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Month: July 2023

Remote presentations

When I started my career as a junior, I remember spending a lot of time preparing pitches for my ideas. I arrived at the moment of the presentation, I felt all those vibrations. Most of my proposals were debunked.

I learned a key concept: people coming to a presentation must know pretty much all its content. The presentation is useful for confirming consent, but these must be created first. Part of the wok is political: it is a question of building consensus before the presentation.

In the remote world, all this has changed a lot. Now everything is asynchronous, communicating on Slack/Discord and making decisions faster. It’s also more participatory, it’s not about creating a presentation. It’s about writing and sharing documents that will be read and commented on by the team. This will happen asynchronously, everyone reads when, how much, and how they can.

Whoever raises his voice no longer wins, and you have to be very synthetic. I’d say it’s a big step forward, but it comes with a clear cost. It is necessary to establish processes, otherwise, many ideas will fall into the void.

Exciting goals

The structure of the objectives of a game must be clear, but also and above all exciting.

At the time of classic arcade games, players had to pass the level and get the highest score. This was exciting in that context, where one could brag to friends or show off one’s prowess.

The console age built on that, adding storytelling over the years. Also in other contexts, the players could comment on their achievements. I remember phone calls with friends to explain how to beat a Weapon in Final Fantasy VII. Strategy guides and magazines with reviews were popular. And it was like this thanks to this desire to understand and discover new exciting goals to achieve.

Social games have summed up all this past, allowing us to collaborate to achieve goals. The metagame concept has developed, you can reach certain objectives even without playing. The experience allows even casual players to take part in something fun. There was also a cleaning up of objectives that were getting too complex. This is thanks to understanding and profiling players.

As game designers, we must always ask ourselves where they will play and how much time they will want to invest.

Fun fact: the most engaged casual players and those who will spend the most will

  1. come back every day (regulars)
  2. come for a minute, but stay for an hour.

How to find a new job

I’ve been reading about a lot of layoffs in the industry lately. Many people give advice on finding a job and share their experiences. It’s great to see everyone working together.

Someone is capable of arming a portfolio to make the leads of the most renowned companies envious. Someone else manages to work in a bar gradually creating his game in his spare time. There are people who are very good at making new contacts and making themselves known. Others prefer to write or record videos. There are many ways and there is no need to get anxious and try to cover everything.

  • Do you have anything to say?
  • do you have something to show?
  • Do you have the opportunity to meet someone?
  • do you want to earn money doing another job at least for a while?
  • do you have the possibility to keep yourself without entrances for a while?
  • have an idea for a game?
  • Do you know which companies you would like to work for?
  • Do you have any idea of the specialty you want to acquire?

As far as I’m concerned, it’s hard to find universal advice to give to everyone. Each person is a world, everyone lives in a different context. Make contacts, have a portfolio, be kind, learn something every day, and dedicate yourself to a small project every month. They are all valid advice, but also very general. The human being is not a machine that receives instructions and executes, there are many factors at play.

Here’s what worked for me:

  1. think about making contacts rather than making a portfolio.
  2. be omnipresent at local events and always try to help before asking for help.
  3. ask for help.
  4. immediately move away from realities or people who don’t want me.

I don’t have an online portfolio, except an old link. I prefer to have a blog where I show my thoughts. And I do it because I don’t care to be evaluated for my technical skills. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, least of all skills that can be acquired in 10 minutes of a YouTube tutorial.

The right context for the right ideas

A short while ago I met a friend who holds a manager position in one of the companies in my city. He told me that new ideas are one of the hardest things to come by.

Starting from that sentence I began reflecting on innovative ideas’ meaning. And I have to say that if I meet this person again, I would have my answer instead of listening as I did.

Every day on the various channels I frequent online and offline I am exposed to so many ideas. Some seem brilliant to me. Others, at least at first sight, do not surprise me. But then I didn’t read well or that person didn’t express well what he had in mind.

Ideas are not lacking. So what is missing from many companies that want to innovate? More ability to discern is lacking.

Discerning which ideas are the best is what is missing. To do that, you need to establish a process. Most games fail because they have no audience. But how come they have no audience?

Very often it’s because we put the workforce on things they either don’t care about or don’t have the skills to do.

