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.

lemme ‘splain.

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.

HOWEVER…

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?

m3mnoch.

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.

m3mnoch.

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47 comments so far

  1. nihill on

    Hey, I tried to create my first adventure in Singular yesterday 🙂 You know I’m in on this one!

  2. m3mnoch on

    that must be why you are listed on the ‘about’ page for steel anvil studios, eh?

    m3mnoch.

  3. Darth Pixel on

    Do you get excited at the idea of making a killing marketing crappy games?

    Let’s talk about barriers to entry…how long before everybody and their dog runs casual/crappy/online/passive games?

  4. m3mnoch on

    um. thanks for the vote of confidence there, darth. that’s probably why i’m a critical thinker and you are a paraphraser.

    1) quality curve on these ‘crappy’ passive web games is rapidly increasing. as in, they won’t be crappy for long.

    2) i don’t know if you’ve looked at my resume, but, making a ‘passive web game’ is what i am hella good at. cream always rises to the top.

    3) if you think 250,000,000 page views a day is in any way ‘crappy,’ you’re just stupid.

    within the next 6-12 months, industry knowledge these games will be everywhere. mine is already about 1/3 built. i can be ready for that press.

    m3mnoch.

  5. Voorshwa on

    Good lord, Darth.

    What are you? 12? If you are going to be an asshat, at least do it in such a way where you can back it up with some kind of facts and reason. All you did was make yourself look like a jackass that spends his time trolling for attention.

    Damnit, m3mnoch. Get that mouthbreather filter in place on this site.

    V

  6. Darth Pixel on

    Wow! Slow down…you misinterpreted my words.

    In your story, you list 3 passive games and you repeat several times how crappy they are and how much money can be made producing such crappy games.

    I come around, ask you if that’s what you are after and you go balistic. You call yourself a critical thinker. You call me a paraphraser.

    I never meant to piss on your dreams.
    However, since that’s the way you critically think, I’ll go back to my own blog and let you be.

  7. m3mnoch on

    how on earth do you misinterpret this?

    Do you get excited at the idea of making a killing marketing crappy games?

    pissing on my dreams? dude. not what i thought you were doing. seeing my point and then pissing? no. missing the point completely, yes.

    that’s where the critical thinking vs. paraphrasing comes into play. well. that and this thing:

    http://darthpixel.com/story/000000058

    again. totally missing the point. we’re not just talking about some age-old truism. we’re talking about the effect that truism has on hardware design. it’s the ‘why’ parts of the equation you miss. to put it less rude: you’re more jounalism than commentator.

    without the ‘why’ question being answered (hint: it’s not just a blanket term like ‘comoditization’ or ‘consumerism’) you can’t accurately make an educated guess on what’s next. you’re skipping steps. it just ends up being a ‘guess.’

    you can piss all you want. in fact, i encourage it. it doesn’t make me any less right and it helps to flesh out the finer points of my argument.

    m3mnoch.

  8. Sh0cka on

    hahaha i enjoy all types of games, i love the XBLA arcade and many of these passive games you speak of ont he web. Can’t wait to see what you come up with i’ll have to check that out. And thanks for the props on playing time =) but wow if you think i play a lot now should have seen me when halo 2 came out last year. I was one of the best and top ranked guys at that game. I really don’t knwo how i got so much playing time in with a serious g/f and school and getting over a 3.0. Now that I seem to be working alot more and jumping from SD to LA i get my love with the XBLA and other casual or passive games. And i don’t mind paying at all i support everything.. i had 7 XBL accounts at once now i’m down to 4 or maybe 3 i lose count =\ keep up the good readings. how many hits do you get a day? atleast double digets a day from me

  9. Kafka on

    Wow I just blogged about this, so its interesting to stumble here and see where you took the concept.

    IMHO, there are many forms of passive gaming, in fact many other types of games can contain passive elements.

    This is not just ‘gaming webpages’, its also MMOs that permit advancement even when you’re not online and actively playing them (eg. EVE). Its also single player games that create a minutely advancing little world with offline persistence (eg. Animal Crossing).

