A couple weeks ago, we published the first part of our interview with Gogogic CEO Jonas Antonsson concentrating on mid-core games and bringing games cross-platform. In part two of our interview, we talk about everything from single-player experiences and branded games to transmedia and accessibility.
[a]list: Games like Demon's Souls exist that don't guarantee you any progress. It's certainly challenging, but for some people it asks to much to have all your progress wiped out in a single encounter.
Jonas Antonsson: There's clearly an audience for those sorts of games, but if you advertise a game that's going to hurt you and make fun of you, it has to be the right sort of game. For the DayZ mod, you have people who have played for days and get killed, but I think that the experience fits with the mood of brutal survival and it becomes an acceptable part of the gameplay. So I think there is a strong audience for hard and unrelenting games – I personally like them - but as core gamers take on added real-life burdens I think they can't spend as much time playing games and that increases the frustration level of losing all your stuff or having to begin from scratch. You learn to appreciate using your time more efficiently.
I also think that it is worth to note that the single player mechanic is a gimmick – games are meant to be played with others and it doesn't matter if it's in-person or online. The first games were designed as multiplayer experiences, but when computer and console games became a thing there was a need to construct an antagonist and/or a protagonist for commercial purposes. You couldn’t depend on people coming together to have a synchronous experience over a game. That would have simply stifled sales. And since there was no reasonable way to connect people in other ways – the arcade was the only serious attempt – it became an industry need to project the game as the other player. Playing a game is a multiplayer activity and can easily be seen as such when you watch young toddlers play by themselves. They invent someone to play with, someone that they talk to and interact with.
The high score list is a simplest way to make a game social, to transform it to an asynchronous multiplayer experience. A simple list allows me to share an experience with others – comparing myself to you in the game. This also becomes a great reason to create games that are hard and difficult to master. Enter the classic hardcore game that allows dedicated players to compare not only scores but progress and in-game assets found or unlocked. But now we can connect people in and around a game through real time PvP and PvE mechanics and the need for pure single player games had gone down. We have multiple plots and stories and build the meta-experience for the entire audience. The premise for making games has changed – reverted back to building multiplayer experiences that are true to the game form.
This doesn't mean that we have run out of room when it comes to great single-player titles or games that make you sweat and curse every couple of minutes. It means that those titles have to be very appealing and cater well to the hardcore audience. So games that drive you crazy can be excellent because they are well designed, not because that’s what games are supposed to do or how they should always work.
[a]list: Tell me about your work for branding and what the opportunities are there.
Jonas Antonsson: I think that there were a lot of interesting developments a few years ago and I remember specifically that web games were really leading the way in 2006-2008. I remember the M&M movie game featuring a still picture of M&Ms adapting scenes from horror movies and the player was supposed to guess what movies were featured. This was for Dark M&Ms and practically everyone could play it. It went viral instantly and brought a lot of attention to the product. I also remember when the California Milk Association created a 3D modeled board game, featuring a a family of small time crooks trying to steal some extra milk and it was fantastically well done. They actually showed the metrics generated by the game some months after it launched and how it affected their bottom line. The results were mind blowing and extremely positive.
Dark M&Ms Ad
After that, in late 2008-2009, branding shifted gears towards product placement in games. Because of this we are not seeing the same quality in advergames. Instead, we see partnerships with game studios, because it feels like advertisers have moved away from producing holistic game experiences and I wonder why that is because we have stats that show these games can do wonders if they are done correctly and it shouldn't cost more than what you do with a traditional ad spot campaign. You can generate metrics from the game – maybe that's the problem, they can tell it failed! While it might be harder to trace success for radio or TV, games have definitive statistics - maybe there's something there. I haven't touched on this for some time now, to be honest.
At a traditional marketing and advertising firm, some creative person internally can execute on a campaign and it might be worked on by professionals and the idea is kept. With an advergame, you will be hard pressed to find someone with capabilities and expertise in making games within an advertising firm. So it can be fussy to make games. Where do you place the campaign or the cash? Let's say you're making a web game – it isn't a fire and forget thing. A TV ad lives for 6 weeks and it's gone. The game doesn't go away – you can do an A B test with the game and update it - change the message, whatever. But you also can't control it and it can have nothing to do with your current message, two or three years downstream. So I think that it's a tricky space. We've have a client take a down a game because it was too successful, and overwhelmed their servers. They were not happy until we pointed out the reason why their website went down.
