Game talkProduct versus art

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Jan 102012
 

Yesterday, I posted about ways to improve free-to-play games, which got one commentator to say that I was comparing traditional designers to creationists, and free-to-play designers as evolutionists. A science versus religion debate, in other words.

Well, that was not really my intent. Let’s say instead empiricists versus intuitionists.

That said, I think an important takeaway, which echoes my earlier post about dogma in programming approaches, is that taken to an extreme both approaches can be dangerous. After all, religion misapplied led to holy wars, and science misapplied led to eugenics.

The spectrum in the case of games might perhaps be seen as intuition leads to art, and empiricism leads to treating games as product.

Are either wrong?

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Game talkImproving F2P

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Jan 092012
 

Are you one of those game developers who think that free-to-play games suck? You think they’re soulless, or that their builders do not understand how to treat a customer? Or why games are sacred and special?

After all, f2P developers are often looked down upon by traditional game developers, particularly indie ones, as not being artistic.

Well, in the spirit of greater understanding on all fronts, I’m here to tell you how to understand these developers.

The thing to understand about the free-to-play market, and its best developers, is that F2P developers treat everything as science. Everything is subject to analysis, and everything is subject to proof, and the business process is about seeking what works. If what works happens to also be an original, innovative, interesting design that meets a checklist set of criteria for being art, well, all the better. But really, it’s about what works.

We have to be honest with ourselves. There is an awful lot of stuff that we have cherished for a long time in the games business which turns out not to work. Sometimes it takes us years to shed the scales from our eyes about the fact that hoary conventions of yore are just that — conventions, mutable and open to change.

A screenshot from the Atari version of Panzer-Jagd.

A screenshot from the Atari version of Panzer-Jagd.

After all, was not the great innovation of World of Warcraft that it “removed the tedious bits”? Many of those tedious bits were “proven mechanisms.” And regardless of whether we feel that some babies went out with the bathwater, there’s a certain part of you that has to go with what worked — and if a few babies going out with the scummy water is the price, then, well, it can be hard to argue against.

There is also the plain fact that it takes a player to play a game. What worked for grognards  who were willing to fix the BASIC errors in Panzer-Jagd on the Atari 8-bit (*sheepishly raises hand*) does not necessarily work for the player who delighted in Doom, which in turn fails the player tossing angry red birds at hapless pigs.

The field moves on because the audience does, and what works moves with it. Having some science in the mix to track, assess, and predict those movements is only common sense.

And the more the audience divorces itself from we who make their entertainment, the more important it is that we be clear-eyed about what their tastes and behaviors actually are. And that, in turn, greatly undermines the value of “experts,” — because we are in many ways, the most likely to be hidebound and unable to see past the blinkered assumptions precisely because we built them up with hard-won experience.

But! And it’s a big but.

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Game talkInterview for a high-school junior

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Dec 062011
 

Hi this is N—–.

I am a jr in high school right now, we are doing something called a jr research paper, and the career that I chose and have been looking into is game design and I need to get an interview with a game designer, I was wondering if you could email me back and you may help me. If you have the time that would be really nice.

Thank you

Sure. Here’s my answers to your questions:
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Oct 282011
 

The normally vivacious Leigh Alexander was an a contemplative mood as she posed questions to me in an hourlong interview right after GDC Online. We talked about how games are changing with mobile and social coming along and making sessions shorter and arguably less classically immersive; and how we ourselves are drifting away from the big games, as players.

I wish more of the interview fit in the format of a Gamasutra article, because it was a great, quiet little discussion.

“Another way to think of it is, we always said games would be the art form of the 21st century: Gamers will all grow up and take over the world, and we’re at that moment now,” he continues. “It’s all come true — but the dragons and the robots didn’t come with us, they stayed behind.”

Yet in plenty of ways this loss isn’t even about social games, Koster believes. “We’re losing some of our most cherished things — and honestly, we already had. The more big business we got, the more that got replaced by women in too-little clothes, or guys that all look the same and have bullet-heads and everybody’s dressed in green and brown.”

In light of the increasingly risk-averse and market-researched nature of traditional games, the increasing size of the mainstream audience has been something of a boon. “If you’d asked someone in 1998 whether there could be hit games about cooking, fashion design… a guy running over roofs, [as in Canabalt], still there’s an element of a broader frame of reference, a broader aesthetic there.”

