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Tag: professional

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!

Let’s be honest about talent

Talent in a certain specialty is something difficult to measure. It depends on a person’s natural aptitudes, but also and above all on the context in which they can be expressed.

Very often I read job offers to find “talent”. I am convinced that in most of them there is something empty behind them. Each of us has its own characteristics and abilities. As we face new challenges in new environments, these characteristics are sought and we learn new skills. If we are in the right place and have enough maturity, we could shine. Contribute a great deal to the task, project or mission that has been entrusted to us.

This does not mean that transported to a new context we will have the same performance. I have seen countless times people considered champions of a sports team fail to achieve the same results on a new team.

Is it perhaps that that person has no talent? Is it possible to forget the talent?

Certainly some characteristics can be compromised over time. Elite players will hardly be able to surprise fans beyond a certain age. In a new context, however, they will be able to offer other qualities.

It would be more intellectually honest to announce that we are looking for the person who knows how to move in contexts like ours. Making the effort of defining well that context, first. That way, no one can feel like they’re not talented, which is generally never the case.

From today the domain redirects to this blog. From today, I have decided that I will stop freelancing while also looking for a position in companies. I believe that company selection processes discard people like me. I will not leave that door opened anymore. Too much time wasted in false hopes of finding the best project ever. The best project ever in my case is myself.

Sentendo was the name of my first startup that failed to get the right results. Now I have more experience and another vision. Today I work with clients all over the world and I have found my balance.

In Italian, Sentendo means at the same time hearing and feeling. I really like this expression, I always have. I abandoned the project years ago, but after seeing that it still resonates I decided to go back on my steps.

My added value is that I put a lot of focus on fantasy and storytelling, the foundations of any great video game to me. In the sector where I work the most, which is games as a service, this fundamental perspective is very often lost. I have developed a method and tools over the years that allow me to effectively shift focus to these key steps. With real and measurable results.

I also intend to help educated people to enter the industry as juniors. I had an idea that I presented to a couple of realities and it seems that I can activate. At the moment I’m dedicating myself to making a 10-minute video game that won’t be sold anywhere. I hope to tell you more soon.

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!

We as space of possibilities

The very fact of choosing to work in a specific sector exposes us to many possibilities.

The video game is one of the businesses where those who work are also customers of this type of product. This exposes you to so many things, some can hurt very much.

So how did I get past the 7-year lifespan average in this industry, then? Thinking about it, there is a mix of a few merits and many things that have been given to me. Things a person can’t control.

An important step is to think in the space of possibilities.

Something so dear to us designers is also present in our lives.
– if I’m developing a game there is a possibility of making a big hit. But there is also the possibility of failing to finish the game, or not getting enough profits.
– if I’m sending resumes around, there is a possibility of getting a job. But there is also the possibility of receiving a lot of rejections and not being able to get any fits for a while.

When anything happens it is because there was a possibility that it would happen.

Knowing this, instead of thinking of ourselves as characters in a story, we can look at ourselves as a field where stories happen.

What if we look at ourselves as a space of possibilities?

I am not a pawn, a knight, or a rook. I’m not even the queen.
Maybe I can start thinking I’m the game board, where various movements can happen in sequence.

Accept things as they are and, when a match ends (as it always does), just let another start. Always.

(Photo from 2007, my first GameCon fair in Naples. We were presenting a series of arcade games. I was scripting those games in Lua, on a Linux system. The one in the photo combined puzzle match with soccer)

In love with SSSnaker

This game is trending in recent weeks.

As a game designer, I always prefer to start with the basics.

The real strength of the core of this game in my opinion is that narratively it is very weird.

I know that everything comes from Archero and games of this style. But, gamers very often do not know the history of video games.

Many people who will engage with this game, in short, will not know other previous successes of the same kind.

What the heck is a constantly firing mechanical snake doing in a maze? At first glance, it doesn’t make sense.

However, the numbers speak for themselves, which is why I wonder what fantasy it awakens in the players.

The MDA framework comes to help:
Sensation: the game as sense-pleasure
Challenge: game as an obstacle course
Submission: game as a pastime

Those are the three essential keys to the beauty of this game for me. Everything else, therefore, may not even make sense! Plus, it may become a strength. Because it leaves the Players with the fantastic autonomy of imagination.

