03 Feb 2015

Party Time: Social Games in the Digital Era

- by Mike

Before working at Fedeen Games, my night job was making party games in New York City. I was working on Clockwork, a digital tabletop game and Hot Mess, a physical/digital game that’s Twister with a twist. Growing up in North Carolina, most of my childhood was spent playing with friends in my neighborhood. We would play Board games like Monopoly on rainy days or run around outside playing flashlight tag in the summer. These games were a huge influence on my social life.

In today’s digital games, many are focused on online multiplayer experiences removed from physical proximity. With the Oculus Rift, the experience becomes more isolated as we separate from the real world into VR. These games offer us easy accessibility to play with friends around the world, but at the cost of being solo experiences in a physical sense.

During my time in the US, however, I witnessed a countermovement to online games — a surge of experimental party games and outdoor festivals that supported them. In Brooklyn and San Francisco, there was the Annual Come Out & Play Festival. There was Indiecade’s Night Games. I saw a wave of DIY Arcades exploding the NY Indie Gaming scene with the most spectacular being Killer Queen. A 5v5 custom-built arcade machine.

At Fedeen Games, we recently played Ellen DeGeneres’s Heads Up! on mobile. Taking the old Charades format and putting it into a digital device is a perfect example of taking something old and reinventing it to be more efficient for the digital age. Heads Up! currently costs $0.99 to download, and each additional booster pack of cards cost $0.99 as well.

When asked how revenue would be split between Warner Brothers, Ellen, and the App Developers, Bob Mohler, the Producer at Warner Brothers declined to comment, but stated, “We expand Ellen’s digital footprint pretty broadly, we’re just constantly trying to find the next idea to continue to grow.”

Space Team, another party game on the App store, is a local multiplayer game for mobile. In Space Team, a group of space cadets escape from eminent destruction by cooperatively operating a spaceship. I met Henry Smith, the creator of Space Team, at Indiecade and we talked about one of the biggest challenges for these party games. How do you monetize it? As Space Team team requires each player to download onto their own device, the App has to remain free to be accessible.

For Space Team, Henry’s plan was to sell in-game goods such as skins and optional upgrades to the gameplay (try Symbols Mode, where every word is a strange symbol). But even with over 850,000 downloads, he’s only made about $12,000 between Android and iOS.

Symbols Mode: Set what to 2?

However, Henry has stated that Space Team would never have been made had money been his priority.

“Worrying about how to ‘monetize’ effectively might have compromised the game design and almost certainly would have hindered … getting my name out because there would have been much more resistance to sharing and spreading the game.”

Board games and cards games have been traditionally sold as physical goods, but how do you sell an outdoor game like hide and seek? It seems profit is not the takeaway from party games, but the simplicity to play and virality of them. Killer Queen is a “once in a lifetime” experience that has brought its developers a lot of buzz on their other projects. Heads Up! was intended to expand Ellen’s brand past Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Henry is now looking into launching a new exclusive Admiral’s Club for Space Team and running monthly tournaments.

The best party games are free-to-play social experiences with your friends. As party games in themselves are social gatherings, it creates a common experience that people want to share and talk about. A well designed party game spreads like a virus, organically and infectiously, carrying your name or brand to every player who touches it. The magic of party games lies in seeing play happen in real life, a return to spontaneous fun, and a need to share that experience.