And while he himself is a big science fiction fan, Koster says that a wider frame of reference is “incredibly exciting” for games that can be about all kinds of things now, beyond the expected. “We lose something, but we gain something that is potentially bigger,” he reflects.

Gamasutra – News – Raph Koster Talks Loss, Opportunity For Games In The Social Media Age.

Oct 172011
 

Yup, a tiny bit more.

Side note, I am struck how little long-form coverage there is of talks anymore, now that so much blogging has moved to Twitter…

Oct 132011
 

Title slide for "It's All Games Now"Here are the slides for the talk that I gave today at GDC Online. I have to warn you that more than usual, you needed the performance, I think. So keep an eye out for when the video shows up on the GDCVault — I’ll be sure to let you know. :)

It seems to have gone very very well. Lots of positive feedback on Twitter and in the hallways afterwards.

If I had to summarize my message, I suppose I would rattle off this set of bullet points:

  • We are losing (or changing) some qualities of games because of the contexts in which they exist now, particularly social media. We let the real world invade more — such as microtransactions and RMT — and we also let the real world shape design decisions — for example, giving up on the notion of not having global chat in you virtual world.
  • We’re understanding games better than ever thanks to both design theory and real-world science. And also understanding ourselves as people better.
  • That understanding is going into applying gamelike features to real life. Not just stuff like gamification, but also common features of social media that clearly draw heavily from game inspirations, such as quantified reputation systems, achievement systems, and even how our profiles look on social networking sites.
  • This is made easier because we’re in a “cloud phase” in the evolution of computing. The pendulum always swings from cloud to local.
  • But our local machines have gotten more accessible, but a lot less open over time, and the net result is that we don’t really control the cloud or our local devices now.
  • The rub there for the game industry is that we have essentially ended up recreating the console ecosystem, only with iOS and Facebook instead of Sony and Nintendo, which doesn’t bode well for several segments of the industry.
  • Instead, it just increases the odds that the process will accelerate, as we will be the product. Indeed, already our perception of reality has been greatly filtered by social media, and is less objective and inclusive.
  • But we shouldn’t forget that we are the ones who define the rules here; we’re the wizards of the game world. Games are fundamentally social media and always have been.
  • We will be OK, as long as we don’t forget that the point of games is not the points structures, but the people we played with, and the lessons we learned.

But summarizing it that way skips the fairytale I told, and the rapid-fire science-fiction story I told, and my brief Jonathan Coulton musical quote, and much more. :)

I ended on this hope from Ted Nelson:

I hope, that in our archives and historical filings of the future, we do not allow the techie traditions of hierarchy and false regularity to be superimposed to the teeming, fantastic disorderlyness of human life.

You can read Gamasutra’s write-up here. I think it captures the essence pretty well!

Jul 212011
 

Title slideThis was my talk delivered yesterday at Casual Connect Seattle — somewhat shorter than my usual, as it was a 25 minute slot. The topic was designing for games-as-a-service; a lot of folks are migrating from casual games into social games right now, and need to know more about what the design best practices are.

I ended up reaching back to the Laws of Online World Design and many other older materials both mine and of others, on the grounds that it was likely to be new and perhaps educational for many who have been doing fire-and-forget software in the casual space.

I am fairly sure that the conference will be posting video of the presentation — they normally do — so keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, here’s the deck in a few formats:

I did try uploading it to Slideshare, but boy, did it mess up the fonts. I take a lot of care with the graphic design of my decks, and it was just too ugly to tolerate. :) I am sure I could figure it out given time, but I don’t have said time. So if someone else wants to take the PPT and get it uploaded in a way that actually resembles the PDF, go for it.

The slides should be pretty self-explanatory, but the core message is not unlike the much more detailed version of things I put forth in my recent blog on on Marketing.

Jun 302011
 

Warning: giant (4700 word) post on basic marketing principles, prompted by some recent discussion on a forum about what makes for a well-retaining game.

A lot of folks, especially in social, seem to use the word “retention” when they should think “conversion.” I tend to think of this as an emotional journey.

You can think of this sequence as going something like this:

  1. Sampling
  2. Converting
  3. Retaining
  4. Re-engaging

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