GDC survey of developers finds interest in mobile greater than consoles

GDC

The Game Developers Conference polled more than 2,500 people who attended last year’s conference, finding that more of the respondents are developing for smartphones and tablets than for any other platform.

38 percent of developers surveyed released their last game on smartphones and tablets, and 55 percent are developing their current games for these platforms. 58 percent plan to release their next games on these platforms.

PC and Mac were next on the list, with 34.6 percent of developers releasing their last games on these platforms, 48 percent developing their current games for the platforms, and 49 percent planning their next games for PC or Mac.

When asked about what currently released or upcoming platforms they’re interested in developing for in the future, developers also favored the mobile devices. 58 percent expressed interest in tablets and 56 percent expressed interest in smartphones. Android home consoles, like the OUYA and GameStick, are also high up the interest curve at 37 percent.

Perhaps most telling of the games industry’s shift to the tablet and smartphone space is the declining interest in home consoles and dedicated gaming handhelds.

For example, of the the three major home consoles, most developers are currently developing for Microsoft’s Xbox 360, but these still amount to only 13.2 percent of developers surveyed. Among handhelds, most developers are currently making games for Sony’s PlayStation Vita, but these accounted for only 4.2 percent of developers surveyed.

GDC will conduct a similar survey at the upcoming GDC 2013.

5th Planet working on new games, a trans-media experience and European expansion

Core developer 5th Planet revealed it has multiple new games in the works, is expanding its presence into Europe and is working to deliver a trans-media experience for Legacy of Heroes players.

Speaking to us at GDC Online, CEO Robert Winkler, COO Braden Moulton and Brian David-Marshall talked about the company’s upcoming plans, first and foremost the new games. We weren’t told the web games’ official titles, but the trio reveals the next game from their studio will be an RPG tied to the superhero collectable card game Legacy of Heroes, set in the same universe but with an original storyline.

Starting with the Episode 10 expansion of Legacy of Heroes, 5th Planet is going to start releasing a monthly 12-page comic book to help further the game’s overall plot (coinciding with each expansion); when the tie-in RPG is released, it will feature its own comics. The three also said the comics will probably be sold on the mobile and tablet comic shop ComiXology, but declined to give us further details.

5th Planet’s next game after this will be a CCG sometime in the first quarter of 2013. The developer is also working on two mobile RPGs: Legacy of a Thousand Suns (which is being co-developed with Concept Art House) and Dawn of the Dragons. When asked why they aren’t focusing on producing CCGs for tablets and smartphones (based on the incredible revenue being generated by card battling titles like Mobage’s Rage of Bahamut and DeNA’s Blood Brothers), we’re told there are plans to pursue this but the RPGs were already in the works when the genre took off on mobile platforms. As a result, the 35-person studio wanted to see things through and produce a quality finished title before starting new mobile projects.

Meanwhile, the studio is continuing to expand its presence to international markets. After becoming the top-grossing developer on platforms like Kongregate and and Armor Games, 5th Planet will be entering European markets via Plinga on a variety of platforms. Winkler tells us the first game should launch in that territory some time this November.

Zynga signs Playdemic, Konami, Rebellion for games platform, revenue share split 70/30 after Facebook

Zynga announced three new partners for its social games platform today at the Game Developers Conference, two of which come from the console games industry. A source with knowledge of the publishing agreements tells Inside Social Games that the revenue share for all Zynga partners is 70 percent of whatever is leftover after Facebook takes its 30 percent cut of Credits transactions.

Rob Dyer, head of publishing at Zynga, declined to comment publicly on the revenue split. He did say, however, “I want to provide a level playing field.”

That apparently extends beyond the money and into the game developer community. With the three new developers announced today — Playdemic, Konami and Rebellion — Zynga’s six partners represent both established social game developers and first-time indie developers. Dyer’s statement could also apply to game genres, as the Playdemic partnership brings Café World competitor Gourmet Ranch under Zynga’s umbrella.

“If I had my druthers, I would pick games that aren’t in genres Zynga develops,” Dyer admits. “If you look at Playdemic, they’re direct competitors — Gourmet Ranch and Crossword Buddies are [like] games we have in our wheelhouse. I purposely went after them to show people that we’re serious about publishing.”

Zynga’s nascent games platform, Zynga.com, faces a dual challenge: it must present a stable future to developers and investors, and it needs to update Zynga’s image as a money-hungry machine that clones games it can’t buy to out-perform the competition. Signing partners to its platform can address both needs, depending on the partners Zynga chooses. The first three developers announced for the platform — MobScience, Sava Transmedia and Row Sham Bow — are smaller studios with little to lose if Zynga decides to copy their games or change the revenue share split at a moment’s notice. Playdemic could also be put in that box, given the rough 2011 it had with publisher RockYou that started with an acquisition and ended with them being sold back to the founders.

