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Month: December 2023

Wishes and hopes for 2024

I want to spend two words to write down my hopes and desires for 2024. I will not write any forecast, those are for non-creative people. People with no vision, people who look for an impossible low risk. A forecast is something to convince people to give money to other people, nothing more. I am a creative person, I don’t believe in forecasts and I prefer to write my wishes.

First of all, I hope that next year will be at least the start of a new way of making games. Companies should think of new kinds of contracts and compensations for their employees. Currently, a professional contributing to generating billions will eventually fall in a round of layoffs. Imagine, you create a new character like Spider-Man and other people will get lots of money. And then you are fired. The others, instead, will continue to make money forever. This is plain absurd. Since job stability does not exist, also contracts should adapt.

I hope to see new fresh concepts for mobile games, as second thing. Currently, the industry is trapped in concepts that have nothing to do with actual game design. Good game design is about understanding an audience and its needs. The industry, instead, is talking about “User Acquisition”, hybrid casual, web3, and things that are not interesting for the Players. I hope to see more fresh concepts, with a renewed interpretation of genres.

Third, I wish to see more people building businesses that last 100 years. We are too much immersed in the mentality of fast success. When we see the most successful businesses, they are built in decades, not years. All these people that have been fired this year, plus the people that will be laid off next one, could build awesome things. They have also the power to let fresh energies enter the industries. Start from team building, maybe creating content for Fortnite or Roblox. Start from the team, while you build a strong vision.

The web shops are popping out, so I hope to see more platforms that will help create a community among gamers. This is my fourth and last wish. Things like Steam but not so focused on PC games. Something that relates also to mobile games. Maybe letting the Players add mods and content to some games. That would be awesome. Too much AI bullcrap this year, the best content comes and will always come from real human beings!

Have a great year y’all!

The most sincere form of flattery


  • a plant or animal that has the same genes as the original from which it was produced
  • someone or something that looks very much like someone or something else
  • a computer that operates in a very similar way to the one that it was copied from

You will never be a professional game designer until you understand the art of cloning. From a first perception, it may seem like something unfair. You are stealing, copying, and ripping things off. But it’s not. Cloning is the most sincere form of flattery.

The risk of copycats

The problem with cloning in companies is that businesses are led by business people. People working ON the game. And business people are not designers (usually). When they see that there is something successful, they want to replicate the success. The smartest ones dream to make it grow better than the original.

And that becomes a problem, often, for designers. More in general, for developers. For people working IN the game. While we struggle to find the best way of understanding why something is working and how to improve it… Looking for other games that the same core audience is playing, to find how to integrate… the “orders” we receive is to put “that thing that the CEO’s son saw in that game” in. No discussions.

What to do?

The non-obvious solution, to me, is that designers should earn a sit at the table. And to do that, you need to learn the business language and adapt to it. If your company decides it will dedicate its effort to hybrid casual games (it’s a mere example), it’s a loss from a creative point of view. Your Players will never look for a hybrid casual game. They will look for a simple game to play on their mobile phone. It makes no sense, from the client’s perspective, that kind of wording. So our goal is to understand how to communicate with the business in their crazy way while we work for the Players.

Future: remove uninteresting choices

An experiment I ran this year was TikTok. I made an account and started recording videos in Italian on game design. In a few days, I was completely sucked into the platform. I stopped playing my games for pleasure, TikTok was my unique source of mobile entertainment. I uninstalled that crazy demon from my smartphone.

The algorithm works just great, understands where I stay the most and keeps serving me what it considers to be the best. There were no surprises, every time I needed some fast stress relief I got it.

From a game design standpoint, the lack of uninteresting choices is a great thing when I am the consumer. This doesn’t happen when I run a social casino suite or a mobile RPG. Lately, it has not happened with Roblox and Fortnite either. It doesn’t happen with Steam.

I run these games and I have to choose: which game mode, minigame, or experience, do I want to play? Rarely did I decide this before running a game. So I spend 10 precious minutes deciding.

And in that context, this decision is not meaningful at all! I want to have fun and make meaningful choices in the game. Not on the main screen.

I am completely sure that the next mobile hit will understand this concept and serve the Players with straight gameplay, according to their tastes. With the possibility of swiping them away. And of course, leveraging content creation. 

Is China really that wrong?

I was reading the new policies from China regarding games and thinking that somehow I do agree with most of them.

I am not an anti-capitalist. I believe that (also if it has its flaws) commerce is the best way we find as human beings to make fewer wars. I am not in favor of the Chinese propaganda, too.

But I observe my society, I teach at local institutions and I can see the obvious drama… There is a battle for attention that pervades also video games. I see that many people have their attention completely sucked in super cool and engaging gameplay, as well as social networks and other forms of entertainment. Some of my students are completely immersed in “Clash Royale”, or other games, while I show them how to build their future. Is that even fair? Do they deserve that? Of course, it’s their choice… but do brilliant designs manipulate their will?

I did not choose to make games to trap the players’ minds. I choose to make games because I want to create interesting gameplay when they decide to step into the magic circle. It is completely different.

The games market is growing and more and more realities are competing to own the free time of people like my students, and others.

Is that what we want or it would be better to put limits to greed? My answer is that we have to put limits. Complete freedom when lots of products are carefully designed by top talent to keep the attention of people looking for their hourly endorphin doses is very dangerous.

Before your Eyes, design break down

Last week I purchased a bundle of narrative games from a popular store. The first game of that bundle, in alphabetical order, was Before your Eyes.

