Social 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.

Improving 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.