Choices = Headaches

The fact that you have to choose between nine different ways of turning off your computer every time just on the Start menu, not to mention the choice of hitting the physical on/off button or closing the laptop lid, produces just a little bit of unhappiness every time. – Joel Spolsky. More Joel on Software: Further Thoughts on Diverse and Occasionally Related Matters That Will Prove of Interest to Software Developers, Designers, and Managers, and to Those Who, Whether by Good Fortune or Ill Luck, Work with Them in Some Capacity (p. 100). Kindle Edition.

Applying a Thinking Fast & Slow concept, I wonder if Loss Aversion plays a role here. If you have to make a choice, then you wonder if you didn’t make the best one. Therefore don’t you feel a “loss” at possibly making a bad choice? If so, it would be doubly true for computer novices who understand enough to recognize the options, but can’t evaluate them. I think this is past Microsoft Vista telling you that you’re stupid – instead they’re trying to prove it.

No wonder Vista failed in the marketplace.

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Steam Dev Days – Data to Drive Decision-Making

Steam Dev Days – Data to Drive Decision-Making by Mike Ambinder, Valve

How and Why Valve uses data to drive the choices they make

Mike is an experimental psychologist – takes what he knows about human behavior and applies it to game design.

Data to Drive Decision-Making

  • Decision-Making at Valve
  • Introduction to experimental design
  • Data collection/analysis infrastructure
  • Examples: LD4, DOTA2, CS:GO

Decision-Making at Valve

  • No formal management structure
  • Decision-making is meritocracy
  • All data is available for every employee
  • We just want to make the best decisions possible
  • We don’t want it to rely on ‘instinct’ -> it is fallible
    No centralized command hierarchy – as such decision-making is a meritocracy. [Huh? Who, what, how without linkage. What about regression to the mean? How is “merit” determined? The more times I hear this, it seems shockingly political. “Spending lots of time making good decisions” implies to me that there is some rubicon to evaluate them. How is that not a political process?] All data is made available with the exception of employee compensation. By instinct he really means let our biases run amok.

Decision-Making

  • Explicit
  • Data-driven
  • Theory-driven
  • Measurable Outcomes
  • Iterative

Explicit

  • What problem are you trying to solve?
  • Define terminology/constructs/problem space
  • Ask the ‘second’ question
  • Force yourself to be specific
  • Force yourself to be precise
    ‘Second’ question -> “What do you mean by that?” It’s a technique to dig into something to make sure comprehension happens, that you’re specific and precise, that there’s consistent logic and supporting data.

Data-Driven

  • What do we know about the problem?
  • What do we need to know before we decide?
  • What do we still not know after we decide?
    Need to know what you know – and what don’t. Being honest with yourself about that is important.

Theory-Driven

  • What does the data mean?
    ** Is it consistent with expectations?
    ** Is it reliable?
  • Model derived from prior experience/analysis
  • Coherent narrative
  • Prove a hypothesis right (or wrong)
  • Want result AND explanation
    Behavior during a Steam Sale is different than not, so make sure you consider that. Have sufficient confidence in your data using statistical analysis. You want to have some “intuition” about why something happened. A narrative. [Odd choice of words that…] Even if you don’t know for sure have at least a hypothesis for what’s going on – and then set out to prove it correct or wrong. The goal is to make smarter decision in the future.

Measurable Outcomes

  • Define ‘Success’
  • How will we know we made the right choice?
  • Know the ‘outcome’ of your decision
    Know what success is for every decision you make. If your decision is loosely tied to customer actions – how do you know it was a good one? Measure the outcome of your choices.

Iterative

  • Gather Data
  • Analyze Data
  • Formulate Hypothesis
    Data from one game informs decisions in other games. “TF2 is a test-bed for DOTA2, and vice-versa.”

Introduction to Experimental Design

  • If it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth.” – Carl Sagan
    We all want to be right all the time. Valve would rather be accurate than right. They want estimations of how reality is to match what reality actually is.

The Scientific Method Cycle [YAY!]

  • Theory – use the theory to make a prediction
  • Prediction – design an experiment to test the prediction
  • Experiment – perform the experiment
  • Observation – create or modify the theory

Experimental Design

  • Observational
    ** Retrospective vs. Prospective
    ** Correlational not causal
  • Experiment
    ** Control Condition and Experimental Condition
    ** Account for confounding variables
    ** Measure variables of interest
    Try to eliminate external influences.

Experimental Design (Part 2)

  • What have we learned?
  • What biases are present?
  • How are future experiments informed?
  • What other hypotheses need to be ruled out?
  • What should we do next?

Data Collection/Analysis Infrastructure – Valve Data Collection

  • Record lots and lots (and lots) of user behavior
  • If we’re not recording it, we’ll start recording it
  • Define questions first, then schema
  • Collection -> Analysis -> Communication
    Always willing to spend engineering time to get the data to answer the questions they have. They never regret that. It doesn’t mean they’re always right – but they’re always smarter. Once you have the data you need to have an idea of how you’re going to share it.

Data Collection – Games

  • OGS – Operational Game Stats (?)
  • Platform for recording gameplay metrics
  • Kills, Deaths, Hero Selection, In-Game Purchases, matchmaking wait times, Bullet trajectories, Friends in Party, Low-Priority Penalties, etc.
    They records “everything”.

