Category Archives: community

How can we make a Europe-wide MMO Publisher?

(4 posts in one day? Yeah! Too busy to be regular right now. GDC is on the way)

At the end of my commentary on the formation of NC West, I added almost as an afterthought a little comment about Europe and the MMO industry:

there’s a gaping hole in the MMO sphere. For someone bold enough to step into that hole, you could “own” Europe’s online gaming industry for the next decade.

Since I wrote that, surprisingly many people have commented on it both by email and in person, either along the lines of “look who else missed the opportunity” (Jagex, Ankama, Bigpoint, Gameforge), or along the lines of “yeah!” (count me in) … or both.

So, I wonder: what *would* it take, right now? If you have ideas, post them here. I’ll be at GDC in 3 weeks time, and I’d be more than happy to pitch this as a credible plan, if you come up with a comprhensive-enough plan. It’s a lot more expensive than any of my own humble plans, but in many ways I find it a lot easier to justify, financially. And I’m not even trying (it’s just a game for me right now, idly imagining what I’d do, if I were Jagex, or Ankama, or Gameforge, etc).

Wishlist time. Over to you, Dear Readers…

The Rules: Open Source Startup Funding

Mark Cuban’s blog is an odd one; I really can’t remember why I started reading it (presumably linked by a VC blogger would be my guess), and yet even though I read very few blogs I’ve stuck with his. It’s not like the standard SiValley other investor/commentator blogs. It’s a lot more based in the real world, and a lot closer to my experiences of running the business side of a business as opposed to the “building to flip” side of running a startup without ever being profitable just to sell it to someone else.

Anyway, advert over. He’s posted an interesting challenge: want money for a startup? Right. You have to publish the entire business plan, and let everyone else copy it. If – as many people are fond of saying – it’s implementation that matters, not the idea, then this shouldn’t be a problem for you. But it may bring wider-world benefits to everyone else, intangible virtuous-circle stuff.

I will invest money in businesses presented here on this blog. No minimum, no maximum, but a very specific set of rules. Here they are:

1. It can be an existing business or a start up.
2. It can not be a business that generates any revenue from advertising. Why ? Because I want this to be a business where you sell something and get paid for it. Thats the only way to get and stay profitable in such a short period of time.
3. It MUST BE CASH FLOW BREAK EVEN within 60 days
4. It must be profitable within 90 days.
5. Funding will be on a monthly basis. If you dont make your numbers, the funding stops
6. You must demonstrate as part of your plan that you sell your product or service for more than what it costs you to produce, fully encumbered
7. Everyone must work. The organization is completely flat. There are no employees reporting to managers. There is the founder/owners and everyone else
8. You must post your business plan here, or you can post it on slideshare.com , scribd.com or google docs, all completely public for anyone to see and/or download
9. I make no promises that if your business is profitable, that I will invest more money. Once you get the initial funding you are on your own
10. I will make no promises that I will be available to offer help. If I want to , I will. If not, I wont.
11. If you do get money, it goes into a bank that I specify, and I have the ability to watch the funds flow and the opportunity to require that I cosign any outflows.
12. In your business plan , make sure to specify how much equity I will receive or how I will get a return on my money.
13. No mult-level marketing programs (added 2/10/09 1pm)

PS: I love Mark’s attitude that comes across in his blog. E.g. in one of the first comments to this blog post:

Would you be open to reviewing pitches on your blog and then details privately?

From MC> No. This is an open source opportunity. Not a pitch Mark opportunity

iPhone App Store: Social Network and Game Portal

The App Store is just another casual games distribution platform + social network. You can pretend it isn’t (sometimes I think Apple is still pretending that it’s just an extension of iTunes, and ignoring the social side completely – Doh!), but that doesn’t make it true :).

Apple’s had the iPhone version of the App Store running for more than half a year now, and made tens of millions of dollars from it, so what’s it like? Where’s the social stuff good and bad? Where’s the game distribution stuff good and bad?
Continue reading

MMO Blogger Round-up

On this site I have a rather subtly-hidden Blog Roll. When I started blogging, the site had less on it, and the roll was easy to find – and short. Now it’s not. And it’s long. And each link on there has been carefully considered. There’s some gems in there (although a lot of them are updated so infrequently few people track them).

