.
In September, the couple began offering Temple Run free and promoted it through Free App a Day, a Web site that features free games. The game immediately had a spike in downloads and quickly soared in popularity. To date it has topped 40 million downloads, and about 13 million people play it at least once a day, Ms. Luckyanova said.
“When you tell a friend about it and they go to the App Store and it’s free, they download it without thinking about it,” Ms. Luckyanova said. “Then there’s stickiness and the addictiveness and people talking about it.”
But how does the free version of Temple Run make money? Inside the game is a virtual store to buy new characters, different backdrops and power-ups, or special boosters. While players can use the virtual coins they collect inside the game to buy these bonuses, a dedicated few use actual money to buy virtual currency and get them faster.
Ms. Luckyanova declined to say how much money Temple Run had earned, but on Sunday afternoon it was No. 14 in Apple’s top grossing chart, a list of the apps that are making the most money in the company’s App Store.
Freemium has apparently become more lucrative than charging for apps, according to Chen. And now, conventional game publishers — who charge as much as $50 for console games — are taking a long look at the casual/mobile marketplace, although with any revolution the upstarts are more likely to leverage new business models.
In a fascinating and detailed analysis of the UX factors behind Angry Birds success, Charles Mauro touches on many aspects of the game’s design, including human short term memory:
Charles Mauro via Pulse UX Blog
It is a well-known fact of cognitive science that human short-term memory (SM), when compared to other attributes of our memory systems, is exceedingly limited. This fact has been the focus of thousands of studies over the last 50 years. Scientists have poked and prodded this aspect of human cognition to determine exactly how SM operates and what impacts SM effectiveness. As we go about our daily lives, short-term memory makes it possible for you to engage with all manner of technology and the environment in general. SM is a temporary memory that allows us to remember a very limited number of discrete items, behaviors, or patterns for a short period of time. SM makes it possible for you to operate without constant referral to long-term memory, a much more complex and time-consuming process. This is critical because SM is fast and easily configured, which allows one to adapt instantly to situations that might otherwise be fatal if one were required to access long-term memory. In computer-speak, human short-term memory is also highly volatile. This means it can be erased instantly, or more importantly, it can be overwritten by other information coming into the human perceptual system. Where things get interesting is the point where poor user interface design impacts the demand placed on SM. For example, a user interface design solution that requires the user to view information on one screen, store it in short-term memory, and then reenter that same information in a data field on another screen seems like a trivial task. Research shows that it is difficult to do accurately, especially if some other form of stimulus flows between the memorization of the data from the first screen and before the user enters the data in the second. This disruptive data flow can be in almost any form, but as a general rule, anything that is engaging, such as conversation, noise, motion, or worst of all, a combination of all three, is likely to totally erase SM. When you encounter this type of data flow before you complete transfer of data using short-term memory, chances are very good that when you go back to retrieve important information from short-term memory, it is gone!
One would logically assume that any aspect of user interface design that taxes short-term memory is a really bad idea. As was the case with response time, a more refined view leads to surprising insights into how one can use the degradation of short-term memory to actually improve game play engagement. Angry Birds is a surprisingly smart manager of the player’s short-term memory.
By simple manipulation of the user interface, Angry Birds designers created significant short-term memory loss, which in turn increases game play complexity but in a way that is not perceived by the player as negative and adds to the addictive nature of the game itself. The subtle, yet powerful concept employed in Angry Birds is to bend short-term memory but not to actually break it. If you do break SM, make sure you give the user a very simple, fast way to accurately reload.
Margaret Robinson, of Hide&Seek, the game designers, on why everything shouldn’t be ‘gamified’:
Margaret Robinson, Can’t play, won’t play
Games offer fail conditions as well as win conditions. They are able to deliver the high levels of emotional engagement they’re famed for because they’re also adept at delivering the lows of loss, humiliation and frustration. The world of user experience design from which the concept of gamification has arisen has spent the last twenty years erasing loss, humiliation and frustration from its flows. A world of badges and points only offers upwards escalation, and without the pain of loss and failure, these mean far less. And when this upward escalation is based only on accumulation of points, rather than on expressions of my choices and my skills, then this further strips out the sense of agency and competence, so crucial to the emotional and neurological buzz we get from gaming.
