Watching the Detectives: Improving Free-to-Play Monetization Through Character and Narrative


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Watching the Detectives: Improving Free-to-Play Monetization Through Character and Narrative

  1. 1. Watching the Detectives Where Narrative Meets Monetization in Free-to-Play Games Kenny Shea Dinkin CCO Making Fun
  2. 2. Who is this Guy? !   Kenny Shea Dinkin, CCO, Making Fun ! Formely, VP & Executive Producer, Studio Head, San Francisco Studio, Disney Interactive Media Group | Disney Social Games/Playdom !   Before that, Chief Creative Officer, PlayFirst (7 years) !   Before that Creative Director , The Learning Company/Broderbund (9 years)
  3. 3. Before that
  4. 4. Came into the gaming world focusing on story and characters
  5. 5. PlayFirst Work
  6. 6. I can’t tell you what I was working on: But it involved Disney characters and story
  7. 7. Making Fun
  8. 8. GDC’s Three Big Mistakes !   Asked me to talk about story in free to play games !   Finally gave me an hour !   Asked me to talk about money
  9. 9. Compelling Character-Driven Serialized Narrative = Crack ..and might be the holy grail for retention? RETENTION
  10. 10. reengagement: Beloved characters and the power of a irrational loyalty…
  11. 11. Why Else? art
  12. 12. Nicholas Poussin, Landscape with St. Matthew 1640 Nicholas Poussin, Landscape with a Calm 1651
  13. 13. Paul Cezanne, Bords de la Marne 1888 Paul Cezanne, Gardanne 1886
  14. 14. Nicholas Poussin, Landscape with a Calm 1651 Paul Cezanne, Gardanne 1886
  15. 15. Paul Cezanne, Bords de la Marne 1888 Nicholas Poussin, Landscape with St. Matthew 1640
  16. 16. PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973) 'Factory, Horta de Ebbo', 1909 PAUL CÉZANNE (1839-1906) 'Bibemus Quarry', 1895
  17. 17. Braque, 'Le Portugais', Picasso 'The Accordionist', Summer 1911
  18. 18. Leger Gris Duchamp Kandinsky
  19. 19. Some call it cloning
  20. 20. I call it art history
  21. 21. Story in games: An inelegant art historical axis !   Still figuring out story integration !   Awkward: linear model in an emergent dynamic system !   Creators have tended to be technologists, not story tellers !   Constant disruptions by leaps in technology, new platforms and new business models
  22. 22. Story in FTP = extra awkward !   What is the “Mission” of FTP games? !   Not just money à accessibility. “games for all” !   Roots in Casual and Social gaming from 2001+ !   “It’s online, I shouldn’t have to pay” ! GaaS à Game must last forever !   Hard to tell a story forever. Expensive. !   Must be grindable and ripe for (much) repeat play, without being unbearable. !   How do you (entertainingly) tell the same story over and over again?
  23. 23. !   So bearing this in mind…
  24. 24. A Brief Art History of Story and Character Development in Video Games 2001-2014
  25. 25. Casual saw a maturation around story and character – the category had moved from g and blocks to waitresses and detectives and by 2009 even cartoon zombies 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2009
  26. 26. ~2007: Six Different Games
  28. 28. Some call it cloning
  29. 29. 2007: core saw great leap forward in character development and narrative in core games ! Bioshock !   Portal !   Mass Effect !   Uncharted !   Red Dead Redemption !   Batman Arkham Asylum !   Heavy Rain !   The Last of us !   …
  30. 30. 2009: Disruption 2009 saw revolutions in casual with changing business models :" " from download/try and buy to social games as a service " emergence of mobile/smart phones
  31. 31. Social 2009 Character Free Zone?
  32. 32. 2011 ‒ the year of the character Social by 2012 – echoes of causal download space?
  33. 33. Characters as window dressing Characters offer narrative context – why am I doing this?
  34. 34. DEFINE DESIGN COMBINE •  Give your character(s) visual distinction. •  Build those unique attributes into the look of your character as you figure out what your character should look like. . •  Get your character into the play experience and out of the window •  Figure out how to integrate and reveal what you know about the character within the gameplay experience. •  Lean on audio and VO to create a believable world •  Don’t break the fourth wall •  Allow for closure •  Start deep •  Give your character(s) inner life •  Define the world with rules •  Write a life history/backstory – WRITE IT DOWN •  Fill out a personality grid – with flaws, weaknesses, vices •  Create sample dialog •  Take the anvil test •  Allow for conflict (inner and outer) Best practices: compelling character development in games
  35. 35. Characters as window dressing Characters offer narrative context – why am I doing this?
