At GDC, one of the best presentations I went to was given by Eddy Boxerman and Andy Nealen from Hemisphere Games about their indy game, Osmos. This game is the only one that I have paid for as a downloadable PC game since Portal, and to me it shares a miraculous feeling of beautiful design with Valve’s hit game. If you haven’t seen the trailer for this game or played it, go to the link there and get a quick taste. I’ll wait.
Posted tagged ‘game design’
In a gracious reference to one of my posts, Aki Jarvinen makes a great point about viral design: it can’t be tacked on at the end of creating the gameplay. Like monetization (my point earlier), virality has to be integrated in, or else what you end up with is a Frankenstein’s monster kind of game, where the discrete parts do not play well together. (more…)
In a recent Technorati post, “The End of Social Gaming As We Know it?” there’s an interesting quote from Keny Yager at MorrisAnderson: “I think we are still in the wild, wild west of the social media experiment. There is going to be one winner and 100 losers.”
I hear this kind of thing a lot. The first part is certainly true; the games industry is in a period of fast expansion and evolution — breathtaking even for an industry used to rapid change. The second part seems to be based on a lot of industry history, where there’s typically been a king-of-the-hill reality: for those games depending on retail sales, the top few make all the money, and the rest go begging. In MMOs, there was a broader base – at least prior to World of Warcraft, back when crossing the 100K player gap meant you were successful.
But there’s good evidence that social games (as a broad category) are different right down to the structure of the marketplace – they’re not just different as games, they’re differently different, requiring a new way of looking at design, development, production, funding, customer relationships, and overall commercial success. If you look at social games developers from the point of view of a standard (venture) investor, then there are likely to be one or a few big winners – companies with billion dollar valuations. But that misses most of the picture, like the proverbial iceberg. (more…)
Here’s my thesis: when you allow game design to be separate from monetization design, you divorce design from creative control – and the game experience inevitably suffers. Oddly, this separation has been the case for so long in our industry that (outside of the scruffy indie crowd) we’ve all sort of accepted this as just the way things are. Going the other route, making monetization an integral part of design, can lead to scamming your players – or to experiences they see as inherently valuable.
And unfortunately, this separation has led to a sort of ivory-tower entitlement on the part of many designers: “let me design the perfect immersive experience, and I’ll let the mercenaries deal with extracting money from people so we can get paid.” I believe this is the source of a lot of the squawking now about ethics and monetization – yes, we should behave ethically in all our dealings; but designing gameplay to support monetization is not inherently unethical! And even more unfortunately, I think it’s led us to largely forget or ignore the possibility of creating experiences for which unethical scamming is entirely unnecessary.
There were a few topics that bubbled up at this year’s GDC and in follow-up blog posts:
- The impact of social games as something more than a fad
- General disdain for Zynga as a game developer, if not as a money-printing machine
- Game designers having to confront monetization in and as design
The first is exciting; the second is predictable, deserved and unfortunate. The third is inevitable, and not nearly as unwelcome as many seem to think – I believe this is actually an important victory for game designers.
I’m going to cover this in two posts: ethics first, then monetization-as-design.
Like millions of others, I’ve been playing a variety of “social games” online. I’m struck by several aspects common to these games, including the overall poor gameplay. I think that will change, slowly, as game developers figure out what works and what doesn’t.
But what has also struck me is that these games have no “elder game.” In terms of a linear, limited form of media (book, movie, single-player game) you might say they have no third act; there is no summation or reconcilation. Of course, in an online game you don’t want a summation — you want people to keep playing! And yet, each of these games seems to run out of steam for the player experience sooner or later. You amass enough “stuff” (coins, guns, troops, mana points, whatever) and either the challenges you face are uninteresting or non-existent.
So (as always) the question is, what’s next? How can social games transform their gameplay to remain engaging to the “elders,” those who have mastered the main part of the game already, to keep them playing and (of course) paying?
Or is this the right question to be asking? Might it be that social games simply have a lifespan on a per-player basis — when you’ve done it all, you’re done, thanks for playing, bye-bye? Is it expecting too much of social games to deliver fun experiences for the new player, the up-and-coming player, and the elder player? If it is, what does this say about the staying power of social games as a genre (is faddishness a built-in Achilles’ heel?), and if not, what does that say about the current state of social game design?