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Tuesday, January 27, 2004


B. Waite

Indeed. Perhaps the key to sucess in this area involves the player's investment of time.

I don't have as much free time as I used to. This means that I tend to choose games that work well in the context of a short play session.

A 40+ hour epic adventure doesn't work well when played half an hour at a time. Puzzle games do, but the experience just isn't the same.

I'm still waiting for a game that's as involving as the epic adventure, but playable in short sessions. I'd develop it myself, but then again, I don't have as much free time as I used to.

Catch 22, I suppose.


Puzzle gaming may be a misnomer when describing this market. I would venture this market could more broadly be described as a low end technology market for people who have easily accessible ames.

As someone who works at a publisher-funded company, I started building my own low-tech technology in Frogtoss Games last summer. I discovered it was extremely engaging work, despite how easily the simple ideas behind the code came together. Six months of retrospect, news items and more market research has shown me that this is the
rising star of opportunity and that I was really on the right track. (I hope to have time to resume my endeavors later this year.)

Thomas Warfield

I was stunned too that they sold for such a high multiple, but not surprised that they are making a lot of money. The high multiple may have been because of that whopping 55% profit margin. That's impressive. I run a high profit margin, but 55% is another thing again. Kudos to them on that.

"the puzzle game path looks like one worth heavy consideration"

The main problem is that in the last year or so, everybody and their dog has seen this and there are now so many puzzle games out there your head would spin. I think an independent developer is better off in the long run to find a niche that they can be passionate about, rather than following the latest trend.


Isn't the #1 computer game of all time solitair in terms of number of people/times played?

I know it ships with windows but that can't be the only reason.

Mark Ventura

I don't think solitaire or freecell or hearts should count.

Jeff Mackintosh

The main problem is that in the last year or so, everybody and their dog has seen this and there are now so many puzzle games out there your head would spin. I think an independent developer is better off in the long run to find a niche that they can be passionate about, rather than following the latest trend.
I cannot agree with this more, though I'm tempted to try. The problem with this, however, is that "jumping on the bandwagon" is, for the most part, safe. Finding that niche that is begging for attention, on the other hand, is risky. If you're creating product from the back of the bandwagon, you at least know that if it fails, you stand a pretty solid chance of not losing the house. When you miss your niche target, however, sales can be so devastatingly low that the loss is truly painful.

Then again, the payoff, when you hit that niche target audience, is substantial plus, rather than riding in the back of someone else's bandwagon, you get to be the leader in a new market. Using my industry (table-top rpgs) as an example, Vampire took a risk and targeted the system-light, horror market and hit it big, to say the least. They are now the leader in that market (and second only to D&D in the entire industry...). The company I work for (Guardians of Order) targeted the anime market a few years back - a market that was largely ignored by rpgs. Now we are the company that gamers think of when they think of "anime rpgs" (we still have a ways to go before we enjoy White Wolf levels of success, but we're still working on it... :).

Basically, while I totally agree that targeting an unexploited niche is a smart choice, it is also, unquestionably, the riskier choice.

Scott Miller

-- "I don't think solitaire or freecell or hearts should count."

I agree, Mark. Games that are free to players have a substantial advantage in terms of potential player base.

Overall, even though the puzzle category is highly competitive -- not unlike many other "retail" categories, including the FPS, RPG and RTS -- thinking outside-the-box can and should unearth veins of gold yet unexploited. If such can still occur within and around the highly funded genres, then I'm confident it can happen in any category, including puzzle games.

One example I recently saying, and I don't have the website unfortunately, is a flash version of Chess, requiring two net-connected players, who compete head-to-head without taking turns -- they can each move their pieces as fast as they want. The only inhibitor is a timer that counts down for each moved piece, preventing it from being again until the countdown bar vanishes, usually about 5-10 seconds. Truly a brilliant twist on this game, and I expect Checkers and other take-turn games to get the same treatment ASAP.

This example simply shows that their are always ideas out there waiting to be exploited.


