Archive for January, 2006

Apple the Music Company

Friday, January 20th, 2006

Via MacRumours, I got this data from Apple’s quarterly financial conference call:

- Macs shipped: 1,254,000 (20% growth over 2005 Q1)
— 587,000 iBooks and Powerbooks shipped
— 667,000 desktop systems shipped
– iPods shipped: 14,043,000 (207% growth over 2005 Q1)
– Revenue: $5.75 billion, 40% from international sales ($3.49 billion in 2005 Q1)
– Music: 59% of total revenue
– Net quarterly profit: $565 million ($295 million in 2005 Q1)
– Retail profits were $90 million.
– Gross margin: 27.2% (28.5% in 2005 Q1)

Note that music is 59% of Apple’s revenue, and tripled year over year, whereas their Mac computer sales grew a mere 20%. Apple would have loved the latter figure 3 years ago – now it’s just ‘meh’.

So Apple’s music revenues are about one and a half times their computer revenues.

Apple is no longer a niche computer company with an interesting sideline music play.

They’re a dominant music industry titan with an interesting sideline in computers.

XBox Casual Top 10

Friday, January 20th, 2006

From IGN

Top 10 games on XBox 360 Live Arcade (Microsoft’s downloadable, sorta casual, on-line game service for XBox 360)

1. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved
2. Gauntlet
3. Smash TV
4. Bejeweled II
5. Zuma
6. Bankshot Billiards
7. Outpost Kaloki
8. Mutant Storm Reloaded
9. Joust
10. Wik: Fable of Souls

Thanks to PJay for passing on the link.

Design frustration

Friday, January 20th, 2006

For the last couple weeks, I’ve been bouncing back and forth between designing on paper and just trying to code up quick proto-designs.

Last Friday, I was excited about a game idea that was sort of a WordSlinger/Scrabble variant, but where the emphasis was trying to connect point A to point B.

On Monday, I decided it worked better with colored squares rather than words, and I coded up a quick prototype.

By Tuesday morning, I wasn’t happy with it – seemed boring, but seeing the color matched tiles gave me a different idea, which seemed brilliant at the time.

By Wednesday morning, I had that idea working – it seemed promising, if rough around the edges.

By last night, I had the edges smoothed a bit, and suddenly, seeing the game really ‘work’, it didn’t seem so fun or cool anymore.

But it did spark an idea for a different game mechanic, which in turn, may or may not work.

It’s a lot easier when you start with a proven game mechanic, and tweak it, rather than try to find an altogether new mechanic that’s fun. Bonnie’s Bookstore started as a fundamentally new word game mechanic, but when that proved boring, I switched it to being an improved twist on the proven Bookworm paradigm.

Still, I’d like to find a new, fun mechanic if possible. We’ll see where I end up.

Retail PC Game Sales – Off 57%

Wednesday, January 18th, 2006

[Edit – There is a newer post on this same topic here, with data through 2007]

Not really surprising, but retail PC game sales had another terrible year – off 14% in 2005.

It’s actually more bleak than that – the 14% fall is on top of big falls almost every year since the peak year in 1999. In absolute dollars, the decline has been 44%. When you adjust for inflation, the decline is at 57%.

This data only reflects traditional, brick and mortar PC game sales in the U.S. Of course, console game sales have been much better, and the two strongest segments of PC gaming – MMORPGs and casual game downloads, are omitted from this data. But if you’re looking for traditional shrink-wrap PC games like The Sims, Age of Empires and the like, you’ll still find the heavy-hitters, but almost all the games outside the top 10 have had disastrous sales, and you’ll see very few AAA PC-only games in the years ahead.

Note, sales data in the charts are compiled from a variety of IDSA and related press-releases, and compiled (except for the 2005 figure) by Rob Merritt here.

PC game sales chart

Year Raw Sales In Millions Inflation Adjusted Sales 
1994 $966 $1,273
1995 $1,400 $1,794
1996 $1,700 $2,116
1997 $1,800 $2,190
1998 $1,800 $2,157
1999 $1,900 $2,228
2000 $1,600 $1,815
2001 $1,750 $1,930
2002 $1,400 $1,520
2003 $1,200 $1,274
2004 $1,080 $1,117
2005 $953 $953

Bonnie’s Bookstore Web Version

Tuesday, January 17th, 2006

The web version of Bonnie’s Bookstore has just been released. Now you can play it directly in your browser (Internet Explorer or Firefox), no download necessary.

Play it here.

Or try the downloadable version.

The web version has smaller graphics and less levels, but it loads fast and you can play it as long as you want.

The downloadable version has 50 levels, rich graphics and music, a bigger dictionary, more types of tiles, and various other goodies. And you can try it for 60 minutes, but then you’ve got to cough up $19.95 if you want to keep playing.

Direct sales

Monday, January 16th, 2006

I’ve been making games for 13 years now. But I just had a first over the weekend – my first direct sale (sorta).

‘Til now, I’ve never cashed a check or received money directly from a customer. I’ve always used publishers, and there has generally always been at least one more middleman down the line – either the retailer or, now for Bonnie’s Bookstore, the portal.

I signed Bonnie’s Bookstore with PopCap as a publisher, and they’ve done an excellent job getting it on to the major portal (just added RealArcade last week), as well as selling from their own site. But in my agreement with PopCap, I retained the right to sell the game from my own site (as many casual game developers who sign with publishers do).

