Exclusive: Gogogic On Branded Games, Accessibility And More

A couple weeks ago, we published the first part of our interview with Gogogic CEO Jonas Antonsson concentrating on mid-core games and bringing games cross-platform. In part two of our interview, we talk about everything from single-player experiences and branded games to transmedia and accessibility.

[a]list: Games like Demon’s Souls exist that don’t guarantee you any progress. It’s certainly challenging, but for some people it asks to much to have all your progress wiped out in a single encounter.

Jonas Antonsson

Jonas Antonsson: There’s clearly an audience for those sorts of games, but if you advertise a game that’s going to hurt you and make fun of you, it has to be the right sort of game. For the DayZ mod, you have people who have played for days and get killed, but I think that the experience fits with the mood of brutal survival and it becomes an acceptable part of the gameplay. So I think there is a strong audience for hard and unrelenting games — I personally like them — but as core gamers take on added real-life burdens I think they can’t spend as much time playing games and that increases the frustration level of losing all your stuff or having to begin from scratch. You learn to appreciate using your time more efficiently.

I also think that it is worth to note that the single player mechanic is a gimmick — games are meant to be played with others and it doesn’t matter if it’s in-person or online. The first games were designed as multiplayer experiences, but when computer and console games became a thing there was a need to construct an antagonist and/or a protagonist for commercial purposes. You couldn’t depend on people coming together to have a synchronous experience over a game. That would have simply stifled sales. And since there was no reasonable way to connect people in other ways — the arcade was the only serious attempt — it became an industry need to project the game as the other player. Playing a game is a multiplayer activity and can easily be seen as such when you watch young toddlers play by themselves. They invent someone to play with, someone that they talk to and interact with.

The high score list is a simplest way to make a game social, to transform it to an asynchronous multiplayer experience. A simple list allows me to share an experience with others — comparing myself to you in the game. This also becomes a great reason to create games that are hard and difficult to master. Enter the classic hardcore game that allows dedicated players to compare not only scores but progress and in-game assets found or unlocked. But now we can connect people in and around a game through real time PvP and PvE mechanics and the need for pure single player games had gone down. We have multiple plots and stories and build the meta-experience for the entire audience. The premise for making games has changed — reverted back to building multiplayer experiences that are true to the game form.

This doesn’t mean that we have run out of room when it comes to great single-player titles or games that make you sweat and curse every couple of minutes. It means that those titles have to be very appealing and cater well to the hardcore audience. So games that drive you crazy can be excellent because they are well designed, not because that’s what games are supposed to do or how they should always work.

[a]list: Tell me about your work for branding and what the opportunities are there.

Jonas Antonsson: I think that there were a lot of interesting developments a few years ago and I remember specifically that web games were really leading the way in 2006-2008. I remember the M&M movie game featuring a still picture of M&Ms adapting scenes from horror movies and the player was supposed to guess what movies were featured. This was for Dark M&Ms and practically everyone could play it. It went viral instantly and brought a lot of attention to the product. I also remember when the California Milk Association created a 3D modeled board game, featuring a a family of small time crooks trying to steal some extra milk and it was fantastically well done. They actually showed the metrics generated by the game some months after it launched and how it affected their bottom line. The results were mind blowing and extremely positive.

Dark M&Ms Ad

After that, in late 2008-2009, branding shifted gears towards product placement in games. Because of this we are not seeing the same quality in advergames. Instead, we see partnerships with game studios, because it feels like advertisers have moved away from producing holistic game experiences and I wonder why that is because we have stats that show these games can do wonders if they are done correctly and it shouldn’t cost more than what you do with a traditional ad spot campaign. You can generate metrics from the game — maybe that’s the problem, they can tell it failed! While it might be harder to trace success for radio or TV, games have definitive statistics – maybe there’s something there. I haven’t touched on this for some time now, to be honest.