Data Collection – Games (2)

  • Organizational schemas defined for each game
  • Data sent at relevant intervals
  • Daily, Monthly, Lifetime Rollups, Views, Aggregations
    [These data collection examples are Valve games only. There’s no Steam provisioning for this sort of metrics collection. I wager there are partners who’d want that.]

ValveStats

  • Disseminate the data using Tableau
  • Examples:
    ** Account First Purchase
    ** Chinese Users Performance
    ** DOTA Heroes
    ** DOTA Item Balance
    ** DOTA Matches
    ** DOTA Geographic Purchases
    ** DOTA Item Purchases / Drops
    ** DOTA Sales by Currency
    ** DOTA Weekly
    ** DOTA Performance
    [Charts are really hard to read, so no scale or value data readable. Probably available elsewhere if required.] Have 200 separate workbooks, about 800 pieces of analysis.

Data Collection – Steam

  • Steam Database – Raw data
  • SteamStats Database – Analysis/Summary of raw data
  • Record all relevant data about Steam user behavior
    [Screenshot of SteamWorks Product Data screen at 24:19] He made an interesting comment about if ARPU or ARPUU are good metrics to use. [Seemed to downplay their significance. Not surprising given the Trade System examples and free user monetization strategies that they use.]

Valve’s Game Design Process

  • Goal is a game that makes customers happy =>
  • Game designs are hypotheses =>
  • Playtests are experiments =>
  • Evaluate designs based off play test results =>
  • Repeat from start =>
    We are very poor proxies for their customers. They don’t know if something actually works until they put it in front of people who are not them.

Playtest Methodologies

  • Traditional:
    ** Direct Observation
    ** Verbal Reports
    ** Q&A’s
  • Technical:
    ** Stat Collection/Data Analysis
    ** Design Experiments
    ** Surveys
    ** Physiological Measurements (Heart Rate, etc.)

Example – Left 4 Dead – Enabling Cooperation

  • Coop Game where competing gets you killed
  • Initial playtest were not as enjoyable as hoped
  • Initial playtests were not as cooperative as hoped
    ** Players letting their teammates die
    ** Ignoring cries for help

Enabling Cooperation

  • Explicit: Players letting teammates die
  • Data-Driven: Surveys, Q&As, high death rates
  • Theory-Driven: Lack awareness of teammate
  • Measurements: Survey, Q&As, death rates
  • Hypothesis: Give better visual cures to teammate location
    Improving the visual queues caused deaths to go down by ~40%. [Duh. The previous version was clearly inadequate.]

Results

  • Survey rating of enjoyment/cooperation increased
  • Anecdotal responses decreased
  • Deaths decreased
  • Iterative: Where else can visual cues aid gameplay?

Example – DOTA 2 – Improve Player Communication

  • Explicit: Reduce negative communication
  • Data-Driven: Chat, reports, forums, emails, quitting
  • Theory-Driven: No feedback loop to punish negativity
  • Measurements: Chat, reports, ban rates, recidivism
  • Iterative: Will this work in TF2? Do these systems scale?
  • Hypothesis: Automating communication bans will reduce negativity in-game.
    They had data which suggested that they had a problem. The (early-on) only significant predictor for why a person would quit DOTA was being in a game where a player had been reported for abusive behavior. Rewarding positive behavior is a different axis. The way it works (38:09) is the player gets a report player dialog which categories the report (i.e. Communication Abuse) with a free-text more information box. They also get a Thank You dialog which specifically tells the player that Valve has taken action against another player and that they have another (note singular) report to use. Players have a weekly quota of reports. [Both of those are really interesting feedback loops. I’m not coming up with any other games which do this? Every game I can think of specifically does the opposite of this.] They take away the other players ability to chat scaling from a day to a week depending on severity and frequency of bans.

Results

  • 35% fewer negative words used in chat
  • 32% fewer communication reports
  • 1% of active player base is currently banned
  • 61% of banned players only receive one ban
    [Missing is what this has done to quit rates.] They balanced the word list to stay around the 1% mark to avoid overdoing the banning. [Not stated is how many reports for a particular player are required to automatically ban a player.]

Example: CS:GO – Weapon Balance

  • Explicit: M4A4 usage is high; few choices in late-game
  • Data-driven: Purchase rates
  • Theory-driven: Greater tactical choice => Player retention
  • Measurements: Purchase rates, playtime, efficacy
  • Iterative: Inform future design choices
  • Hypothesis: Creating a balanced alternative weapon will increase player choice and playtime
    The M4A4 was too popular – 80% of players. Could be good, but wasn’t sure. They introduced the silenced M4A1 which split evenly with the M4A4 purchasers.

Results

  • ~50/50 split between new and old favorites
  • Increase in playtime
    ** Conflated with other updates
    ** Difficult to isolate
  • Open question as to whether or not increased weapon variability increases player retention

Where Can You Begin?

  • Start asking questions
  • Gather data – any data
    ** Playtests
    ** Gameplay metrics
    ** Steamstats
    ** Forum posts/emails/Reddit
  • Tell Valve what data you’d like them to provide

Contact Info

  • Mike Ambinder
  • mikea AT valvesoftware.com

Question: How often do you get to isolate a single change?
We play as much as we can as often as we can. Twice a week, twenty people, for longer than a year for L4D. It’s going to be messy sometimes. You need to be aware that the data you have isn’t representative of the population at large.

