Value for Money

“Good value for money” is not a winning strategy in this industry. If it was, NFL 2k5 would have beat Madden 2005. Japanese RPGs like Disgaea that offer hundreds of hours of differentiable gameplay would beat the pants off of Half-Life 2. Even in a recession, gamers are gladly paying for Batman: Arkham Asylum while eschewing Section 8.

While value for money is a factor in success, it can’t be your defining factor. All I know about Guitar Hero 5 from their marketing is that I can get Guitar Hero: Van Halen with it.

When I see a game debuting at a $30 price point, I make judgements about its quality. “If it were a better game, it would be $60” is what many of us consumers think.

It works for highly substitutable goods, but not differentiated goods like entertainment. We don’t think of the RaceTrac gasoline as 0.10/gallon inferior to 7-11’s gasoline, we see it as better value for money. Activision should know this. I assume they do, which is why I find it odd that they are trying this tactic.

Finger in the Air re: App Store Data

I’m working on a little iPhone App Store data analysis now that Apple is releasing revenue ranks (more important) in addition to sales ranks (less important) and I reached an interesting piece of information.

Madden for the iPhone is Sales Rank 1 (among games) and Revenue Rank 1 (among games) at a price of $9.99. Battle Bears is Sales Rank 2 (again, among games = *) and Revenue Rank 14 (*) at a price of $0.99. So if you assume Madden sold one more unit than Battle Bears (this is the minimum obviously), then Madden brought in 10x the revenue of Battle Bears. But since Battle Bears is 14th in revenue (*), that means that between 14th in revenue and 1st is a factor of ten. Since only ordinal data is published, we have to guess at the cardinal numbers. But regardless Madden must have brought in more than 14th-23rd place (in revenue) combined and likely brought in more. (And with NFL 2010 at 33rd in revenue, EA must be getting 80x the revenue or some ungodly figure) That’s pretty dominant. It’s likely that sales follow a power law where the top 20% get 80% of the revenue.

I wish I could get a hold of the real numbers rather than trying to guess with a copy of Excel that really can’t handle all those variables. I also wish I was better at statistics. Anyway, the real analysis will come when I get around to it. I’m trying to determine how various aspects affect revenue/sales such as price, genre, complexity, etc. but I’ll probably end up getting distracted by something shiny and finding out something else or abandoning it all together, so don’t hold your breath. 😉

Social Games are Killing Social Networks

From Gamasutra:

MiYon Richardson, a mother of two and a digital scrapbooker in Texas, says that after her network ballooned for Zynga’s Mafia Wars, her news feed and E-mail box became cluttered with game-related messages. “I get so much spam now,” she says. “I very rarely see an update from my real friends.”

Where is the breaking point? I personally move people into separate groups and hide messages from applications I don’t care about or want to see (hi Zynga!) but most users aren’t that sophisticated or care to take the time. And there is absolutely nothing I can do about the half dozen people a week who add me on Facebook whom I’ve never met or talked to whose note just says “mafia wars”. Adding these people leads to exponential growth in spam unless managed as more fake friends play more social games.

The mechanic of friends-as-currency makes a ton of sense on the surface for social games – the companies want more people playing, players want to be able to interact with their friends in some way. But the effects of this mechanic are widespread – not only does it make these games unplayable by people who don’t have large networks, it incentivizes the destruction of the very platform it needs to leverage by making the value of real friends (whom you can influence – which has bottom line implications for the developer) identical to the value of a stranger who happens to be connected to your node in the network.

But developers don’t care because more happy players today means more money today.

And players don’t care because incrementally it is hard to observe the negative effects.

And Facebook doesn’t care because it gets them page views.

But they are the ones who should care the most because it is a short term bump leading to a burnout and exodus. People first came to Facebook from Myspace in waves because the former was garish, unusable and ugly while the latter was utilitarian and clean. And if they lose that utility thanks to something as basic as spam status updates, they are going to find the Next Big Social Network eating their lunch.

One More Thing for Madden Fans

I realize I am treading on dangerous ground given my background, but as a fan I’m really disappointed at the announcement of Madden 2010 for the iPhone. All this wait and then we get what looks to be the NDS version except you use your pudgy digits instead of a stylus. Give us a tactics game, give us console integration, give us an owner RPG, or integrate with a Facebook version and let us play leagues with our friends on the road, give us something, anything we haven’t seen before…

Oops. Tricked you. The second pic is Gameloft’s NFL 2010 released last month. It looks like the exact same game, doesn’t it? And it probably suffers from the same mechanic issues that plague all games that require twitch and precision on the iPhone/iPod Touch. Add a degree of difficulty for being in 3D.

Even if the bells and whistles are different (and I have no indication that they are), it won’t matter if the meat and potatoes is a pale imitation of what we are used to. You can’t get the same control as Duel Analog Sticks on your phone. Nor should you attempt to. It shouldn’t be: “It’s Madden, but on your phone… Kinda.” It should be a supplement in addition to console Madden with a unique aesthetic, not an also-ran because EA needed a Colecovision version for the monopoly.

I’ve been screaming this idea for far too long. I’d be happy to be proved wrong.

It’s probably an OK game. I just have no reason to buy it.