Carcassonne App – Product or Service?

The game that has been sucking up nearly all my train time, break time, and my wife’s TV time, is the Carcassonne App.  This little baby is one of the most polished apps I have seen.  The developers really considered the limitations of playing the award-winning board game on a miniature screen, and came through big time.  The AI is pretty good, there is a solitaire game, and even online play against random players.  Real quick I have a gripe and a suggestion for the game itself: (gripe) the AI, not just evil, is way too heavy on piggy-backing when both my wife and I felt it would have been much better to start a new city or road, and (suggestion) it can be really hard to find distinct owned farms on the small screen where a colored toggle would be nice to show temporarily who owns the farms.  Other than that both my wife and I have logged in well over 50 games each.  It is definitely my App Game of the Year so far.

That being said, the developers, TheCodingMonkeys (TCM) stumbled big time.  They stumbled in a way that opened my eyes to the current 0-day DLC phenomenon.  For you see, with the nearly dozen or so expansions for Carcassonne and promises by TCM that expansions will be forthcoming to buy in-game, there was none.  Fans don’t know which expansion will be first, or which ones are even planned.  All we know is the iPad version of Carcassonne comes first.  In terms of community management, they have created the worst foul.  They are not managing expectations on whether they are merely providing a product or a service as well.

Okay, let’s rewind. The App Store is still frontier.  Angry Birds updates magically appear on my 99 cents app because people keep buying it.  Other apps that cost a buck or two suddenly go free for a day.  People will flock to apps that make vuvezela sounds.  I bet it’s crazy for developers trying to figure out how to hit the next collective node.  So TCM came through with such a polished, beautiful game for $5.  For me, this game is easily worth $20.  Easily.  For buying a mere product, Carcassonne App is a true gem.  Yet, all Carcassonne fans are aware of the many, many expansions that can be plugged in to the base game.  My wife and I rarely if ever play without one because it can enliven Carcassonne so much.

On the other hand, we have 0-day buyable DLC from games like Dragon Age.  While in the past games like Diablo 2 were able to ship off an expansion to the stores months and months later, the new modicum is to bypass that nonsense (and middle-men) with instant content upgrades immediately available for consumer purchase.  A lot of people wondered if this went too far, and perhaps BioWare did cross the line.  Yet, the message was loud and clear: “Dragon Age would provide a service.”  They managed expectations with pricing, content amount, and then started working on how fast the DLC would flow.

With TCM, on the other hand, fans are clamoring for a service.  They are practically begging to be able to throw money at TCM in exchange for simple expansions like The River.  Instead, TCM would rather work on the iPad version of the Carcassonne App leaving every one of their current customers wondering and floundering.  The thing is, and BioWare knew this, that our attention spans are getting shorter.  New apps drop every day.  New hits of content appear all over the internet.  When I get iOS4, I am going to stuff a folder full of games that I hope to play again.  In other words, TCM’s cheese ain’t getting any fresher.

As I mature (lololo) I find myself caring a lot less about distinct products.  I watch ongoing TV shows magnitudes more than single-bite movies.  I play MMOs and Kongregate-esque games magnitudes more than single-bite games.  Heck, I even “subscribe” to a CSA for my vegetables.  If ArenaNet promised to answer three questions for Guild Wars 2, you can bet one of them would be on what their future content will entail (release date and Bahltek would be the others).  I hope this is just a misstep for TCM, and with the first free update already in the pipeline, I hope that they start to manage expectations on the service they can provide for the Carcassonne App.

cat food to the aliens

19 thoughts on “Carcassonne App – Product or Service?”

  1. Managing expectations is clutch indeed. Would you be happy if they just said “after we get the base game out for the ipad, since we NEED to get on the ipad, we’ll put out expansions for both”?

    1. No, they have said “iPad first, expansion next.” So I know they are “coming.” But nobody knows when that is… or how much… or which ones… they have people’s attentions at the outset and it only goes down.

  2. I love Carcassonne as a table-top game, it’s so tangible and building out the terrain has this coolness factor that I just can’t fathom being very satisfying on any sort of computing devices. I can see others having fun with it as an app, but no matter how well it’s done, I don’t think it could come even close to comparing to the ‘real’ thing in this case.

    The big draw of the app I can see is the AI, allowing for a lot more gametime than whenever I can get friends together around a table.

