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Tag: insight

Content pipelines

When I design a game the tool I use the most is a spreadsheet. I use spreadsheets for predictions, calculations, but also to define the concrete experience step-by-step. And that leads always to tasks for artists and programmers.

The things you have to produce more often have a sequence of steps to be produced. That sequence is called content pipeline. Or at least, I call it like that.

Content pipelines can make or break your game. I think in FC games from EA Sports, they managed to sell cards. Which is great for content pipeline, cards are relatively easy to produce compared with 3D models and animations.

One of my responsibilities as a designer is to find the optimal content pipeline to satisfy the product thesis. It’s a team effort, an interesting problem to solve. But design plays a big part in that, because we are usually more aware of technicalities.

Onboarding and investments

I name the first session of a mobile game, the onboarding. This starts with the tutorial, which is part of the FTPE, first time player experience.

The onboarding is critical to retain Players. Especially in free-to-play games, the currency that Players will invest in a game is always their time. You will pay to get them and you should make them return. Your duty is to give them a good welcome.

This concept is widely used in the industry as a way to attract investments. You need to prove that your game retains the Players if you want to get your project funded. But there is a trap which is very easy to follow.

The trap is to focus too much on the onboarding leaving the real juice of the game aside.

In my experience, the games that retained the better on their first launch where the games where the onboarding wasn’t present at first. The onboarding design and implementation should come later, you need to first find the real essence of your game.

Using tricks to attract investment can be detrimental on the long term. Because you basically put the whole team on a treadmill, not focusing on the core experience.

Do you want to find the best core to retain? Find the core that works great also without FTPE.

The secret of discovery and exploration

The main difference between a game and other forms of entertainment is action and interaction. As I said in the previous post, action is a verb, is to do something. Interaction, instead, means communicate with some system within the game.

It can be a narrative system, it can be a level system. It can also be an exploration system. Interacting with the World of the game means exploring the game. Some game has walking, running, and riding mechanics. Some other game has menus to navigate and figure out what to do and why.

The main reason to explore a game is discovery. Discovery can be very fun when the Players understand subtly one simple secret: you can miss something.

When you read a book you read line by line. When you watch a movie you look at a series of scenes. When you play a game, instead, you decide what to do. And maybe you can miss something out.

That is something in common with social media, nowadays. Which is also why they are partly substituting videogames as entertainment, in my opinion.

Things to consider in Bartle’s Taxonomy of MUD Players

I have been in this profession for many years and still one of the best and most used ways of identifying Players and their needs is Bartle’s Taxonomy of Players.

This was created after surveying players of MUDs, multi-user dungeons. Textual multiplayer RPGs that were played on Telnet. The taxonomy is used also for single-player 2D offline platforms. I have to still understand why. The only explanation that I have is that people are lazy. They don’t want to survey their own players.

Having said that, every game designer knows this graph:

                  Killers            |                  Achievers
          PLAYERS -------------------+------------------- WORLD
                  Socialisers        |                  Explorers

Then everyone passes to talk about the 4 Player types. There are 2 things very important to consider.

Acting and interacting

The first is the difference between acting and interacting. This is not so immediate. One may think “acting is using a mechanic while interacting is using a feature” for instance. I have heard this thousands of times.

  • Acting is to do, to perform. Is a one way verb.
  • Interacting is communicate with something. Is a two ways verb, being one of these ways stronger (listening).

If you don’t understand the difference between these two verbs, you will never understand why explorers are not achievers.

Dynamics between the types

Mr. Bartle specified in his paper that there is not a Player who always stay firm in one of the four quadrants. Usually, Players move around according to many factors. We can summarize these factors in the word: autonomy. They decide, mostly for intrinsic reasons, to switch.

When you design a game or a feature it’s important to consider the main reasons to switch and how to make that switch interesting. So that the Player who decides to do that will find always something motivating answering to that decision.

Dynamics are hard to predict when you design a game, but you can use this switch as an opportunity to create better playtest cases.

