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Tag: research

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.

Renovation Mechanic

According to the Cambridge Dictionary the renovation is the act or process of repairing and improving something, especially a building so that it is in good condition again.

Industry experts don’t stop talking about the trend of renovation mechanics in casual games. Why do they work? According to this brand new video, because they are a driver for Player progression.

Game design disciplines

Renovation mechanic is so popular across teams because gives work to all the design team:

  • Narrative design plays a critical role in delivering a memorable story
  • Level designers can use the environment to convey the story (environmental storytelling)
  • UX Designers are key to deliver a smooth experience, making the switch between puzzle match and renovation as smooth as possible
  • Systems Designers help find the right economy to support all the actions according to the Players’ session daily number and duration.

Acting for the renovation

In casual games, the act of renovation consists of:

  1. choosing a task to complete
  2. use one or more stars to perform it
  3. introductory dialogue
  4. select a style for the furniture
  5. renovation cutscene
  6. story dialogue
Town Story: Renovation Match-3 Puzzle Game

The story is usually delivered as a consequence of the act of renovation.

Repairing and Improving

Have you ever asked yourself WHY is this mechanic so popular among casual games? To me it is because those games are about putting things in order.

  • In match-3 games you put things in order, in line
  • In popper games you clean the patterns that you spot
  • In merge games you make space on the board

All those games have extra goals that consist often of an obstacle. The frustration of not beating a level for that obstacle is a driver for monetization but also of churning out, as this brilliant LinkedIn post by Yasin Hatiboğlu.

All those levers fit perfectly with repairing and improving, with the metaphor of renovation.


Last but not least, in service games for mobile phones there is something very present in Players’ minds. You have a world waiting for you that you are helping build somehow. You don’t just have a game to complete, those games are infinite.

The fantasy of free-to-play games, the aspirational aspect of those, almost always contains this: it’s your help and your choice that help build the World you have in your pocket.

Stadia and Cloud Gaming

Stadia was killed by Google. Cloud gaming is still alive and well in services like Microsoft Game Pass. Google put cloud gaming in the center, selling the idea of cloud gaming as a revolutionary platform. Microsoft instead put cloud gaming in the right place: as an added feature for a great service.

Cloud gaming is a very interesting features. I ask myself when Valve will also adopt it. I have a lot of friends with MacOS willing to play the same games with other friends with PCs. Cloud gaming would be a great add to Steam.

Cloud gaming is not the future of videogames, thou. Until now, in fact, there is not a single scenario in which Cloud Gaming offers something better than classic Console/PC gaming. Usually performances are better on console. Also, people who cannot afford best devices usually has access to worst Internet connections too. So that the market for pure cloud gaming is very small.

Cloud gaming is a feature and not a platform.

A serious doubt

The other day a friend of mine passed me this message:

Never until now have people boasted of not having read a book in their lives, of not caring about anything that might smell slightly of culture or that requires a minimum intelligence.

Today’s illiterate people are the worst because in most cases they have had access to education, they know how to read and write, but they don’t exercise.

Every day there are more and every day the market cares for them more and thinks more about them. The media compete in offering content designed for people who do not read, who do not understand, who ignore culture, who want to be amused or distracted, even with the dirtiest gossip.

The whole world is being created to suit this new majority, friends. Everything is superficial, frivolous, elementary, primary… so that they can understand and digest it.

They are the new ruling class, although it will always be the dominated class, precisely because of their lack of culture. And so it goes for those of us who are not satisfied with so little, for those of us who aspire to a little more depth.”

Jesus Quintero, Journalist, writer and presenter of radio and television programs

I work in mobile free-to-play since 2012. I started my journey in video games in 2007, dreaming of joining Bethesda, Bungie or Nintendo. More in general some company that impacted deeply in my personal life with their titles.

Free-to-play is based on a simple concept: you need a huge amount of people playing your game. For that reason, everything should be very smooth. Frictionless. We ignore conflict for the sake of keeping attention and awareness toward our service. People has to stay, everyday, with you. So that an obstacle may frustrate too much someone, and that person will go away. They will churn.

Many free-to-play games end up becoming an escuse to get people’s attention without offering any spark of culture. Without requiring any mental effort. Just come in, it is easy and rewarding!

Investments go towards those products, because they can scale dramatically. They can become profitable business. People doing game with passion, games that make people think, instead, have to fight every month to survive. To pay salaries and their bills. Maybe a YouTuber will take their game and stream it next week. Will someone simplify it for the people? Few people will invest in them, because they do not promise growth. They promise a message to the World.

My doubt today is: what am I doing?

First impressions on the new podcast by Hideo Kojima

As a great percentage of game designers out there, I really admire and respect Hideo Kojima. He has a big ego, he doesn’t speak one word outside Japanese but still he managed to introduce many innovations to the medium.

The main advantage of mister Kojima is probably also his greatest weakness. He didn’t managed to become a movie director and he adapted many things from movies and books to the games mediums.

Today the first episode of his new podcast was published on Spotify:

I like that he explains exactly WHY he helped creating the stealth genre. It is very interesting to hear his chain of thoughts. He acted like a true designer: he understood a genre (shooters or shooting games) and he had a personal tought on storytelling . Shooters of the time, in fact, had no story. No reason why to kill enemies.

Plus, technical limitations on MSX gaming system made impossible having many shots at the same time. So that Mr. Kojima, starting from a personal thought and using the limitation as creative leverage, created the perfect excuse to eliminate enemies: infiltration, heroism.

I like a lot that, before of answering the question regarding the secret of MGS’s success, first thing he says is: I don’t know. Then he starts to reason. Very humble attitude, hard to see out there.

I would like to wish huge success to this new initiative by Mr. Kojima!

Try sell this idea

A lot of skilled entrepreneurs (skilled entrepreneur = very talented seller) are convincing investors with promises of huge returns on investments coming from concepts that, on the contrary, are demonstrating to be not so appealing to the people. I am talking about metaverse, web3, play-to-earn, gamified economies and so on.

The dream of creating the perfect mousetrap where people come from all over the World to watch ads and spend many hours per day will remain a dream. It comes, in my opinion, from a huge misunderstanding of how games as a service work.

The reality is that is becoming harder and harder to create the right experience for the people. Usually it comes with a great gameplay, usually is multiplatform and usually has no barrier to start. But, I mean, there are a lot of concepts to try out that may actually work. And nothing so fancy, something very simple.

Think in Among Us and its big success during the pandemic. Think in Bit Life, a game made just with text that breaks all the best practices of f2p.

Games like those cannot be proposed to investors, because one has to be honest. One should admit that we know very little things about the future of our industry. The things we know for sure are:

  • We need to create more value for the Players
  • We need to think in a vast geographies, not just rich countries
  • We need more talent to join the industry

Is it possible to really sell this idea to an investor? Is it really possible in an environment where too often we hear words like “growth” before of even write the first line of code?