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Subject: Ticket to Ride computer game article rss

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Matt S
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The very interesting online video game magazine, The Escapist, has an article discussing, in part, the Ticket to Ride computer game.

Here is the link:

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/issue/23/12

Alternatively, here is the complete text:

Casual Wonder
Bruce Geryk
Eric Hautemont breathes enthusiasm for gaming. His French accent carries it through the telephone and into your brain as you listen to his plans for his company's big bet on computer gaming. Which is odd, since the company of which he's CEO, Days of Wonder, is a big player in the very low-tech world of boardgames. This makes Hautemont's crusade (and it is a crusade, don't doubt it for one second) that much more unlikely: Bring turn-based, multiplayer strategy gaming to the PC casual games market. Even more unlikely is the fact that his first game, Ticket to Ride, isn't really casual. It's just very good.

Casual games are that huge segment of the industry that hardcore gamers don't want to acknowledge - over-35 soccer moms and solitaire-playing old ladies, visiting big portals like Yahoo! Games and Pogo.com. Often, the media that serves these gamers doesn't want to acknowledge it, either: When Hautemont was marketing the standalone PC version of Ticket to Ride, one of the largest gaming websites told him they simply didn't look at casual games, period. Ticket to Ride for the PC will be released in December, minus that coverage. The way Hautemont sees it, that website's readers are going to find out about it, anyway.

That's because Hautemont's view of the casual space is fundamentally different from that of almost anyone else in the industry. He sees multiplayer casual games as filling a gaping hole in the current market: Strategy games that are simpler than the current hardcore crop, yet elegant and engaging in a way more complicated games can't be. Sort of a throwback to the days when games like Panzer General could sell hundreds of thousands of copies in retail stores. Today, those games have little chance of showing up at your local Best Buy.

Publishers' willingness to take chances on such games has changed a lot since then. Hautemont found this out when he was pitching his game. "When we talked to the big PC publishers, we found that they had some very surprising attitudes. PC publishers basically either see their customers as two eyeballs they can derive money from through advertising, or they see them as casual gamers who have very specific desires that you don't want to stray from."

This kind of marketplace myopia has led one industry veteran, Greg Costikyan, to found his own publishing company. Manifesto Games plans to aggregate the marketing for overlooked and under-publicized games that have no chance of making it onto retail shelves. But as far as casual gamers go, he's skeptical. "The people who frequent Yahoo! Games are not going to play these games. That audience was built of Hearts and Backgammon players."

Jason Kapalka, whose company, PopCap Games, is one of the casual market's leaders with games such as Bejeweled and Zuma, agrees. It's not that he doesn't want to sell strategy games to this market - PopCap is currently working on its own light strategy game - it's just that from his experience, casual gamers and old-school gamers who might be tired of current fare "don't seem to overlap very much."

"It might be more appropriate to call them non-gamers than casual gamers in some ways," says Kapalka, "since for many of them their only game experience on the computer is perhaps Minesweeper or the equivalent."

Kapalka's company has had stunning success in this market, and this experience has guided PopCap's development efforts. "At PopCap," he explains, "we have an informal system we call the 'Mom test.' Can you get your mom to sit down and play your game? Does she understand it without you explaining it to her? Does she want to continue playing after you stop forcing her to? If so, those are good signs for the game's success in the casual games market."

For the time being, that's where PopCap's efforts are primarily focused. Kapalka is quite hopeful that traditional strategy gamers "might become more adventurous in their buying habits if the PC CD market continues to constrict." That's what Hautemont is hoping for, also. But he's also confident that he can sell his games to the current population of casual players, which is where he parts company with the big online portals.

"When talking with some of the big portals," he says, "I found that they have a very low opinion of their customers." Hautemont accepts the casual market demographic, but doesn't agree with the big portals' attitude towards it. "I don't argue that those moms comprise the market. I just beg to differ on how intelligent that mom is or how engaged in gaming she might want to be."