    As I said, many forms.
    Cheers,
    Kafka

  10. Darniaq on

    I agree with your m3mnoch in that there is a different between Casual Online and Passive Online. Maybe it’s just Miniclip vs RealArcade. The experiential qualities of both are analagous, but the former has a lower barrier of entry and is replete with many secondary benefits to advertisers.

    Having said that, I prefer the XBLA, RealArcade, and other sites that either offer Casual Online Games (COGs?) as downloads for full-screen experiences.

    But that’s just my preference. When I look at something like ye olde Puzzle Pirates or the relatively new Club Pengion or the time-honored Runescape, I think the brillaince there is a combination of two factors:

    1) The experience. These are not crappy games. Heck, even the games you listed I wouldn’t qualify as “crappy”. Not with so many people playing them. That’s usually my barometer actually. I don’t enjoy many games, but if there’s a 100,000 or so who do, then it’s just me 🙂

    2) Platform-indepence. To me, being able to play Club Pengion et al anywhere, from internet cafes to Starbucks on to your home PC lowers the barrier of entry to the lowest point possible.

    And I just read the PSP is going to be supporting Flash Games come spring. I wonder if I’ll be able to load up one of these near-MMO experiences…

  11. […] I have found my new favourite blog, m3mnoch. From reading these four blog posts, I am immensely impressed. Not all of it I agree with, but the ideas are very, very interesting all the same. […]

  12. […] Having read Amy Jo Kim’s inspiring Etech 2006 presentation, and also m3mnoch’s thoughts on travian, it’s clear that I could make a useful comparison between a huge social news website, digg and a huge online games website, travian. […]

  13. jCsickZ on

    so… which games would you recommend? I made a Travian account and I’m pretty thrilled about the fact that I can play it from my pocket pc phone when I’m on the go. Any other MMOG reccomendations?

  14. m3mnoch on

    i wish that there was another game out there i could recommend. i’ve looked at dozens and they are all terrible except travian.

    http://www.darkthrone.com maybe? http://www.x-kings.com? you may also like http://www.themafiaboss.com. tho. i wouldn’t personally recommend any of them. sort of the lesser of a whole bunch of evils. between the three, tho, there are a lot of different things going on.

    m3mnoch.

  15. Andrew Wooldridge on

    Gee, Web 2.0 meets gaming is finally starting to happen. m3mnoch I’d love to help create a new kind of game – here’s some of my attempts to do so:

    http://www.andrewwooldridge.com/blog/2005/12/yet-another-big-idea-entire-web-as-one.html

    http://www.andrewwooldridge.com/blog/2004/10/repost-playful-applications.html

    http://www.andrewwooldridge.com/canvas/canvasquest/canvasquest.html

    Merging social software concept with game mechanics seems like an idea who’s time has come..

  16. sack on

    You’re reading the numbers wrong. If travian has 225,000,000 hits a day, with 130,000 players, thats 1,730 views per player per day.

    Alexa’s Page Views data indicates that the page is hit 225 times out of each million hits anywhere on the internet.

    For more reliable data you’re better off looking at Page Views per user, which for travian is ~58. So 58 * number of users = maximum number of ads they (could) potentially serve.

  17. m3mnoch on

    aha! excellent!

    that helps a ton. i read ‘in millions’ not ‘per million.’ that makes much more sense. i was starting to freak out about possible bandwidth costs… heh.

    here’s a crazy thought tho. ithey account for 1 out of every ~4500 page views on the entire web.

    m3mnoch.

  18. […] how this mix is concocted produces a passive game, a casual game, a hardcore game and even a persistent world… […]

  19. GLmaster on

    your passion for web games is a little bit too late.
    the first web games, such as Utopia go way back.

    It still exist right now.

    I think i’ve been playing it for 8 years or so.

  20. m3mnoch on

    i've seen utopia. it's worse than darkthrone is as far as a game experience. and, when i say "darkthrone, for example, is terrible in comparison, yet, it has 200k users" you can imagine what i think of utopia and its less than 100k users.

    there's a reason why i say that it's a great game genre with tons of potential but nobody is doing it right — not even the travian guys.  and it's the best one out there right now.

    well.  until we launch anyway.

    m3mnoch. 

