Game Network Newsletter - March 2013
March 2013 (Back to archive)
In This Issue:
- Facebook - Sean Ryan, director of games partnerships at Facebook, talks about Graph Search which simplifies finding games, helping devs move up in the most popular games chart, and Facebook Dev Day at GDC 2013.
- Microsoft - Pete Isensee, principal program manager at Microsoft Xbox, chats about building games for Microsoft's next-gen console, capitalizing on mobile and free-to-play, and the focus of Microsoft Dev Day at GDC 2013.
- Unity - David Helgason, CEO and co-founder of Unity Technologies, talks about the 2013 Global Game Jam, the improvements in Unity4, and partnering with Nintendo on the upcoming Wii U.
Sean Ryan, director of games partnerships at Facebook, talks about Graph Search which simplifies finding games, helping devs move up in the most popular games chart, and Facebook Dev Day at GDC 2013.
Q: Sean, Facebook recently launched the beta of what it's calling "Graph Search" which is being billed as a way to help Facebook users find developers' games more easily. How does that work? And what do developers need to do to take advantage of the new feature?
Sean Ryan: Helping people discover great games is a key focus for us. We're constantly working on improving the channels people use to find games, such as News Feed and App Center. Most recently, we announced Graph Search, which is still in the early days. However, over time, as more people have Graph Search, we're hopeful it will become another channel to quickly find and reengage with games. Search has long been a driver of traffic to apps, but with the improved search model, people can refine their searches to queries such as "Games my friends play," "Games my friends who play Candy Crush Saga play," or "Games played by my coworkers," etc. No updates will need to be made by developers to appear in Graph Search.
Q: It's hard to believe but Zynga's FarmVille was recently de-throned as the #1 game on Facebook by King.com's Candy Crush Saga. Does this signal a shift in the kind of gaming Facebook users prefer? Have you seen any new trends that might help developers move up in the Facebook most popular games chart?
Ryan : Zynga continues to be a big developer on Facebook and an important part of our games platform. One of the key themes we've seen lately is the diversification of Facebook Platform, and the emergence of categories such as arcade, casino, hidden object, and strategy.
In 2013 we expect to see the rise of mid core and core games, such as Offensive Combat by U4iA and KingsRoad by Rumble Entertainment. We're seeing games on Facebook built with a quality that had only been seen on consoles before (3D, full-screen play, Flash 11.4, and Unity). This opens up new opportunities for growth for core developers and more options for people who love core games and are on Facebook. Facebook is becoming a platform where any type of gamer can find games that excite them and their friends. There's something for everyone.
We're focused on getting the right games in front of the right people through channels such as News Feed and App Center. To support this growing category, we're building features that make it easier for core gamers to connect with one another and discover the best games through channels such as App Center. For example, we recently announced new and updated App Center categories (such as breaking out "Action" and "Adventure") to help people find a variety of games. Over the next 3-6 months, you'll see a whole new set of games that redefine what people think of Facebook games.
Facebook makes it easier for games to get discovered by the right people. With more than 1 billion people on Facebook, we have the audience all types of game developers are looking for, including the more niche core audience.
Q: Today Facebook devs find themselves in an increasingly competitive environment dominated by a few major players. Production values have gone up as have platform and acquisition costs. Given these challenges, is it too late for smaller developers to find success on Facebook? What does it take to succeed today -- and what will it take to succeed in the coming year?
Ryan : The quality bar for games on Facebook is rising, but that doesn't mean small games aren't getting big. Hundreds of apps have more than 1 million monthly active users -- big businesses by anyone's standards -- and our number of monthly gamers has increased to over 250 million in the past year.
Developers of all sizes are building big businesses. Every year, new players in the ecosystem emerge. A few years ago, it was Playfish, Playdom, PopCap, and Zynga; today you see companies like Kixeye, King.com, and Peak Games. In 2012, French developer Pretty Simple Games grew its hidden object game Criminal Case to over 2 million daily active users, and Nordeus, a Serbian developer, emerged as a top 10 Facebook developer based on its smash hit Top Eleven. We continue to see similar examples all over the world as more high-quality games launch.
Q: Facebook is once again sponsoring a Dev Day at GDC 2013. What do you expect will be on the agenda ... and why will developers be interested in attending?
