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.
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.
The content of this article is also completely valid for video games.
It all starts with a market vision. We run audience research and it turns out that players want something familiar. Thus begins the data-driven development.
But, people cannot want what they don’t imagine. Some braver developers choose to experiment with daring creativity. These creatives are used to feed algorithms that try to optimize the cost of acquiring a player. We look for mass, awareness.
The necessary tension for cultural changes is not created.
What if instead, we look for the smallest viable audience? The smallest possible group capable of supporting the business. Understanding their dreams, their worldviews, and their energy.
We could discover a much larger group than we expect.
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.
I was reading the post from the CEO of Supercell and I connected it to the announcement of 20% annual growth of King’s game Candy Crush Saga. These numbers are not obtained by chance, and finding a game that lasts forever is very hard.
I remember when Candy Crush became a big hit. For the first time, I was seeing people like my mother play a video game. It was easy from Facebook, and friends with smartphones could follow the progress from anywhere. King’s real innovation was technological: the shared progress between Facebook and mobile devices combined with a trendy game.
I remember when Clash of Clans was released for iPhone and iPad. iPad had just been released and Clash of Clans offered perfect gameplay for the device. I used to work at Digital Chocolate and a team from the company ran the Galaxy Life game. Galaxy Life was a version of Backyard Monsters aimed at a wider audience.
Clash of Clans was a better-optimized version for mobile devices that was using the same base. I don’t know how much they were inspired by Galaxy Life, but there were a lot of similarities. Even in the tutorial storyline, for example.
At DChoc, during lunch breaks, I remember colleagues spending time playing Galaxy Life. The game developers themselves found a lot of fun in the game they were working on. And this for me has always been one of the signs to see for the success of a title.
The theme and our subconscious
When you hold any level of Candy Crush Saga in your hands, what you have in front of you is a box of sweets. And you know that too much sugar is not good for you. For people of my mother’s age, but also for my generation, it suggests something childish.
“You can’t eat all the candy, it’s bad for you!”
…and you spent the time sorting the candies in the box with your finger!
With Candy Crush you can spend as much time as you like playing with candies. The magic circle guarantees that you will get no diabetes from swiping all those sweetmeat. And you will not get the temptation of eating one!
When I was playing Clash of Clans, I was in an Ikea-furnished apartment, sharing a house with 3 other people. My reckless side was influenced by Northern European design. As an avid reader of fantasy literature, Vikings and dragons were one of my passions. Clash of Clans offered a light take on that theme. Little Vikings were cute and you felt that you had true power over their miserable aggressiveness. The treat was about their village, you weren’t the hero. You were their god. And the color, the clean design, and the ironic courtesy of speech somehow reminded me of those Ikea commercials. Nordic vibes!
How come people still play after so many years?
After the success, King and Supercell had the opportunity to contract talent from all over the World. Thanks to a strong base and great experience, they worked to make these services ever better adapted to all segments of players.
On the player side, however, those who have stayed longer have a sense of prestige they don’t want to lose. They feel they own their games, somehow.
Think of the players who are in the last levels of Candy Crush. They have something in their hands that the newcomer does not – they are more experienced. They overcame more challenges.
Reflect on the players who have seen Clash of Clans evolve from the first few months. They can also be guides for newcomers. They have prestige due to the fact that they are the oldest players of a game that has been since the beginning of the iPad.
Did the original creators of these games think they had these results? I think they definitely believed in their game, but something this big is very difficult to predict. We can draw a lesson from this, though: prestige in a community leads people to stay. The fantasies that can feed this prestige can be various: leadership, power, and greatness are some examples.
The Lens of Gameplay Endlessness
If we want to make a new game and our intention is to break barriers, we have to explore the world of possibilities. We have to try to identify and overcome our prejudices. I would ask those questions:
What are the assumptions that make me see the world of video games as I see it?
What could I invent to have other choices?
What technological barrier could I face to offer something new?
What is in the customs and traditions of the society that I can suggest to the Players through my game?
How can I introduce a sense of infinite progress of power, greatness, or leadership?
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.
I helped a company develop hyper-casual games for over a year.
From a pure game design perspective, hyper-casual games have been a breath of fresh air for mobile gaming. Some publishers have started publishing outlandish ideas in an environment full of best practices and mechanics that are too similar to each other. There was a serious opportunity to make great leaps forward in mechanics.
However, the hyper-casual game development process requires investing very little in uncertainties. What has been missing for me is dedication. Build a game in a week, feed the algorithm, CPI too high, out. Make another game. This type of process conflicts with the initial vision.
We can blame Apple for being so unthrifty with its business partners. And we will be right. But we must also look at the beam in our eyes. Games must be made extremely well, this is a refined craft. Players deserve well-crafted experiences, not a series of sketchy ideas. You need to offer a fantasy, a vision and care about every detail. Impossible to do that in a week.
The Deconstructor of Fun team has written predictions for 2023. I would like to give advice to game designers who will be working on the new challenges the year promises.
#1 Organic Discovery Will Be Deceased
Working for mobile games means working with two gatekeepers who are constantly changing the tables. This brings various headaches and also affects the work of us game designers.