So it’s time to call-out some of the interesting things to be found in the blogging world of MMO people.

By the way … you can tell who’s working on uber-secret or personally exciting projects these days because they’ve suspiciously stopped blogging for months at a time. Lazy slackers, the lot of them. The more you do, the more you should blog! :P

There are some that should be on the blogroll but aren’t (yet), and some other bloggers I should mention (but I’m sticking to the blogroll only for this post – I’ll go through others next time). Feel free to add your own recommended reading in the comments.

Blogs to read:
Brinking (Nabeel Hyatt)
* Who? serial entrepreneur, raised funding and sold companies
* What? currently running a funk-tastic social / music / games company with a bunch of Harmonix guys
* Why? big commentator on the games/apps/making money/predictions parts of All Things Facebook

Broken Toys (Scott Jennings / LTM)
* Who? became infamous in the early days of MMOs as a player of Ultima Online who ranted publically, amusingly, and sometimes even insightfully
* What? ex-NCsoft, now doing intriguing web games at John Galt Games
* Why? In his heart Scott’s still a player, and more than anyone else I’ve seen he interprets the world of MMO design, development, and playing through the players’ eyes. Interesting point: he’s mostly concerned with life-after-launch. Funny that. Players kind of find that bit the most interesting. Also keeps a close eye on community-management screw-ups, and WoW generally

Bruce Everiss
* Who? ex-head of marketing for Codemasters
* What? um, I’m not sure what he’s doing these days, apart from becoming a “professional blogger”
* Why? he aims to comment on every single interesting piece of news in the mainstream games industry. That’s a lot of commentary. Always something to read! IMHO he is often completely wrong about anything online-games, and a lot of business and “future of industry” stuff – Bruce is from an older age of the industry. But … he says a lot of interesting things and sparks a lot of interesting debates in the process. Worth reading. Just remember he is extremely (deliberately, I’m sure) provocative, and don’t take it too seriously.

Coke and Code (Kevin Glass)
* Who? A programmer working in mainstream IT
* What? An insanely prolific author of casual games “in his free time, as a hobby”
* Why? Because he’s better at making games than many professionals I’ve met, and he is very very prolific, making new libraries, toolsets, editors, games, game engines – and commenting on it all as he goes, and throwing up new games for you to play all the time

Erik Bethke
* Who? ex-Producer for Interplay
* What? CEO of GoPets, an online casual virtual world that’s especially big in Asia (and based in South Korea)
* Why? A hardcore WoW player who analyses the game-design as he goes, and relates very honestly a stream of both emotional experiences and seminal events in the game that should give you lots of things to be thinking about, especially if you’re a designer, business person, or product manager.

Extenuating Circumstances (Dan Hon)
* Who? ex-MindCandy, current CEO of SixToStart
* What? one of the first Bloggers (on the whole of the internet!) in the UK, and an awe-inspiring assimilator of “everything happening on the internet, with technology, with media, with entertainment and the future of the world” for all of the ten years I’ve known him.
* Why? He’s still an excellent tracker of all those things, and finds memes very quickly. Nowadays he just auto-posts links (lots of them, every day) with a few words of commentary scattered here and there (del.icio.us descriptions) – making his blog a ready-made news filter for you :)

Fishpool (Osma Ahvenlampi)
* Who? CTO of Sulake (makers of Habbo Hotel)
* What? a very technical commentator, often in great detail, on the issues of running a 100-million user virtual world, with observations about Habbo’s community, business, and culture thrown in
* Why? He posts very rarely, but when he does, they’re usually full of yummy detail

Futuristic Play (Andrew Chen)
* Who? ex-VC (Mohr-Davidow Ventures)
* What? entrepreneur with a web-background who’s come into the games industry and bringing lots of useful stuff with him
* Why? blogs a LOT on advertising (and how to make money out of it in games and web and casual), and on metrics, and how you can use them to run you games or web business better. Also has a long fascination with what are the best parts of the games industry, and the best of the web industry, and how we can each put those best bits together to be even better

Off the Record – Scott Hartsman
* Who? ex-Everquest, ex-Simutronics
* What? Senior Producer for MMOs – but previously an MMO lead developer, and once (apparently) a Game Designer.
* Why? he’s funny, he knows his stuff, and he’s worked on some of the most important MMO projects outside Asia, so he’s got an interesting perspective going there.