Question: Data-driven approach to avoid mis-steps.
We make mistakes all the time. The way the company is designed makes that ok. They did not realize the customers had an expect ion. Now they have more informed policies about holiday events in the future.

Steam Dev Days – Embracing User-Generated Content

Embracing User-Generated Content by Tom Bui, Valve

Overview

  • Why User Generated Content (UGC) is important
  • Examples from the Steam Workshop
  • How to get started
  • Rewarding your content creators

What is UGC?

Content created by the community for the purpose of personalize or adding value to your product. [Duh.] Two axis for characterizing UGC:
* Aesthetics vs.Behavior
* Parameterization vs. Creation

UGC is a service

  • Provides ongoing value to customers
  • Exposes new ways to play your game
  • Gives customers a voice
    Supported by both you and your community. A vision of your game not bounded by just your resources.

You need UGC

  • The community will make your game better
  • Beat the competition
  • Customers will experiment
  • See what works
  • Change direction if necessary
    Games that embrace UGC will do better than ones which don’t.

Example – DayZ

  • Started as a mod of ARMA 2
  • ARMA 2 sales skyrocketed
  • Officially became a standalone game

Any game can benefit

  • Multiplayer & Single-player
  • Big & Small
  • All Genres
    Examples: TF2, Skyrim, DOTA2, Don’t Starve, Dungeon Defenders, Prison Architect, Drunken Robot, Duke Nukem 3D. If the customer’s love your game – they’re going to mod it.

Example #1 – TF2

Supports:
* In-game cosmetic items

Order of operations:
1. Content creators upload their files to Steam Workshop
2. Community reviews & votes.
3. TF2 Dev team vets.
4. Made available by purchasing or by playing the game.
One of the main reasons Valve built the Steam Workshop was so the community could review the items before Valve did.

Metrics

  • 25% revenue share: Content creators receive 25% of the revenue from the direct sales of an item.
  • 7,850 items in Steam Workshop.
  • 514 items in TF2.
    The compensation has improved quality dramatically.

Example #2 – Skyrim

Supports:
* New Weapons
* Custom Quests
* Gameplay Modifications
* Texture Updates
Centralized mod distribution and made it easy. [Man, no kidding.]

Metrics

Holy Camoly!

Are they counting Bethesda DLC purchasers in that number? Seems really high. Shockingly so.]

Example #3 – Don’t Starve

Supports:
* Language Packs & Tutorials
* Unique Characters
* New Items
* Gameplay Modifications
* UI Mods
Particularly good support for game personalization.

Example #4 – Counter-Strike:Global Offensive

Supports:
* Maps
* In-game Items.
Solved centralized place for map distribution problem. The Steam Workshop integration is on the Game Server side with guaranteed auto-updating.

Items follow the same model as TF2 with community moderation. Over 20k skins.

Example #5 – Killing Floor

Supports:
* Maps
* Characters
* Weapons
Used a top-rated content strategy but bundled into specific DLC.

Example #6 – Red Orchestra 2

Supports:
* Custom maps
* Mods
Used a contest with a $35,000 prize pool – twice.

Example #7 – Portal 2

Supports:
* Custom maps
Super easy map editor has resulted in over 381,000 maps. Over 3.5 years of non-stop gameplay. Interesting many top rated maps were not created by the easy-to-use tool. [Hmm…]

Example #8 – Source Filmmaker

Supports:
* Maps
* Models
* Animations
* Effects
Makes posters, movies, and comics. Used to promote other UGC

Example #9 – Garry’s Mod

Supports:
* Unique Characters
* New Items
* Gameplay Modifications
* Language Packs
* UI Mods
It’s seemly sole purchase is to create more UGC to share with other players.

72 products integrated with Steam Workshop as of 2/11/14

Getting Started

You should start right now

Steam Workshop

  • Searchable, centralized repository
  • Hosting, infrastructure & management
  • Rating, favoriting, sharing, etc.
  • Continual support & new features
    [The hosting thing is a big deal. Interesting, the revenue split is much more akin to Amazon’s Kindle revenue share rather than Apple’s App Store one. There’s a HUGE difference between 25% & 70%. Yet aren’t both “stores” doing basically the same thing? Is the API add-on & Steam client that much of a value add? (Now granted search in the App Store – Oy vey.)

Start with what you have

  • Start small
  • Keep it simple
  • Iterate
    Focus on one type of UGC and expand from there. Swallow your pride and get started.

Don’t limit opportunities

  • Dynamic range > ease of use
    Buttressed by the fact that the best Portal maps are done in the more complex and rough Hammer editor instead of the easy-to-use one. More power in the hands of the user is the right choice.
  • Allow free form submissions
    Allow users to tell you what they want in the game
  • Embrace external tools
    Examples: Java MD3 Model Viewer. SimPE Editor (Sims Package Editor).

Share Your Resources

  • Assets
  • Source Code for Tools
  • Data
  • Documentation
    [Can this be “safely” done in the App Store? They’re likely to do it anyway – but that just makes it faster.]

No Documentation?

  • Set up a wiki or point to Steam Guides
  • Let creators help you
    Centralize and support it as much as possible. [I like this.]

Iterate and Improve – Incorporate feedback

Learn from your customers

  • What are they trying to do?
  • How do they want to play your game?
  • Which tools need the most work?

