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Month: September 2023

I don’t hate Web3

Every time I hear about web3 I feel mixed sentiments. Some week ago at a local games fair, an executive I know asked me “Why are you against NFTs?“. The fact is that I am not against any technology.

I just have my point of view, probably wrong on many points as every point of view. Today I want to expose the contrast I have.

I will always support creators

First of all, to me attacking any creator is like a mortal sin. There are people really struggling for innovation working hard every day. I admire and respect those people. They have also the luxury of playing with new toys (blockchain, NFTs, and so on). I worked for one client on a project like this and I clearly saw vision and passion. It may work, it may not. But the passion is there.

Nobody should attack the others for their ideas. I blocked very smart professionals who spend their time attacking others (including me). To me, spaces like LinkedIn are to lift others up. So, to any creator out there: go for it!

Web3 is about solving a problem

On the other side, I have my experience and my career. And what I know is that game companies are not tech companies. Tech companies create technologies to solve problems, their business is there. Games companies, instead, are in the entertainment business. In games, we use many technologies to entertain people and also to improve our business operations.

When I read things like “web3 has proven to be the revolution…” honestly I smile. Web3 means nothing for people and gamers. If they want to play a game, they run their console/mobile/PC and play. Someone plays on web browsers. They look for entertainment, not for web3 entertainment. They choose where to play, at a desk, on the sofa. Web3 offers no new places to play. So that it’s not a revolution.

Web3 is a set of technologies that can in the future solve the huge issue of payment systems and platform fees. Everyone dreams of skipping those costs, so I understand why it can be important. But consumer side, there is nothing valuable to me.

When I play a game with a progression system, a strategy, or an RPG, I already have the feeling that I own what I have inside of the game. What I have inside of a game makes sense only inside that magic circle. There is no value in bringing it outside. Some game like Baldur’s Gate 1 lets you export your character for the second chapter. And that’s cool, but you don’t need web3 for that.

As long as I don’t see any new venue to play or a revolutionary form of entertainment for the players, I will never give credit to any web3 storytelling.

Growing business and talent

If you want to create a sustainable games business you need to serve an audience.

But game ideas for new intellectual properties almost never come from that logic. A new idea comes while playing a good game, or connecting things belonging to our personal life. Often we need to leave that idea for a while to make it grow. This process can last months, and this time is unpredictable.

Every time I speak with the founders of some indie games company, they say the same. They are constantly working on new ideas while developing the current game. They need to pitch new concepts all the time to publishers. In this way, they can find the funding for the next project, hopefully before completing the current.

When you find your audience with a title, then, is better to focus your firepower. If you understand how to serve a concrete audience you have more chances of being successful again.

In the long term, though, this can become stressful for the creative people of your team. At the last fair, I met a designer of one of the most successful indie sagas of the last few years. And I felt his frustration, he felt like “it’s always the same”. Sometimes those people end up building their own company. Other times, they just leave for new ventures.

Striking a balance between serving an audience and allowing creative freedom is crucial in the games industry. Both are essential for long-term sustainability.

From one side, you have to grow your business, and serving the audience you found is the smartest move. On the other side, you don’t want to lose the members of your team who bring more value on the table. Let express themselves, maybe in smaller projects.

No more famous designers

When I read the history of games, I think of its present too. Modern game developers will never become legendary like Miyamoto, Kojima, or Iwatani. We will probably never see a David Jaffe again in the future.

The industry is establishing processes and has become less risky and creative. We will probably never have the chance of being famous again.

And that’s actually a good thing.

Choosing your visual style

There are two lenses with which to check the visual style of your game. Consider them in this exact order.

  1. The first is the lens of invitation to play. The marketer calls this user acquisition (horrible naming, as always. :P). The people watch a video or an image showing your game and decide to take a step into your magic circle. Users decide to install your game, using that cold terminology of business. You are investing money to reach your audience so the visual style is very important at this stage. You should consider the devices from which the people will watch your trailers.
  2. The second step is the realization of the fantasy proposed to the Players. People made the step into the magic circle and became Players. The game makes them a promise and offers a fantasy. If the visuals unmatch their expectation, they can feel something is not OK. For instance, in my case, I have played RPGs my whole life. When I open a modern gacha-based RPG from Asia nowadays, I see boobs and sexy poses everywhere. That hypersexualization makes me step out of the magic circle. Using the boring business language, I will not retain (really business guys? retain? What a terrible word choice, honestly…)

Common visual styles are cartoon, stylized, low poly, and realistic.