    The slow trickle of content definitely hasn’t been a problem for the table-top version of the game either, with both full-scale expansions and little mini (bite-sized even) tile addons available steadily since the game’s initial release.

    That’s a big make-or-break for any game, especially multiplayer. Regardless of whether it’s a boardgame or an online game.

    It’s cliché to say it, but content is king. Quality + Quantity.

  3. Have not played the table-top version of Carcassonne but you all have sparked my interest. Will have to pick it up and run it by the family.

  4. As for me, I’m far more inclined to purchase an app if it claims to be complete upfront. I have no desire to play half of a game, and then pretend like I’m still going to be interested in two months when 1.1 comes out.

  5. I usually play the online version. Unfortunately, as it is unendorsed, I don’t know the rules of the expansions. I’d love to be able to buy the board game, but last time I looked in stores all I could buy were expansions >_< And there aren't any online stores that really serve my area of the world.

  6. Hi there.

    I appreciate your thoughts on the matter, but in a few cases I kinda disagree a bit.

    We believe that there is space for highly polished and carefully crafted apps and games beyond farts or vuvzelas on the iPhone that have a lifespan of more than a few weeks.

    That’s why we took the time to pour all the love and features into the fully-fledged iPhone version of the game. And that’s why we do the same with the iPad and the expansions.

    In terms of community “management” – I believe we try to listen to our players and act accordingly. That’s why we are doing the iPad version before the expansions – it is the most requested feature by a long shot. The feedback we are getting also helps us to decide which expansions to do first, based upon actual community input.

    Keep in mind, we are three guys doing this, not five hundred like Bioware. (And I disagree on the Dragon Age 0-day DLC btw, just as a gamer that did not like that move.) We believe the iPhone/iPad community can support our kind of “indie” efforts, even if we sometimes are a bit slower to churn “new cheese”. ;)

    So yes – Carcassonne is an ongoing effort (if you want to call that service, go ahead) if the community and the marketplace have room for that kind of hand-crafted development. And judging by the looks of it now, they very much do.

    1. Hi, Martin! Thanks for stopping by our small corner. Hopefully you agree with a few points as well. :)

      I definitely agree that Carcassonne App comes across with a loving, hand-crafted feel. But, I think my original point stands: are we getting a product or a service? It’s hard to tell. And, I think so many people, like me, want it to be a service because the base game is so brilliantly done. I hope Carcassonne App is a big enough success that you guys can continue adding to it for a long time.

      1. Dood. He just said in direct response to YOU (personally!) what they’re gonna do with the game. In reference to that what the hell does your question even mean? ;-}

        1. A service brings expectations… A product is a “complete” package with possibly some support (like bug patches). So Carcassonne App is a complete package in one sense, but with regards to future DLC it could also be a service. But a service requires management of consumer expectations. Hope that clarifies it a little.

          1. Gotcha. Did they imply that they were presenting a service, or is your point that just the times being what they are, a customer of electronic gaming /expects/ a service?

  7. Coming from traditional mac app development I don’t quite agree with the categories of services and app. But that’s semantics:

    Our main mac app is about 8 years old now and still gets regular updates and new features. If you want to call that a service, that’s okay with me. We are committed to make the app more awesome, as long as there’s an audience. :)

    1. I guess my fault was that before the app was released I heard you guys would do expansions as in-game purchases. It would be fair to say that I bought the app in part b/c of that feature. Considering the amount of expansions that Carcassonne has, I assumed (we all know about assumptions) that the release of expansions could become a service unto itself…. similar to the current DLC wave that’s hitting all manner of games. Whereas, it seems you guys (and normal people) expected people to buy a product and possibly buy more product later. Fine line, lots of gray area, I know.

      Sorry for the negativity and confusion with regard to my thoughts. Hopefully a few more people pick this up b/c standing alone the app is well worth the money.

  8. thank you for recommending good iphone games like this. I have to be honest since it isn’t a $1 app it simply does not appear on my radar – I wouldn’t be able to distinguish gems like this from any other thousands of $5 apps on the app store.

    I blame Apple’s app store for this one – no way to flag apps as “not interested” and filter them out, and keep recommending me apps that I already own. But I think the indies are the ones that are hurt by the poor store interface.

    1. You can remove games from the Genius search, and I believe it takes those removals into consideration when creating the list again. Although I do agree with the main point, it CAN be difficult to filter through the thousands of trash apps to find the good ones.

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