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Tag: design

How to define USP?

I have watched today probably the best video on game design I have ever seen in the last few months. The speaker makes a definition for USP, unique selling points:

USP = (appeal + fantasy) * readability

  • The appeal is the level of beauty, polish, etcetera your game can have. It is what makes the game appealing from looking at screenshots/videos
  • The fantasy is the opportunity the Players will seek inside of the game. It can be something very real, but also something they couldn’t do in real life.
  • Everything is multiplied for the readability of the gameplay. Which is the capacity of your game to be understood from a simple quick view.

I love this definition and this formula, also if I am aware that creativity doesn’t work with formulas. But it’s a way of starting from a base. Test the art side (appeal x readability) separately from the gameplay (fantasy x readability).

What I want to say is that according to the properties of multiplication, we can say that the readability is a responsibility shared among art and design. Art takes care more about the appeal, while design more about the fantasy. These are my 2 cents on the general reasoning of the video. Watch it here:

Start with WHY

Experts always say you should start your projects with WHY.

Sinek, love him or hate him. I like him!

Others say you should have a philosophical base on everything you start. I don’t know if that’s a universal rule, but I am sure it helps to write down why I am tackling this new UEFN project.

There are two sides to the medal. One is a personal improvement side, and the other is a practical business side. I have identified opposites on these two sides. I love it when everything comes together in a meaningful way. Maybe a little obsessive, dunno.

  • FUN <-> REVENUE: First of all, I am motivated and engaged in doing that. I prefer to invest 40% of my time doing that than playing video games, for a while. And of course, the ROI is higher in this case.
  • SKILL <-> GROWTH: I see opportunities to build a team, meet new people, and teach what I discover in the future. I love to teach.
  • IMPROVEMENT <-> PURPOSE: I am also playing lots of Fortnite to study my new competitors. I see that most of these experiences have no progression, and no storytelling, there is just chaos. Most of them look like a bunch of incomplete experiences. My will is to silently teach the history of good old FRAG deathmatch to the new audiences that are playing Fortnite today.

A simple technique for clarification

I have this client now who has simple but very effective techniques to clarify things and express his concerns. He opens a Microsoft Paint instance and starts drawing.

He shares the screen with me and, with simple shapes, describes what I presented him, asking questions. Then he passes to express his concerns and makes his change requests.

And then I have another iteration to work on. No need for complex software or subscriptions. MS Paint and simple shapes are more than enough to discuss anything. God bless this simple but effective techniques.

Mobile f2p 4x starter

One of the most beloved genres of mobile games is 4X. In case you don’t know, the genre was born on PC. 4X means eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate. 

I watched this beautiful deconstruction of a popular title these days. Deconstructor of Fun is deconstructing the fun again, I have to say!

It is an expensive genre to develop especially if you are giving it for free, for example using the free-to-play business model, it is better to think well in designing each part scalable and monetizable.

The game loop

In the following diagram, I resume the typical game loop for mobile f2p 4X games and detail the three typical metagame loops associated with:

The economy of these games is generally based on:

  • Resources: usually represented with raw materials such as wood, iron, and so on. The basic building block for everything.
  • Buildings: you need to build to grow your empire, useful to eXploit the land
  • Crafts: the technology you can use to craft
    • Craft rate: the speed of crafting using buildings
    • Craft options: the kind of things you can craft
  • Troops: a consumable used to eXplore and eXpand
  • Heroes: characters that lead the troops, useful to eXplore and eXterminate
    • Hero XP: often represented with shards, useful to level up the heroes
    • Hero gear: useful to power up the heroes
    • Hero Level: the level of the hero

Monetization

“Monetize or die”, says someone. And I cannot agree more with that statement. Remember you are giving a sophisticated piece of software for free. You need to think that a very small part of the audience will pay for that. To do that, you should have a very deep spend depth in your game. Here are some classic methods:

  • Build: the build loop uses resources to build new structures after waiting time
    • Resources can be monetized
    • Time (speed up) can be monetized
    • Builders (building slots) can be monetized. They are often part of the starter pack, the succulent first euro you are supposed to spend into the game. Very valuable.
  • Upgrade: to upgrade your building you use the same things as for building.
    • You can add a layer of ADs for freemium players to watch and speed things up, especially when they have little time remaining.
  • Train: you need troops to attack others, and those are created using time and slots
    • You can monetize the time to speed up
    • You can make the players purchase extra slots. This can be also part of some high-conversion item
  • Level-up Heroes: heroes are key for certain missions and special features, like social features or battle modes
    • You can monetize heroes directly (not recommended), but you can offer them in loot boxes/gachas
    • You can add them in a season pass, some subscription service that unlocks heroes with progress
    • You can sell special gear from them
    • You can have specific shards for hero level-up or get special shards
  • 4X: this is the real goal of the game and permits to have more opportunities to monetize all the rest
    • How many buildings do you have?
      • How many levels can you upgrade them?
    • How many heroes do you have?
      • What are the chances to get those heroes?
    • How many troops do you need to attack?
      • What is the cost in time to get them?
    • And so on…

Conclusion

I hope you liked this brief introduction, my intention is to communicate that you should stay aware of these concepts:

  • The Game Loop: the sequence of features that the Players should engage with over and over in order to progress through the game
  • The Meta Loops: the things that make your players think about your game where they are not playing.
  • The spend depth: every member of the game loop has to be monetized! 

Monetization is not a bad thing, it is what keeps your Players engaged!

