Passive Web Gaming: My New Passion
as i’m getting more into this passive gaming space, i’m falling more and more in love with it. maybe it’s just me drinking my own koolaid, but this could be crazy huge.
first, i want to state there is a definite distinction between casual games and passive games. casual games require focus for 15 minutes or so. passive games require focus for 1 minute or so — just on a daily/semi-daily basis. both can do more, that’s just kinda the minimum.
the web is really the only place these passive games can exist. other mediums have too much overhead or are too ‘home pc’ centric.
we’ve all heard that the average age of gamers is always rising — sitting at 30 last i looked. what 2 things do all of these 30-somethings and older (half of gamers) have in common? a dearth of time.
that’s why casual games are blowing up. that’s why triple-a titles never get finished. that’s why xbla is getting so much love. that’s why the indie scene is thriving. that’s why games are starting to go episodic.
the average gamer just doesn’t have the time to play as much as they want. there are so many other duties or obligations pulling at their life. work, kids’ soccer practice, the gym, family time, yard work, whatever. i don’t have to tell you guys about the huge number of responsibilities you have. it’s a lot. and, game time suffers. (well. except for sh0cka. dude — i envy you.)
anyway. we’re busy.
casual games go a long way to fill that void, but not far enough. why? they’re not free. and, in my opinion, they are too expensive. why would i buy zuma when i can buy jade empire for the same price? (we’re not even going to talk about the slew of games just announced at $9.99.) it’s about percieved value.
jade empire is inherently more attractive because the consumer feels like there is more value there, because it’s a triple-a game-of-the-year title — for the same price.
no. casual games need to be $5-$10. but… that is another post.
anyway. back to passive gaming.
passive web games are brilliant because they fit into your life in the same slot as ‘checking your email’ or ‘checking the sports scores’ or ‘checking your portfolio.’ it’s hitting a site. clickity, click. ‘okay. my turns are done for the day.’ and you’re done.
it’s persistent. it’s massively multiplayer. it’s comptetitive. it’s social. it’s portable. it’s passive.
passive web games are setup to permeate your life. they become habitual. they are inherently attractive to gamers with little time — whether that time is taken up with work or other games. they fit unobtrusively into the corners of your life, taking as much or as little time as you want to invest.
that being said, it’s not too radically different from ‘casual’ games. mainly, it’s their even smaller time requirement (tho, admittedly, not by much) and their portability. (any old web browser on any old computer will work)
where they differ dramatically is business models. casual games are overpriced for ‘fewer’ features than a triple-a title.
web games aren’t.
sure, they have fewer features (piss-poor graphics, for example), but you can’t beat the price: free.
i can hear you saying, ‘that’s no business model.’
oh ho! you would think so! let’s take the latest web game to draw my interest, travian. everyone — even free accounts — are all basically on the same footing within the game. there are no restrictions for playing ‘free.’ however, for just a small paypal donation, you can get access to reporting and tools that make your job running your empire easier.
in this case, buying the game leads to beneficial rewards rather than penalizing players for not paying. anyone can ‘win’ the game (well. if it was really winnable. let’s just say they can ‘be ranked #1’ istead), it’s just easier to do if you support the developers.
let’s take that a little further, shall we?
look at these conversion numbers from a recent post by phil steinmeyer covering the net loss you’ll be taking as a casual game developer. (jeff tunnell is covering this ground too) in the game xmas bonus, they post the following statistics:
- Date: December 18th – 26th Dec (9 days)
- Downloads: 52,000 (including 2 Portals: BigFish and Reflexive)
- Sales: 165
- Price: 19.99 USD
- Gross profit: 3298.35 USD (exluding portals)
- Avg. Conversion rate: 0.3%
keep in mind, that $3300 doesn’t even count developer time.
so. what we are missing is page views. i think the last time i checked, tho, 1 in about 8 visitors actually download games. that’s more than plenty for a back-of-the-envelope style calculation.
let’s just talk about advertising dollars if you had a passive game with the same kind of traffic that xmas bonus has, here’s how it’d shake out:
at $0.005 per page view (that’s lower than a typical advertising return on purpose) over 416,000 (52,000 downloads * 8 page views for each) page views you have: $2080 for 9 days.
not too shabby. 2/3 of what selling a $19.99 game did for him.
your game IS THE WEBSITE. when people play, they play on your site. forcast that traffic out over the rest of the month and you have over $7000 per month — if your game never gets more popular and if you just ‘maintain’ your current customers.
add in all the subscriptions and pay for content revenue options and you have yourself a very viable lifestyle.
that’s with inacurately mixed, casual game download numbers. let’s talk about travian numbers.
first of all, they (travian) are just some podunk game none of you have ever heard of. just like the large majority of casual games out there. what do their subscription numbers look like?
they have 5 servers. 4 of which are running about 30k users apiece. the 5th server just went on line last wednesday. it hasn’t even been up for a week and already is over 11k users. at that run rate, they are going to be adding servers every 3 weeks.
wait. recap: travian has 5 servers sharing 130,000 users and climbing.
what if they put ads on their site?
with each user hitting about 10 pages (i know i hit a helluva lot more) a day, that’s… wait for it… $6500 a day. (well over 2 million a year) talk about ‘in game advertising.’ and that doesn’t even count the paypal purchases.
all that, and it’s merely a ‘passable’ game experience. darkthrone, for example, is terrible in comparison, yet, it has 200k users. even if only 1/10th of them were active, hitting 10 pages a day, that’s $1000 a day in ad revenue — not counting paid support. FOR A CRAPPY GAME!
games are the stickiest (as in ‘eyeball retaining time spent’) activities you can do on the web. build a game that is structured around multiple, multiple page views per player with an addictive daily nature and you have what?
it’s the addiction you’ve never heard of. it’s going to be the new obsession for all of us 30+ year old gamers.
and, it’s a monster of revenue waiting for a decent game. anyone wanna help me make it?
UPDATE: wow. i was way off on travian’s page views. it’s a game you’ve never heard of, but, it gets 225 million page views a day…. not a month. per. day. good lord and baby jeezus look at it’s 6 month growth curve. to put that in perspective, all of weblogs, inc. (engadget, joystiq, etc.) gets about 2 million per day. and calicanis was bragging about making a million bucks a year just off adsense.
i am so not sleeping for the next month.
UPDATE Oct 18th, 2007:
i should mention this: i’m not actively developing this project right now.
but, there’s a great reason.
i started working over at areae in san diego and we’re building a platform right now that will help both non-programmers and programmers alike to build their own passive web game.
it’s called metaplace. you should check it out and sign up for our mailling list. join the forums. get started in the community.
and, obviously, since i’m working on it, you know it’s kick ass.