Spitballing

Nov 21

MiyaMackenzie.com public beta is live!

Big milestone for Spitball Entertainment over the weekend — the first public beta release of our game, Miya: Before & After went live at www.miyamackenzie.com!  The game will be by invitation only during this soft launch.  Users can get an invite code in one of the following ways:

  1. Receive an in-game invitation from any existing player
  2. Register to receive periodic email invites sent by Spitball Entertainment
  3. Invite two friends (via email or printed invitation) to receive an immediate invite code

We encourage you to get an invite, check it out, and send us your feedback at support@miyamackenzie.com or on our online help page

Oct 24

The Real Revenue Opportunity in Social Games

In 2008-09, the market for online social games exploded.  From a state of non-existence, it mushroomed to a billion-dollar industry practically overnight, with high-flying exits, like Playdom, Playfish and Zynga (well… almost) becoming household names.  I joined hi5 in 2008 just before we launched our application platform, and it was immediately apparent that social games, monetized through virtual goods and pioneered by these and other companies, represented an incredible revenue opportunity.

Fast forward two years and the social gaming phenomenon feels like it’s over.  After a period of exponential growth, the market has dramatically flattened, both in terms of users and revenues.  Market size estimates vary, but most put the market somewhere between $1.5 and $2 billion — and most of that is Zynga.  In fact, if you take out Zynga’s dominant share of both users (200 million MAUs) and revenue (just over $1 billion in bookings in the last 12 months), the market for social games is actually relatively small, with literally hundreds of social gaming start-ups fighting for Zynga’s table scraps.  With the exception of a few vendors (like Kabam and Funzio) making good revenue off compelling mid-core games on the Facebook platform, the party feels like it’s over.

What I find fascinating is that the biggest potential revenue opportunity for social games remains almost completely un-tapped.  For game developers, the two big breakthroughs of the social gaming boom were:

  1. The ability to amass huge audiences through viral promotion/distribution, and
  2. The willingness of users to spend real money on virtual goods.
But what was overlooked is a nearly century-old proven revenue model: merchandising.

Starting with Mickey Mouse’s debut in the 1928 animated film Steamboat Willie, the merchandising and licensing of animated characters is today a $70 billion market.  According to Global License Magazine, there are 16 companies who generate revenues over $1 billion from merchandising and licensing of characters from Charlie Brown to Curious George.  Kinda makes Zynga’s $1 billion in revenue look small by comparison (see that little bar on the far left of the diagram below???).  This is the real opportunity for highly viral social games – not just selling virtual crops, but serving as the incubators and launch pads for tomorrow’s unique character-based IP.

One would think that a $70 billion industry that had yet to be disrupted by the internet would have scores of entrepreneurs and investors swarming all over it.  Instead, with notable exceptions such as Rovio’s Angry Birds plush toys, the character merchandising market is being ignored by most online game developers.  Why?  Conventional wisdom is that it is hard to create unique IP.  That IP needs to come from TV and film because that’s how it’s always been.  

In fact, games are the perfect medium from which to create new character-based IP for several reasons:

Like all new market opportunities, it will require the success of an early entrant before a mass movement begins.  To be successful as transmedia merchandising franchises, game characters will need to have more than cute artwork.  Like the characters we are designing at Spitball, they will need to be every bit the full persona Mickey was – with a voice, a backstory, and a lovable personality.  In short, a true character who kids of all ages can identify with and develop a deep affinity for – that is what will unlock the next big wave of revenue in social games.

Oct 21

Miya’s Social Media Presence

Spent some time today building out Miya’s social media presence, including her:

Facebook Fan Page http://www.facebook.com/miyamackenzie

Twitter Page http://twitter.com/miya_mackenzie

YouTube Channel http://www.youtube.com/MiyaMackenzie

Follows, likes, shares, subscribes, etc. is always appreciated!

Oct 18

[video]

Oct 11

Heading to Austin

I’m on my way to Austin for the annual GDC Online conference.  It was in a game writer’s workshop at the March GDC conference in San Francisco that the spark for the character and theme of our game originated, so I’m looking forward to similar inspiration at the fall event.  Ping me if you would like to meet up at the conference! 

Oct 04

Miya’s Debut Album Nearly Complete

One of the very cool things we’re doing to make our character, Miya Mackenzie, a more complete pop superstar is producing an entire original album.  I’m pleased to share that the 10th and final track of Miya’s debut LP, “Before & After”, was completed today.  We will be doing final production and preparing the album for distribution on iTunes, Amazon and other outlets over the next few weeks.  We plan to launch the album in late November or early December.

Huge, huge, HUGE thanks to Nick Gallant who wrote and produced the majority of the tracks (Alex Teamer and Chris McDonald also both wrote and produced a track each), and Mary Woodard who belted out the vocals as the singing voice of Miya on all the tracks on the album.  You can give it a listen on SoundCloud at http://soundcloud.com/mike-c-trigg/sets/miya-mackenzie-demo-ep.  Enjoy!

Sep 02

Miya: Before & After Goes to Alpha Release

HUGE thanks and congratulations to our development team for their hard work reaching our Alpha release milestone with our first game, Miya: Before & After.  We are finalizing the last features today and declaring victory — just in time for the Labor Day weekend!

The game is not open to the public yet, but we will be inviting a set of Alpha test users to try out the game.  If you have girls between the ages of 6-13, we’d love to have them take it for a test drive and get their feedback.  Send me an email at mike@spitballent.com and we’ll notify you when they can log in.

Aug 23

A sneak peek of our main character, the pop superstar Miya Mackenzie.

