Pete just sent me a link to Dave Taylor's article on Kart Rider. It is an interesting read on a casual multiplayer game quite similar to Mario Kart whose parent company is racking in $110 million in 2003 with a projected growth of over 127%.
There's another rather popular called Gunbound that uses the same basic business model. This time the game is based on Scorched Earth. Gunbound has an English site and is well worth checking out.
Admittedly these are both Korean companies and there may be some cultural aspect that do not translate well to the US. However the highly successful business model of these two titles is worth studying in great and lavish detail. Western designers are constantly talking about how to create massively multiplayer causal games. The results are hardcore titles like Guildwars that sell quite a bit to the Diablo fanatics of the world but by no means would be considered 'casual'. With Kart Rider and Gunbound we have clear cut successful examples of a multiplayer game sporting millions of users that is appealing to a casual demographic. Talk about being provided with a golden opportunity on a silver platter.
What feature mix should we steal?
Let's say I'm a capitalistic game designer who wants to borrow key features and replicate this success in my own game title. What are the common elements in our two examples that are likely to be the defining factors of this new genre?
- High production values using a neo-retro art style
- Quick and friendly game play
- Highly polished ranking system
- The ability to buy avatars and powerups at a small cost.
This seems to be a rather reasonable project to begin production on. There is a bit of investment in the server-side back end, but much less than is necessary for a game like WoW. The art costs go down since you are dealing with stylized assets. The game design is amendable to rapid prototyping since you are tuning a 5 to 15 minute experience instead of worrying about a 300 hour mega quest.
The biggest challenge is picking core game mechanics that appeal to a broad audience. What 5 minute experience would appeal to Western players? Pac Man, Street Fighter or perhaps Puzzle Pirates with purchasable powerups? This is the million dollar question that I'm sure some enterprising developer will crack in the next year or three. At that point, move over WoW. There's a new game genre in town and unlike the hardcore niche market of current MMOGs, multiplayer casual games have all the makings of a mass market cultural powerhouse.