Orbus Gameworks (Darius Kazemi)
* Who? ex-Turbine, now CEO of Orbus (a games-metrics middleware company)
* What? Likes the colour orange *a lot*, infamous for networking his ass off at games conferences (*everyone* knows Darius), very friendly, generous – and mildly obssessed with the use of metrics and stats to improve the creativity and success of game design (in a good way)
* Why? If you liked the Halo heatmaps when they came out, you’ll love some of the stuff they post on the Orbus company blog. A year ago they were posting heatmaps-on-steroids. If you thought “metrics” equalled “spreadsheets of data” then prepare to have your view changed pretty thoroughly.

Prospect Magazine/First Drafts (Tom Chatfield)
* Who? section-editor of the highly respected socio-political print magaine Prospect
* What? a highly-accomplished English Literature post-grad (bear with me here) … who also happens to have been a lifelong hardcore game player, I think the only person I know who got a hardcore character to level 99 on Diablo2, and now plays WoW a lot.
* Why? although Prospect only very rarely (like, only a few times ever) covers games, it’s very interesting to see what the rest of the world – especially the highly educated and highly intelligent but non-technical, older generations – thinks of us. And a bit of culture in your blog reading is probably good for you, too.

Psychochild (Brian Green)
* Who? ex-3DO/M-59, now the owner and designer of the revamped, relaunched, more modern Meridian-59
* What? an MMO game designer who disingenuously describes himself as an indie MMO designer but like most of the others has probably spent too long doing this and knows too much (compared to many of the modern “mainstream” MMO designers) for that to be true any more
* Why? lots and lots of great design ideas and commentary here for anyone wanting to do MMO design

Scott Bilas
* Who? programmer on Duneon Siege
* What? …in particular, responsible for the Entity System (one of my main areas of interest)
* Why? Scott’s phased in and out of blogging, but when he does blog he tends to do good meaty programming posts that contain lots of source code and some useful lesson or algorithm.

Sulka’s Game (Sulka Haro)
* Who? lead designer for Sulake (Habbo Hotel)
* What? more of a Creative Director than game designer, more of a web background than games, but above all a community/product/creative person who knows his stuff. Also a big player of MMORPGs
* Why? are you cloning Club Penguin or Habbo Hotel and want some pointers about revenue models, community management, and how to be successful with virtual-item sales? You might want to read his posts ;)

The Creation Engine No.2 (Jim Purbrick)
* Who? ex-Codemasters, ex-Climax (both times working on MMO projects)
* What? originally a network / MMO academic researcher, then a network coder, and now the person who runs Linden Lab (Second Life) in the UK. Very big proponent of all things open-source, always doing interesting and innovative things with technology
* Why? Keep an eye on the more innovative technology things that are done with Second Life (stuff you don’t tend to read about in the news but – to a tech or games person – is a heck of a lot more interesting by a long long way), and get some insight into the life of serious open-source programmers who succeed in living and breathing this stuff inside commercial environments

The Forge (Matt Mihaly)
* Who? developer of one of the earliest commercially successful text MUDs, now CEO of Sparkplay Media
* What? spent many years running Achaea, a text-only MUD that made a healthy profit from pioneering the use of itemsales (virtual goods) – and the things weren’t even graphical – and has now finally (finally!) moved into graphical games with the MMO he’s developing
* Why? one of the few MMO professionals who talks a lot about his experiences playing on consoles (especially Xbox), which makes for a refreshing alternate view – especially from the perspective of an MMO person talking about social and community issues in those games. Just like Brian Green, claims to be an indie MMO designer, but probably knows far far too much for that to be even vaguely justifiable