  21. […] Previously, I’ve talked about how casual games and social software have started to merge with the key players showing encouraging signs of success. A number of browser based web-mogs have grown very popular. These web-mogs are also worth examining since their ‘page-per-action’ approach to gameplay is conducive to a high number of page views, which equates to a decent slice of ad revenue. Travian continues its astonishing growth, somthing I’d attribute to its’ built in localisation, definitely an area where European game developers can claim a head-start. According to Alexa.com (not the most reliable of sources, I know), the average number of page views per user on Travian is an impressive 37. As a business model for Casual Games (well, Passive Games, really), it’s very attractive. […]

  22. Vanhalen on

    I to love Travian and have played DarkThrone and Kings of Chaos. Travian is the best game hands down but sure suck up a lot of time (once you have over 3 villages or go to war!) I have found a game that is near to the enjoyment level of Travian called High Descent….I think oncde people find it they will increase the number of players (only 3500 or so if I read it right?). I am in Travian World 7 now which seems to be a better version of the game.

  23. m3mnoch on

    vanhalen. you should check ours out. we just launched a public alpha.

    http://www.thesingular.com

    m3mnoch.

  24. […] so, i played this game called robowars last night. it’s another one of these web-based passive games i’m enjoying so much. i was telling one of the sas guys about it and decided i’d just write up a quick review. […]

  25. Kamio on

    After reading this article, I would just like to add that Travian is NOT a passive game. I play it right now, and it takes up more time than traditional PC games, albeit over a longer period of time. Sure, in the first month you spend 5 min a day, maybe twice a day, because there is nothing else to do after 5 min. However, after 3 months, the time requirement grows exponentially. You need at least 3 hours a day to play properly. To play well, you can easily spend up to 10 hours a day managing war plans, troop movement, communications, diplomacy, etc. Of course, players can choose to continue spend only 5 min a day, but they quickly become weeded out by the larger players, and frankly, are too weak to meaningfully particpate in playing. Now, take those hours and multiply by the number of days in half a year to one year. Not a passive game.

  26. just in teractive on

    Itty Bitty RPG

    I’m fascinated with games merging with productivity systems and general life online. Of course, I’m not the only one; I just found this ACM paper: “Out of the video arcade, into the office: where computer games can lead productivity software,…

  27. andrew wooldridge on

    Yeah I’ve been exploring the idea of “passive” gaming. Some folks define it as something that only take a few mins to play and you are off doing something else. Others define it as something that happens emergently as you are doing other activities like web browsing. I wonder how the terminology will evolve as we explore this further.

  28. Robert H on

    Gotta agree with Kamio – Travian is NOT a casual game. The first month or so? Yea, sure, five, ten minutes a day. After that, you either play it obssessively, or you might as well just not log in anymore.

    Aside from all the planning Kamio mentioned, there are the building times, which are long, but actually, not long enough. By the time your buildings are at around level 12-15, next levels take 3 or 4 hours. That’s long but not “come back tonight” long. So what do you do? You stick around.

    And I have to say, Travian is one of the most addicting games I’ve ever played. I’ve been Travian-free for two weeks now, and still, like a smoker trying to catch a whiff of passive smoke, here I am googling for Travian hits. My Lord!

  29. user_x on

    First of all: great article!
    I experienced Galaxy-News to be a great directory for webgames and browserbased onlinegames and I would highly recommend it to everyone

  30. terranova on

    I’ve just been on there. Thanks for the link dude

  31. Joshua Issac on

    I am a former Travianeer. I quit because the site got blocked at school. Until then, I wasted hours just staring at my building being constructed. lol. My username was joshuaissac. I gave away my s6 account and deleted the others.

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  33. Mindcloud on

    I like Travian, but the perfect one for me is Tribal Wars http://www.tribalwars.net/441118.html. Its fast enough to keep interest and has enough players to make things interesting.

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  35. […] Passive Web Gaming: My New Passion « Addicting Entertainment (tags: passive gaming web games culture blog social gamemechanics) […]

  36. Othon Reyes on

    I know a lot of them (MMOBG). And i strongly suggest you to look after the webgames of game forge.

    Try ogame.com, it’s awful, really, really awful but i think is the most popular(almost twice more popular than travian and it has around 45 servers!!!!).

    By the way, what will be the theme of your game?. I’m doing one similiar to travian, but much better (i guess), much units and buildings but as simple as searching something in google.

