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KAOS Studios Postmortem

Gamasutra has a postmortem on the rise and fall of KAOS Studios, the developer formed by the team that created the Desert Combat modification for Battlefield 1942. An interesting element of the story is how the studios expansion resulted in hiring developers with more complete resumes than the managers they were working for and other hurdles they had to overcome to succeed in an increasingly competitive FPS genre.

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60. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 13, 2012, 22:49 Ant
 
Do people still play Desert Combat?  
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59. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 9, 2012, 22:47 Jerykk
 
Dev wrote on Jul 9, 2012, 21:59:
Jerykk wrote on Jul 9, 2012, 04:32:
With real games like Tribes: Ascend, Blacklight: Retribution, LoL, HoN, DotA2, Planetside 2, Firefall, End of Nations, Hawken, Mechwarrior Online, Warface, Warframe, etc, the bar for F2P games is quickly rising.
If I wanted to try F2P games, those would be the ones you'd suggestion trying first? The better quality ones?

I've been thinking of trying Tribes, and I've enjoyed DOTA 2.

Yeah. It ultimately depends on what your tastes are but those games are currently (or will soon be) the cream of the crop.
 
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58. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 9, 2012, 21:59 Dev
 
Jerykk wrote on Jul 9, 2012, 04:32:
With real games like Tribes: Ascend, Blacklight: Retribution, LoL, HoN, DotA2, Planetside 2, Firefall, End of Nations, Hawken, Mechwarrior Online, Warface, Warframe, etc, the bar for F2P games is quickly rising.
If I wanted to try F2P games, those would be the ones you'd suggestion trying first? The better quality ones?

I've been thinking of trying Tribes, and I've enjoyed DOTA 2.
 
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57. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 9, 2012, 05:28 Jerykk
 
Kajetan wrote on Jul 9, 2012, 05:15:
Jerykk wrote on Jul 9, 2012, 04:32:
Your view of F2P is pretty outdated.
I know, that F2P can be done "right". But thats not the point.

The majority (!) of all available F2P games are doing it "wrong", being addictive time sinks to lure the player into spending money on shortcuts.

The majority of any entertainment medium is done "wrong." The majority of movies, comics, TV shows, music and games suck. It's the quality minority that matter and that minority is quickly growing in the F2P market.

There's nothing inherently wrong with the F2P model. It works well for some types of games and not so well for others. It all comes down to implementation.
 
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56. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 9, 2012, 05:15 Kajetan
 
Jerykk wrote on Jul 9, 2012, 04:32:
Your view of F2P is pretty outdated.
I know, that F2P can be done "right". But thats not the point.

The majority (!) of all available F2P games are doing it "wrong", being addictive time sinks to lure the player into spending money on shortcuts.
 
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55. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 9, 2012, 04:32 Jerykk
 
Zynga is the epitome of F2P. Every F2P, which does NOT suck is the big exception which confirms the rule: F2P game are horrible time sinks to force the player into buying shortcuts. Thats the basic principle of the business model F2P, which most F2P games follow.

Your view of F2P is pretty outdated. Yes, Zynga's "games" are technically F2P. They are also Facebook games. That's a pretty important distinction. With real games like Tribes: Ascend, Blacklight: Retribution, LoL, HoN, DotA2, Planetside 2, Firefall, End of Nations, Hawken, Mechwarrior Online, Warface, Warframe, etc, the bar for F2P games is quickly rising. Sure, there will always be lousy cash grabs like Lords of Ultima or that crappy C&C game. However, lousy cash grabs exist in the non-F2P market as well.

There is nothing in the F2P model that requires a game to be a grind. Keep in mind that if a game has strong core gameplay and good balancing, the act of playing it does not constitute grinding, even if there's leveling and unlockables. Grinding is when you perform tedious and mundane actions repeatedly in order to obtain a reward that's otherwise unrelated to the actions you are performing. If you enjoy the gameplay, it's not grinding because playing the game is reward in and of itself.

It all comes down to implementation. Unlockables don't have to be shortcuts. They can be purely aesthetic items to help players stand out. See TF2's hat economy for a good example of this. XP boosts are another popular microtransaction, but that's mainly due to people being impatient. If you enjoy playing a game, you'll play it on a frequent basis and will unlock things quickly regardless. XP boosts may give new players a short-term advantage over other new players but in the long term, that advantage is void because everyone has already unlocked everything they want to. If the unlockables are well-balanced, competing against players with more unlockables should still come down to player skill rather than gear.

