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