Viewpoint: Games
Jennifer Taylor
Issue: Volume 34 Issue 1: (Jan-Feb 2011)

Viewpoint: Games

Traditional notions about gamers and gaming are changing. With the rise and popularity of social networks as well as the uptake of broadband services worldwide, the number of casual and social gamers is growing at an aggressive pace. As a result, so, too, is the gam- ing industry.

In fact, online gaming is now the number-one activity on the In- ternet across all age groups, generating more money in recent years than another big entertainment sector: the movie industry. According to online gaming market research company DFC Intelligence, online gaming revenue for 2009 was expected to reach $8.8 billion world- wide, while marketing firm Strategy Analytics projects annual revenue to reach almost $12 billion by 2011.

For game developers of all sizes, there’s a definite push to jump into the action. But doing so successfully requires following a few rules. First, your game has to be playable by the widest possible audience. Second, keep barriers to playing low so people can enter your game fric- tion-free. Third, have the ability to rapidly iterate, update, and enhance your game. And, finally, make sure your game works across multiple platforms and is available through several application stores.

For independent game developers working with finite budgets, this is not always easy to accomplish. But with several new services from Adobe and its partners, winning in the game development market just got easier.

More Opportunities, Fewer Limits

As you likely know, the Flash Platform supports some of the best casual games on the Web today. This is due, in part, to streamlined develop- ment workflows among Adobe Creative Suite, Adobe Flash Profession- al, and the Flex framework—all aimed at driving smooth integration and iteration of art, sound, and code.

An active community of Flash developers contributes to the strength of this development environment, as well. Millions of talented develop- ers not only create great content, but also share massive amounts of information through online forums, tutorials, user groups, and confer- ences. And, last but not least, because the Adobe Flash Player is installed on virtually every Internet-enabled computer worldwide, you can develop an Adobe SWF-based game with confidence, knowing that just about anyone can play it in a browser.

More recently, the introduction of Adobe AIR (a cross-platform run- time environment) has moved online gaming to off-line environments, enabling people to play games on their desktop computers, with or without an Internet connection. And with AIR for Android coming up in the AIR 2.5 release, the reach will go even further.

But even the most impressive Flash games won’t see action if nobody knows they’re out there. That’s where several new services from Adobe and its partners come into play. Created to provide developers with more opportunities and fewer limits, these services offer a vehicle to enhance, distribute, and cash in on your SWF-based games. Using the services, you can easily add social and collaborative capabilities to your games, accelerate development, reach larger audiences, and find new ways to monetize your efforts.

Easily Integrate and Stay Up to Date

To reach the broadest range of potential casual gamers players, the titles need to have a presence across multiple social networks. After all, not everyone’s playing on Facebook. But who has the bandwidth or the budget to write separate integration code for each and every network? Or to write and deploy updates every time an API changes? The Social- ize service from Gigya can help overcome these hurdles.

With the Socialize service, developers can easily integrate leading so- cial networks with their games. Implemented through a single Action- Script3 API in Flash or Flex, the service provides an abstraction layer that connects with multiple networks—including Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and a growing number of others. This easy-to-use service removes the complexity and repetitive work of having to implement multiple APIs. It also insulates game developers against ongoing chang- es. Every time a social network changes an underlying API, the Socialize service automatically adapts to those changes. That means you don’t have to rewrite and recompile your code every time a social network updates an API. Your game doesn’t break, it stays up-to-date, and you don’t have to do a thing. Plus, you gain access to dashboard analytics to review and optimize a game’s social performance.

Adobe has extended its reach into the casual games sector with solutions for promoting, distributing, and monetizing titles developed with Flash, including Xtrem Snowboarding

While the Socialize service helps developers get their games in front of more users without writing separate integration code for each social network, it also helps gamers have a more engaging, personalized ex- perience from start to finish. Because the service provides developers with plug-and-play widgets that utilize the social API for Login, Share, Invite, Select Friends, and other commands, developers can enable gamers to invite friends to play, compete and track scores on leader boards, send updates to news feeds, post achievements to walls, and “Like” a game in public forums.