Another objection Hautemont has come up against is that multiplayer gaming and casual gaming are essentially mutually exclusive. Hautemont points to the fact that for a long time, one of the most popular games on the MSN Zone was Reversi, a multiplayer version of Othello that matched you up with anonymous online opponents. Interestingly, Microsoft is the one company he cites as having an approach similar to his, which is perhaps borne out by MSN Zone's recent launch of Settlers of Catan Online, a computer version of the multi-million selling German boardgame. But Days of Wonder has an advantage in that they have a real synergy between their boardgame business and their online games.

"One of the most important factors in the success of an online game is critical mass," says Hautemont. "We're in a unique position because we have an existing - and growing - player base," so if you buy the game in the store, you're automatically part of a pool of players, and thus potential opponents. It's a pretty big pool, too. At last count, Ticket to Ride and its sister game, Ticket to Ride Europe, sold over 400,000 copies of the boardgame. Recently, the average wait to start an online two-player game at peak times averaged around two seconds.

Days of Wonder is releasing the standalone Ticket to Ride for the PC in December. The first printing of the game sold on the company's website will include a DVD with ten-minute videos on each of the company's boardgame titles. "Our goal is to have it so that if you watch the video, you can open the box and begin playing the game immediately," says Hautemont. Because each physical boardgame has a code that buyers can redeem at the website for online gaming privileges, the company can track the "conversion rate" of free accounts. "So far, it has been spectacular," Hautemont notes.

But Hautemont's goal is still to develop the online games market his way, with games that play equally well online or in person. After being rebuffed by PC publishers, he says he found attitudes most sympathetic to his own in an unlikely place: among console publishers. "The console guys actually have a fundamentally different view of their consumers than PC publishers do," says Hautemont, "and it's much better. They understood what we were trying to do almost immediately."

PopCap's Kapalka, has similar hopes for the console market, specifically Microsoft's Xbox 360. "Their Live Arcade service will allow people to download and buy a variety of 'budget' games, including Bejeweled 2 and Zuma from us initially. I'll be very curious to see what the response to this is. It might be ignored or laughed at - 'I didn't spend $400 to play Bejeweled' - but I have a feeling that there might be some interesting responses from hardcore gamers when they get tired of the launch titles."

Days of Wonder isn't ruling out proceeding with Ticket to Ride for consoles, but development choices have to be carefully considered. "The opportunity cost for us would be that we would have to choose between that and Memoir '44 online," says Hautemont, referring to his company's popular World War II boardgame that he feels has a chance to be the next Panzer General. Like Ticket to Ride, it's simple and quick-playing, but has a theme (military conflict) that might be more appealing to traditional computer strategy gamers.

The disappointing part of this story is the degree to which traditional PC publishers seem to have abandoned once staple genres like this. Former SSI head honcho Joel Billings once remarked to Hautemont during a visit to his company that these gamers hadn't gone away, but were being badly underserved by the current marketplace. How ironic would it be if the once-mighty turn-based strategy market ended up consolidating around console games and boardgame conversions? Wherever it ends up, Eric Hautemont and Days of Wonder hope to make the actual play experience as good as before.

Bruce Geryk battles his gaming nemesis, Tom Chick, every month in Computer Gaming World magazine. Also the magazine’s wargames columnist, you can find his blog at grognards.1up.com.

Copyright © 2005. The Escapist is published weekly by Themis Group, Inc. Produced in the United States of America. To contact the editors please email editor@escapistmag.com. For a free subscription to The Escapist in PDF format please view www.escapistmagazine.com.
 
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Robert .
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Kinda sad to see traditional PC game publishers sink to such low levels that they hate their customers and don't have any innovation.

TTR-PC would probably never have come to light if it wasn't for Days of Wonder having money to do it themselves. Ironic in that for innovative and fun PC games, we have to look to board game manufacturers.

Totally sad the state of mainstream PC gaming! DOW should be supported for this great effort.
 
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Jason Birzer
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Interesting article. I had no idea that MSN Zone had Settlers. It has been years since I last played on there, when I played Spades.