On Friday afternoon, I finally finished setting up my account with Plimus, an on-line transaction provider catering to online software sellers. And over the weekend, I had my first sale, to John XXXX of Brisbane Australia – thanks John!

It’s only sort of a direct sale, as I guess Plimus is still a middleman. But as an order processor, they only take 10% of the revenue, so I should make about $18 off of this $20 sale. $18 is way way more than I’ve ever made per unit via any other distribution arrangement I’ve had. That said, I’ll be surprised if direct sales from my website constitute even as much as 1% of my sales over the next year – but I’ll be curious to watch them.

For the record, I’ve had 103 downloads in the last 3 days – about 40% of the people who visit www.newcrayon.com download the game. Now if only I can sell a second copy, I’ll double my conversion rate :)

Here’s the traffic to the New Crayon site over the last 3 months. Bonnie’s Bookstore was first released to the PopCap mailing list at the beginning of December – that’s the first spike. A week later, it started to go ‘wide’ – first to PopCap’s general site, then other sites. So far, I’ve done no marketing myself, so this traffic is basically organic. Not substantial enough to build a business on or even have a material effect as a secondary revenue stream, but we’ll see what happens over the next year…

New Crayon's web traffic

The Difference Between Goofing Off And…

Friday, January 13th, 2006

The difference between goofing off and game design may appear subtle to an outsider. Especially when you’re at the concept stage, trying to figure out what type of game to make, let alone the specifics of the game.

Here’s how a well-trained outsider can tell the difference.

Someone who’s goofing off alternates between downloading demos from RealArcade and playing games that like Ticket to Ride, that, while fun, aren’t very applicable to traditional casual games.

Someone who’s a professional game designer also alternates between downloading demos from RealArcade and playing games that like Ticket to Ride, that, while fun, aren’t very applicable to traditional casual games. But every now and then he jots down some random ideas in a yellow notepad, before balling up the paper a bit later and tossing it out.

Link o’ the day

Experimental Gameplay Project – a bunch of college kids knock out 50 goofy, but often fun game mechanics in the course of a semester. Check out the Tower of Goo!

(Oh, but I was researching it, not goofing off. Just in case anyone asks, you know…)

CasualGameBlogs.com

Thursday, January 12th, 2006

I’ve set up a new blog aggregator here:

www.casualgameblogs.com

My goal is to have it be a nice one-stop shop for browsing casual and/or indie game blogs, both developer and review/news blogs.

If you have a blog or other RSS feed you’d like to recommend for the site, please PM me.

Interviews

Wednesday, January 11th, 2006

Gamecloud has an interview with me about New Crayon Games, Bonnie’s Bookstore, my old company (PopTop Software) and other topics.

They also have an interview with Jason Kapalka and James Gwertzman of PopCap, my current publisher, about the history of that company.  Jason and James are both great guys who I worked closely with on Bonnie’s.

Casual Game Price Points and Conversion

Monday, January 9th, 2006

There’s a good interview here with C.J. Wolf of iWin, discussing some experiments they did with pricing for their casual game Family Feud. It’s rare in this biz to see any hard data on conversion rates, so it’s particularly cool to see not only F.F.’s conversion rate data, but the results of their experiment on how the C.R. was affected by price point.

The standard for this biz is $19.95, with a 60 minute free trial.

Apparently, they first tinkered with the length of the trial period. At 60 minutes (and a $19.95 price point), the game had a conversion rate of 0.9%, but the conversion rate went up to 1.3% when they cut the free trial period to 30 minutes.

Next, they experimented with price (I’m assuming these results were with the 30 minute trial period, though that’s not explicitly stated):

_________Conversion________
Price_______Rate______Yield
$19.95______1.3%_______$.26
$24.95______1.1%_______$.27
$29.95______1.1%_______$.32

The conversion rate is sales per completed download. The yield is revenue per completed download – i.e. the product of the prior two columns.

As you can see, though C.R. slipped a bit at the higher price point, it was more than offset by the higher price point.

I’m not sure that these results would hold with the majority of casual games. F.F. is a bit of an outlier in several respects.

First, it’s an established brand that people are familiar with, and there’s no way for a consumer to buy an equivalent product from someone else for less money. i.e. they don’t face competitive price pressure from others at $20.

Moreover, consumers might be more comfortable with both the shorter trial period and the higher price point given the familiarity of the underlying license (and game mechanics).

Finally, I’ve played iWin’s version of F.F., and frankly, there’s not a lot there. Yes, they recreate the game reasonably faithfully, and I do enjoy the television show, but the game gets repetitive and boring quickly. I stopped playing after 20 minutes. So a shorter trial period probably makes sense. But for a game with a longer backstory and more varied gameplay, I think you might more effectively hook the consumer with the traditional 60 minute trial. I’d love to see others experiment with this and publicly reveal their data.

From Concept To Completion – Follow Up

Friday, January 6th, 2006

A couple follow-ups to last week’s article ‘From Concept To Completion‘ (about the different themes and art concepts that led to the final Bonnie’s Bookstore).

Raph Koster has a nice, lengthy posting, riffing off of my piece but going beyond that with his own views on the importance (and best techniques) for doing concepting in general and art concepting in particular.

Gamasutra has reprinted (with my permission), the article in full. Nothing added, but it’s always nice to get ‘in print’ on one of the bigger sites.