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Month: May 2022

Owning the feature design

This post is about ownership of the development of a feature or mechanic in a video game. Many companies say that they need people who really own the tasks they have. Ownership is very important but also a little fuzzy concept.

What I understand for ownership is different from what you mean with the same word. It is also different from reality to reality. It is not the same to own the design and development of a secondary feature than to own the core mechanic of a new game.

To me, the secret of good ownership is being able to maintain a vision while adapting to the context. The term ownership can be easily confused with property ownership. If your duty is to own some feature, the best you can do is to build on what you have, leaving the borders of your property open.


In the world of data driven development it is very easy to fall into the trap of thinking “data is everything”, repeating the same mistakes over and over or offering the same formula to the Players.

Data is not everything. Data is a resource that has to be translated into information, otherwise everything can be read. Ownership means also to be able in doing this translation. You need to make hypotheses, you need to verify those hypotheses using concrete experiments and then you can discuss how to transform the information in actions. 

It is very hard having the right data ready at the start of some new implementation, so that often you need to rely on other elements to form your vision:

  • Your own personal experience brings inevitably something interesting to the discussion table.
  • Never forget that game design is also art, you should put something very personal in if you want to really engage your team and Players in your vision.
  • You need to know the state of the art, breaking down the same feature implemented in other games. It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel.
  • You need to connect with the people playing those games and really understand what it works and why.


It is very unlikely to create the next f2p success with a team of 3 developers and 2 artists and no QA, right? If you have a small team, a feature can take aeons to get right. Most of the times you cannot iterate properly, your manager will pass to the next feature and your work will cripple. This happens in the majority of companies, and it is completely normal. Owning your design means accepting this and move forward. It’s hard, I know.

From the other side, it is very hard to create a fresh core loop with a team of 80 people. Politics, meetings and dispersion of the information will make you struggle to properly transmit your insight with the rest of the team. In that case, it is way better to take a strong base and then focus on improving the experience in terms of UX. Believe me, you will save a lot of stress.

Being aware of the context is very important, the magic lies where you can do the best you can with what you have. When you have the feeling that you can do everything with no limitations, it probably means that the context is not clear to the leadership nor to the team. Red flag. When you own a feature, you should try to clarify:

  • Goals with all the stakeholders
  • Concrete deadlines with weekly/bi-weekly intermediate milestones
  • Concrete quality expectations for the feature you own.

Final thoughts

The rise of automation is solving a lot of problems and saving us a lot of time. If we really want to be the professionals of tomorrow, we should focus our attention on providing the right solutions and vision according to the context we work in. 

Ownership is one of the most important factors of the future landscape of professional game design. 

What is your way of owning your tasks?

I don’t want to specialize

I work as a game designer and I don’t want to specialize. The Industry is constantly looking for high specialization, but if I imagine myself blocked in a specific role I can easily out of video games.

When I meet some people who wants to join the industry and asks me for an advice, I translate this way of thinking to my mentorship to. Don’t try to specialize.

To me, game designers are a kind of designers. Game design is already a specialization. I am in the f2p sector because it is very common to be there in Europe. Someday, I would love to work on AAA or Indie games, too.

I like everything in game design: the narrative, the system, the level and the gameplay design. I like all their branches. And my dream is to work on a little bit of everything. That’s what motivates me, in the end.

If you are new, do not think in specialization. Start by picking a field, instead. Imagine you pick level design.

Then scan all the companies you would like to work for someday and make some specific level design for one of their titles. Iterate and take notes on every problem faced. Share only the best things. Build your portfolio like that!

Start by picking a specialization, then try to go general!

Hire Game Designers: Tests are free work

If you want to hire a game designer for your company, the process can be long. It is very hard to find the right fit, especially for a role like this which touches so many areas of knowledge at the same time.

Tech Test nightmare

The standard nowadays is to make a set of 1-2 interviews and then send a technical test to complete within a week. The test is usually composed of 2-3 tasks which can be completed in 8-16 hours. Anyway, since you have 1 week to do it you will probably invest at least 32 hours trying to get the best result.

Then you send the test out and the outcome can be good, in which case you pass to the next stage. If the outcome is not good, you will have no chance to defend your thoughts and process. You spent 32 hours of your time, nobody pays for that (also nobody uses the outcome of your work) and you are sad. Free work for nothing.