  36. 36. Mobile 2009-2011: much better characters
  37. 37. “Top Grossing” à" Free
  38. 38. GENRE   MONETIZATION  STRATEGY     NARRATIVE  APPROACH   HOGs   Energy,  Power  ups,  unlock  more   gameplay   Solve  a  mystery,  progress  past   cli;nagers,  collect  embedded   clues  (objects)     Match  3   Power  Ups   Characters  and  story  as   progress  markers   Hero  baFles   Card  packs,  gacha,  fusion   Characters  as  cards   Builders/ Resource     mulKple  currencies  used  for   upgrades,  storage  and  acceleraKon   PvP  -­‐  base  camp  baFles   Time   management   Energy,  upgrades   control  third  person  character   on  real  world  mission   branded  content/Characters   we  know   Time-­‐limited  events  àirraKonal     spending   Episodic   adventure   pay  to  progress  in  narraKve   character  driven  narraKve  with   strategically  placed  cli;angers   FTP landscape
  39. 39. Narrative & Monetization !   HOGs selling energy relying on 1st person murder mysteries with cliffhangers !   Match 3s selling power ups using story and characters as progress markers !   Battle games selling card packs, “Gacha” and fusion using characters as cards !   Builders/RTS-like simulations selling accelerators with base camps, pvp battle narratives !   EVENTS – time- limited and rich in narrative !   EPISODIC - Rich narrative third person adventure games where first episode/chapter is free !   Honorable mention – known brands and time management
  40. 40. 1. PTP HOGs !   If storytelling is linear and games are not, adventure games ere the natural place to tell a story in games !   PTP HOGs organically grew out of adventure games !   Naturally narrative spaces !   More and more story as time went by !   Mystery Case Files and Dream Chronicles series began to use inventory driven structures and embedded puzzles
  41. 41. 2. FTP HOGs !   HOGs stumped social game makers at first !   How do we make them last forever !   How do we create grind !   But it turns out HOGs are a natural setting for massive replay !   Short-term memory vs. long-term memory allows players for natural massive replay !   Fits beautifully with energy based monetization !   But what about linear story?
  42. 42. FREITAG S TRIANGLE: Traditional/Canonical Narrative Structure A Foundation/ Circumstance B C Conflict D Rise to Climax E Release Resolution/ End F Male coded enough for you?
  43. 43. Alternatives?* Dance Native American Storytelling Regionalist Fiction *note: the ideas in this slide are stolen from my beautiful and brilliant wife
  44. 44. First Endless Narrative Spaces
  45. 45. Energy driven monetization." Compartmentalized narrative and characters. " Decorative space for a meta game,upgrades, resources." Timed events with special currency." Disconnected narrative works in chapterized format. +" Chapterized format allows for massive grind/replay. Events with side currency.
  46. 46. !   Narrative spaces: grizzly crime scenes as creepy “adult” locales
  47. 47. !   Forensics meta game where you are a detective and solve a murder – interview suspects, perform autopsies/forensics etc.
  48. 48. Embedded clues in scenes Mini games
  49. 49. Expend (or buy) energy to play more. Play more to earn more stars. Spend those stars to interview suspects, examine clues and resolve a murder mystery – to unlock…more content.
  50. 50. !   Family saga !   Aviatrix in the 1930s !   Mysterious Murder mystery narrated via panel cut scenes !   Evocative narrative spaces
  51. 51. Embedded clues to solve a mystery Diary/journal format to collect clues. Each chapter a cliffhanger –
  52. 52. Coherent narrative pulls players to purchase more energy to play more to unlock more story.
  53. 53. Decorative space meta game to chart progress and add monetization drivers to accelerate upgrades to unlock more content.
  54. 54. Meet Chrona and the Inklings…
  55. 55. !   Meta Story surrounding multiple (beloved) branded micro stories.
  56. 56. !   Embedded found objects are sometimes resources needed for crafting !   Crafting allows to monetize accelerators as well as energy
  57. 57. !   Well-known, beloved brands used as long term retention draws/unlockable story worlds.
  58. 58. page 62CONFIDENTIAL |
  59. 59. !   Original vision: content as metagame – made more fun with added arcade element of grab the locomotive. Grab it before it runs off the tracks. !   Originally: no narrative, no story, no characters !   Beautiful Photographic HOGs !   Spend energy and power ups, to master cities and unlock more content. !   The meta-game?: Mastery stars unlock more cities/play. 38 cities so far. Content monetized at end of line to elder gamers/fans/addicts/”whales”. Worked, but how to raise the KPI after one year?
