GAMES FOR TV: Broadcasters and producers eager to develop their games strategy must beware of falling into some common traps, says Gamesbrief director Nicholas Lovell. Here are his top 10 tips for getting gaming right. Andrew McDonald reports.
Broadcasters and TV producers are becoming increasingly savvy at developing cross-platform content strategies. However, their inexperience in the gaming space can leave them vulnerable to mistakes, according to Nicholas Lovell, author of the book How to Publish a Game.
Lovell, who is also director of consultancy Gamesbrief – a firm that gives gaming insight and analysis to clients including Atari, Channel 4 and Shine Group-owned online producer ChannelFlip – has 10 guiding principles for what TV firms need to do to succeed in this space. Yet the first, his belief that gaming should not be bound up with narrative, might be the hardest for traditional TV firms to swallow.
“Games are not about story. Books are about story, nearly all of TV is about story; every time I talk to a TV or book executive they’re looking for the narrative flow through it. This is not true for games,” says Lovell, pointing to hugely popular games ranging from Pong and Tetris to Angry Birds and Farmville.
“The whole point about games is that the player has agency. Tension and those sorts of moments of drama, which you can build with music then story and actors’ faces, aren’t things that you can build in a game,” Lovell says, urging TV firms to not treat games as interactive movies, which are “expensive, full of content that people don’t care about and are not really games.”
To demonstrate his point, he claims that Little Britain The Video Game was the “worst PlayStation 2 game ever made.” Indeed, 2007′s Blast! Entertainment title, which lets players take control of characters from the BBC comedy show and steer them through a series of sketches, has a lowly 19 out of 100 score on Metacritic, while the UK’s Official PlayStation 2 Magazine branded it as “drivel” at the time.
Part of the key to making a game a success is allowing developers enough time to “find the fun” – the element of the game that will keep gamers coming back, says Lovell. Tied to this is the ability to make the gaming experience iterative.
“Why would you want a game that’s finished? That means there is nothing new happening. Surely the best thing for a game is to stay in beta forever, because that means the development team are still adding things. They might break the game, but at least they’re still adding things,” says Lovell.
Another guiding principle when it comes to TV firms’ games strategies is to commission early, ideally six months before transmission. “If you commission as an afterthought, your game’s going to be shit,” Lovell says matter-of-factly. However, just as important as the pre-broadcast development is the post-broadcast strategy.
“You just spent a lot of time building an audience, so are you just going to say, ‘Thanks, bye’? We’re not in it for one-night stands, we’re in it for relationships, so have a plan for what to do after transmission.”
While online games typically experience slow audience build, TV shows have audience spikes around their linear broadcast. If a broadcaster or producer is willing to invest in its gaming strategy, a TV show can work as a promotional tool for a game, rather than vice versa.
“Games are brilliant at retention, engagement, building long-term relationships with people who then spend money on it. So play to the strengths of the two different media. Use the TV show to drive audiences to the game, which builds tighter engagement, and finally – the Holy Grail for many people – is to then get customers to spend direct money with you,” says Lovell.
An important question when it comes to gaming strategy is how to make it work financially. Games can be costly and time-consuming to develop, so it may seem logical for TV firms to then want to charge for the fruits of their labour. However, Lovell insists that you should make you game free in order to make it profitable.
Of the top 16 grossing games in Apple’s App Store last year, Lovell claims that 10 of them were free titles, including Smurfs’ Village, Tap Zoo, iMobster and Zynga’s Farmville and Poker games. However, their success comes down to their ability to make money from gameplay.
“Understanding your business model upfront matters,” says Lovell, who claims that advertising is not the key. “Games are niche, highly engaged. You can make a lot of money from individuals.”
That is if you cater to the ‘whales’ – industry jargon for high rollers, or people who will shovel down whatever you feed them and pay to do so.
Citing stats from mobile analytics firm Flurry, Lovell notes that the average amount gamers spent on a single in-app purchase in an iOS or Android game in US last year was a hefty US$14. While a minority of gamers will spend even more than this, the cash this raises contributes significantly to a game’s bottom line.
“Some 51% of the revenue of these games comes from transactions at US$20 or more. Roughly 30% comes from transactions valued at US$50 or more. That’s people spending more on an in-app purchase for an iPhone game than they’ll spend on Call of Duty,” says Lovell.
Which takes him to his last point: always learn. “Making games is not a known science. We don’t know how, in the long term, even in the near term, the technologies are going to work, the business models, the consumer preferences. If you learn faster than the next person, you win.”
Nicholas Lovell’s top 10 games tips