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Month: June 2023

Meaning learning from ambition and vice versa

For the second day of the Gamelab I have carefully chosen two types of conferences. On one hand exponents of the indie world, and on the other people who work in the f2p mobile sector.

I did it with a very specific purpose. I have long been convinced that the two tribes, however distant, have much to learn from each other. This conviction probably made me observe specific elements. In turn, these elements have strengthened it.

The mountain

[This metaphor came to mind thanks to a story a Capoeira master told me years ago about martial arts in general.]

Let’s imagine that we want to reach a mountain’s top. In the case of video games, imagine that at this peak are the most spectacular games in history. Super Mario, but also Candy Crush Saga. There is Clash of Clans and there is Minecraft. Stardew Valley and The Legend of Zelda.

We want to get there.

There are many ways to do this. First, why do we want to do this? What drives us?

Meaning and ambition

In most indie realities there is something internal that moves people. Some experience that you want to explore, some specific fantasy they have from childhood. Emotions, memories. We can talk about meaning, in their case.

When I listen to people in the free-to-play world, there is something external. The possibility of reaching millions of people. To create a business that can grow significantly. Structuring a growth and upgrade plan that you can track using technologies and data. We can talk about ambition, in their case.

Indie companies create their games and find that there is a real market. What they are looking for is financial stability, to continue developing their games. They start with meaning, but when the results arrive, they also discover ambition.

Free-to-play companies most often start with a business opportunity. They discover that the trend is to make puzzle-casual games and look for ways to develop them. When they have years working, they understand that their ambition must be backed up with real meaning. There are millions of players out there looking for

  1. relaxation
  2. stress-relief
  3. connection with other people

In this exact order.

Why are they looking for it? What are the fantasies that lead these people to choose to be loyal to a specific game? What does move you to serve those people, really? The main challenge of all free-to-play actors is to make new games. New ideas. From the initial ambition, one begins to search for meaning.

Indies and F2P can learn from each other

Indies can learn from free-to-play that a noble cause has a lot of risks that can be tackled with a data-informed approach. And I’m not talking about retention, monetization, and all these things that you hear.

I’m talking about concrete UX strategies. For me, it’s not enough to give your game to people, observe them and get feedback as I hear yesterday over and over. It is good, but not enough. You need to create concrete heuristics and turn your assumptions into numbers. Create gyms for your game. Prepare Wizard of Oz tests, and measure the behaviors of your players. Test the symbology and game icons, to understand how people interpret them.

[If you look at the paths of the mountain ahead of you, higher up you will see realities that have made it because they have overcome certain risks. Do you want to reach them? Don’t focus on your desire to walk, look at the obstacles.]

Free-to-play companies must understand that all successful products come from a strong foundation. Games offer a set of fantasies that connect with people. People keep playing these games because they find concrete meaning. This meaning translates into value, and value is what ultimately makes the business grow. If you start by exploring your competitors and seeing their numbers to choose who to follow, you go the other way. Look for the meaning first, for the fantasies that connect with people. Indie gaming has a lot to teach in that sense.

[At the base of the mountain I mentioned earlier, there are people starting paths. If other people are higher now it is because someone has already created a path. But if you want to start directly from higher up, well you have to jump. And jumping you risk rolling down.]

Gamelab day 1

Yesterday I went to Gamelab Barcelona, an event dedicated to the video game industry. This year is a more intimate version and better focused, in my opinion.

Regardless of the type of business, the size of the company, its mission, or its artistic style, one thing is clear to me: the vision remains the most important part.

If you have to present your next indie game, or if you are thinking of being acquired by a big corporation. Whether you work as a consultant or want to land your first job in the industry, it’s all the same. You have to be “like a sniper” (quoting one of the speakers).

The video games industry doesn’t stop growing, more and more products are marketed and more and more different realities enter the scene. The only way to stand out is by getting straight to the point. Your vision must be absolutely clear for everyone.

It applies to the motivation of your team. It applies to the peace of mind of your bosses or your customers. It is to convince investors and publishers. It is used to show your value to a possible employer.

It can be done! The possibilities are many! But you have to clarify yourself and you have to focus all efforts to target exactly the weak point of the Death Star. The keyword is vision.

Second day today!

Physical versions of F2P

Free-to-play is a business model that helped create entire ecosystems of video games.

