Denki MD Colin Anderson looks at how to please the casual user looking for a high-end console experience
Game developers could be forgiven for suffering from a touch of schizophrenia these days.
The sheer scope of the market these days is vast. There's triple-A and there's casual. There are 'real' gamers and there are 'social' gamers. There are huge budgets, massive teams and hardcore gaming, or there's bubble bursting and virtual farming. There may even be opportunities in between.
The games market has changed hugely in the last few years. In many ways more profoundly than it did over the last two decades.
New devices, new distribution channels, new business models and revenue streams. Even new players. Those people who'd never, ever pick up a joypad or lay out fifty bucks for the latest console title are now willing to give a free-to-play title a chance and maybe – possibly – pick up some extra lives, or new levels.
So it's no surprise that the industry – the people designing and developing the games – are having a hard time keeping up. Everything is changing.
For Denki, defining everything in the hardcore end of the market as a 'real' game, and dismissing everything else as 'casual' or 'social', and therefore unworthy of attention, budgets or money leaves a lot of developers – and even more gamers - lost and confused.
Why not forget the labels and concentrate on making games? Focus on making something genuinely enjoyable. For Denki, the focus has always been on the fun.
Yet, the games market has grown, evolved and changed alongside the technology which drives it. Smartphones and social networks have created new millions of new players and there are entirely new experiences to be found on almost every platform.
It's a huge and diverse market. There are a lot of people out there. There's even more content and titles out there. So how does a developer cope?
What can a company do to capitalise on these new players, new business models and new platforms, without being lost in the noise, losing money or simply vanishing without a trace?
Take the mobile markets as an example. For every smash hit on the App store(s), there are a hundred developers languishing, undiscovered in the colossal oceans of content out there.
While the theoretical millions of players are out there – somewhere – finding them and making yourself visible in this deluge of apps can more difficult than making the game itself.
Even the smartest, most creative developers can find themselves losing money in such a market. Plus, we'd like to point out that smartphone ownership isn't nearly as universal as the manufacturers would have you believe. There are a lot of people out there who may never, ever believe they need apps.
We've been there. We've built apps. We've tried Facebook. We've looked long and hard at the new markets, new business models, funding channels and experiences. It's difficult out there. It's difficult to make games, profitably, across such a diverse range of devices, difficult to build visibility and gain traction in the market and even more difficult to actually make money.
OK, complaining about such a rich and varied market, with millions of new gamers and amazing new opportunities seems crass and ungrateful.
However, it's a problem more and more developers are facing. Just where do you commit resources, how far do you spread your new title and how much support do you plough into your new game before you realise you're not going to see a return?
We've looked long and hard at the whole market and frankly, we're a little worried. More and more talented developers are ploughing their time and effort into these new channels and new markets.
There are some amazingly, achingly, incredibly wonderful titles out there and in many cases, they're not getting the attention – or making the money – they deserve.
Denki has, we like to think, a fairly good view of the markets. We've been around the block. We've made some stuff we're proud of and some games that other people like too. So what's next for developers who are keen to make games – as a business?
To us there seems to be a fairly large gap in the market. While the triple-A console market is accelerating rapidly into the future and the mobile app markets are choking under the sheer weight of content, there are a lot of people out there who appreciate a decent game.
But these are people who don't necessarily have the time for 20 hours of play per week, who aren't first in line for the latest releases and who won't be finishing Mass Effect 3 any time soon (but will eventually).
Let's call them the post-hardcore gamers. Or indeed, 'gamers', since this labelling thing is entirely tedious.
There has to be a way of creating games which have all the polish and 'zip', 'zing' and 'sizzle' of the high-end console titles, with the distribution, ubiquity of the casual and social side of things, but with a deeper and more satisfying experience than popping bubbles or matching x objects, where x is >2 and objects are bubbles, fruit, balloons, bricks, gems or jewels.
The solution, we believe, is online. There are a lot of people on this internet thing. Many of them looking for entertainment. Much of the online gaming content however, tends towards the simplistic side of things.
Can you make browser games which are more than basic? Can you monetise them? Can you find players without being drowned in a sea of clones and me-too titles? Are there people out there you can work with to build more sophisticated titles and take them to market?
As it turns out, the answer is yes. To all of the above. We were delighted to find a company out there who have already started building the technology, the route to market and the structure to support developers who are looking for a more capable and sustainable business.
Denki is now working with Turbulenz to bring our next title(s) to a much broader audience, using their existing web browsers and with a variety of business models to monetise it and some excellent support from the company in across the board. There is even (and you'll have to whisper this now) funding available for developers.
Don't worry, this isn't going to turn into an elevator pitch. However, a lot of developers, who are serious about running their company as an actual business and making money from their games, are looking for the next big thing and the new opportunity to make the games they're passionate about and get them out to an audience who can and will pay to play them.
Having looked at all of the various markets and devices and distribution and models. We think this could work for us.
Of course, there are no givens in the games industry, no magic bullets or guarantees. However, we've seen first hand the perils and pitfalls which await the unwary and dipped more than a toe in the social and mobile markets.
It's time for developers to look seriously at their goals. At what they want to do and how they plan to achieve it.
For Denki we think the more satisfying, more sophisticated and more 'Denki' approach to the wider web is something we can build a business – and some great games – upon.