We all know that match-3 puzzles are a bottomless pit. These are games that can earn a lot of money. But do we have the ability to create and operate such a game? Does our clique like to do this? Or would they rather make a graphic adventure but are forced to make candies that explode?

  • Discernment means the ability to make decisions in n informed and aware way.
  • Awareness means not neglecting the intentions and abilities of our team.
  • Good marketing and game design is not enough, you need everything in the right context.

Weird recruitment practices

There’s a weird trend lately.

I receive messages from companies looking for talent. They find my profile very interesting and that they have a great opportunity to show me.

I say that I work as a freelancer but listen to everything. If an interesting project comes out why not? Every game designer wants to do something great.

We organize a call and they start questioning absolutely everything. Some don’t even read my resume well. The other day: “So you started working as a game designer last year?”

Someone asks me for absurd specializations. “Are you a JIRA specialist?”.

JIRA? JIRA is a tool, not a technique! What the heck does it mean to be a JIRA specialist?

I describe my experience in detail, I am 40 years old and also have some white hair. And some companies give me homework to do as if I were a kid! Unpaid work. 10 days assessments with pitches, feature briefs, configurations, flowcharts, wireframes, asset lists… what? Are you looking for talent or for free work?

And then you see that job offers there forever. They cannot find the right fit. If we start treating people like professionals, not kids, talent will emerge.

Try this instead:

  1. look for interesting profiles and treat them like true experts, not someone to filter out. Start your relationships by giving people an A, the world will change.
  2. make meaningful questions with the purpose to start a professional conversation. In the real work environment, there is interaction, not solutions coming from one single person.
  3. if you find the person convincing, hire the person for a trial period. Only by working together, you will find the right fit.

I am sure you will also save a lot of time and money.

Expanding the intellectual property

Years ago the free-to-play game Fallout Shelter was released. It is still one of the most appreciated mobile games nowadays.

The game is based on one of the fantasies from the Fallout series, but, and this is very important, not the central one. The fantasy of the shelters where people take refuge after the atomic apocalypse. A great idea!

In my humble opinion, the best way to use an AAA game’s IP to create a mobile game is not to transfer the original experience to the closest genre there. That’s the way to infuriate the fanbase, actually.

The best way is to find a marginal but recognizable fantasy. A few examples that come to mind:

Horizon: the fantasy of the tribes with their clothes and their colors. A doll dressing game?

Red Dead Redemption: the fantasy of poor towns with their vices. Maybe a dating sim?

I could go on for hours.

Keep always in mind that free-to-play mobile is essentially entertainment. Don’t think about using IP to make more money, think about expanding it.

(I admit this is hard to accept)

The first step for a good prototype

Imagine you have to inform programmers about the development of a new feature. For the first iteration, it is always better to think of a single use case.

We game designers think in systems. Some go so far as to say “Game design is system design”. A system means having actors in a relationship, creating a space of possibilities.

For a new feature, it’s best to think of a single path to implement first. Someone talks about MVP, a minimum viable product. I have always preferred the expression “prototype”.

Without losing sight of the vision, respect the steps necessary for its development. The first step is best to be on the direct path.

More creative less product

Product managers are a type of profile centered above all in business. It is true that many have design knowledge, but their role requires identifying and mitigating risks. When a new project is led by product managers, it is much better to dedicate oneself to making a +1 game, that is, a game that improves a few things on some other successful game. In this way we will avoid all the frustrations that come from the personal anxieties of those at the top.

A creative director, on the other hand, is naturally inclined to be open to exploring all the ways to arrive at a certain type of experience. When a game is run by a creative director who does his job well, the initial part is fun. In that case it is good not to forget the Pareto principle. Take 80% from something that already exists and create a new 20%. It’s not a norm, there are so many creative directors who have amazing ways of handling a project and inspiring the fantasies that need to be recreated. Some take from other sectors, such as cinema, theater, but also martial arts and so on.

I would like to see more new titles in mobile managed by creative directors and not by product managers. I miss the weirdness, the silliness and all the surprises that games that come from more creative minds give me. I’m sure features like shops, daily bonuses, achievements and special offers could come out of the pop-up hell they’re relegated to. Creativity should not be underestimated.