Often the monetization plans rely on a few people being able to spend very large amounts of money. Still, the model offers free fun to a lot of people.

[Anyone who spends a thousand, two thousand (or more) euros a month on a video game has a problem they should check. But I’m not an expert in psychiatry, so it’s a personal opinion based on my way of life.]

As a creator, yet, there is one thing that I really don’t like. When a company decides to stop a free-to-play service, the game disappears from circulation.

I would like the companies to release a playable offline version of their games. Just as a reminder, so as not to lose a part of the video game’s history.

Genre, target and quality


style or category of art, music, or literature.


a person, object, or place selected as the aim of an attack.


the general excellence of standard or level.

(oxford language)

Often times I have a discussion around the concept of game genre and game target audience. Usually, the people involved with the business side change the cards on the table. But game design has its literature and history. This post is to clarify two simple concepts.

The game genre

The easiest way of thinking in the game genre is to look at yourself when you are looking for a game to play.

  • Do you want to relax? run a puzzle game on your mobile phone
  • Do you want a great story? You have the new JRPG available for your console
  • Do you need some challenge? A racing game can do the job.

The genre of a game defines its style or category, not its business model or the time to complete a session.

The game target

Everyone knows that we make games for an audience. The world of marketing and advertisers classifies that audience demographics. As game developers, instead, we focus more on behaviors and needs. One point of touch is the time we expect our Players will have to play the game.

  • If the players will have very little time, to relax: casual games
  • If the players want to release some stress for 40-60 minutes, also engage with other people: mid-core games
  • If the players want to escape reality for a while and focus on a set of challenges: hardcore games

The target of a game defines the motivations and time that the Players should spend in it, not its genre.

The game quality

According to the scope and the context, we can afford to make games of a certain quality standard. The quality of a game is often the point of touch between the industry and its players:

  • mobile game: they need to be lightweight and very accessible, so they often present pizzazz UI and simple visuals
  • Indie games: they are an achievement to show to the World. They don’t need super high production, also if visuals are very important for their success
  • AA games: they come from independent studios that have been backed by a bigger publisher.
    • AAA games: produced and distributed by major-sized publishers, Players expect very high quality.

The game quality defines from one side the context capability of the development team. On the other side, the standard of excellence that Players have come to expect. Players have concrete expectations of quality and quality is not comparable. You cannot compare indie with AAA, there is nothing to compare. You can compare AAA with AAA and have meaningful conversations. Every quality has its own set of standards.


The top companies I see out there specialize in a single genre and a single target. When they grow, they may want to expand to other qualities.

  • Your Players will never look for a “hyper casual game”. They will look for “something to play while I am on the bus”.
  • Players may want to know about the next AAA games coming out. The new Zelda game came out. Oh, but I have no time for such a big game right now.
  • Players don’t care if the menus of that mobile puzzle game have basic colors. But they can quit if the loading times among levels are too high.
  • If your AA game has not the right standard, some Player can complain that looks like a mobile game!

Vision notes on FFXVI

This weekend I downloaded and played the new Final Fantasy XVI demo on PS5.

I’m not going to give spoilers or give my opinion, because it’s not interesting. I am a gamer like many others, and working as a game designer I am certainly full of prejudices that limit my vision.

What I have noticed, however, is that the vision for the future of the saga includes:

  • Combat systems that focus on spectacle over strategy
  • Less depth in the characters’ stats and more depth in their profiles
  • Make life much easier for those who want to know more about the game world

Ultimately Final Fantasy has always been this: a rich world in which to immerse yourself. An epic adventure with very distinctive characters. And a lot of not-always-exciting fights.

With the arrival of Genshin Impact and Asian RPGs with massive audiences, in my opinion the creative directors of the saga are wondering how to make the series more modern. I must say that I like these types of experiments, beyond the final result.

It is a path that can lead to new masterpieces in the future, even if it is a difficult and so unpredictable path.

Narrative matters

I hear too often “Nobody gives a darn about narrative in games”. Or “no one reads on mobile”.

But every successful game I know has a strong narrative component. Narrative is not the line of text, it is the sequence of events that creates a story together with the players.

use a star -> dialogue -> select decoration -> room upgrade -> dialogue -> new tasks -> new level

This is narrative.

swipe -> match -> explosion -> cascade -> match -> special tile -> … -> TASTY!

