An archive of posts tagged design.

All games should be free!

2 min read

(mobile post) Theres a debate raging over on LinkedIn about protecting the relativelyhigh price of iPad apps when compared to iPhone apps and i have to say idisagree. I got so faras: Games should be free!Why would I say this even though I derive a living from games along withmany thousands of other game developers?Because it’s entirely possible to make money from ‘free’ games with acaveat that some aspects of the experience can be embellished, enhancedor sped up at a price. OK, I suppose I exaggerated the first point but Ithink you understand the point I’m making. :)This freemium model has been proved to work time and time again but theold guard want to protect the old ways. Sadly the traditional lockedgame design is lazy as the current thinking about freemium requires justthat, some thinking. Notice I say “current” thinking as this has beenaround for a few years now. It’s proven to work and is well documentedincluding books like‘Free’ that explore the reasons why Free is such a radical price.Here are some quick examples to get youthinking: Think about items that decay over time, ultimately perishing onceexpired. E.g. 6 week ownership of a car, squad members contract Items that give you extra capacity but require regular payments tokeep. E.g., a garage that allows you to have more than 3 cars,football physic that improves your squad performance How about items that have a single use. E.g., refuel mid-race,distract referee Maybe you want to skip 10 levels of XP with your 3rd character? Jointhe game straight into the Premier LeagueI can guarantee a lot more people will play your ‘free’ game than wouldpay £5 for it. And the more of people play it, the more some people arelikely to drop you a bit of cash for some bits and that’s the beginningof a torrent.This extends into add-ons too, there’s similar evidence to say thatreleasing free DLC for a game has the effect of stalling trade-ins andalso improve up take as they increase the perceived value of your game.The hard part is getting a game that people really want to play, andkeep playing, and recommend their friends play too.If you have faith in your game design, let it free.I assume if you’re reading this you make games, do you agree with this?Is this selling you down the river?

What can we learn from location based games?

2 min read

Location based games have really taken off in the last year or so andthey’re only going to get better but do those ideas have to beconstrained to gps devices? Can you do location based game play on afixed console such as ps3?For a while now I’ve enjoyed using the likes of SCVNGR, Gowalla andFourSquare to discover new places and share tips. I’ve also enjoyed thegame side of these, in particular 4SQ badges and Mayorships.For those that don’t know about these the badges are much likeachievements or trophies you find on console and are awarded for doingsomething extraordinary such as the ‘Jobs’ badge for visiting 3 Applestores or one for visiting a pub on a “school night” or one fortravelling on a boat+train+plane. Whilst these are using rewards wereused to seeing on consoles the potential of something like Mayorships isinteresting.4SQ awards “mayor” status to a person who checkins in at a location morefrequently so you can become the Mayor of your local coffee shop, schoolyard or bar. Retailers ace jumped onto this and some like Starbucks arenow rewarding their Mayors with free real-world incentives. Just turnup, show your mayor badge and get free stuff. Imagine all those extravisits the store gets from the mayor trying to stay on top and all ofthe underlings trying to usurp the incumbent mayor. Genius!Fixed location ideas?Many of the fixed games have expansive online worlds so why not bringsome of those ideas in there too?Imagine how powerful a game mechanic this would be in a game?! Areas ofyour game map can have the equivalent of a mayor, even tracks, levels,bunkers, vehicles, avatars or anything else. Your mayor gets extra gamebenefits that they’re going to need to stay ahead of the thousands ofpeople trying to displace them.Naturally the mayorship would need to decay over time to enable newplayers to stand a chance and prevent someone being untouchable.Both mayorships incorporate the social mechanic of recalling theexisting mayor if they’re displaced to try and claim their seat back.There are some fantastic things that we can learn if we continue toexplore all aspects of our world bringing the best elements into videogames. We shouldn’t just look at other games and try and emulate them asyour naturally going to be 2nd best if you want to play that game.(this is a mobile post)

Games As A Service: Do You Really Know What It Means?

