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Month: April 2023

Gambling games learnings

Gambling games focus their designs on feedback and effects.

Each time the player presses that button:
– is spending some money
– is hoping to receive an award
– is expecting a show.

The game design of gambling games focuses on
1. visual effects: animations, particles, overlays, …
2. fonts: very important to see the numbers grow with monospace fonts
3. the sounds and lights of the machines.

Obviously, the heart of the game is the statistical system. However, what is learned from gambling applies to various games.

After having worked for some time in gambling, the Italian developer Luca Galante created a game that inherits a lot from the chip-eating machines. He builds a business around that and wins a BAFTA, beating the likes of God of War: Ragnarok. The game is Vampire Survivors, an indie hero with a gambling soul.

SEGA SAMMY HOLDINGS INC. is composed of various business branches. The main one, as far as I know, is pachinko games. A type of gambling game popular in Japan where balls are thrown into the playing space and can hit variable objectives, which can be converted into money thanks to a legislative vacuum.

Curiously, they recently acquired Rovio Entertainment Corporation, whose main service is a series of games where you shoot rounded birds with a slingshot aiming to hit goals and score points…

(I know it has nothing to do with the rational point of view of the business. But flying balls can be better understood by those dedicated to producing ball-launching machines, right?)

You learn a lot from gambling!

Mailing list on User Acquisition

In these times of automation and cost-cutting, one of the most important things for me is to develop my own special sauce.

That thing that no one can imitate, characterizes and distinguishes me. My secret to bringing value to the clients I work for. Truly quantifiable value.

The best game design book in the world (The Art of Game Design by Jesse Shell, of course) starts with a great lesson on inspiration: Look everywhere else.

In the story there is a gathering of conjurers, one catches the attention of the protagonist who asks him how he can be so original. The magician explains that he tries to look outside his own world and import things from other contexts.

It’s a way of making your own special sauce. I’ve been following this suggestion for years. One of the places I look as a game designer is marketing, specifically the world of UA.

Matej with his content helps me to have better ingredients to put into my special sauce. You should read it too!

Three and four stars reviews

When studying a game it is also good to do it by reading people’s reviews.

In the case of mobile games, reviews are very often driven by two factors:

  • an in-game prompt asking you to leave a review. It is usually shown after a success, or at the end of the tutorial.
  • a moment of anger and frustration of a player. The lowest grade is usually given. For example, one star.
  • a moment of wonder and joy for a player. Normally the highest grade is given. For example, five stars.

When analyzing the reviews of a game (but also of a product on an e-store in general), I always filter for the average rating and above the average. For example, three and four-star reviews.

In fact, people who leave intermediate values usually leave more detailed comments. They belong to that part of Internet users that are a little less superficial. People who think things through a little more. The best candidates to give quality feedback!

We as space of possibilities

The very fact of choosing to work in a specific sector exposes us to many possibilities.

The video game is one of the businesses where those who work are also customers of this type of product. This exposes you to so many things, some can hurt very much.

So how did I get past the 7-year lifespan average in this industry, then? Thinking about it, there is a mix of a few merits and many things that have been given to me. Things a person can’t control.

An important step is to think in the space of possibilities.

Something so dear to us designers is also present in our lives.
– if I’m developing a game there is a possibility of making a big hit. But there is also the possibility of failing to finish the game, or not getting enough profits.
– if I’m sending resumes around, there is a possibility of getting a job. But there is also the possibility of receiving a lot of rejections and not being able to get any fits for a while.

When anything happens it is because there was a possibility that it would happen.

Knowing this, instead of thinking of ourselves as characters in a story, we can look at ourselves as a field where stories happen.

What if we look at ourselves as a space of possibilities?

I am not a pawn, a knight, or a rook. I’m not even the queen.
Maybe I can start thinking I’m the game board, where various movements can happen in sequence.

Accept things as they are and, when a match ends (as it always does), just let another start. Always.

(Photo from 2007, my first GameCon fair in Naples. We were presenting a series of arcade games. I was scripting those games in Lua, on a Linux system. The one in the photo combined puzzle match with soccer)

Vision and values for an hypothetical team/company

I work as freelancer and consultant in this moment of my life. I also feel the need of building something mine, since the market right now is pretty average. More details in this video:

So I am fantasizing about building my own company or having my own team someday. Some wise man says that I should start from the vision, which is like the utopic preview of the World once my company has success.

The Vision of my hypothetic company

Well, that is my vision: our Players will remember our games forever.

Simple and clear. Somehow inspired by the Supercell vision: to create great games that as many people as possible play for years and that are remembered forever.

But without the “play for years” thing. I don’t think it matters anymore, I don’t believe that it’s possible with this average content storm we are living right now. Storm that is not going to end soon.

Plus, I do believe that looking for extreme growth is frustrating and leads to the creation of attention traps, not games.

The Values of my hypothetic company

Having said that, I would look for just game designers at my company. I mean, of course we would need artists, developers and so on. But I would always look for people with the special attention to the details that a good game should have to be unforgettable.

We are game designers

  • We love to reinvent the wheel
  • We make meaningful games
  • We look for the smallest viable audience
  • We want to be above the average
  • We are patient
  • We want to offer moments of fun

What are we not?