Iterate Deliberately

  • Improve your tools where necessary
  • Or, support community that is doing it for you
  • Expand to new types of content
    The opportunity cost of letting the users give you UGC early is worth it.

Feature mods in-game

Make the lives of your UGC consumers easier. Ask users to vote and use that to figure out what the best content is. Make it all seem like one seamless experience.

Rewarding Creators

Encouraging top quality content

Build toward money

  • Financial compensation for creators is critical to ongoing quality content.
    [How can you do with code changes to tools?]

Run contents

  • Offer prize money to top-rated content
  • Ship winning content to all customers
    Works well on an intermittent basis

Release as DLC

  • Bundle up some top content
  • Polish/Optimize and sell as DLC
  • Pay the creators a share of the sales or flat fee
    [This would work in the App Store as an IAP. Is there some reason why this isn’t already happening because of the ToS?]

In-game sales

  • If you have an in-game economy
  • Accept items created by users
  • Sell them in-game
  • Pay the creators for a share of sales
    Steam Workshop does the creator pay-outs for you. Customers tell the developer AND the creators which one they like best with their dollars.

Service Providers

  • Tool vendors support TF2 item creators
  • Communities support item creators
  • It’s in everyone’s interest to support those vendors and communities
    [Blizzard is falling down on this. Why?] 5% of Steams share of the revenue go to tool vendors (i.e. Service Providers.) Examples: Polycount, Handplane, Blender. [O_o. Did not know… This further cements Valve as the games to build your portfolio in.]

Just the Start of UGC

Everything that users create that adds value to your product [sic]

UGS is everything

Conclusion

  • UGC makes your game more valuable
  • Steam Workshop can help
  • Start now and grow your community
  • Think outside the box

Question: How do you protect yourself from theft?
Valve doesn’t worry about that. Source code itself isn’t the value, it’s the developers. Used HL2’s source code release as an example. The people provide the value. Your execution.

Question: Do “unofficial” servers which bypass item rarity restrictions damage value?
No. The value is derived from the community on the “official” servers. Aka Monty Haul syndrome.

Question: Different Steam Workshop integrations – one with revenue share and one without.
Documentation isn’t done yet.

Question: How do you verify copyright for UGC?
Valve has a DCMA process. The community does a fairly good job of moderating the content themselves via down-voting and reporting.

Question: How do you deal with multiple play locations – not just on Steam?
Skyrim does already support this. There’s no Steam restriction on play here. [Non-answer.]

Question: What do you do to prevent backward compatibility breaks of UGC?
Some “partners” use beta branches of their games. They’ve invited those top moders to test them. [Pretty weak answer really. A more complete answer is you have to design your game to not do BC breaks unless absolutely necessary. Welcome to legacy software support – aka software as a service – aka online games. But that’s not something “game” developers want to hear and he was in partial sales mode.]

Question: How do you get internal artists to buy into UGC more?
[Got him to laugh, so clearly this has arisen.] They had this exactly problem on DOTA2. The community proved that it could do it. As artists, they loved that, so they took more of a Art Director role instead.

Question: Aren’t you giving up control over your art aesthetic?
They did have that concern for TF2 and DOTA2. That’s why they have a curated model for the Workshop. They maintain veto authority. [Duh.] It is giving up control, but that’s OK. [It’s right on that point which Blizzard has the most resistance, even though they support mods. They do not incorporate UGC into the shipping product. Allowing users to add it into their game via StarCraft2 Arcade is really as close as it comes. Even then, that only just got “turned” on for everyone just recently. Curious to see how that works out long term. Also note, no shared financial renumeration at this time.]

Question: How do you handle the security aspects from a malware perspective?
Give nodders as much control as possible but sandbox them in such a way that they can’t affect other players. Example: Lua can be sandboxed to project the base-OS. Another approach is up-vote/down-vote as another (suboptimal) approach.

Question: Long term concern, how does this scale to 1,000 games with a more diffuse contributor/creator-base? DOTA2/TF2 has a bit of a gold rush at the moment.
Not concerned because there’s a lot of great content creators out there. Only tapping a tiny portion of them. Follow up question, using Pinball Construction Set as an example where nodders got burned out. [Steam, and other centralized locations on the Internet, address that issue. It’s really a non-sequitur to bring up a game from before the Internet, especially in todays market.] They gained more artists as they add more Workshop games. They’re not seeing (many) artists migrate from one game to the next, because they have a favorite game. Professionals will optimize for their own personal revenue, but there are many who do it because they love it.

Question: How do you monetize maps without segmenting the community?
CS:GO took community maps and put them on official servers which cost money to play on. They gave 100% of the proceeds to the map creators.

Steam Dev Days – In-Game Economies in Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2

In-Game Economies in TF2 and DOTA2

Focus on making your product better.

Use Micro-transactions and economic systems to improve the customer experience. Just using them to extract value will fail.

Part 1 – Lessons Learned & Recommendations

Recommendation #1 – Focus on Persistent Customer Value.