This is also narrative.

arena overview -> goal -> countdown -> GO! -> move character -> spot enemy -> hide -> collect gem

And this as well.

The story stack

Often we stuff a mediocre game with readable content in hopes that players will get hooked “for the story”. In this case, the risks of having an expensive and poorly thought-out product increase. A story should always be seen as the last step of a good game.

  • Fantasy comes first
  • Then come the actions that can be performed on the fantasy
  • Then comes the system of resources, rewards, and the game economy
  • The world is built on this
  • Stories can happen in the world.

If we start from the other side, however, it works for visual novels but not for mechanic based games.

Kids are the base of your tree

When you think about your new game’s target audience, think about its childish version, too.

Many people consider video games something childish. Data shows that adults play video games. Children are the people who have the most time to play. They can become attached to the intellectual properties we create.

When we design a new game, we tend to think about people who are like us: adults. In case we have to design a game for children, it is more natural to think of a child audience.

If we design for the mini version of our players, too, we have the chance to create a more accessible and memorable experience. Some say we have to think of our audience like a tree. The target audience is the branches, but the trunk is very important.

The players of our products have all been children. Some of them have children. When we design our games we always think of children as well. This is how memorable intellectual properties are created.

Adults become attached to characters and worlds based on elements they can associate with their own life and context. Children do it experientially.

If we make an effort to always think of a child playing our game, the experience itself will undoubtedly be better. That is valid for any kind of game. Yes, also gambling.

Always a game designer

A lot of game designers when entering the world of games as a service become product managers.

They then go from working “in the product” to working “on the product”.

Probably in this way, they can access better salaries and not have to go through too many filters to see their ideas realized. Being a game designer in an industry where everyone interprets data in their own way is a big challenge. It takes a lot of patience and really trying to adjust to one’s view, even if it’s totally wrong.

I like to focus on the craft of game design. While I have my own way of looking at the data, I recognize that it is likely clouded by personal bias. So I prefer to focus on grounding ideas and bridging teams.

When a product manager tells the team that “we need to put our efforts into improving D1 retention”, the effect is like an orchestra of monkeys with trombones and drums. It means nothing in the mind of anyone who wants to know where to put the effort. The technical artist or programmer wants to know what they have to do, the numbers don’t make sense.

A game designer, on the other hand, knows that the product manager is referring to having a clearer core loop and a more powerful hook. Therefore, I will create a list of assets needed to unlock that technical artist. A series of configurations and flows to unlock the programmers.

For me, the step forward is not to become a product manager. The step forward for my career is dedicating myself to better games. But I will always remain a game designer.

STPIDS Devlog #1

Two months ago I started a side project called Gamafish, with two purposes:
1. Have a free space where to make the games I would like to see out there
2. Help junior talents to find their first job in the industry

The first game is a 10 minutes reverse bullet-hell called Super Tiny People in Deep Space (STPIDS). The idea is to play with the fantasy of the family and with simple controls (like “Vampire Survivors”).

I manage to find a small team of fantastic talents. Ignacio KrichmanFabricio Gili BarbozaJessica Fung and Bárbara García.

(We are looking also for a Unity developer, right now I am coding everything.)

Here you can see what we have done with around 10 hours per week during one month or so. Imagine what it could be full-time! 🙂

Devlog No.1

Data informed lenses

I’m just a regular-everyday-game-designer. The best game design book is The Art of Game Design.

I always use its deck of lenses. In my case:

  • I used them the first years of my path trying to convince people more expert than me (with scarce results)
  • I abandoned them to focus on data-driven approaches. I was readapting industry trends and practices to the games where I was working on. That is what a mid-game designer does in free-to-play.

Now with the experience, I am integrating those into my workflow again! Thesis, antithesis, and now synthesis.

Take a look at this one.

How can we use this in the data hegemony we have today?

You want to make a new game and need to run a couple of CPI tests, IPM, or whatever. You want to find the right experience to design.

  • What emotions do you want to show in your creatives? why?
    • KPI: Number of impressions
  • What emotions are Players (including me) having when they decide to click? Why?
    • KPI: click-through rate (CTR)
  • How can I bridge the gap between the emotions players are expecting and the emotion I’d like them to have in the game?
    • KPI: Installs per mile (IPM)