Searching new opportunities

2008 was a very busy but also very successful year for me.

  • In January I sold my online gaming company Neodelight.com to 7Seas Technologies (press release).
  • I also did some consulting e.g. for www.fettspielen.de (more).
  • In August I completed my master’s thesis titled: „Explanatory Models of Computer Gaming Consumption“ an empirical survey focusing on the differentiation of casual and hardcore games (more).
  • In December I wrote my final exams for my Master in Sociology, Political Science and Psychology and now am officially a „DiplomSoziologe Univ“, hooray!

With my company successfully sold and my diploma certificate in the pocket I now have my head cleared for new challenges.

So if you

  • know of any interesting jobs (preferably near Munich)
  • or are in need of a consultant with 8 years of experience in the social, online and casual games market (and an additional year shooting documentaries 🙂
  • or you need a researcher who does not only know the business side of computer games but has also researched them from a scientific angle,

then I am at your disposal.

If you want more information on what I did, can do and want to do in the future then check out my LinkedIn or Xing profiles or go back to the main page of my website at www.ulrichtausend.com.

As I am travelling North America until 14th of march reaching me though email might be easier than calling my cell (you find the contact info here).

‚Organized‘ gaming in Munich – here we go!

I am really happy that I came across the „Videospielkultur e.V.“ (club for video games culture) end of last year. The club is very active organizing lectures and discussions on the cultural aspects of video games as well as their impact on society.


AND they are hosting the bi-weekly Games Lounge. There you can play the newest (and oldest) games from a massive library on good equipment. And as most people attending are from the games business it is also a perfect way to discuss games while making new connections.
For me the games lounge is what I always wanted to exist. And I am a bit sad that I will miss couple of them on my well earned post graduation travel to North America 😉 . It is just quite a sight to see the Bavarian Minister of Media playing guitar hero.

Why is the console games development in Germany relatively weak?

During the last days I was thinking about why in Germany the console games development is relatively week compared with other European countries. May it be a reflection of the Germany’s sub-strength (given its population size) retail console games market? Why are Germans relatively fond of PC games in comparison to console games.

To be honest I did not reach a conclusive answer on that. Below are couple of thoughts about it but the main idea of this post is to hopefully get some better ideas on the matter from you guys.

Generally I see two underlying factors:

1. Many Germans grew up not paying for games
The the PC scene has been pretty strong in Germany since the C64, Atari ST and Amiga days. It was very easy on these platforms to copy games. So many people from my age group (around 30) grew up without paying much for games. And I think these people mostly moved to the PC as it is also pretty easy on the PC to copy the games (again games for free), while it is more complicated on the console (especially as you basically also need a PC for that).
Therefore you have more people on PCs and less on consoles which could also explain why Germany is (from what I know) very strong in the open source or demo scene areas (both work without payment) as well as in the browser (mog) business.

2. Violence in games is seen more critical in Germany
Another factor could be, that in Germany negative effects of PC and Console Games (especially violence) are emphasised more strongly than in other countries (more on that in an WIRED article connecting this to the pacifistic ’never again‘ education style in Germany).
So on a individual level on average it is (or was) probably harder to get some money for a ‚only games‘ console games console from your parents than for a PC which can also be used for working.
On a company level the German state was pretty reluctant to sponsor PC games as well as console games development, probably again because of the relatively negative image of games being violent or addictive. Ego shooters are often called „Killerspiele (Killergames)“ in the media and some politicians not only want to ban the sale but also the production of these games. You probably heard that Crytec (Crysis) was openly stating in 2007 that they are thinking to relocate to another country (more). So some investors were probably scared away from founding AAA studios in Germany which often focus on console market. This may also explain why Germany is strong in the browser (mog) games marked as more clever coders tried to go in this direction as you don’t need much initial funding for developing these.

But times are changing
In recent times the discussion on violent computer games has died down a bit and currently the media is discussing games in a much friendlier light. And this development is not limited to casual games. For example also GTA4 was discussed repeatedly in German main stream (not video games) media as being a culturally interesting game for adults. Also December 2007 the German minister for culture announced that computer games are now considered to be a ‚Kulturgut‘ – a ‚cultural asset‘ – which can and should be sponsored by the state. The G.A.M.E. association (pretty much the same as the British TIGA) was lobbying for that since couple of years.
It is also interesting that Germany hosts the biggest European convention on console and pc games.

So it seems there is a lot of potential for catching up („Hello investors“).

Leipzig

I made a short stop at the Games Convention in Leipzig. Always nice to see these „a bit more than power point slides“ press conferences.

