When he was 12, Derrick Morton became obsessed with music and movies. At about that same time, he also began messing around with computer code. Music, movies, and fun, all tied together with computer code—roughly speaking, that’s Flowplay. That Derrick Morton would one day become its CEO seems, in retrospect, almost inevitable.
“Our goal has been to create the most robust virtual worlds and casual MMOs possible with the least technology friction for the player,” says Morton. The key to achieving that goal is providing a rich user experience and the opportunity to buy and trade virtual goods while interacting with other players.
The Goods on Virtual Goods
According to the Casual Games Association, over half of all casual games depend on micro-transactions and/or virtual gaming to generate revenue (see: Mobile Gaming: Casual Games Sector Report 2012). Morton believes that the prevalence of virtual goods is easy to explain. “Virtual items have several functions,” he says. “Fashion-players love to dress an avatar in clothes they’d like to wear in real life or in something completely crazy that they couldn’t do in real life. Self-Expression players like to express parts of their personality—rocker, hipster, etc.—in ways that give social clues to other players. Many virtual items are used in the actual game itself for better scores, faster leveling, etc. Plus, some players like the idea of collecting virtual goods as part of the game. Trading items and bartering with other players for virtual items can become a game within the game.”
Of course, creating a virtual economy introduces a number of significant challenges that Morton could never have envisioned when he first started experimenting with lines of code as an adolescent. He believes that all too often developers forget to think like their users. They might offer virtual goods for sale within their games, for example, but neglect to provide an adequate mechanism for trading. Consequently, they may inadvertently limit the goods’ utility and, in the process, reduce the enjoyment their users might derive from those goods. And as with any economy, fraud is a constant concern as well.
If there is an opportunity for exploitation, players will find it and take extreme advantage of it. Just google ‘ourWorld cheats’ and you’ll see what I mean.
The Times They Are a-Changin’
Virtual economies are just one of many unforeseen changes that have come to the world of casual games since Morton started his career in 1994. And more changes are imminent. Morton believes, for example, that everyone in the industry must be prepared to respond to the new game possibilities triggered by the latest mobile and tablet devices. “Our challenge and goals for the next couple of years are to address these changes,” he says. “We want our games to run across all devices and Facebook in such a way that there’s a consistent experience” from one device to another. And it makes sense. A virtual world should not be confined to a single device.
That sort of adaptability is essential, for there is no lack of smart people and good ideas in the world. Morton, knows—as well as anyone—that at this very moment there is a 12-year-old boy somewhere who is just now beginning to fiddle with code, imagining games that have yet to be conceived. Morton wants Flowplay to help make those games a reality.