At a traditional marketing and advertising firm, some creative person internally can execute on a campaign and it might be worked on by professionals and the idea is kept. With an advergame, you will be hard pressed to find someone with capabilities and expertise in making games within an advertising firm. So it can be fussy to make games. Where do you place the campaign or the cash Let’s say you’re making a web game — it isn’t a fire and forget thing. A TV ad lives for 6 weeks and it’s gone. The game doesn’t go away — you can do an A B test with the game and update it – change the message, whatever. But you also can’t control it and it can have nothing to do with your current message, two or three years downstream. So I think that it’s a tricky space. We’ve have a client take a down a game because it was too successful, and overwhelmed their servers. They were not happy until we pointed out the reason why their website went down.

Of course, working with an outside ad agency, they might be steering them away from games. That might mean a large part of the budget that they would otherwise get would go to this other company.

The time factors in, because if you’re going to build a big game, to execute it requires several months. And I’ve gotten calls for visions of the campaign and they’ll say it’s coming out in 3 weeks. That works for a TV ad but for a game, it’s going to be buggy. Three weeks are tough if you’re advertising a product – you want to make damn sure that game runs.

[a]list: It’s intriguing that sometimes big shot directors will moonlight for these commercials. I can’t imagine Ken Levine or Tim Schafer taking time to make an advergame.

Jonas Antonsson: There’s a bit of a culture clash there between ad agencies and game developers. Dan Draper would think of Schafer as a huge geek! [laughs]

There are a few titles that are changing how games are generally viewed. League of Legends, I was at PAX and I saw the west coast finals and it’s crazy to see a thousands of people watching it as a live sport and they’re booing and yelling and crying. It’ll take a while for the general public in Europe and the U.S. to view games as sport, but the baseline has been set.

Hawken, with their transmedia strategy, where they have web episodes and a feature film from the story that everything is based around, is also rocking it. It’s a holistic franchise concept – that, along with others like it, will revolutionize the stepchild relationship that’s in effect between Hollywood and Games. Things will also start to change because a lot of today’s superstar actors, directors and producers are game players and they actually respect game makers a lot.

The Batman franchise is another great example of how this can work across all mediums. The new movie trilogy is amazing, and you have the Gotham games that didn’t have anything to do with the movies but they have the same essence. There’s also the New 52 incarnation of the character that’s been popular in its own right. That franchise has proven you can build fantastic IP on numerous branches and in numerous ways — as long as you keep the core intact

[a]list: We recently got a chance to talk to Bigpoint about browser based games. Do you see that as a sector on the rise?

Jonas Antonsson: When we founded Gogogic we had recently begun to understand that there was a significant change silently happening in the games industry and that games were becoming mainstream. Browser games had started to appear as commercially viable experiences and mobile devices would get better and more connected. I’m a core gamer, I bought a lot of games, but my wife, who did not identify herself as a gamer at the time, spent more than me on games. They were discreet buys, from Big Fish Games and PopCap, all downloadable casual games. It was obvious the game world was changing fast.

The founders were personally at an age where it had become more difficult to engage in core game experiences, so we decided to concentrate on accessibility for cross platform MMOs — really a hard core space but one that was lacking accessibility both in terms of platform and engagement level. For the last couple of years we have seen this industry change take shape and the browser and mobile devices have become the most accessible platforms. But I don’t think the browser is on the rise. I think accessibility is on the rise. Steam, for example, increases accessibility to all sorts of games and that’s why Steam has also been on the rise.

It explains the success of Ouya because developers want an accessible console that’s intriguing and pulling people to it naturally. Unity is another fantastic example, letting people develop more easily and get their games to accessible platforms with relative ease. Sony bought Gaikai and I believe accessibility is a big part of that. Being able to play and stream from the cloud instead of having to download 8 GB clients — what you have is increased accessibility.

Vikings of Thule

[a]list: Anything you’d like to add?