Little Big Planet is great, hope it will sell well so we will see more of this stuff.
Guitar Hero and Singstar were everywhere. That is a road to go, don’t miss it.

Diploma thesis completed

I completed my diploma thesis and are waiting for my result. Right now I am preparing for my final exams. I will have completed my studies in March 2009. I will prepare a summary of my findings then.

In short: There were huge differences in demography and play style between the Hardcore Game Player and Casual Game Player audiences. There is not just ONE computer games culture. Gamers associate different functions and meanings with gaming. Generally restrictions (like income, time, experience with input devices and games) are less relevant when choosing which games to play than preferences (like attitude towards violence in games).

Edit: I was awarded the mark „very good“ on the thesis.

Play FETT!

While working on my diploma thesis I am also doing some consulting. One of my clients www.fettspielen.de, a German online gaming website, went live April 2008. I was involved with the project since November 2007 while the strategic direction of the website was not yet decided.
I really like the graphical style of the website as well as how quickly you can browse through the different games. Using the site is very easy. For example every registered user automatically has a personal profile-site (check out mine). Please write me if you have any comments on the website. David An, the founder of Fettspielen, has many nice ideas for the future development of the site. And he got backing from Holtzbrinck, who also own StudiVZ the German Facebook. So Fettspielen is a name to remember.

Fett is German slang for cool, spielen means to play.

Fishing in Lake Sagar

As I wrote in another post we sold neodelight.com and all our sources to 7Seas Technologies.

In January 2008 the Neodelight staff was in Hyderabad/India to train the 7Seas team on our sources. We wanted them to learn on the job and therefore created a nice little game with them which even has some serious thoughts to it:

When we were sight seeing in Hyderabad, we visited Lake Sagar, a picturesque but heavily polluted lake (to keep us from doing foolish things a man told us „When you swim here – you die!„).
Around the lake we saw many „not littering“ signs which hopefully will have an effect soon.

We crossed the need to train the team with the problem of the polluted lake and got as a result the game „Clean Sagar“ in which you have to fish out garbage from the lake so it can recover.
Three days after the idea the completed game was released on the official press conference and the game became a big hit in the press as well as with Indian gamers.


The other game which was released on the press conference was Mouse Maze. This very nice mouse avoider which we created in 2007 even won the FICCI FRAMES Best of Animation Frames Award for the online gaming category. By the way, Halo 3 won best console game and Gears of War best PC game awards.

So everybody was very happy with the press conference. Especially the fish in Lake Sagar.

Do Casual Gamer become Hardcore Gamer over time?

End of last year I conducted a survey on a casual games website (the German part of Zylom.com) and two Hardcore Games websites (Gamestar.de, Ingame.de).
In this blog I call the players from the casual games website casual gamers and the gamers from the hardcore games websites hardcore gamers.

I was very busy selling my own casual games company since the survey was online. Therefore I was only able to take a very brief look in a not statistically significant part of the data yet.
But this brief look already changed my view on the „most Casual Gamer will slowly become Hardcore Gamer“ topic.
The typical argumentation line is the following:
Casual games are way easier to pick up than hardcore games and are therefore the natural starting point for most non gamers.
Through playing casual games these gamers will over time become more experienced with computer games (becoming computer game literate) and will then slowly migrate to the more sophisticated hardcore games.

But my data does not support this as the Casual Gamers are already playing since 16 years while the HC Gamers only play since 10.

Therefore if you only look at the years of experience with computer games, the Casual Games are ahead.
This speaks against a general trend of casual gamers migrating to become hardcore gamers the longer they play.

In my survey the hardcore gamers have an average age of roughly 20, while the average age of the casual gamers is a bit below 40.
Youngsters are considered to have much more time to play games than older people.
And you generally need more time to play hardcore games than casual games. So how about hardcore gamers becoming casual gamers when they get older?
I did not ask about it, so this one is pretty much open for speculation. But what do you think judging your friends and family?

To sum it up I don’t think the years of experience are very important, but the age someone did play computer for the first time.
I think older persons are not as playful with new things like computers as kids are and therefore more easily frustrated and turning to the simple to learn casual games.
I my survey the hardcore gamers started playing with 10, the casual gamers with 20.

What is next?

I am writing this in Hyderabad/India. Last week my two partners and me transferred our casual games assets to the Indian company 7Seas Technologies (press release, news coverage). Together with the brand „Neodelight“ we sold our portal (www.neodelight.com), games as well as engine technology. Training the 7Seas team on our technology as well as business model was a very demanding and interesting task. I am really interested in how they will do with the combined potential of our technology and their man power.

