Archive for May, 2006

U.S. Casual Gaming – only $52 million?

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

A report from NPD came out today putting overall [US] PC game sales at $1.4 Billion. This is MUCH higher than their last estimate, issued just a few months ago, showing [US] PC game sales at only $953 million, off 14% from the year prior and about 50% from their peak around 1999.

But wait, the new report is different. For the first time, they include on-line and downloadable revenue, which is big and growing. They estimate game subscription revenue (i.e. MMOs) at $292 million. I can’t speak to that figure one way or the other.

But they also estimate 2005 sales at casual gaming sites (Pogo, Real, etc) at only $52 million in 2005. That seems VERY low to me. I had done a seat of the pants estimate of the biz at about $200 million a few months ago. That was based heavily on Real’s publicly reported stats, and some extrapolation from that to the whole industry.

Now I’ve just looked up in Real’s annual report, and in 2005, they did $56 million in game revenues (up 63% from the year prior). Real’s figure is worldwide, but they’re US based and focused, and the vast majority of their sales are in the US.

So we’ve got one portal at probably ~$45 million+ [US]. I just don’t see how they only got to $52 million for the whole business in the US. I’d like to see the full NPD report and methodology, but color me skeptical…

Sequel-Mania Hits Casual Games

Monday, May 22nd, 2006

One of the things I like about this business is the emphasis on originality. Unlike most other areas of gaming, Casual Games have not been hit be sequel-itis or dependency on licensed games.

That may be changing. Here’s Gamehouse’s current top-10:

1. Super Collapse! 3
2. Diner Dash 2: Restaurant Rescue
3. Mystery Case Files: Huntsville
4. Scrabble®
5. Tropix
6. Cake Mania
7. Mah Jong Medley
8. Mahjong Escape: Ancient China
9. Pirate Poppers
10. Luxor: Amun Rising

1, 2, 3, and 10 are sequels (and possibly 7 and 8 ), and 4 is a license.

Yes, I know I just posted a positive personal reaction to one of these sequels. I certainly don’t have a problem with sequels per-se, but I’d hate to see them dominate this genre as they do for say, console games, where typically 80%-90% of the top 10 games are sequels or license.

[Edit: #7, Mah Jong Medley, is in fact a sequel. #3, MCS: Huntsville, is NOT a sequel, but has a sequel that’s currently on top of Big Fish’s top 10 list and will probably be high on this list, once GameHouse starts carrying it]

Mini-games

Monday, May 22nd, 2006

I recently downloaded and played Gamehouse’s Super Collapse 3.

It’s a very fun, well-polished update to the classic Collapse gameplay. One thing they’ve done that I think is cool is to add lots of gameplay variations and modes. Some of these are simple implementations of classic-style electronic games, that were presumably rather easy for them to add to their existing engine. For instance, they have a version of Simon (i.e. remember and repeat the musical/visual pattern).

I like what they’ve done, and, as with all good ideas, I’m considering borrowing and expand upon their idea.

But, I need game ideas. I’m looking for mini-game ideas that would be simple to implement using a Bejewelled/JewelQuest style gameboard.

Simon is one possibility. Mastermind is another (The TV show Lingo uses a modified version of the Mastermind game-mechanic).

If you have more ideas for game mechanics that might work and that you’re willing to share, post them here as a comment or e-mail me at psteinmeyer A T charter d0t net.

In order to hear stereo, you need two speakers

Friday, May 19th, 2006

So today, I’m tinkering with my sound and music compression – trying to see how small to compress things, what sample rate, stereo/mono, etc.

While the quality levels were clearly audible for most of these parameters, surprisingly, there didn’t seem to be much difference between stereo and mono. Maybe the songs I’m using don’t have much stereo ‘spread’ to them?

After about 45 minutes of testing and tinkering with the files, I noticed that my left speaker was dead.

It’s hard to get a stereo effect from one (working) speaker only.

Aftermath: I couldn’t resuscitate the speaker, but after a quick trip to Best Buy, have better speakers than I had before. Having (working) stereo made a BIG difference, and in fact, I’ve traded off some ‘quality’ in the signal itself to allocated space for stereo music and stereo versions of certain sound FX.

Casual games get serious

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

Casual games get serious – a nice article on C-Net on this industry:

The North American market for casual games is expected to grow from an estimated $281 million in sales this year to $1.15 billion in 2011, according to DFC. Globally, thanks to the popularity of these games in China and Korea, the market is already closing in on $1 billion in annual sales.

Also interesting, from the same article…

Microsoft this week announced that it had struck deals with several gamemakers of yesteryear to bring titles like “Root Beer Tapper,” “Paperboy” and “Pac-Man” onto the Xbox 360.

Knobs > Digital

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

Just a quick U.I. observation from the non-computer world.

My wife and I went shopping this week for a new oven/range.

In general, it seems that the more expensive the oven, the more digital gimickry it has. A fancy oven is not content to have a knob to set the oven temperature – it must have a digital display with 6-10 buttons adjacent to it, not only for temperature setting, but for all sorts of elaborate delayed cooking features and whatnot.

With a conventional ‘knob’ interface, I can, at a glance, see whether the oven is on, and if so, what temperature it’s set to. If I want to turn on the oven, it takes exactly one wrist motion to turn it on and set it to the desired temperature (say 375)

I have no idea how the digital ovens work, because at the two stores we visited, they were all unplugged and sitting on the floor. But I’ll speculate that, on initial glance, the oven will show a blinking 12:00 (because the clock will have been reset from one of the frequent storms in our area). I’ll then need to look for the ‘on’ button from among the ~6 buttons, and press it. It will then prompt me for a temperature, and I will probably need to find and press the up/down buttons 4 or 5 times to get them to the desired temperature.

Digital interfaces on non-computer devices are usually inferior.

I’m dreading the day when I have to use a digital toilet.

Download Size

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006

Here’s an excellent post from somebody at Reflexive, with links to a lot of data on the impact of download size on game sales and such.

The key graphs:

Size vs. percentage of initiated downloads that are completed

Size vs. ratio of downloads by modem users

Size vs sales and conversion rates

Slightly further down, he notes that modem users are 40% more likely to buy, per game downloaded, than broadband users, presumably because modem users don’t sample as many different games.

My conclusions:

The 2nd graph is the most informative. At very low sizes (~2-5 MB), modem users are moderately significant – 12-22% of downloads, and, if we take into account their higher purchase rates, ~15-30% of sales.

But once you go past 5MB, the graph flattens out – modem users are about 6-9% of downloads, and the incremental impact of a 10MB download vs. a 20MB download (or even 40MB) is quite modest. It’s pretty hard to deliver modern production values in the 2-5 MB range, so if you’re going to go to 10MB, it’s not so bad to go to 20…

My takeaway? For my current game, I’ve been debating using OGG for music, which allows regular songs to be compressed, rather than MIDI/XM, which is limited to rather digital sounding songs. But using OGG would put me in the 15-20MB download range. Now, though, I think that’s probably acceptable…