Ryan : We look forward to GDC San Francisco each year. This year, we'll be connecting with developers again at the Facebook Developer Day, where members of the games team will be in attendance presenting technical content and best practices on how game developers can be most successful with Facebook on Web and mobile platforms. We'll be giving updates on the ecosystem and products, and best practices for growth, mobile integration, and monetization. We'll also have a talk on building a mid-core or core game for Facebook, and attendees will be hearing firsthand from some of the developers building with Facebook Platform. Game developers of all types are welcome to come with questions and feedback as we love hearing from the community.
Pete Isensee, principal program manager at Microsoft Xbox, chats about building games for Microsoft's next-gen console, capitalizing on mobile and free-to-play, and the focus of Microsoft Dev Day at GDC 2013.
Q: Pete, Xbox 360 is still the top-selling video game console in the U.S. but revenues are dropping. Microsoft shipped 5.9 million consoles during Q2, down from 8.2 for the same period a year ago. Do you attribute that to gamers waiting for your next-generation console which is heavily rumored to be coming out in the coming months?
Pete Isensee: Xbox 360 has sold over 76 million consoles worldwide. Xbox 360 continues to be the top-selling console, a record it's held for 24 consecutive months. There are plenty of other bright spots. For instance, Halo 4, which rang up sales of $220 million in its first 24 hours, has earned the record as the best-selling game of the Halo franchise. Xbox LIVE boasts over 46 million members -- people who love all the services available, whether that's great multiplayer gameplay, music, or video entertainment. What's most amazing to me is the continued improvement in game quality. The Xbox 360 silicon is unchanged since being first delivered in 2005, yet the software continues to improve and games continue to get better. This console has legs that will carry it well into the future.
Q: What can you tell us about that next-gen console ... and how should developers who want to build games for that console be preparing?
Isensee: The Xbox team has always been dedicated to enabling new, deeper, richer experiences for consumers, but it's too early to comment on what the future holds. Right now we're plenty busy with Xbox 360. In many ways, the next generation is already here in the form of natural user interfaces powered by Kinect. Nearly a third of the Xbox 360 install base already has a Kinect sensor. Up until the launch of Kinect in 2010, the only user input that Xbox 360 developers had to worry about was a handful of controller buttons -- a total of about 50 bytes per game frame. With Kinect, games have access to an incredibly rich input stream of depth and color and audio to the tune of 1.4MB of data per frame. That's about 30,000 times the information available with controllers alone! Game developers are still exploring all of the new experiences they can enable by tapping into the power of Kinect. Developers thinking about the future would do well to consider how natural user input can power their new gameplay ideas.
Q: There has been much talk about console games being upseated by mobile games which, after all, are cheaper, more convenient, and serve the same purpose. And I know that Microsoft -- as well as Nintendo and Sony -- have spoken about how you want to capitalize on mobile and free-to-play. Tell me a little about your strategy in that space for 2013 and beyond.
Isensee: There's no doubt that mobile gaming is important to the future of entertainment, and Microsoft has embraced mobile in multiple ways. For example, game developers tell us they're thrilled using the Windows Phone 8 SDK to build mobile experiences. Developers demanded the power of C++ and DirectX on Windows Phone, and that's exactly what we've provided with the Windows Phone 8 SDK. On Windows 8, game developers are delighted that touch input is an integral part of the OS because it allows them to create immersive tablet experiences. Not only that but the Windows 8 Store offers industry-leading revenue sharing and gives developers the ability to easily sell their products into more than 200 countries around the world. Microsoft has also embraced mobile on Xbox 360 with Xbox SmartGlass. Many consumers have a mobile device with them in their living room. SmartGlass is an Xbox companion application available on Windows 8, Windows Phone, iOS, and Android that allows developers to augment the Xbox 360 game experience with things best provided on mobile devices, such as player statistics, top-down views, game hints, or anything else that the game designer can imagine.
Q: Talk to me about the Dev Day Microsoft is sponsoring at GDC 2013. What will it focus on and why should developers show up?