Jonas Antonsson: As much as I am for increase accessibility, I’m firmly against dumbing down games or using psychological tricks as the only means to get people playing. With our latest game, Godsrule, we are trying to make sure we strike a great balance between access, deep gameplay and a great story. It’s a high fantasy MMORTS and it will be the first mid-core MMO game that implements a real RTS where you’re dependent on your skills as you take on opponents in real-time. And it has accessibility through both mobile and online platforms. During the day you can make things ready and at night you can sit down and RTS the hell out of someone! You can play five or six battles and you have an half hour to an hour session.

We want community to be at the heart of the experience and I’m personally a big fan of that. Any game becomes boring to the player with time, but the social interactions helps build up an experience that lasts a long time.

[a]list: Jonas, thanks.

Publisher 2.0 — The Emergence Of Mid-Core

Publisher 2.0 is a curious beast.  A series of articles here that began with “Why Publisher 2.0 is M.I.A.” have outlined the shortcomings with those that are publishing on digital platforms. Follow up pieces have talked about what changes need to be made with the shift from marketing a product to marketing a service, and highlighted a publisher that is doing it right in an interview with Wizards of the Coast.

In this piece, we enlisted Peter Warman, co-founder of analyst firm Newzoo, to shine the spotlight on one of the most important developments in the digital game space. It’s the opportunity to re-introduce, and somewhat redefine, the mid-core game. It’s a category that used to drive innovation in the game industry, especially for hardcore games on console and handheld systems. Now with consumer behavior and what types of products are successful on digital becoming better understood, mid-core is once again poised to rise. It could represent the biggest growth category in digital games.

“As a core gamer I’m genuinely excited to see diversity return with new platforms and the fusion of core and casual mechanics.” – Jonas Antonsson, CEO of GoGoGic

There was a time when you could walk into a game retailer and be blown away by the diversity of products. A variety of games for every genre and even niche products rounded out the AAA and franchise-based mainstream offerings.  That time is gone.  Retail now relies on pallet after pallet of big budget games, mostly sequels and from just a handful of genres. Traditional publishers have become less and less interested in mid-core games, a category traditionally made up of modestly budgeted games often based on unknown IP that targeted a niche among gamers on a given console or platform. For big publishers, the highest upside for a these types of games still isn’t lucrative enough to invest in developing them and allocate resources to market them.  At first slowly but now surely, they’ve abandoned the category.

As mid-core neared its abyss at retail, digitally delivered casual and social games hit their stride.  With the viral capabilities of Facebook and the mobility of cell phones and tablets, a new game market was created for a whole new crop of consumers who didn’t even consider themselves gamers. Millions of new people enjoyed the addictiveness of games like Farmville and Angry Birds, with their experience facilitated by the ease with which they could access these games. To some extent, these games also drew an audience from former game players. These are people who at one point looked for their gaming fix on PC, console or handheld systems but eventually found the narrowness of what publishers offer on those platforms unappealing. For them, casual and social games filled the void that mid-core used to serve.

Redefining mid-core for digital

In digital, mid-core is defining itself as games with a combination of immersive experience and casual gameplay. As such, it’s positioned between packaged products or hardcore MMO games, whether on console or PC, and the “new gamer” targeted casual titles served up in droves on mobile and social platforms. It’s a bit of a shift from what made up mid-core in the earlier days of console, where game play could be very hardcore.

The shift comes from new platforms. Tablets and smartphones force game developers to adapt their game to the intuitive interface and typical situations in which these screens are used. Casual gameplay characteristics are inevitable. We could therefore consider Grand Theft Auto III on the iPad a mid-core game, whereas it was very much a hardcore title on console. This is a bit of psychological hurdle that game developers, and especially those whose pedigree is hardcore games, need to overcome. Those that haven’t yet dared to adapt their games, whether from a game play mechanic or monetization standpoint, to what they see as an inferior experience are sitting out. Where they’ll miss out is with other developers who are more comfortable with these new platforms piggy backing on their ideas or IP to create titles targeting mid-core.

