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Category: Business

On quality and passion

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve invested a lot of time listening to industry podcasts. Normally I do it while I’m cooking, before talking to my parents (as a proud Italian I talk to my parents everyday xD).

Listening to the experts, their judgments, and their concerns it seems that there is no point in doing mobile free-to-play if you do not:

– you find ways to have cheap installations

– create a pay-to-win game

– you save a lot on artistic production to ensure a high frequency of new content

Added to all this is the obsession of investors with numbers. If certain numbers don’t add up, it’s not worth investing.

One thing to be clear: I agree in general, even if my artistic side suffers. It’s true that a large part of my job is to ensure a design that allows for flexibility and scalability.

Quality and passion

In my experience, however, I have seen that there are some things that are constant in all games that we could define as quality:

– A game’s startup time is key to its success

– loading times in the game mark the difference in metrics

– game crashes are directly proportional to making people come back more times

– the number of steps needed to get to what you want makes all the difference. It’s not the same to tap PLAY and start playing as it is to tap PLAY and navigate a couple more screens.

Another thing that is not said enough is the importance of having a team that likes the game they are doing. We don’t make games for us, we are professionals and we make them for the players. But we feel clearly when we have a nice product ahead, even if it’s not for us.

It would be great to find a way to convert quality metrics and this sort of sensitivity into numbers on a spreadsheet. But I am afraid is very hard. Maybe it would convince more business people to take the right decisions.

Have a nice week everyone!

The mission of Sentendo

My mission.

This is day two since the big decision. Yesterday I published a banner. Today I have another claim better suited to online communication.

I want to tell you a little about my vision. When analyzing the target audience of a game, first of all we have to find the right fantasy to meet. Fantasy is the aspirational aspect of the game. Being a juggler, traveling the whole world, traveling through space. Some fantasy can be abstract. Think of Candy Crush Saga, which offers the fantasy of ordering an open box of sweets. Or Clash Royale where the fantasy is to dominate the opponent.

It’s about understanding people’s dreams and desires to resonate with them on a deep level. And it’s not something abstract. I have developed a very practical method to do it. My secret sauce that makes me have happy customers all over the world.

A compelling fantasy helps create more engaging experiences. And this translates into concrete numbers. Two KPIs that measure the result of a good strategy of this type:

  1. Average session time: you know those games that make you forget what time it is?
  2. Average number of sessions per day: you have a free moment, you decide to open the game again to be able to disconnect. The number of times you open the game is a clear sign of interest.

It is a question of carrying out a qualitative research of the gaming market aimed at:

  • analysis of existing games in this light
  • engagement with their communities
  • competitors playtest to structure the whole design of the game or feature (in case of live operations)

The process takes the form of deliverables that vary from a simple power-point to playable prototypes. Passing through spreadsheets, which are the most used tool by game designers. I design concrete levels in Unity and craft narratives using the most common tools.

I truly believe in this vision and I am pleased to share it with you readers. Wish me luck!

Vision and values for an hypothetical team/company

I work as freelancer and consultant in this moment of my life. I also feel the need of building something mine, since the market right now is pretty average. More details in this video:

So I am fantasizing about building my own company or having my own team someday. Some wise man says that I should start from the vision, which is like the utopic preview of the World once my company has success.

The Vision of my hypothetic company

Well, that is my vision: our Players will remember our games forever.

Simple and clear. Somehow inspired by the Supercell vision: to create great games that as many people as possible play for years and that are remembered forever.

But without the “play for years” thing. I don’t think it matters anymore, I don’t believe that it’s possible with this average content storm we are living right now. Storm that is not going to end soon.

Plus, I do believe that looking for extreme growth is frustrating and leads to the creation of attention traps, not games.

The Values of my hypothetic company

Having said that, I would look for just game designers at my company. I mean, of course we would need artists, developers and so on. But I would always look for people with the special attention to the details that a good game should have to be unforgettable.

We are game designers

  • We love to reinvent the wheel
  • We make meaningful games
  • We look for the smallest viable audience
  • We want to be above the average
  • We are patient
  • We want to offer moments of fun

What are we not?

  • We are not copycats
  • We don’t want to create games for everyone
  • We never develop minimum viable products
  • We don’t want to be average
  • We don’t rush
  • We don’t want to trap people’s attention

Forget transmedia when you start

While the Super Mario Bros movie crashes the box office, Gameloft launches a Disney version of Super Mario Kart.

Two companies with a great history explore each other’s space. Someone says that the worlds of video games and movie productions are converging. The fact is that the types of production of a film and a video game are completely different.

Video games involve interaction, movies don’t. Movies can move from the big screen of the cinema to the small screen of a smartphone, but video games cannot.

The common element is that they are two means of getting stories across. These stories can cause very strong feelings that change us. These inner shifts familiarize us with characters and worlds. These characters and worlds can populate products of an entirely distinct nature.

It is not a matter of bringing together video games and cinema. It’s about creating memorable characters and worlds that can actually last for years.

People are still playing Super Mario Bros. People are still watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I do not recommend looking for transmedia right from the conception of a video game or movie. I recommend making the best video game or making the best movie possible. Center yourself well in thinking about worlds, characters, and stories. Make them fit perfectly in one single medium. With the help of God, successful transmedia may come later.

First goal for every team

A team should first demonstrate to themselves and to the World they can develop a complete game.

Whether a team is composed of experienced members or newbies, the first thing should be completing a game.

