Smart money on “stupid” games: Why Flappy Bird may point to the future of the gaming industry

“People think it’s dumb, or even the stupidest thing ever, but if you look at games as machines you interact with, Flappy Bird is perfect.”

You might be surprised to hear the words ‘Flappy Bird’ and ‘perfection’ in the same sentence coming from a seasoned video game reviewer. But CNET video game expert Nick Statt believes that the addictive game is far more clever than people give it credit for. Over beer and garlic fries in a cool dusk evening beneath the lilac-tinged sky at Southern Pacific Brewery, Statt dissected the meaning behind the newly-resurrected game’s success and the gaming industry’s development since the advent of massively mobile gaming.

For those who have yet to hear about Flappy Bird (in a wise effort to continue living your lives peacefully), Flappy Bird was a free-to-play game in which users guided a bird between pipes in a side-scrolling level by tapping the screen to control the bird’s trajectory. Its humble origins trace to a 26-year old programmer named Dong Ngyuen who programmed the game while living with his parents in a small village outside Hanoi, Vietnam. Flappy Bird’s meteoric rise was only paralleled with the vitriolic hate that users felt towards the game, akin to users going after their dealers for a fix denied. The antipathy reached a point where at the height of its success, pulling in fifty thousand dollars a day, Dong pulled it from the market and left this simple tweet:

But, like the Phoenix that dies and resurrects after numerous failed attempts at navigating between pipes of various sizes ad nauseum, Dong has announced that Flappy Bird will soar precariously back into mobile users’ hearts.

We’re at a point in gaming where one man can make an app that produces fifty thousand dollars a day while major multinational corporations spend years of research and development looking for the same success, albeit with greater stakes and overhead costs. So important are games coming from Microsoft and Sony, shares of publicly traded gaming companies drop if early game reviews skew negative.

Last week, gaming industry experts and professionals converged in San Francisco for Game Developers Conference, to determine the direction of an industry that has evolved and grown in ways that few could have imagined since the first coin-op games were introduced in the late ‘70s. But Flappy Bird’s origin and success stands in sharp relief to the state of the high-pressure world of the gaming industry today. And its runaway success raises the simple question: Are games like Flappy Bird the future of the industry

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The first games designed for what is generally regarded as the first mainstream console, the Atari 2600, seem simple now, but were revolutionary programs at the time. The amalgamations of asteroids and extraterrestrials represented a new form of player-controlled manipulation of an object in a world with a defined set of rules. Since those humble origins, games aspired to, and have largely been judged on, the ability to absorb complexity both visually and through game play innovation.

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In-game graphics for both Metal Gear for NES (1990) and its latest sequel released this month. More complex gameplay and graphics have been the obsession of designers everywhere, but does the coveted mainstream audience care about the same things?

The vast leaps in gameplay design are harder to convey. What was once a basic list of commands a player had at their disposal to defeat, say a giant ape that kidnapped your girlfriend while throwing barrels at a plumber, is now a vast web of contextualized triggers that the player sets for the AI to act upon in certain scenarios.

But ultimately, what developers seek to deliver is what Statt calls “Flow.”

“It’s that moment where game and player unite into one unique form of satisfaction. There’s no reason why a game like Flappy Bird is any worse necessarily than a major big budget title like Bioshock if it ends up delivering that Zen-like experience to players.”

What about the fact that Flappy Bird pissed off nearly everyone one of its players?

“That’s the hook! The first seconds you play it and inevitably die, you’re saying ‘I should be better at this!’ and keep playing. That’s brilliant design.”

“That said, if this were an arcade game in the ‘80s, it probably would have been seen as exploitative.”

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Around the time of the Nintendo Wii’s launch in 2006, Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo, was asked to choose which rival presented the greatest threat to Nintendo: Sony, makers of PlayStation, or Microsoft, of xbox. Iwata said something prescient, and perhaps not fully appreciated, at the time.

“Apple.”

With everyone possessing what is essentially a powerful computer with impressive graphical capabilities  in their pockets, Iwata realized that Apple (and now Android) snuck past the video game industry’s vaunted barriers of entry like a pixelated Trojan horse.

Marquis titles like Titanfall and Metal Gear Solid exemplify the seemingly unlimited budgets companies are willing to risk in order to ensure that their game dominates all others in an already crowded marketplace. In their obsession to beat one another in a digital arms race, major game publishers might be ignoring the lucrative potential that games like Flappy Bird hold. Some companies specializing in mobile gaming, like Zynga and now King Digital, have attempted to strike out as public companies on their own after the runaway success of a few of their games. However, both companies yet to have captured the imaginations of investors as both companies’ share price languish. What is for certain is that we’re seeing two dominant forms of game development moving in tandem: Huge budget games that literally affect the fortunes of publicly traded companies and the bare-bone-by-design games developed by one guy powered by cigarettes and a laptop with a decent internet connection.