During the last six months I was asked several times why we are selling Neodelight.
We started Neodelight 5,5 years ago. We created some games, they became popular. We created more games and the www.neodelight.com portal and both prospered together. For this whole time Neodelight was just a part time job my business partners Florian Metzger and me. Florian was studying Art and later concentrated on his band Haferflocken Swingers. I was studying Sociology, Political Science and Psychology. Robert Wenrich (who joined 2005) was busy with studying Chinese and writing TV screenplays. We had an early start and and a very good position in the market but over the years the online games business became more and more professional. We knew that at some point we would need to invest more time and money in Neodelight or see the project being outstripped by more business oriented ones. We finally decided that we wanted to find a company who could use and continue what we started. We are happy that we found 7Seas Technologies.
After the buyout will be completed I will now focus on my research and complete my diploma.

And what will happen next? More research? Creating a new or joining an existing company? Some consulting perhaps? Or something completely different? Stay tuned…

794 hours and the next 7 months.

I conducted a qualitative online survey about computer playing habits for my diploma thesis in sociology. Several thousand gamers answered the survey on de.zylom.com, www.gamestar.de, www.ingame.de and couple of smaller sites.
I thank all the participating sites. But I especially want to thank all the people who took the time to answer the survey, 794 hours in sum to be exact. January I will be in India, first for business and then for some traveling. February 6-8th I will be in Amsterdam for the Casual Connect (my third time). Contact me if you want to chat there: u@ulrichtausend.com. The diploma thesis will be completed 1st of August 2008. I will keep you posted about what I find out.

Most Finns play, but not computer.

When I was in Tampere this spring Frans Mäyrä presented a first glimpse of a massive quantitative study about gaming habits in Finland. The really great thing about their study is that it covers a pretty representative share of the Finnisch population and asks them about media usage and gaming habits. Therefore we don’t just have answers from gamers but also from non gamers. The final report was published now and I find it really interesting.

During the last month 66 % of the respondents reported playing traditional games, 59 % money games, 31 % digital games and 4 % engrossment games (LARP).

This means that when we want to study games, we should not only focus on computer games as these are not the dominant gaming form. Traditional games and money games are much more common. This fact is especially important for casual (computer) game studies as much more potential or actual casual gamers have experience with traditional or money games than with hardcore (computer) games. This can also partly explain why Solitaire is the most popular digital game (the other reason is the availability of this game on any Windows PC).

Back then in Tampere I was discussing with Frans Mäyrä the usage of their data for my own thesis. But I finally decided that I wanted a specifically designed casual-hardcore-games survey. Probably I will present my findings there in 2008.

Casual Games and Gender

The Casual Games Association has released their Casual Games Market Report 2007 . Would be interesting to get my hands on it as an article on it says that men play casual games as often as women which is different to the common believe that most casual gamers are women. Seems the men don’t like to admit they play these „little“ games.
I wonder how they got their data. Most classical casual games websites told me the huge majority of their visitors would be women. So where do the men sneak in?
One possible solution could be that men are more likely to play on www.newgrounds.com etc.. Most Games there can also be called „casual“ if you mean easy to pick up. But on the other hand many of the games on newgrounds have some gore which is something which does not fit other definitions of casual games. For example you won’t find any gore on pogo.com etc. Could turn of the women…

User generated content and casual games

I was mentioned in an article on by technology review:
http://www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/19137/?a=f

This was the question the author Erica Naone asked me:

„Do you think casual gamers will respond to these efforts to encourage them to form casual gaming communities? Considering the suggestion that they may be attracted to casual games because of less familiarity with computers, do you think they are likely to respond to offers to participate by creating user-generated content?“

This was my answer:

Generally your question is a tricky one. Especially because the term casual is used in so many different ways. I will first focus on „casual gamers“ as .

It takes time and effort and some kind of skill with computers to take part in an online community or generate content. This speaks against „casual“ online communities if you use the term casual as „not very interested“ or „not very involved“ or mean users who are not experienced with computers.

For making it interesting to take part in a community the level of freedom what you can do and how you can participate is an important part. On the other hand one characteristic casual games normally feature is that they are non-offensive. The designers try not to turn someone off with violence or sexist protagonists…
If you are pretty free what to generate in an community you can also generate offensive material. You can swear, or upload a picture which is explicit and so on. Therefore a community which would be targeted at older or more female audience would need tight controls to prevent the creation of unwanted material.
These tight controls would on the one hand be hard to implement and on the other hand limit the freedom of the possible content generators. (There are some community games for very young players under 10) which only let you communicate with other players using predefined text modules. This is one way to prevent paedophiles to try to contact the minors. But I don’t think it is not much fun to use these text modules).

