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A Casual History - Newsletter

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A Casual History

 

Today's article is in response to a facebook comment we got: Jo Barnes writes " What's with all these collectors editions??..." - in reference to the release of the new Dream Chronicles

 

And here is the very long answer and a brief history of the casual game space. This doesn't really apply to RPGs, only those casual games like Mystery Case Files and yes, even our own game, A Gypsy's Tale.

 

The Beginning

 

Casual games start somewhere between Snood and Bejewelled and basically took off on the "match-3" style mechanic. From there we soon saw the rise of time management games (Diner Dash). During this time the casual industry was growing steadily but still somewhat shakily. Prices of games were $19.95 pretty much anywhere you looked. The cost to develop games was somewhere around 20-50,000 dollars, and sometimes much less.

 

The Rise of Hidden Objects

 

This all held pretty steady until Mystery Case Files broke every known record regarding casual games and launched Big Fish Games on its way to become the dominant player in the industry. As these games became more popular the casual gamespace matured and growth began to slow. In response several places began offering subscriptions at lower prices and eventually made all games one low price (6.99 - 9.99 depending on where you shop) in an attempt to grab as much of the market and grow the market as much as possible. Meanwhile the cost to make games steadily increased and by the end of this prices had fallen 75% while the cost to make games had risen 100% or more!

 

Enter the CE

 

As the cost to produce games continues to rise, with the top end games costing upwards of 300,000 dollars to make, the prices continued to fall, with people offering unlimited games for a single subscription price. This means on average the developer sees their game sold for basically $2.50, down another 75%. In response developers and publishers decided to try out having a collector's edition sold about twice normal price. It contains a little extra content, some bells and whistles, and is available early. Purchasers tend to be fans of the game doing it to support a product they love (But they would still do better by simply buying it direct! Hint hint!). This is basically an attempt to cover the increasing costs and falling prices of games.

 

Trouble Ahead

 

As the major players fight over market share the people who will be hurt the most are the developers. Simply put, falling prices and rising development costs are putting a lot of strain to make shorter, cheaper, products. The solution for the moment is the potential to branch into new devices like Ipad, but for smaller studios the cost is prohibitive. If product quality falls too far the entire casual sector will suffer as both gamers and game developers move to platforms that have better payouts and can sustain higher quality products.

 

So how can you help? Buy direct! Look, if you want to support a developer a Collector's Edition is an ok way to go, but if you really care about a product you should buy direct from the developer. 90 cents of every dollar goes into the dev's pocket this way (other other 10% goes towards payment processing). At worst, buy from Amaranth Games (we take very little from developers for games we don't make ourselves).

 

 

Any thoughts on the casual game space? Was that last line overly shameless self promotion?

 

 

 

Words from The Fool:

 

You should buy where you get the most value. Just remember that value isn't always measured in dollars and cents. Sometimes the best value is having a product that will be updated with new versions (portals tend not to do this) or where you can get stellar support or enjoy a really great community filled with interesting newsletter posts... you get where I am going with this don't you? No fooling?

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Eh, i'll only ever pick up a collector's edition if I have an extraordinary love for it, higher than my usual liking AND its worth the price.

 

However, I'm not really a fan of casual games. Diner dash and all the clones = no.

 

I still play the oldschool games like solitare, tetris, pipes, etc. but the newer stuff is a no go.

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I think that there is a lot of unemployment and high prices for food and fuel that keeps people from paying the higher prices these days. Not just in America either. Some can't buy games at all now.

 

It's very possible that these are the things that are driving up the cost of producing these games too. Everyone has to eat and get from place to place. Have Electric and heat. It's a vicious circle.

 

I like all the games. The CE has the built in walkthrough, and that is the main thing people want. It's easier and cheaper than Ink to print it out. Again, economics in some cases.

 

My very first game online was Aveyond, and I bought it here. Have bought most of them here, until life happened.

 

I would think that the volume of sales would help. How many copies of Aveyond have sold?? (Don't answer that, it was just a question to make you think. It's really none of my business.)

 

So it's not just that people are not supporting you, they cannot pay more, and some are not able to buy at all.

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Don't get me wrong UL (Carol?) - I'm not saying we're seeing a lack of sales on our end actually and we love the support you guys give us! It's just I have heard a lot of people ask "What is up with these collector's editions?" and I thought it would be interesting to answer it in a serious way!

 

If you or any of our fans have to cut back on spending then and select games to do it *cry*- we completely understand! I'm pretty sure everyone at our company has been in that position before.

 

I can run through the economics of it fairly simply (And temporarily cast off my fool hat):

 

The lower prices increase volume, as you would expect from a standard demand curve. Now this, on a large scale, increases the entire market size very rapidly, even though it isn't generating any additional revenue for the developer.

 

However, look at it from another angle: There was a group of people who could not afford $20 games, when the prices fell they could afford the $6-10 games. This is a new market. Meanwhile those that had been spending 20 could now justify buying 2-3 games. Revenue from this group may remain unchanged. The only one "loser" group are those who were limited by TIME rather than by money. Those people can only play 1 game at a time.

 

Now that scenario is good for a publisher who releases 4+ games a week, but for a developer who release only 1-4 games a year they don't actually see any of this and so it is bad for them. At the same time this event partially normalized the curve: Think of it like this- In the old days you could only afford 1 game, so you purchased a hit title because it was the best. Now you can buy 3, so you get the hit but you also get 2 other games that aren't really as good. Mediocre games now are able to sell more units than they used to.

 

I'm not actually complaining, from a company or personal perspective: Amaranth Games is doing very well, we release games frequently enough from our site, and are not 100% casual anyway. I just thought it would be interesting to give everyone a glimpse of what goes on behind the curtain here at Amaranth HQ... this is what we talk about when we aren't discussing vampires, elves, and what funny words we can make Alena say in her Russian accent.

 

:D

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If the $12 savings is important: go save the money! :D Seriously, we don't mind at all :)

 

If you find a way to save $12 on our $10 games let me know though, because that is a problem :D LOL

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In today’s economic climate it’s not surprising more people are going to portals to buy games, yes the savings are great and I totally understand that bit.

 

From a personal perspective for games I love (mainly rpgs) I tend to stick with buying direct from the developers, yep it costs me more but I know if there is a problem I can go directly to the source and get a fix and I always find the community is really helpful on the developers sites as everyone there loves the games.

 

This can’t be said of getting a game form a portal it can take them months if at all to fix issue or release the latest update...and I find the community on the portal can be a little snippy specially if it isn’t a HOG....

 

Personal experience of a well known portal:

AV1 is a case in point as I originally purchased this via a portal and when a new update was released I queried the “support” and they advised me they wouldn’t be releasing it as the game was no longer considered “new” and it had no reason to update as the sales were so low and no one esle was asking, so much for the customer, so that’s how I made the decision to only buy from developers and I came along and bought AV1 from here.

 

I know not everyone can afford to do that and now the economics of my home have changed for the worse I have to save for the games like and purchase when I can, it may mean I don’t get the game immediately it’s released now but I’ll always buy direct as I like the support offered and I always feel that the developers care about their customers/members.

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I'm really not a fan of buying games from portals since games don't always get updated. I prefer to buy directly from the developer and the majority of them provide great customer service. That can lacking with the game portals.

 

I know a lot of people like the portals for the savings but the games there can really be hit and miss. And after awhile the games all start looking the same. That's another complaint that I have with them. Seriously, how many farming games do we really need (though, there are one or two that have stood out for me)? I also don't like games that require a lot of manic clicking which seem to be common.

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