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Tag: research

An epic win is always possible

I was watching the Half-Life documentary released by Valve a few days ago. Right at the start Dave Riller says “I think most of us had no game development experience… There were 3 or 4 people who had actually shipped a game before”.

This story repeats over and over in the history of games. Baldur’s Gate (the first one) has a similar story. League of Legends, too.

But that was a different time, right? Nowadays, games are more complex and you need a lot of experience to make a successful game.

I discovered this game called Atomic Hearth thanks to a new friend I made here in town. It was released this year, the first game from a remote multi-national small company. They reinvented Bioshock. Huge success.

Someone tells you that you can’t be successful with juniors. Other people say that your first game cannot be a success. You need to fail 50 times, first. I often tend to believe the same things, but facts contradict me every single time.

The history of games teaches us that an epic win is always possible. Do the best you can do with the resources you have. The future is built very often by people belonging to the future. Our industry is where it is because people with no experience had their chance at some point.

The future of games

This weekend I was scrolling the infinite feed of LinkedIn and reading updates from many experts. I have to say that lately from one side there are lots of challenges. Many layoffs across the whole IT sector and people looking desperate. From the other, lots of experts are sharing their knowledge online. This is absolutely a good thing.

One of the main topic is about the future of games. Right now, it seems that everyone can make and publish a PC game very easily. But the cost of AAA games production is rising and the value perceived by the players is going down.

There is a demand/offer problem, too many games and it’s hard that the people notices you. To me, the solution should come by adopting a different perspective. Unless you have a strong IP, like Call of Duty, you cannot just make a game and sell it. You cannot afford to assume that people will come buy it. Nowadays, you should first get in touch with people, make them notice you. Then the people will eventually buy your things.

There is a trend among content creators, especially tech ones. They use Patreon to arrive to their audience. They build little by little. Play-to-earn crypto games were scam, but they were making something good: making contact with people super early. Of course, the focus there was money which is never something good to relate with entertainment. Still, I liked this very fact.

The key to me is in being able to create a strategy to go towards the people, the Players. Not the other way around. If you are making a game and then you will invest your money in marketing to spread the word, it’s very possible you join the rest of noise. It’s better to start build your player base right now, instead.

On analysis and deconstructions

In the last decade lots of satellite businesses built around the games. I have to say, especially since the boom of free-to-play, late 2012. One of them is analysis and break downs.

There are lots of services that offer data and screenshots of existing games, successful or not. A company or a private may pay a subscription to get access to those and save time in theory. Make better forecasts.

I have learned over the years that business managers hate uncertainty. Also if it is almost impossible in games to predict a success, economists and marketers hate what we game designers love the most: getting lost into a forest of creativity. Iterate, until the game is perfect. Business people prefer instead to rely on data from other companies, other contexts, other teams and follow their lead. If you want to work as a game designer for the industry, you have to deal with this bs.

I believe instead that every context is a different context. That our life is short, like very short (probably you will have around 40 summers left, think about it). It’s better to create something unique and maybe fail. Than create something that somehow already exists… and then fail!

It’s interesting to read break downs and analysis, but do not forget: those games we love are made by other people in other countries with other budgets and history. Never forget this and focus on put your own voice out. Own your thing.

MDA from artifacts to services

MDA is great to start, but as you can read on their paper it was created where the games were considered artifacts.

Nowadays many successful games are services, the model should be updated to me.

  1. considering not just mechanics, but themes and fantasies
  2. considering not only dynamics, but the journey
  3. identifying more aesthetics based on “stress relief”, “entertainment” and “engagement”

I am (not) a freakin TikToker

Living as an underdog has its challenges. I own my time, but that income is unstable. I have a pretty austere lifestyle and few expenses. And I live in a place with free healthcare and stuff like that.

Still, I need to get some extra income for bad times. That is why teaching is the first resource for me. I love to teach and I am good at it.

My target audience is students between 18 and 25 years old. And they are on TikTok. That is why I started a TikTok channel. I already hate myself, but the important thing is having fun and connecting with people here.

Wish me luck.

I don’t hate Web3

Every time I hear about web3 I feel mixed sentiments. Some week ago at a local games fair, an executive I know asked me “Why are you against NFTs?“. The fact is that I am not against any technology.

I just have my point of view, probably wrong on many points as every point of view. Today I want to expose the contrast I have.

I will always support creators

First of all, to me attacking any creator is like a mortal sin. There are people really struggling for innovation working hard every day. I admire and respect those people. They have also the luxury of playing with new toys (blockchain, NFTs, and so on). I worked for one client on a project like this and I clearly saw vision and passion. It may work, it may not. But the passion is there.

Nobody should attack the others for their ideas. I blocked very smart professionals who spend their time attacking others (including me). To me, spaces like LinkedIn are to lift others up. So, to any creator out there: go for it!

Web3 is about solving a problem

On the other side, I have my experience and my career. And what I know is that game companies are not tech companies. Tech companies create technologies to solve problems, their business is there. Games companies, instead, are in the entertainment business. In games, we use many technologies to entertain people and also to improve our business operations.