5 min read

I was looking at the schedule for Develop Conference2010 ( @developconf2010 ) to see if there was anything I should pick up on regarding game production and development and I’ve spotted a couple of tasty things that I have experience so I thought I’d jump the gun and share a little before July comes along. Some of the content we’ve seen before from prior conferences and here’s what I’velearned:Games As AService: Do You Really Know What It Means? Online games have been around for a while now and we all know the keymantra “It’s a service, not a product.” Or do we? Very often, in thehaze of development, teams may lose their focus from this truth;especially as the concept of service is not that clearly defined tobegin with. As well as fleshing out the concept of Online GameService, this lecture will provide a practical overview on how itscomponents should be designed and integrated in the production cycleto form an optimal player experience.Well, I’ve done a lot of service related game ideas lately and here area fewideas:The game is just the startIn a nutshell, the players journey with your game starts before theyput the disk in the console, download it from PSN, XBox Live, Wii ordownload and install via Steam. Your audience already has an expectationbased on prior marketing, reviews and many other means of communicationthey’ve received up to this point. They’ve probably talked about it withtheir friends.It’s true to say that the game content delivered up to this point islargely fixed, it was probably made months ago before it went throughQA, format submission, mastering, distribution and sitting on theshelves in the store. Or at least some of that process if you’re totallyonline.So as a player, you’ve waited months, saved up, bought the game, you’veplayed it through. Now what? You’ve had a fantastic time and you needmore content now! If this were a book or a film then that would beit, you’d be waiting for the sequel at some point in the future,probably years away.Thankfully we are blessed with an opportunity to maximise everyone’senjoyment and if the developer and publisher are clever, then they’llhave a whole slew of things to keep you busy and invested in the game.Downloadable content such as levels, characters, vehicles, maps, wholenew features, tracks, music, new season data all keep the game fresh andalive and are all part of the service we offer.Why is this important?So, why not just package up your game and move onto something new? Well,I’m sure you’ve slogged your guts out and put a lot of sweat, blood andtears into making this the best game it can be and you hope youraudience appreciates it. Why not maximise all of this effort and keep itgoing for longer, after all you’ve written the tools, have experience ofhow to get things in the game and your team are probably producingpatches anyway to sort out those last-minute niggles.It’s almost trivial to make this content. I’d also guess that duringthe late parts of production from Alpha through to Master Approval thatyou’re creative team have been twiddling their thumbs whilst the bugsare ironed out. Making add-on content can be a fantastic way of focusingthe team, stopping them adding stuff to the version that’s shipping andallow them to expand and maximise the experience.All of these extras help create an attachment with your game and athirst for more content, it’s up to you if it’s free or paid for; whichis a whole other discussion.Bolting on upgrades and DLC also makes it harder to part company withthe game itself when it comes to trade-in time and you’ll see lowertrade in figures for games that actively promote a long-term connectionwith the game.The ultimate serviceThe ultimate service is user-generated content, which really bindsauthors and players to the game, giving them an emotional involvementand volume of content you’ll find hard to surpass as a developer. It’salso self-promoting as authors actively encourage their friends to divein a try the thing they’ve just made, either by demoing it locally orpointing them at it so they can play at home.You’ll find UGC authors in forums promoting their content and obviouslythe game is good too (which is why they’re making content for it). Allof this drives long-tail sales of your game. For these reasons, you’llrarely find a copy of LittleBigPlanet traded in.Integrate EarlyThese are all great ideas and you really need to plan these in early asI know from experience that retro-fitting the highly modularrequirements of supporting DLC into a hard-baked mess of legacy code isa nightmare and probably one that will just be a barrier to you evermaking it happen. I’m sure many of you will have had that sameexperience and wish to leave it long behind.From an architecture perspective, everything has to be dynamicallyqueried, validated and loaded into the game. You should treat your gameas a tool or framework into which everything plugs-in, nothing should behard-coded or you’re not going to be modular enough to cope with afuture of upgrades and DLC. How can you integrate another character(avatar) if you’re selection screen only supports 8 characters? You’llneed to design expansion into your game from day 1.Away from the gameThe ‘service’ can also expand out beyond the game experience itself andincorporate regular touch points such as social networks like Facebook,mobile phones running OS like Symbian (good luck!), iPhone, iPad,Android or Windows Mobile. Here are some examples of more extensivegame amplifiers: Browser games public league & competition systems In-game auction houses reflected onto the ‘net Training your game character online then playing them on console Clans, factions, guilds Managing your team for tonight’s game News feeds into the game and out againThe list goes on and on and I’m sure there’s some things you could addto the list too.SummaryThere’s a really easy way to remember this - “The game is just thestart”. It’s a mantra that suits every occasion and reallyencapsulates what “game as a service” means.We want to engage with game players for longer, enabling them to getbetter value from the games we make, after all they’re not cheap to makeor buy. Game players and developers have a symbiotic relationship andwe should nurture it over a long period of time for both our sakes.Further ReadingDevelop Conference 2010 -Evolve -ThomasBidaux will be covering this topicGabe Newell on ‘entertainment as aservice’ - DICE 2009

