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Tag: research

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.

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.

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.

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?

Review of the book “The Secret Science of Games”

I finished reading the book “The Secret Science of Games” written by John Hopson. There are very few books written by people with extensive experience and for me, they are a real treasure. The book focuses on Games Research, a discipline that deals with connecting game designers with players.

the book is live here

What I liked

John has worked on hugely successful titles such as Destiny, Halo, Fable, etc. You can feel his experience in his thought which have a clear point of view. Reading the book you understand the importance of seeing real people play your games.

Particularly interesting reflections on the importance of being quick and frugal at times to be effective. It is not always necessary to wait for a complete report. Game research is perceived as something slow and precise, but John points out that it is not science. That game design still has a creative and artistic side that depends on personal sensibilities that go beyond numbers and hypotheses.

The length of the chapters is perfect. With a coffee, you can read yourself a complete chapter. This means that in breaks from work, I read everything. The length of the book, at around 200 pages, also makes it a booklet that you want to have on your desk.

Finally, the final section on case studies is very passionate and candid. We realize the challenges of our profession and how we must never underestimate that silent part of our players. Very often we refer to online reviews and opinions, but those who communicate there are usually a specific type of player who does not represent the entire community. All are very well specified in the book.

What I’ve missed

I am quite a visual person. People in such a demanding profession as John usually don’t have all the time in the world to write a book. The result is that the book is made up of many words and no images. I missed images and diagrams in certain passages, to better understand the decisions made following discoveries in the laboratory. I would have also liked to see organizational charts to understand how to structure a team.

Another thing I would have liked to see is tips on how to do game research when you’re not Bungie or Microsoft. When you’re part of a small, independent team. When you are trying to create something well done to attract investors. I’m sure game research can be done at that stage, and you must. Game research and quality assurance are very often sacrificed, and this affects the final quality of the product.

Three quotes that I loved

“Games research lives somewhere in between scientific rigor and creative disorder”

pag. 37

“If I can’t find a quote or a snippet of video to support a statistic, I’m probably looking at the wrong statistic.”

pag- 104

“A good tutorial or hint system is one that guides the player as completely as they need, while offering them the opportunity to turn away from the path”

pag- 187

The battle between creativity and business

I was reading thoughts on the cancellation of Apex Legends and Battlefield. Every time I read these studies I’m experiencing déjà vu. There are some clear signs that can be spotted in time but are ignored for some reason.

Surreal expectations

I have often worked with business leaders who have very ambitious numbers in mind. The best way to proceed is to try to invest the right amount and analyze the results. Based on those, work to improve them. It is impossible to expect even before starting production to reach champion numbers.

Requiring people to change their favorite game

That there are some blockbuster titles in today’s market that people won’t budge from. Creating a shooter hoping people would abandon Garena Free Fire is a dream and always will be. And the same goes for so many other games.

Wanting a game to grow beyond any limit

Many companies depend on shareholders who want to see growth every year. If this growth doesn’t go as expected, the companies cancel the games. Growth is often promised by the CEOs of these companies. Too often ignoring much of the roadmap that is in the hands of developers.

Every type of game has a limit, after all. And this limit is difficult to reach in the red oceans. Overcoming it is a dream. And back to the first point.

Connect and open your mind

If you want to stay in this video game industry for a long time, I recommend you connect with many people. I take part in various Discord and Slack groups and this allows me to have a broader view of things. Sometimes simple things happen that make me completely change my paradigm.

During a casual conversation on game design, I discovered this article on how to write good GDDs.

I start with the UX when thinking about a new design. But after discussing it with the writer of this article I have changed my mind. The message of today is this:

I used to think that my client, as game designer, is the Player. But I actually have two clients: the Player and the Product Manager. My duty, during the development of a game, is to provide solutions to the Product Management so that they can deliver value to the Players through the game.

Ethan Levy

He passed me this interesting speech of his from 2018, and I recommend it to everyone.

Working in a competitive market

Working on a game that will have to enter a very crowded market, the so-called red ocean, involves a certain degree of challenge.

When you enter a market full of competitors on one side it means that there are customers willing to pay. But it means that it is necessary to solve some problems to have a chance of success.

The alternative is to look for virgin markets, blue oceans, but very often this is because some genre in question does not move much interest. We can create a first-person platform for mobile devices since none are in top200 grossing. There aren’t any because people don’t care. Sometimes it’s better to go to already populated markets, especially if we have an idea of ​​what to improve.

Take the case of Royal Match, a top-notch match-3 that was released when the puzzle market felt overcrowded.

  • The game fixed key UX issues, shortening the load times.
  • They came up with a brilliant system of level design.
  • It implemented the renovation feature very without the need for dialogue.
  • They designed very simple and clear graphics.

The result is an agile, fast game, perfect for mobile. It doesn’t matter that he entered a red ocean market, he made it because he understood his audience well.

Many teams choose to remain followers. They study a market and copy here and there, hoping to secure a piece of the pie. In the process, they don’t even understand the reason for some choices. Years go by, goals are not achieved, and people are fired.

During the job interview, you must inform yourself well about the projects.

Head-mounted based VR

In the next few years Virtual Reality is going to offer memorable experiences to the World. I am pretty sure of that, because a lot of money is being invested in the development of those technologies and the most brilliant minds are gathering to work on that.

But I am also pretty sure that the Virtual Reality based on head-mounted displays will never be as big as some tech leader is expecting. It is not because of the price of those, it is not because the motion sickness that will be progressively solved.

It is because as humans we have the survival instinct. Which is why we play games, too. We play games to improve our chances of surviving in the envirnoment. We play to improve our skills. That is basically what we mean when we use the expression “having fun”.

Survival instinct involves many things, among them keeping our body safe. A lot of us smoke cigarettes, that is definitely not keeping our organ safe. But we are doing because the damage is on the long term, so that we live in the illusion that “it can happen, but also not”.

With an headset on, instead, we are covering our eyes. Our instinct will always be to feel unsafe. That is no solution for that, apart from leaving the environment visible with glasses. That is why head-mounted display based VR will never have a massive reach.