Remember: first there is the invitation to play and then the realization of a fantasy. To balance those two things is an art. The art of game design. Especially the marketing and art department are responsible for that. Game designers help their communication.

Game design connected with empathy and culture

I was walking with a friend and we were thinking about why so many f2p games aren’t good, from a design point of view. So excluding bad market research, imprecise budgets, lack of planning, and things like that.

There are games that are enjoyed by players more than other games that are essentially identical. Is it due solely to the firepower of marketing? Or is there something in the design?

For me, there is a great responsibility in game design. Game design intended as the collective effort of the whole team, from the head of product to the junior QA.

On the one hand, there is the problem of copying, without understanding why a certain type of game works. A desk is a dangerous place from which to see the World, John Le Carré said.

At the other extreme we find teams capable of empathizing, but who do not share the typical practices of free-to-play. They never spend a cent on a game downloaded for free, they don’t put themselves in the players’ shoes. Even if they have the ability to empathize, they do not.

Games that fail do so for a thousand different reasons. Those that are successful, however, have always a clear reason behind it: a team that believes in the product. And it does so because empathizes with the Players. There is a cultural discourse that must be taken into consideration.

The company culture is shaped by each person who comes in with their own energy. You can define the values you would like in your team, but people are much more complex. It’s about understanding what people are with you and what you can create with that. The empathy starts with you.

  • Empathy doesn’t mean your child likes the game your company is playing.
  • Empathy does not mean achieving a good D3/D1 ratio.
  • Empathy does not mean that the reviews are positive.

Empathy means putting yourself in a player’s shoes and participating in the event you launched this weekend. Become a player of your game, play your game every day. Be present in playtests where unknown people try your game and also other similar games. If your team connects with people, a social casino game can be very stimulating even for a technical artist who wants to create RPGs.

Tips for writing better documents

I joined a list of mentors in the games industry a while ago. I receive messages from all over the World that make me think a lot. Very grateful for receiving those energies from different cultures and people.

One of the most common requests I get is about how to write better design documents. The main issue with documents is the harsh reality that most people don’t want to read. Also if some of them have this duty, I have noticed that oftentimes they keep what you said in a presentation or chat. So, why boring to write a wall of text?

It’s important to write a lot on the game we are making, for ourselves. It is not important, instead, to write a lot for others to read. That is my point. I do like this.

  • I start by writing by hand on paper. Very important to create meaningful connections in my brain. I don’t get the same result when I write on a keyboard.
  • I continue by writing digitally a short resume of what I wrote on paper. Sometimes very short.
  • When something needs more words, I create an image instead. It can be a flowchart, a UX flow, a wireframe, or a sketch.
  • Then I read the document again in a loud voice. This makes me spot things that are hard to read. It has to be aloud. Don’t be shy, don’t be lazy. It doesn’t work if you read in your mind.
  • If I have time, I try to add something fun to spot in the most boring parts. That happens very few times, honestly.

When the boss gets in the middle

Every game designer has experienced at least once in their life the horrible feeling of being deprived of their ownership.

You design a new game mode, a mechanic, a progression, an economy. You spend your attention and energy on it, perhaps for weeks. And the person in charge of the project, a producer or product manager, changes everything without warning.

It’s hard, I’ve even left companies for things like this. But it happens. It’s a huge lack of respect disguised as “sorry, but the project needs this“, “the data speaks clearly!“, “I wasn’t convinced…“.

The reality is that there are very few true creative leaders and changing numbers on a spreadsheet or in-game setups requires no skill. The pressure that some people feel leads them to this disastrous behavior. So what to do?

Seeking an agreement and understanding the problem is the first step. Many people want to be successful, others want the team to be successful. Some think more broadly about the entire company. We need to understand what motivated the choice.