PopCap have a genuine flair for puzzle games - wrapping up a very simple concept into a flashy, but utterly beautiful shell. Rocket Mania and Zuma are especially polished.


Scott: that realtime chess game is called Kungfu Chess. It's by Shizmoo. It won IGF awards a couple of years back (the Audience Choice. http://www.igf.com/2002entrants.htm)

That is a damn fine game, and no mistake.

Scott Miller

Aubrey, had no idea that it's been around so long -- I only learned about it last week and I thought it was new. (I've been remiss in keeping abreast of indie efforts, obviously.)

The key thing to learn from that game is how you can take an established game idea and add an innovative twist to turn it into something fresh and compelling, much like was done with Max Payne and bullet-time.

Another indie game (really, more of a demo) that came out a year or two that really impressed me was Bridge Builder. Seems like someone could take this idea and expand it into a full game, beyond just building bridges, to all sorts of structures. Imagine building a small city that must withstand tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. Could be a whole new take on SimCity -- Sim Disaster City! Would also be fun building roller coasters in which everything was controlled by real physics, a la the railroad bridges in Bridge Build. Then you'd watch the stress levels as the roller coaster moved around the track, and if a section was too weak the coaster cars and people would be sent flying. People love this stuff...not sure why! ;-)


i would like to know how to keep an idea from being exployted, i am very vonerable at the the time and hve many new and interestind ideas.... help

Thomas Warfield

"I don't think solitaire or freecell or hearts should count."

"Games that are free to players have a substantial advantage in terms of potential player base."

You might not want to count the free games that come with Windows, but don't discount their impact. Back during the bubble, Media Metrix used to do a survey of how many people actually play which games. This was different from sales counts, this survey measured how many people played a game during a given month. The results from 2001 are still available at http://www.jupiterresearch.com/xp/jmm/press/2001/pr_121701b.html . They counted the free Windows games, and of course they came out on top of the list by a wide margin. But if you look at the rest of the list, you see that other versions of these same games show up on the list many times (two of my own games came in at #32 and #46). This list showed the power of casual games several years before the gaming industry noticed them. It also showed that independent games can compete with retail games.

The free Windows games expose people to games, and then they look for better versions of them. The old Microsoft Entertainment Pack is also very influential, I get emails on a daily basis from people looking for games from it.

Brent Morris

I think popularity puzzle games and to a certain extent the recent trend of tycoon games is due to the fact that these sort of games are more appealing to the general consumer. Not everybody has the latest and greatest hardware and these game fill the niche for entertainment for people without the newest graphics card.

Also a lot of the more popular non-puzzle/tycoon games require the user to perform acts of violence while playing and I know of a lot of people who are not comfortable with being violent in a game. My mother for example always apologizes for pulling me away from my computer where I apparently "kill blips on the screen". I went out of my way to point out to her that I didn't only play violent games and tried to interest her in playing Amplitude with me (unfortunately she didnt have to coordination). I suppose perhaps designing games that have a non-violent solution. Few people point it out, but it is quite possible to beat Postal 2 without firing a shot. At times I consider the game to be merely an exercise in temptation and if that's true then deep in my heart I'm an evil evil man.

This first post has gone on for far too long so I'll just close by adding that it's a lot easier to sneak in a game of Collapse when your at work then a game of Max Payne.

Nathan McKenzie


I think the point about having to be violent in games is an interesting one - but I'd guess an even bigger factor is that most of the games mentioned don't have anyone being violent towards the _player_. If a random player starts a puzzle game, they likely just see a block falling, or a timer counting down and some multicolored blocks, or perhaps an arrangement of cards. If they start a tycoon game, they're presented with a very non-threatening management interface. If they start a recent shooter, they're likely to wander several feet and then be brutally murdered by random polygonal people. This is especially likely since these same people are probably the least coordinated and least comfortable with the sorts of genre conventions that any hardcore gamer takes for granted.

