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Category: Business

Emergency is the future

The future of games is not made of new venues to cover. With mobile phones, we covered everything. I had my students playing games while I was explaining something important for their future. Who never?

It is not made of new spending habits. Even if the crypto-bros are right, even if the people will pay for games and things to trade in bitcoins (that will never happen), this will not determine a new era. Because the future of games will be related to the gameplay itself.

The future of games will be not putting monitors closer to our eyes hoping for more engagement. VR is causing headaches, people have been trying to sell that thing for 40 years. Steve Jobs would have never produced a dive mask to go on the streets, I am sure.

So where is the future of games? Well, I don’t know. What I do know is that is always an iteration of something we already have. For instance, the f2p mobile games era (which we can say was revolutionary) was built on top of the Java apps for cellphones, promoted by NOKIA in the Nordics, mainly.

If we look at games that are successful right now, they all offer some level of emergent gameplay. Look at FPS, survival, and horror out there. Look at the top games, the ones that make billions. They all permit a certain level of things you can do if we think laterally about the mechanics. And that unleashes a series of videos and things that people enjoy.

When you think of making a game for streamers, think mainly about emergencies. Do the same when you think of a game for TikTokers. It has always been like that: people want to find in video games something different from real life. Something they cannot do. A playful space to explore. That is where the future of games lies, I am sure.

Build a better future company

The network is flooded with bad news and hype around new technologies. Then there is the good news that comes from games like Lethal Company or Palworld. All these games share something: are made by inexperienced people. Juniors, to use the corporate jargon.

I see many experts explaining the possible benefits of blockchain, AI, Apple Vision PRO, and other new things that do not have demonstrated anything to the World. They do this to attract investments or offer their consultancies. I get it, I am a consultant too.

If I ignore the hype, thou, I see some bad trends. Corporations are not experimenting really with gameplay. They are chasing formulas, using old IPs, creating remakes, and also producing new GaaS games that add NOTHING to the market value. Like water, you can have different bottles and brands. Still, it’s always water. We can discuss the minerals inside of that water, but yeah… it’s water!

I really believe that the best way to build the company of the future is to hire more juniors and let them work, not investing in new technologies just because is cool.

Don’t get me wrong: I really appreciate the experience, but experienced people like me are very biased too. Maybe we should focus our efforts on guiding these new energies in a meaningful way. Preparing roadmaps, and supporting their ideas with no bias. And in 5-10 years, I am sure, you will have a very strong company with cool IPs.

The adjacency of marketing

There are designers and marketers, creative and tricky/boring stuff to do. One thing is always there: both are absolutely necessary for the success of a game. And so, for the success of a company.

A game company is run by business people, but games are made by developers and creative. Sometimes business people are very creative, sometimes developers are very aware of the business of making games.

In 2024, having marketing knowledge will be a boost for professional game designers. If you want to create your games like an artist, you have the opportunity to create your IPs and eventually get rich. But if you, like me, are here to serve other people and businesses you should aim to learn marketing.

Marketing, just like writing and art, is an adjacent space to explore and study. Very important to be aware of it and very few people are. It’s boring as heck, but it’s part of the craft to me.

Time for the underdogs

I am at Gamesforum, a conference on the marketing of games. Organizers gave me a free ticket and I have to say that is worth every single (and inexistent) penny.

The times are challenging for employees. We are seeing many layoffs, changes imposed by platform holders, and global insecurity. I met colleagues and I noticed that those who work as independent are younger than those who are working as employees. It’s crazy, right?

  • If you are on a successful project, it’s very hard to grow more and more. So the day job is gritty and the pressure is very high.
  • If you are on an unsuccessful project chances that you will be fired are high
  • If you are an underdog, there are lots of opportunities to grow! Many skilled professionals are available. Many known tactics for zero-to-one growth and you can probably create realistic plans.

What does it mean to be an underdog?