This comment was edited on Jul 9, 2012, 04:46.
 
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54. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 9, 2012, 04:15 Kajetan
 
Jerykk wrote on Jul 9, 2012, 00:10:
I don't think Zynga's products really qualify as games. The only thing you do in them is grind. There's no actual gameplay. As such, Zynga's "games" aren't really representative of F2P games as a whole.
But they are. The vast majority of all F2P games are horrible time sinks and grinders, designed to force people to buy shortcuts. Just look at EAs attempts to cash in this market with browser games like "Lords of Ultima" or this C&C thingy. Fun for half an hour and then you hit a wall, waiting for ressources, waiting for "action points" or whatever you can buy in the ingame shop to speed things up.

Zynga is the epitome of F2P. Every F2P, which does NOT suck is the big exception which confirms the rule: F2P game are horrible time sinks to force the player into buying shortcuts. Thats the basic principle of the business model F2P, which most F2P games follow.

Sure, it can be done better. But that requires effort. Effort most F2P companies put only in graphics, because its easier to create nifty pictures than to invent a different business model.
 
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53. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 9, 2012, 00:10 Jerykk
 
ASeven wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 18:49:
Jerykk wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 18:36:

It sounds like he burned himself. Modern F2P games are not P2W. You can unlock everything that affects gameplay through natural progression without spending a penny. Aesthetic things like skins may be pay-only, but those have no impact on your in-game performance. They also tend to be ridiculously overpriced. But again, completely optional. If your friend felt compelled to buy every $10 skin, he wasn't "burned." He just spent his money irresponsibly.

Mobile f2p games are more of the pay to speed up the game/get access to more ingame, non-aesthetic items. Farmville is addictive and profitable for a reason after all.

I don't think Zynga's products really qualify as games. The only thing you do in them is grind. There's no actual gameplay. As such, Zynga's "games" aren't really representative of F2P games as a whole.
 
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52. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 8, 2012, 23:32 ASeven
 
Beamer wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 23:24:

Jesus, dude. His point was solely that it was a failure. And, actually, the product wasn't. It made money and a sequel was announced. The studio was a failure.

So that may kind of invalidate his point. Typically failures don't get sequels. I mean, I suppose you can bicker about what "failure" means, but the game turned a profit.

Hmm I was talking about the selling millions and end up being a failure as is the case of most AAA games nowadays.
 
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51. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 8, 2012, 23:24 Beamer
 
ASeven wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 13:46:
Beamer wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 12:57:
ASeven wrote on Jul 7, 2012, 18:37:
AnointedSword wrote on Jul 7, 2012, 17:47:
Funny, they sold millions of copies yet still was a failure.

Gaming industry today.

KAOS was based in Manhattan. They were isolated from the rest of THQ, especially the main office THQ was trying to build, and their occupancy costs were far, far above industry average.

This is the primary reason they were closed. Homeland's sales made THQ plenty of money, but the studio wasn't well structured and cost a small fortune to run. THQ wanted any reason to shut it down, move the talent to a better location, and ditch the poor structure.

Quick: what other developers are based in Manhattan. A few small social ones with Bloomberg picking up most of the tab, Take2's marketing operations, and that's it. There's a big reason no one makes games in Manhattan.

That does not invalidate in any way AnmnointedSword's point.

Jesus, dude. His point was solely that it was a failure. And, actually, the product wasn't. It made money and a sequel was announced. The studio was a failure.

So that may kind of invalidate his point. Typically failures don't get sequels. I mean, I suppose you can bicker about what "failure" means, but the game turned a profit.
 
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50. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 8, 2012, 23:21 ASeven
 
Parallax Abstraction wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 23:04:
ASeven wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 18:49:
Jerykk wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 18:36:

It sounds like he burned himself. Modern F2P games are not P2W. You can unlock everything that affects gameplay through natural progression without spending a penny. Aesthetic things like skins may be pay-only, but those have no impact on your in-game performance. They also tend to be ridiculously overpriced. But again, completely optional. If your friend felt compelled to buy every $10 skin, he wasn't "burned." He just spent his money irresponsibly.