A sneak peek of our main character, the pop superstar Miya Mackenzie.

Aug 08

Games Are the New Creators of IP

Conventional wisdom in the gaming industry for a long time has been that intellectual property (IP) is something that games license. Characters and storylines were created in Hollywood, or in comic strips. During the console era, this philosophy made sense — if your game was sitting beside 100 other cartridges at GameStop, having Spider-Man on the cover was critical for differentiating your title from the others.  If a gamer is about to plunk down $50 for a game, having a recognizable character on the cover might give a marginally better gut feeling that the game wouldn’t suck.

This conventional wisdom was challenged during the rise of free-to-play online games, which empowered gamers with the ability to try before they bought.  Suddenly, having a recognizable character on your virtual cover was less important than the actual quality of the game.  Whatever vestiges of relevance pre-existing IP had was significantly diminished. But the biggest blow was yet to come.

During the social gaming wave of the last 3 years, pre-existing IP has been demonstrated to be all but irrelevant. If you peruse down the list of the top social games on AppData, you will be hard pressed to find any in the top 100+ that have IP from the TV/film/comic world.  Social games discovered they didn’t need to fork over a bunch of money to IP holders — they had a perfectly effective way of gaining users without a recognized action figure on their cover.  The economics of virtual goods and micro-transactions had leveled the playing field. 

Now we seem to be entering a new phase — one in which IP starts to flow the other way, from the gaming sector into TV, films and merchandise. During my recent trip to Seattle for the Casual Connect conference, one of the many interesting speakers I attended was Peter Vesterbacka, head of North American operations at Rovio, the creators of Angry Birds.  Although specific numbers are hard to come by, Rovio appears to be crushing it with their Angry Birds merchandise. They announced in March they had sold 2 million plush toys.  Anecdotally, I have personally walked into a half dozen stores with displays of Angry Birds plush toys like this one prominently displayed near the cash register.  If you assume, conservatively, that they’ve sold 5 million by this point at $10 apiece, that’s $50 million.

MoshiMonsters, the pet monster game for kids by MindCandy, is another IP franchise capitalizing on physical world merchandising.  The company is reportedly expecting to do $100 million in gross retail sales this year.  It’s not clear how much of that number is physical toys, but those are some impressive numbers.

Although plush toy birds and pigs have already generated millions in revenue, they are really just a proof point in the potential of unique IP originating from games.  After all, how many things can you come up with for Angry Birds besides plush toys?  Figurines?  Maybe t-shirts for the die-hard fans?  They already did their Rio tie-in, but it’s hard to make a feature-length movie based on sling-shotted aviary with no names, voices, personalities or storylines. 

As much as I love those Angry Birds, the next multi-billion IP franchise to come out of the gaming world will be a fully defined character.  One with not only a cute visual representation, but with a voice, a personality, and most importantly, a story — an identity that kids can identify with, and build an affinity for.  A character who encapsulates their hopes, dreams and aspirations.  And that character will come from a game.  Why?  Three main reasons:

  1. Games are where kids are increasingly spending their time, attention, and money.  A kid is much more apt to take a liking to a character in a game they actually pay attention to vs TV ads they fast forward past on TiVo.
  2. Games cost a mere fraction to produce and promote as TV shows or movies.  The production budgets of traditional entertainment force them to be more conservative, preferring to go with “proven” IP to reduce risk.  Games can afford to be much more innovative, which is what leads to breakthrough new IP.
  3. Games are a much better testing ground for new IP.  Rather than putting a character and a narrative into a box/theater/TV set and see if kids buy it, online games can be continuously modified, A/B tested, and optimized based on real-time user feedback – making it much easier to evolve into a concept and character that strikes a chord with the audience.

This is why games will be the originators of new IP going forward.  Games will be the creators and the proving ground, after which the flow of licensing will follow — with TV,  books, movies and music paying for the proven IP of games to sell their products.  Should be fun!

Jul 22

Conference Crunch

I’m on my way back from the Casual Connect conference in Seattle. It was a very productive, though also very exhausting, couple days. I came with more business cards than I could have imagined handing out — at least 100 — and I’m coming home with my stash fully depleted. Last week I attended the GamesBeat conference in San Francisco, which was equally productive.

There were several themes that emerged in these 2 conferences. And I jotted down a few notes to share my thoughts:

1) Game discovery has become an urgent priority on all platforms. With Facebook virality diminished and the iOS top charts crowded everyone is looking for new ways to get discovered. I met more vendors claiming to solve that problem than I met game developers. Tough play since, at best, only 1 or 2 survive and they will be trying to compete as a single feature vs the platforms themselves. I’d rather be a game developer. It may be crowded, but at least it isn’t a zero-sum game. There’s always room for another great game. There won’t always be room for another game discovery engine.

2) Merchandising is the new black. Heard a presentation by one of the Rovio guys in front of a table of Angry Birds plush toys while wearing an Angry Birds sweatshirt. Their success in selling branded merchandise and extending their characters cross-media has mixed up a big old batch of Kool-Aid and everyone is drinking from it. Spitball is perfectly positioned to capitalize on this wave, as games become the main drivers of unique IP. It will not be long before we see a billion-dollar character licensing franchise born out of an online game.

3) Demand for content is un-quenchable, especially for girl-focused content. As an, as yet, un-launched game I expected to get a cool reception from prospective distributors of our game. Instead, every big game portal, promoter and publisher talked about how eager they are for new content — particularly titles for girls. We are pushing hard to get our game launched so we can capitalize on the demand.

Overall, it was a very educational and informative few days, and I’m as bullish as ever that we have a huge opportunity in front of us.