Vex Appeal (Guy Parsons)
* Who? ex-MindCandy
* What? Guy is an extremely creative … guy … who had a small job title but a big part in inventing and rolling out a lot of the viral marketing stuff we did for Perplex City (online game / ARG from a couple of years ago)
* Why? Awesome place to go for ideas and info on the cutting edge of doing games stuff with social networks. Usually. Also … just makes for a fun blog to read

We Can Fix That with Data (Sara Jensen Schubert)
* Who? ex-Spacetime, currently SOE
* What? MMO designer, but like Lum / Scott Jennings, comes from a long background as player and commentator, and shorter background as actually in the industry. Like Darius Kazemi, spent a lot of time in doing metrics / data-mining for MMOs
* Why? Take Darius’s insight into metrics for MMOs, and Scott’s knowledge of what players like, don’t like, and ARE like, and you get a whole bunch of interesting posts wandering around the world of metrics-supported-game-design-and-community-management. Good stuff.

Zen of Design (Damion Schubert)
* Who? ex-EA (Ultima Online), currently at Bioware (MMO)
* What? MMO designer who’s been around for a long time (c.f. UO)
* Why? Damion writes long detailed posts about MMO design, what works, what doesn’t, practicalities of geting MMO development teams to work together, how the playerbase will react to things, etc. He also rather likes raiding in MMORPGs – which is fascinating to see (given his heavy background as a pro MMO *designer*)

[NC] Anson (Matthew Wiegel)
* Who? ex-NCsoft
* What? Dungeon Runners team
* Why? was doing lots of interesting and exciting things with data-mining/metrics in the free-to-play low-budget NCsoft casual MMO. Watch this space…

People with nothing to do with games, but you might want to watch just because they’re interesting:
Bard’s World (Joshua Slack)
* ex-NCsoft
* Josh is one of the key people behind Java’s free, hardware-accelearted, game engine (JME)
Janus Anderson
* Who? ex-NCsoft
* What? um, he’s been taking a lot of photos recently
* Why? watch this space
Mark Grant
* Who? non-Games industry
* What? an entrepreneur, web-developer, and Cambridge Engineer
* Why? very smart guy, and interesting posts on web development (no games tie-in)

Community outreach: Going back in time, to an era before IM

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s been a recent disturbance in the force for the inhabitants of the place they call Second Life, and it’s all about money.

But that’s not what this post is about (I’m not that interested in the internal politics of a single VW/MMO/whatever, until/unless they have wider general meaning / effect).

No, this post is about Linden Lab’s actions following the uproar, where (among other initiatives) they held an open meeting within SL to discuss the issue, with the company CEO present to do a big Q&A session. Since LL has been touting SL as a great place to hold meetings – better than real life – and someone conveniently posted a transcript, I thought it would be interesting to see what an LL-run meeting looked like, under pressure.

The simple answer (if you glance at that transcript, about 50% of which is noise), is: chaotic.
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Flashback to 2006: How Kongregate Started

A little over 2 years ago, a new startup went into private alpha. Here’s one (of many) announcements about it:

On 9/18/06, Jim Greer wrote:
>
> Hi all –
>
> I want to announce my soon-to-launch Flash game startup to this list – I’m
> looking for game developers and players. The site takes games uploaded by
> indie developers and puts them into a rich community framework with
> persistent rewards, metagames, collectible items, chat, etc. Game
> developers
> make up to 50% of the revenue we get from rich media ads and
> microtransactions.
>
> Basically we’re building a community around web games. When I say
> “community”, I don’t just mean chat and profiles. It’s more like turning
> individual web games into something that have some of the addictive
> qualities of an MMO. For those of you who play World of Warcraft – what
> keeps you playing after you get a little bored with the quest that you’re
> working on? I think it’s things like this:
>
> – you are about to level up
> – you are about to earn some rare item
> – your friend is coming online in a minute and you said you’d quest with
> them
>
> Basically it boils down to: you’ve got goals that go beyond a single play
> session, and you’re online so everyone you play with can see/admire your
> progress. We have analogues for all of those rewards.
>
> So what we’re creating is a game portal with:
>
> – chat
> – profiles
> – challenges and collectible items
> – microtransactions for premium features
> – leagues
> – loyalty points for rating games, suggesting features, etc
> – rich media ads
>
> As I said, we’re making money off rich media ads and splitting that. We’re
> also opening up the microtransaction API so developers can charge for
> premium content in their own games (extra levels, gameplay modes, etc) —
> we’ll take a much smaller cut of that revenue.
>
> We’re launching a private alpha version in a couple of weeks – if you’re
> interested in participating you can email me. Preference will be given to
> those who have games to upload! Initially, our usage will be low so the
> revenue share won’t be significant – to make up for that we’ll be having
> cash prizes for Game of the Week and Game of the Month.
>
> Also, we’re hiring developers to help us make our own games, as well as
> extend the API feature set. The first game we’re making is a collectible
> card game, played online – you win the cards by completing challenges in
> user-uploaded games.
>
>
> Jim Greer
> jim
> Company: http://kongregate.com
> Blog: http://jimonwebgames.com

