Talking pictures: How Bond, Columbo and Flash Gordon can improve your freemium games
He has been a project strategist and designer on mobile, online and on console since 1998 with British Telecom's Wireplay, 3UK and as Home architect for PlayStation Home.Additionally, he has acted as a spokesperson for RealNetworks, NVIDIA and Papaya Mobile.
This time of year is crunch time for many game developers who want to have their games live on the market in time for the post-Christmas market surge.
But, more than ever, we are aware of the tremendous challenge of getting our game noticed with the hundreds of new titles released each year.
Discovery cannot be assumed and we have to look at what marketing and promotions we can do, and how to create magical moments in the game to create context that will help people care about our title.
I've talked about this problem before, but this month I want to give some practical advice to help you look at what you can do within the game itself that will encourage players to tell others about your title.
The gun barrel sequence
Let's start with The Bond Opening.
We all know what to expect with the first ten minutes of an action blockbuster like the classic Bond movie. It will be a thrill ride which shows us what to expect from the rest of the film; something that plays with our expectations and our desires.
At the same time it explains, for those who don't know, who Bond is and what he can do.
Freemium games increase the potential size of audience, but, as its costs nothing to access the game, players have nothing to lose by churning. You have to grab their attention quickly!
More than that, if you don't give them some meaningful success within the first minute don't be surprised if they quit.
We can't afford to have a series of unnecessary or confusing menu options or any blocking screens, such as splashscreens with the logos of our partners. We also can't afford to slow their access with what is usually a terrible, restrictive tutorial.
Thinking like a Bond movie can help us here. We can best establish a character by creating an experience that entertains rather than telling the player what they are supposed to know.
Presenting a farm and pointing out with large over-screen shapes how to plant your first crop or to drive your first drag race can be made much more entertaining. Furthermore, when done well, it gives the player their first meaningful triumph very quickly.
But build complexity slowly better still root it out of the game entirely or make it something players pay for!
The Bond Opening needs to be more than a tutorial however it has to set up expectations of the joys to come.
If your game features fabulous cars, big guns or magical forces, give me a sense of that in the opening moments. Show me what I could achieve if I show dedication and perhaps the willingness to spend a little money.
I'm not suggesting players can taste everything the game has to offer in the first play far from it but it is important to foreshadow that this game is fun and there are plenty of advanced elements that I might crave in future.
It also has to be something the player will want to show off to others. Don't forget that more than 50 percent of users say that they choose a game based on a recommendation from a friend. What better way to create virality than to show your friend the game that you love!
However, the Bond Opening is only the start. We also have to consider what happens next. Why should the player come back?
The chapter plays
To continue the movie analogy, we should look to the old Saturday Serials.
In the time before television, weekly serialised programs like the Lone Ranger, Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon ended with a terrifying finale where our heroes were left hanging off the end of the cliff.
Surely they couldn't survive! We had to come back next week to find out.
Okay, it's a bit cheesy, but for freemium games we still have to think about the reasons for players to return to the game time and time again. We have to think about what is happening between playing sessions.
Will a friend visit our farm and fix something? Will my fuel replenish? Will my maximum bonus cap fill up?
The old energy mechanic is a classic model for this, but it's increasingly becoming a frustration for players. If you can't play because you don't have enough energy it may well be more of a reason to churn from the game than it is to return to play.
We have to be smarter about the mechanisms which provide a call-to-action to return to play without overly punishing players.
Err Just one more thing
The third trick that's worth thinking about is the Columbo Twist. That laconic detective always ended up with a simple question before revealing the killer.
That question always started with the phrase, "Just one more thing."
As the viewer, we knew this was coming indeed, we always knew who the killer was. But we still wanted to see it happen, as it explained exactly how Columbo managed to deduce the solution to that show's drama.
In freemium games we are delivering a service, and the player will quickly understand the flow of the game. It's our job to provide ongoing twists and reasons to continue the experience of playing for extended periods of time.
They should always be predictable activities, events and releases that inspire our players to remain loyal. This predictability helps sustain our expectation of value and give us a reason to continue with the game experience over many weeks and months.
Indeed, that predictability of future value itself becomes something to talk about.
To find out more about what Oscar's evangelising, visit the Everyplay website. To find out more about Oscar's minute-by-minute existence, follow him on Twitter.