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Jam City谈《哈利波特:霍格沃茨的秘密》叙事与盈利之间的冲突

Jam City总裁谈《哈利波特:霍格沃茨的秘密》叙事与盈利之间的冲突

原作者:James Batchelor 译者:Willow Wu

就像古灵阁中的妖精一样,在面对金钱问题时,F2P游戏开发者必须既聪明又精于计算。手游的平衡问题是非常微妙的,尤其当你的目标用户是年轻玩家时。如果游戏的盈利策略非常激进,用户留存率就会骤降,游戏收入也会随之减少。

绝大部分的F2P游戏都是由有趣的游戏机制和内购选项两部分构成,玩家可以通过后者获得更好的游戏体验。但是Jam City的游戏《哈利波特:霍格沃茨的秘密》又多了一个核心元素:剧情。

HarryPotterGame

HarryPotterGame

能够让玩家有连载小说般体验的F2P游戏并不只它一个,但与《哈利·波特》IP的合作,剧情贯穿霍格沃茨学生从入学到毕业的整整七年时间,《哈利波特:霍格沃茨的秘密》可以说是一个非常有野心的RPG项目了。之前,人们都觉得它应该是付费游戏,就像Telltale的产品。但是,Jam City考虑到更大范围的目标受众而选择了F2P,在准备发行游戏期间引发了热烈讨论。

Jam City总裁Josh Yguado在接受GamesIndustry.biz采访时说道:“游戏刚发行的时候,人们对于F2P模式和叙事结构的配合有诸多疑问,还有一个疑虑就是它能否符合HP粉的期待。”

“我认为大部分粉丝还是满意的。游戏发行后,人们开始沉浸在一个新的魔法世界中,评价从褒贬不一逐渐变成特别好评。内容的深度和剧情质量的保障赢得了玩家的青睐,让他们爱不释手。”

从Jam City的一些列相关数据来看,事实似乎确实如此。 截止2019年3月,也就是游戏发行不到不一年,《哈利波特:霍格沃茨的秘密》的全球下载量已经达到了4500万次,收入超过1亿美元——Jam City之前的任何一款游戏都没有这样的增长速度。

但是,就如Yguado所说的,人们对游戏的盈利手段还尚存争议。我们的姐妹网站Eurogamer在游戏发行不久后就发布了一篇测评文章,特别提了一个例子:游戏前期,角色会被困在魔鬼网里,你需要消耗体力来解救他们。就跟其它F2P产品一样,游戏中的能量是有限的,用完后你只能选择等待或者用钱买。

从Eurogamer举的例子来看,这就意味着解救这个孩子你只能在这二者选其一,因为能量根本不够用。并且等待过程中会始终保持被勒住脖子的状态。尽管当年第一批HP粉都长大了,但《哈利·波特》仍算是面向儿童&适合亲子阅读的IP,而这种游戏开局方式实在是太奇怪了。

Yguado认为这在剧情上是合理的:“我们想创作出一个有危机、有戏剧性时刻的故事,对应你在电影和书籍中看到的那些跌宕起伏、令人感动的内容。遭遇险境并不是这款游戏的独有情节,原著和电影中也是如此。

“我不觉得《哈利波特:霍格沃茨的秘密》比其它HP故事都恐怖或者暴力。毫无疑问,我们是要给你留个悬念。如果一本书的某个章节以一个戏剧性的场景结尾,比如说危机,然后你翻到后面就可以看到后续发展,这样大家都没有意见。如果一个电影/电视剧场景在一个戏剧性的时刻结束,然后下一集或场景解决了这个危机,我们可以接受。所以我希望大家能用同样的方式来对待我们的游戏。”

听起来是很合理,但是魔鬼网实际上也可以说是Jam City费尽心思打造的剧情绊脚石。能量限制就是阻止玩家按照自己的节奏玩游戏。每次游戏进展到一个特定事件,玩家就会被强制暂停,然后按照游戏的指示点击场景的其它地方直到进度条充满,之后再继续剧情。能量不够?掏钱或者晚点再回来吧。

同样的手段应用在其它媒体形式上会被观众认为是坑钱,没有诚意。如果故事情节突然中断,失去推动力,这个剧情的吸引力就会大打折扣。除了体验在霍格沃兹学习这个卖点,《哈利波特:霍格沃茨的秘密》的主要吸引点在于它是一个现实版的原创哈利波特故事——但这可能与它的商业模式产生冲突。毕竟,F2P游戏的目标是盈利。

“在我看来,电影、电视、书本和游戏的剧情创作方式是有所区别的,F2P游戏需要一种特殊的方式铺开剧情,让故事长期发展下去,”Yguado说。“我个人觉得剧情创作者们的工作做得十分出色,带来了有趣、刺激和出乎意料的故事。

“另外我也不觉得这会和商业模式有所冲突——狄更斯在写书之前是为杂志写连载故事的,电视剧也是边写边拍,播放好几季。而我们是为互动写故事,为了忠于哈利·波特世界,我们需要一种不同的写作方式,节奏也有所不同。”

