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Paolo's Blog Posts

The future of mobile games

Mobile phones are nowadays in everyone’s hands. Kids are playing mostly from mobile devices (tablets are a big player, they are used also in many schools). Still, when I listen to people talking about the future of mobile games, the discussion is always going around two things:

  1. effective way of stealing ideas (playbooks)
  2. how to hack the marketing machine and get people to install your game more cheaply (performance marketing).

Well, this can be a tactic for the short term, sure. But for the long one, we need to look at things with a critical perspective: mobile games are always the freaking same. We don’t see nowadays the kind of innovation we saw when Supercell, Rovio, and King arrived on the scene. We are still repeating (and improving) formulas, that’s all. And it’s very boring. The most interesting novelties are coming from UGC experiences inside of Roblox, from one side. From the other, we see an exasperation of FOMO, dark patterns, and grinding for the addicts. We are not going too far like this.

We need more game design, more research, and more risk betting on something novel. Of course, the discourse around distribution is very important, but we are distributing always the same and listening to people who are not building interesting games. That’s a huge problem for our industry.

Generative AI will never improve profit margins for companies, AI design and art are just scams. We need to return to the basics, at the drawing board, thinking really in finding interesting formulas for people looking for fun.

Talent and Effort

Talent is something that you have or you don’t. You can cultivate it or ignore it. You can also never discover your talent in your whole life. You can work on something, play with something, or make something without any talent. If you do anything with talent, everyone notices it.

Effort is a choice. If you don’t put effort into something it’s because you don’t want to. The context can influence the effort you put into something. You can also measure the effort and its results.

Four scenarios:

  1. You have talent and you choose to put effort into something. Best case scenario, you are the Nick Cave of what you do. Or the Maradona. Whatever you prefer.
  2. You have a talent for something, but you don’t put effort into it. You will never discover what you’re capable of. You can live with that, no worries.
  3. You don’t have talent but you want to do something. You put the effort in. The majority of successful professionals are like that. The important thing is to be aware of that and stay humble. Also, respect (and steal) talents when you spot them, which is not always easy.
  4. You don’t have talent and you don’t want to put any effort. This is a significant portion of people living in this World, as far as I perceive. In the case of creativity (art, writing, design, engineering, science, faith) an impressive business is building for them: generative AI.

Unprofessionalism

The recent news in the games industry comes with a bunch of social actions that are unprofessional. In this post, I would like to point those out (without saying names, of course).

The first thing is using bad words and cursing while posting about something. It doesn’t make you feel smarter, also if your content can be more viral. Believe me.

The second behavior is to speak regarding something you don’t know. “Company X laid off YYYY people, shame on you!”. Why are you doing that? Do you really know why it happened? No, you don’t.

The third issue is with people sharing WIP projects on social. Finish things, and show what you are proud of. It’s OK to share that you are working on something if you are looking for help, but it’s not OK to show something incomplete hoping that someone will hire you.

Last thing, we all like humor and cynicism but if you are constantly posting just that you are not putting yourself in a good light. You can look smart and experienced at the start, but then it’s tiring.

Do this instead

  • Try to evolve your communication style and channels
  • Analyze what you post and the results you have
  • Speak always politely, be always gentle

(I wish I could follow these things myself. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible because of the context and design of certain platforms)

Is the games industry even a thing?

Over the past six months or so, the very concept of “making a career in the video game industry” has completely evaporated from my mind.

There is no industry, because there are no guarantees or responsibilities. Whoever breaks it (for example by bargaining much more than you should) doesn’t pay. Indeed, the annual bonus is guaranteed by adjusting numbers on an Excel. Most often, numbers represent people.

The famous “industry” is nothing more than a mass of people who don’t even play video games and who create companies essentially to sell them. In the renowned “industry”, video games are almost an accident, they are not the important thing.

People who dream of video games, who study, who work their asses off, are tossed left and right like cattle. In the illusion of being able to create experiences that make other people dream. I understood this many years ago, thank God.

But it’s just an illusion, it doesn’t exist. The best thing is to do it in your small way and create your opportunities. Much safer, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first glance.

How to define USP?

I have watched today probably the best video on game design I have ever seen in the last few months. The speaker makes a definition for USP, unique selling points:

USP = (appeal + fantasy) * readability

  • The appeal is the level of beauty, polish, etcetera your game can have. It is what makes the game appealing from looking at screenshots/videos
  • The fantasy is the opportunity the Players will seek inside of the game. It can be something very real, but also something they couldn’t do in real life.
  • Everything is multiplied for the readability of the gameplay. Which is the capacity of your game to be understood from a simple quick view.

I love this definition and this formula, also if I am aware that creativity doesn’t work with formulas. But it’s a way of starting from a base. Test the art side (appeal x readability) separately from the gameplay (fantasy x readability).

