Pinball Deluxe

This Week End Freebie is an Android Market exclusive. Pinball Deluxe is a plain and simple 2D pinball simulator. Despite its basic appearance, its tables are more complex than they may seem and will appeal even hardocre pinball fans.

Interview with Thomas Lipschultz, the creator of Blood of the Chameleon

Releasing a port of a BBS Door Game in 2011 may look insane. It will look a lot more insane if you consider that the game was a multiplayer RPG, with a very detailed world, 5 endings + a true ending and a huge amount of content inside it. Who will play it? How it will be received?

The release of Blood of the Chamaleon caught a lot of attention in the Hardcore Gaming 101 forums and quickly managed to create a small group of  fans, since behind that text-based interface there’s a very good RPG.

I managed to interview Thomas Lipschultz for Ars Ludica. Since the interview was published in Italian, here it is the original english version, for everyone else out there.

Enjoy it after the jump!

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Wave: Against Every BEAT!

Wave: Against Every BEAT! is freeware for a bit.
It’s a nice music game with a refreshing yet deep shmup gameplay.

In the past few months I had this habit to propose a free (or cheap) nice game on iTunes or Android Market to my friends. Since the initiative got pretty nice feedbacks, I’d like to replicate it here.

So get back at least every Week-End to find a nice game to play!

I promise to get back with at least a meaningful post each week. We’ll see!

Spotify struggles for profitability

Since it’s launch, Spotify it’s struggling to be profitable. Spotify is a service that streams music with occasional ads, whose frequency it’s (at least their PR say so) lesser than most commercial radios (uh-oh!). It only operates in 7 European countries (forget the bigger markets, aside a few), with a different, often timed, offering of mainstream music in each of them, which is not a very smart move.

Well, since Spotify basically gives away things,  the service was very popular on the Internet. Since there’s a non-filtered entry for anyone that makes music, the number skyrocketed and many people now uses it to “discover” bands they will never pay money for, just like the old MySpace Music. The huge popularity on the net, coupled by aggressive marketing and number whoring (it’s called social or extreme marketing, nowadays) just made the financial condition of Spotify worse. Streaming is a non-linear business and growing an userbase using indie singers to paint the offering of Spotify on par with Apple, 7digital and Microsoft really helped Spotify image but also made their business a lot harder to operate.

How harder? Well, this year Spotify closed with a huge 19M€ loss. So huge that investors pressed for an US launch ASAP or else. Spotify managed to double its losses every year until 2009 (2M€ in 2007, 4.4M€ in 2008), the huge peak in losses it’s not completely unexpected. Popularity doesn’t always pay off in the streaming business and extreme and viral marketing couldn’t help you cope with the expenses and poor planning.

Despite the licensing issues, the constant losses and the huge amount of crappy music, at the end of 2009  Spotify was valued at 183.8M€, just to receive an investor ultimatum a year later. Another major problem is that despite the user base has already crossed 15M active users, no more than 750.000 premium accounts has been subscribed in three years and the company doesn’t divulge the renewal rates. Gotta love the side effect of this trendy extreme social marketing!

The licensing problem is worse than it seems. Spotify has a very harsh revenue share for musicians. It roughly equates 2.2€ for every 50.000 impressions. This low profitability makes lots of majors to question the service, even as an advertising opportunity. In several occasions talented indie musicians and newspapers complained that most of their potential customers (that may be measured in the dozens of thousands) could be totally satisfied with Spotify, leaving them dry. On the contrary, mainstream musicians and labels can definitely raise more money asking a free donation in exchange for a legal, DRM-free download of their music (Radiohead and David Bowie, among others, demonstrated how effective two different approaches to the direct-sale phylosophy could be), rather than surrendering digital distribution rights to Spotify.

Spotify is trying to fight its battle for profitability in the mobile world. As today, its service is shallow and spotty, its client is iffy, its offline content has zero portability and, more importantly, the premium subscription is 20-30% (depending on regions) more costly than their main really global competitor: Zune Pass. Zune Pass already boasts a more friendly licensing model (that allows you to move offline songs on any PMP supporting WM licensing system, Android and home consoles included) and has a huge technical advantage in adaptative streaming, lowering data and bandwidth costs for the end-users and business alike (Spotify has an astonishing hig 7h/GB bandwidth cost).

While the initiative was even suggested by Wired’s Eliot Van Buskirk a while ago, it may not be what investors expected and the execution is definitely not right.

As a user, I’m happy with Spotify. As a Product Manager I must say that the business did so many marketing and technical blunders that it’s very daring to hope for profitability in the midterm, unless a restructuring of the company mindset will take them away from the web 2.0 whoring attitude, back to the reality.

So, now iOS is one of the leading gaming platform

From an external point of view, it may be true. From a people like me, who helps clueless developers to ship their product in an usable state, especially from the user experience side of things, this graph is a laughable number-mansturbation.

The problem is who is a gamer for Apple. Apple is very proud to share numbers, big numbers. Most of the time they are out of context, though. To Apple a gamer is anyone downloaded a game, even a free one. To Apple there are more than 85M iOS device, even if more than 40M are out of support and obsolete form a software developer point of view.