Some team starts by helping other projects. Some others should probably start with something small. Finally, some others may work on a remake or an existing game adapted to intellectual property.

I like to compare a game development team to a rock band. First, you start doing covers or making your own stuff for small clubs. You cannot start by playing at Wembley Stadium, that’s your dream, but you must be realistic.

There is a lot of energy involved in the development of a game, you have to first prove you work well together.

When you still have nothing out there, talking about huge growth and wonderful disruptions may be frustrating. I respect the ambitions but listen to my humble suggestion: make your games the best you can. Just worry about that when you’re starting.

Unless, of course, the team is composed of at least a core that already faced together their struggles. You need to know how to hit the road together before of going to the sky. Success will come by hard work and only a few times thanks to contexts and events you cannot control.

Pay-to-win is a necessary evil

Many developers working in the free-to-play arena declare themselves against pay-to-win. Pay-to-win is a series of flows geared toward getting players to pay for free games by tapping into their competitive motivations.

  • Are you stuck on a level? Buy a set of boosters.
  • Did you almost make it? Pay for extra movement.
  • Want to advance faster? With these gems, you can skip the waiting times.
  • Need to level up your characters? Buy card packs.

If we analyze the top-grossing rankings, we realize that in the top positions, there are only games that have these pay-to-win dynamics. This leads me to think that to create a service that is sustainable, it is inevitable to think in pay-to-win dynamics.

Instead of being against and working against the success of a service, it would be good to understand that many people find a sense of satisfaction in overcoming frustration. And capitalizing on this, in the context of the game, is an almost unbeatable way of generating profits.

The battle between creativity and business

I was reading thoughts on the cancellation of Apex Legends and Battlefield. Every time I read these studies I’m experiencing déjà vu. There are some clear signs that can be spotted in time but are ignored for some reason.

Surreal expectations

I have often worked with business leaders who have very ambitious numbers in mind. The best way to proceed is to try to invest the right amount and analyze the results. Based on those, work to improve them. It is impossible to expect even before starting production to reach champion numbers.

Requiring people to change their favorite game

That there are some blockbuster titles in today’s market that people won’t budge from. Creating a shooter hoping people would abandon Garena Free Fire is a dream and always will be. And the same goes for so many other games.

Wanting a game to grow beyond any limit

Many companies depend on shareholders who want to see growth every year. If this growth doesn’t go as expected, the companies cancel the games. Growth is often promised by the CEOs of these companies. Too often ignoring much of the roadmap that is in the hands of developers.

Every type of game has a limit, after all. And this limit is difficult to reach in the red oceans. Overcoming it is a dream. And back to the first point.

The MVP Culture

Over the years I have learned the single thing that product leaders hate most: uncertainty. There is a common myth of epic leaders capable of having a solid vision to spread across their team. It is almost never the case. Usually the game vision is the result of team effort.

During the development of a new game or a feature for an existing game, there are a lot of variables that make the people feel uncomfortable and insecure regarding the return on that investment. Which is why the MVP, minimum viable product, concept has been rented from the startup “fail fast” culture.

You develop the basics of that new implementation and with that you measure the results. In theory, you will eliminate risks.

In practice, instead, often that way of producing things shows a lack of vision and understanding of the market. I saw many times the MVP converting to the final product. The team publishes the MVP of a new features, metrics and analytics seem OK and they pass to the next MVP without putting the right effort to make that feature really awesome. 

This is a short term strategy that never works. Games are a refined craft that require passion for the details. That is where the magic happens.

MVP are useful to:

  • Test the technical context and make proper development estimations
  • Have something practical to show an idea to the upper management
  • Run playtests with some cohort

MVP are NOT the right thing to do if you want to:

  • Run split test with engaged cohorts
  • Prove the growth potential of a new game
  • Estimate the LTV improvement on the long term

Stadia and Cloud Gaming

Stadia was killed by Google. Cloud gaming is still alive and well in services like Microsoft Game Pass. Google put cloud gaming in the center, selling the idea of cloud gaming as a revolutionary platform. Microsoft instead put cloud gaming in the right place: as an added feature for a great service.

Cloud gaming is a very interesting features. I ask myself when Valve will also adopt it. I have a lot of friends with MacOS willing to play the same games with other friends with PCs. Cloud gaming would be a great add to Steam.

Cloud gaming is not the future of videogames, thou. Until now, in fact, there is not a single scenario in which Cloud Gaming offers something better than classic Console/PC gaming. Usually performances are better on console. Also, people who cannot afford best devices usually has access to worst Internet connections too. So that the market for pure cloud gaming is very small.

Cloud gaming is a feature and not a platform.

Being loyal

Year ago I was running a very promising free-to-play project in a local incubator. It was very promising, it was the future. My lead artist said: you are inventing the devil. Of course, it was just in my head. The project had no chance to go forward, because I wasn’t being loyal to my will of creating a new company around it.

Being loyal with ourselves is not just to maintain the promises we make. It’s not to respect the compromise. Is also to make well our numbers. If you want to build anything and we consider ourselves game designers it is necessary to stop and think well to all costs and scopes of the things we want to build. And then add a 20% of error to all of that. Otherwise we will most probably fail.

My project failed at many levels, but the main one is that you cannot start a free-to-play ambitious project without great professionals and lot of money behind. The art of giving games for free is very expensive, needs a good monetization strategy and the acquisition of new Players requires huge efforts.

I am glad that I didn’t invented any devil, and I am glad to be here happy telling you those stories.