Reading List: The Curve: From Freeloaders into Superfans

Nicholas Lovell's on riding an upward path

Reading List: The Curve: From Freeloaders into Superfans

The successful mobile games executive is nothing if not multi-faceted.

Not only do they spend their time running their company, and playing games (that goes without saying), but they should also be reading about new techniques and trends in the market on websites like PocketGamer.biz, and from classic sources too.

And that's where our Reading List comes into play.

Each month, we'll be looking at business texts that will improve your strategic view of the market and where it's heading.

First up, we're considering the just-published The Curve by UK games consultant Nicholas Lovell.

A shapely turn of events

Best known for his business blog GAMESbrief, the one-time investment banker has been advising various types of games business for the past decade.

Most recently, his work has focused on how to make the most of the opportunities surrounding the free-to-play business - something that's resulted in The Curve.

In terms of inspiration, it's built on concepts such as Chris Anderson's The Long Tail, while Kevin Kelly's 1,000 True Fans essay is an clear precursor.

Similarly, it takes the side of the content creator; particularly those individuals and companies who are experiencing radical change as the majority of their consumers switch from paying them something to paying them nothing.

Under the line

For Lovell, this is the starting point of The Curve.

At one end, you have lots of people paying you nothing (or next to nothing). But, equally significantly, at the other end you have a very small number prepared to pay you a lot.

Labelling these the Freeloaders (the market opportunity) and the Superfans (the revenue opportunity), respectively, the book's argument is that you need to structure your business - and products - in such a way that you maximise both elements.

Indeed, giving some stuff away and providing the opportunity to charge a lot of money for other items are inextricably linked, with the free aspect generating a lot of users, which in turn maximises the number of Superfans you can generate, and eventually monetise.

Interestingly, though, Lovell argues there's a key moderating step between the two groups: Gawkers provide the social cachet - call it envy if you like - that generates value for the things that the Superfans purchase - something that's particularly important in purely digital environments such as games.

In this way, The Curve draws on several other key texts, notably Robert Cialdini's Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational, which talk about the context of value and manipulation of the retail experience.

Mix and match

Of course, writing for a general audience, The Curve isn't just - or even mainly - about mobile gaming.

Lovell spends time looking at the music industry through well-known examples such as Nine Inch Nails and Amanda Palmer, and some less well-known like Alex Day and Victoria Vox.

He also takes a stab at how The Curve could change physical goods retailing, at least those low-hanging fruit that cheap 3D printers will impact. It's a less convincing argument, though, when contrasted with the pure play of people spending thousands of dollars on virtual in-game resources.

In this context, he introduces of the interesting concept of 'digital holism'; or how we seamlessly consume our culture across the digital-physical divide.

"Digital holism is why consumer will ... download cheap or free books and then go out and buy that same book in hardback," Lovell explains.

Sadly, there's little further discussion of the concept, which is currently seeing an explosion with games such as Activision's Skylanders and Disney's Infinity, and will, no doubt, be further expanded as the Internet of Everything roll out.

Hard talk

You can't cover everything in a single book, though. Given Lovell's background and his selected audience, The Curve is not a book from the Wired school of High Conceptualization.

Instead, it's more of an illustrated primer, encouraging business owners to consider how to make the most of opportunities available, while avoiding the many challenges.

And this is where the book's importance can't be over-estimated.

While industry's discussion of the ethics of free-to-play gaming has dampened, many F2P game developers have not thought deeply enough about what Lovell calls the "consumerisation" of their business. In this new game, success is not just about having a $99.99 IAP price point.

Indeed, he argues "Nothing about The Curve says that you can sit back and make money for doing nothing", adding - for good measure - "The Curve is not just about making money.

"Finding customers will still be hard. Many [businesses] will fail."

The Curve is available now from Amazon [UK link - £11.55] [US link - $20.96] or you can check out the website, which includes links to the free ebook 10 Ways To Make Money in a Free World.

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.