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Month: April 2022

The skill that opens all doors

The job of the game designer basically consists in knowing how to communicate. Communication is a process that includes several parts. One of these parts is the production of documents. Creating documents consists of a fundamental skill: writing.

The skill that opens all doors is the ability to write. When you dominate the editorial office, you have a lot of career opportunities. It’s also one of the things most of us neglect when we’re young.

I notice a terrible demotion in recent years. Syntax, semantics and spelling are definitely at an all-time low. Someone says it’s the applications we write in, I’m not an expert. I just observe. People’s writing skills have been terribly low lately.

In my days I happen to hear people read aloud. At work, when I give lessons, or even in public transport. No tone, no points, no cadence.

Care of your editorial skills. Write every single day. Read aloud what you write. Listen again. The doors will open for you!

Superbiased rant on NFT Devs

Digital goods are taking on a great importance in our lives. My LinkedIn profile has value to me. This blog is a digital good. Scarcity and authenticity are two values ​​that can be found in some digital goods. Guilds in video games are composed by a limited number of Players and this scarcity generates a market. On Twitter many want the blue symbol of verified profile, authenticity. Scarcity and authenticity of digital assets are the real potential of NFTs.

Three types of people are making NFT video games: newbies, f2p explorers and the old guard.


Newbies are groups of people who have never made a video game and want to start on the hardest part. Some of them worked in e-sports, so that they have experience in community management. They include game mechanics that bring Players to purchase NFTs. There are huge technological challenges, aside from the normal struggles of making a great game for the right people. 

F2p Explorers

They have spent a period of their lives in the f2p industry. Both SaaS professionals and AAA veterans have joined the movement of free games as a service. They have explored the importance of connecting people in order to create services that can last for years. In NFTs they see the possibility of creating groups of people that stick in a game to be part of the elite. People who, in exchange for a hefty investment, will connect with other wealthy people like themselves. The main value added to the market with the disruption of free-to-play was democratisation of gaming experiences. So that they are most willing to look for the right balance between the two philosophies. 

The Old Guard

Well-respected names, successful game makers. These folks seem to be absolutely fascinated by the potential of NFTs and are using their way of making games to experiment with this new toy. Of the three groups, they are perhaps the ones who have the most chance of getting something interesting out of it. Something that will probably be copied and improved and people after them will get the real economic benefits. Not a problem for them, those people are already wealthy!


NFT are a solution in search of a problem to be solved. I came to this personal conclusion after a careful analysis lasting a few months. Maybe in 10 years we will see something interesting coming out. 

What the sector needs right now, urgently, is to speak the language of Players. All the content I see and hear out there is speaking the language of traders. This is attracting the attention of people interested in an easy way to make money. We should put our focus on goals, experiences, rewards, entertainment, competition, self-expression. Our aim should be the people looking for “gamename tips for doingthat” and not “how to make money with gamename”.

This is my superbiased rant, hope you liked it!

Everything a Game Designer must know

A LinkedIn contact shared a mind map that summarises, from his point of view, everything a game designer needs to know.

His post was shared and appreciated by many professionals in the sector.

In my opinion, instead, the image is misleading. It just looks at one part of game development: free-to-play business. Free-to-play is only part of a very complex world ranging from board games to virtual reality. I know many people in Europe who are dedicated to the development of indie games and I can assure you that, for example, the “Data” part is ignored by them.

This mind map contains what free-to-play game companies expect from a game designer. Which is very different from the declared purpose.

A person with in-depth knowledge in all of these areas is very likely to feel the work of a game designer frustrating. If I know the game-as-a-service business like the back of my hand, I will continually make proposals that probably won’t be heard. Frustration leads many game designers to jump to other roles, such as product management. Pure game designers, instead, are dedicated to something else!

When you work in free-to-play you gain knowledge in all these areas, but a game designer who does his job well devotes himself to two main activities:

  1. Facilitate tools in the team to decide how the game works
  2. Involve the people who will be playing the games in the process

Facilitate game design tools

The game designers are those who help define:

  • the game systems
  • the way in which the story reaches the players
  • the experience in the game levels
  • the actions necessary to activate the mechanics.