There are always winners, and if we look at the rankings over time we see that Google and Apple reward the oldest successful games. Many try to take away their primacy, but it is difficult since they are the favorites.
The article says:
The end of discovery also means that there will be no indie breakouts from small indie developers. Instead, the indie developers will have three options.
Sell their game to a safe harbor, such as Apple Arcade, Netflix, or similar.
Join one of the few powerful game companies taking over mobile.
On this point, I have to say that they have risked quite a bit. In our industry, there are always surprises. Some indie with a vision could make a game that would be played en masse by streamers and become a phenomenon. We wouldn’t see it coming.
I never believed in the k-factor, that wasn’t science. It was pseudoscience to sell ideas internally.
Focus on games that are appealing to streamers (maybe to play together with others).
Think about releasing a PC Steam and console version as well.
For me, the present of video gaming is this. There is gaming and there are various forms of accessing it. I think this is not the only way, but it would make life a lot easier for an independent team. Although it takes investment to publish on various platforms, so it’s good to keep it simple.
#2 Publishers Push to Off-Platform Payments
From what I read, there will soon be various alternative forms of payment. This requires us game designers to contribute to the gamification of payment systems. Let’s start documenting how flows are handled by games that use off-platform payments. Gaming experiences will become a bit more complicated, so it is good to think in reward the efforts.
#3 Paid UA Becomes a Break-Even Game
This is something we have little control over. Recently we are seeing the end of the hyper-casual business. It was a market where the same players passed from one game to another at a low cost. The joke no longer works of course.
I am still convinced of the design principles behind simple games. Players have always liked simple games. In the beginning, it was arcades, today it is hyper-casual. It is always good to think in simplicity, immediacy and snackability.
#4 The Safe Harbors Get Embraced
On this point there is little to add, it seems crystal clear to me. It is good to own and study these platforms if you work on these kinds of games. Our bosses will probably do business with them at some point! As mentioned earlier, gaming streamers also play a key role here. If some Netflix game manages to attract the attention of some major TikToker, it’s obvious that there will be great returns!
#5 Streaming Platforms Move into Mobile Games – for Now…
It is clear that there is a fever for these platforms to find the next blockbuster game. This means more work for us, which is good. These platforms will have their own clear ideas on what to do, based on their experts and analysts. As a designer, my advice is to facilitate things and not hinder them. We are the facilitators of the act of game design in a team. Our efforts should be directed at realizing the visions that come from above. And this we know is very hard, it’s a huge exercise in patience for some of us. My advice? Focus on the beauty of design as a craft, not on power points and OKRs.
#6 Venture Capitalists Will Face a Reckoning
I am seeing this first-hand with a client. VCs are at a stage where they are basically not doing VCs anymore. In this moment in history VCs already want to see results before they bet on a team. We must focus on designing the shortest path to concrete numbers to achieve. At this moment in history we cannot afford to explore all possibilities. We need to make decisions incrementally on other designs that already work. For some of us, this is difficult. My advice is to find a sideline activity where we can vent our pure creativity. For example, I play music and capoeira on my spare time.
#7 You Will Get Back to the Office – Fully Remote Becomes an Anomaly
I’m not sure I agree with this, in any case the DoF guys are more experienced so I assume they are right. It is much better to solve some issue in person. And it’s easier to build new teams with presence, honestly. This 2023 I wish you more face-to-face and fewer Slack notifications!
When you study game design, you usually focus on documents and prototypes for small games. The first steps that are taught in educational centers are purely technical.
Then you are in the market without the skills that make you a professional designer. Which are not the techniques, but are those oriented toward the video game business.
Normally a team reports to one or more managers who maintain a business vision. Our role as designers is to understand how to realize this business vision. We have to think more about endorsing the product than creating something directly. Players will receive the product packed and polished. Technical skills are important, but our ability to understand the business is critical.
Personas are one of the methods that allow this communication across the whole team. I share with you this workshop that aired last Saturday. The audio is bad, but the content is excellent.
If you want to work for companies as an employee or consultant, you need to come up with frameworks that solve concrete business problems. Thinking about who will really play and how to structure a product for them requires effort and is not intuitive.
As game developers, we often focus on the wrong things which can lead to not achieving our objectives. We might worry about having the wrong team or not having enough time or money, but there is one thing that we don’t talk about enough: production choices.
In f2p, a mistake is to focus on developing development tools without first having a profitable game. For example, if you have a game with characters with their stats, you might develop a tool that allows you to update and set those statistics. But if the game itself doesn’t work, then that tool will have been a wasted effort.
In the past, it was common for developers to create an engine for a series of games. It meant investing a lot of time and money into something that hadn’t been proven to work. The development team would then focus on making the best engine rather than the game itself.
The great masters of game development have always said that the key is to focus on the game itself. The tools should be developed to support the game, not with plans for possible “plan B” games in mind. There are countless examples of games that were unknown or failed, but had great tools behind them.
In short, it’s important to focus on the game itself over the development tools. Only by doing so can we achieve our objectives and make great games.