New Dogs, New Tricks: Breeding Social Networking and Virtual Pets


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Slide from 2010 GDC presentation -

Touch Pets Dogs breeds 3D virtual pets with social networking within a free-to-play business model. This talk discusses how the game's design had to grow and adapt as the iPhone game market filled with limitless low- and no-cost gaming and entertainment options, and how the team progressed the game mechanics to meet a wide variety of audiences tastes and budgets. Observed strengths and weaknesses of the iPhone and iPod as a platform for high-fidelity, free-to-play, socially-grounded games will be presented, as well as lessons learned about player behavior in the wild that further evolved the game's design, marketing and monetization.

Idea Takeaway
Strategies for combining existing game genres with social networking and free-to-play design, tips on effectively marketing and thriving within the iTunes App Store, and best practices for building flexible, live designs that fit a dynamic audience native to digital distribution.

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  • AndrewLaunched Nov 2009
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  • New Dogs, New Tricks: Breeding Social Networking and Virtual Pets

    1. 1. New Dogs, New Tricks<br />Breeding Social Networking and Virtual Pets<br />Matthew Roberts<br />Producer<br />Andrew Stern<br />Creative Director, Engineer<br />
    2. 2. Outline<br />Shipping v1.0<br />Going Free, and Life in the App Store<br />Monetization<br />Engagement<br />Referrals<br />Live Design<br />
    3. 3. Shipping 1.0<br />A founding product goal of ngmoco:)<br />“Native” virtual pets<br />Studio talent<br />Stumptown Game Machine<br />Over 1y in development<br />Team<br />Lead Designer<br />Andrew Stern<br />2 Full time client engineers<br />Bernie Rissmiller, Corwin Light-Williams<br />1 network programmer / sysadmin<br />John Worsley<br />Lead Character Animator<br />Jeremy Cantor<br />Ngmoco Production<br />Matt Roberts, Chris Plummer, Brandon Fischer<br />Additional team members – 3 PT engineers, 10 PT artists<br />HernanSilberman – Network + scalability consulting<br />
    4. 4. Designing for a wide audience<br />“Casual” play<br />Free play simulation sandbox<br />Petting, water, fetch, chasing, agility... <br />Clothing, dress up, pet store, caring<br />“Directed” play<br />Careers, Daily Goals<br />Multiple XP tracks<br />Caretaking, Training, Socialization<br />13 unique behavioral stats<br />Earn puppy bucks + xp from playing, unlock and buy stuff<br />
    5. 5. “The premium 3d virtual pet game on iPhone”<br />Early 2009: wanted to charge $9.99 -> $19.99<br />Mid 2009: $4.99 -> $9.99<br />End of 2009: Free(mium)<br />
    6. 6. Why Free?<br />How to sell the game?<br />High pricing pressure on paid category<br />Low average price, hard to sustain position in chart<br />Acquire largest audience possible<br />Monetize “deep” players<br />Let players tell us the price<br />Free -> $39.99<br />
    7. 7. Average paid app prices in Top 100<br />Source: Pinch Media<br />
    8. 8. The “Three” of Free<br />Monetization<br />Engagement<br />Referral<br />
    9. 9. Things we didn’t do to monetize (at first)<br />Surveys<br />“Pure” virtual currency<br />Real money (in-app purchase) for virtual goods<br />Advertising<br />
    10. 10. Monetization design: “Dog Food”<br />
    11. 11. Dog Food – day one<br />31-Oct, 2009 - Launched in Canada only<br />Similar market, but smaller. Estimate it’s 5% of global<br />Six SKUs – Free to $39.99<br />Good news: Servers perform well<br />Don’t underestimate challenge of app store position spike <br />Bad news: players really don’t like dog food<br />Bad player reviews on iTunes<br />Angry emails<br />General hate<br />But<br />We can change settings on the fly!<br />
    12. 12. One Player’s Feedback<br />“[You buy] food bowls but guess what you still have to pay for them first and how much were they? I think not! such a scan imagine if u gave it to a child to play with and they bought idunoo loads of bowls and ur account got charged loads and u were poor but you only got the ipod for winning a competition and u got an overdraft on yout account and were charged loads of interest and your house got repossessed nice life that would be this is disfraceful and im surprised at apple for letting this app go on the store what a rip”<br />Source: iTunes App Store Comments<br />
    13. 13. Tuning the game live<br />Dog food replenished over time<br />Launch: 1 bowl / 3 hours<br />Cut refresh time in ½<br />Cut it again<br />Cut it again<br />Current free bowl refresh time: 15 minutes<br />