Think of the first Super Mario: it didn’t make any sense at all, because the goal at the time was not that. Nintendo was building on the pleasure of handling a gamepad and owning a console set for your home TV.

The rest was left to the player’s imagination. To some of us that shaped us, forever.

I like Sssnaker too much! The metagame is average and mediocre, though. Always the same. I know that works but how long will it last?

Looking for the smallest viable audience

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.

Perhaps these people would tell others.

Our game wouldn’t be so average.

Generative AI and game design

Generative AIs seem to be a great help for:

Deal with repetitive and mechanical tasks.
– Find bugs
– balance numbers
– create variations of a graphic asset, etc.

Speed up the process of understanding.
– Explain to me what this code does
– Read this long article and give me the best practices
-Explain the style of this image.

Getting past the blank page fast.
– I need to prototype this mechanic in Unity. Where do I start?
– I need to create a power-up system based on natural elements for the next RPG. How would that work?
– I need to make 3D models of a robot cricket, what could it look like?

On these three points, we are definitely facing an epochal change. There is no going back, rather it will move forward. We will lose specific jobs, but many others will arise. We can hardly imagine at this moment, but it will happen.

One thing I want to say: generative AIs have no taste and no opinions. We must have tastes and opinions. The idea of entrusting artificial intelligence with the responsibility of choosing and evaluating is fundamentally wrong. We can use artificial intelligence to understand more. But we have to develop our taste and our knowledge.

If I’m not a programmer, the AI could pass me code with serious errors and I wouldn’t notice.

If I’m not an artist, AI-generated images may be acceptable to my speed-hungry eyes. But I’ll have a hard time guessing what I’m really conveying to people.

If I’m not a designer, the solutions generated will be a repetition of things people have already seen in games that are certainly better than what I can do.

Looking for a better design test

A test is very often included in the selection processes for game designers. For junior profiles, without many portfolios, I find this an interesting thing. For the more senior, it is a difficult filter to check. I don’t know if I’m against or for it, honestly.

There are things good and bad in tests

In my opinion, a plus point is that they can reveal the writing skills of a game designer. It’s a key point, especially in these times when work is at least partly remote. It’s important to know how designers express themselves and how much they can be engaging with their writing.

A test also shows the reasoning ability of the designer. The problem is that it is difficult to read the reasons behind certain thoughts with the written medium. Without offering the designers the opportunity to defend their work, we will probably tend to prefer someone who thinks like us.

One thing that has always annoyed me is that there is a lot of work before the test which very often is not considered. You send me a competitor’s game and tell me that I can propose a feature and that I have a week to do it. If I’ve never played this game, studying it well will take me about a week off if I have to work simultaneously. All unpaid work, will not be used by the company. Wasted time for everyone.

But then how to do it?

Avoiding the test completely seems to be a dream. Some companies are gradually replacing it with other practices, though. If it were up to me, I would do the following:

  • Congratulations, you working with us on this project! It’s been 3 years, write a letter to your manager explaining everything you have achieved. You need to imagine yourself in this position 3 years from now. Explain in detail the steps that led you to your dream result.
  • Play game X, try to break it down, and think about what could be improved and for which KPI. Tell us when you’re ready and come to the office to discuss it with your future manager.

Maybe I’m a dreamer and this is not a process for all types of companies. But I am convinced that:

  1. You can get higher-quality information this way
  2. The traditional way is really difficult to evaluate because it depends a lot on who reads the test.

Thank you, bad managers

This weekend I was sorting out some old notes and papers. I’m one of those game designers who print documents and read them aloud. I don’t know the science behind it, but it’s a method that works for me to find redaction issues in design documents.

Like many, I have participated in countless projects that have failed. There is one common problem in my case: bad leaders. However, I feel like I’ve learned a lot. Working on a game that is later canceled or unreleased is an experience that contains a little death. Especially for creative people, those who would have done it another way. People who are constantly learning about best practices. Who would actually like to put those practices into action. People who have to adapt to a direction that too often has nothing creative about it.

You enter a vicious circle, where you get stressed. Putting the documents in order, I realize that the journey counts for a lot anyway. I hope to get better final results in the next 10 years, but I believe that even working on a hopeless project is a great opportunity. I feel I have to thank all those who have granted it to me and believed in me.