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Zhan Ye - What US Game Developers Need to Know about Free-to-Play in China



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Zhan Ye - What US Game Developers Need to Know about Free-to-Play in China

  1. 1. Traditional Game Designers Are From Mars, Free-to-Play Game Designers Are From Venus —What US Game Developers Need to Know about Free-to-Play in China Zhan Ye President, GameVision [email_address]
  2. 2. Disclaimer: What the speaker will present next are thoughts, ideas, and perspectives he observed during his work. Some of them can be controversial. The speaker merely presents them as facts, not his opinions. The presentation of those thoughts, ideas, and perspectives doesn’t mean the speaker endorse or support them, or vice versa. Also, the concept of political correctness doesn’t exist in China yet. Nor does it exist in Chinese game designers’ minds. You may find some ideas annoying or politically incorrect by Western social standards. However, the speaker will not do self censorship here since the whole purpose of this presentation is to present the differences.
  3. 3. Background Info <ul><li>I am an old-school game developer myself. Started game dev career in 1995 in China, developing single player PC games on DOS. </li></ul><ul><li>Recently have been working with a major Chinese online game company to help them do investment and project financing in the US. </li></ul><ul><li>Oversee some of the collaborative projects (F2P online games). </li></ul><ul><li>This helps me to see the rapidly changing landscape of micro-transaction and F2P games. Learned a lot of from the younger generation of Chinese game designers. </li></ul><ul><li>Not pretending to be an expert on micro-transaction. But because of my experience -- I have been to both sides of the isle, this gives me a very unique perspective. </li></ul><ul><li>Couldn’t help but notice the huge differences/contrasts between the old way of making games and the “new” way of making games. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Old Assumptions/Beliefs <ul><li>Game industry has its traditions – established assumptions and prevailing beliefs that people take for granted. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Fun </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Games as an art form </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Contents </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Fairness </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Usability/ease of use </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hardcore gamers vs. light gamers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Development cycle vs. product life cycle </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Assumptions Become Irrelevant <ul><li>In the world of micro-transaction and F2P, many of the assumptions, to some extent, or at least at current stage, become irrelevant. </li></ul><ul><li>If you start with those assumptions when you design a F2P game, very likely you will fail. </li></ul><ul><li>Making the transition is crucial, and difficult. </li></ul><ul><li>You have to change your mentality, your design approach, and a lot of old habits… </li></ul>
  6. 6. Fun <ul><li>Old assumptions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Fun is a game’s top priority. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Game designer’s job is purely simple -- to make a fun game, and not to be distracted by anything else. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Game designer doesn’t need to worry about how to make money </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>If you build a good fun game, it will sell (Of course, the publisher has to put down some good marketing money.) </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Fun <ul><li>In the F2P world </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Making the game fun is not the ONLY ultimate objective any more. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Game designers have to operate on dual objectives – making a fun game that can monetize well. They are equally important. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>It becomes the game designer’s responsibility to think about how to make money, not the business people. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Game designers themselves now become business people. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Extra burden!!! And a huge change – it completely changes your approach to game design process, forces you to adapt a whole new perspective when you look at game features. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Monetization is becoming such an crucial part of game design. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>You have to look at each game feature or design issue from two perspectives – whether or not it is fun, and whether or not it can monetize well. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>I call it “Monetization-driven design”. </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. Games as an Art Form <ul><li>Old assumptions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Started in the mid to late 1990s. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Games began to be treated seriously as an art form. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>People have been striving to create movie quality graphics, rich characters, comprehensive storytelling, cinematics, sophisticated carmera movements, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In order to achieve those -- millions of polygons, normal maps, real physics, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>For over a decade, the traditional game development world has been moving towards that direction. </li></ul></ul>
  9. 9. Games as an Art Form <ul><li>In the F2P world </li></ul><ul><ul><li>All the above may have become irrelevant. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Most F2P games don’t have movie-quality graphics. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No or very little cinematics. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No sophisticated camera movements. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Gamers don’t even care about stories in F2P world. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They turn their attention to something else. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Game designers have to do that too. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Gamers are not interested in games as a passive art form any more. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They are more interested in living in an environment in which a lot of interpersonal interactions happen. </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. The Concept of Contents <ul><li>Old Assumptions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The traditional game business is centered around the concept of contents – buying and selling contents. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>When you get a retail box game, you know you are buying contents – e.g. 11 hours of gameplay contents. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Gamers consume contents. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>As a designer, you are creating contents. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Need a lot of contents! </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Highly polished contents (AAA quality)! </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Contents are very expensive to make. </li></ul></ul>
  11. 11. The Concept of Contents <ul><li>In the F2P world </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Because of rampant piracy in China, consumers don’t have that habit of paying for contents. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>As a result, game designers in China don’t have the mentality of creating contents for customers. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>For F2P games, the whole purpose is to keep people playing long enough so that they can start to pay. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How long is enough? At least 2 weeks. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>After that, gamers will stay for years. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>No matter how hard you try, no matter how much resources you have, you will not be able to create fresh contents for one year’s of gameplay or two. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What you are providing is a setting, in which people can interact with each other to make all kinds of things happen. </li></ul></ul>