What can you do instead?

Raph Koster in an old post said that a good game designer has writing, technical and artistic skills. Technical tests usually focus on the technical part, but include the other two parts in most cases.

You may want to be sure that your next game designer is the right choice. In front of you there is a junior professional, a mid or a senior (or superior) ones. The process should be different in the 3 cases.

Junior Game Designer

Junior game designers should provide support to the senior professionals. If you want to hire a junior, you should already have at least one senior capable of mentoring this designer. The new hire should be chosen mainly by the senior designer.

  • 2 hours interview
  • Focus on deconstruct a specific game together
  • Specific task live, the senior can see how the junior will tackle a challenge
  • Think aloud to express yourself
  • After the call, the designer should write a small report on the learnings and the activities and send it via email

Mid Game Designer

Those people are already capable of working autonomously on specific tasks. They don’t have to work always on a strict supervision. They start to contribute to the game vision meaningfully. They are capable of facilitating brainstorming sessions and creative meetings.

  • 2 hours interview with development team
  • Portfolio review with deep discussions on problems faced and problem solving
  • Creative session simulation
  • After the meeting, send notes and ideas selections

Senior Game Designer

A senior is someone capable of understanding the context, analyze potential solutions and find the best fit for the game scope. We fought many battles and faced many problems already.

  • 2 hours interview with design team
  • Provide a specific context and see how the designer solves the problem
  • Collaborate with the designers for them to be successful at the interview, not to filter them out
  • After the meeting, let the designer prepare a small presentation or demo
  • Arrange another interview with the presentation or demo and comment deeply with the team


When you are alone completing a technical test, you are applying your professional knowledge to complete specific task. You are working.

Nobody pays you for that. You are working for free.

It does not matter that the challenge is so cool or that the company is so important. They will not use your work to make profit, but still you worked for free.

The right company for you is the company that sets you for the good during the interview. The interview process is not to discard people, but to find the right fit! Support your candidates to see their true potential, instead of trying to spot what doesn’t work. And don’t worry to find the best of the best. There is always someone better, of course, the important is to find someone great for the position.

Boiling the Ocean

I was talking with a LinkedIn contact I made recently and he told me that his company is working on a specific platform for a specific place in the US. I asked him why to target just a specific location instead than a broader region. He told me that he wants to build something very innovative and meaningful. It is not necessary to boil the Ocean, he added.

This man is completely right. We often fall into the trap of thinking too big. We know that videogames can become huge and scale tremendously. We often start to argue on scalabilty and growth before of even produce the very first demo. That attitude brings a lot of cursed design problems.

Best games start from the will to deliver the best possible gameplay to the smallest possible audience, many times. Before of 2012 very few realities were thinking in serving mature women with their games. Then the thing became huge. The games of that time scaled. It was because they were very well made.

They weren’t trying to boil the ocean.

The World is ready for the TikTok of Puzzle Games

Few time ago I used to work on a match-3 game for a strong IP. The game never saw the light, but I was working for a company dedicated to design and production of many match-3 games for different IPs.

There was an interesting behavior we observed from Players: many of them jumped from game to game looking for brain training, fun and so on. I had a lot of match-3 games installed on my device at that time. When I wanted to really empathize with those Players, I finished all lives in one game before of jumping to another.

When you run a game app you have to wait 30-90 seconds before of seeing the very first screen. Then you probably receive a lot of special offers and pop-ups distracting you from your purpose: to play a match-3 session.

If I had data and people, I would create an infinite feed of puzzle levels where the Player can scroll and jump from game to game in a quick way, just like TikTok is offering video content.

The feed is a great metaphor

Today everyone has confidence with the feed metaphor. A feed is fast and offers always novelty. Also, intruding pop-ups can be substituted by feed elements.

  • Swipe, Swipe, Swipe and Play this
  • Swipe, Swipe, watch ad to get power-ups
  • Swipe, purchase the special pack

Mobiles are tecnologically advanced nowadays and can support multiple 2D levels on the same scene with optimization. Corporates like King, Peak, Jam City, Playrix and Zynga have a tremendous amount of Player’s data and can use that to train an artificial intelligence.

Artificial intelligence would help a lot with level design. From one side, AI can help with serve the right mechanics, challenge and visuals to the right audience. From the other, AI can help with the Player Generated Content.

