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Becoming Social Smart in 2012


By Michael Johnson and Mary Kurek

As we dive head first into 2012, it’s time to evaluate the upcoming year in gaming. Looking back at 2011, it’s amazing to see the changes that took place in the industry and the great games that were showcased throughout the year. Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a phenomenon take gaming by surprise and resurface the terrain we all know so well. A market that was previously dominated by young males has had its foundation shaken as females have infiltrated the ranks and have become a game-changing demographic. Gaming has been adopted by older generations, and it’s not uncommon to have a competitive match of Words With Friends with our mom or dad. It seems that we only have social gaming to thank for that.

Most of us remember one of our first experiences, or at least our most popular experience, with social gaming being Farmville. Things have changed drastically since then. While Farmville is still wildly popular and dominates the social scene on Facebook, the way social games are played — and the business behind them — are in an accelerated rate of growth. Companies such as Zynga, EA’s Playfish and Wooga are learning what it means to grow up fast as they have to manage the development, production and finances that come with a successful business. But, what’s interesting about these companies is their ability to handle the pressure … it’s why we will see the Zyngas of the play-space separate themselves from the competition and redefine the social gaming industry.

The two biggest changes we will see this year are companies’ ability to adapt to the rapidly growing gaming platform market and their ability to develop successful monetization models. The companies that successfully address these issues this year will be the players who define the space.

Smartphones and netbooks and tablets … oh my!

It’s been less than 10 years since Facebook exploded on the Internet. Mobile smartphones have allowed us to access anything, anywhere, anytime; and now we’re seeing tablet computers and netbooks enter the arena. Gaming has morphed alongside technology and has redefined what it means to be a gamer. It’s not all about sitting at home with a pizza and stash of energy drinks anymore; people are gaming in the subway, on their lunch breaks, off their lunch breaks and even while they’re driving. By the way — you should stop doing that. High accessibility spells potential for talented developers looking to break their way into the industry and make it big. IPhone users aren’t the only ones demanding games anymore. If companies want to experience success quickly in 2012, they need to adapt quickly to the increasing platform line-up and develop social games that are accessible on all of these devices.

With that said, developers also need to realize that the social gaming craze doesn’t stop with mobile devices. In fact, some recent AAA games have adapted these newfound social aspects into their games. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is a good example. The game uses a system called “Autolog,” which allows a player to track their friends’ best times and compete to break their records. Assassin’s Creed Revelations compares your top scores in multiplayer and consistently challenges you to break your friends’ records. Break all of your friends’ records, and you’re sure to be at the top of the leaderboards.

It’s not that these features weren’t sought prior to social gaming, but games such as Farmville have proven that it can be done successfully and that the market is hungry for it. Note to developers: You should follow the trends, realize where the potential is and get your social games out to as many users as possible. The mobile landscape isn’t slowing down, and neither should you. The companies who take the most advantage of their resources are coming out on top in 2012.

Monetizing your game

Now, on to the part we all care about … making money! Let’s hope you’re not out there putting in strenuous, well-earned and valuable time making your games and then simply giving them away for free.

Oh my … you are?!

Well, there’s good news: There are plenty of options for starving artists looking to make money for their hard work. Some companies go for the free-to-play model, implementing microtransactions, while others prefer to have their users pay before they play. Both are successful models in their own right, but developers have to decide which models fit their games best.

There is some research to prove that social games thrive and bring in the maximum profit when they offer a low barrier to entry and then allow their users to purchase in-game items as they go. In an article titled “The Rise of the European App Economy” in the fall 2011 issue of Casual Connect, writer Regina Leuwer points out that a recent study conducted by research firm Distimo shows that the top 200 iPhone developers who use the freemium model have increased their total revenue by 79 percent year over year. I can personally attest to the theory that people will spend more money when the game’s value is determined over time, rather than in one moment. Games such asMapleStory have tested the model, and I’ve personally spent well over $60 on the game; something I would have never spent had I been asked to pay it up front.

You may be asking what your options are for making money, and you’ll be happy to know that there are a lot of options. First, you have the App Store for iPhone devices, as well as the Market for Android. These are standard, and most games that are launched use these avenues to sell their games. There also are some more obscure game portals, but still relatively popular, which allow developers to submit Flash-based games for free, or for a low-price, and encourage players to pay fees for extra content or no advertisements on their websites. These are websites such as TeePee Games, XPO Games and Newgrounds.

Still, probably the best way to go is linking your games directly to Facebook. In some cases, you can offer in-game purchases through Facebook and use Facebook Credits in order to make revenue. This makes it easier on consumers who don’t want to have to purchase different currencies for multiple games but would rather purchase one virtual currency and use it across all games. In this case, a low barrier to entry is the key.