This is a threatening, stressful thing to many people. Coupled with the complex controls of most 3d games nowadays, it's really overwhelming. My hunch is that most violent games quickly evoke a fight or flight response in players, and if their response is flight, you've basically just lost a player and a customer. Puzzle games and tycoon games don't generate that reaction. I'd actually guess that a game like Tony Hawk has that same advantage.

Brent Morris


What you said certainly makes alot more sense than what I was grasping at.

A think perhaps there might even be a bit of an age barrier between those who grew up playing video games and those who didn't. I know of a lot of older people (40+) who play alot of popcap games, card games and tycoon games just because they require less coordination and perhaps as you said, are less threatening.

Maybe RealNetworks looks at buying GameHouse as a sound investment in the same way that many people look at the ageing baby-boomer generation and invest in retirement homes as a sound investment.

Or perhaps I'm grasping at straws and looking for patterns that are not even there. Here's a related PVP comic that should make this post somewhat redeemable: http://www.pvponline.com/archive.php3?archive=20040126


Scott: On the bridge builder front, at ECTS this year, I noticed that NVidia got a deal with Chronic Logic (http://www.chroniclogic.com/) to tart Pontifex (Bridge Builder 2) up with all kinds of crazy pointless graphics. It looked really nice, but I guess it was an early build or a shitty demo box because it chugged.

And while we're mentioning other indie successes, Introversion's Uplink (http://www.introversion.co.uk/uplink/) made it from online-only sales to boxes on shelves through its success, without particularly ripping off anyone else's game design. They managed to encourage word of mouth recommendations by giving incentives (Special Limited Edition "making of" CDs). It also helped that they made a good, inventive game. Even the warez community worked to their advantage - kinda like free advertising, assuming you can trust people to buy the game if they like it. I don't have any figures to back this up, but I get the feeling that people feel worse about warezing games from the little guy.

PomPom (http://www.pompom.org.uk/) gained a lot of critical acclaim for re-inventing Defender (Space Tripper) and Robotron (Mutant Storm) in a Jeff Minter psychadelic style. Edge magazine kindly championed both their games. They probably deserve more money, but they seem to be finding their way into the console market through Microsoft's incubator program (http://www.xbox.com/en-US/dev/incubator.htm), except they're without a publisher (last time I checked).

So yeah, it seems to me that there are plenty of ways to make independent games work for you. I even kinda like that there's no one prescribed best way to make things work out.

Brad Shapcott

Just a heads up on a parallel discussion of Scott's blog entry on the GarageGames forums.

Paul Jenkins

"I don't think solitaire or freecell or hearts should count."

"Games that are free to players have a substantial advantage in terms of potential player base."

I think you should both reconsider these statements. Every relative I have over the age of 40 plays the windows games regularly, but not because the games are free. Mainly, because the design of these games lends them to target a market that most other games developers ignore... Instead of discounting those games, perhaps you should consider what they have going for them, and why they might be huge successes.

Saying "they succeed because they're free" is a bit of a cop out. Many many free games never get played. So, what makes those games so playable? Many of the things that have made the puzzle games successful, actually.

1. People already understand the rules, or can learn/relearn the rules quickly.

2. Simple controls that don't require fast reflexes. (I've interviewed many many players who refuse to play "button mashers"... games that require fast reflexes or put time constraints on decision making)

3. Accomplishment that can be directly translated to real world experience. (How many people have an Aunt who the family will proudly declare to be the master of Euchre, Hearts, Spades, or whatever?) People *know* these games, and can relate to achievement.

4. Affordability in terms of time. (I once worked in a restaurant where the head chef had to put an extra lock on his door to keep out the waitstaff and cooks who would knock down a few games of solitaire on their smoke breaks.)

5. No penalties for losing. If you lose at solitaire, hearts, or whatever, you can just reload. You won't get heckled or harrassed, there's no one keeping score, and you don't have to *spend 15 minutes dealing out a new hand*.