They have to be able pass the “regret” test. If it comes at the cost of customer happiness, don’t do it – even it means that someone might not become your customer. You’ll get them later once you figure out how…

Regret Avoidance Tools

  • Communicate clearly up front (Store front & checkout)
  • Maintain that value over time (Game Design – i.e. Trade Systems)
  • Metrics tracking of customer usage (Back-end systems)

Regret Generation Tools

  • Artificial barriers in the game. Clearly there to extract revenue and provide no service to the customer – aka every appointment-based F2P game ever.
  • Virtual Currencies which obfuscate value.

Recommendation #2 – Positive Externalities

More players spending more makes for a more positive gaming experience. Systems which cause you to have more fun, because someone else spent money. Improve the quality of the game for everyone. Used to evaluate existing designs and as a starting point for new designs.

Recommendation #3 – Make Everything Tradable

Trading makes every item and system in existence more valuable to more people. Every system which interacts with trade becomes more valuable as a result. Trade can become a positive thing for everyone involved – because two customers are interacting together.

Recommendation #4 – Distribute Value Randomly

Random distribution is another tool to generate player engagement and concrete value. Other games use “static” distribution systems with fixed reward schedules based on parameters like time played. That limits what you can offer as a designer. Via random, item values can be dramatically different.

Recommendation #5 – Let Users Make Value for Each Other

Enlist the Internet to fight to make your product even better. Some are amazingly good – use the players of your games. [Valve does this really well…] If you don’t allow them to do so, they’re going to improve someone else’s. [From a hiring perspective, a game company should aspire to be the “reference” standard for portfolio pieces that students produce in school. Valve is well on their way here…]

Reward people financially relative to the value that they contribute and/or generate.

List of possible targets:

  • Comics
  • Movies
  • Animation
  • Tutorials
  • Community
  • Leagues
  • Crafting
  • Trading
  • Moonbase (?)
  • Modeling
  • Gifting
  • Maps
  • Levels
  • Mesh Content
  • Organize groups of like-minded people

Part 2 – Individual Case Studies

Case Study #1 – TF2 Gifts Data (as of 2/1/14)

  • Sent Gift: 1,067,399 accounts
  • Received Gift: 1,841,051 accounts [ratio is closer to 1:1 than I would have expected…]
  • Big gift bundle: 10th highest lifetime revenue generator
  • Current leaders: 12,355 gifts given
  • Given over 1,000 gifts: Over 140 accounts

Attributes:

  • Impetuous – what is something that you can buy which causes me to start celebrating when you make that purchase? What is a system which can generate positive externalities (Recommendation #2)
  • One time consumable.
  • Everyone on the server gets value from your action.
  • You get no direct value.
  • You get social recognition.

Case Study #2 – TF2 Crates & Keys

Attributes:

  • Impetuous – Let players opt-in to random distribution system. This was an experiment to find out if players where interested in spending their money to do this.
  • Most negative feedback around store launch
  • Perception problems:
    ** Capitalize on poor judgement
    ** Maximize revenue extraction
    ** The community ascribed intentions to their actions. Opposite of Recommendation #1.

Follow-on Actions Taken

  • Remove ability to hard-lose real currency on open [What this means is that the items you could get from the crate were worth less than the what the key cost to open. This provoked more negative emotion than positive because the loss generates more than gain. Basic Psychology 101 error… Established a clear rule that the items had to cost more than the key – eliminated the possibility for loss to occur (because trading exists.)]
  • Put users in a situation where they had random chances – not gambling [in the Vegas sense.]
  • Add variety: more types, more contents
  • Add value: common items from crates add rarity-agnostic services. (i.e. crate guns provide gameplay tracking statistics that regular ones don’t.)
  • Participation is higher. Increased community engagement. If they don’t ship crates fast enough, users get angry.
  • “Better is not “done”

Conversation Rate

  • 13% Purchased
  • 15% Opened
  • 75% Owned Item
    This isn’t that useful and potentially damaging. 3 out of 4 people are generating demand and consuming content which comes out of the crate system. The trade system allows Value to effectively monetize free players, because they generate demand for goods which other’s purchase – even if they never spend any money. Everyone along that chain is happier as a result of completing those transactions.

Random Distribution and Trading

Use valuation differences to generate revenue for you and your players, all the while making players happier. Trade combines with random distribution systems in a way which is beneficial for everyone. “Incredibly positive.”

[OK SERIOUSLY.] “Users are potentially trading for keys, because they don’t have credit cards or Valve has poor payment services.” [NOT FOR THE LACK OF TRYING. Geese.]

[Need to analyze the DOTA2 value chain.]

Case Study #3 – Community Content

  • Over 90% of item content from community:
    ** Models, maps, and much more
    ** Marketing (Users make animated videos, amazing art, etc.)
    ** Evaluation (community does this through the Steam Workshop)

Contributor Payout

  • 2010: $590,900 for 106 items by 63 creators
  • 2013: $10,215,796 for 2,349 items by 661 creators
    The community is evaluating the user created content and “voting” with their own money what that content is worth.

Community Content

  • Entirely community-made:
    ** Marketing
    ** Movie
    ** Comic
    ** Organization
  • Then-highest single day revenue in TF history
    Community did their own complete patch of TF2. All of those people collected revenue based on their work.