The game is a narrative experience. It doesn’t require much effort for a consumed player like me. There are minigames, but the story goes forward despite your ability to be successful at them. The story is short, but very emotional and effective. It’s about family, expectations, dreams, life, cats, death, disease, friendship, love. Developers managed, within 2 hours, to condense everything. My tears were out at the end of it, probably I am getting older.


As a player, you are in the shoes of a boy who lives his life and afterlife. The camera is in first person and there is a unique hook, which is a mechanic based on the blink of your eyes. If there is a webcam connected to your PC, the game detects (pretty well, in my case) when you close your eyes and play around that. The result is the feeling of a higher immersion into the story. Join that with well-written lines and characters and you get the idea.

The game is divided into chapters, and every chapter has scenes. It usually goes like this:

  • The story and dialogue go, like in a movie. You do not control their flow. Sometimes they pause waiting for you to activate a mechanic.
  • Interesting spots activate on the scene:
    • circles: just look at them to activate the mechanic. Usually, you have to connect with another circle. This is used to open a book, for example.
    • eyes: point at them and blink your eyes to activate a mechanic.
    • eyes with effect: point at them and keep your eyes closed to continue with the scene.
    • musical notes: you have to follow an area to play sounds
    • hand: move your camera in the hand zone to write on a typewriter
    • pencil: look at it and it transforms into a scribble. Bring the scribble on a sheet and blink to draw.
  • In order to pass to the next scene, you have to wait for a metronome. Blink whenever you want to go forward.

Everything is very simple but effective. Also, it permits interesting dynamics. For instance, some scenes may activate the metronome while circles are still appearing. So you can choose to keep your eyes open and complete the scene. One issue is that if you blink you will skip to the next scene. Sometimes I didn’t want to do that. This is one limitation of this mechanic, it is imprecise. The real conflict offered by the game is there. So, it is unique and creates gameplay.


The game starts with the calibration of your camera. I believe it is pretty confusing, especially for the core audience of this kind of game. Then you start the game and you are immersed in a fantasy. The fantasy is about the afterlife, and the message is clear: life is an awesome thing, no matter what you achieve, no matter who you are.

Engaging with the minigames and making narrative choices brings you always to this same conclusion. The story is linear and goes from start to end. You have no agency over it, still, you can perform over it in one way or another. It’s a smart narrative design solution to not deal with branches and things that can compromise the quality of the final product. The development team is made by 9 people.


Those are the games that remind me of why I chose this profession. These games are not made to trap people’s attention or to monetize. They are not designed for retention. They wait for you to step in their magic circle. And if you want, you continue until the end. Maybe you cry a little. And then they go. Maybe you can play them again after a few years.

If you want to give yourself a beautiful gift, this game is. And after you play it, you may want to watch this talk:

Everything I said in this article was written before knowing the truth about its development.

Factors, scope and popularity

Every game plays around 3 factors: skill, luck, and stats.

  • The first is the actual cognitive effort required to play it.
  • Luck is about everything generated at runtime, developers set up rules for generation.
  • Stats are carefully designed values that give the Players the first goal: grow them.

There are skill-based, luck-based, and stat-based games. Games whose principal factor is one of the 3. Within this game is possible to add more of the other 2 factors. You may earn more opportunities, for instance for monetization. On the other hand, you complicate a little the things. This translates usually to a more niche game.

What’s the key to creativity? The capacity of scoping things, removing the superfluous. Many successful games started with this concept in mind. Eventually, they evolved more complicated as their popularity grew. Some of the new Players will resist a little bit of friction to be part of the crowd, to not be left out. It’s important to see where they started if you desire to replicate their success.

Game design is not fortune telling

One of the mantras of game design is that you should be able to predict the future, somehow. This is something that I read a lot, but that is plain wrong in my humble opinion.

You cannot predict the future. You should read and analyze your audience and try to understand how to bring meaning to them in a novel way. It’s not about prediction, game design is a practical craft. It’s empathetic, it’s about the present (and why not? also the past).

Leave predictions and forecasts to consultants, focus on creation instead.

PRO TIP: creativity is about cutting off things, not add more stuff.

The first production tip

We can speak ages about games production and how to manage people. But there are things that are universal and very useful.

  • Make a list of features you would like to see into your game
  • Order them by priority. Priority is calculated based on specific factors, it’s a formula
  • take the top 3 in your list and set the next deadline at 6-10 weeks around them.

Easy and uneasy questions

Do you believe in your project or not?

Someday the game you are making is exciting.

Some other day you feel like nothing works. It’s the worst game ever.

This is completely normal and common. Track these days. Play the build, every single day. And speak with your team. Do you believe you are on the right track?

If you are not sure about that from many milestones, it’s time to question harder topics.

Form follows function or aesthetics?

Game design takes concepts from broader design also. One of the most important books, “The Design of Everyday Things” (Don Norman), set the base for UX design today.

One concept is that form follows function. When you, as a designer, must decide which form something in your game should have, it’s better to think about its function first. Many games adopt things like this. You can see that a power-up that makes things explode is a bomb, while a water engine in the last Zelda game looks like a hydrant.

But is it always the case? Every game has aesthetics that combine with the fantasy it offers and the motivations it gives to the Players. It’s clear that the casual Player of Candy Crush Saga is looking for immediacy, but the Player of a From Software game may be looking for something more complicated to use, in the name of the “beauty” of it.

Form follows function but it is always guided by the aesthetics!