System design, narrative design, level design and gameplay design. In the case of free-to-play: economy design, content design, level design and UX design.

It is good to know the business side and the data side to be informed about what to do, but it is very important to be able to realise the very experience you want to offer people in the game. The necessary qualities are of a technical, artistic and editorial nature.

  1. Create and use spreadsheets, touch JSON files and game engines (technical).
  2. Set up a process, help define the essence of your experience and study well the armony of all the elements of your game (artistic).
  3. Document everything and write stories both for internal inspiration and for the Players (editorial).

Involve people

Too often, busy with many daily tasks, team members forget the main component of a commercial video game: the Players.

Most video games in production will not be commercially successful for exactly this reason. The task of game designers is to involve real people constantly to test the assumptions you have about the players and the market. A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world. You need to go outside, watch people play the game and have meaningful conversations with them.

Product managers, programmers and artists don’t have the time to do this. It is up to the game designers to take care of this. If you don’t, the work comes down to constant deliveries over long periods of time and then comes to nothing. It happens very often.


Game design is a very complex activity, but the role of game designers is very practical and creative. It is about analysing the games and helping the team to define the tools to create the game. Then you will create gaming experiences using these tools.

It is good to know a little bit of everything. Of course, if you want to have a meaningful discussion with a product manager you should speak the language of the business. If, on the other hand, you want to have a conversation with the art director, learning about the history of art and the theory of colours can help you a lot.

But let’s never forget the fundamentals. We game designers do a very practical job!

A game is a language

A few days ago I said to a student “a game is, after all, a language to deliver a story”. He objected: “Not all games have a story!”. The student was right, but his objection is due to the semantic context of the term “story”.

A story can be a component of a game, generally expressed through its contents. By interacting with the game mechanics, players create a narrative. There are many games without a story, but the sequence of actions and events always creates a narrative. That piece you were waiting for finally appears and saves your game of Tetris. You were losing, now you have been saved by fate. If someone told the story of your match, this event would be part of it.

A story is also the path that brought your game to where it is. Your live game is constantly updated and this creates a story. The core of your player community will know your story through the various updates.

A story can also arrive absolutely asynchronously. A few years ago I discovered what was behind titles like Super Mario and Zelda. The creator of these games brought his personal childhood story to the players.

A story can also be created on other platforms thanks to your game. Some people use whole games, or parts of them, to create entertainment for other people.

Making games for the Impact Economy

Impact Economy, an economic model in which the main purpose for startups, businesses, investors and organisations is not only to maximise profitability, but also to improve their social and environmental impact.

I recently discovered the Ecosia search engine. Ecosia relies on Bing’s ad services and promises to plant trees based on the amount of searches you do on their engine. It installs easily, even on smartphones, and works really well.

The results are the same as those of other engines (I used DuckDuckGo before) and it is really a pleasure to know that you are doing good to nature just by browsing.

I wonder if it is possible to adapt this business to the video game. In fact, there are entire sectors that survive thanks to advertisements. See the hypercasual market.

Imagine being able to join the services that Ecosia relies on to plant trees and contribute by creating video games where, for each ad you view, trees are planted!

It would be beautiful right?

Player’s Advocate

The other day I was talking to a colleague. He tells me “you don’t have to worry about the decisions that come up, just think about doing your job. What they tell you to do. “. This for me is the best way to have mediocre products, designed for mediocre people with something to spend. Do your job right, just do what they tell you to do.

Game designers very often are exactly like that. True game design includes, instead, keeping promises to players. Game designers connect with players’ fantasies and offer them the experience they are looking for.

Game designers understand that a “daily bonus” is not gameplay, but simply a feature. They understand this and struggle to pass this concept on to those above as well. If your game as a service has been releasing only features and not gameplay for months, guess what: you have a problem!

If you are this type of designer, you quickly realize that the most important thing in your job is to make sure you create great products and services. Because a game is a language to tell a story. And this story must be true.

