Saturday, February 27, 2010

Facebook games for Grannies

In "2010 PopCap Social Gaming Research" report, the company found that fully two-thirds of social game players in the United States are 40 years of age or older, while the majority of players in the United Kingdom are under the age of 40. Young adults and teens in both countries are the least interested in playing games on sites like Facebook and MySpace: only 9% of U.K. casual gamers are 21 years of age or younger, and the proportion is 4% in the States. In their studies O'Reilly has also presented similar findings.

At the same time is is also a fact that practically all top gainers and the most popular Facebook applications have increasing user base amongst teenagers. Casual, easy social interaction with Facebook friends is at the core of the most popular Facebook applications. On the other hand the most biggest draws of developing an application for Facebook is the unprecedented access to the social networking site's massive user base. Applications that are set and forget can quickly fall into disuse. Also technical stability is a think that should be in place. If the application grows in popularity and use, technical issues should not cause problems.

These findings are interesting if you compare them to MMO / virtual world statistics. Majority of MMOs are targeted at teens. There is a fierce competition within that particular segment but lack of offering for older gamers. Yet this is not only Facebook or MMO challenge. Similarly many pc or console games are made by 20-40 year old men to 20-40 year old men. Nintendo Wii, Singstar and casual browser games have woken up the developers a bit but not until Farmville and other Facebook games started gaining huge popularity it has become clear that same games can easily work for both 16 and 36 year olds. It is more about mechanics and rewards than then theme or gameplay. Actually many Facebook games lack gameplay in a traditional sense.

If you look at the list of most popular Facebook application, you do not see traditional gameplay anywhere. One could draw a conclusion that people who haven't played pc or console games do not expect anything specific. Facebook games are not really competitive or co-op games. They don't have an end. And the games are not challenging at all but instead could offer short brain breaks or casual entertainment for idle moments. Surely Facebook users "play" with friends but the connection is merely a virtual one. I don't remember which of my friends are in My Mafia but it doesn't make any difference. Also it doesn't matter if you are at the level 100 and your friend is already at the level 600. It has no effect to the gameplay.

Current Facebook best sellers are never ending "poking games". I would like to see more short games on the list but then again if Bejeweled Blitz is not able to make to the high score, which game would? It is also clear that marketing will be more and more crucial for game developers. It does not help too much if your game is the best ever if no one knows about it. This might also advance new type of marketing methods.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Startup scene in Finland -- When should we start to worry?

Tietoviikko magazine listed 25 most interesting startups from Finland (February 2010). The list is put together by acknowledged experts from Forum Virium Helsinki, Technopolis and Arctic Startup. All of these corporations should have very good picture of the overall situation.

Finland has not exactly been the cradle of startups and entrepreneurship hasn't been that desirable alternative due to non-existing support systems, heavy bureaucracy and public image. Nowadays it is ok --or even cool and fun-- to be an entrepreneur!

Within the last few years there has been several good efforts to spur startups and "facelift" entrepreneurship in Finland. Few years back National technical research center VTT set up a division to spur research driven innovations and spin offs. Startup companies network e.g. at Open Coffee type of events and university students in Helsinki have set up Aalto Entrepreneur Society (AES). AES is one prime example of the new mindset. Traditionally Finns have been far from brilliant in pitching or even presenting things. I have heard many legends from the 1980s how Finns did things in their own way abroad. Maybe that is part of Finnish way of being -- it is good to be humble and make sure not to push your own persona or ideas too much. Otherwise you are annoying, too Swedish or American or just trying to be better than the rest. Lately the common understanding has been that if you want to make a difference, run a profitable company and make good exit you need to do networking and improve your sales skills. I personally am really thrilled to see things evolving. That's why I was surprised by the Tietoviikko list.

At first it struck me that this lists is (at least between the lines) suggesting that not that much is actually happening in Finland. 8 out of 25 most interesting companies were founded in 2005 or earlier. Naturally it takes sometime to make magic happen but is this really the case? Is a company doing RFID solutions for industrial logistics (founded in 2002) more interesting than any other more recent startups? Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against this or any other company on the list and I know it takes some time for businesses to evolve. I am just wondering how long do we expect the next big thing to come from these companies? Aren't there really any challengers? The other interesting thing is the fact that the list contains several consulting companies or companies offering services. Again nothing wrong with that but sounds rather local to me.

There were also some surprises on the list. One is Grey Area. I was involved in Nordic Game Program jury when Grey Area got small fund to develop their location based mobile game further. I personally believe that there are certain niches in location based gaming (e.g. exergaming) which will make good business as soon as people have GPS phones and flat fare data transmission deals. As a basic concept location based gaming is not new and it is relatively hard to monetize. Of course I might be wrong :) Still I wonder if I got the message right: do the experts believe that LBS gaming will be bigger than social gaming (when looking at Finnish startups and their potential to pull it through)?

Oh - and at least one of the companies - Vilant Systems - was also listed as one of the key growth companies (Kauppalehti Dec 2009). Certainly the criteria and focus of these lists is different but still interesting. The discussion continues at the Tietoviikko web site (in Finnish only).


Thursday, February 04, 2010

We made Lyre Inspyre at the Finnish Game Jam

The first ever Finnish Game Jam (FGJ) was held last weekend. FGJ was a part of the Global Game Jam event taking place in 39 countries around the world at the same time. Game developers jammed for 48 hours and made games around the theme: Deception. Besides the theme Finnish participants were also asked to utilize at least one of the following constraints: lyre, fire or wire in the games.

Global Game Jam countdown
  • 4,338 gamers registered globally for this year’s event
  • 1,600 participants in the first year (2008)
  • 928 games created over the past weekend
  • 370 games produced the first year (2008)
  • 39 countries, from Argentina to Wales, took part this year
All together nearly 90 persons attended to the FGJ in three locations (or actually four as also Turku AMK was also participating unofficially).

The jury's choice was: Play Dead 2: Growling of the Dead which is a zombie murmur game (aka zombie singstar). The jammers' voted Grow Up! to be the best game of the Finnish Game Jam 2010. ...Yes -- bummer! It wasn't ours :) I was with a team who did Lyre Inspyre. We tried to do something we don't do at work (majority of or team does games for living) and/or to experiment with weird game play but at the end our solution was rather conventional one. The good thing is that we manage to pull it off, worked well as a team and got the game done by Sunday afternoon! I am also very happy that we managed to combine casual look and feel with hard core game play :D

All in all Global Game Jam is a brilliant concept and even if the teams were very concentrated on their projects for the most of the time, we also had fun. It was nice to see the variety of projects and interpretations of the theme.