Thursday, August 27, 2009

Day 27: Konami Play

I've been playing a bunch of social and casual games from the "native biggies" like Zynga, Playfish, Playdom, etc. Then there are the casual games portals who are also jumping on the social bandwagon (like Real, Big Fish Games, Oberon).

The big traditional publishers have also been getting into the social game. I haven't paid as much attention to these offerings, but Konami Play currently caught my attention based on a posting I saw on Indie Social Games (a great site).

The first thing to note is that searching for "Konami" or "Konami Play" on Facebook yields zero helpful results. Even clicking on the Konami Fan site doesn't help -- there's no mention of Konami Play or link to a relevant website. Perhaps there has just been a soft launch that will be followed up with an official campaign (notifications to fans of Konami, links to the portal, etc).
NOTE: Later on I discovered a link to the "Konami-Play" fan page -- but it still doesn't show up in any Facebook search results at the time of this writing.
Luckily I had a direct link to the external website from the blog posting and went straight to the portal page.

The portal page is a little cluttered and claustrophobic. Basically it suffers from the "I need to expose you to everything all at once" syndrome that many olde-schoole portals seem to do. It's hard to argue with success, but as an initial experience it's pretty overwhelming.

On the plus side, there is a "featured games" slide show that appears in a large bucket above the fold. The "play now" button is a tiny and easy to miss call to action, but the fact that you can jump right into a game from the home page is a big plus.

Jumping into a game was easy. More importantly, I did NOT have to register or log in. I could just start playing. Get me into the game in as pain-free manner as possible -- and if I'm having fun I'll bother to register/share/etc.

The games (and Konami) are oriented to the more retro gamer (Track and Field, Double Dribble) and more recent console offerings (Metal Gear Solid, DDR). To the extent that they are fun and have leaderboards, these games seem like a natural fit for Facebook's ecosystem.

Unfortunately, the game experiences themselves, are uneven. I got right into Frogger and played a bit of Double Dribble, but found Track and Field to be calibrated too hard for me to make progress in and was completely unable to figure out how to play Loco Roco 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4.

As it turns out, I lucked into Frogger first. Unfortunately there didn't seem to be any way for me to post results of my game to my news feed. There is a chat room for all Facebook users who are currently logged in and viewing/playing Frogger, but the actual sharing of a story with my friends is not contained in the normal game play flow. I can play as many games as I want and never be prompted to share the results with my friends. There are buttons labeled "Share" and "Challenge Friends" that appear outside the game window, but these are weak calls to action compared with a "You just scored 7,000 points in Frogger and unlocked the 'top fly eater' achievement... Publish to your friends?" prompt in between games.

The login/register/connect with Facebook pipeline could also use some tuning:
  • The home page does have a couple of "Connect with Facebook" buttons, which is good. But it's unclear why I would do such a thing to begin with. All the pictures of people are strangers to me -- and it's unclear why I'd sign in to a website before I figured out whether it provided personal and/or social utility.
  • Once I launch a game, my only call to action to "get social" with the game is buried under a really unfriendly button labeled "register". No one wants to register at this point. However, after I play a game or two of DDR I may decide that I'd like to share this information with my friends on Facebook. The problem is that I'd never think "register"... I might, however, click a clearly labeled "share with your Facebook friends" button. As I mentioned above, this call to action should be included in the "game over" flow.
  • If I do think to click the "register" button, it does take me to a "scary registration page". The easy, one click "Connect with Facebook" option is kind of hidden on the right side of the page and might not be noticed before the visitor backs out or leaves the site altogether. Interested in learning more about improving sign-up/registration? Check out Bokardo's deck.
  • Clicking on the "Connect with Facebook" button actually deadends the user at a boring "account" page. If I choose to read my profile information, I learn that I'm given some strange User Name and my only option is "Edit" (not sure why I'd do this -- and the edit page is rather scary) or Invite Friends. Note that my original intention was to play a game -- a game that I have no way of finding from this deadend page...
  • At this point I want to log out. Logging out actually logs me out of both Konami Play and Facebook. I'm not sure if this is a requirement for Facebook Connect partners, but it does seem strange that I need to be logged out of Facebook when I only want to be logged out of Konami Play.
To summarize, I may not be the fan that Konami is looking for. Maybe I'm just too old and bad at games or don't care enough about some of their core IP offerings to ever become a passionate player of these games.

But, I still do like Frogger and played it on XBLA and tried to beat the highscores of my friends. And I'm still willing to try new games and share my results/thoughts with my friends to the extent that it's easy to discover these games via existing social network channels (for me, this means Facebook or Twitter) and that game results are fed into interesting and entertaining stories by default (as opposed to having to figure out how to share them outside the normal "play->game over->try again" loop).

I look forward to see how Konami Play evolves over time -- and how other external game publishers and portals continue to integrate into existing social networks.

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