One profit model makes rational sense while the other continues to make iconic, innovative titles that push the boundaries of narrative.* Perhaps we’ll see a hybrid: game companies using their expertise to create lever-pull games to finance blockbuster hits. Why not? It’s cheap to design and the likelihood of failure brings little overhead. Flappy Bird, and to a lesser extent, Draw Something and Candy Crush may provide the equation for popular gaming low cost design with minimal budget for marketing and public relations. Maybe at GDC this year,  major studios like Microsoft and Sony will be inspired to diversify their portfolios akin to the modern movie system – produce major tentpole movies while producing ‘indie’ titles at low cost.

“Maybe,” he said as he dipped another garlic sage fry into the housemade ketchup, “That would be interesting.”

“Actually, let me show you this new game I’m trying. It’s a game where you take three numbers and then slide it around- never mind, it sounds dumb when I explain.  Let me just show you.”

As he took out his phone to reveal the latest gaming craze, daytime birds’ final songs could be heard fading into the night sky.

 

*If you don’t believe me, check out Naughty Dog’s Last of Us for the most terrifying and heart wrenching vision of post-apocalyptic America since Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.”

 

 

 

Bateman Group Seeking Talent + Vibe Manager

We’re looking for an outstanding individual to help us recruit and retain employees, and support the positive environment and unique culture in our fast growing company. The full time Talent and Vibe Manager will work in the Bateman Group’s San Francisco office, supporting a staff of 30+, located in San Francisco and New York.

As Talent and Vibe Manager, you will be instrumental in sourcing new recruits through traditional and non-traditional channels, assisting them once they are hired, and helping to foster Bateman Group’s fun and collaborative work environment. We have an exceptionally high employee retention rate (turnover is less than five percent), and we want to keep it that way. Your job will be to help us do that through conceptualizing and producing innovative events and branded experiences for staff, while attracting rock star candidates as openings arise. We are looking for an organized, self-starter who thinks outside the box, and would really appreciate having “Vibe” in a job title.

Responsibilities:

1) Recruiting

You will tap your personal and social networks, as well as use online tools (like LinkedIn and SmartRecruiters) to recruit top PR talent for Bateman Group’s San Francisco and New York offices, and manage all stages of the recruitment process, including interview scheduling, gathering feedback, candidate follow-up, etc.

2) New Employee Onboarding

You will assist the Operations Manager with onboarding logistics, such as ordering new desk set-ups, office supplies, computers and phones to ensure all new employees feel welcome and well-cared for.

3) Managing Vibe Squad Programs and Budgets

You will play a key role in nurturing our culture by producing:

  • Monthly Birthday Celebrations and Happy Hours
  • Brown Bag Professional Development Lunches
  • Quarterly Agency Outings
  • Healthy Office options (including stocking the kitchen with a variety of healthy snacks, and researching/coordinating healthy office activities, such as lunch-time yoga, chair massages, etc.)
  • Agency parties
  • Fill in the Blank, really!

4) Marketing

You will use your organizational skills to produce industry Bateman Group branded events, including thought leader panels featuring national journalists, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. Responsibilities include:

  • Producing and distributing branded invitations, maintaining the contacts database, securing venues, coordinating catering, producing event collateral, and managing event set up and break down.
  • Supporting the marketing team

Requirements:

  • Proven track record of recruiting within a fast growing marketing organization
  • Human resource experience preferred (recent PR/marketing agency client-service experience strongly considered if you don’t have traditional HR experience)
  • Event planning experience
  • Ability to prioritize and manage workload to meet deadlines with minimal oversight
  • Super-human problem-solving abilities
  • Excellent communication skills
  • A love for small and fast growth company environments
  • Propensity toward extroversion
  • A wicked sense of humor not required, but would be appreciated
  • Undergraduate degree

Contact hr@bateman-group.com if you are interested.

 

 

Bateman & Braintree Win Bulldog Media Gold!

 

Late last week, Bulldog Reporter announced the winners of their 2014 Bulldog Awards for Excellence in Media Relations and once again Bateman Group won the top prize. This year, we received the Gold for Best Technology Campaign Business for our work with Chicago-based mobile payments client, Braintree.

The award submission, entitled “Branding Braintree: Bringing Mobile Commerce Innovator to the World Stage,” serves as a powerful case study on the power of strategic communications to build positive momentum for a company and increase valuation in a way no other marketing function even comes close. When we started working with Braintree about a year ago, they were looking to increase awareness of the company beyond the savvy mobile app developer community. Fighting for mindshare in the mobile payments market against PayPal, the quintessential 800 lbs. gorilla, and other payment start-ups, might seem like an insurmountable challenge. Being armed with a better product, a visionary CEO, a smart internal marketing team, lots of developer goodwill and a PR firm that cares passionately about your success makes it possible.

Congratulations to Bill Ready, Tracey Weinberg, Lisa Kornblatt and the rest of the team at Braintree and Venmo and to the bi-coastal Braintree account team at Bateman, namely Paula Cavagnaro, Shannon Hutto, Grace Nasri, Scott Beaver, Elissa Davis and Tyler Perry for this award-winning work. A detailed success story on our work with Braintree can be found here and a full listing of 2014 Bulldog Media Award winners can be seen here.

 

Bateman Group by the Numbers

“All work, no play is the best,” said no one ever.

