Hatchlings Games

Web Gaming 2.0 Revolution

Ever paid RM60 for a piece of cardboard?

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That’s how much the above card costs on the first day the set was released (or more appropriately, ‘pre-released’). RM60 is slightly more than US$17.

Looks so cool, doesn’t it? One big black ball sucking up dead bodies. The bigger version looks even better.

To non-Magic (or more collectively, non-trading-card-game) players, seventeen bucks is a lot to pay for a piece of cardboard five inches tall and three inches wide. But that’s not the maximum amount of cash people are willing to shell out for a card. The holofoil Charizard of the Pokémon Trading Card Game reportedly sold for US$120 at its peak. Magic’s signature card, Black Lotus, is hitting four-digit sums on EBay.

Looking at online games, people are willing to pay for virtual cash and items, and for people to grind their characters. In short, people are willing to pay for games for seemingly trivial items that lose their value when brought out of context.

The trick of marketing products and services in games is to make said context as non-game-ish as possible. (I couldn’t find a better word)

Products in games are nothing much like, say, celebrity merchandise or stamps (The hobby of kings, the king of hobbies. Right.). People who aren’t into the hobby just don’t see its worth. A game company can try to pull people into playing their game. This is most often seen in roadshows and promotions in shopping malls, where the company gives out free trial CDs and other freebies in hopes that the receiver of said freebies woudl actually go home, install it, play it unti lthe free trial expires and proceeds to play the game. It’s largely a hit-or-miss process, much like traditional TV advertisements.

Coming back about the game’s context, what ‘traditional’ marketing does is they try to pull consumers into the context. In this sense, the barrier between real life and the game world still exists, hence there are terms like hardcore geeks and ‘otakus’, where they are so into a game that they are disconnected from the real world.

On the other hand, some companies expand the context into real life, blurring the barier between reality and game. This is otherwise known as viral marketing, where users of a product or service subconsciously ‘infect’ other people to use the product or service. In this sense, the context isn’t about the game, but of its players, and subsequently the player’s friends, and friend’s friends, and so on.

For a game, it’s even easier to spread the context by providing some non-game services to players other than just the game itself. MMORPGs sell by promoting the community as well as the game; Magic: the Gathering doesn’t just offer a hobby, but a career; XBox Live Arcade provides a platform for developers to sell their games and players to compete for scores. These are some other services a game could offer for a player before they decide to spend money on it.

Related links:
The Idea Virus by Seth Godin, a book on spreading the context.
Web Gaming 2.0, how Hatchlings is doing it.

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January 23, 2007 Posted by | Encephalon, Game Development, Game Industry, Trading Card Game, Web Gaming 2.0 | 1 Comment

Encephalon: High Level Goals

When developing a game, we must have a shared vision and common goals. This is especially true when venturing into unknown territory. The design goals are set from the point of view of the player.

The high level goals were determined over the past four months during group discussions, one-on-one discussions among different members, analyzing and prototyping. The following are these goals, read from the player’s perspective:

Goal 1: If I try hard enough I can win!

Goal 2: I want to create and share, so I belong to the world

Goal 3: Everything in Encephalon is real

Various concepts, described in more detail below, provide the framework for our game design. Each high level goal has corresponding concrete goals. These concrete goals are attempts to merge the high level concepts into the pre-existing design document (latest at time of writing, v1.81).

Ultimately these three goals lead back to the ultimate goal: FUN. A good game is always fun. That goes without saying. Read Raph Koster’s a Theory of Fun for Game Designers if you want a great read on fun. The book (and much of Raph’s writings) and deep conversations with Iris about games had influenced my view on games. The basic theme of a Theory of Fun is equation of fun and learning (Fun = Learning). So if fun is learning, then we first need to know what we are trying to teach.

Very briefly, goal #1 focuses on the gameplay, where we aim to teach strategic thinking and tempo control. Goal #2 focuses on the customization and community, which cultivates creativity, innovation, progress and spirit of sharing. Goal #3 brings in the immersion, where we hope that our players through their imagination can bridge their virtual and physical realities to learn more about our world, its themes, its message of peace and consciousness. So you can say that Hatchling’s goal for Encephalon is to promote peace by encouraging consciousness through mental and spiritual growth.

Note that Raph has started his own web 2.0 gaming startup, Areae.

Because we are using an experimental, player (or play) centric game and world design model, the development & production methodology employed for Encephalon would have to be equally experimental. After all it is the result of development and production that the players see. The development timeline of a game (and world) such as Encephalon ought to be long (maybe years), we are planning to release the game by parts. Our first release, the first planet should be at the end of February.

