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Tag: design

The unpolished trend

In the last couple of years, my LinkedIn is filled with claims regarding community-driven / community-led games. The search for new business models to give more fresh air to one of the most fresh businesses in the World and attract investments often leads to something unusual.

It seems at first sight like an interesting path to take, because everything is fast. If you are lucky, you may get millions of downloads. This without having to face all the challenges that people that make real games struggle to deal with every day.

Yesterday I was watching a video with the new Supercell game, Floodrush.

I believe that Supercell is trying out the new features from Google. Their new beta program provides lots of tools for building up a community early. Please, look at the game.

Floodrush is an unpolished game, it’s too early to launch it. The goals aren’t exciting, the camera has issues, the controls aren’t intuitive and the portrait doesn’t feel like the right layout for a game based on curiosity and discovery. Supercell has probably fallen into the trap of launching something too early and seeing how it goes. To me, it is not the right strategy.

If something goes more or less well, your competitors will surely catch up with better solutions early. You are revealing the result of your research. If I look at the last Supercell releases it is clear that discovery and exploration are the next thing for them.

Game design is also a form of art

And as artists, we cannot put the audience first. The audience is the most important part of our job, and for that, they deserve something great, something final, something polished. If you try to do what they want you end up doing something average and mediocre.

As game designers, we have lots of tools to spot the weakest parts of our craft and improve them. But we need a clear vision and we need to deliver it in the best quality in order to find success.

Is the next trend just throwing things at people? I have seen this in hyper-casual gaming, I see this in hybrid-casual. I didn’t expect to see this from the masters of free-to-play.

Internal and external storytelling

Everything tells us a story. Human beings have natural connections that make them very sensitive to narratives.

We create internal ones and receive external ones. The internal ones are personal to each one and depend on a whole series of factors. External ones arrive massively in recent times.

When I was 12 and in my little room playing with my Game Gear, the only external narrative was “orders from above”.

speaking of which, do you remember this game?

Today, when I’m relaxed playing on my smartphone, I’m constantly being stimulated by other narratives. Notifications, messages, calls.

As you can imagine, this impacts the storytelling of the gameplay experience I receive.

Some of my favorite games take 10 seconds to start. They show me the main screen and, while I check the things to do, a series of messages and offers appear. I have to close windows to continue with what I want to do.

In some cases, there is interesting news, no doubt. But everything contributes to creating narratives. It’s not the same as placing a pop-up in front of me or seeing a bird fluttering over the city I’m building and deciding to capture it to discover that it contains a message…

Especially if, at the same time, my wife is reminding me that I have to buy bread and I get an important email from a client.

External narratives are getting complicated and that makes my job more interesting.

Flowcharts and UX flows

The difference between a flowchart and a UX flow is that the first is drawn from the point of view of the game, while the second is from the point of view of the players.

After writing a brief for a new mechanic or feature, specifying everything in a flowchart helps resolve edge cases. Useful before going on to detail the configurations necessary to unlock the programmers.

After designing UI wireframes, a UX flow helps to find missing pieces. Very useful for going on to detail the graphic assets needed to unlock the artists.

If we don’t have time and we need to be quick, the flowchart is the least essential of the two.

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!

Escape from vanity metrics

I was in a conversation, one of these groups where tons of people are discussing game development. The founder of a local company says he opened his game as a beta. He invited some streamers to let them try the title. These streamers then left a vote. He stated that it was a success, the game had a high rating.

To me, it all led back to a single characteristic of the speaker: vanity. When you have a product in development, you have to challenge your assumptions. Especially if you want this product to be a real success. There’s no point in inviting people, putting them at ease, and asking them if they liked it. Probably some bias you have will be confirmed, some others will not. The more inexperienced part of the team will feel satisfied, the team will be treated well in the next few days. The boss is happy, everyone is happy.

Then comes the weight of reality, law of gravity. They don’t play your game, even for free. You can not recover the investment. You may need to make some staff cuts. You will still declare “yet we tested the game a thousand times and they said it was a good game”.

How to avoid falling into the ego trap?