Imagine create your own levels and sharing them with the game's community. Immagine getting all lives and power-ups that the Players use on your levels. I think we are definitely ready for that! 

But let’s go in order.

The art of liveops

When you have a live game you constantly work on four main fronts:

  1. FTUE: onboarding and tutorials for every feature of your game
  2. Player Progression: control and balance the growth of your Players inside of your game
  3. Game Quality: improve flows and optimize the cognitive load of your game
  4. New Features: design and deploy novelties to keep your Players engaged

Doing good liveops is working on those four fronts at the same time. A significative workload is taken by the content and level design for every update. Usually, you have people dedicated to create everything using the editors that are provided by the developers. Then every piece is tested intensively, repeating the level or the sequence over and over to double check everything is ready.

The legacy of Super Mario Maker

I love Nintendo. I have to say it. Maybe their business choices are different than we expect, but they have this magical aura to me that surrounds almost everything they deliver.

I think that if you are reading these words you probably know what Mario Maker is. Anyway, I leave you a video in case you don’t:

  • Create a level for any Super Mario game you know
  • Beat your own level 3 times
  • Share it with the Community (become Miyamoto)
  • Play levels made by other Players

Well played Nintendo! Now you don’t need to create a lot of levels to deliver a new Mario. People will do it, for fun!

Super Mario Maker was a success, people love to create levels for their favorite game. If I imagine to design a new game where Players will create their own levels, anyway, I would have some serious doubt that a new intellectual property can actually generate that impact.

My point, then, is simply that Nintendo managed to save hundreds of man hours in designing levels. When your game is good, people will engage in creating content.

Case Study: Modl.AI

Recently on Linkedin I saw an interesting post by Jamie Clarke:

Link to the original post

That reminded me when I was working on a match-3 game, managing a small team of level designers. The process was:

  • Review the Levels Beat Chart (4 hours)
  • Decide the mechanics to introduce (4 hours)
  • Discover all the possible skill atoms and discuss on a new set of levels (8 hours)
  • Design the levels (24 hours)
  • Test the new levels and leave comments (16 hours)
  • Iterate on the levels and repeat all the checks (16+ hours)
  • Play the levels over and over to estimate the fail rate and the number of movements for the level (16+ hours)

It was a great job and my lazy mind always thought: “can we PLEASE make SOMETHING more automatic?”

Well, maybe now we can with companies like Modl.AI.

Game Pitch: Match-3 TikTok!

Imagine deliver to the Players of a modern match-3 game a level editor using the help of the artificial intelligence. I really believe that is possible to do that, and that should be as easy as sharing a video on TikTok.

  • Select a type of challenge, mechanics and specific skill atom. For example: Create a 2 boards big level with Chocolate and Licorice.
  • AI Prepares the level for you and shows you the level automatically generated
  • A level editor helps you personalize your level, the tiles spawners and everything
  • Beat the level 3 times to prove that it’s not impossible to beat
  • Decorate your level: put a background, stickers and some social network stuff that people love to share!
  • Share it with the community
  • All the lives and power-ups invested by other Players on the levels you create will be your!

As final note, it would be better to have a successful game already. This can be a feature for top grossing match-3 games out there.

Consider bionic reading for your flavor texts

During my entire career I have always heared the same mantra by managers: people do not like to read texts. Time passed by and I discovered that Players read when there is something really interesting from a gameplay perspective to read.

A game is a language to tell a story and many times it’s important to deliver part of this story in terms of flavor texts. Flavor texts are not critical texts, but enrich the experience with more details.

Someone read all the books in Skyrim

Flavor texts can be ignored by the Players who just want the core experience. Anyway, they foster Players to know more about the game’s world. They are an opportunity to deliver more polish to the people.

There is a new technique that facilitates the reading of texts that I think can be applied to flavor texts. It is called bionic reading.

Pretty cool huh?

Hypercasual is dying long live the Hypercasual

News of past week, AppLovin made some genius operations on the stock market and announced they will probably sell their app business. Which include games. AppLovin is the owner of Lion Studios, a hypercasual games publisher.

Hypercasual games present a simple and very readable innovative mechanic. I worked on them for more than a year and I have to say that I see a similar approach to prototyping only in game jams and indie game development.