The power of microculture

I am an optimist, and that doesn’t mean that “everything’s gonna be alright”. Being an optimist means having hope that my actions can lead to better results in the future.

In the last few years, I have been perceiving the development of two spaces in the games industry (and also in music and films).

The first is the space of big corporations and companies related to them; it’s the space where serious money flows. Where the top talent works. It’s the space that right now is struggling a lot.

The second are the solo developers, the small teams, and the people who serve the minimum viable audience. This space is the one that is growing right now.

Look at the good news of the last year and a half. More than 80% of them are about some project that seems to come out of the blue. And of course, it’s not the case. It’s just that until then we weren’t part of that small audience that was following the project for months and that creator(s) for years.

I went to Retrobarcelona yesterday, a local fair dedicated to the games that made me. Arcades, pinballs, classic consoles. Craftsmanship dedicated to the IPs that still make my heart beat. People with metal band t-shirts, and a better vocabulary than the average.

I spoke with friends making more money making games for SEGA Mega Drive than they made with Switch and PS4. I met a friend who is a brilliant marketing consultant for small teams with little budget. I assisted in 2 talks of local streamers with a strong, loyal, cultured audience. I purchased books from a guy who closed his retro games store during COVID and now writes short sci-fi stories, runs a podcast, and is making a game for Dreamcast.

These realities have become bigger in the last few years. The tools to grow are there and are free. Today it’s easier for one single guy to make everything needed to run a business.

Was the other side present too? I have met a couple of friends, with exceptional talents. They were working for some of the biggest brands that landed in “sunny Barcelona”. Or they were working for investor-backed startups with huge ambitions. They either lost or left their jobs.

I am aware that my perception can lead me to the wrong reading of things, but that’s my rant for today. There are opportunities for those who are not waiting to be picked. For those who don’t use the playbook.

It’s great to have a fancy title in a corporation that belongs to the macro-culture. I still dream about it on certain days. But belonging to the micro-culture, finding and serving that minimum viable audience, can be profitable. Reddit, Substack, Patreon, Kickstarter…

That can be exciting! Not easier, you have to work a lot on it. But a concrete possibility. Something that gives me hope, that makes me an optimist.

Nuances of play and personalized game design

A game designer thinks in the players, not in the game itself. The game is a medium to deliver a playful experience.

Every game designer has some extra to bring to the players. It can be a narrative quality or a special eye for the game feel. Maybe a good reading of spaces to design levels, or the special capacity to abstract in systems.

The first important thing is to get to know it with time. The second is that in game design everything is a system. The system thinking is critical.

When we design a game, though, we design for archetypes or personas. We design for some common denominator. And then the game arrives to real people, the Players. And everyone has their singularities.

It arrives with controls, interfaces, sounds, colors, perception load, and things that are experienced on a very personal level. Each one of us is different, so nuance makes all the difference.

What fascinates me about the clear trend of technology right now, not only LLMs, is the possibility of having a personal game designer for every player, somehow.

If we focus on the real job (system thinking with a personal extra approach) there is the chance to instruct a machine to deliver a personal experience.

Is the machine capable of changing the nuance to meet every single player’s needs?

Think simply in a level balance: too hard for Peter, too easy for Molly.

What if it can be adapted to offer the right challenge to everyone?

My feeling right now oscillates between negativity and positivity, don’t take me for a blind enthusiast.

When I read how the copyright has been assaulted to train certain models, I wanted to retire on a mountain and make offline indie games using VIM on Linux.

Still, the possibility of being capable of meeting each one of my player’s tastes is definitely exciting. Because, at the end of the day, that’s my duty as a game designer.

A forest

When I walk in a wood, I focus my attention on the path and stop to admire the trees. Some of them are like monuments, they grew a lot. Fantastic!

Then I discover maybe a little mushroom that has grown during the same night. That mushroom will last a few hours or a couple of days.

I don’t give too much attention to the little herbs, the underwood that’s everywhere. It’s common behavior, I think. Still, they are an important part of the view and the smell that I get from the experience.