An example of this is Funzio’s Modern War. It’s undeniably inspired by Activision’s Call of Duty franchise. Based on Newzoo data, U.S. and Europe revenues in May of this year for this game on iOS were more than twice that of combined revenues from all iOS games carrying the Call of Duty IP. Modern War is free-to-play, a model well adapted to by digital gamers, but one that Call of Duty has yet to adopt even on mobile.

From a consumer perspective, the mid-core digital game segment comprises players looking for a more in-depth experience than a casual game. Yet it’s not as time-consuming as a core game, both in terms of learning curve and game play progression. That’s partly because of the fundamentals of a platform such as mobile, where cumulative screen time is now substantial but split up between a multitude of functional and recreational uses.

This classification for mid-core is important. As mentioned, the segment includes former core players whose tastes in gaming are also affected by how much time they can dedicate to them. For some, it’s a byproduct of age and the responsibilities that come with it. As much as a gamer of this kind appreciates and seeks game play depth, they’ll likely show little tolerance for steep learning curve, slow startup curve or the inability to play in short bursts and come and go quickly. For instance, for them an RPG or MMO shouldn’t require tens of hours to build your character before having a great play experience.

The size of the prize

There’s no science to how you draw an exact line between casual and mid-core, nor between mid-core and core. But it is certain that there is room for a category for game products between casual and core. The key questions to ask have to do with the size of the opportunity today and its future potential. Newzoo approaches the questions from these perspectives: 1) how much of the current share of games and game expenditure goes to products defined as mid-core; 2) how many gamers who typically play hardcore games on PC and console also pay for mobile and social games; 3) what’s growth outlook based on ways to prevent core gamers from dropping out of games entirely as they age.

Current share of mid-core on mobile

Analysis of April and May iOS and Google Play Store data in the U.S. shows that of the top 20 grossing games, 45 percent on iPad and 50 percent on iPhone can be considered mid-core. These games are generating 40 percent and 45 percent of revenues respectively. Mid-core games seem specifically popular on the iPad in Europe, illustrated by 55 percent of games being mid-core, generating 47 percent of the revenue generated by the top 20 grossing iOS games in the territory.

Kabam’s Kingdom of Camelot is clearly the best performing mid-core game, taking the number two grossing spot in May just behind Ice Age Village, Zynga Poker and DragonVale depending on region and device. Kingdom of Camelot monthly earnings are currently approximately two and half times that of Infinity Blade II. Both are considered mid-core, and it’s significant to see how the free-to-play game is beating the paid one when it comes to dollars generated.

Core gamers who also pay for games on social and mobile

Newzoo estimates the current potential market for mid-core games to be at least $1.2 billion a year in the U.S. and another $1.4 billion in key European countries. This is based on 13.1 million American and 15.7 million European gamers aged 30 and up who currently spend money on both core console, PC and MMO titles as well as on casual games on social networks or mobile devices. The data hints that this audience is not buying PSP Vita or Nintendo 3DS, turning to mobile devices for their gaming on the go. It’s safe to say a good portion of this audience is exactly who is seeking mid-core type experiences on digital platforms.

Growth outlook: Save the core gamer

When comparing age groups from 10-30 year-olds and then 31-50 year-olds, 54 percent of core gamers stop playing core games while the drop in number of gamers in general is only 30 percent. In EU countries, the drop-off for the segments is less with 43 percent, but dramatically higher than the 22 percent for all gamers. If mid core games live up to their potential to keep the core-gamer playing immersive games, at least limiting the drop-off to the average share, that could represent an additional $600 million opportunity in U.S. and EU territories combined. Based on this underserved potential and the possibility to open up new markets, the mid-core gaming segment is certain to boast double digit growth figures for many years to come.