Mobile f2p games are more of the pay to speed up the game/get access to more ingame, non-aesthetic items. Farmville is addictive and profitable for a reason after all.

True but one of the reasons Zynga's stock has been doing so poorly of late is their player numbers are going down and most of their new titles plateau faster than the ones before. Not sure if that means people are just getting tired of their model or something else but from what I've read, declining numbers are a big worry for their shareholders. Also, spending as much as they did for OMGPOP only to have Draw Something's players drop off a cliff almost immediately after didn't help either.

But that's the nature of these kinds of games, they are as fickle as the people who play it. These aren't games that really hold you enthralled, more than likely you play a bit of one game then move on to the other and so on until you get entirely fed up of this model and move to another different thing altogether.

Zynga is the classic case of only thinking about short-term and never on long-term. It never even crossed their mind that they would lose so many players and now they're paying the price for not considering all possible scenarios and having contingency plans for them all.
 
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49. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 8, 2012, 23:04 Parallax Abstraction
 
ASeven wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 18:49:
Jerykk wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 18:36:

It sounds like he burned himself. Modern F2P games are not P2W. You can unlock everything that affects gameplay through natural progression without spending a penny. Aesthetic things like skins may be pay-only, but those have no impact on your in-game performance. They also tend to be ridiculously overpriced. But again, completely optional. If your friend felt compelled to buy every $10 skin, he wasn't "burned." He just spent his money irresponsibly.

Mobile f2p games are more of the pay to speed up the game/get access to more ingame, non-aesthetic items. Farmville is addictive and profitable for a reason after all.

True but one of the reasons Zynga's stock has been doing so poorly of late is their player numbers are going down and most of their new titles plateau faster than the ones before. Not sure if that means people are just getting tired of their model or something else but from what I've read, declining numbers are a big worry for their shareholders. Also, spending as much as they did for OMGPOP only to have Draw Something's players drop off a cliff almost immediately after didn't help either.
 
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48. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 8, 2012, 21:58 Dev
 
theyarecomingforyou wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 10:58:
PS - I really wish that Valve would invest in game development more. Considering the amount they must be making from Steam - and that they're a private company - it's disappointing that their approach to development is so casual. They're one of the few companies that can afford to go crazy with game design and not worry about making a loss (which would be virtually impossible given they own the distribution medium).
I do too! What they need to do though, is just farm out some game development to other studios. Valve's development philosophy is just way too slow, and they have an erratic track record of game support despite promises otherwise. They also can't find enough employees to hire to meet their ultra high standards, so they literally don't have the manpower to do more games than they are currently doing, despite having an overabundance of cash.
Maybe they don't want to farm out HL3 development, fine then farm out a story arc in the HL universe like opposing force. They have plenty of money to pay someone else to do it.
Or maybe they don't want to farm out any of their IP, fine, then find some indie projects they think are worthwhile and fund their development. I know in a sense they are doing that already with how friendly they are to indie authors (such as not charging indies for alpha and beta usage of steam, just end product sales), but I think they should move to direct funding. Too much cash and not enough manpower, well put the cash to good use then.
 
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47. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 8, 2012, 21:51 Dev
 
DangerDog wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 14:43:
They were offered to keep working for Dice but turned it down, seems even EA saw that having a studio in New York was a bad idea. THQ not so much.

as for Desert Combat assets

http://forums.electronicarts.co.uk/20476694-post132.html
I didn't know that. Interesting.
I just automatically assumed EA was up to its normal behavior way back in the day when I read the news about Dice getting them, then shortly after reading about them firing them, then BF2 coming out. It just seemed kinda obvious to read between the lines that way considering it was EA
 
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46. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 8, 2012, 18:49 ASeven
 
Jerykk wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 18:36:

It sounds like he burned himself. Modern F2P games are not P2W. You can unlock everything that affects gameplay through natural progression without spending a penny. Aesthetic things like skins may be pay-only, but those have no impact on your in-game performance. They also tend to be ridiculously overpriced. But again, completely optional. If your friend felt compelled to buy every $10 skin, he wasn't "burned." He just spent his money irresponsibly.

Mobile f2p games are more of the pay to speed up the game/get access to more ingame, non-aesthetic items. Farmville is addictive and profitable for a reason after all.
 