This is a wrong choice, in every sense. A serious mistake. But we do it too, let’s remember this. I therefore recommend staying calm to make the correct decision.

Making games is hard…

Three ideas on ads

Ad-based monetization mechanisms have established themselves in the mobile market in recent years. There are many providers and related SDKs that need to be implemented in our games. From a business perspective, they make completely sense. Players get free entertainment and in change they are exposed to promotions.

To date I haven’t met a single game designer who likes ads. Why?

The answer is very simple, ads work against the game itself from a gameplay perspective. You are participating, you are involved in the game and you are offered to see an ad. This advertisement may also take you out of the game to install a new one. Generally, in fact, advertisements in games are for other games.

This is working against your own game, risking losing the players’ attention. In the long term, among other things, they can be really boring and affect people’s retention. Too many announcements, I’m not coming back!

I as a player, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, use ads as breaks. I start the ad to get a benefit, I move away from my cell phone to do other things. The ad is a pause.

But does it have to be this way?

Advertisements are an opportunity for entertainment and television has demonstrated this. The ads could be very funny.

  1. We could show things more related to the universe of the game itself. If we refuse privacy permissions, the advertisements are generic and random.
  2. We could integrate the content with the characters and lore of the game we are playing. Instead of starting a generic video, the characters could give us purchasing advice. With new programs that use machine learning algorithms, this blend is very workable.
  3. You could show ads alongside recommendations for the game we are playing. You play the ad, and a video plays that explains specific things about the game. In the bottom half, the announcement of another game. This way, seeing a video makes sense and we will also show an advertisement.

Freedom, security and work-life balance

In our career, like in other areas of our life, we play with two main things: security and freedom. The general rule is that the more security less freedom. The more freedom less security.

  • When you go alone as a freelancer, you have more freedom but less security, in theory.
  • When you work for a company, you have more security but less freedom. Also, in theory.

The reality is that often is safer to go as a freelancer. In fact, if you lose one client you have another couple backing you up. And regarding freedom… well, you have the worst possible boss: yourself.

When you work for a company it’s true that you have less freedom of choice, but the security thing… You can see the latest news, companies are firing the people who contributed to making millions. Is that security? I feel more safe as independent, honestly.

It’s about work-life balance

How to deal with security and freedom? Think about your work-life balance. And with that term, I don’t mean the same that everyone means. I don’t mean the time you spend at work versus the time you spend with the rest of your life. That is not the way I see it.

To me, work is part of life and not a separate thing to balance against life.

  1. Where do I want to live?
  2. Why am I doing this?
  3. Who are the people I am dealing with every day?
  4. What are the challenges I am facing right now?
  5. How will I solve the problems I have?

In this order, in my case. Work-life balance to me is about working on the balance of work-related things in my life.

Right now I am a freelancer with great clients. Tomorrow I will be leading a team in a big company. Or tomorrow I will run my own agency. It doesn’t really matter.

The important thing is to focus on the present because that influences this very moment. It’s a matter of security and freedom, looking at them with the lens of discernment. Work-life balance it’s not about what it could be. It’s about what it is.

We will live more!

Any technology and platform, like all human things, has a beginning, a development, and an end.

Some of the technologies we use today to make games, and the platforms we distribute them on, will be gone in 3-5 years. It’s hard to keep up with time, which is why so many video game creators from the past no longer deal with it.

If our intention is to try to last longer in the industry, we must develop a true love for the profession and also try to avoid situations that can restrict our potential.

  • I’m not a mobile level designer, I’m a game designer
  • I’m not a Unity developer, I’m a game developer
  • I’m not a realistic-style concept artist, I’m a game artist

Specializations are great at the beginning of a career to find your first job. If your personal brand says “casual games economy designer” and it works, that’s fine.

But inside, in our moments of study and passion, we cannot and must not limit ourselves. Trend passes and the company that develops that particular technology doesn’t survive. If we love the main branch of our work, the generalist thing, there is no problem.

We will be able to see the practical benefits even in a completely different environment. We will live more!