The social games that will be the most successful in 2012 are the ones that actively utilize and implement an easy-to-use monetization model, allowing players to easily drop into the game, purchase items at a reasonable amount and are encouraged to do so more often as they experience increasing fun. This is most easily obtained when companies learn to broaden their horizons and adapt to the rapidly growing mobile platform market.

The task is at hand, and there may be a long road ahead, but the harvest is ripe. Developers who meet consumer expectation by melding social games with the increasingly available mobile devices will step above the rest and experience a good growth in sales this year. Keep it fun, keep it social and find the right way to monetize.


Michael Johnson is a games industry marketing professional with a focus on feature and review writing, as well as social media management.

Mary Kurek is a professional networker who makes business introductions for games professionals. She is a nationally endorsed author, business columnist for IGDA and Casual Connect writer. http://www.maryurek.com


Meeting Expectations When the Brand is Star Wars

by Mary Kurek and Michael Johnson

By the time you read this, Star Wars, The Old Republic (SWTOR) will have been out about a month…plenty of time to know whether or not the game meets or exceeds the expectations of the players.  With more than a million gamers that obtained pre-release access, it’s clear that Star Wars junkies anticipated the game’s arrival like it was the phone call following a job interview.  Even with some interesting marketing teases during a pre-release phase, you run the risk of over-hyping and setting into motion a domino of disappointment..the kind no one likes to endure at the close of 4th quarter.  But, for now, let’s assume a success, and take a look at how you market a game that you hope will stand up to a really big name.

Control Your Reveal:  Gareth Harmer, owner of UK based The Obscurecast and SWTOR game tester noticed that EA took a different approach on announcing this game. Says Harmer, “the game was under a strict NDA up until a month before launch. EA controlled what was revealed and in what way, usually providing added value at the same time, such as insight videos or in depth articles. As soon as the NDA dropped, the Internet came to life with a huge amount of information about the game. The blog sphere lit up with posts describing the beta, while YouTube was flooded with videos covering almost every facet of the game. Suddenly, it seemed like everyone was talking aboutSWTOR.  While the NDA drop felt very late to most MMO bloggers, it was perfectly timed to support the launch date. A massive beta invite weekend gave anyone who was interested the chance to try the game beforehand. The community team worked hard on networks like Twitter and built ties with a number of fan sites to continue the excitement.  They worked the pre-order model heavily by offering bonuses to players who signed up early. There was also strong guild support, with potential guild masters encouraged to get their members pre-ordering in order to reserve a place for their guild. All of this helped to build steady anticipation of the game.”

Market Directly to the Customer:  The biggest thing to focus on here is who EA is actually marketing this game toward. As opposed to games like World of Warcraft, who market their game using mass media, SWTOR chose to market directly to their fans and the “hardcore gamer” audience. Outside of promoting developer diaries on their web site, and various gaming sites, such as GameInformer, Joystiq, IGN, etc., their most significant marketing has been at expos and trade shows and in social media outlets that allow for direct interaction.

When asked his take on how EA began attracting the fans, Harmer, says “there seemed to be little comparison of SWTOR to other MMOs by EA. They actively avoided trying to court players from other MMOs in the way RIFT did with their ‘Not in Azeroth Any More’ campaign. Instead, it felt like they were trying to grow the size of the MMO market by pulling in Star Wars videogamers and franchise fans, as well as fans from their other RPGs, such as Mass Effect.”

Partner with Companion Entertainment Sources with the Same Audience: BioWare and LucasArts partnered with Dark Horse Comics to publish some online exclusive comics based on the game and the “Old Republic” universe. that SWTOR is based on the games released on the original Xbox, entitled Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, also released by BioWare.

Encourage the Talent to Help You Promote:  One of BioWare’s game writers, Drew Karpyshyn, wrote a book to promote the game entitled Star Wars The Old Republic: Revan.

Entertain Your Customers Before the Product is Released:  BioWare spent a lot of time posting free tracks on their Facebook page. Apparently, they started posting a music track a day, which has successfully helped them to build the following.

Throw Splashy Launch Parties: Launch events were planned for New York, Austin, London, and Paris. At the event in New York, Dr. Muyzka and Dr. Zeschuk were booked to talk to fans and sign autographs. Free limited edition launch event lithograph for attendees and a chance to win free copies of the game were included in the launch goodies.

License the Name to a Company to Create Branded Peripherals:  Well, of course you have to do this…don’t you?  The slick new PC peripherals and the partnership with Razer was announced at E3, immediately followed by a pre-order campaign.

While I’m sure this is just a tiny sampling of all that went on to get this game to launch, I feel like it’s enough to beg the question:  So, is the game worth the hype?  Harmer, who admits to not being the most fervent fan of the Star Wars franchise, says he really likes the story and believes those who have waited won’t be disappointed.  That seems to be the consensus among many.  Good thing…because LucasArts intended for the story and cinematic features of the game to shine through.That said, Harmer also notes that gamers “might get a little jaded once the story novelty wears off.” Though It didn’t stop Harmer from pre-ordering the game, himself.