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45. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 8, 2012, 18:36 Jerykk
 
ViRGE wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 07:15:
Jerykk wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 03:36:
If EA needs Dead Space 3 to sell at least 5 million units, they're going to be in for a disappointment. If any publisher expects any of their games to sell that much, they're setting themselves up for failure. Games that sell that well are the exception, not the rule, and spending ridiculous amounts of cash on marketing doesn't guarantee success.
So actually that's an interesting point. Does EA need to sell 5mil copies of Dead Space 3 because it costs 150mil+ to make, or do they need to sell 5mil copies because the break-even point on dev costs is 2mil copies, and they're spending the revenue from another 3mil copies on advertising?

It seems to me that everyone is spending entirely too much on advertising, and they keep having to spend more to stay afloat. Not entirely unlike a junkie that keeps having to do stronger drugs to get the same feeling of euphoria.

I wouldn't expect DS3 to cost more than $50 million to make. However, marketing budgets are usually 2-3 times higher than development budgets, so EA is likely going to spend $150 million on marketing.

In know, anectodal evidence and all ... but a buddy of mine recently realised, how much effin money he poured into some of these F2P-P2W games. He was so shocked, he stopped playing these games for good and promises to never touch anything, which labels itself "Free to play".

They burned him, burned him good. He stops being a freemium customer. I dont know if this will happen to other people, but knowing the greed inside this industry, F2P will be over in a few years, due to the stupid greed of executives, who dont know when to stop.

It sounds like he burned himself. Modern F2P games are not P2W. You can unlock everything that affects gameplay through natural progression without spending a penny. Aesthetic things like skins may be pay-only, but those have no impact on your in-game performance. They also tend to be ridiculously overpriced. But again, completely optional. If your friend felt compelled to buy every $10 skin, he wasn't "burned." He just spent his money irresponsibly.
 
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44. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 8, 2012, 16:45 Kajetan
 
ASeven wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 15:34:
These freemium games will rule the mobile landscape for a while but their constant milking will ensure their demise unless they change to another, better model.
In know, anectodal evidence and all ... but a buddy of mine recently realised, how much effin money he poured into some of these F2P-P2W games. He was so shocked, he stopped playing these games for good and promises to never touch anything, which labels itself "Free to play".

They burned him, burned him good. He stops being a freemium customer. I dont know if this will happen to other people, but knowing the greed inside this industry, F2P will be over in a few years, due to the stupid greed of executives, who dont know when to stop.
 
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43. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 8, 2012, 15:34 ASeven
 
Parallax Abstraction wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 14:30:
The one part I'm curious what you think about though is the new kind of gross freemium model a lot of mobile stuff is going to. My girlfriend and I bought a used iPad 2 earlier this year, mostly so I could try to see what all the hype was about. Most of the newer games coming out on that now are either $1 or free but they're all becoming full of these gross Skinner Box powerup and advancement methods to try to get far more money out of you for things even less valuable than a new skin or something. Pocket Planes is positively disgusting in this way (it's basically FarmVille with planes) and other titles like the follow-up to Flight Control and Infinity Blade do the same thing. Flight Control Rocket is a score driven game where you can artificially buy your way onto leaderboards and though you can ignore it, you can't be competitive otherwise and the games will constantly nag and remind you that you can and should be buying in. What people like Paul Barnett have been saying lately is that mobile gamers have become so used to paying practically nothing that even games at $5 are not viable anymore. But if everything becomes a Skinner Box, that's just bad for the medium I feel. Do you think that's going to get to be a bigger and bigger trend and how mobile's going to keep itself from burning out in a couple of years or do you think the public will get tired of it?

Well I believe the mobile market fits well with those types of games. For one nobody will be buying a mobile device strictly for gaming, not for a long time. You also have the nature of the users themselves, these are people who bought smartphones and iphones and have regular jobs and as such those type of games, where things usually take a determined amount of time to happen, is perfect for them. It's a sort of thing that helps kills time while on lunch breaks or office breaks or when at home waiting for dinner. The nature of the games itself lends to being played in a regular way with long intervals between each play and that fits perfectly with the life style of many people today.

I believe these games will keep on growing and growing on the mobile market and for a long time be the most played type of games there and they will evolve and add more innovation to their mechanics. However much like the mainstream market I can easily see market fatigue setting in in a few years time if they don't evolve these games and if they don't ease up the money milking tactics. I find that the best games of these kind are the ones where you can get everything even if it takes time and most of the items for sale are cosmetic.