Konami and Rebellion also make for strange bedfellows as both developers have little to no experience in social games. Konami at least has successful mobile social titles in Japan on both GREE and DeNA’s Mobage platform; in its Q2 FY2012 earnings report, the developer said social games revenues were nearly equal to its revenues from console video game sales, as reported by GameSpot. Two years ago, however, Konami had a rough experience in porting its Castlevania franchise to Facebook — that app appears to have been removed. Rebellion, meanwhile, hasn’t ever made a social game and its primary experience is in licensed intellectual property video games like Aliens vs. Predator and The Simpsons.

The Zynga.com platform currently hosts five of Zynga’s top-performing games — CastleVille, CityVille, Hidden Chronicles, Words With Friends and Zynga Poker — each of which runs synchronously on Facebook. All transactions on the platform are currently conducted in Facebook Credits, which takes a 30 percent transaction fee of in-game purchases. The key features of the platform include social discovery of potential “games only” friends, a games activity live ticker that speeds progression in collaborative gameplay, a chat window and a sort of leaderboard that tracks how many times a Zynga.com player answers other player requests in specific games.

Dyer tells us that platform partners are expected to provide consistent gameplay experiences between titles. Additionally, Zynga says it will provide analytics and back end technology to partners that provides scalability. Beyond Playdemic’s Gourmet Ranch and Crossword Buddies and Row Sham Bow’s Woodland Heroes, no other partner games have been announced.

As for when we can expect to see the games on Zynga.com, Dyer says, “When products are ready, they’re going to ship.”

Liveblogging John Schappert’s GDC Track Keynote: “Why ‘Free’ and Cross-Platform Is The Future of Gaming”

4:37 PM: Schappert has left the stage. The keynote is over.

4:36 PM: Schappert is back on stage, saying Zynga is looking forward to playing with other developers. He just took a picture of the audience.

4:35 PM: Zynga is now teaming up to publish games from Konami, Rebellion, and Playdemic.

4:33 PM: By partnering with other developers, Zynga is offering these groups access to a captive audience on Facebook, back end tech support and the analytics at Zynga’s disposal.

4:31 PM: Dyer noted the key challenges facing game developers are a) user acquisition b) scale performance and availability and c) engagement and retention.

4:30 PM: Schappert said Zynga wants to have a billion people playing games together and just welcomed VP of Platform Partners Rob Dyer to the stage.

4:29 PM: Angry Birds has been downloaded approximately 790 million times, with 80 percent of the downloads being with the free version

4:28 PM: Since putting Words With Friends on devices other than the iPhone, the game’s DAU has grown from 2 million to over 9 million.

4:26 PM: In order to make a game accessible, Zynga is putting games on as many platforms as possible.

4:25 PM: “Zynga’s reaching gamers by making games that are social, accessible and free.”

Schappert just noted that one in ten Words With Friends players “hook up.”

4:21 PM: Schappert disagrees with the “Dark Ages” perspective, thanks to how many people are playing games. He thinks we’re in the middle of a golden age.

4:20 PM: “It seems like, right now, we’re in the Dark Ages of gaming” based on all the news stories talking about layoffs and studio closures.

4:15 PM: Schappert is walking us through the history of video games, starting with the Atari in 1977, NES in 1985 (“Wth the NES, gaming became more mainstream and more accessible.”), the Game Boy in 1989 (special attention is paid to Tetris for being simple and accessible), the SNES  and Sega Gensis in 1991 (these consoles are noted for “bringing multiplayer to life” and “bringing gaming to a new social level”), the PlayStation in 1995, the PlayStation 2 in 2000, the Xbox in 2001 (which innovated the industry with Xbox Live, bringing console gaming online), the Xbox 360 in 2005 and the PlayStation 3 and Wii in 2006.

“Gaming has become more social and more accessible with each transition.”

4:10 PM: Schappert is explaining how play is a part of our lives from early childhood on. This inclues playing games in the sandbox, building Lego pieces, skateboarding, playing Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, sporting events (“team sports are more fun than individual sports”) and college games like Beer Pong.

“Play is accessible. It brings us together.”

4:06 PM: John Schappert just walked onto the stage. He’s talking about his history working in the video game industry at Microsoft and EA.

We’re at the 2012 Game Developers Conference — at the Moscone Center in San Francisco — waiting for Zynga COO John Schappert to begin his track keynote speech, “Why ‘Free and Cross-Platform Is The Future of Gaming.” This is a new format for GDC, which has previously only had one keynote for the entire conference. This year, six different Track Keynotes are being offered, “for each discipline on which the main conference tracks focus.”

Facebook’s games ticker drove more referrals to The Sims Social than any other viral tool

Speaking today at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, EA Playfish Creative Director Ray Mazza revealed that Facebook’s now-deactivated games ticker drove 93 percent of the early referral traffic for The Sims Social.

