We recently shared the first part of Ultrahorse Entertainment’s insight into the world of cross-platform gaming and how it can enable developers to go beyond the current constraints of the gaming industry.
In this second part, we hear insight into how to best design a game based in a browser, the rising popularity of transmedia products to boost growth, and how games marketing is evolving. Finally, we hear about the overall significance that cross-platform may have in the industry in the future.
Browser-based gaming and design lessons
Web portals like NewGrounds, CrazyGames and Kongregate have long provided browser-based gaming. Some of the games and companies that are generating billions on the web through IAP include Slotomania, Hero Wars, G123, MTG, and G5 - and, luckily, you can read their IR to understand how they nurture these DTC relations. If you harboured any doubts in regards to following an Evony ad and what it promised, feel free to check out their financials of how successful companies are putting DTC approach front and centre. I’ve done it at scale at my previous venture, and that generates margins to drive new marketing initiatives and power the moat.
On the other hand, the popularity of "io games", which are particularly popular in schools and on devices like Google Chromebooks, offers design lessons for traditional PC, console, and mobile games, emphasising the importance of accessibility, simplicity, social interaction and quick gameplay.
One particularly important takeaway from browser games is that the game starts as close to instantly as possible.Ultrahorse Entertainment
Hero Wars vs io games represent two very different segments; think of them as IAP vs IAA if you are coming from mobile.
If it's technically challenging to bring your game to the web, look to the Pley.com or CrazyGames SDK for some tips and tricks. But ultimately, you need to reach out to me to understand what you are getting yourselves into. Essentially, it’s a new complex platform, like Nintendo Switch. But it runs on an open web, which is both backwards and future-proofed in terms of UA and business models.
One particularly important takeaway from browser games is that the game starts as close to instantly as possible. In a world where attention spans are short and players have a multitude of options at their fingertips, it's crucial to minimise the time between clicking "play" and starting the actual game. Browser-based games have long recognised this, and successful cross-platform games need to follow suit by streamlining the process of getting into the game. This is where next-generation streaming platforms with instant-on come in (https://cloud.squadblast.com). Less overhead to check in with friends means more time spent in the game.
Another design lesson from browser-based games is the importance of community. Everything around the game is infused with a social context, with lots of players (or, believably so) playing and interacting with each other in the chats, leaderboards, and the community surrounding the game. Joining your friends’ session has never been closer. It’s one link share away without any installation!
Finally, flexibility in session length is another key takeaway from browser-based games. Many of these games are designed to be played in short, snack-sized sessions but are flexible enough to accommodate longer play sessions when desired. Players can fit gaming into their busy lives, whether it's during a quick break at work or during a longer gaming session on the weekend. By designing with this in mind, developers can appeal to a wider audience and increase the chances of players returning to the game for more. When we are not busy polishing the SquadBlast web experience, my favourite browser games reaching hundreds of millions of players are ShellShock.io by Blue Wizard Digital, ZombsRoyale.io by End Game, Krunker.io by FRVR, the up-and-coming Megamod.io by Onlyspace and a few more hidden gems.
The stakes are higher than ever with brand collaborations, celebrity cameos, and spin-off Netflix shows. This is taken for granted, while “effective” marketing in a post-IDFA era is a myth with everyone battling for attention.Ultrahorse Entertainment
Expectations of transmedia and brand partnership collaborations
I've been thinking a lot about the evolution of games marketing.
The Netflix series The Toys That Made Us keeps coming to mind, and there are some important points to be taken away from it. While following the stories of iconic toy lines and the evolution of the toy industry, it’s clear that, at first, it was enough just to produce the toys. The next step was to market them in newspapers to create awareness. The first combination of a comic book and a toy was ingenious as it created stickiness. Welcome to the world of retention, where toys would be revisited as new issues came out. Then came massive marketing campaigns that kept scaling larger and larger. It got to the point where consumer reaction was subdued unless a toy launched with its own TV series or came paired up with a video game — and they had better be good!
Games have reached a similar point. The stakes are higher than ever with brand collaborations, celebrity cameos, and spin-off Netflix shows. This is taken for granted, while “effective” marketing in a post-IDFA era is a myth with everyone battling for attention. It’s harder to get noticed across platforms with the Netflixization of content through Xbox Game Pass, and the superabundance of content on every platform doesn’t help either. At the same time, developing new content requires more significant efforts as both gameplay quality and visual fidelity have to stun players outright.
It all comes back to the point about what kind of business models can empower revenue generation at scale to allow brand partnerships. On one side, we can still find brutal pay-to-win at scale powered by the strength of brands; on another side, you’ll find cross-platform titles with multi-way marketplaces creating opportunities for secondary markets or for running your own game servers with standalone economies.
The impact of cross-platform games on society
Cross-platform games like Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox, Brawlhalla, and now Omega Strikers have revolutionised the gaming industry by being accessible on every screen size, leading to higher player retention and engagement. Oh, and you know about the real sleeper hit - Super Animal Royale.
