Mar 202012

Once upon a time, there was a game set in a science fiction universe where the economy was very important. Its name was not Eve.

In this game, players could, if they so chose, run a business. They could

  • designate a building as a shop
  • hire an NPC bot to stand in it
  • give the bot items to hold for sale
  • specify the prices at which those items would sell
  • customize the bot in a variety of ways
  • make use of advertising facilities to market the shop
  • decorate the shop any way they pleased

With this basic facility, emergent gameplay tied to the way that the crafting system worked resulted in players who chose to run shops being able to do things Ike build supply chains, manage regular inventory, develop regular customer bases, build marketing campaigns, and in general, play a lemonade stand writ large.

The upshot was that at peak, fully half the players in Star Wars Galaxies ran a shop.
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Mar 152012

This is post #2,342 on this blog (not counting the dozens of articles, snippets, and presentations not in the blog database)… yet more of the over a quarter-million words written here since the site started in 1997 and the blog in 1998. And I have to admit, I tend to take for granted the idea that people have read all the stuff that matters, so they understand me when I throw around terms or assume that they know what my past writing on the topic is. Which is ludicrous, of course.

So I got asked on Twitter for a list of my juiciest game design posts, to serve as a central jumping-off point.

This was hard. But here’s a list of ones that I think are my best. Many of these are actually talks, rather than posts. These are usually in sort of rough reverse chronological order, but there’s plenty of places where they are just in the order I found them in, or random cut & paste order.

Feel free to list your own favorites in the comments. And if you haven’t seen some of these before, well, this is the best way to catch up on my overall beliefs and philosophies on games.

Theory of fun (cognition and games) and game grammar overview. This covers the very highest level structure of the thinking on these two interrelated subjects.

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“X” isn’t a game!

 Posted by (Visited 34102 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Mar 132012

I called this out as one of the trends I saw at GDC. Last year, people were saying that Farmville was not a game, and I argued that it was. This year, I wrote about narrative not being a mechanic and had to extend my comments on it because of the controversy, and Tadhg Kelly bluntly said “Dear Esther is not a game.” At GDC, the rant session featured Manveer Heir saying that it was arrogant and exclusionary not to consider it a game, and arguing that the boundaries of “game” needed to be large and porous. Immediately after, Frank Lantz gave his own rant, which used sports extensively as examples of games.

The definition of game that most people — and I am particularly thinking here of the layman’s use of the term — is basically something like “a form of play which has rules and a goal.” Lots of practitioners and academics have tried pinning it down further. I’ve offered up my own in the past:

Playing a game is the act of solving statistically varied challenge situations presented by an opponent who may or may not be algorithmic within a framework that is a defined systemic model.

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My big GDC takeaways

 Posted by (Visited 13544 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: , , ,
Mar 122012

Just some hastily scribbled notes here:

The art & the science are at least yelling at each other across a divide, if not talking.

Chris Crawford is more relevant than he has been in years. At least more discussed. People are now embracing things he said that they used to disdain. His face was put up on slides a bunch of times, and his spirit was invoked a lot. There were many calls for games to “grow up.”

On the flip side, the social/F2P model is clearly not just winning but dominant — but there were a lot of discussions about how to do it ethically, rather than just rejecting it out of hand or embracing the monetization.

There’s a little bit of an identity crisis. Some of this is from debates over terms (“is Dear Esther a game?” was a constant thread), which some feel to be exclusionary. Now that interactive art is burgeoning, it is either growing out of the rubric of “game” or expanding the definition. This is leading to people calling each other fundamentalist or clueless, which is not very productive.

In the process, that term definition exercise and the deeper analysis of the “science” of how games work has continued to make great strides, and many of the best talks were about understanding the audience psychology or understanding mechanics in greater depth. Game grammar-like diagrams popped up on many slides, and concrete game design exercises were showcased at great length — where we used to just get special-cases, we now get general principles.

A lot of the above was enabled by back-to-low-budget trends that enabled the indie and art game movements, and by the fact that mobile tech was easily accessible. The center of gravity has clearly shifted to mobile.

But there was also general agreement among business types that this Renaissance period is over. Budgets are about to skyrocket again, and we’re now at the start of a “mature” period akin to the early glory days of consoles, or the early glory days of PC gaming. Expect creativity to give way to conservatism again and the stakes get higher in terms of budgets and time.

Basically, it feels to me like we’re just about cresting the edge to a new plateau. We’ll see what happens to disrupt this one. 🙂

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…