Kong has delivered on all of this … except “microtransactions” and “leagues”. Although … that blog didn’t quite work out: it’s now a blank WordPress blog, installed March 2008 by the looks of things.

Missing features

Kong at the moment is monetized purely through advertising, which is interesting both because they have relatively low user figures to be an ad-driven site, and because most people seem more interested in the other (non-advertising) forms of F2P revenue: item-sales, fremium/premium subscriptions, etc.

On the userbase front, I’ve been wondering about it for a while: their PCU/ ACU (peak concurrent online / average concurrent online) figures are, I would have thought, “fatally” low for an advertising-driven site. The highest I’ve ever seen was around 20,000 users online at once, and a thread on the forums asking people the highest they’d ever seen topped out – so far – at 22,827.

Balancing that out, clearly there’s a very high percentage of return visitors, and high frequency per visitor. I know that other games, such as Runescape, managed to be hugely profitable on similar numbers of users, but that was a long time ago. With the increased competition for advertising these days among web companies, I’d have thought that was much harder. Even if advertising is easier and richer these days (financial crises aside), we’re only talking about $1million a year revenues. Kong has taken on almost $10 million of angel / VC funding to date, which is a *lot* of money when you look at the kinds of return on investment those people expect to receive.

Going back to the choice of revenue stream, let’s revist the original features Jim mentioned, and see how they stack up:

> – chat
> – rich media ads

These are derivative and trivial to add to any Flash-games portal. Who cares.

> – profiles
> – challenges and collectible items
> – microtransactions for premium features
> – leagues
> – loyalty points for rating games, suggesting features, etc

… whereas these are all high-engagement items. None of them work without getting the individual users to create an account on the site, and to keep logging in each time they come back. Most game portals are specifically targetted at being ultra-low engagement: no barrier to entry, no signup, no “hoops”; just play. For other portals to add these services would be tricky from the marketing / conceptual product viewpoint.

Several of them – particularly “challenges”, “microtransactions”, and “profiles” – are also technically challenging, requiring a lot of infrastructure (either server back-ends, or user-interface front-ends).

So, although Kong hasn’t yet added two of those high-engagement items, it’s got most of them. That strongly suggests it would be a great candidate for adding a more active form of monetization, as opposed to the current, purely passive, one (advertising).

And that would be a good potential justification for how they got so much external invesment (although personally I believe it also has a lot to do with a clever disruptive play to put the big games portals like Miniclip completely out of business within 3-5 years).

Are you pro-Community, or anti-Community?

Web 2.0 strategies often say “we can’t compete with our users, there’s too many hundreds of millions of them, and actually – collectively – they outmatch us in almost everything we do. So we’re going to bring them into our company, we’re going to let them develop the products, we’re going to let them take our technology and decide what other uses it can best be put to. And we’re not going to beat them over the head with copyright laws, because we can make so much money from the vastly increased volume of users that we get from this that it’s a virtuous circle. If we get too hung-up on controlling our data, and limiting access to our systems, and preventing people from accessing stuff “until it’s ready”, we actively prevent our community from helping us”.

Think about that: many of us, on a daily basis, are actively preventing our communities from helping us.