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Author: Paolo

The best template to start with game writing

The best way to learn how to write for video games is to do it. Write, print your work, read it aloud. Reading aloud is critical to develop your text comprehension skills. Do not be shy nor lazy. Read your works aloud!

If you don’t know how to start because you have no time to code or to make a game, don’t worry. Think in the game you love, imagine a situation between two of its characters. The situation can have branches inside, but maximum 2 endings: the good and the bad.

Now it’s time to write your script. Sarah Longthorne released a while ago this fantastic template for branching narrative in visual novels. You may want to start from here. This is one of the best resources I have ever found for free.

If you are thinking in an RPG, of course that will be different from a visual novel. In this case the triggers that bring the story to the players are different.

You should think in those triggers and create your own template!

We need better words

Yesterday I was reading an interview to a games industry leader in Barcelona. He was speaking about the play-to-earn games and predicting how companies will behave in 2022. He said “it will be a blood bath”.

The other day I was listening to the video channel of a famous industry expert. He was talking about leadership and defended openly the need of “being cruel” in manage people and projects. Not hold the hand, for instance, when someone doesn’t work. Just fire them.

If we really want to have a better industry, we should double check the word we spread to the World. Our words are an important medium of influence of other people. We are all responsible for that.

When we say words, people listening us interpret our speech with their own perception. Perception almost never is equal reality. Perception imposes over our own realities. We are responsible, then, for everything we say and for how we say it.

When you say blood bath, I propose high competition. High competition is safe, is normal in our system and blood baths sadly happen every day in our World. When you say “lead with cruelty” I propose you to lead with patience. The same patience that built the great companies that today publish the greatest game we play.

Do you keep a gameplay journal?

Do you keep a handwritten journal for your gameplays? I think it is a fundamental part of my routine as a game designer.

We use everyday a lot of different tools, each one with its subscription models and stuff. But nothing can substitute a journal. On a journal you are alone with your inner self. In a journal you can identify clearly your personality. If you don’t keep a journal is super hard to not become a follower of trends and methods you don’t fully understand.

Do it now! Start a Gameplay Journal.

For every game you play and every time you play it, write a new entry down. What should you write? Well, it’s your journal. I can say you what I write down. This work in my own case.

First of all, I describe in detail everything that I remember. I describe without giving any opinion. “I like this, I don’t like that” is not really important. The important thing is what did I felt in any occasion.

When I am speaking about a new mechanic that I can identify, I sketch also a flow of its rules and how that works. I do it quickly, I don’t have to double check it and pass it to a developer. So that it’s just a way to train my quickness, somehow. I felt that I complete tasks at my day job way faster since I do that.

Finally, I try to reason on design choices and its audience. I also try to stress my assumptions imagining possible risks for the design approaches I find.

When you write down with your bare hands the brain makes connections that are not possible to make with a computer monitor writing with a keyboard. Keep use pen and paper, you will never regret it!

Data means nothing

Data means nothing without the ability to get meaningful information from it.

I still see a lot of discussions around pure data everyday, most of them completely pointless.

“I am sure this works, data says it clearly!”. False, data is raw. Data says nothing. Data has to be put in context.

“You think our players would like this? Let’s prove it with data!”. You will never prove anything with data, you should write down concrete hypotheses and then take the raw data and transform it first in information and, only after, in insight.

“Yes, I also like this. But I want to see the data first!”. If you want to make real games you should consider just being bold sometimes. If you really like something, put it on! Players will appreciate that. If results are bad, I swear, it will probably depend on other things.

If you use the data-driven approach, you risk to really miss your point because when anything becomes the subject of our analysis the result of this analysis will be influenced by this fact. You should use data to get information to inform your design decisions, not to drive them.

Decentralized finance is not here to destroy the gaming industry

Play-to-earn, the metaverse, NFTs, cryptocurrencies are not here to destroy the gaming industry. I agree that there is a lot of unjustified hype around those new technologies. Early adoption is always like this. 

The main discourse is too centered on two points: technology and money. And this is NOT where there is the real value of all this. Investors are joining in with crazy numbers. Millions invested in companies without a single game published. It’s weird, but believe me: it’s not the end of the gaming industry.

Historically, video games (together with military techs and porn) have always been pioneers for new techs. It is normal, since they offer a pretty safe testing field to try out things. So that it is completely normal to have continuous hypes and fashions.

But I learnt working in free-to-play for years that players generally put their attention and money in something they really enjoy. So don’t worry. The gaming industry is not about to end soon. 

If you are thinking that all those novelties are a disaster for our beloved industry, I kindly suggest you to go deep studying the new trends! Those judgements and fears always come from ignorance.

How to deconstruct a game

One of the skills that make a game designer instantly hireable is the deconstruction of games. It is no easy task to complete, since the first instinct is to end the job once we have identified the core loop, the secondary loop and maybe some unique feature.

I have seen too many times teams copying from here and there after a quick deconstruction and the result is something like

Not cool huh?

A good deconstruction looks for the audiences of some game and wants to really empathize. Having a document with the core features is nice, but having empathy maps, customer journeys and personas at the end of it is key for the success of a project.

  • Play the game for the right amount of time
  • Look for its update logs: you need to know where developers put the highest efforts
  • Read reviews and study them
  • Look for streamers, those are free playtests
  • Join Discord channels and Reddits to spot the interesting and pain points
  • Run playtests of your competitorsTry to interview core Players

With all those insights, build your Player. Forget demographics, focus on behaviors and needs!