By asking the right questions. Believing in a product and betting on its success is very positive. However, it must be done with caution.

  • You have to ask specific questions
  • You have to make hypothesis beforehand. These must be quantifiable and real: “Login time to a game is less than 30 seconds,” is a guess. “Love the game” is not a guess.
  • You need to put your designers to observe people playing without interruptions. They must develop the intellectual honesty necessary to create objective reports.
  • Then you have to work first to improve the strong points, then to solve the critical issues.

This is my advice. Escape from vanity metrics.

Gambling games learnings

Gambling games focus their designs on feedback and effects.

Each time the player presses that button:
– is spending some money
– is hoping to receive an award
– is expecting a show.

The game design of gambling games focuses on
1. visual effects: animations, particles, overlays, …
2. fonts: very important to see the numbers grow with monospace fonts
3. the sounds and lights of the machines.

Obviously, the heart of the game is the statistical system. However, what is learned from gambling applies to various games.

After having worked for some time in gambling, the Italian developer Luca Galante created a game that inherits a lot from the chip-eating machines. He builds a business around that and wins a BAFTA, beating the likes of God of War: Ragnarok. The game is Vampire Survivors, an indie hero with a gambling soul.

SEGA SAMMY HOLDINGS INC. is composed of various business branches. The main one, as far as I know, is pachinko games. A type of gambling game popular in Japan where balls are thrown into the playing space and can hit variable objectives, which can be converted into money thanks to a legislative vacuum.

Curiously, they recently acquired¬†Rovio Entertainment Corporation, whose main service is a series of games where you shoot rounded birds with a slingshot aiming to hit goals and score points…

(I know it has nothing to do with the rational point of view of the business. But flying balls can be better understood by those dedicated to producing ball-launching machines, right?)

You learn a lot from gambling!

Mailing list on User Acquisition

In these times of automation and cost-cutting, one of the most important things for me is to develop my own special sauce.

That thing that no one can imitate, characterizes and distinguishes me. My secret to bringing value to the clients I work for. Truly quantifiable value.

The best game design book in the world (The Art of Game Design by Jesse Shell, of course) starts with a great lesson on inspiration: Look everywhere else.

In the story there is a gathering of conjurers, one catches the attention of the protagonist who asks him how he can be so original. The magician explains that he tries to look outside his own world and import things from other contexts.

It’s a way of making your own special sauce. I’ve been following this suggestion for years. One of the places I look as a game designer is marketing, specifically the world of UA.

Matej with his content helps me to have better ingredients to put into my special sauce. You should read it too!

Three and four stars reviews

When studying a¬†game it is also good to do it by reading people’s reviews.

In the case of mobile games, reviews are very often driven by two factors:

  • an in-game prompt asking you to leave a review. It is usually shown after a success, or at the end of the tutorial.
  • a moment of anger and frustration of a player. The lowest grade is usually given. For example, one star.
  • a moment of wonder and joy for a player. Normally the highest grade is given. For example, five stars.

When analyzing the reviews of a game (but also of a product on an e-store in general), I always filter for the average rating and above the average. For example, three and four-star reviews.

In fact, people who leave intermediate values usually leave more detailed comments. They belong to that part of Internet users that are a little less superficial. People who think things through a little more. The best candidates to give quality feedback!

Students, prepare the basis of your work

There is a substantial difference in game design between what you study and what you then work on.

When you study you learn the basic language and how to get from an idea to a game. Most often it is a reduced version of the game itself. When you study you have the largest freedom to create without thinking too much about who sells the game. The ability to create will be one of the fundamental ones.

When you’re working, your primary focus is the team in charge of selling the game to the people out there. You will need a very different set of skills. You will need to support your work with ideas that have worked in other games. The ability to analyze becomes one of the fundamental skills.

If you are a student, take advantage of the beautiful moments of creative freedom. But never forget to play many games. Because playing will build you a library of ideas and mechanics and will be your basis for real work.

PRO TIP: play more games from the companies in your geographical areas. Those will be the first you will apply to.

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.