Viral Gaming

25 Nov
With NxtGens up and coming XNA games day and the work I’ve been doing around social media, I thought I’d write some notes as to where these two interesting areas overlap.
Richie Costall and Pete McGann did a really cool Silverlight version of the ZX Spectrum game, Manic Miner, which has a level in it promoting NxtGen. (play it here).

Here’s another really good example of some games from Cadbury. Each of the elves have their own game, and they even have their own blogs!
These so called ‘Viral Games’ are usually small, easy to play, and usually web based.. and most importantly if you want it to spread, fun to play!
These games, if you can get people engaged with them, becomes a powerful marketing tool. But to be successful, you cant just write any old game, here some things to consider.
Marketing Strategy
So, you’ve managed to get half the world playing your game, but if the marketing message is not there, then all you have is a cool game. You need a theme that gets your audience thinking in a particular way is the key. Games that are way too over branded, or make you register before you can play, will be a turn off to the gaming community – which is who you will be relying on to pass your message around.

Get The Game Right
The game itself needs to have enough meat on it for people to actually want to play. It needs to look good enough to encourage people to have a go, but watch the size of downloads, bandwidth needed to play.
You don’t want a Halo, massive 3D game that takes 6 fingers on each hand to play, but neither do you want something that’s going to get boring after 5 mins. There needs to be a low entry level of difficulty, but that climbs up as you progress, to keep people wanting to beat their previous best. Placing high score tables for people that register, will add an additional level of competition and encourages registration. We do this for the Manic Miner game.
Get The Game Out There.
Most games will spread amongst work colleagues and friends on a peer-2-peer basis. but there still needs to be a number of initial people going this to get going in the first place. If you have a website lots of people visit, then placing a link, maybe to a ‘challenge’ (score more than 1000 points for a discount for example) to encourage play.
Remember, the biggest group of people who are likely to ‘distribute’ your game is going to be the gaming community, so placing you game on the many gaming portals is a good idea.
Deciding On A Technology
As I’ve already said, a lot of these games tend to be web based, so building the game to support this is really a must. Flash games abound on the Internet. As you are (hopefully) expecting a load of visitors, you need to make sure your infrastructure is capable of delivering the game. Imagine you have managed to attract 5 million people but you servers cant handle more than 20 downloads!
As well as the web, there’s another large market that can be exploited. Console community games. Games consoles, such as the Xbox360, and development environments such as XNA allow development of games that can be downloaded and played by the casual console user. There’s also the possibility to make a small charge for the game in this arena as well. With ‘proper’ console games costing in excess of £40, good, playable games costing £1 will be readily be adopted. The Manic Miner game is written to be playable both on the web and also on the XNA platform to take advantage of both audiences.
If you would like to find out more about XNA, then NxtGen is running an ‘XNA assault course’ in Birmingham on Saturday 5th December. Have a look here for registration details.

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