It is going to be interesting to see how Games Of Wonder does with their PC release. TtR has been a huge success online. Unfortunatly, nothing else has been, probably because they don't have bots to build up an audience.

From what I've read, there seems to be more interest in a Memoir online game than for a console version, but it is all about getting people on the servers, which has been a problem for all of the non-TtR games.

Quote:
TTR-PC would probably never have come to light if it wasn't for Days of Wonder having money to do it themselves.


Well, it helps that the PC version is basically a souped up version of their online game. The nice thing is that it is Java, so that will cover Macs and even Linux (Tho I think they said that they didn't have room on the CD for an installer for Linux.)

Jason
 
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Brian Jones
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Wow, great article, thanks for posting it. As a former manager/owner of a retail video game store I whole-heartedly agree with Eric that this is a market being underserved. I think Days of Wonder have a great thing going with their online play, something that could be even bigger if they can extend that to pre-packaged media. The mention of having to choose between TTR and Memoir because of budget constraints worries me, though. I think TTR has broader market appeal, but I think Memoir has a better chance of success with current PC/console gamers if marketed correctly. Anyone out there playing XBOX 360 arcade games? I think Microsoft has a real opportunity with the 360 and more casual online games to expand the market for console games in general (think older players, females etc). If Days of Wonder put a version of Memoir 44 on XBOX 360, along with a PC version on their Web site and in a boxed version, I think it would be a huge success! I know I would pay $10-$15, maybe even $20, for an XBOX version of the game. And it would only increase exposure for the boardgame and the hobby in general. Best of luck to Days of Wonder in this, I'll be following the story.

 
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Matt S
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TheLongshot wrote:
Interesting article. I had no idea that MSN Zone had Settlers. It has been years since I last played on there, when I played Spades.

It is going to be interesting to see how Games Of Wonder does with their PC release. TtR has been a huge success online. Unfortunatly, nothing else has been, probably because they don't have bots to build up an audience.

From what I've read, there seems to be more interest in a Memoir online game than for a console version, but it is all about getting people on the servers, which has been a problem for all of the non-TtR games.

Quote:
TTR-PC would probably never have come to light if it wasn't for Days of Wonder having money to do it themselves.


Well, it helps that the PC version is basically a souped up version of their online game. The nice thing is that it is Java, so that will cover Macs and even Linux (Tho I think they said that they didn't have room on the CD for an installer for Linux.)

Jason


I'm slowly listening to the old geekspeak/boardgamegeek archives. I just listened to the interview with two of the Days of Wonder guys (maybe Mark and Eric). This was an early episode -- Ticket to Ride had just won SdJ and they were headed to Essen.

I bring this up because they were all excited about how many people were playing Gang of Four online. Ticket to Ride, I believe, had not even launched yet on their site. Times have changed...
 
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Brian Jones
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TheLongshot wrote:
Interesting article. I had no idea that MSN Zone had Settlers. It has been years since I last played on there, when I played Spades.

It is going to be interesting to see how Games Of Wonder does with their PC release. TtR has been a huge success online. Unfortunatly, nothing else has been, probably because they don't have bots to build up an audience.

Jason


Bots would certainly help in making the card games more popular. But another reason that the other games don't see a lot of traffic is simply that the audience is too small and focused. Almost everyone that is on the DoW site to play is already a boardgamer or owns a DoW game (or knows someone who does), most of them probably due to TTR or Memoir.

Now imagine that all those games were available on a portal site like MSN Zone, Yahoo Games, or as downloads on XBOX Live Arcade. Then add in more people who will be exposed through retail, boxed versions of the games. I think most all of the other games would be popular as well, especially Queen's Necklace and Gang of Four. Of course, this kind of exposure takes money and time, but Eric and the guys at DoW have both of those and what looks like a real dedication to expanding the market for their games. I'm excited with the possibilities.
 
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Eric Hautemont
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A couple of quick clarifications to this interesting discussion.

Our constraint in terms of development is not a financial one, but rather a matter of bandwidth (ie time we have available, and how we choose to allocate it). Memoir '44 is definitively next on our list, however ;-).