    14. 14. “I have to buy ****-ing dog food?”<br />Dog food regulates play<br />Dog food can be converted to Puppy Bucks<br />Regulating play vs. Virtual goods<br />Maslow predicts it...<br />Players choose to feed dog before spending on virtual goods, but resent having to do so<br />Solution: Server side, award free food more frequently so players use food to buy stuff instead<br />Lesson: Understand your monetization strategy, don’t overload mechanics<br />Lesson: Be careful about getting too close to core gameplay fantasy when considering monetization design<br />
    15. 15. Continuing to iterate on monetization<br />Added direct purchase of virtual goods (In-App Purchase)<br />Better value proposition for some customers<br />
    16. 16. #2 - Engagement<br />Deep behavioral sim – tons of unique behavior<br />“Careers”<br />Tons of unique items and clothes<br />Players level from 1-1000 on three tracks<br />Unlock items / careers with XP<br />Earn $$ to spend in store<br />“Daily goals” of care, training and social<br />This was the “easy” part<br />At least, the part with which we were most familiar<br />
    17. 17. Engagement = get native<br />What’s native?<br />Touch, accelerometer<br />Network connection<br />Friends using it too<br /><ul><li> Touch
    18. 18. Accelerometer
    19. 19. 3d
    20. 20. “Native” UI
    21. 21. Always connected
    22. 22. Friends have it too
    23. 23. Updates / digital distro</li></ul>Long term engagement<br />Long Term engagement<br />Wow factor<br />
    24. 24. Touch Pets – what’s native?<br />What’s native?<br />Touch, accelerometer<br />Network connection<br />Friends using it too<br /><ul><li> Gestural training,accel toys, touch to pet
    25. 25. Rich 3d characteranimation, environments
    26. 26. Touch Pets network
    27. 27. (Plus+)
    28. 28. “Playdates” / Cooperation
    29. 29. Events / News / Relationships</li></ul>Long term engagement<br />Long Term engagement<br />Wow factor<br />
    30. 30. Playdates<br />Original idea: Dog “jumps” from device to device<br />Final implementation: Network of friends and dogs that can visit each other<br />Dogs form relationships<br />Acquaintances, friends, in love, break up, get back together<br />Earn $$ from playing with your dog or other dogs<br />Cooperate to complete “career” challenges together<br />
    31. 31. What worked about playdates<br />Limited amount of earning potential per day with your own dog, have to go to friends to earn more<br />Used push to notify players about playdates that happened while they were offline<br />Develop relationships with other dogs to reinforce depth of behavior<br />
    32. 32. What didn’t work about playdates<br />Players “grind” on network dogs<br />Social interface not primary in UX<br />Didn’t think virally enough<br />“Obligation” toinvite other players can be powerful<br />
    33. 33. #3 - Referrals<br />Players refer other players<br />“I am playing this, come play it with me”<br />3rd Party referrals<br />Apple Charts<br />Advertising<br />
    34. 34. Getting social on the app store<br />It’s hard<br />Moment of acquisition is important – and Apple controls it<br />Think like a player<br />Push<br />SMS<br />Email<br />Asynchronous<br />Don’t make me think about how to connect to friends<br />
    35. 35. The Charts<br />Biggest referral engine: Apple<br />Getting in the charts snowballs success<br />Economic games create virtual goods scarcity<br />Giving away stuff can increase exposure, but can hurt monetization<br />Need to find a balance between freebies and economy<br />
    36. 36. The Charts (con’t)<br />100 spots for 160,000 apps<br />Top 50 spots much more valuable<br />Why? Everyone shops on the device<br />Can’t “buy” your way there<br />Traditional advertising doesn’t work well<br />Apple has “editorial” policy on what’s featured<br />Press coverage helps, but doesn’t make or break you<br />This is a reality of the App Store<br />Not necessarily a reality of mobile in general<br />Work with a partner<br />Plus+ publishing, smart networks<br />
    37. 37. Live Design<br />What do players like? How do you know?<br />Stats / metrics<br />Reviews<br />Customer support<br />Listened to players – made more of what they like<br />Careers<br />Released more SKUs<br />Reward for installing the game or telling friends<br />
    38. 38. Live Design (con’t)<br />Talk to players<br />Messaging system<br />(Careful) use of push messaging<br /><ul><li>Keep game fresh within terms of SDK agreement
    39. 39. Build pipeline to tune key systems live (and use it)
    40. 40. Keep designing the game</li></ul>Fix broken features<br />Innovate on content<br />Cut underperforming features or content if you can <br />(we probably should)<br />
    41. 41. TPD 2.0<br />Continuing to iterate on monetization and social design<br />“Front loading” social with Town View<br />
    42. 42. Questions?<br />Matt Roberts<br /><br />Andrew Stern<br /><br />(we are hiring!)<br />