The business is not scalable anymore

Hypercasual games are part of the free-to-play business model, but heavily based on ads. The player acquisition cost has to be inferior to the ad revenue for the game to work. Then, a successful game has to scale and grow. That translates in moving a large number of people from game to game, optimizing the acquisition costs. Apple completely destroyed this concept with new privacy policies. So that hypercasual seems not to be a viable business model anymore.

Snackability, YouTubability and other important abilities

Working on hypercasual games, a game designer really understands the importance of the fundamentals. A good hypercasual game is understandable also from a single screenshot of the game. I was always fascinated by this concept, it’s like a jump into the past where the games were simple and colorful. People chose them just walking in a mall or in an arcade room giving a fast hint.

We often forget the importance of the readability of game mechanics. Mobile phones are in the pockets of a huge variety of people. If we want to broad our audience and include everyone, we should focus on delivering a fun experience without loading too much the cognitive systems of our players.

Successful hypercasual games are parodies of real life. I spent hours on social media taking inspiration for new crazy mechanics. I found this awesome. In the industry, in fact, we have the tendency in thinking in games in old terms: dragons, magic, warriors, jumping Italian plumbers and so on.

Hypercasual opened a whole new World to me!

Working on hypercasual, finally, helped me understand a lot of secrets of Unity3D engine. It is great, since the work is very technical. I don’t have to prepare too many docs and presentation, just focus on the game feel of a single concept.

I will always be thankful! This is a game I helped creating, one of the (few) hits we had:

Level Up Runner (iOS and Android)

The future of game design: In-game Personalization

The service games of the future will understand the type of Player and offer a personalized experience to everyone.

A few weeks ago I watched an online conference organized by Deconstructor of Fun, the best known medium of news and opinions on the games business.

There were a lot of interesting interventions, one person made some prediction: Eric Seufert, a digital marketing and freemium expert.

Eric proposed true innovations, he called them megatrends. This post works on the first megatrend which you can watch here:

minute 2:00:56

Ad Networks are no longer able to deliver exactly the audience you are looking for. It must be the game itself that identifies the type of person playing. Depending on the subject, the games of the future will have to offer the experience that that specific person is looking for.

Building on the idea

I have been thinking how it would be possible to accomplish something like this. Acquisition campaigns will focus in bringing in a very broad audicence. I believe that games will need a casual backbone:

A simple mechanic (easy to learn, hard to master) will be at the base of the casual backbone. The mechanic will evolve over the course of the days with new obstacles and features.

How to understand if your player wants more? Offers! We will design offers and try to understand if the player is looking for something more. In which case a midcore layer activates:

The midcore layer is an evolution, but Players should not have to use a spreadsheet to understand how it works!

This layer will add a secondary loop with a more complex progress and monetization system. During this stage, the game can propose to the Players a subscription or an offer that activates the hardcore path.

This is where players who want a more complicated experience come in. At this stage it will probably be possible to put the core mechanics in automatic mode.


The people who pay even a little bit are the ones who understand your game and really appreciate it. They will stay and play over time, for sure. It’s brilliant to imagine a future with games that are able to adapt to the type of audience.

Games like Archero are very close to this concept. Their iterations led them to results similar to those described in this article.

Designing a game of this type requires large investments and a team that really understands how game as a services works. How to get meaningful information from data and work on a vision according to what Players really want.

  • The casual backbone is pretty straightforward, centered in a single mechanic. A Player should find always content with new interesting mechanics and things to do in short sessions (<15m)
  • The midcore path offers a new layer of deepness only to people who are willing to dedicate more time per session (15-30m)
  • And then the hardcore path requires a higher cognitive effort and larger session times (>45m)

The future of game design: Games on Demand

In recent years, the concept of metagame has spread a lot. We can say that the metagame is what makes you think about the game when you are not playing.

"I have to open the app to collect my wheat."
"I'll play again because I want to improve with Nidalee."
"They are attacking me, better come back immediately and defend me."

Our life has become very connected and dependent on screens. We have become more impatient, we want things immediately and where we are. Playing video games is no exception. This is why in recent years we have seen the concept of games on demand increasingly develop.

You can play GenShin Impact from almost every device

Also the acquisition costs on mobile devices are rising, due to the new policies and the imminent elimination of fingerprinting. Free-to-play is a type of business that continues to require large volumes of people.

