Game talkSocial games vs gambling

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Jul 032013
 

A lot of people are still looking down their noses at social games, particularly now that Facebook is no longer the hot new games platform. This ignores the fact that there are millions of people happily playing social games every day, of course.

Many of the games seem like gambling to people now, what with small payments in order to make progress. Many of those who dislike the free-to-play model feel like “the game is rigged in favor of the house.” There’s also the fact that many of the social game companies have an eye on regulatory changes that may allow them to get into real-money gambling soon.

Which leads to people asking (on Quora), are social games the same as gambling? Are they really just like slot machines?

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Mar 092012
 

Here’s the PDF: Koster_Raph_GDC2012.pdf

Here’s the PPTX, which includes the speaker notes, which this time are extensive: Koster_Raph_GDC2012.pptx

And the closest I can get to the speech itself is this page here, which has an image of each slide, followed by the notes… so you can just read it like an article.

I imagine video will be up on the GDCVault eventually…

 

Mar 012012
 

I seem to have neglected to mention that I am speaking at GDC next week!

I'm a GDC Speaker buttonI’ll be the last session of the Social and Online Games Summit, giving a quick half-hour session entitled “Good Design, Bad Design, Great Design” modelled after the blog post from a while back.

What makes a design good or bad? And more importantly, what makes it GREAT? And even more, does greatness even matter, when the goal is to make money? In this talk, industry veteran Raph Koster will look at an assortment of guidelines and aphorisms drawn from a variety of fields ranging from marketing to art theory, and see how they hold up. Raph will pay special attention to what they mean for the brave new world of social gaming. Hopefully you’ll leave inspired.

Takeaway: Learn why it makes sound financial sense to reach for greatness in your work, and discover some of the science behind classic design principles from other fields.

If you’re coming, see you Tuesday 5:05- 5:30 in Room 135, North Hall.

Edit: slides are posted here.

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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Nov 042011
 

The GDC Vault has posted the full video of “It’s All Games Now!”, my talk from GDC Online. And it’s one of the free ones!

I have a brief precis of it here, if you don’t know what it is about. But hey, it’s only an hour of your life, right? So go check it out even if you don’t know what it is about.

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.