When you put so much investment and energy in pre-launch, you have to continue the plan past launch and know where you are headed.  I’m not sure where EA is headed with marketing for the longer haul, but it should be interesting to see how creative they can get at keeping up with expectations.  At the very least, they already have the best branding tool…a name with a ready and loyal fan base.  No better force to be with you.

Mary Kurek is a Professional Networker who makes business introductions for games professionals.  She is a nationally endorsed author, business columnist for IGDA and Casual Connect writer.

Michael Johnson is a games industry marketing professional with a focus on feature and review writing, as well as social media management.

Welcome to Pandora!

Welcome to Pandora, a world full of bandits, skags, vehicles, giant monsters, and plenty of loot.  You will learn very quickly during your time in Pandora that there is much to gather and it is actually what you will spend most of your time doing while you are here.  Whether you run across a stash of money or a chest full of guns, at no time will you ever be short of things to sell at your local vendor.  With millions of weapons to choose from and stat modifications coming at you from your left and right, you will have plenty to brag about with your friends, and brag you will!  At any point during your journey you can choose to invite a few friends in and start blasting away at an encampment of enemies, or trade with each other in order to get that perfect weapon that you just haven’t run across yet.  Borderlands is an RPG/Shooter, or a “Shooter-Looter” as some call it.  It also offers hours of gameplay, and you can easily catch yourself scavenging the wasteland for weapons and shields instead of getting your missions finished.

Borderlands is a shooter, but it is also an RPG.  Through the game you will be faced with many adversaries that you can kill for experience and many missions that will also give you experience in turn for their completion.  As you gain experience, you gain levels and in turn you gain skill points that you can use to add special abilities to your character.  These are known as RPG elements, and this is what Borderlands brings to the table.  Unlike Fallout 3, when you shoot at an enemy with any of your guns, as long as you are aiming directly at them, then you will not miss no matter what level you are.  The shooter elements are still present in the game and they are based on your skill as a shooter.

The key point of this game is its multiplayer experience.  The game seems to have been specifically designed for a four-player adventure, but it doesn’t discourage you from playing by yourself.  As you play with more people, your enemies get stronger and in turn you can be sure to get better loot which you can take back to your own single player game.  Many of the skills that you will use from leveling up your character are party skills that can be used to aid the members of your team.  Some skills allow you to heal your teammates by shooting them, or regenerate ammo by standing next to a soldier’s turret.  Needless to say this game is very multiplayer friendly.

The game concept is great, but it is lacking in an in-depth story line.  For most people that is alright, and I didn’t mind it that much myself, but others may be a little disappointed.  The main storyline consists of gathering up pieces of a key to unlock a rumored vault, but that’s about the extent of it.  While there are plenty of missions that help add to the storyline, they can get quite repetitive and usually consist of killing a certain number of enemies, finding pieces to a weapon, and collecting other various items.  These quests are usually placed in areas where a high volume of enemies are in order to give you additional chances to loot and gain experience.  One of my favorite parts of the entire game is the boss battles that are scattered throughout the game.  At many times throughout the mainline story you will have to face “end-of-level” bosses and mini-bosses that provide quite difficult challenges.  It is not uncommon to find yourself dying and respawning during the middle of a boss battle.  Let’s also not forget to mention the insane amount of money you will have to pay out every time you die.  While it’s not very hard to gain money, you really don’t use it for much else than paying a fee to be revived and you can even get caught in a cycle of that.

The game is great and definitely one of the best this year.  There are negatives to the game, but they are few and far between and aren’t worth causing you to overlook this game.  The art style and direction is very fun and playful, and the game style fits that of a hardcore gamer.  Gearbox has also done a great job of blending a shooter and an RPG together to make a game that can find its place in the heart of both types of gamers.  The leveling system runs smooth and you don’t have to spend hours “grinding” to gain a higher level as you do in a lot of RPGs.  The replayability is high, and you will find yourself wanting to start a second playthrough with your character.  Pick up this game if you get the chance, and enjoy your time in Pandora.

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Welcome to my Blog!


Hi, my name is Michael Johnson, some of you may know me while others of you may be hearing of me for the first time.  I live in the Raleigh/Durham area and I am currently pursuing a career in Game Design.  Gaming is one of my passions and I hope to display that through this blog.  This blog is an ongoing portfolio of my writing abilities therefore it will be geared mostly towards gaming, including game reviews and general gaming news.  At times I may post other things as I feel necessary.  Feel free to post any sort of comments on my writing, because comments are welcomed and desired.

I hope that you will enjoy my writing.  Expect a post soon.

Michael Johnson