What Really Defines A Social Game?

8 min read

Social Games are a bit like a ball, they’re inert when they’re in thegarage and not much fun on when your on your own*. The more peoplethere are the better the ball does it’s job and the more people havefun. Then you’re at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010! It’sultimately not about the ball but none of that fun would happenwithout it.Sound familiar? This is your game so lets explore what really defines asocial experience.*unless you’re John Farnworth.What I’ve learnedThis is a question I often wonder about as I’ve been working with trulysocial games from a number of years now and it really takes someconsideration to make sure you’re hitting a few fundamental points to besuccessful. Here’s what I think makes for a successful social game.I’ve learned a lot these last few years whilst homing in one what makesa successful social game, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to meetwith a wide variety of people who have all contributed to my world view.I know believe this is one of the contributing factors to way women nowplay more games as they are inherently more social than men and place alot more value on those interactions. All of which have been missinguntil recently.So, I’ve been for quite a few job interviews recently and I’ve beenasked “What do you think makes a social game?”Pillars of Social GamesI believe there are a few basic pillar measurements you can use to gaugewhere your game sits on the “social game” slider from, solo offlineexperience, to massively multi-player realtime action game.Fundamentally, social games connect people with each other andenabled people to have an entertaining shared experience. Thesestrengthen bonds and enable people to build relationshops.There are 3 high level examples of social gameplay: 1) Solo Offline - I play in my own world, disconnected and nothingis shared - Red DeadRedemption 2) Realtime multi-player - We share a world, doing the same thingas each other - Call OfDuty 3) Async multi-player - We play the same game separately but ourgames are inter-twined - FarmVilleTwo other principals that are compatible with all of the above: a) Competitive - we compete against each other, one of us is betterthan the other b) Co-operative - we share the same goal and share in the rewardsalong the wayAs game developers, we’ve known about this for many years and it’smoving forwards well as we explore more ways of enabling people to playtogether. Most of which has been made possible with the advent ofconnected games consoles and fast broadband.As with all game design, it’s not easy to get this right and gettingthat special something is hard work.In order to do this, we need to explicitly connect and share butalso implicitly have common ground.ConnectionThis connection is more than just the physical connection between twoconsoles, PCs or phones. This is about the players, who need to be ableto find each other and stick together. Thankfully most of this is takencare of with modern game systems such as Live, PSN and Steam but we’veyet to see this happen on Apple’s iPhone and iPad. They’ll get there oneday but they do have a tendency to take their time on anything otherthan beautiful industrial design (BritishCreativity!).A key aspect of a social game is our constant re-connection with thegame and each other. In part, it comes via the discussions we have aboutthe game, the forums we patrol, the Facebook pages we trawl.Clever designers incorporate a ‘call to action’ outside of the gameto bring people back in and raise awareness of a game on their shelf,these can be friends gaining trophies and you just have to have them,new DLC packs (even free as they pay for themselves in other ways) thatextend your  time enjoying the game. I would say the best example ofthese ‘calls to action’ are game items that expire, gifts or helprequests.Expiring items give you an impetus to come back to play the game tocomplete a delayed action or re-instate something before a timerexpires. Good examples wouldbe:![](/assets/Animal-Crossing-Dog.jpg "Animal-Crossing-Dog")**AnimalCrossing** - vendors at specific times of day or even day of month,seasons, fishing at night and fruit that goes bad. Special events onreligious festivals.![](/assets/hustle_kings_ps3.jpg "hustle_kings_ps3") **** **Hustle Kings** - a viral trophy that you can only get by playingagainst someone who already has it.![](/assets/farmville1.jpg "farmville")**FarmVille** - crops that needtending in X hours or they perish, limited time offers for 'free' sheepthat you must have, receiving a