随着故事的进展,节奏也会变慢。《哈利波特:霍格沃茨的秘密》刚发行的时候,我可以在几周内就念完一年级,几乎每天都能触发剧情关键点。到二年级期末,有些任务——主要是那些奖励经验值的课程——得保证能量全满才能顺利做完,不然会超时。这就意味着章节与章节之间可能会间隔数周,花这么长的时间一遍又一遍地消耗体力、完成课程来提高你的角色等级或是解锁下一个场景。

某种程度上来说,这是必要手段。游戏目前的剧情已经到五年级了,也就是说理论上大概到2019年年末故事就结束了。但《哈利波特:霍格沃茨的秘密》的开发人员本就没打算就此画上句号。如果玩家能够在几个月内过完剧情,那他们还有什么理由回到游戏中呢?

Yguado承认要在任务和剧情之间找到平衡确实很难,还有剧情的推进节奏。他补充说:“我觉得我们是在一直努力尝试找到那个正确的点。创造优质的内容(包括文字、艺术、音乐)是需要花时间的。如果大家都能在一周之内玩完全部内容,他们明年就没有游戏玩了。我们几乎每周都在发布新内容,你必须要给玩家布置任务,而不是单纯地看剧情,不然游戏很快就会被消耗完了。

“对我们来说,重点就是创作出能让人们长期享受、回味的游戏体验——坦白说,这需要给自己争取些时间。”

鉴于哈利·波特系列粉丝中有大量年纪较小的用户,Yguado保证Jam City“会在盈利方面保持严肃、负责任的态度”,他坚信公司产品的F2P模式实际上是一种“非常公平的商业模式”,再三强调就算不花钱也能获得完整的《哈利波特:霍格沃茨的秘密》体验。

“如果你想让游戏节奏快点的话可以选择付钱,”他说。“并不是所有玩家都会付钱——事实上,大部分玩家都不会。《哈利波特:霍格沃茨的秘密》,以及其它Jam City游戏的商业模式以运用方式是经过充分考虑的、合理的,并没有任何意义上的占玩家便宜。

“我认为这算是物超所值了——想想看,一部电影你可能要花5或10美元才能获得两小时的娱乐享受,或者一本书,你花20或30美元才能看几个小时。而我们的游戏,你不用花多少钱就可以玩很长一段时间。”

《哈利波特:霍格沃茨的秘密》的成功促使Jam City的游戏策略得到巩固。虽然其他工作室可能会因此受到鼓舞去寻找更多授权合作机会,但对于此类产品,Yguado表示他依然会坚持在原IP的基础上应用Jam City的游戏设计模式。

就长期来说,以剧情为驱动力是吸引用户的最佳方式,这就是他们的最大收获。Jam City计划在未来做进一步相关探索。

“手游市场之前并没有这样的剧情RPG产品,”Yguado总结道。“《哈利波特:霍格沃茨的秘密》的成功让我们对这一类型更有信心了,后续我们会开发更多类似的游戏。

“我们已经意识到了好故事对游戏的重要性。我相信你能从Jam City现有以及未来的产品中感受到我们对剧情元素的重视,即使是解谜、策略,甚至是博彩这样不需要剧情驱动的游戏我们也做了调整,进一步体现剧情的重要性。”

本文由游戏邦编译,转载请注明来源,或咨询微信zhengjintiao

Like the goblins of Gringotts, free-to-play developers have to be both clever and calculating when it comes to handling people’s money. There is a delicate balance to strike when it comes to monetising mobile users — especially younger players — as too aggressive a tactic will see your retention plummet, and your revenues along with it.

The majority of free-to-play games are primarily a marriage of compelling game mechanics and monetisation options that give players the ability to enhance their experience. But with Jam City’s Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, there is another pillar at play: the narrative.

Far from the only free-to-play title to take players through an ongoing story, the Harry Potter tie-in is arguably one of the more ambitious, styling itself as a full-blown RPG that stretches across an entire seven-year stint as a Hogwarts student. At times, it feels like this could have been a premium title, perhaps in the vein of Telltale’s games, but Jam City opted for a free-to-play experience to target the broadest possible audience — and this raised eyebrows in the run-up to launch.

“When the game was first released there were a lot of questions about free-to-play and the narrative structure, how that would all come together and whether it would deliver on the expectations of Potter fans,” the studio’s president Josh Yguado tells GamesIndustry.biz.

“I would say, broadly, it has. After the game was first released, as people began to really get into the game and spend time with it, the reviews went from mixed to very, very good. The depth of the content and the quality of the writing has really made for an experience that fans have really, really gotten into.”

Jam City’s figures certainly seem to back that up. As of March 2019, less than a year after launch, Hogwarts Mystery had accrued 45 million downloads globally and exceeded $100 million in revenue — the fastest game to do so in the company’s history.

But, as Yguado says, there have been questions about the way it monetises. Our sister site Eurogamer ran an article shortly after launch, highlighting a prime example: your character becomes trapped in Devil’s Snare early on, and you need to spend energy to complete the scene and free them. As with all free-to-play titles, there is a limit to how much energy you have available; to refill it you either wait for the time to run down, or pay to top up.