It’s crucial that we stop conflating points and games.
Firstly, because it devalues points. Points are great. So are badges. Everything you’re reading on the pro-gamification posts about how powerful they are as motivators and rewards is spot on. Game designers resort to them – I resort to them – so often because they’re fantastic tools, and as with all tools there is real art and science behind deploying them well. They deserve to be studied, refined and adapted on their own terms, with their own vocabulary.
But secondly, because it misrepresents games. Gamification is an inadvertent con. It tricks people into believing that there’s a simple way to imbue their thing (bank, gym, job, government, genital health outreach program, etc) with the psychological, emotional and social power of a great game. And when their gamified thing doesn’t deliver on that promise, the only rational thing for them to do is to turn round and say ‘Games don’t work! We gamified the dickens out of this thing, and it still didn’t make as much money/reach as many users/generate as much social heat as World of WarCraft/Farmville/Minecraft’. Any game designer looking at their gamified thing would say, ‘Of course it didn’t do what those things did! Those things are all games and your thing isn’t!’ But they won’t be heard, because they won’t be in the room, since – and this is very telling – the gamification process rarely involves any actual game designers.
Gamification is the wrong word for the right idea. The word for what’s happening at the moment is pointsification. There are things that should be pointsified. There are things that should be gamified. There are things that should be both. There are many, many things that should be neither.
It’s important that we make the distinction between the two undertakings because, amidst all this confusion, we’re losing sight of the question of what would happen if we really did apply the deeper powers of game design to more everyday things – if we really did gamify them – and that question is a fascinating, exciting and troubling one. I really hope we get a chance to explore it properly.
I have been making a supporting argument, badly: puttin badges and points into every social application trivializes what they proxy in social tools, which is reputation. Instant reputation is like instant coffee: at its best, it’s still ersatz and inferior to the real thing.
So, games are fine, just like money and sex. But we don’t put money and sex into every social app either.
Turns out that the exploding game industry isn’t all sunshine and flowers: after all, billions in revenue is at stake and that tends to not bring out the best in people.
It seems that Mark Pincus’ Zygna is a hotbed of idea theft, stealing ideas from competitors, and crushing them with the company’s reach. Just like Elvis Presley knocking off all the old ‘Race Music’ and repackaging it as rock’n’roll.
But Zygna may be reaching the end of that streak. Pincus has apparently been telling his employees to forget about innovation, and simply appropriate competitor’s game ideas:
Peter Jamison, FarmVillains
As the former senior employee who listened to Pincus rant against innovation recalls, workers at Zynga were fond of joking (albeit half-seriously) that their firm’s unofficial motto was an inversion of Google’s famous “Don’t Be Evil.”
“Zynga’s motto is ‘Do Evil,’” he says. “I would venture to say it is one of the most evil places I’ve run into, from a culture perspective and in its business approach. I’ve tried my best to make sure that friends don’t let friends work at Zynga.”
The derivative nature of Zynga’s high-grossing games isn’t just an ethical liability. While the company has recently enjoyed a spate of bullish mainstream media coverage, some industry experts say that its star could soon be on the wane. The audience for its signature application, FarmVille, has collapsed by 26 percent from its high of 84 million monthly users. As a new generation of social gamers demands more sophistication in online entertainment, some observers — including at least one of Zynga’s founders — question whether the company can adapt.
“You can’t make the cheap little viral games like you used to,” says Tom Bollich, an early Zynga investor and former lead engineer who owned more than 400,000 shares of the company in 2008, and who has now divested completely. “These games, it’s like pouring water into a bucket with holes in it. You can get a lot of people, but they don’t stick around.”
We’ll have to see if Zygna has reached some limit in its growth, but I doubt that its business practices are known to users, or that it would make any difference if they did know.
Umair Haque twittered today ‘I don’t know what these guys are so upset about. That’s what business is all about.’ with regard to this story. After all, stealing the best ideas is Silicon Valley lore, isn’t it? But maybe there are still lines that can be crossed, even when unbridled capitalism is held up as a societal good.