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Posts Tagged ‘Casual games’

RIP Scrabulous

RIP Scrabulous

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the rapidly expanding world of casual gaming apps delivered over social networks (and who hasn’t?!), last week was an interesting one.  At the beginning of the week, the poster child for Facebook as a gaming platform, Scrabulous, was turned off for all North American users.  By the end of the week, it had gotten a minor facelift and was reintroduced as Wordscraper.

With all the parties involved, and all the legalese to wade through, it’s tough to tell who ultimately made the call to pull the plug.  I mean, what are they really saying in a publicly issued statement like this: ‘Hasbro is pleased that the developers have voluntarily removed their infringing Scrabulous application on Facebook, and we appreciate Facebook’s assistance in expediting this matter‘?  Besides, it was in pretty much everyone’s best interest to make Scrabulous not look like an exact Hasbro knock-off, at the very least.

EA paid a no doubt princely sum to execute games based on Hasbro’s IP.  To keep potential suitors interested in their games, beyond EA’s 2013 expiration date, it’s to Hasbro’s advantage to protect their game concepts as ownable, patent-worthy product.  Facebook needs to prove to the world (including advertisers) that they have a handle on protecting copyrights within their platform, and it’s not the hedonistic wild west that MySpace or Second Life turned into.  Even Scrabulous‘ designers, the Agarwalla brothers, had something to gain by pulling and modifying the game.  They’ve shown the world that they know how to make a simple, working social game.  It’s the hottest hot spot right now for VCs, and it behooves them to not get sued back to the stone age so early in their careers.

Died and reborn as Wordscraper... like a zombie!

Died and reborn as Wordscraper... like a zombie!

It’ll be interesting to see how Wordscraper fares after its relaunch, combined with competition from EA’s fully branded, household name Scrabble app.  Even more important are the results of Hasbro’s lawsuit in this case.  After all, it could set a precedent for tons of litigation down the road.  At its core, this suit asks the question, “what constitutes a ‘game’ and just how much of that is ownable?”

Do the makers of a million bad Tetris knockoffs owe Alexy Pazhitnov royalties?  Do the makers of that Wii beer pong game owe your fraternity some coin?  This suit could decide once and for all.


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Pop Rocks

ESP

Of course, about a minute after I finished last week’s post on Gabe Newell, the always fantastic N’Gai Croal posted a chat with Dave Jaffe over at his Newsweek blog, Level Up.

Much like Newell, Dave Jaffe’s no stranger to controversy, and almost always gives us something substantial to think about. He’s put together a resume of AAA titles, from Mickey Mania starring Mickey Mouse (all I can say is, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it) through God of War.

TM2I recall seeing an interview with him promoting Twisted Metal 2 when I was in high school, and he made such a clear, succinct point about design philosophy: “It’s not all about the technology. A good game designer should be able to take a coconut and a crayon and turn it into something that’s fun to play.” I’m sure I’ve heavily paraphrased here, but it still rings true.

Jaffe had some big, big hits during a critical period in the first PlayStation’s march to dominance. Nintendo 64 had launched with a library that certainly had some gaps, and his instant hits like Twisted Metal and the Jet Moto series made people take another look at the then-floundering PlayStation. These series helped Sony find its audience. They were edgy, reasonably violent, fast-paced and even a little bit dark. N64’s cartridges couldn’t handle games like these, and Nintendo probably wouldn’t welcome Twisted Metal even if it were technically possible. Sony’s older audience lapped it up.

Given their history, it’s no suprise that Dave’s new company, Eat Sleep Play, will distribute their games via Sony’s PlayStation Network. What IS surprising is that the man that gave us God of War will eschew the long-form epic game for bite-sized “pop” games that appeal more to the casual gamer. They’ll all have lower price points (around $10), focus on multiplayer over long, solo campaigns and have dramatically shorter development cycles.

Predictably, Dave’s decision to go after low-involvement games, rather than tent pole the studio with a new IP and epic series drew some scorn in forums. Then again, what doesn’t? The most vocal minority of gamers would rather see guys like Jaffe and Tim Shaefer put out more of the massive hits that we’ve come to expect from them every few years.

Much like in-game advertising (much more on this to come in future posts), I think the brilliance of the casual games economy is left tragically unexplained when it comes to hardcore gamers. They’d rather see Nintendo bundle the Wii with Metroid Prime than Wii Sports, and every 360 include Bioshock over more middle-of-the-road fare like a Project Gotham. No one’s done a good job of articulating to the 30-plus-hours-a-week, 20-pieces-of-software-a-year guys how they benefit from the big players’ efforts to go more casual.

KatamariIt’s fairly simple math: games like Wii Sports and Madden move systems. They help justify a $400 hardware purchase to a soccer mom or ex-jock executive that only purchases a handful of games a year. And the more hardware that’s out there, the easier it is to take a risk on a deeper game like Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, or even an off-the-wall game like Katamari. Because once the installed base is high enough, the sales expectations for every game on that system increase, within reason.

Maybe Dave Jaffe will finally get it to sink in. Or perhaps Xbox Live Arcade has paved the way for a greater acceptance of mini-games overall. Either way, here’s hoping some ad wizards can get on this, and help the entire industry capitalize on a very ripe growth opportunity.

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