For all these reasons, I believe successful games will be on demand. With successful I mean: big, stable and scalable revenues. This is a great challenge for the game designers of tomorrow.


The first challenge concerns the places where people will play. It is not the same to play from the desk, from the sofa and waiting for the tram. Where people choose to play definitely affects the kind of approach people have with the game.

Games are everywhere!

If I turn a console on and wait for the game to start I will probably sit on my sofa. This situation will invite me to stay focused on this activity.

You will run a game only if some goal can be reached in a short time, when you are at three stops from your destination.

"Maybe I can beat a level of a puzzle game, or I can put resources into production that I will need later to perform my attacks."

Sitting at my desk, I probably have some time to check my progress and plan my next steps.

Imagine a game about war that is a shooter from a console, a merge from a mobile and a strategic one from a browser. Cool huh?

Fractal experience (when and where)

Some games will likely be the same game on many platforms. It’s probably the smartest and least risky thing to do. The main challenge are the controls. For example, Genshin Impact demonstrated that is possible to find a minimum common denominator. The concept of metagame will play then a very important role to identify all possible gameplays.

I’m a designer and I can afford to let my ideas run wild, right?

For me, the games of the future will be fractal experiences. A person can choose whether to play a game from all platforms. In that case, the gaming experience will be different but holistic. Or a person may decide to play only one version of the game. The war game we picked up might be only a merge game for someone. And that’s completely fine.

The development teams of tomorrow will be able to offer a fractal service. Then the people will choose to approach it when and where they want to. As I said in previous post, accessibility will play a critical role.


Games with a competitive component will consider all the ways in which a player approaches them. A player who plays only the shooter part of our imaginary war game will not progress on merge levels.

Your Player Journey Map will consider all experiences and their intersections

Someone might think that instead it is better to reward those who move on all versions of the game. Players that engage with more versions of a game should definitely get the fun they look for. Nobody should feel guilty for not doing it, anyways.

The war for attention will culminate at some point. Aren’t you tired of this constant drain of your cognitive resources? I am.

The games of the future will profile and treat Players with respect. Companies must reward players who decide to participate in their game and allow them to challenge others. This behaviours will definitely affect the matchmaking algorithms.

The future of game design: Accessibility

All around the World, everyday hundreds of people publish their games on virtual stores. The efforts required to get the attention of the players are enormous. Apple’s new policies regarding player privacy only make this situation worse. The costs of acquisition campaigns are increasing dramatically and it is increasingly difficult to find people who like your type of game.

Look at that copy: nobody will accept to be “tracked”. It’s survivorship!

If we then consider that a substantial percentage of these people have hearing, vision and / or mobility problems, we risk wasting money by acquiring people who will never be able to play our game even if they want to.

There is one thing I have learned in recent years in industry: the development of a game compared to the marketing of the same is cheap. It is less risky to develop a good game, because then the benefits are seen in the announcement phase of the game.
I therefore believe that accessibility features will be increasingly needed in the games of the future, regardless of the platform.


The first reason, as we have said, is the increase in the player base.

In order to improve your sales, make beautiful games that everyone can pick and play despite of physical and mental challenges.

The Last of Us 2 true innovation wasn’t about gameplay. It was about Accessibility.

The second reason is that accessibility allows for better games. Games with friendly interfaces, which perhaps allow you to customize the experience according to the type of player and his physical characteristics. Let’s face it: now a lot has been done in terms of creativity. There are games that metaphorize all kinds of experiences and contexts. There is still room for innovation, but few things are more important than accessibility.

Where to start

For me, a good design process always starts with a diagnosis.

A sincere diagnosis that asks questions and generates hypotheses on which the team can feel motivated to collaborate. Microsoft on its site dedicated to accessibility asks the following questions:

Can you complete the game using a single hand?

Would an average person be able to pick the game up and play?

Can you effectively play the game on a small monitor or TV sitting at a distance?

Do you support more than one type of input device that can be used to play through the entire game?

Can you play the game with sound muted?

Can you play the game with your monitor set to black and white?

When you load your last saved game after a month, can you easily figure out where you are in the game and know what you need to do in order to progress?


Here, this seems to me an excellent basis to start discussing this important feature that will significantly impact the future of games.