  37. LIGHVELTLEF on

    Very useful and informative blog. Recommended for all to see.
    http://medsdrugs.blogspot.com/

  38. AzN on

    Travian is a good game but has some big flaws.

    I hope someone can make a profitable business out of making a excellent free travian like game.

    Then it would truly be a awesome game.

    Maybe m3mnoch will be the one to make it.

  39. Dooshwanglord on

    The biggest problem I see with most free web browser based games are as follows:

    For the good games:
    (1) they require you to spend more and more time as you get higher up often.
    (2) they often require more time then they should (5-10mins a day is NOT going to get you anywhere in the game).
    (3) Even the “good” games are painfully sub-par compared to mainstream award winning titles. And those get cheap after a few months on the shelves too. Let’s see $10 for a great game on disc vs $5 donation for a lump of crap online? $5 isn’t worth the saving is it.

    For the lame games:
    (1) their player interaction is so limited that you might as well play a stand alone game.
    (2) their lameness makes them pointless to play even if they are free. I mean, you don’t eat a dog turd off the footpath just coz it’s free do you?

  40. Jason on

    Hi M3nnoch,
    In response to your:
    “it’s a monster of revenue waiting for a decent game. anyone wanna help me make it?”

    I am very interested in creating a resource management game. I am a fan of browser games such as Travian and Ogame because they include nice graphics instead of just plain text and figures of old browser resource management games.

    The areas I can help in are: 1. Game Content, 2. text edit and writing of texts (I wanted to be a writer someday ^^), 3. trial running the game, 4. Financial advisor 5. and most important of all, critical review and analyses with respect to upcoming possible competitors in the market (We do not want to spend countless hours creating a game that will either lose its customers in just a few months, or can be copied and improved easily by others).

    Areas that I am afraid I am incompetent in: 1. computer programming language, 2. web maintenance language, 3. graphic designs (I can rope in my multimedia designer sister and her game designer boyfriend if our business model design prove feasible and lucrative).

    What I want to hear from you: 1.What is the setting of our game? 2. What are the costs of the type of server we wll be using to host the worlds, 3. the income (paypay donations, how do we source for advertisers on our website etc)4. How do we split our company share (i.e. Is this a partnership, sole proprietorship?)

    By the way, I am 27 male from Singapore in Southeast Asia. Currently a teacher and an avid gamer for 20years.

  41. HawaiianCow1996 on

    Hey m3mnoch,

    You are right, money to be made in these games! I’m mostly a World of Warcraft, Sony PlanetSide, and Star Wars Galaxies type of player, so I’m really in to the action stuff. Lately, I just started playing travian.com (found travian on worldofraids.com while looking up some WoW stuff) and ogame.org and love it (except the part that I’m being farmed in travian, but oh well, its part of the game), but I love these games! Your article is so true that there is money to be made here. Both ogame and travian have a pay version to get bonus defense and stuffs but I need to get out of the noob zone before I consider investing in those, but I can totally see myself typing in my credit card number just to pound another player in to the ground because they farmed me earlier =)

    – HawaiianCow1996

    PS: anyone know a site where I can find more passive games?

  42. Zhiwen on

    Some people in Darkthrone hit over 350+ pages a day due to the recruiter. The recruiter allows players to hit buttons that will give citizens to another player, allowing themselves to get credits, in which another player can give you a citizen.

    This is way more than 10 pages.

  43. […] a passive web game: it’s persistent. it’s massively multiplayer. it’s competitive. it’s social. it’s […]

  44. […] intensively for a short period of time, Travian belongs to a category of games you could call passive web gaming. It only needs your attention for a minute or two, but that once or twice per day, for a period of […]

  45. lewje007 on

    I would also like to recomend a, Massive Online Mafia Game called http://www.TheMafiaLegends.com

    Good game, I played around 1 month now.

  46. aloriah on

    I´m playing the browser game Aloriah, also writing in my blog about the game and how I play it. I recommend that you all try it out. Great browser game!

  47. Hydra Games | Nollind Whachell on

    […] see in reading this post on Addicting Entertainment about Passive Web Gaming, I realized this idea fits perfectly in with this hydra game concept. For example, imagine a […]


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