The reason for the early release date is related to our choice to develop a web game, or more specifically, as a web 2.0 service. Web 2.0 services are quick to deploy, so why should a web 2.0 game be an exception; following the open source mandate: release early, release often. We really want to see the player’s reactions to our concepts. More on production methodology, schedule and budget after these game design discussions. Do stay updated, or better still subscribe to the RSS feed.

January 2, 2007 Posted by | Education, Encephalon, Game Design, Web Gaming 2.0 | 1 Comment

Web Gaming 2.0: Trading Card Concept on the Web

Edit (May 2007): Quasr.com is now on Alpha Testing. Join us!


This article is the first of many; where everyone in the world can join us as we experiment with the concept of Web Gaming 2.0.Financial realities of Hatchlings Games have pushed us into a scenario where we must maximize Quasr’s chance of success. We should not leave anything to chance. The opportunity on the web and games are so great that the convergence of the two is probably too alluring for any entrepreneur and/or game designer to ignore [read insane competition].

Not leaving anything to chance might sound ironic since our game is based on user generated content; that is, we are already giving our users chances to screw up our game. After some soul searching, reflection and deep conversations, both Zie Aun and Slade came to the same conclusion – that we must trust our users if we aim to be successful in this user-centered future.

At this point, there is a big hoo-ha on the business & design world about the future of content. Pundits and web & game industry leaders insists that majority of content should be user created. Early adopters of such radical concept (i.e. Wikipedia, Flickr, YouTube, MySpace, etc) have seen tremendous financial & branding success. Due to technological and an ongoing cultural shift, customers are now simultaneously the producer and consumer of content.

Games are heading towards the same direction too. It is getting harder to start a company, creating games for gamers for a living; but that forces us to think, to start our engine of innovation. We must constantly be thinking outside the box, to innovate and be a leader. Industry leaders (game designers, producers, studio heads) have been discussing emergent gameplay design (few years), planning for user generated content (more recent), and creating successful immersive worlds. The above together with the success of game MODs, MMOGs (i.e. WOW), web game worlds (i.e. Neopets) and even 100% user generated virtual world (i.e. Second Life) are pushing games towards the same direction as web 2.0 services.

The main platform for distributing such user generated content is the web. User created content requires a widespread and easy to use distribution platform. The web is such a platform. Services like blogs, YouTube, Flickr, and Digg wouldn’t be possible without the web. These websites are successful because they are disruptive. They maximized the web to beat their competitors, which are all traditional content publishers and distributors.

Trading card concept

Trading card games, a genre pioneered by Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: the Gathering (M:tG) has all the basic ingredients of an addictive game: good gameplay (pacing set by tempo, strategic depth, and control-decontrol) and game mechanics (goal-reward / collectability).

If the game is popular enough, it can be extremely profitable for the game developer. Trading card game players are driven by their primal urge to collect, compete and achieve. Pokemon and Yu-gi-Oh are two extremely popular trading card games since the release of M:tG. All three games are still making money for the developers.

The problems game developers face with physical trading card games were usually:

  1. Content creation; the design and illustration of few hundred cards per set, and the cost that goes into it
  2. Printing cost for those shiny cards.
  3. Marketing; as with most game genres, established brands are hard to compete against, even monopolizing.
  4. Distribution; the need to setup distribution channels all around the world.

Web 2.0

Go Digital: eliminate printing cost

By creating an online game (as a downloadable client), Quasr would have solve problem number 2 and in a way number 4. There would be no need for us to print cards. The cost equation for card has changed from the number of cards printed in volumes to the number of cards a person owns.

The more card a player owns, the more profitable Quasr is. The profit margin for a single player increases every time he buys a new card. The server cost remains a constant for that one player.

The Web: the most distributable platform

Having the online game as a downloadable client still doesn’t solve problem #1, #3 and it only partially solves problem #4. To further the solution for distribution, we place the game completely on the most distributable platform – the web.

Without having to download a separate client and asset files, we dramatically increase the chances for site visitors to click on “play”. “Play” wins vs. “Download”. Granting each account a sub-domain (e.g. http://johntan.quasr.com), we increase the desire of players to virally (via links / RSS) spread the game.

User created content

A web 2.0 site trusts its users. It allows users to create, edit and moderate content. The developers of the site are also its users. There is very little distinction between the developers of the site and its users; both are the producer and user of its content. The developers become platform creators or service providers. The concept of internet services can be extended to trading card games.