In Eurogamer’s example, this means you are essentially forced to wait or pay to stop a child from being strangled. That’s an odd way to start a game targeting children (while Harry Potter’s first fans are all grown up, it remains primarily a children’s or family-friendly property).

Yguado is confident this is narratively justified: “We’ve tried to create a game and write a story that has stakes, that has dramatic moments that reflect the level of drama and emotion that you see in the films and the books. I don’t think being in a perilous situation is unique to our Harry Potter game when you compare it to the films and the books.

“I don’t think our game is more violent or more scary than any of the other Potter [stories]. Without a doubt, we leave you at a cliffhanger… It seems like if a book’s chapter ends at a dramatic moment, sometimes a dangerous moment and then continues after that, we’re okay with it. If a film scene or even a television scene ends at a dramatic moment, and then the next episode or scene resolves that scary scenario, we’re okay with it. I’m hoping we can also measure our game by the same [standard].”

Sounds reasonable so far, but the Devil’s Snare also epitomises a stumbling block of the narrative Jam City has tried so hard to craft. By the very nature of the energy limit, players are unable to progress at their own pace. Each time they reach a story beat, the action comes to a hard pause while players arbitrarily tap on parts of the scene to fill up bars until the game is satisfied that you’re allowed to continue. Run out of energy? Pay up or come back later.

In any other form of storytelling, this would be a deal-breaker for audiences. Stories lose all momentum and become far less compelling if the plot suddenly comes to a halt. Aside from the fantasy of being a Hogwarts student, much of the game’s appeal relies on telling an authentic and original Harry Potter story — but perhaps that conflicts with the business model. After all, the goal of a free-to-play game is to monetise its audience.

“The way I see it is there’s slightly different writing styles required for film, TV, books and games, and you have to tell a story in a particular way for a free-to-play narrative that goes on for a very long time,” says Yguado. “I personally think our writers have done an amazing job coming up with an unexpected, fun, exciting story in this game.

“And I don’t think it conflicts with the business model — in the same way that Dickens wrote for magazines before he wrote for books, or television writers write for seasons, we’re writing for interactive episodes and chapters. That requires a different type of writing with a different cadence that I believe can be true to the world of Harry Potter.”

The pacing also slows as you progress further through the story. When Hogwarts Mystery first launched, I was able to make it through the first year within a couple of weeks, reaching a new story beat or key scene every day or so. By the end of year two, some tasks — mostly the lessons that grant XP — actually require a full energy bar before you begin or it will be impossible to complete them within the time limit. This means it could be weeks between chapters, weeks spent playing the same energy-guzzling lessons over and over again to improve your character’s level or meet the requirements to unlock the next scene.

This is, in part, by necessity. Only five of the seven years have been added to the game, making it likely the story will be complete by the end of 2019. Hogwarts Mystery has been designed to last beyond that. If players are able to blitz through the story in a matter of months, what’s left for them to return to?

Yguado admits it’s “honestly really tricky” to balance between in-game tasks and the narrative, and to find the right rate of progression. He adds: “I won’t say that at any point we have it right, I think we’re always trying to get it right.

“In order to create really good content, which includes writing, art, music, it takes time. If everyone were able to get through all the content in a week, they wouldn’t have a game to play over the next year. We’re dropping new content almost every week, and to a certain extent you have to give people and fans some tasks other than reading through the content, otherwise they would complete the experience very, very quickly.

“It’s important for us to create an experience that people can enjoy for years and years — and frankly, we need to buy ourselves some time to continue to create great content.”

Given that Harry Potter appeals to such a young audience, Yguado assures that Jam City “takes monetising responsibly very seriously” and maintains that free-to-play is actually a “very fair business model,” emphasising that it is possible to get through all Hogwarts Mystery content without paying.

“If you’d like to go through it quickly you can pay to do that,” he says. “Not everyone who plays our game pays — in fact, I’d say the majority don’t. The business model and specifically how we’ve implemented it in Harry Potter and our other titles is thoughtful, reasonable and does not take advantage of our players in any way.

“I think you get very good value for money — think about a film, where you may pay $5 or $10 to get two hours of entertainment, or a book where you spend $20 or $30 for a few hours. I think you get a lot of hours of enjoyment in our games for a very, very reasonable price.”

The success of Hogwarts Mystery so far has cemented Jam City’s current games strategy, and while other studios might be encouraged to seek out more licensing opportunities, Yguado says he plans to maintain a 50/50 balance between original IP and games based on franchises like Harry Potter.

The biggest takeaway has been that a story-driven proposition is the best way to engage a larger audience over a longer period of time, and Jam City plans to explore this further in future.

“There was never a narrative RPG like this in the mobile market before,” Yguado concludes. “It’s given us confidence in the genre and we plan to eventually pursue more titles like it.

“We’ve realised the importance of deep story in our games. I think you’ll find in many of our existing and future titles, narrative becomes an even more core element in games that aren’t necessarily narrative-driven titles — like puzzle games, strategy, and even casino and parlour games.”

(source:gamesindustry.biz


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