“I’m going to go on the record and say that I believe the middle class game is dead.” — Cliff Bleszinski

The quote from Cliffy B. is curious, considering his company is responsible for mid-core on digital’s current poster child, Infinity Blade.  The game is a clear winner in this new category. What makes it the perfect example of a mid-core game is how it combines hardcore qualities, such as its visual fidelity and the nature of the IP, with more casual game play.  In essence, it’s applying simple gameplay mechanics to a game that looks core in almost every other respect. Why is Infinity Blade the best known example of a mobile mid-core game It’s due to the effort to create a polished brand around the game IP as well as its extensive marketing, both requirements to launch it as a premium priced game on a platform that is still getting accustomed to the concept.

Other developers are achieving success more quietly, yet still proving the opportunity in mid-core. We mentioned Kabam’s Kingdom of Camelot. Another that operated in relative stealth mode over the past year is Lords and Knights from German publisher Xyrality. It entered the top 5 grossing ranks in Europe earlier this year. The game spent months slowly moving up the ranks, supported by online marketing that was purely focused on reaching current paying online MMO gamers. Xyrality’s approach to marketing their game didn’t garner mainstream attention. That’s where the next challenge lies for mid-core, in the debate on how to market these games. Take for instance Godsrule, a game to soon-to-be launched by Icelandic developer GoGoGic. It’s an art-rich MMO game that’s also cross-platform, allowing iPad and PC players to battle against each other. It’s shaping up to be an ideal title to further establish mid-core on tablet and generate some level of mainstream interest, even having the potential to draw in gamers who have traditionally only played their MMO games on PC. Whether the company realizes the potential, and puts marketing muscle behind it, will become evident in their run up to launch.

This is the interesting position for mid-core. Whether paid, and likely premium priced, or free-to-play, they will need to appeal to the more seasoned gamer, a consumer who is often a savvy entertainment customer overall. They can’t rely on analytics-driven marketing and chart manipulation, or low-hanging fruit tactics such as referral companies or viral/spam efforts like what we see too frequently in Facebook and Zynga games. They need to warm up the marketing engine, and rev it up early. Establish a strong brand around the IP, develop polished assets and video trailers designed to build early awareness, enlist traditional PR efforts that includes preview outreach, and use that early buzz to develop a community of fans well before launch.

Digital distribution has certainly changed the characteristics of the game market, from buying habits to game play behavior. Its reintroduction of a viable market for mid-core may be one of its most positive byproducts, setting the stage again for new IP and innovations in game experiences. It hasn’t changed how people decide to allocate their time and money when it comes to games and entertainment.

About the authors:

Peter Warman is CEO and co-founder of Newzoo. He previously worked at Europe’s largest interactive agency LBi. Prior to that, he was responsible for internet development at Reed Business, and operated as commercial director for a MMO for kids. Peter is a frequent speaker on the business aspects of the games industry. For more information on Newzoo, please visit www.newzoo.com.

Steve Fowler is a thirteen year veteran of the interactive entertainment industry. He is responsible for the brand identity and launch of the Halo franchise at Microsoft Corporation, Inc., and has held marketing and business development roles at Interplay, Sega Sammy Holdings, Inc., Square Enix, Inc., and Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. He is the chief architect of the one of its kind annual industry conference the [a]list summit, and has been incubating new digital game publisher [a] list games internally at Ayzenberg Group for the past year. For more information on [a]list games, visit www.alistgames.com.

Exclusive: Getting Acquainted In San Francisco

Ayzenberg’s 2012 [a]list summits visited San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle with a series of events looking at how entertainment marketers are wooing consumers today. Aptly named “The Consumer Courtship,” the summits gathered industry legends, entrepreneurs, pundits, senior marketers, even a few super YouTubers. The topics varied from summit-to-summit but hovered around the rise of branded entertainment and how it feeds off of social media marketing.

[a]list daily is featuring a retrospective on the summits in three videos.

In Part 1, Azyenberg’s summit agenda creators Steve Fowler, Julian Hollingshead and Chris Younger reflect on highlights from Michael Pachter’s keynote and a panel on social marketing with Hootsuite’s Dan Webster.

You can jump to Part 2: Los Angeles and Part 3: Seattle.