Quasr too will feature user created content: we allows users to create card and art based on certain rules. We give the players a set of basic cards that they can add abilities and stats to, obviously based on some card-modifying rules. Residents of Quasr can even draw custom art for a card, but they first have to let the community vote for style & quality.

Conclusion

Quasr.com is now up for Alpha Testing, so go and try it. It is still very crude (just like this article) and does not have the user-created features yet. As of now we are still struggling with designing the best gameplay

I hope someone finds an inspiration from here. If you do please leave a comment and start a dialogue with us. We need your feedback. We cannot take this on alone; fortunately we are joined by great game designers such as Raph Koster with Areae. Do join us as we experiment with this, to bring games and immersive worlds to the web.


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January 1, 2007 Posted by | Entrepreneurship, Game Design, Game Industry, Quasr, Trading Card Game, Web, Web 2.0, Web Gaming 2.0 | 5 Comments

First post!

For a year-old gamedev company, it took us pretty long to come up with a shared blog.

This is no-wing from Hatchlings Games. I hold the fancy title of ‘Creative Director’, meaning that I’m supposed to be in charge of anything creative, from the concept document to the placement of plush toys in the office – Just kidding about the plush toys part, but we have quite a number of them lying around. I wish I could snap some pictures, but the camera isn’t around… a later update I guess.

Right now we have three other guys (two guys and a girl, to be exact) who’s working on this project, and I’ll just let them introduce themselves. It’s supposed to be top-secret so I can’t talk that much about it. So check out your nearest retail store next summer when our game is released for all three next-gen consoles…

Oh, who am I kidding.

Yeah yeah, I admit that we don’t have the cash to hire fifty programmers and 3D artists to make some generic MMORPG with the most realistic clouds and puddles. And in a time where it seems that graphics is king, we’re losing out quite a lot.

But then came this little concept called Web 2.0.

Here’s a quick development history:

So we decided that we’re making an online card game. Not your standard Texas Hold’e, but a collectible card game, like Magic: the Gathering (which I’m a big fan of) or Yu-Gi-Oh (not so). We didn’t want to make a cardboard version because we’d rather spend the little money we have to hire programmers to make the most realistic card-flopping action, than print a couple million cards to gather dust in hobby stores everywhere.

So we thought, since we’re going to make it online anyway, why not make full use of its digitalness… digitality… digitalitude… I mean, why stop at just making a clone of a paper card game? And while we’re at that, why stop at making a client-baed card game? In fact, why stop at making chat rooms when we can have a whole online community?

Being ‘the mechanics guy’, I drafted out the first list of cards to be put in the first set. While I was printing and cutting out tiny paper prototype cards for playtesters, something just felt not right. I threw away the scissors, fell on my bed and slept for three hours.

As far as I know, CCG (collectible card game) developers have been very picky about its playtesters. They just get a select group and ask them to playtest the hell of their upcoming card set. We don’t have playtesters – those ‘friends’ who so enthusiatically volunteered to help out eventually said they were too lazy.

So we brought the game back to the drawing board. “Look,” I told Slade, the head developer, “We don’t have playtesters. So why not we just release the cards online and let whoever test them out?” Now Slade, being a fresh Web2.0 convert, happily embraced the idea. We took another few days to mull over it, then Slade came up with a spark of genius.

“Since the users are going to give feedback anyway, why not we just provide them with the basic tools and cards, ad let them modify the hell out of the cards?”

OK, the original line was much longer than that, so let me give an explanation along with some opinions.

First look at this M:tG card:

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Mr. Prodigal has 1 power (considerably weak), 1 toughness (dies to anything), has a damage-dealing abiliy and wears a goofy goatee. Ever thought that he deserves to be beefier… or had more fashion sense?

Why not?

We at Hatchlings don’t believe that game developers should be gods over their created worlds. There are tons of fans as well as aspiring game designers who’d sell their soul to be in a gamedev team. There are a whole bunch of great artists out there who never get to show their works resume after rejected resume. There are heaps of writers there who write fifty-thousand-word fantasies about their favorite characters.

What if you have a game, so customizable that you can have every one of them involved?

And out of laziness, a lack of resources and the eagerness to ride on this new Web2.0 wave, we took this leap of faith and never looked back.

Thus, [ ] the trading card game was born.

(We haven’t decided on the name yet… that’s a task we’re planning to throw out to our users. No really.)

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December 18, 2006 Posted by | Drama, Encephalon, Game Development, Web Gaming 2.0 | 2 Comments