Case Study #4 – Trade – Item Visibility/Demand

  • “Trade” is a basic idea:
    ** More consumers add value
    ** More uses add value
  • Increase visibility/demand:
    ** Trade as a Steam feature
    ** Community Market
    ** Still growing
  • Partner games benefit in the same way
    If you have an item you can link to it from everywhere. You can trade across games. Steam Marketplace allows users to trade items for Steam wallet funds. The value of ever item in the economy as more games join the economy – there’s no fall-off and it’s reciprocal.
    Daily revenue of some games have gone up by over 50%

Case Study #5 – DOTA2 Leagues

  • Funds split with league organizers, used for prize pool, production, etc.
  • Average 1:8 league viewers traded for ticket, up to 1:4
    Leagues work similar to pay-per-view. Watch the games live. Historical access. Follow a particular player’s mouse movement. 100% spectator.
    Because these tickets were tradable – these leagues all have bigger audiences. Monetizing free players – while making everyone happier.

Case Study #6 – DOTA2 Battle Boosters

  • Goal: “I celebrate when the guy next to me buys one” – Same place as the TF2 Gifts design.
  • Rise of positive, lowering of negative comments at round start. Sea-change level of reaction.
  • Increate the rate at which all players get random drops – even if an opponent buys one.
  • Another free player monetization strategy because the free players are some of those making the positive comments.
  • Iterated to clarify value proposition – because they want more of this.

Case Study #7 – DOTA2 – The Interactive Compendium

  • Positive externalities:
    ** Stretch goals (Kickstarter-like thing.)
    ** Battle Booster (Which effected you, even if you didn’t buy the book.)
    ** Prize pool
  • Results:
    ** 484,768 Sold
    ** ~$1.2m added to prize pool (Single largest eSports event ever.)
    ** Community rallying cry
    DOTA2 tournament that Valve runs. Interactive program with historical game. Fantasy “football” like mini-game. Vote for All Stars. [Think every sports fan participatory thing ever.] Doesn’t fit into any existing model of Micro-transactions. It was a surprising new thing.

Recommendation #6 – Explore!

There are so many ideas out there which don’t fit into existing models. This space is relatively new. Allow everyone to be able to make you’re games more interesting – artists, programmers, experienced players, EVERYONE.

Success Example: TF2 Today

  • 17m accounts owning items
  • 500m total items
  • 4B actions performed on items
  • 5x monthly players (600k -> 3M)
  • 4x daily free items dropped
  • 9x daily items sold
  • 6x daily revenue
    Game continues to grow – which means that the decisions they’re making are keeping their customers happy.

Everyone can win

Value rejects the premise that micro transaction systems must come at a cost of customer happiness.

[It is possible for everyone to make money and come away happy. You just need to think it through – have that as a goal – and it can be done. That is the net best thing for your, and everyone else’s, game.]

Follow Up

Kyle Davis: robin at valvesoftware.com

Ed Catmull, Pixar: Keep Your Crises Small

Key Questions:

  • Why do successful companies fail?
  • Is our central problem finding good people or good ideas?

Pixar got a few things right:

  • Artists and Technology people were peers – same compensation, socialized together, worked closely together.
  • People felt comfortable about expressing their problems
  • Brain Trust. Remarkable at telling stories. They had complete trust in each other. Necessarily honest. [Similar to Blizzard.]
  • Review Process. They reviewed the material every day – even if it wasn’t done. [Always be ready to ship. Agile-like concept application as well.] When you get over the embarrassment of showing incomplete work, you get over the embarrassment and become more creative. [Iterative process.]
  • Don’t confuse the organization structure with the communication one. Communication needs to be able to happen between anyone in the company at any time. You still need people controlling activities, but not relationships.
  • Managers hate being surprised. It’s a sign of disrespect. That someone else talked about the problem ahead of time is a good thing. Get over it.

Success hides Problems.

Adding a group of new people. They loved working on Toy Story and at Pixar. As a result they were willing to put up with a lot of things which they didn’t like. When you’re healthy, and have lots of resources, you don’t have address the problems. Often, people let that get in the way of diving deep and solving the problem. Just being aware of it is NOT enough.

Two different Standards of Quality.

This isn’t good for your soul. Don’t confused incomplete with poor quality. You want to see continuous improvement. If you don’t see that, that’s how you know you won’t hit your quality target.

Don’t be afraid to throw away your work if it’s not good enough. Stick to your quality standard, even if you don’t have enough time. Do it anyway. [Ugh. Here comes crunch.] Adopted two ways of how they work as a result. Limit the number of hours people can work. Perks galore. Focus on keeping people physically fit.

Toy Story 2 Story

You need to have people believe that the characters have a real choice to make – or you don’t have a movie. Life goes on. It changes. You can’t hang on to that. These things, which we can all appreciate, are what turns it into a real movie instead of a cheap followup.

Good ideas or good people?

If you have a good idea and you give it to a mediocre group, they’ll screw it up. If you have a mediocre idea, and you give it to a good group, they’ll fix it or they’ll throw it away and do something else.

It’s not just one idea. It’s thousands of idea in any successful product. You have to get most of the right.

The goal of development is not to find good ideas – it’s to put groups of smart people together. As a result, the development group is there to help to support. The measure of success is how well the team gets together over time.

The only failure is that you don’t progress. Not that your initial product was high quality or commercially successful. [This is way the blockbuster-only strategy is bad. Mobile is a godsend for this. 52 games before Rovio got to Angry Birds…]

Good Artists Steal

Copying is a way to learn, but it’s shallow. You should remake bad movies – not good ones. Find ones with a good idea, but poor execution. You could copy the technology, but our competitors couldn’t copy the process Pixar used to write the story.