When I read things like “web3 has proven to be the revolution…” honestly I smile. Web3 means nothing for people and gamers. If they want to play a game, they run their console/mobile/PC and play. Someone plays on web browsers. They look for entertainment, not for web3 entertainment. They choose where to play, at a desk, on the sofa. Web3 offers no new places to play. So that it’s not a revolution.

Web3 is a set of technologies that can in the future solve the huge issue of payment systems and platform fees. Everyone dreams of skipping those costs, so I understand why it can be important. But consumer side, there is nothing valuable to me.

When I play a game with a progression system, a strategy, or an RPG, I already have the feeling that I own what I have inside of the game. What I have inside of a game makes sense only inside that magic circle. There is no value in bringing it outside. Some game like Baldur’s Gate 1 lets you export your character for the second chapter. And that’s cool, but you don’t need web3 for that.

As long as I don’t see any new venue to play or a revolutionary form of entertainment for the players, I will never give credit to any web3 storytelling.

Trees and leaves

When we talk about free-to-play casual puzzles, we generally hear about a predominantly female and adult audience.

However, we have no idea how many kids play the most popular match-3 games. If you notice, the narrative theme is very childish in most of them. There is a reason for that: a connection between adults and children. Adults also download games for their children, and children influence the choices of adults. It’s fun to play a game that your kid also plays, right?

There are successful puzzle games with adult themes (see Gardenscapes, Lily’s Garden, Project Makeover). But pay attention: the most popular (Candy Crush Saga, Royal Match) offer childish fantasies. The concept of reign, candies, smiles, and so on.

When you think about your audience, also think about their child version. It works like a tree: on the trunk, there are the children, and the branches are all the directions they can take in life. The leaves are the adults.

You may want to think in the whole tree if you are aiming to build the next free-to-play hit. Every adult was a child in the past, there are fantasies that still resonate with us when we grow.

It’s always good to start from the trunk if you want to have a massive audience!

Rules and worldbuilding

The success of Baldur’s Gate represents for many the triumph of things done right. It’s always nice to see that creations made with a love for art can go far.

As a game designer, I also want to join the discussion by contributing my grain of sand. Baldur’s Gate 3 has the advantage of a system of rules that is well-known in a niche of players. When we say “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” we refer to the license and intellectual property. But from a game design standpoint, it’s much more. Holding a license is not simply holding the right to use characters. It means having a significant part of the design work already done.

When you create any game, you create a magic circle that players voluntarily choose to enter. In the magic circle, they will find rules and a world that they can like or dislike. Creating rules and the world is a very important part of a game.

  • Dungeons & Dragons rules are based on the roll of the dice.
  • There are numerical factors to add and subtract from each roll. Those factors depend on the characters and the context. There is an interesting connection with the narrative.
  • The system also allows for surprises. In jargon, critical failure and critical success. In practice, things can get surprisingly good or bad. And that is how unexpected moments can twist your story completely.

Baldur’s Gate 3 also uses the Forgotten Realms setting. Imagine 2 decades ago. Some Dungeons & Dragons players create a campaign. They draw maps and create legendary characters. They decide to publish this setting so that other groups can create stories and enrich them. That is how Forgotten Realms and many other settings are born.

In game design, we call this worldbuilding. Another expensive part of our trade. Do you think it’s easy to create a world with dragons and magic that is consistent and players accept as decent? Well, it’s not. It’s very easy to get it wrong. Players of tabletop RPGs are extremely knowledgeable in fantasy fiction. They read a lot, they study a lot and it’s not easy to please them. If you meet that niche, chances are that you can also reach a massive audience.

Someone says that if 10 people are true fans of your product, your product has a chance to become a massive hit. Having a system of rules and worldbuilding already available is a tremendous advantage.

The past to get a vision

There are people who are able to read the situation in the video game industry and create a vision. This isn’t enough to create a successful game, but it’s definitely a start.

Rather than pretending to forecast numbers, they are capable of looking back.

That makes a lot of sense, actually. Whatever kind of game you want to create, study the market for 10 years now. By studying its evolution, in fact, it is possible to understand trends, errors, and choices.

This helps to trace a backward path and identify possible forks that could arise in the future!

A large part of the future audience of a certain genre will be the people who are playing that type of game today. With a few more years, but above all with a lot of knowledge that will come from the past. That will lead to their gaming choices for the future.

New Apple Vision PRO

Apple has shown that they understand that MR devices compete with traditional screens in the physical space.

They haven’t made the same mistake as Meta, of promising virtual worlds where we can meet our friends. The promise is easy to make, very difficult to execute. Also because reality always has more weight than virtual worlds, who cares? They didn’t speak about the metaverse or anything like that. They forged the new term “spatial computing”.

Apple in its typical way of communicating things offers us a simple message. Buy Apple Vision PRO and you will have how, where, and when you want all the screens you want. No more arguing with your wife about where to put the television. You can wash the dishes and have the news of the day ahead of you. You can join a business meeting without having to switch tabs to check your social media.

  • The current price is for early adopters and companies that want to explore the potential of this device, not for the mainstream.
  • I’m not sure if this device can overcome the natural instinct of the human being not to want his face covered.
  • The battery promises a duration of two hours, which seems few to me for use cases.
  • I expect a change of direction in Meta communication for the new Quest 3, now.
  • “Spatial Computing” is still a hard wording for the mass market.