Letters from a Gaming Newbie

I was pleased to attend Casual Connect this week and talked about how HTML5 is becoming viable for games development, alongside my colleague Mark, who covered the Chrome Web Store in general. I was definitively there in a purely web geek capacity, as gaming is not an industry I’m very familiar with. So here are a few things I learned:

  • Casual gaming is quite distinct from “hardcore” gaming. (as @Eastmad reminded me on Twitter.)
  • Casual gaming is heavily intertwined with “social” gaming these days – games on Facebook et al.
  • The social network is just “the graph”. At least for some games, they’re architected to separate “the graph” from the core game logic, so you can swap in and out different social networks. The graph is of course essential for gameplay with social games as well as viral adoption.
  • The industry is mature – there is a clear ecosystem of companies with different roles. Studios make games, publishers distribute them, portals aggregate them, social networks provide the graph. And then there are ad networks, analytics, hosts/caches, development tools, virtual currency providers, consultants. (Very cool seeing how any vertical quickly evolves into a distinct industry structure. Adam Smith approves.)
  • The industry is sophisticated. There is a big aspect of number-crunching, analytics-driven, thinking, e.g. pinning down the cost of customer acquisition. There’s a feeling that monetization is the best growth opportunity right now, more so than increasing the number of players. 1-2% of people spend, whereas with Massive Multiplayer Online games and in Asian markets, 5-10% is more common.
  • Trends to watch: Streaming games (Gaikai, Onlive) – It’s amazing it actually works, but these are technologies that treat the user’s computer/browser as a dumb terminal and stream the game’s video down to them; location based games, merging real and virtual worlds; embedding games into the fabric of the web (e.g. through widgets etc), so they’re not just isolated in social network sites and dedicated game portals; combining genres, so that hardcore gamers can interact with their casual gamer friends; using multiple channels in clever ways, rather than just porting the same game to ten different platforms.

Thinking in Web Apps

Thinking In Web Apps is a short list of design principles for Chrome Web apps, published a couple of weeks ago by several of us in Chrome Developer Relations.

Many people think Developer Relations means blogging and speaking. That’s part of it, but it’s also important to be spending time with developers and understanding the challenges they face, as well as supporting them. In the case of Chrome Web Store, I’ve been working with several partners who are building apps in time for the store’s launch. Explaining how certain technologies work and taking questions back to the core Chrome development team. One of the things I’ve discovered in Developer Relations is the way patterns/principles emerge:

  • A new capability is announced, e.g. a new programming language, an upgrade to a hosting service, a new API. In this case, it’s the Chrome Web Store and the concept of installable web apps.
  • We make some guesses about how to use it and share them with developers. You have to see it as educated guesses; it’s the law of unanticipated consequences that says you can never be sure how people will use a capability, even if you’re the one who designed it.
  • Developers start to build use the new capability.
  • By aggregating across all of the pioneering developers, and talking to other developer relations people working with other pioneering developers, we gain a new appreciation of what works and what doesn’t.
  • We have more general info to share with partners. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The important thing is to be documenting what we’re learning as we go along, hence you can expect to see more articles like Thinking in Web Apps. Whether you want to call them patterns, principles, or whatever.

See also Task-Artifact Cycle.