On the other hand to at least being theoretically able to create user content as well as „feeling“ to be part of a lively social community is a strong incentive for many users. Especially users who have a negative feeling towards computers or technical devices.
One main goal of the casual game developers is to tell the non-typical potential computer players (especially women or seniors) that gaming is also something for them. That message is hard to spread if the women and Seniors who are already playing are mostly playing alone and at home. Community players are more visible. This makes a community especially interesting for casual game designers.
As only few of the potential casual gamers are actually playing till now and therefore there is a huge untapped potential, I am sure many companies will try to create casual community games in the near future.

Then there is the different way to use the term „casual“ as meaning „simple game“. I think www.newgrounds.com is the biggest casual game community and features lots of user generated content. But www.newgrounds.com does not fit the to the pogo.com, zylom.com or bigfishgames.com audience at all. The games are simple and quick to play but many of them can be considered offensive. You can take part by uploading your own flash games or films or your music. Or you can comment on the stuff uploaded by others.
While the flash games are pretty simple to make there is a great incentive for many non professional designers to create something and show it to the public.
The community is very free and you are very power full as a creator as well as a user. Therefore newgrounds is one of the best places to find creative people playing around and from time to time having great and innovative ideas.

The community itself is associated with www.newgrounds.com and not with specific games. So it is not a casual game community but more a casual gameS community.

To sum it up:

  • Everything depends how you use the term casual.
  • A casual (as seniors and women) game community must be very simple to use and non offensive.
  • A casual (meaning simple game) game community can also work if it is much more open and therefore give the users a real chance to create interesting content for the other users.
  • Out of thousands of players of a particular casual game (also as seniors and women) you will always find some who will want to invest a lot and be able to do so in a pretty professional way (ask Ion Hardie from Reflexive for their response to Big Kahuna Reef).

Juul goes casual

Good to see that Jesper Juul is taking on the casual games. He gave several speeches about the topic in the last days (The Sun Always Shines in Casual Games, How They Got Game).
There are some problems connected with the use of the term „casual“ in computer games.

There are these games which we are calling „Casual Games“ with properties like „small games, easily learned, and usually distributed over the internet“ and so on (Zuma, Beeweled and Diner Dash being examples).

But then there is also the way how you play. You can play any game in a casual manner. You can play a quick „casual“ Quake session. And you can try for hours „hardcore style“ to compete with a high score in Bejeweled.

On the Gamers in Society Seminar in Tampere last week Jussi Kuittinen, Annakaisa Kultima, Johannes Niemelä and Janne Paavilainen from the Game Research Lab presented a paper proposing a stricter use of the term Casual-in-Games. Probably Juul and the Gamelab should exchange ideas (and keep me in the loop ;). Their paper is not published yet. If Copenhagen an Tampere would come up with a casual games terminology together it would not only be industry interests forging the „casual“ terms.

Juul is using the term Gaming Literacy – sounds nice. I thought about Game Capital (like Social or Human Capital) which represents investment into learning how to play games.

(Thanks to Daniel Pergman to giving me the „Juul is casual“ hint)

Problems using the term "Casual" Games

Using the term casual for people who play casual games for long hours and pretty excessively is kind of strange. This shows us that there are at least two aspects of the term casual which are often confused.

On the Gamers in Society Seminar in Tampere Jussi Kuittinen, Annakaisa Kultima, Johannes Niemelä and Janne Paavilainen from the Game Research Lab presented a paper proposing a stricter use of the term Casual-in-Games.

Find a blog entry on the presentation here and updated slides here.

Casual concerning the design characteristics of certain games which are typically called casual games (meaning games on popcap.com, pogo.com and so forth). These often feature general appeal, simple controls, fast rewards, possibility to play in short time bursts.

We could refer to this aspect by calling the games Casual Games, and the people playing them Casual Game Player.

Casual concerning the way someone is playing a game. This means playing any game (casual or hardcore) while not being focused on the activity and/or playing only for a short while. Is someone playing a certain game session just for fun without being afraid of loosing or with a more competitive attitude (example in an tourney including price money).

We could refer to this aspect by calling the activity casual playing.

A Casual Gamer would be someone who is playing in an casual manner (casual playing) or who has a generally casual approach to playing computer games as a hobby .

The casual/hardcore playing dimension stated here is compatible with my definition of casual/hardcore playing in this earlier post.

Problem is that it is still pretty hard not confuse the terms.

Could we come up with more sticky words for the different concepts. Any suggestions?

The game research lab will most likely hand out the paper to anyone requesting it (it is not published yet).