For example, through Facebook, Yahoo, and MySpace, gamers can open the Playfish game “Bowling Buddies,” invite friends to play, post scores on leader boards, brag about their great bowling scores on their walls—even display achievement trophies in their social network profiles.

Obviously, social capabilities like these help deepen engagement and relevancy for gamers. Even better, they help freely spread the word about your game every time it’s played. Ultimately, this means you can promote your game virally and increase registration rates simply by en- abling players to enjoy an immersive, social, online gaming experience.

With the Socialize service, integration with Facebook is free of charge. There are nominal annual charges to integrate games with other social networks.

Differentiate Your Game

Once you’ve integrated multiple social networks, you might want to differentiate your game and deepen engagement even more by add- ing real-time collaboration capabilities. Whether adding voice or group chat functionality to a multi-player card game, or enabling a group of zombie-killing gamers to see how fellow players are performing in real time, developers can use the Adobe LiveCycle Collaboration Service (LCCS) to cost-effectively include those capabilities in their titles.

LCCS takes many of the components you could build yourself using technologies such as Flash Media Server or LiveCycle Data Ser- vices ES2, and offers them as a hosted service. By using Adobe to host real-time push messaging, you can add collaborative and multiplayer capabilities to your game without the hassle and expense of managing your own servers.

Here’s how it works. Clients subscribe to shared objects, and any changes are broadcast to all subscribers in real time. This can be used to create anything from simple components, like a multiuser chat box, to much more complex collaborative applications, such as a multiplayer game wherein character positions, actions, and other data are instantly shared among all players. For example, in the SWF-based game “ChessJam,” players can see each other’s moves in real time and chat with each other during individual games or tournaments. With LCCS, you can even stream video to your game or enable VoIP-like functionality through players’ Webcams and mi- crophones via P2P streaming using Real-Time Media Flow Protocol (RTMFP).

But how can you be sure that collaborative capabilities make sense for your game? You can easily test the collabora- tive waters by offering a simple pay-per-use model. That way, when you’re in the development stage, your hosted LCCS charges will be low. When your game takes off and gets tons of collaborative play, you’ll be billed accordingly.

Reach Millions through App Stores

The latest service, Adobe InMarket, was recently launched at Adobe MAX 2010. Designed to help game developers distribute and make money with Adobe AIR applications, InMarket serves as a virtual distri- bution center that supplies applications to multiple app stores.

Through InMarket, developers have the potential to reach millions of gamers with minimal expense and effort. If you took care of dis- tribution yourself, you would have to create and manage integration with multiple storefronts—which could easily become a full-time, all- encompassing job. Conversely, with this new service, developers only have to create a game for a particular device profile (the desktop, for example). Then, InMarket will take care of distributing the game to multiple online storefronts. If updates are needed to a game’s descrip- tion, to change a price, or even upload a new version, it only needs to be done once because InMarket will modify the information across all app stores selling the game. InMarket also makes it easier to monetize games and view download metrics in one place to gauge the user inter- est in particular games.

The Intel AppUp Center is the first storefront available in Adobe InMarket. Intel has announced agreements with retailers like Best Buy and OEMs like Asus to preinstall AppUp on netbooks and note- books. With an initial focus on PC-device profiles, Adobe InMarket will target additional profiles, including mobile and television, in the near future—and will make it simple to package games to match particular device profiles.

Serious Support for Casual Game Developers

Whether you develop action/adventure games, match-three puzzles, board games, or role-playing games, the Adobe Flash Platform offers tools to create and deploy immersive, engaging experiences. Now, ca- sual game developers can get even more serious support in the form of Flash-based services. Through these services, you can easily integrate social and collaborative capabilities, develop more rapidly, distribute more widely, and monetize more effectively than ever. And as the reach of Flash Player extends to mobile phones and other devices through the Open Screen Project and other partnerships, there are more opportu- nities than ever before for creative game developers to win big in the multi-screen world.