The fact is that the big tree exists and it’s big thanks to the whole biome which permits that. It’s impossible and surreal to think in a forest made out only of trees with no herbs.

The underwood is fundamental to the ecosystem, it’s what permits the big trees to be big in the first place. And the underwood can grow up to a certain point, that’s a quality, not a limitation.

If we want more trees and a bigger forest, we should let the underwood spread more and not cut it off just because it’s not tall enough.

Dreaming of Switch 2

Nintendo said that during this fiscal year, they will announce Switch 2. As far as I remember, this is the first time that Nintendo has put a number on the previous one. That makes me think that they will not innovate that much, this time.

But maybe I am wrong, and I imagine which improvements Nintendo can bring to their business.

The first thing is that their controllers, influenced by the competitors I don’t know, got very complicated. We passed from the cross and two buttons to 2 sticks, a cross, 4 frontal buttons, 4 retro buttons. A simpler control system will make more people want the console.

What if my Switch 2 is also my mobile phone? I would buy that. A mobile smartphone capable of running WhatsApp, and LinkedIn and making my work that is also the console I can play with my daughter. A smartphone that I can plug on my projector and play bigger.

Being a smartphone, a camera can add AR features to games.

And maybe they could try to bring back the Gameboy printer why not?

Happy 25 April, you all!

Today is a special day for the nation where I was born. 25 of April represents the Anniversary of Italy’s Liberation. It’s a national holiday that commemorates the culmination of the liberation of Italy from German occupation and the Italian civil war in the latter phase of World War II.

Today I want to dedicate a post to 3 Italians who are contributing to making a great industry. I want to share with you 3 talks that are available for free and online, that prove the Italian contribution to our fantastic micro-world where lots of people would work.

The first talk is by Riccardo Zacconi, who years ago founded King (nowadays part of Activision/Blizzard). I remember having seen this talk years ago and it made me dream about working for King.

The second talk is an interview with the solo-dev, creator of Vampire Survivors one of the top indie games of last year. Luca Galante created a simple game with lore that is not possible to understand if you’re not an Italian, but it’s SO FUNNY if you are. Clerici, Dommario, Rottin’Ghoul are all references to the Italian trash culture and irony.

The last talk is with Massimo Maietti, one of the creators of Monopoly GO! which is the last huge success in the video games industry. I like to recognize in this person something very Italian, the connection we always make with culture and history in everything we make.

What the 3 have in common?

  • They are all Italians
  • They all had to live out of Italy
  • They made success in Angloamerican environment (curiously the Angloamericans helped a lot during liberation)
  • They all came from gambling games, like me. I will always say it: gambling games can be bad to you, I respect that. But they put you in contact with something very innate in the human compulsion. It’s all about amigdala!

Happy World Book Day

Someone is claiming that AAA is dead when in fact is quite the opposite. AAA games are still driving the vast majority of revenue.

AAA development is struggling, though. I have never had the pleasure of working on a AAA game. That’s because every time I applied to an AAA company the answer was that my resume didn’t show AAA experience.

One of the good things about mobile free-to-play, instead, was the inclusion of professionals also from outside of the games industry. I had personally the pleasure of working with marketers, product managers, and UX designers coming from the world of apps, fintech, and so on. That created an explosive new opportunity where also AAA professionals come to work.

Endogamy creates struggles. Specialization is good also because it opens the opportunity for generalists, people with broader knowledge, to enter into the “game” and create disruption. Why are we often closing those new windows?

AAA development is struggling with endogamy, in my humble opinion. And mobile f2p is starting to follow the trend, too. When you have markets with high risks and high possible returns, often experience can be a setback. We need more opportunities for people with different backgrounds.

We need frogs that go deep, hedgehogs that go straight forward, but we also need birds that can see the horizon, and foxes who can spot different patterns in the forest.

A great book that demonstrates this thesis is “Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World”, by David Epstein.