Isensee: Microsoft has enjoyed being a part of GDC for many years, going back to the introduction of Direct3D at CGDC in 1996. This last fall we released two new platforms for game developers, Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Game developers have been clamoring for the latest information on how to build great content on these platforms, so that's what we're focused on delivering for GDC. To that end, Microsoft is sponsoring the Smartphone & Tablet Games Summit (March 25-26) and featuring Windows and Windows Phone devices and games in the Microsoft Lobby Bar & Product Showcase at the hub of the GDC all week long (March 25-29). We place a huge emphasis on educating developers, and this year is no exception. There are over two dozen talks from Microsoft experts on everything from Halo 4 postmortems to performance tips for Windows Store games to math for game programmers. Finally, we're thrilled to be able to bestow the 2nd annual Xbox LIVE Arcade prize to an outstanding indie title during the IGF Awards, guaranteeing a first-party publishing deal on one or more Microsoft platforms. It's a great time to be a game developer. We look forward to connecting with everybody at GDC 2013!
David Helgason, CEO and co-founder of Unity Technologies, talks about the 2013 Global Game Jam, the improvements in Unity4, and partnering with Nintendo on the upcoming Wii U.
Q: David, 2013 Global Game Jam just completed. As I understand it, this is a competition to see who can develop the best game in 24 hours. It seems as though Unity plays a big part in the development of the games for the event. How did it go this year?
David Helgason: Global Game Jam may not be an event that we throw ourselves, but we definitely like to support this type of incredible creativity by handing out timed licenses for Unity Pro. It's amazing to see the types of games that are made in such a small amount of time. It's awesome to see how widely adopted Unity is for game jam creations. Last I saw, there were 1,121 games made during the event with Unity. That's over a third of all of the games created for the jam which is a pretty astounding and flattering number. One such game that's been making the rounds on the Internet is the Surgeon Simulator 2013 game created by Bossa Studios in the UK. It's dark and humorously disturbing but shows the quickness with which developers can iterate and make pretty high-quality products.
Q: You recently released the latest version of Unity 3.5 – Unity 3.5.7 -- with fixes for Android, iOS, and more. Have you guys now moved on to Unity 4? What's on the drawing board for the rest of 2013? What sort of improvements can developers expect to see?
Helgason: Unity 3.5.7 was the last update for the Unity 3 development lifecycle and, with the release of Unity 4 last November, we've shifting our resources to push a lot of incredible improvements into our development pipeline. We're looking to iterate on Unity 4 much faster than we've done with any of our version products before by focusing our efforts on smaller and compact releases. The grandiosity of Unity 3.5 was impressive, but trying to shove so many improvements and additions into one update was overambitious and meant the update took longer time to release than it should have. This way, our community gets awesome tools and fixes much more quickly.
The Unity 4.x edition features aren't announced yet and only comprise a small portion of our efforts this year. We just announced that we'll be supporting BlackBerry 10 devices and will have several other exciting initiatives and announcements to discuss later in the year.
Q: One of your most recent partners is Nintendo. Unity developers will be able to export their projects to the forthcoming Wii U. Tell me a little bit about that agreement which Unity has described as an industry-first collaboration. How so?
Helgason: It was, to our knowledge, the first time that a console manufacturer had partnered with a technology provider in order to offer game development solutions to developers creating content for their system. It allows Nintendo to distribute a special Wii U version of Unity Pro to their developer base as they choose. That's a pretty big deal! Nintendo has made it known that they're serious about getting more games, especially from indie developers, onto their system, and this is a big step in that direction. Of course, it's awesome for us as well. We get to work with one of the biggest and most successful companies in the gaming industry and help shape this newest generation of console games.
Q: You're sponsoring a Dev Day at GDC 2013 as you have in previous years. What sort of takeaways can attendees expect?
Helgason: We want developers to be able to walk away with a lot more information about how Unity can help them to create incredible games, whether those are high-end 3D blockbusters, more simple 2D projects, or the myriad of options in between. We'll be giving talks about the best practices with Unity and showing off how we're making some big steps forward with our tech. We think it's going to be a show that reinforces the potential with Unity not only as the best cross-platform engine and toolset, but as the engine with the most wildly flexible capabilities on the market.
Paul has covered the videogames industry for over 15 years now, currently writes for Gamasutra.com, and was editor-in-chief of UBM's GamePower.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.