gift that I have to place in the worldbefore it expires, your friends have fertilised your crops for you andgot rid of pests.Shared ExperienceWhoah! This alone is a massive topic! Right, lets get stuck in with abig list of things we can share on a system such as Steam, XBox Live,Facebook, PlayStation Network. Each element binds us together andincreases our enjoyment We can see each other as avatars We can see each others achievements We have common friends and unique friends We share games we’ve played We can challenge each other We can brag about our success We can sit next to each other and play We can talk to each other We can collaborate on making new worlds We can join together as a team against others We can invite each other into games We can explore virtual worlds together We can lead others as a group We can give each other gifts We can step in and take over when the other isn’t around We can meet new people through new interactions We can ask for help We can grief  people if they’re hurting our experiencePretty much none of these things we’re around a few years ago and thislist is evolving all the time as the weak elements are dropped, thestrong ones survive and new things are tried.Playing a game co-operatively on a 3D enabled TV is something to beamazed at. Clever people use the technology to only show the screen to 1person at a time so we can both see a nice big picture but not have aclue what the other is doing!Common GroundThe smart teams have understood this last point for quite a while andit’s something that no piece of tech can give you and it has multiplefacets.SkillAs people playing your game, we need to be able to have fair commonground to play on. The old fashioned ways are thankfully long gone suchas the fact that it’s no fun dropping into a veteran multi-player matchwhen I’ve only just taken the shrink wrap off the box. I’ll die and I’llget frustrated and I’ll probably never play; but why should you care?You’ve got my money now but I’ll not buy anything you make. :PThe original Halo for XBox was the first game I experienced that made this work and I later went to one of their presentations at GD Conf where they explained about their skill matching systems. I believe this later went on to form the backbone of the likes of theTrueSkill system  on X360.Ensuring people have compatible skills isn’t something that’s restrictedto hard-core games were lightning fast reactions and dexterity areparamount to your success. You’ll need to understand tactics and aboutworking in a team too.KnowledgeThis is a particular point that I focused a lot on when thinking abouttrue social games. We need common knowledge too. In a similar point toabove, even if I’m incredibly dexterous (which I’m not) there’s littlepoint us competing if I don’t know where the weapon upgrades are, or howto play this new game round, the secret short-cut behind the town hallor to KEEP OUT OF THE FIRE in a boss fight (Yes, I’ve played WoW too).Social games rely on less game specific knowledge and really enablepeople to use simple things that everyone knows about to interact andconnect. We won’t have much of a good experience if there’s a massivegap between the people we’re playing with (not against) and it rapidlybecomes a challenge, that we may not enjoy. We can all understand thatplants need sunlight to grow, we know that a sheep will walk off if it’snot penned in, we know that an elephant is grey. We will get a wholedifferent experience if we have to sing an obscure song from 1976, orknow the population of Jakarta or know that you need 10,000 units of XPto be able to level up your mount.It takes a great designer to spot these things and provide elegantdesign solutions to get around these gameplay problems but when itworks, it’s a whole lot better for it and then we expect it as the norm.Social Game = Inclusive Catalyst For Shared Fun {style=”text-align: center;”}So there it is, a strapline, a byline, an X-Statement for a good socialgame. It should enable everyone to play by providing us with a commonplaying field that we all understand,  it should share our experienceand enable us to share in the experience of others and of course havefun whilst doing it; and that may be away from the game when we’retalking about it online, down the pub, in the school playground orsharing time with our families.Further ReadingNudge Social Media - a top social media agency based in London. Toby is a stellar guy and knows his SM inside out. Game Design Framework for SocialNetworks - an interesting article on the fundamentals of social game designGratuitous footage of John ;)