Your job is to get people to work on publishing a great game. Not garbage. No shortcuts.

If you are not the Player’s Advocate who will be?

Can Netflix, SONY and Microsoft integrate ad networks in the future?

Apple and Google have made marketers’ lives more difficult. Today, it is harder for a game to reach the right audience only through ad campaigns on the major networks that offer this service.

Acquiring new players is more expensive and often ad campaings bring people with different motivations to play.

This week’s news is that Netflix is ​​considering introducing ads to its platform. SONY and Microsoft, which are activating their subscription services, are also seriously considering introducing ads to their games.

New ad networks will be created. Someone calls them “content fortresses”. If these companies play their cards right, companies will certainly be pushed to invest in acquisitions directly on these platforms.

The more you know about people’s actions in other products, the easier it is to reach them. The ads that appear to these people will be more meaningful to them. People who enter a game are likely to be more drawn to the core features and mechanics.

Netflix, SONY and Microsoft can score a big win if they play their cards well. As designers, ads are an interesting tool to get better monetization numbers simply improving the reward ratios.

You may target a niche if your game is inherently multiplayer

When creating a free-to-play game you have two choices. Either you target a very large audience trying to structure the entire player journey to make sense for many months, or you play a game that lets you get to know other people right away and let them build their campfires.

In this second case, an inherently multiplayer game, it is possible to target a niche and build a successful service. Even if it is difficult to compete with the realities that handle more complex services where contents and levels are released every two weeks. You will probably not being a top grossing. Still your service can sustain a meaningful business and last years.

Whatever is your target, ask yourself some questions and make decisions:

  • Gameplay: What is the backbone of your service? How does it guide the rest of the game’s features?
  • Economy: How much is a game minute worth in currency?
  • UX: how do you accompany the player throughout the whole experience?
  • Level design: how do you estimate and measure the relationship between fail rate and drop off when designing levels?
  • Narrative design: in what moments of experience do deliver your story?

Players may be tired of throwing their money at gem packs

According to the Sensor Tower service and some specialised media, the benefits generated by free-to-play smartphone games have decreased. Specifically, spending on the Apple platform is under 2.3%. On Android there was a dramatic decline of 13.8%.

Experts from around the world are also questioning Sensor Tower’s estimation capability. In short, these estimates could be wrong. As a game designer, I have one, single and simple doubt: are free-to-play games for smartphones losing novelty?

Historically, video games have always thought of pushing the limits of graphics and gameplay. If we look at the premium market, with a simple glance we can see how technological progress has supported the evolution of game modes in a superb way. Even there, however, companies have begun to bet on the safe side. That’s why we see so many sequels, remakes, etc.

I’ve been downloading and trying tons of free-to-play games every week for years. I remember when I started in this video game sector, in 2012. The Pareto Principle was applied in a more courageous way: 80% copying a game, 20% introducing new things. This trend has changed lately.

Free-to-play, in order to be sustainable, needs a huge volume of players. To make this possible, acquisition campaigns need to focus on finding a very large audience. Before Apple’s IDFA deprecation, it was possible to find audiences based on concrete actions. “I would like to have inside the people who paid in this other game”. “I would like people who complete the tutorial of these games.”

This led to a new application of the Pareto Principle: 80% copying from one game, 20% copying from another. You avoid risks, you play “safe” in theory.

The result: the games that we see in top grossing are, from a gameplay perspective, always the same. Human beings certainly do not want complete and revolutionary experiences. However, we need to see continuous evolutions, or we will no longer feel attracted to what the market offers us.

A pop-up comes up with an affordable pack of gems, boosters, and some new heroes. The same type of package I bought in 3, 5, 10 games. The novelty effect of long-term gets lost.

How could we try to solve this?

  • Accepting that it is better to aim at a very large audience and, once inside the game, create different experiences for different type of player personas
  • At the same time, put at the center of your game experience something really fresh
  • Try to create games that can be accessed by multiple devices, not just smartphones, to ensure the service scalability.