  12. 12. Fairness <ul><li>Old assumptions </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The most controversial and difficult issue to solve in F2P games. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Should we treat every gamer the same in the game world? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A lot of old school game designers think so. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>They are afraid that unfairness will destroy the nice balance in the game and make people leave. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Their concerns are valid! </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. Fairness <ul><li>In the F2P world </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Fairness is not the GOAL, just a means. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The goal is to create a highly dynamic community, in which a lot of conflicts, dramas, love, and hate can happen. If it helps to create the tension, the conflicts, the dramas, fairness can be sacrificed. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>If we believe that a game world is a reflection of the real world, then the concept of fairness in the game should not be taken granted. </li></ul></ul>
  14. 14. Fairness <ul><li>In the F2P world </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The most successful F2P games (monetization-wise) in China all give their paying customers HUGE advantages. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>In the beginning, rich people kill poor people all the time. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Balancing is a big issue. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Chinese game designers tried different innovative methods over the course of last several years. </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. Fairness <ul><li>In the F2P world </li></ul><ul><ul><li>First, some online game company tried to pay poor people money to keep them playing (so that rich people can keep on abusing them). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>You are earning salary. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Worked to some extent, with drawbacks </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>It creates a welfare state, in which the central government (The game company) is handing out money. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>It gives people wrong expectations about the game. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>It creates a bad public image for the company and for the game. </li></ul></ul></ul>
  16. 16. Fairness <ul><li>In the F2P world </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A different approach -- let rich people organize family clans, hire poor people, lead them to fight with other clans, and reward them. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Think about who those rich people are in the real world -- business owners and factory owners. They manage and lead hundreds of people in the real world and are used to the leadership role. In the F2P world, they still want that feeling. We just offer them that in the game, naturally. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Clans are closely intertwined smaller communities that function as corporations. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Clan leader lavishes his clan members with gifts and equipment, in exchange for loyalty and service. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Rich people lead poor people to fight with other rich people via clans. It is much better than rich people killing poor people all the time. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Creates a highly dynamic social system with better balancing. </li></ul></ul>
  17. 17. Monetization <ul><li>Monetization has become the most crucial and integral part of game design. </li></ul><ul><li>It is not an add-on. You have to think about monetization right from the start of the project. </li></ul><ul><li>A science and art </li></ul><ul><li>The secrete ingredients to successful monetization? </li></ul><ul><li>Just have to try a lot of things. Chinese game designers have tried thousands of ideas in the past several years. We can learn a lot from them. </li></ul><ul><li>Constantly change based on the data you collect. </li></ul><ul><li>After launch, the design activities are largely driven by data. I call it “data-driven design”. </li></ul>
  18. 18. Monetization <ul><li>Good monetization design is based on deep understanding of human psychology. </li></ul><ul><li>In a sense, game designers are exploiting people’s weaknesses… </li></ul><ul><li>That is where the controversy begins. </li></ul><ul><li>In a sense, F2P games are operated like casinos in Las Vegas. </li></ul><ul><li>A few examples… </li></ul><ul><li>Again, the speaker doesn’t endorse those approaches, just presents them as facts. </li></ul><ul><li>The examples were taken out of their specific game context and generalized to some degree. </li></ul>
  19. 19. Monetization – Conflicts <ul><li>Conflicts are good. Conflicts make the game world more energetic and live. </li></ul><ul><li>More importantly, conflicts trigger emotions. </li></ul><ul><li>When people are emotionally unstable, they are more likely to make purchases. </li></ul><ul><li>Example: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Virtual item called “little trumpet” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Used to curse other gamers </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The curse will be broadcasted to all gamers (in the same zone) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A public humiliation tool </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sold a lot…… </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. Monetization - Convenience <ul><li>People will pay for convenience. </li></ul><ul><li>However, convenience alone may not be that convincing or persuasive to make people pay. </li></ul><ul><li>Not a necessity. </li></ul><ul><li>Have to combine it with other things to make it more effective. </li></ul>
  21. 21. Monetization – Peer Pressure <ul><li>Peer pressure is a big thing in F2P games. </li></ul><ul><li>A lot of games play with it for monetization purposes. </li></ul><ul><li>A lot of times, people will not pay if they are alone. They will pay if surrounded by their friends. </li></ul><ul><li>Example: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>You and your friends are doing a quest. You are going through a dungeon, which consists of 6 levels (linearly chained together). You are killed at level 3. You will respawn in the village – you have to start over from level 1 again. You feel guilty because you let your friends down. They have to continue the fight without you (Without your help, your equipment, your unique skills). Under this circumstance, the game offers you a small item that you can purchase to enable you to respawn where you were killed so that you can rejoin the group. A lot of gamers will choose to pay simply because they don’t want to let their friends down. </li></ul></ul>
  22. 22. Monetization – Showing Off <ul><li>People will pay just to show off, especially in front of rivalries or their loved ones. </li></ul><ul><li>Example: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>In this game, you can give your virtual girlfriend flowers. Flowers will fall from the sky and everyone can see it. It creates such a dramatic effect. The game will reward the girl who receives most flowers in a day or a month with nice and unique dresses. Special titles will be given to the girl and it appears every time whenever she chats online. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A lot of female gamers in China. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Male gamers use online games as a dating tool. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Girls want to show off. Guys want to pay the bill. The game company is very happy! </li></ul></ul>
  23. 23. The Future of F2P and Micro Transaction <ul><li>Still going strong, both in Asia and US. </li></ul><ul><li>As game designers, we are still learning. </li></ul><ul><li>Will it eventually backfire? If we as game designers are being too greedy and exploiting too much, will gamers get fed up and rebel? </li></ul><ul><li>To think about a similar question or situation – will people ever get fed up by Las Vegas? </li></ul><ul><li>I still admire AAA quality console games. They will co-exist with F2P games for a long time. They are not going away completely. </li></ul>