Part of the fun of working at the 2013 Communications Agency of the Year is getting great results for our clients. The other part is quarterly beirut tournaments (wrongly referred to as beer pong on the West Coast), March Madness brackets, media happy hours, bowling nights, Iron Chef competitions, summer outings, volunteer activities and daily GIF wars. Oh, is that just us? In all seriousness, why do something everyday if it isn’t fun? Our answer is: we wouldn’t.

Whether it be gathering around a TV to watch a client on Bloomberg West or participating in a little trash talking during our bi-coastal halloween costume contest, we are a true team – from coast to coast. A combination of exceptional intellectual prowess and good, (mostly) clean, fun is the secret ingredient that leads to one of the best employee retention rates in the industry.

In honor of our upcoming 10th Anniversary celebration this Thursday, March 27 from 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. PDT at The Penthouse on the 11th floor of the Hamm’s Building at 1550 Bryant Street in San Francisco, we surveyed the Bateman Group staff about everything from top tech idols and favorite industry event to languages spoken and countries visited. The results may surprise you. Take a look below to learn more about us, and email rockstars@bateman-group.com if you want to join our group!

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Bateman Group’s Client Spotlight 3.21.14

Mobile coverage continues to be hot, nearly a month after Mobile World Congress. The New York Times published an article about the surge in messaging apps and quoted the CEO of app analytics expert App Annie and Braintree was listed among five mobile-payment option companies in VentureBeat. Also, ZDNet wrote a customer study about how LightSpeed’s retail management system helped sports merchant Mount Everest, and Animoto had its first ever report and infographic in Search Engine Watch.

For Free Texting Apps, the Market is Far From Conquered,” The New York Times – In an article about messaging apps, New York Times reporter Brian Chen highlighted the growth of messaging apps in different parts of the world. To support this, he referenced App Annie’s observation on the surge of messaging app downloads after the WhatsApp deal and quoted Bertrand Schmitt, App Annie CEO.

5 ways to succeed at mobile payments without really trying,” VentureBeat - This article outlines five mobile-payment options companies can use to set up successful payments for your company. One of those highlighted was Braintree.

How LightSpeed helps small ski and snowboard retailer outrace rivals,” ZDNet - LightSpeed customer Mount Everest shares how the business leveraged LightSpeed’s retail management system to better compete in a multichannel environment.

Video Helps Persuade 73% of People to Buy a Product or Service [Survey],” Search Engine Watch – In this interview, Greg Jarboe of Search Engine Watch picked the brain of Animoto CEO and co-founder Brad Jefferson on the company’s newest consumer study. Animoto’s Online and Mobile Video Study surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. consumers to identify how video has a positive impact on purchase decisions and drives brand engagement.

BATEMAN GROUP’S CLIENT SPOTLIGHT 3.7.14

Sunlight lingers longer and longer as pollen kissed winds descend upon lands beleaguered by a preternaturally biting winter. Take a moment to savor this natural respite as you reflect upon times gone by, and upon completion, check out the latest Bateman client updates. A glimpse at the roundup:  Get Satisfaction was highlighted by Forbes as one of the leading companies transforming future workplaces. By harnessing the wisdom of customer communities, businesses have one of the most powerful and effective tools for support, marketing and development. Money never sleeps so neither do hackers - Qualys CTO Wolfgang Kandek gave his perspective in TechCrunch on the security vulnerabilities opening up for the still-ubiquitous Windows XP, an operating system introduced nearly 13 years ago.

10 New Ideas And Products That Will Change Business As Usual In 2014,” Forbes -  In a review of disruptive innovations in business, Forbes Contributor Mark Fidelman highlighted a handful of technologies and ideas that would reshape workplaces in  the future. Our favorite community platform, Get Satisfaction, found its way on the list as a groundbreaking solution for harnessing the crowd to solve customer issues easily and effectively.

Enterprise Cloud Economy Driven by 10 Market Forces in 2014,” eWeek – In this slideshow, Simon Aspinall, chief of vertical markets, strategy and marketing at Virtustream, shared his predictions for top trends driving the enterprise cloud market in 2014.

Netskope Survey Reveals Lack of Cloud Apps Policy Awareness,” Talkin’ Cloud -  Writer Chris Talbot covered results of Netskope’s RSA survey that revealed 60 percent of the IT security attendees are either unaware of their companies’ cloud apps policies or are certain they don’t exist. As we move into an increasingly cloud-powered future, lack of safety protocols within many companies’ cloud app policies will likely expose them to security lapses in the not-too-distant-future.

Window XP’s Lingering and Troubling Market Share,” TechCrunch – TechCrunch included Qualys CTO Wolfgang Kandek’s commentary in its coverage of the end of Windows XP. Kandek said that when Microsoft ends updates and support for Windows XP it will make a direct attack route for cybercriminals.

Google Play’s game-related revenues are growing twice as fast as iOS,” VentureBeat - VentureBeat covered App Annie’s joint report with IDC revealing that the Android app store quadrupled its game-related revenue from the fourth quarter of 2012 to the same period in 2013. The article also lists the top-grossing apps overall for both Google Play and iOS worldwide in 2013.