Of course, working with an outside ad agency, they might be steering them away from games. That might mean a large part of the budget that they would otherwise get would go to this other company.
The time factors in, because if you're going to build a big game, to execute it requires several months. And I’ve gotten calls for visions of the campaign and they'll say it's coming out in 3 weeks. That works for a TV ad but for a game, it's going to be buggy. Three weeks are tough if you're advertising a product - you want to make damn sure that game runs.
[a]list: It's intriguing that sometimes big shot directors will moonlight for these commercials. I can't imagine Ken Levine or Tim Schafer taking time to make an advergame.
Jonas Antonsson: There's a bit of a culture clash there between ad agencies and game developers. Dan Draper would think of Schafer as a huge geek! [laughs]
There are a few titles that are changing how games are generally viewed. League of Legends, I was at PAX and I saw the west coast finals and it's crazy to see a thousands of people watching it as a live sport and they're booing and yelling and crying. It'll take a while for the general public in Europe and the US to view games as sport, but the baseline has been set.
Hawken, with their transmedia strategy, where they have web episodes and a feature film from the story that everything is based around, is also rocking it. It's a holistic franchise concept - that, along with others like it, will revolutionize the stepchild relationship that's in effect between Hollywood and Games. Things will also start to change because a lot of today’s superstar actors, directors and producers are game players and they actually respect game makers a lot.
The Batman franchise is another great example of how this can work across all mediums. The new movie trilogy is amazing, and you have the Gotham games that didn't have anything to do with the movies but they have the same essence. There's also the New 52 incarnation of the character that's been popular in its own right. That franchise has proven you can build fantastic IP on numerous branches and in numerous ways – as long as you keep the core intact
[a]list: We recently got a chance to talk to Bigpoint about browser based games. Do you see that as a sector on the rise?
Jonas Antonsson: When we founded Gogogic we had recently begun to understand that there was a significant change silently happening in the games industry and that games were becoming mainstream. Browser games had started to appear as commercially viable experiences and mobile devices would get better and more connected. I'm a core gamer, I bought a lot of games, but my wife, who did not identify herself as a gamer at the time, spent more than me on games. They were discreet buys, from Big Fish Games and PopCap, all downloadable casual games. It was obvious the game world was changing fast.
The founders were personally at an age where it had become more difficult to engage in core game experiences, so we decided to concentrate on accessibility for cross platform MMOs – really a hard core space but one that was lacking accessibility both in terms of platform and engagement level. For the last couple of years we have seen this industry change take shape and the browser and mobile devices have become the most accessible platforms. But I don't think the browser is on the rise. I think accessibility is on the rise. Steam, for example, increases accessibility to all sorts of games and that’s why Steam has also been on the rise.
It explains the success of Ouya because developers want an accessible console that's intriguing and pulling people to it naturally. Unity is another fantastic example, letting people develop more easily and get their games to accessible platforms with relative ease. Sony bought Gaikai and I believe accessibility is a big part of that. Being able to play and stream from the cloud instead of having to download 8 GB clients – what you have is increased accessibility.
Vikings of Thule
[a]list: Anything you'd like to add?
Jonas Antonsson: As much as I am for increase accessibility, I'm firmly against dumbing down games or using psychological tricks as the only means to get people playing. With our latest game, Godsrule, we are trying to make sure we strike a great balance between access, deep gameplay and a great story. It's a high fantasy MMORTS and it will be the first mid-core MMO game that implements a real RTS where you're dependent on your skills as you take on opponents in real-time. And it has accessibility through both mobile and online platforms. During the day you can make things ready and at night you can sit down and RTS the hell out of someone! You can play five or six battles and you have an half hour to an hour session.
We want community to be at the heart of the experience and I'm personally a big fan of that. Any game becomes boring to the player with time, but the social interactions helps build up an experience that lasts a long time.
[a]list: Jonas, thanks.