Things don’t get easier.

Postmortems.

First ones were successful. Highly valued. Safe. People got tired. Defensive. Show-off what they did. Not really in-depth analysis. They change how they do them every single film. Currently, they are asked to pick the 5 things they wouldn’t do and the 5 things they would. Get a lot of facts about the process. This leads to a new theory about how to do things. About 1/3 third of the new things is wrong. That’s OK. [Think Fast & Slow concepts abound here.]

Learnings

  • Constant Review
  • Safe to tell the truth
  • Communication should not mirror the organization hierarchy
  • People, and how they function, is most important
  • Do not let success mask problems.

Pay attention to what affects behavior

Everyone says “The story is the most important thing.” That statement doesn’t affect behavior because there are clearly movies with bad stories.

So it doesn’t matter that it’s true.

Once can articulate an important idea in a concise statement, then one can use the statement without having a fear of changing behavior.

Why do companies fail?

Organizations are inherently unstable, but they fall slowly. Most people don’t notice it. Look for the hard truths with constant assessment.

Kinds of Crisis

  • If you don’t like what you see. Changes are just hard work. What makes it a crisis is having to rearrange people to affect those changes. It’s an emotional thing to do. Action taken, or not, this is a self-imposed crisis.
  • If your audience does’t like what they see.

Keep your crises small

Question: How do you document postmortems? Turn it into something actionable?
Staff members who are notetakers. People in preparing for it get a lot of information. People who are presented to are the leaders of a follow on film, so that’s the knowledge hand-off. Having the discussion also surfaces other data.

Question: Unintelligible.
The process of gathering the evidence is mixed. Sometimes you haven’t kept tracked by all of the detail. People are fascinated [and surprised] by the information because sometimes it doesn’t match their intuitive understanding. Sometimes facts give you pictures you can’t see otherwise. [You have to specifically hire for this.]

Question: Where do the ideas come from?
It’s important to give credit to a team of people. You can’t do that to an idea. Phrase it this way to build comradery. You have to support them. People first. Ideas are the result of the process. It’s thousands of decisions…

Question: Unintelligible.
The notion of self-abasement is lacking. Some people get it. Some people don’t. There are no guarantees. It requires consent diligence and thought process.

Question: Unintelligible.
It’s a bad idea to target films to kids. It’s talking down to them. Kids live in an adult word and they’re used to things which they don’t understand.

Other Pixar specific questions which are answered by reading The Pixar Touch: http://www.amazon.com/Pixar-Touch-David-Price-ebook/dp/B0010SKT0M/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391543842&sr=8-1&keywords=pixar+touch. Waste of his time.

Question: Is Renderware good long term for Pixar?
With any piece of software it requires a huge amount of work to keep up. It’s to Pixar’s advantage that there is an industry wide standard. Their competitive advantage is how the people work together – not the software.

Warren Spector – Lecture 2 w/Patrica York

Intro

Director of HR for Disney Interactive Studios. Helped integrate Warren’s studio into Disney. Topic: How do you get a job in the game business?

She’s in charge of HR for all Disney Interactive’s internal studios. Five studios around the world. Staffing. Growth & development plans. Right people in leadership roles. Growing people. That we’re making the best games possible.

Worked at EA Sports in Vancouver first. She got into the games industry because a friend of an executive passed her resume.

“If a job is going really well – they give you presents.”

One thing Disney does is ensure that the studios maintain their own culture – that they have their own expertise in the games that they make.

Disney has five studios:
* Propaganda Games (making new Turok)
* Junction Point Studios (Warren’s Studio.)
* Avalanche Software (make Disney property based games.)
* Fall Line Studios (?) (“Nintendo Center of Excellence”)
* Black Rock Studio (racing division of Climax Group in UK.)

We she joined, there was 150 people. Now there’s over 800 two years later. 150 opens at the moment. Always looking for ways to grow, wether it’s a startup or an acquisition. There’s more position than there are people.

Spector Questions

We’re always looking for everything. Lots of programming and art jobs. It’s become quite hard to find level designers. As the games become more complex it’s become a career path of it’s own. Good concept art – defined as created without initial input – is hard to find as well. Good producers, people who can lead the team.

Most common thing she looks for is passion. This isn’t a job on an assembly line making widgets. You have to love it. What games do you play? Why? What is your favorite? Passion for the industry is required because you will work really long hours.

Industry experience is important at certain levels, not to get in. Need to branch out and find people in different areas (i.e. Aerospace industry.) To get her attention on a resume, she’ll want to know what project you worked on. What was your specific role? What piece did you own?

Next gaming is much more complex. [Don’t agree with this – it’s just more.] So specific knowledge is required. [Do agree with this, but not as much as people think.] Because of this, college education in game disciplines is more important. Not just how to make a game, but the business side as well.

Survey of Disney Games

Played a Narnia game trailer.

Played a Hannah Montanna DS game trailer.

The freeform multiplayer in that game is really cool. When you’re jamming with your friends recording songs together. I’m buying many copies. (Spector) Our general manager says this is a true test of if you’re really secure in your masculinity. (York).

Played sequel to Nintendo DS top selling titled.
80% Disney licensed. 20% Original IP. Disney is one of the top tier developers for DS.