In fact the number of “gamers” in this research is almost like the real iOS attach rate. Apple continues to say it has a stable and unified software enviorment, even if you need to explicitly support at least 5 different platforms (iPhone 1&2, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS/iPod 3, iPhone 4/iPod 4, iPad) if you really want to tap the 85M market power. In fact nobody does that and almost everybody supports from 3GS on, even because using only iPad and iOS 4 as a reference will leave you with less than 5M of potential customers in total. A commercial suicide, and lots of iPad developers learned that in their early days: the boom didn’t happen (everything stopped a 2M units) and  they needed to turn back to iOS 4 portable devices to remain profitable and delay further iPad projects after the mobile ones.

But I digress. The problem in comparing iOS to dedicate game devices in market analysis is that they are basically giving the wrong message: as iOS games become more costly and complicated, they tend to fail more, the sale price is too low, the attention span of users is scarce. iOS games are not comparable to DS or PSP ones. Not even graphically, most of the time.

The problems is about user perception. iOS games are good time-wasters but rarely you will see an iOS user consider him/herself a gamer just because downloaded a free puzzle game. It not a criticism, it’s perfectly normal, because Apple sells an MP3/Movie Player as their main game platform, followed by a phone with a quite short battery life and a costly transportable eBook reader. The latter two platforms can play games but they are hardly the primary choice for that and Apple knows that well, just look at the Apple Store. Once again the market research removes context from AppStore earnings, impliying that iPad is leading in gaming sales, instead of saying that the platform is leading for eBooks, newspaper subscriptions and application sales (I’d like to share the exact numbers but as usual, I can’t). Perfectly logical, if you ask me.

Frankly, I’ve seen worse: like assuming that every cent iTunes earned was from Apps, when it’s mostly from music and videos.

So iOS is the next hardcore gaming platform? Ask Square or any other high-level developer that has shipped a real game on iOS. It’s a wonderful platform for some type of games (especially one shot ones, since users tends to use entertainment application just once) but not for all. Sure, Apple is trying to make the iPod their leading gaming platform (well, it’s leading overall, so why not make it the entertainment platform of choice?), but, sincerely, I can buy the superior PSP version of Chinatown Wars at 9.99$ from Sony Store or in a supermarket, why bother with a PSP-ized DS version on iOS? I did out of novelty but then I realized the sad state of touch controls that kills traditional games on the platform. With exceptions: Square’s Song Summoner was great, even if only I and a few others bought it. Yes, I saw Epic Citadel, but remember the market segmentation ot there. You’re not Epic.

It’s different for very well planned, designed and masterfully placed games like Hoggy or Flight Control, for example: games that can be played in very short spurs (even 30 seconds at time!) without need to focus too much on them are a masterful placement on iOS mobile devices.  You need still to battle with a fierce opposition, no different from other gaming markets (as this year GamesCom iOS panels said ad nauseam) but at least you’re sure to compete on the reference target for the platform.

Update. Today Epic announced that their citadel demo was downloaded 1M times. Even assuming that every download is a different device (absolutely not true when it comes to free apps), the “conversion rate” of the demo is as small as 1/40 of the devices able to run it (from 3GS on). Epic showed the demo worldwide at an Apple Keynote event. Could a less famous developer with a smaller marketing exposition place such hardcore software on a higher user-base? Hardly not. Comparing the dozens of millions of download of the few low-budget but massively successful iOS games, Epic’s title reception is less than relevant. 🙂

Develop: iPhone Goldrush Is Overstated

“The term ‘goldrush’ is overstated,” he said. “When the App Store opened there was the idea that any developer could become a millionaire. But that was true in only two or three cases. It’s actually like any other market. Make good quality games that people want to play and do PR and marketing and you get sales, like in any other.”

This time the words are not mine.Matthew Wiggins of Wonderland joined the ranks of the seasoned and jaded mobile developers who think that you shold have more than a nice idea and a developer account to be successful in the chaos AppStore is.

And for what it takes, other platforms are as much as insidious, too!

via Develop: iPhone Goldrush Is Overstated.


Hydorah it’s a great indie games, a mix between Gradius and Blazing Star.

The game is completely free and comes bundled with the complete soundtrack (by Gryzor87) in MP3 format and ready to be uploaded in your favourite MP3 Player.

Gaming and accessibility

If gaming is for the masses, it’s time for corporation to work out accessibility features and controllers for disabled gamers. Software developers too have to cope with impaired people, so let that subtitles rolling, choose wisely your color schemes, make font size bigger or just configurable and please learn the value of context-sensitive controls instead of blessing us with overcomplex (is that a word?) control schemes.

So, Microsoft, make this modular pad an item in your catalog!

Funny Mass Effect 2 One-liners

Recurrying one-liners are the devices poor scripts and Mass Effect 2, especially if you choose the bad boy way at doing things, is an epitome of that, sadly.

Nevertheless, most of them are funny (if a bit repetitive) and, surprisingly, they work a lot better when taken out of context (that was my main problem of the game: the script was generic and rethorical).

[Alan Wake] Bright Falls, Episode 6

This one should conclude the prequel to Alan Wake. Enjoy!