6. Simplicity in terms of start up. You don't have to stumble through a detailed installation that asks questions you might not know the answers to. This seems silly to most of us, but consider your parents. Mine still read every word of every EULA for every game they install, then call me to ask if it's ok to answer "YES". If a game asks them to define what directory they want to install to, their panic becomes apparent. This is a huge segment of the computer using populace who grew up thinking of computers as things that will break if you touch them. Game developers would do well to consider that and accomodate it to some extent.

7. These games cater to impatience. What happens when you start a game of Freecell or Spades? What happens when you start a game of Morrowind? While it's good to give your studio props, requiring a player to wait 20 minutes to actually enter the game is ridiculous. Most casual players will give you 3 minutes to get them into the game. After that you've lost a customer.

Just a few things you might want to consider before dismissing the success of Solitaire.

(Note: another one of the top 10 best selling PC games ever is Mah Jong, which offers the same benefits. Mah Jong has been so successful that over 50 retail versions are still in publication. To my knowledge, there is no free version available. Tetris also follows these basic premises and is still being revamped and spun out for console and PC distribution worldwide every year or two.)

Scott Miller

Paul, if you're going to quote me, using quote marks no less, then you need to quote me correctly. I never said "they succeed because they're free," which is how you misquoted me. What I did say is that free games have an advantage, and they do. This advantage doesn't mean they'll succeed, though. There are plenty of poorly designed or not compelling free games.

Michael L.

Paul's comments come across with an air of authority and are quite consistent at responding to people's doubts in this forum. I feel like I missed an introduction.

Paul, who are you? You sound like you have experience and credentials. Did I miss something?

Paul Jenkins

"Paul, if you're going to quote me, using quote marks no less, then you need to quote me correctly. I never said "they succeed because they're free," which is how you misquoted me."

Sorry for the miscommunication, Scott. I agree with your assessment, and wasn't trying to imply that you stated any less (although, in retrospect, I did sound snarky). The quotations in the instance cited were not intended to directly quote you, but rather to delineate a common misconception as to why those games are successful. I generally use quotes and parentheses to denote irl conventions in speech, which (through my own fault) can misrepresent a statement's intent. I apologize. ;)

"You sound like you have experience and credentials. Did I miss something?"

I've been playing electronic games since I was 6 years old, and have 8 years of experience in table top games and ccg's focused in development. I've worked with a number of people within the games development community and consulted in terms of marketing and management strategies. In other words, I'm some guy with a decent paying job and a desire to improve an industry I care about through open exchange of ideas.

Feel free to weigh my opinions however you like. ;)

Sorry again, Scott. My honest intention was to deconstruct some of the success points of those games, not to misrepresent what you had said before.

Scott Miller

Not a problem at all, Paul. :-)

BTW, although this isn't the right topic, has anyone noticed that Greg Costikyan responded to my topic about adaptive difficulty yesterday? You can reach his site, named Games*Design*Art*Culture, in my link list over to the right.


anyone would like to form a chat goup of five peeps so yall can put ya heads togeather to acually make a video game better the the ones u see today im i just whant to know what i must do to get in a postion were i could put a lil thought in a producers head cause i have relly good ideas but i dont know the first thing about make just makein it can someone please just run me down somethin


resurrecting another old thread here, but a comment above - Paul's point #7 - rang particularly true with me. Consider every id game, well, ever. How do they open? Either a very short intro or no intro (and, frankly, Q2 and Q3 would be fine without the intro), then a very basic menu screen *and a demo of the game* - either the menu cuts to a demo very quickly or, in the best implementation, the demo runs behind the menu. Additionally, if you hit enter about three times, you're playing the game. This is how Doom, Quake and Quake 2 all worked, and it's pure genius (ripped off from arcade games, but then if there's a market segment that knows about pulling in an audience, it's arcade games).

Within a few seconds of loading the game you see the game - not some pre-rendered intro which tells you nothing about the game, but the game itself.

This is something that would work well for practically any game which doesn't rely on story (and I mean really *rely* on story, not have some ludicrous story tacked on because the producer thought a big pre-rendered cutscene budget would be nice).

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