Game designers, do not use Bartle’s taxonomy

Years pass by and I still see and read a lot of articles and videos that suggest using Bartle’s Taxonomy of Players for MUDs.

Richard Bartle was one of the designers and researchers around the online communities for MUDs, multi user dungeons. The very first version of MMOs.

He identified four different approaches of players of that time to the medium.

What I learnt from his work was that it is very interesting to haver your own taxonomy to create your player persona.

But, people still seem to use it to start thinking in the very first personas as if they were part of a ‘90s MUD. Players changed a lot. Your game is probably not a MMO. Using the same taxonomy for those cases will probably lead to mistakes.

It is true that it may be good to discuss with your team, but you are not doing the right job. Do this instead:

  • Create your personas
  • When your game is running, identify your player personas by interviewing players
  • Create your own taxonomy

Stop using Bartle’s taxonomy, unless you are designing a MUD for telnet. You will most likely not have killers among your players!

Marketing is part of the game

Marketing people are often not part of your immediate team. They are external stakeholders, people less involved in the day-to-day of your job. Their role is critical for the success of the game. In fact, you can make the best game but a lot of people around the World is making the best game right now. Marketing can drive the success or failure of the whole game.

Pyramid of Modern Marketing

The other day I was reading a blog post on modern marketing by Seth Godin.

Intention is the most important layer. Is about the changes that you are seeking to make with your game. What are your unique selling points? Game designers help in aligning visions and prioritize resources. You may start from your competitors and your Personas and help define every iteration.

Retention is the second grade. Getting new players costs money and if your players are happy with your game they can bring others. Mouth to mouth is still the most impactful spreading medium out there.

Remarkability (conversations that happen as the result of your work) and Permission (the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to the people) are part of core marketing activities. You can observe them, but it’s their job not yours.

Working with the marketing team

The marketing team usually does the job alone. Best realities I have worked for have regular meetings with them. Game designers can help with the brand, the voice and the tone consistency. We can help with intention and retention.

In case of f2p a company has to run massive creative campaigns (mostly on Facebook and Google) game designers can be of great help in developing creative concepts. From creative concepts, marketing team is capable of develop multiple variants. The big user acquisition machine is constantly fed up with those creative variants. As you can imagine, your role at the top of this funnel is critical.

Intention:

  • Help to sketch creative concepts that match the game’s brand
  • Maintain and use content guidelines for those

Retention:

  • Make sure that the feature of your game set your players for success
  • Get information about the strength of signal of the monetization events. Those events are sent to ad platforms as postbacks to optimize user acquisition campaigns. Put the strongest ones near of the start of the experience!

An honest and personal post about how I became a professional game designer

If you want to get a job as a game designer do the job, don’t look for it. You have to be already working as a game designer if you want to hope to being paid for that.

I remember when I was compulsively looking for a job sending resumes. Poor me.

“I sent 5 resumes today, I have done my job.”. That was my comfort zone.

Some job offer put “having participated in at least 5 projects from start to end”. Some other was more intrepid: “having participated in the complete development of a TOP250 grossing game”. The good old days of 2013!

Do the job everyday

I started, every single morning, waking up early. Having my shower and breakfast. Dressing up with my best clothes, putting my shoes and my clock on. Working all the day at my desk, at least 8 hour per day. Imagining I was going to my office. I discovered the superpowers that “faking it” enable. I started studying seriously from books at night before of going to bed.

I maintained a document with all the job offers and companies here in Barcelona. I studied their games and imagined to work on those. In fact, those games had already their players and their competitors.

Deconstruct games

Deconstructing games is a process mostly mechanic at start. Start from the simple screen flow, make a brickfile. Spot their competitors and do the same. You find a feature that some competitor has and the game you are studying doesn’t? You have your design task! Use what you learnt from books and step by step build your own design framework. This is your secret, in your method there is your value.

Probably those companies you are monitoring will never hire you. They are still looking for the “best talent”. A game designer who worked on successful games. The dream, the rockstar. Nevermind, it’s YOU that want to work as game designer. They are too busy in filtering out people like you. So don’t wait for a company to let you in. Just do it.

Find your people

Try to create and maintain meaningful connections in the industry. I created a meetup, the Barcelona Game Design Meetup. My intention was to join game designers also from other companies. I ignored their strict policies most of those company had, instead. I also ignored that often people working for those companies are NOT the most motivated persons. They just do their job. They work as game designers, but often they are not intimately designers. I met a lot of wannabies and a few professionals. Making connections is still very useful. I just enjoyed any opportunity to talk about game design. Any opportunity!

Why do you design games?

The other day I was listening to a YouTube video (yeah, listening) with 2 people that I consider industry experts talking about leadership in videogames.

One of the two quoted this sentence from Orson Welles:

“…in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

His point was that, as a leader, you shouldn’t try to create a peaceful environment. In fact, great things come out from hard times.

This post is not to enter in the center of the question. In fact, those persons are people with at least five years more experience than me. And in companies with great products where I dream working someday. So that for the sake of this post they are right.

But I ask myself: what do I want to do with my job?

Do I want to become a name like Leonardo or Michelangelo? Or do I want to create something that brings fun in every place it is placed, like a cuckoo clock?