Mazza’s point about the ticker was that players are tuning out all the feed posts about friends’ activities in games (or just can’t see them). Now that the ticker’s gone, Mazza argued that social games will move from being in “competition for eyeballs” to competing for players’ interest by only sharing posts that are genuinely interesting. An example of this is players like to share when their sims have sex (“WooHoo”), and how this has  become the “the strongest Wall post we have.”

“We want to see drama between players, we want to see amazing creations, and we want to hear what’s really on players’ minds when they’re making these posts,” said Mazza.

Where EA PopCap’s Lucky Gem actually comes from

When EA PopCap launched Lucky Gem Casino earlier this month, it looked like the developer had finally “sold out” eight months after its $1.3 billion acquisition in an attempt to enter the rapidly-expanding casino genre on Facebook. PopCap’s Dennis Ryan, EVP of worldwide publishing, tells us that’s not the case.

“Lucky Gem is [meant] to compete in the casino-slots genre,” Ryan said in a meeting at the Game Developers Conference this week. “But we’ve been in the casino genre for years. Bejeweled and Zuma are popular in the U.K. where we license them to [online and land-based casino] partners.”

The idea for the Facebook game originated in PopCap’s Dublin studio, Ryan explains. Several of the themed slots rooms, like the Bejeweled one pictured below, borrow features from the real-gambling implementations of Bejeweled. Ryan says the Facebook version both looks and sounds the same, though the actual slots mechanics are adjusted.

Even if Lucky Gem is not exactly a fast follow on 2011 slots hit Slotomania, it’s clear that PopCap struggles with packaging the game within its core franchises. People that come to PopCap on Facebook through Bejeweled Blitz or Zuma Blitz probably wouldn’t think a slots game is out-of-character — but players that know the developer through its downloadable games titles like Plants vs. Zombies or Peggle might. This was certainly the case for our reviewer, Pete Davison, who reviewed both Lucky Gem Casino and PopCap’s newly-launched Solitaire Blitz within the last week. He gave the former a “Skip” rating and the latter a “Play” rating.

“The loyal fanbase is an important part of our audience,” Ryan says, when we pointed out Davison’s dislike of Lucky Gem and contrasting like of Solitaire Blitz. “But it’s not the only part of our audience. We’re interested in casino style games in general. Its connection [to our brand] comes from our mission to entertain the masses through games.”

Caesars Interactive Entertainment: ‘We expect to be No. 1 in casino games on social and mobile’

Caesars Interactive Entertainment expects to be number one in the casino genre on Facebook and mobile, CEO Mitch Garber tells Inside Social Games at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this week. The online gambling giant hit the ground running on Facebook and mobile with its 2011 Playtika acquisition and a branded Facebook casino game, but it still has a ways to go toward leading the genre.

Currently, all that stands in its way is Zynga Poker — which still leads Playtika’s Slotomania on Facebook, Android and iOS in terms of traffic, according to our AppData tracking service. That might change in 2012, however, as more social and mobile game developers try to cash in on the slots and bingo craze and more land-based casino brands look at social and mobile acquisitions or licenses. Most recently, we’ve seen EA PopCap launch a slots game and IGT acquire Facebook favorite DoubleDown Casino developer DoubleDown Interactive. Meanwhile, Zynga continues to step up its “Casino” franchise of games with Zynga Bingo and is also offering licensed casino classics outside the franchise like Zynga Slingo.

Garber tells us it’s still early days in the casino genre competition. He sees plenty of opportunity to rise to the top of the category as its matures. For reference, Caesars Interactive currently has about 100 employees on the social and mobile team, and it hopes launch two new casino apps in 2012.

“Our key differentiator is that we only do one thing — casino style games,” he told us during a meeting at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this week. “We think we will win the casino [genre] war with our competitors because we’re going to focus on what we know. We’re not going to do a ‘Ville game.”

The Caesars casino franchise shows a lot of forward thinking when it comes to getting their brand out to the newer, younger generation of gambler. Many of its customers in the 20 to 30 age range expect to do their gambling online. Social and mobile fit into that plan by delivering the Caesars brand in areas where i-gaming and real gambling perhaps aren’t legal.

“I don’t have a gaming license in Australia, but I can offer Slotomania on Facebook,” Garber explains. “Brand proliferation and [in-game transactions] are the main parts of our social and mobile strategy.”

I-gaming’s merge with the social and mobile games industry presents investors and developers with a lot of new factors to consider. For one, i-gaming monetizes at a higher conversion rate and volume than anything even the most successful social-mobile game developer has seen to date. Garber declined to break out specific average revenue per user figures, but he was able to tell us that the lifetime value of a user in i-gaming reached $1,000 in 2006.