  • We are not copycats
  • We don’t want to create games for everyone
  • We never develop minimum viable products
  • We don’t want to be average
  • We don’t rush
  • We don’t want to trap people’s attention

Students, prepare the basis of your work

There is a substantial difference in game design between what you study and what you then work on.

When you study you learn the basic language and how to get from an idea to a game. Most often it is a reduced version of the game itself. When you study you have the largest freedom to create without thinking too much about who sells the game. The ability to create will be one of the fundamental ones.

When you’re working, your primary focus is the team in charge of selling the game to the people out there. You will need a very different set of skills. You will need to support your work with ideas that have worked in other games. The ability to analyze becomes one of the fundamental skills.

If you are a student, take advantage of the beautiful moments of creative freedom. But never forget to play many games. Because playing will build you a library of ideas and mechanics and will be your basis for real work.

PRO TIP: play more games from the companies in your geographical areas. Those will be the first you will apply to.

Forget transmedia when you start

While the Super Mario Bros movie crashes the box office, Gameloft launches a Disney version of Super Mario Kart.

Two companies with a great history explore each other’s space. Someone says that the worlds of video games and movie productions are converging. The fact is that the types of production of a film and a video game are completely different.

Video games involve interaction, movies don’t. Movies can move from the big screen of the cinema to the small screen of a smartphone, but video games cannot.

The common element is that they are two means of getting stories across. These stories can cause very strong feelings that change us. These inner shifts familiarize us with characters and worlds. These characters and worlds can populate products of an entirely distinct nature.

It is not a matter of bringing together video games and cinema. It’s about creating memorable characters and worlds that can actually last for years.

People are still playing Super Mario Bros. People are still watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I do not recommend looking for transmedia right from the conception of a video game or movie. I recommend making the best video game or making the best movie possible. Center yourself well in thinking about worlds, characters, and stories. Make them fit perfectly in one single medium. With the help of God, successful transmedia may come later.

In love with SSSnaker

This game is trending in recent weeks.

As a game designer, I always prefer to start with the basics.

The real strength of the core of this game in my opinion is that narratively it is very weird.

I know that everything comes from Archero and games of this style. But, gamers very often do not know the history of video games.

Many people who will engage with this game, in short, will not know other previous successes of the same kind.

What the heck is a constantly firing mechanical snake doing in a maze? At first glance, it doesn’t make sense.

However, the numbers speak for themselves, which is why I wonder what fantasy it awakens in the players.

The MDA framework comes to help:
Sensation: the game as sense-pleasure
Challenge: game as an obstacle course
Submission: game as a pastime

Those are the three essential keys to the beauty of this game for me. Everything else, therefore, may not even make sense! Plus, it may become a strength. Because it leaves the Players with the fantastic autonomy of imagination.

Think of the first Super Mario: it didn’t make any sense at all, because the goal at the time was not that. Nintendo was building on the pleasure of handling a gamepad and owning a console set for your home TV.

The rest was left to the player’s imagination. To some of us that shaped us, forever.

I like Sssnaker too much! The metagame is average and mediocre, though. Always the same. I know that works but how long will it last?

Looking for the smallest viable audience

The content of this article is also completely valid for video games.

It all starts with a market vision. We run audience research and it turns out that players want something familiar. Thus begins the data-driven development.

But, people cannot want what they don’t imagine. Some braver developers choose to experiment with daring creativity. These creatives are used to feed algorithms that try to optimize the cost of acquiring a player. We look for mass, awareness.

The necessary tension for cultural changes is not created.

What if instead, we look for the smallest viable audience? The smallest possible group capable of supporting the business. Understanding their dreams, their worldviews, and their energy.

We could discover a much larger group than we expect.

Perhaps these people would tell others.

Our game wouldn’t be so average.

Generative AI and game design

Generative AIs seem to be a great help for:

Deal with repetitive and mechanical tasks.
– Find bugs
– balance numbers
– create variations of a graphic asset, etc.

Speed up the process of understanding.
– Explain to me what this code does
– Read this long article and give me the best practices
-Explain the style of this image.

Getting past the blank page fast.
– I need to prototype this mechanic in Unity. Where do I start?
– I need to create a power-up system based on natural elements for the next RPG. How would that work?
– I need to make 3D models of a robot cricket, what could it look like?

On these three points, we are definitely facing an epochal change. There is no going back, rather it will move forward. We will lose specific jobs, but many others will arise. We can hardly imagine at this moment, but it will happen.

One thing I want to say: generative AIs have no taste and no opinions. We must have tastes and opinions. The idea of entrusting artificial intelligence with the responsibility of choosing and evaluating is fundamentally wrong. We can use artificial intelligence to understand more. But we have to develop our taste and our knowledge.

If I’m not a programmer, the AI could pass me code with serious errors and I wouldn’t notice.

If I’m not an artist, AI-generated images may be acceptable to my speed-hungry eyes. But I’ll have a hard time guessing what I’m really conveying to people.

If I’m not a designer, the solutions generated will be a repetition of things people have already seen in games that are certainly better than what I can do.