Exclusive: Gree’s Hardcore Expansion

Gree is one of  the largest mobile game publishers in the world.  The Japan-based company now has its sights set on Westward expansion, and it’s keenly interested in the growing mid-core category with products targeting serious game players.

Last month at E3, Gree took over one of the big exhibit booths on the show floor, space that was relinquished by troubled game publisher THQ.  It was a sign of the times.  Gree also recently announced that it will be at Gamescom in Germany next month.

“We need to be everywhere, making introductions to as many people as possible,” says Masuda.


Exclusive: Ford’s Resident Gamer

In this exclusive interview from E3 2012, [a]list daily talks with Ford social and emerging media analyst Brian McClary.

Ford has had a presence at E3 for two years running, part of its strategy to relate to gamers.  McClary’s deep gaming roots and understanding of gamer culture give the company a great reference point.

“Gaming isn’t something you do,” says McClary.  “It’s something that you are.”


Exclusive: YouTube Stars On Growth Of eSports

We talked eSports with hosts Husky StarCraft, Zac Hill, and popular YouTube stars at “Duels of the YouTubers.” The tournament organized by Wizard of the Coast and Ayzenberg Group was live streamed last week on TwitchTV. It pitted YouTube stars Tobuscus, Katers17, OMFGCATA, Panser and Black Nerd Comedy in a last man standing competition playing Magic The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013.{link no longer active}

“Duels of the YouTubers” was yet another indication of the growing popularity of eSports, garnering more than 110,000 channel views during its airing.  Hear what some of the people behind the eSports phenomenon have to say on why gamers are starting to show en masse that they love watching games as much as playing them.


Exclusive: Wargaming.net’s Free-To-Play Battle Theater

Authenticity plays a part in World of Tanks, even though the free-to-play hit is a relatively fast-paced combat game.  The founders of the company behind it, Belarus-based Wargaming.net, call themselves military strategy enthusiasts.  Their penchants for historical accuracy shows up in the visual realism and attention to detail in the hundreds of pieces of military hardware found in the game.

Matt West at Wargaming America says the company leverages that accuracy to target military buffs.  With its next game, World of Warplanes, that means promoting the game at air shows and military museums.

“While we focus on appealing and reaching that hardcore gamer, we also reach out very deeply into the military community,” says West.

World of Warplanes is now in closed beta testing and due to be widely available later this year.  Wargaming’s other announced game recently changed its name from World of Battleships to World of Warships.  It’s slated for 2013.

In our exclusive interview, West talks about branding and community initiatives planned for World of Warplanes, and how Wargaming.net hopes to eventually create a single funnel that gets players into all of its games.


Exclusive: Trion On Defiance And Marketing A Transmedia Property

Describing Trion’s Defiance IP demands product speak: it’s open world; it’s massively multiplayer; it’s multi-platform; it’s transmedia. All of it is true. The company is teamed up with SyFy on an ambitious effort to simultaneously launch an interconnected PC and console MMO game that ties into a television show.

We talk with Alex Rodberg, VP of marketing at Trion Worlds, about how the Defiance game and show are being interconnected and what’s planned for marketing ahead of their April 2013 launch. One challenge on the marketing front is what Rodberg calls “sharing a brand” between Trion and SyFy.


Exclusive: Ed Fries Says Future Of Games ‘Hard To Predict’

Ed Fries sees a promising future for the game industry, but one he doesn’t think anyone can predict, especially not the current crop of major players.

Speaking in a video interview at [a]list Summit Seattle, Fries says, “If you’re a big existing publisher, it’s like everything you know is wrong and all of the people you have are wrong.”

Fries is the legendary programmer who moved from the original Excel and Word teams who put Microsoft on the map to become co-creator of the first Xbox. He now sits on the board of several small companies including Z2 Live, an indie game maker that’s the quintessential model for how to build a successful game business in the current market.

“Things were kind of quiet and normal for a while, but now it’s really hard to predict the future,” says Fries.