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:
You can get higher-quality information this way
The traditional way is really difficult to evaluate because it depends a lot on who reads the test.
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?
I bounced on this post by a famous French publisher. It is focused on curiosity which is a strong motivational driver:
The point of this post is that Players will be more willing to watch an ad for the reasons at the bottom than for those at the top. Adding a different visual look for the reward after the video ad is enough to give the Players curiosity. Improving the stats (top line), instead, has probably fewer chances to convert a Player because it is giving power. I have two questions here:
What happens when the Players understand that all vehicles are skins (and they will)?
What happens when the Players understand that more speed means higher challenge?
Intuitively, it depends a lot on the gameplay you have and your economy base. For a single player endless runner having a new vehicle can be cool, while improving your speed can cause some extra challenge you maybe don’t want. But in a multiplayer RPG game having 50% more speed of course is a huge improvement.
Trying to evaluate a game in terms of skill, luck and stats is the first step to design a good economy (thanks D. for reminding me that, the other day).
A game offers a fantasy to the Players
On top of that fantasy, Players may perform a set of actions
Those actions should be oriented toward goals
In order to reach the goals, the Players have to engage with mechanics
Mechanics are based on those three elements: skill, luck and stats
Based on that, you can design the game’s economy properly
On top of that, rewarded videos can offer meaningful value to the economy
On the short term, playing with curiosity is a great idea
For the long term, instead, Players that stay more will need more prestige inside of the game!
If you impose your view too much times, I will probably give you reason. I will not fight for my ideas. It is better to support yours, if you are the leader.
Still, I will probably have a bit more of experience designing games. Also if you will probably have more experience in managing a company. I will say you my point of view once, maybe twice. Then I will accept your, no matter what.
Maybe you were right and I am wrong, maybe you lost an opportunity.
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 main problem with the vague concept of Metaverse is that it is an experience without a central point. This year I saw the presentation of many metaverses online. All promise exploration in a three-dimensional virtual world with personalized avatars.
While exploring, you can generally meet and interact with other people. Specific content can be accessed, depending on the metaverse. Sometimes it’s about listening to music. In some other cases, you can visit museums.
And so what?
There are no reasons enough to involve people. A video game has goals, obstacles, rewards, and so on. Generally, a video game also offers the elements of a metaverse but in higher quality. These elements are created around a concrete gameplay experience, not around “whatever”.
This also allowed people to meet and ignore the rules of the game. See the case of GTA and Fortnite. When a video game is successful can also become a meeting point for people. A platform through which a brand can choose to invest in the promotion of its products.
The same argument doesn’t work the other way around. It is absurd to think that people install and frequent a virtual space without any purpose. It is necessary to think about which concrete experience to offer the player.
In 10 years maybe it will be possible to switch from one game to another without too much waiting and navigating the menus. This would be a step forward that would make life easier for hardcore gamers. But the change is always due to a desire to face a certain type of challenge and live a concrete experience.
Sometimes it seems that the dream of some marketers is to trap people in a space where they can be bombarded with advertising. This doesn’t work and never will. The human being has its limits but is capable of recognizing easy tricks. Especially nowadays where everything is connected and opinions spin and influence people.
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!
I had time to think about my future. And yet I have not come to any conclusion!
Being a consultant is great but very stressful. Being employed is less stressful, but also less beautiful. My career has been oriented towards free-to-play mobile. New frontiers of video games are being opened. AAA game companies are taking an interest in data oriented game designers. AAA are the games that interest me the most as a player.
Many experts are pointing out the challenges of free-to-play to find new players. Free-to-play is based on the frantic pursuit of whale players. People capable of spending large amounts of money in order to have more power in the game. These people however join games that are very successful among free players. That would be the players who play without spending a cent and that consist of more than 90% of Players. Quick math, you need a LOT of people playing your game. And those people is not cheap to get.
The result is that there are a number of best practices that make free-to-play mobile games all the same, by genre. Open any puzzle game and it will probably have the same characteristics as the others. People are tired of seeing the same thing over and over again.
The hyper-casual trend is dying because its business model is no longer sustainable. Apple took countermeasures against Facebook and destroyed the UA strategies of those games. However, the development process that requires a quality video game has become redundant.
While on the one hand they offered original ideas, on the other they didn’t devote the necessary efforts to create unique experiences. The important thing was to fit into the equations on CPI and D1 retention and that’s it. The vision, the underlying fantasy, the actions, the objectives and the economies were literally sketched out. For me, that was the real reason why the system didn’t work. It’s obvious that people like to see new games that are fun and easy to use. But it’s also obvious that people want to have well-made games!
I hope this 2023 to contribute to this point: create simple but well made games!
As we approach the end of the year, clients always become more demanding. I am afraid that I will have no time to post for a while since we have important deadlines to reach.
This post is to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
From February I will have two days a week that I can dedicate to some new clients.
My specialty is mobile f2p, but I’m definitely a very versatile game designer. If you need to transform your creative vision into a successful game, don’t hesitate and contact me! System, level, narrative, and UX/gameplay design. One person, multiple skills!
(The tariff is the right one to balance the loop described in the diagram below)