With seamless transitions between devices, players can switch from mobile phones to consoles and continue playing the same player profile across devices, enhancing the gaming experience. The concept itself is simple enough - take your experience anywhere you want - but the devil is in the details. Higher player expectations mean that the game has to look, play, and perform well everywhere all the time, again raising the bar for developers to meet.
However, the impact of cross-platform games on society goes beyond the gaming experience. With greater accessibility, these games have established a new standard of social destinations, increasing the likelihood that players will check in more often and stay longer. Players can easily connect and play with friends on different devices, leading to more social engagement and a sense of community. The success of games like Fortnite, which has over 233 million monthly active players, and Roblox, which has over 210 million monthly active players, is a testament to the power of cross-platform gaming.
In short, cross-platform games have not only changed the way we play games but also how we socialise and connect with others in the digital age, whether we play from our home TVs, use mobile phones on the go, or access the games through a browser on school Chromebooks. These games have become a lingua franca that bridges GDP gaps, connecting players from countries favouring iOS to those on the other side of the world using green-bubble Androids. Cross-platform games unite these international communities and promote cultural exchange and understanding by allowing players to engage with one another regardless of their devices or regions.
When you think about the impact these games-as-platforms have made on thousands of creators out there, you understand that the whole out-of-game economy is as crucial as the in-game economy. I call it the "before the game is after the game" experience.
I won’t delve into all the amazing stories of creators from underrepresented communities making a living and hitting it big, building experiences for the biggest platforms out there. There are far more knowledgeable people than me who write on that, but it feels amazing when a creator from a low-GDP country can reap the rewards of monetisation from a high-GDP country, thanks to the enormous reach of cross-pay and cross-play experiences.
To help understand our perspective, it would be helpful to say a few words about us. The team has previously built games, shipped game platforms, and run game publishers - generating well over a billion in lifetime revenue from our products. But most importantly, we have built, adapted, and transcended business models for well over the last two decades.
Ultrahorse builds bespoke cross-platform gaming experiences. Competition is fundamental to our games and has fair play at its core. We design our games to be equally accessible and enjoyable across all devices, all screen sizes, and all input methods.
At Ultrahorse, we are creating a range of gameplay experiences that can be enjoyed across different platforms within a single game. Whether players want to engage in a 15-minute Capture The Flag session or a casual 3-minute co-op team deathmatch - it is up to them to decide, and we ensure that any form factor will allow them to enjoy the game.
But what drives us even more is a passion for fluid business models. We've always been at the forefront of both building platforms, shipping for novel platforms and defining business models that work with them.
I would go as far to say that cross-platform is a necessary prerequisite in 2023 and beyond for new experience launches. Players and creators alike just expect it as a given!Ultrahorse Entertainment
Game development companies currently focused on a single platform can benefit from embracing cross-platform gaming. By developing a cross-platform strategy, optimising game design, implementing unified account systems, fostering cross-platform communities, and promoting cross-platform gaming experiences, companies can increase their reach and expose more gamers to their brands across all surface mediums. Now count how many times I wrote "cross-platform" by now, post it in the comments, and I’ll send you a Founder’s Pack key. In fact, I would go as far to say that cross-platform is a necessary prerequisite in 2023 and beyond for new experience launches. Players and creators alike just expect it as a given!
In summary, cross-platform and cross-play gaming offer numerous benefits and opportunities for both developers and players, as they cater to diverse audiences, promote cultural exchange, and provide seamless gaming experiences. As you think about launching games in 2023 and beyond, you need to consider how to stay in control and foster direct-to-consumer relationships with your audience by building web or self-published launcher-powered versions.
By considering regional device preferences, learning from browser-based gaming, and embracing cross-platform gaming, developers can position themselves for success in the evolving gaming landscape. More than that, you need long-lasting and proven tools with stable foundations and business models, ranging from game commerce providers to CDN, launcher, cloud platform, and so much more. It’s not an easy path, but meeting player and creator expectations, activating the network effects of their community from day one, and seeing your game being enjoyed on all the different devices out there is a worthy challenge. And it's not possible unless you are able to be the platform for yourself and set your own take rate.
- Improved Marketability: Cross-platform games have the potential to reach wider audiences, leading to increased brand exposure and awareness.
- Enhanced Gaming Experience: Cross-platform games offer seamless transitions between devices, allowing players to continue playing the same player profile across devices. This increases player retention and engagement.
- Increased Social Engagement and Community Building: Cross-platform games have become new social destinations, fostering a sense of community and enabling players to easily connect and play with friends on different devices.
- Economic Empowerment and Monetization Opportunities for Creators: Cross-platform games have enabled creators, even from underrepresented or low-GDP countries, to monetise their creations effectively, benefiting from the broad reach of cross-pay and cross-play experiences.
- Increased Revenue: Going Direct-to-Consumer unlocks better margins that can be reinvested into creator and brand partnerships.
- Enhanced Accessibility and Flexibility: Allowing for gaming experiences that cater to diverse player preferences in session lengths and types of engagement, thereby increasing the chances of players returning to the game.
Edited by Paige Cook