New project: UEFN Good Ol’ FRAG

Starting today I want to explore more the world of UEFN. I played a little with the experiences you have available on Fortnite right now and… oh my goodness, they are complete disasters from a level design perspective. What are we feeding our kids??? what?? *dramatic*

So I had this idea: recreate the most beloved maps from classic FRAG multiplayers within Fortnite. I need of course to tweak for 3rd person these maps, but my vision is pretty much this: to recreate classics in Fortnite. Because I want the kids to grow with serious stuff! (and if I can generate some income meanwhile, better)

I started by going on Copilot to look for data:

You are the lead game designer of a new project that involves Fortnite. Using UEFN, the project is to recreate the best maps that belong to classics of frag games (quake, unreal, and so on) in Fortnite. Converting them into modern versions. Make a table with the most enjoyed maps. On one column put the map name, on the second one a map image, third one the game, fourth column put the year and last column put notes on how to give them a modern touch

Prompt for Copilot

And I got a whole spreadsheet with a couple of tweaks:

I added some metadata and screenshots for the maps. So I am ready to start exploring classics!

How to evolve chores

Any video game sets up routines for the Players. Certain genres, like RPG and survival, are based on the concept of grinding. Grinding is making certain things over and over to achieve certain results. Often related to power-progression.

The art of game design in this case is being able to anticipate when certain tasks become a chore and make them evolve into something else. Usually, there are two steps:

  1. First, you make them automate something
  2. Then you give them the possibility to evolve the system so that the player becomes something new.

An interesting example of that is the game V-Rising. You are a vampire building an empire. And you have chores to do, collect things, craft other things, and so on.

The game lets you build special floors that boost that part, so that the game becomes a matter of designing your castle, more than building the next thing to improve your crafts.

Designing Journeys

I am designing the journey of a game for a client these days. It is a fun activity, also when you don’t have all the information you need to complete it. Anyway, it can be struggling, because it is very critical for the entire project.

A journey is the prediction of how the Players should behave in the game. At the same time, a journey imagines what the game offers to the Players, according to each stage they are in. When the journey is extremely detailed, usually you have a game with less freedom. The possibility space leaves fewer choices for the Players. When the journey is just sketched, you may oversee things too much.

General rules for journeys

  • Draft your journeys on a spreadsheet
  • The first column (or one of the first columns) should always be regarding the time
  • There should be some feature to represent the stage of the Players inside of the game. In many games it is level
  • You can briefly describe what the Players should do and the narrative around it given by the game
  • Each step should have its goals
  • Each goal should be reached using at least a single mechanic, or a combination of mechanics (skill atom). The key here is to always teach something. Remember: to have fun is to learn
  • You can define the challenges that the players will find over the journeys
  • Reaching each goal (every line/step of the journey) should unlock something meaningful for the next steps of the journey

It is hard to imagine exactly how the whole game should go. Especially with big games. Journeys are usually iterative, at the project start you have less definition and more questions. You can add those questions in a separate column. It is not necessary to balance at this stage, keep it clean and balance later. The last thing, journeys are very much needed also for simple puzzle games. In that case, we talk of the beat chart more than the journey.

Join the Scott Rogers Fundraiser Event

Scott Rogers, game designer, master and author of fantastic books needs some help. We are organizing a FREE online conference to raise funds for him.

You can join the conference here. It’s on Sat, February the 3rd. Event link here.

I will give a speech. From Books to Games: My Freelance Journey as a Self-Taught Game Designer

Years ago I had to create my opportunities in game design because the scene here in Barcelona was hard to navigate, to say the least. Thanks to books like “Level Up!” I managed to create my method of getting there. Tomorrow, I will share this method at the conference.

See you there!

Portfolio for juniors

The other day a guy asked me: “Should I add game deconstructions to my portfolio?”. He is a student, willing to join a company as a junior tech designer. I said “no”, and I was not sure it was the right answer after all.

When a company looks for a junior designer, it is not to grow their talent and all that. They derive technical tasks for the juniors. The seniors can focus on things related to the vision and the design strategy, then. Imagine you are a recruiter or a manager looking at a portfolio. What do you focus on?

The answer is that you focus on the technical skills. You want to know if you can give technical tasks to them. You want to know if with them you will be able to focus on higher-level chores.

A portfolio should be concise and straight to the point. Show 3-5 projects focusing on very technical things when you are a junior. Leave the analysis and the breakdowns to senior professionals on their blogs. They do not have time to focus on tech stuff.

Answers that matter

Every time I say to someone that I design video games, the common question is this. “Can you show me the game you made?“. And my answer is that I can, but my games are not Mario or Quake.

this is one of the games I helped make. Probably the most successful one, for sure one of the dumbest

Others in this industry would give the same answer. It is what makes an industry, in the end. You don’t ask a car worker “Can you show me a car you made?“. The worker is one of the dozens who worked on a car. Still, you ask that to a game designer because we have this idea of a very personal thing. Which indeed is true, but reality is deeper than that.

The reality is that you hardly work on a project you love. And the few people who work on those projects are the ones that achieve recognition at a certain point. I mean, if they insist and persist in their goals.

I want to celebrate everyone that is building in this moment. Because you will be the future of the industry. You decide to build something in which you believe. You can be an indie or a new team inside of a big corporation. Many sides of an industry that permits different exits.

I cannot really show anything, because I have always worked on games belonging to ideas and vision which came from others. Maybe that is the right answer to the first question of this article.