What I want to say is that according to the properties of multiplication, we can say that the readability is a responsibility shared among art and design. Art takes care more about the appeal, while design more about the fantasy. These are my 2 cents on the general reasoning of the video. Watch it here:

Start with WHY

Experts always say you should start your projects with WHY.

Sinek, love him or hate him. I like him!

Others say you should have a philosophical base on everything you start. I don’t know if that’s a universal rule, but I am sure it helps to write down why I am tackling this new UEFN project.

There are two sides to the medal. One is a personal improvement side, and the other is a practical business side. I have identified opposites on these two sides. I love it when everything comes together in a meaningful way. Maybe a little obsessive, dunno.

  • FUN <-> REVENUE: First of all, I am motivated and engaged in doing that. I prefer to invest 40% of my time doing that than playing video games, for a while. And of course, the ROI is higher in this case.
  • SKILL <-> GROWTH: I see opportunities to build a team, meet new people, and teach what I discover in the future. I love to teach.
  • IMPROVEMENT <-> PURPOSE: I am also playing lots of Fortnite to study my new competitors. I see that most of these experiences have no progression, and no storytelling, there is just chaos. Most of them look like a bunch of incomplete experiences. My will is to silently teach the history of good old FRAG deathmatch to the new audiences that are playing Fortnite today.

We need time and silence

The issue of many of us who work with creativity is that we don’t read enough. By “read” I don’t mean just reading texts. I mean reading also other products, playing games critically is a form of reading for example.

We are often too busy working on the “data” we have. We should create things that work, and that are successful. To do that, we need to focus on finding what it works and put it in our creation.

In my case, retention, monetisation, and other weird words came from business jargon. The marketer dominates completely the discourse. And we designers accepted it, in the name of having our job.

A good game designer, instead, should study Scott, Schell, Zimmerman. We should dominate our skills. Not look at numbers on a Tableau dashboard. This is the best way in which companies can prosper thanks to our work. Look at the history of games, look at what made Blizzard games great.

It’s too simple to think that you can create based on benchmarks and breakdowns. We need time for silence and study to create something new. Look out there, look at mobile top charts. It’s always the same game, in the end.

Emergency is the future

The future of games is not made of new venues to cover. With mobile phones, we covered everything. I had my students playing games while I was explaining something important for their future. Who never?

It is not made of new spending habits. Even if the crypto-bros are right, even if the people will pay for games and things to trade in bitcoins (that will never happen), this will not determine a new era. Because the future of games will be related to the gameplay itself.

The future of games will be not putting monitors closer to our eyes hoping for more engagement. VR is causing headaches, people have been trying to sell that thing for 40 years. Steve Jobs would have never produced a dive mask to go on the streets, I am sure.

So where is the future of games? Well, I don’t know. What I do know is that is always an iteration of something we already have. For instance, the f2p mobile games era (which we can say was revolutionary) was built on top of the Java apps for cellphones, promoted by NOKIA in the Nordics, mainly.

If we look at games that are successful right now, they all offer some level of emergent gameplay. Look at FPS, survival, and horror out there. Look at the top games, the ones that make billions. They all permit a certain level of things you can do if we think laterally about the mechanics. And that unleashes a series of videos and things that people enjoy.

When you think of making a game for streamers, think mainly about emergencies. Do the same when you think of a game for TikTokers. It has always been like that: people want to find in video games something different from real life. Something they cannot do. A playful space to explore. That is where the future of games lies, I am sure.

Build a better future company

The network is flooded with bad news and hype around new technologies. Then there is the good news that comes from games like Lethal Company or Palworld. All these games share something: are made by inexperienced people. Juniors, to use the corporate jargon.

I see many experts explaining the possible benefits of blockchain, AI, Apple Vision PRO, and other new things that do not have demonstrated anything to the World. They do this to attract investments or offer their consultancies. I get it, I am a consultant too.

If I ignore the hype, thou, I see some bad trends. Corporations are not experimenting really with gameplay. They are chasing formulas, using old IPs, creating remakes, and also producing new GaaS games that add NOTHING to the market value. Like water, you can have different bottles and brands. Still, it’s always water. We can discuss the minerals inside of that water, but yeah… it’s water!

I really believe that the best way to build the company of the future is to hire more juniors and let them work, not investing in new technologies just because is cool.

Don’t get me wrong: I really appreciate the experience, but experienced people like me are very biased too. Maybe we should focus our efforts on guiding these new energies in a meaningful way. Preparing roadmaps, and supporting their ideas with no bias. And in 5-10 years, I am sure, you will have a very strong company with cool IPs.

A simple technique for clarification

I have this client now who has simple but very effective techniques to clarify things and express his concerns. He opens a Microsoft Paint instance and starts drawing.

He shares the screen with me and, with simple shapes, describes what I presented him, asking questions. Then he passes to express his concerns and makes his change requests.

And then I have another iteration to work on. No need for complex software or subscriptions. MS Paint and simple shapes are more than enough to discuss anything. God bless this simple but effective techniques.