Paul Barnett is correct about mobile gamers being used to paying practically nothing for their games and apps and that will be the biggest barrier to publisher's entry in this market, a barrier I'm not sure they'll ever be able to overcome. These freemium games will rule the mobile landscape for a while but their constant milking will ensure their demise unless they change to another, better model.
 
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42. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 8, 2012, 14:43 DangerDog
 
Dev wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 06:41:
developed an incredibly successful and acclaimed Battlefield 1942 mod called Desert Combat. The mod's success led to the team forming Trauma Studios, which Digital Illusions CE quickly bought up in 2004 to help develop Battlefield 2.

The relationship with DICE was short-lived, as Trauma got shut down less than a year later in 2005.


Good ole EA. They bought out the mod team basically to get the assets to use in BF2, then fired them.

Jerykk wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 03:36:
Blizzard doesn't release games on a regular enough basis to sustain a publisher.
Depends on the size. The continuing monthly income they make from WoW is plenty to sustain a small publisher. A large one like activision? Nope.

We never had a grudge against EA or Dice and we really did enjoy working with them. We spent a great deal of time and energy working on some very successful projects and continuously proving our ability to produce outstanding results. So in the end it was definitely a difficult time to get through. We were each given the choice to move out to Stockholm but we decided unanimously to reject the offers and stay in New York City.

They were offered to keep working for Dice but turned it down, seems even EA saw that having a studio in New York was a bad idea. THQ not so much.

as for Desert Combat assets

http://forums.electronicarts.co.uk/20476694-post132.html

This comment was edited on Jul 8, 2012, 15:07.
 
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41. Re: KAOS Studios Postmortem Jul 8, 2012, 14:30 Parallax Abstraction
 
ASeven wrote on Jul 8, 2012, 11:56:
Also mobile games are not profitable. Like AAA games a small handful of them are, the rest are not. If publishers move to mobile platforms a problem will arise which is the price of games. Mobile gamers are used to pay $5 top for a game, if publishers start pushing for mobile games costing $20 or more then they will meet with utter failure of sales since demand for such high priced games on mobiles is none when far cheaper games also offer quality gaming for a mobile. The mobile market is not in any way or form any sort of salvation for publishers, quite the contrary in fact, if they jump to mobiles than the demise of publishers will happen even faster.

I've been hammering a version of this point for a while now. Basically, that mobile games are in a gold rush and that contrary to the message the games press pushes by constantly referencing only the handful of big successes, the risk of failure in that space is just as great. Even Mark Rein from Epic (who is riding on the sadly massive success of Infinity Blade) said that most iOS games gross $700 in their lifetime, making them a failure for most who don't make games on the side for fun. The barrier to entry is much lower than AAA which mitigates some of those risks right now but as tablets keep evolving in power (which they will since Apple et al. need to keep moving hardware to maintain their own profits), soon it's going to cost a lot more to make mobile games that don't use pixel art. At that point, the $0.99 model no longer works and prices have to go up and marketing campaigns will be needed to get titles noticed. And the cycle repeats.

The one part I'm curious what you think about though is the new kind of gross freemium model a lot of mobile stuff is going to. My girlfriend and I bought a used iPad 2 earlier this year, mostly so I could try to see what all the hype was about. Most of the newer games coming out on that now are either $1 or free but they're all becoming full of these gross Skinner Box powerup and advancement methods to try to get far more money out of you for things even less valuable than a new skin or something. Pocket Planes is positively disgusting in this way (it's basically FarmVille with planes) and other titles like the follow-up to Flight Control and Infinity Blade do the same thing. Flight Control Rocket is a score driven game where you can artificially buy your way onto leaderboards and though you can ignore it, you can't be competitive otherwise and the games will constantly nag and remind you that you can and should be buying in. What people like Paul Barnett have been saying lately is that mobile gamers have become so used to paying practically nothing that even games at $5 are not viable anymore. But if everything becomes a Skinner Box, that's just bad for the medium I feel. Do you think that's going to get to be a bigger and bigger trend and how mobile's going to keep itself from burning out in a couple of years or do you think the public will get tired of it?
 
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