As for T2R online being the only game with enough critical mass, I would disagree. You can also find Gang of Four players 24 h a day/365 days a year.

It is true however for Queen's Necklace and Fist of Dragonstones, and that is (partly) due to the lack of bots indeed, but also to other issues (complexity of the games for new comers, market opportunity, number of players required, ...)

eric
 
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Brian Jones
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Erich wrote:
A couple of quick clarifications to this interesting discussion.

Our constraint in terms of development is not a financial one, but rather a matter of bandwidth (ie time we have available, and how we choose to allocate it). Memoir '44 is definitively next on our list, however ;-).

As for T2R online being the only game with enough critical mass, I would disagree. You can also find Gang of Four players 24 h a day/365 days a year.

It is true however for Queen's Necklace and Fist of Dragonstones, and that is (partly) due to the lack of bots indeed, but also to other issues (complexity of the games for new comers, market opportunity, number of players required, ...)

eric


Thanks for posting and clarifying, Eric. I'm glad to hear that Memoir '44 is on the way, can't wait to play online. Any more details on console/PC development for Memoir or any other DoW games? Thoughts on online delivery for consoles?

But if you have time/bandwidth constraints, and no financial ones, just hire some more employees! In fact, I'm looking for a job right now. Hire me Seriously though, if you need more hands on deck, I can't think of a better company in the gaming community to work for.
 
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Robert .
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Having worked first hand in the PC game industry, most recently as Business Director for Stardock. I can say this article is quite accurate about the state of "Chaos" in the PC game publishing market.

People that just don't understand anything about games are pulling the strings at all of the big publishers. Worse, they have obtuse attornies impeding almost any potentially good business deal.

I admire DOW for taking TTR to the PC though and hope it really pays off. I know i'll grab a copy of that for sure, it will get a lot of use around here.
 
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Chris Kice
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I have actually been disappointed lately with the PC game offerings. The last one I really got into was Half-Life 2. The majority of titles I've been playing in the last six months have been on console with innovative games like Katamari Damacy and Guitar Hero (which is, by far, my favorite video game of the year).

The current on-line version of TtR is fantastic, so an enhanced PC version is a must buy for me. It's my hope that DoW will end up getting PC gamers hooked and interested in boardgaming.
 
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Rich Ochs
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Hey Eric,

Since we've got you here, what about bots for Queen's Necklace? I understand that it isn't the most popular game, but I think that would help a lot of new players. I also understand that making bots for a game as involved as Queen's Necklace can be very difficult. If you had bots for QN you'd have to pry me away from my keyboard to get me to leave .

The reason I ask is that I just started to take advantage of the bots in Ticket to Ride and Gang of Four; they are both fantastic. I have been able to do ok against the TTR bots, but man, the Gang of Four ones are pretty damn tough. Thanks for the great DOW website, and keep up the good work.

Rich
 
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Just got an e-mail from DOW to tell me that my copy of the PC-game is on his way to me. My hands are already itching ...

Gwen
 
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Chris Kice
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BluesNews.com (one of the most popular video game news sites around) just posted a link to the article discussed above with a brief write-up about it.

Here's to hoping that video gamers really will start to cross over into our playground...
 
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Eric Hautemont
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Rich,

The pb with bots on Queen's Necklace is that the code there predates our architectural changes to accomodate bots (in GoF first, then in T2R). So the amount of work would be significant, though not because of the actual bot algorithms per se. Added to the fact that Queen's Necklace is almost sold out and won't see a reprint, this makes it impossible for us to justify doing this right now.

Sorry for the bad news (then again, these are good news for Memoir users, who are waiting for a version, and for T2R users for whom we will be able to program increasingly better bots ;-)).
best,
eric
 
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Quote:
Dear Shawn Dumas:

Thank you very much for your order! Here is the confirmation information for your order:

Order Number: xxxxx

Quantity Description
-------------------------------------------------------
1 Ticket to Ride PC + Demo DVD - English
-------------------------------------------------------
Total: 23.40


My order is in!
 
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