  60. 60. !   Added narrative segments just two months ago as time limited events: (Juliet’s Journeys) !   Paris, Rome, Istanbul !   Added a new currency: “Golden Miles” – earned through grind/mastery !   Journey play costs GMs, earned through grind, to unlock and play. !   Time-limited play !   Lifted Monetization during Journey weeks ~13-18% while maintaining retention and reducing churn NARRATIVE & TIME LIMITED EVENTS
  61. 61. Match 3s and Characters as progress markers •  Hard levels, monetized through power-up- purchases •  Core compelling consumable Puzzle game •  Too hard to complete without power ups or extra moves •  Players motivated to progress through the many levels via a social meta map – populated by locked characters and locked storylands telegraphed by solid colors
  62. 62. •  Characters as well-designed/ unique à collectible •  Characters as pegs in holes •  Characters as a visual barometer of progress •  Characters as “fetishistic” collectible progress meters
  63. 63. •  Give your character(s) visual distinction •  What makes your character unique? •  Build those unique attributes into the look of your character as you figure out what your character should look like. •  Go for what is different about the character. DESIGN
  64. 64. If you‘ve got Cookie Monster... …do you need Muffin Monster?
  65. 65. Amplification Through Simplification © 1993 Scott McCloud
  66. 66. •  Characters as well-designed/unique à collectible •  Characters as pegs in holes •  Characters as a visual barometer of progress Tiffi Mr. Toffee
  67. 67. Farm Heroes Saga •  Characters as collectible badges that offer rewards in set •  Characters as pegs in holes •  Characters as a visual barometer of progress
  68. 68. !   Story segments as rewards and progress markers
  69. 69. Characters as Cards
  70. 70. Characters as Cards -character-based battle game"
  71. 71. Core game is a battle !   Level up champions to win battles !   Build your deck !   Unlock more characters !   Rare characters available in events !   Monetization via: !   Card pack purchases !   Events and Fusion character-based battle game"
  72. 72. NARRATIVE EVENT " Time Limited Gacha Box
  73. 73. Pushes elements from RTS-like Games (multiple currencies, resources, base camp, character quests) into a card battle game Spec ops: time limited events to win special characters for your battle card collection and cost a unique currency (unstable isotope).
  74. 74. a LOT more story
  75. 75. Variations of characters as cards
  76. 76. FTP Builders Window dressing Characters we know Progress meters Characters as cards City Builders" Farm Builders Base Builders
  77. 77. FTP Builders 1.  Rise of FTP Builder-based simulation !  Roots in RTS games !  Multiple currencies (donuts, dollars) !  Multiple Resources !  Buildings generate currencies needed to expand !  Quest/mission driven !  Decorative space/dollhouse/city/town/Base camp with !  Buildings that store and produce resources !  Buildings that can be upgraded !  Time delays to upgrade !  Crafting !  (PvP) !  Lots of authentic opportunities to convert free player to paying customer: !  Protect from PvP !  Pay for currencies !  Resources !  Accelerating upgrades !  Character-driven Quests !  Narrative? !  PVP: Revenge as Narrative !  Guilds and story
  78. 78. [Characters we already know] Leverages characters we know to add humor, and narrative context
  79. 79. Enter: Time Management •  Assembly Management ripe for repeat play •  Energy mechanic for monetization •  Pleasing customers - Natural Third-Person space for narrative •  Meta map and kitchen upgrades for meta game •  Characters as entrepreneurs fantasy narrative context
  80. 80. Episodic segments
  81. 81. Episodic games !   Rich character development
  82. 82. DEFINE !  Give your character(s) an inner life. !  Write a life history/backstory – WRITE IT DOWN !  Fill out a personality grid – allow for flaws, weaknesses, vices !  Create sample dialog !  Take the anvil test !  Use audio for rich VO !  Allow for inner conflict !  Use ensembles to enhance inner conflict with outer conflict
  83. 83. Episodic games !   Ensemble cast
  84. 84. What aren’t we trying? !   Can FTP games learn from Episodic games about character development? !   How might a FTP HOG game benefit from the rich character development, ensemble cast, world class VO in The Walking Dead? !   What can episodic games learn from RTS and Card battle games about monetization? !   How might resources and currencies work in a free to play adventure? !   What if you had to pay resources to go back and change the decisions you made? !   What might a time-limited-event look like in an episodic adventure game !   FTP players already pay for more characters. How might they do so for story. !   If story integration works in an RTS for the Simpsons, how might it work for a story brand House of Cards? Or Madmen? Or…
  85. 85. Leger Gris Duchamp Kandinsky
  86. 86. Some call it cloning
  87. 87. I call it art history
  88. 88. Watching the Detectives Where Narrative Meets Monetization in Free-to-Play Games Kenny Shea Dinkin CCO Making Fun