There are many acceptations to the term underdog, but to me it means:

  • small scopes, budget, team
  • ideas more focused on USP, both for product and for marketing
  • zero-to-one, still few partners/peers/providers
  • focus on the build, money will be a consequence

Why is it time for the underdogs?

Big players in the market are lost in the age of efficiency. After chasing impossible growth, they are now all-in for profit. They are reviving legacy products, and creating copycats, and they are not building anything new. Being an underdog now means being forced to think of alternatives to production and distribution strategies. It means to dream more and probably better. Who knows, maybe you will be the leader of the future!

The most sincere form of flattery

Clone

  • 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.

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.

Freelancing is not a therapy

When a client hires me usually is for a whole project preproduction. It can be the startup for a new game or the research stage for a new feature of a live game. I help them during the whole process of finding the right formula. I work per day, every day is one slot. Every client can get from 1 to 3 slots per week.

Happens that during my service I realize that my help is not needed. It may happen for a lot of reasons. Sometimes I see that the team is on the right track and I am slowing things down. Other times I see that the client that hired me didn’t want my help with game design, so that I am useless.

In any case, my business is not like a therapist. When I realize that I am not needed anymore, I let go the client. I speak with them and explain any reason. It was a pleasure to be there, please leave your testimonial. You will not lose your money, I will not lose my time. Everybody wins.

(and very few of them leave the actual testimonial)

An epic win is always possible

I was watching the Half-Life documentary released by Valve a few days ago. Right at the start Dave Riller says “I think most of us had no game development experience… There were 3 or 4 people who had actually shipped a game before”.

This story repeats over and over in the history of games. Baldur’s Gate (the first one) has a similar story. League of Legends, too.

But that was a different time, right? Nowadays, games are more complex and you need a lot of experience to make a successful game.

I discovered this game called Atomic Hearth thanks to a new friend I made here in town. It was released this year, the first game from a remote multi-national small company. They reinvented Bioshock. Huge success.

Someone tells you that you can’t be successful with juniors. Other people say that your first game cannot be a success. You need to fail 50 times, first. I often tend to believe the same things, but facts contradict me every single time.

The history of games teaches us that an epic win is always possible. Do the best you can do with the resources you have. The future is built very often by people belonging to the future. Our industry is where it is because people with no experience had their chance at some point.

One game per year

We live around 75 years. We have 75 summers, around 80 travels (in my personal economical condition of course). The people we will meet are relatively few, the projects we can tackle too.

Imagine you start to work at 25 years, because you are born in the lucky side of the World. You have 40 years working. If a game takes 3-5 years, you can make around 8-14 games in your life. Game for companies, that may be successful or not.

Or you can go indie, maybe solo dev, going alone and try to publish one game per year. Small game, of course. In that case you can leave 20-30 good games (the first will surely be a disaster). That can be your legacy as a game designer.

The future of games

This weekend I was scrolling the infinite feed of LinkedIn and reading updates from many experts. I have to say that lately from one side there are lots of challenges. Many layoffs across the whole IT sector and people looking desperate. From the other, lots of experts are sharing their knowledge online. This is absolutely a good thing.

One of the main topic is about the future of games. Right now, it seems that everyone can make and publish a PC game very easily. But the cost of AAA games production is rising and the value perceived by the players is going down.

There is a demand/offer problem, too many games and it’s hard that the people notices you. To me, the solution should come by adopting a different perspective. Unless you have a strong IP, like Call of Duty, you cannot just make a game and sell it. You cannot afford to assume that people will come buy it. Nowadays, you should first get in touch with people, make them notice you. Then the people will eventually buy your things.

There is a trend among content creators, especially tech ones. They use Patreon to arrive to their audience. They build little by little. Play-to-earn crypto games were scam, but they were making something good: making contact with people super early. Of course, the focus there was money which is never something good to relate with entertainment. Still, I liked this very fact.

The key to me is in being able to create a strategy to go towards the people, the Players. Not the other way around. If you are making a game and then you will invest your money in marketing to spread the word, it’s very possible you join the rest of noise. It’s better to start build your player base right now, instead.