As developer’s we’re always questioning what sort of applications are worth the time investment. Our first aim is to maximize user engagement which corresponds with high levels of usage and monetization. At a recent game designer’s talk in Europe, we had a colleague who defined three levels of gaming scenarios:
- Casual games were games that users played between things to kill time and had a main play loop of about 30 seconds.
- Mid-core games were ones with about a 20 minute game loop, and that players fit into their schedules.
- Hard-core games had 1-2 hour play loops, and the players fit their schedules around their game playing.
We thought the third scenario was most likely to achieve our first aim, and so we created the most engaging game we could muster – 6 Swords. This game is, basically, a D&D campaign delivered via voice. There are hundreds of monsters, nearly a hundred items, several infinite dimensions of procedurally-generated landscape, and three dimensions of curated landscapes. (For the last, we laid two of the landscapes over real world geographies which then became accessible to users intent on exploration.) There were winding dungeons to delve, sprawling cities to shop in, ruined temples to cleanse, gods to curry favor with, quests to go on, and so on and so forth.
Six Swords is the richest and broadest voice application available on any platform today. And it attracted some very dedicated users. The stats we collected delighted us. One user played it eight hours a day. Eight hours! After a few months we had over 40 users who passed the twenty minute a month mark, and a dozen who had played it over a hundred hours.
This was great! We had what we wanted. An app that was compelling enough to make someone sit and talk to a computer for hours at a time was the breakthrough to justify this as a gaming platform. Sure, not everyone will rise to this level, but even if only 2% of those who tried it played it for ten hours, that was enough to monetize and make a return to put up against the development effort.
But the user base still remained very low. Very dedicated. But very low.
We had a forum for the game, and we participated in threads about it on other gaming forums. We were able to contact and talk with a number of our super dedicated players and we discovered one common fact. They were all members of the visually-impaired community. All of them. Every single one of our extremely dedicated players fell into this category. Without any exception.
They loved what we were doing! No one else was create a substantive gaming experience that they could participate in on an equal footing with sighted players. It was fun and engaging and challenging like any good game should be. But it was also accessible. Something they could play.
And, yes, this was heart warming. The fact that people were spending hundreds of hours with our content and that we were giving joy to people who had previously only really be able to hear others talk about things and not participate felt very fulfilling. But it also taught us a very important lesson.
Visually-impaired gamers loved these games because they had no other choice. Sighted gamers had all of the industries games to choose form. And, given the choice, they didn’t choose ours. Why spend your game time talking to a computer would you could be also mesmerized but stunning visuals. How could radio ever compete with television?
Working Hypothesis: Voice is not a Hard Core Gaming Solution