Live ops, monetisation, subscription models and cross-platform gaming, there is so much to consider when creating and delivering a video game.
How do live ops work, how can we ensure players will want to come back and support the game through purchases? Is the future of gaming heading toward subscription services such as Netflix? And is cross-platform gaming going to become the defacto way to get your game out there?
To explore these critical topics, we sat down to chat with Fundamentally Games CEO and author of Games As A Service, Oscar Clark.
Firstly, tell us a little about Fundamentally Games
Oscar Clark: We set up Fundamentally Games in 2019, originally with the intent to do live services for other publishers and other developers. But in that first year and a half all the people we were talking to wanted someone who would also publish. It's interesting because I think at that time, we were finding that a lot of publishers weren't realising there was a real opportunity if they could manage their experiences on a long-term basis.
A lot of investment at the time was focused on narrative-based games in particular. You don't do live service in a narrative-based game and while those types of games are fantastic, they perhaps aren't things that you are going to come back to time and time again.
What are you currently working on?
We've got two PC games and two mobile games and we're working with those teams to get the games ready for being live. They are currently all out there getting real data and we are spending tiny amounts of money to do our tests so that we can get the games to work properly. Basically, very similar to what hypercasual is doing. We’re looking at long-term retaining experiences and by changing the games based on data, we can get the games 'right' before we actually officially launch them or spend any serious money on them.
What's the state of play for live ops right now? Any do’s and don'ts you're seeing?
I mean, what on earth is a live ops game anyway? That's the fundamental question that we find people just don't understand. Ironically, in some ways, my book Games As A Service doesn't even use the word live ops because we constantly change the language for this stuff.
What I think is interesting is, if you're going to define it, the first thing is replayability. So narrative games that have a start middle end are not live ops games. Now you could have episodic games that have continuing stories and you can actually have a narrative in live ops games, but they're delivered in different ways. Replayability is at the heart of what makes live ops possible.
Then it comes down to community, is this a game that can have community, and how do you serve that community?
What we want is a fair monetisation model, which is ongoing. So as long as you're engaging then the game can continue to develop. That matters because if the game developer can't invest in the game you're going to find it diminishing in return in terms of your player experience.
The better we satisfy and serve players, the more profitable those games will be and the more we can invest back in the game to continue improving it.Oscar Clark
You know, it's not about having an accountant sitting there working out how to get as much cash out of people as possible. It's about how we make sure we maximise enjoyment, but within a commercially sustainable framework. That's how you get successful commercial games that don't exploit players. The better we satisfy and serve players, the more profitable those games will be and the more we can invest back in the game to continue improving it.
What are key aspects to remember when monetising your game?
Long-term repeatable monetisation has to be about things that you want. As a publisher we're trying to get the game functionally right so that the players enjoy it and we know that because they are retained. And we know that they really enjoy it because they start spending money, and the amount of money we get - based of the amount we spent - is positive. This then shows you've got a sustainable game that can scale and retain players.
You have to be authentic because you're building a relationship with players. You have to win trust. If you nickel and dime players, they don't trust you. Why would they carry on playing for the long term? Especially if you can do it in a way where they actively want to spend more money in the game because they love it.
There have been some publishers who perhaps didn’t necessarily put the player first, and maybe they have made mistakes that upset a few players, but of course 78% of the revenue in digital games is coming from service based experiences. So I think it's time to have a more authentic look at what free to play and service based games mean. It doesn't mean nickel and diming people, it doesn't mean ads every 30 seconds, it means creating an experience that's worthwhile investing in.
With rising UA costs and many developers struggling to have their games seen, some are looking toward subscription models such as Netflix. What are your thoughts on this model?
It actually comes down to a talk given by World of Warcraft, well, Blizzard, back in 2011. They were discussing the rise of free MMOs and that they couldn't introduce new features because justifying a big new feature - like pets at the time - required them to show what uplift you would get. With a fixed £9.99 subscription you're not getting any extra money from the player, so how can you justify adding a whole bunch of new work if you're not going to get an increase in revenue?
You could justify fixes and new content to an extent because it's about retention, but making big new features is more tricky to pull off. You need to convince management that it's a good thing to do and not just a sink of cost.
The point is that if you have a fixed, 'all you can eat' subscription you're basically making any new experiences a cost centre, and making decisions on cost is very, very defensive. Because you want to keep the cost down. You cut costs… But you want to increase revenue. So that's why you need an upsell.
That's why I love Game Pass because there's so much in the way Game Pass works as opposed to, say, a Netflix subscription. I can't go on buying new things on Netflix. I pay for my Netflix subscription, but there's no reason for me to upsell my Netflix subscription. Whereas with Game Pass, I will go in and play Fallout 76 and end up chucking more money at the game and I'm happy with that. Why? Because I enjoyed the game, so I invested in the game.
I wouldn't have been able to invest in the game had I not had access through the subscription, and if I didn't have an opportunity to upsell, then the game wouldn't have got as much revenue from me, which means the game continued investing in experiences and narratives and stories and things that will keep me playing the game for longer. So upsell Is critical.
What about multi platform gaming? Do you think in the future there will be less talk of platforms or are we still a long way off making this easily achievable?
I think I once went on record saying it will all be mobile eventually and while that's obviously not quite true, I believe that cloud is a hint of this, but not necessarily the definitive answer. Essentially, we're going to be moving away from thinking about 'the device' as the technology. The device is what we have in our hands at that time and the playing experience needs to work for the device we have in our hands.
Cross-platform gaming is essential and inevitable, but that doesn't mean that the mode of use doesn't change.Oscar Clark
Cross-platform gaming is essential and inevitable, but that doesn't mean that the mode of use doesn't change. Look at Candy Crush, which has a seamless experience on PC, mobile, and tablet, but each build was a different build. Each build was unique to that device, it just was designed to feel the same, and that's really important but also an incredibly difficult thing to pull off.
The choice about where we play is important too. My lifestyle choice of using my phone to play a game is very different from my PC. So it's less about the device and more about what it is used for in my life. It's about usability. The question is understanding how does your game work on other devices?
I mean, look at PUBG. clearly the experience of PUBG works brilliantly on PC but also works really well on your mobile. Are they the same game? Not quite but they share the same intent. We need to stop getting hung up on what device we're using - PlayStation, Xbox and so on - so it's less about the hardware and more about the service that's being offered.