Monday, February 19, 2007

Attack of the Clones

For many of the most successful games in the casual space, there are a number of clones - games with the same functionality, often with no, or only very minor changes, except for the artwork and sound. Sometimes even the theming will be the same.

Most clones so far have been of games which don't rely on a large amount of varying art assets, and where the levels can be generated programmatically with a simple algorithm.

There are a number of properties of a game that would make it considerably more difficult to clone, and whilst higher production costs are a factor, I don't think there's a direct relationship between the development cost of a game and its cloneability. Creative developers should consider what they can do - relatively inexpensively - to give themselves a competitive advantage over uncreative developers seeking to piggyback their work.

Here are some of those properties off the top of my head:
  • reliance on hand-designed levels, so that the player feels like they are solving a problem that another person has designed for them.
  • reliance on a large amount of high-quality artwork (like Huntsville).
  • reliance on a 'black box' simulation where it isn't immediately obvious how to copy the functionality (e.g. a sports management game).
  • inclusion of a well-written, well-presented story (like Monkey Island).
  • inclusion of strong characters (and perhaps even their development).
  • an online community providing social play (like Puzzle Pirates).

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Back from the Dam

Yikes! You look around and suddenly it's been three months since you last posted anything.

I'm blaming three primary factors here:
  1. I've been working really hard to get Morpheme's first truly 'casual' game finished, which has involved a whole load of sanding the floor, painting the fence (both sides) and waxing the cars until they're really shiny.
  2. I've been readusting the balance of my spare time I spend on content-creation versus content-consumption (read: I've been playing Zelda on the Wii and looking at crap on the net).
  3. I've joined a band, which has really fun cos I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed playing electric guitar.

Anyway, the main purpose of this post is to report from Amsterdam, where I just returned from the Casual Games Conference, Casuality. I love this city anyway - so much good food and architecture, and really close to London, so it's a perfect place to get out of the office for a few days.

These kind of things are where industry folks meet to strike deals, so the air is thick with hectic sales talk. Being a developer though I can sort of sidetrack a lot of that and just enjoy the talks, chat to folks, and generally let the zeitgeist wash over me whilst I meditate on plans for the future. Special mention goes to Scott Bilas, whose talk on tools and optimisation of the development pipeline was chock-full of useful stuff.

I say sort of, because I actually did some pitching this time - showing my game 'Bernie the Pyromancer' to some folks, who really seemed to like it. Once our current game is done, I'm hoping to concentrate on Bernie full time and get it released on some interesting platforms.

I have loads of draft posts queued up, by the way, so hopefully I'll bash a few of them into shape before another three months is up.