An archive of posts tagged lean.

Why you should use Minimum Viable Product game production

5 min read

The term Minimum Viable Product (MVP) has recently come to be usedin the world of video game production but what does it mean and how canit benefit our games and the gamers themselves, including how to get thefeedback you need.The phrase Minimum Viable Product is a product development andrelease methodology pioneered by Eric Ries as part of a long seriesabout Lean Startup companies. Its main tenet is the development andearly release of only the core of your product, allowing the marketplaceto vet and feedback on its pros and cons. While the developer still hasa roadmap of their own, risk is mitigated as feature feature has analready receptive audience and the product offering more tightly focusedwhen the core is released early and iterated upon often, in response toreal customer feedback.[caption id=”attachment_54” align=”aligncenter” width=”300”caption=”Minimum ViableProduct”][/caption]Rapid IterationThe Minimum Viable Product is dependant on rapid feedback loops andis quicker these are the more successful the iterations will be.This approach is wide spread on web-sites and browser games where thegame is effectively re-downloaded every time the game is launched, it’sbeen used to great effect on games for iPhone to produce some greatexperiences.While it is possible to take on this approach for traditional consolegames, their closed nature and long approval and release cycles can makethe feedback loop a very long process and therefore seem disconnectedfrom the community.Get FeedbackOf course, connecting and interacting with the community around yourgame is absolutely essential and is likely to require specific communitymanagement staff to be successful. I have been fortunate to work with agreat community manager and I have witnessed what a real difference thiscan make, this is a skill that is not to be under-estimated.You will need to offer simple opportunities for your audience tofeedback. It has to be trivial and caught at key moments to gain themost valuable information. The closer the feedback loop is to the game,the easier it is for the player.As a minimum consider simple 5 star systems in the game, like iTunes oreBay as they’re easy and trivial for players to give you a rating. Maybeeven some pre-defined phrases that help them communicate feelings suchas “Happy”, “Great”, “Slow”, “Dull”, “Exciting” or “More!”. Try and givethe player an opportunity for extended feedback via a short text box andmaybe hook them up with a backend web-site if possible.When to get feedbackConsider collecting feedback at key points in the game such as when aplayer has finished all of the levels, tried a new character, tried anew download pack, experienced some user generated content or evenuninstalled the game.Social Media – connect outside the gameConnecting with your audience via social media warrants an article initself but I’ll cover some basics here.The old style way of interacting with “consumers” was to wait for themto discover some forums you had lurking around somewhere, on adiscretely hosted web-site hoping they stumbled across them. Such forumsstill have a valuable role and can gain some feedback that you reallyneed to know. A certain amount of “know how” is required to use theforums and they typically contain dedicated gamers used to givingfeedback in this area.The more modern way is to go to your audience on social media sites andconnect there. Good examples include [blippr]Facebook[/blippr] Fan pagesand [blippr]Twitter[/blippr] streams where people are likely to besharing feedback about your game anyway and you need to be there,especially if you’re doing Minimum Viable Product production andneed to iterate your game.MetricsYou can take advantage of a connected game by collecting hidden metricswithin your game and reporting them back to a central repository, eitherin real-time or caching them to be sent when it’s convenient.Collect data from areas such as level start, level completion, game modeselection, use of the abort/quit game, lives lost, time played, etc.etc.Analysis of global system metrics such as Achievements, Trophies orsimilar can be used to discover how successful some areas of your gamehave been. How many people have finished the game in under 5hrs? Howmany people have collected all of the cars? How many people have playedlevel 1? How many people have booted your game (includes rentals andre-sales)?It’s possible and advisable to engineer some of your achievements /trophies to bring this information to you automatically without the needto write your own systems.All of this is valuable information you can gain without asking theplayer specifically for it.Use It!Of course you need to use the information from you’ve worked so hard tocollect or the whole process is pointless!Quit EarlyA Minimum Viable Product also allows for game ideas to be releasedinto the market to see how it responds, truly weak ideas can beabandoned early and the developer can move onto something likely to bemore successful. It’s better to remove these failed attempts rather thanleave them hanging around unattended.Of course, this isn’t an excuse for releasing poorly thought out anddull games with a “throw enough mud at the wall and see what sticks”approach as your reputation is attached to each connection you make withyour audience. The last thing you want is to be known for releasing astream of half-baked ideas.Rapid PrototypingI would say that the Minimum Viable Product concept has been used bymany game developers for internal concepts and prototypes under thebanner “Rapid Prototyping”  where ideas are taken far enough todemonstrate before a decision is made to change or abandon games atreview meetings during its lifetime,SummaryThe development approach of rapidly incorporating feedback from youraudience is here to stay and the Minimum Viable Product conceptsuits this well. Consider using it where possible in your game lifecycle for maximum success.Further ReadingMinimum ViableProduct – Wikipedia definitionEric Ries – Eric’s website with lots of great information