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Paolo's Blog Posts

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.

Be a professional

There was a time when companies decided if you were apt to join the games industry or not. That time is well gone.

I see a lot of messages on social networks, especially LinkedIn, by people looking for the next gig in a company. Someone is looking for the first job. Which is normal and good, LinkedIn was created exactly for that reason.

But, you cannot permit to stay at the border of the river waiting for your opportunity to pass. You have to be what you want to be first. Don’t just look for a job, do the job.

Many years ago it was impossible or very hard to do something without working for a company. Companies acted like a filter, they decided somehow you were worth or not. That is not the case anymore. You have all the material to do what you like to do. In case you have to pay the bills, there are nowadays alternatives to do that.

Be a professional first, then companies will look for you! It’s not the other way around anymore.

How to design for 1M people

Every gaming business founder wants to reach that milestone. 1M players and counting. So, how do you design for 1M?

You simply don’t. You design for 3-7 people instead. Be prepared for the growth, of course. But good design is a personal thing. Is for someone!

Who’s that someone? When you work for a company, that someone is first of all your manager. You don’t design for players, you design with players in mind. But your client is your manager.

You should first convince her!

Paternity Leave

I had a baby and I am very happy. I love her so much and met her just 11 days ago. I am on paternity leave.

Being a freelancer, this does not exist fully. I will still support my projects and make new contacts. My intention is to design a game dedicated to her. I am already on it.

With other projects I learned that is better to keep things for me until I have something that I can share and can be interesting for people. Otherwise, my energies may go in wrong directions and I can lose steam.

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”

Theme or mechanics first?

There are many approaches to game design, but the most common ones are two: “theme -> mechanics” and “mechanics -> theme”.

Sid Meyer is one of the most famous representatives of the “theme -> mechanics” approach. In that fashion, you start from a fantasy, an experience you want to offer to the Players. Then you describe all the mechanics needed to realize that fantasy. Mechanics should offer meaningful choices for the theme to be properly implemented.

Shigeru Miyamoto is a master of the other approach, mechanics -> theme. His games try to find the most engaging and fun mechanics with lots of possibilities. Those games offer surprising twists, using a Japanese technique inherited from drama: kishotenketsu. The mechanics define new in this way new themes. If you look at the most famous games, the theme sounds pretty crazy. It’s because it is defined by mechanics, not the other way around.

What about us? Should we choose one approach and go for it or look for a synthesis? That is up to you, to me the important thing is to be aware of our choice and not leave it to chance.

Game design with mandinga

There is a Brazilian word I learned by practicing Capoeira: mandinga.

Like many words from Brazilian Portuguese, its origin goes up to Africa. The original “mandingueiros” were Muslim literates who compared to other enslaved people knew how to read and write. That’s why they were considered like magicians, almost.

“Mandinga é fazer com pouco, muito!”. Old Capoeira masters speak these words: mandinga is to make a lot with a few things.

This knowledge from the history of our World can be adapted to game design, too:

  • When you have budget 10, it’s better to design a game for budget 3. Your team will thank you later. Explain mandinga to the voices telling you you are not being ambitious enough.
  • When you don’t have access to all the best talents in the World, remember that games like Counter-Strike, League of Legends, and Candy Crush Saga were not created by people with huge tracks.
  • It’s better to do one-two things very well than five-seven average. Remember that the value is in the IPs you create, not in the features you add.

Put a little bit of mandinga in your game design!

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.

Prepare the soil

You can buy a plot of land and start planting crops. You may want to build some structure and make changes on the land. You start a new business. Then you may hire farmers to take care of your land and make it grow.

The same is valid for the game as a service business. Often the people who start a game are not the people who make it grow. Often you need a certain type of people to find something new, a new land. But then you may want expert farmers to make it grow.

It’s not that people cannot do both, it’s a matter of will. Creating a brand-new experience requires the ability to spot opportunities and connect the dots. Maintaining and making a game grow requires analytical skills, instead.

Someone says that one thing is to go 0-to-1, and another 1-to-1000.

If I would start a new games company

You have probably seen something like this:

I cannot say that is an universal rule, but it makes a lot of sense to me. So, if I would start a new games company without investors, I will definitely go for GOOD and CHEAP games.

  • FAST and GOOD are not cheap. So you need high investments for those. And I would prefer not having investors.
  • FAST and CHEAP are not good. And Players are looking for quality, for motivations to play, for the right gameplay case.
  • CHEAP and GOOD games are slow to make. But if you keep the scope controlled (cheap, remember) there is a lot of space for smaller games.