“We’re still learning how [to interpret] LTV in social games,” Garber says. “Right now we look at the daily ARPU in social.”

This means social-mobile game developers will have to adjust expectations around what their casino titles generate in ARPU. They might also have to drill down into the psychology of the traditional gambler, understanding that there’s a fundamental difference in psychology between those playing for real money and those playing for virtual currency.

A real money slot machine gambler, for example, will have a finer understanding of odds and payouts compared to a social gamer that is motivated more by the concept of achievement and fairness in game-playing. Garber compares Slotomania’s specific appeal to inserting quarters on the classic Pac-Man arcade game; a player does that to keep their score — not because there’s a chance at winning more quarters. The motivation is different, which has an impact on monetization.

Another new area of thought comes from managing the relationships between casino suppliers on and offline. On land, Caesars’ biggest competitor would be MGM. On Facebook, it might appear to be IGT now that it owns DoubleDown Casino — which is very similar to the soft-launched Caesars Casino. Garber says, however, that Caesars does not want to view IGT as a competitor — because the company is a supplier of gaming content to its land-based casinos.

“We will expect to license IGT content online,” he says. “Whatever IGT puts into DoubleDown, we would expect to license in [our Facebook games].”

Brands and licenses are a proven method for user acquisition on social and mobile because people trust names they recognize. Up until now, many license holders have carved up the rights to their properties by platform — for example, licensing Wheel of Fortune for mobile to one game developer and Wheel of Fortune for Facebook to a different developer. Garber says we’ve moved past all of that; but some social-mobile game developers might be slow to catch up, especially if they’re already locked into outdated licensing agreements that prevent them from launching games on new platforms.

As the casino genre expands on social and mobile, and Facebook explores real money gambling, we expect to even more players enter the space with high expectations. Garber says, however, that while there will be thousands of attempts, there will only be a handful of winners — and Caesars expects to be one of them.

Google+ digs up 30-day exclusive with Eastside Games’ Zombinis

Google+ gets another 30-day exclusive in the form of Zombinis, Eastside Games’ collecting-and-battle game featuring exploding zombie animals with detachable body parts.

This is a bit different than the original plans Eastside revealed to us last July. At that time, the developer said it was planning to launch the game on Facebook and its own site, with G+ listed as a potential platform.

“We are still actively working on launching Zombinis as a stand alone experience, but we felt that we first needed to work on some core mechanics in Zombinis to ensure our players were having a great experience,”  said Eastside Co-founder Josh Nilson when asked about the change. “We decided to extend our closed Beta and really work and improve the game, to focus more on community driven design. Rest assured a stand alone is still in the plan.”

Google+ has been steadily adding games to its network, but it’s difficult to gauge just what kind of metrics developers can expect to see on the platform. We’ve heard that, compared to Facebook, retention is an issue and player conversion is nowhere near as strong as what many developers are used to. Clearly something about the platform appeals, however, as this is the fourth 30-day exclusive launch title hitting G+ after Digital Chocolate’s Gangs of Boomtown, Kabam’s The Godfather: Five Families and  Plarium’s Pirates: Tides of Fortune. The recently-announced Google Play app platform may also play a role in encouraging developers to take a risk on G+.

Nilson says part of the appeal is in the small selection of games currently available for the platform. “For an indie studio this means you can get discoverability,” he says. “We have had success on Facebook and also on the open web and see potential in G+. We want to be able to contribute to G+’s success, more platforms in the social space would be great for the game industry, both for developers and also for players.”

Stay tuned for Inside Network’s GDC Coverage

Next week, hordes of social and mobile game developers from around the world will descend on downtown San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference 2012 and Inside Network will be on hand to cover the show.

From left to right, Inside Network managing editor AJ Glasser, Inside Mobile Apps and Inside Social Games staff writer Kathleen De Vere and Inside Social Games lead writer Mike Thompson will be at the show throughout the week. We’ll be meeting with developers see what they’ve got in the works and hear about their future plans for social and mobile titles.

This year’s GDC is noteworthy because so more social game developers than ever before will be presenting at the show. While many of these include big names like EA, Zynga and King.com, there’s also a host lesser-known successful developers and newcomers with games hitting Facebook, Google+ and mobile in the coming months. On the platform side, Facebook has revealed that its platform team will be on hand Monday for an all-day series of events designed to help developers learn how to make successful social games.

Meanwhile, a hot topic amongst developers will be Zynga’s new platform, which will allow third-party publishing of social games. Case in point: Zynga COO John Schappert will be delivering one of the six track keynotes at the show. For many indie studios, this new partner publishing represents a safeguard against having a larger group clone their title; at the moment, though, only a few groups have actually announced that they’ll work with Zynga.

If you happen to see us on the show floor or at one of the industry parties, don’t hesitate to come up and introduce yourself.

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