Played Turok trailer
Notice it doesn’t say Disney? It’s Touchstone. Lots of blood & fighting on tailer. Brand used to distance family friendly Disney brand from it.

Question: Where do you find most of your candidates?
Not from Monster.com. (Visible distain.) We do a lot of university recruiting for sure. We like to get to know the different professors in schools so we can know who the best students are and who we should be talking to about jobs.

Gamasutra specially mentioned, posting aren’t the best ways to find candidates, but they do find some. We do a lot of networking – who know. 60% of their openings came through referrals. Get to know people in the game industry so you can be referred in.

We gather credits off of game boxes. We will reach out to people. We’ll cold call. It’s a rough thing to do. They have a crew of recruiters who do that.

Question: Interns?
Well established intern program in Glendale, CA. Called “Think Tank”. They’re tasked to come up with new IP. Paid internships. Two intakes – 6 months term. Other studios have their own intern program. Lots of opportunities if you’re willing to move.

Question: What’s it like working for the mouse?
It’s fun. Puts a smile on my face. It’s a really big company. It’s so creative. Passion for what you do. Lots of way to grow yourself with lots of opportunity.

Question: One thing which strikes Spector is that it feels like there is a creative core culture. 120k employees, yet everyone seems to buy into the mission. Spector has never seen that happen at a game studio. How does Disney do that?
Part of the magic. You’re cast members, not employees. Creative is really encouraged. There’s a tech, art, production, design councils – to share learning and ideas across all locations. It’s a part of your regular job. Not looking for a cookie cutter approach. [Kind of a non-answer.]

Question: There’s so much more talking across studios than other experiences. Had the opportunity to meet with Disney engineers and Pixar now. Way smart. Hope that continues.
It’s incredibly exciting. Did a recent tour of Pixar. The creativity is almost oozing out of the walls. There’s Pixar University, so they want to figure out ways to get that available.

There’s going to be more and more as they grow.

Story: Spector was at a function with Pixar folks. He wants to do fluid simulations for something unannounced. He found himself talking to one of the top two or three fluid simulation people on the planet.

Back out of PR mode…

Question: Is there anything I should have asked you that I didn’t?
I usually have someone who’s more technical than me with me when I ask “For a game you’ve played, that if you could meet the person who made it, what would you tell them about it? What would you do differently?” [Good one.] Looks for creativity in the response.

Student Questions

Question: Percentage of entry level & junior positions?
Depends on the studio. At the early stage, they’ll have more senior people so they’ll want junior people. They balance that as.

Question: How are game producers different?
Each studio has a different definition of a procurer. Has been trying to standardize on a standard. Common job titles across all of the studios is one of her biggest jobs for the last year.

Some can be financing and scheduling focused. Others more creative. Once and a while you’ll get somebody who’s good at both. Read postings closely, because it could mean almost anything.

Spector would describe a producer (at Ion Storm) as a person in charge of the studio’s interest – the business interest. Product Director or Lead Designer is in charge of making the best game. The tension between those two positions is where greatness happens in his mind. Neither one of those had a bulk of the authority. At Junction Point, it’s a more tightly focused team management and scheduling job.

Everyone is a designer is one of his truism.

Read A Pound of Flesh: Perilous Tales of How to Produce Movies in Hollywood by Art Linson (http://www.amazon.com/Pound-Flesh-Perilous-Produce-Hollywood/dp/080213551X) to know what Producers live through.

Question: What does a junior level producer do?
Warren wasn’t far off the mark when he says start in QA. Most junior producers start there. That’s one way to move up the ranks into the production.

Depends on the genre. In a sports title, will be things like updating the stats for the next version. In others, keeping track of all of the features. Making sure everybody knows what they need to do next.

It requires organizational and communication skills. Requires knowledge of some project management tools. It’s a project management thing more than anything else. Doesn’t require a ton of experience. (Spector)

Question: Unintelligible. Follow up about QA.
You do have a crowd to stand out. Do QA at the studio itself. Not at a contractor or offsite. That isn’t the best way. You need the two way position. To see what the developers do. There aren’t as many of them, but those are the best ones to get into.

Our QA Leads are going to be there as long as the studio stays around. At the end of projects, contractors get laid off. It’s a fact of the life in the industry. They find a way to keep the best ones. You have to be willing to do whatever the team needs. There’s nothing more important for a producer. You’re the guy who makes sure the team gets what it needs. If you’re part of that small testing group, you’ll have ample opportunity to show what you’re made of. The best ones don’t get laid off. (Spector)

Question: Unintelligible. How constraining is Disney on vision?
If you’re working on a Disney title, then there’s going to be certain ways Disney wants to be presented. There is some freedom. There’s a long green-light process. Some ideas might be absolutely out there. We bring them in a little bit sometimes. It’s important to make sure we sure we have what would make the game really fun. The IP division, for new IP, there are no restriction other than can’t go past M. Don’t do sports either.

Every publisher imposes constraints. (Spector)

Pirates movie really pushed the edges of entertainment for kids.

Question: Unintelligible. Something about LucasArts [sigh] & Disney’s relative goals.
The big goal is to be one of the top five publishers.

Disney is a branding machine. It’s where their bread is buttered and they know it. He gave a talk about sequels and license at GDC a few years ago. You can be creative within the context of any IP. Constraints is where creativity happens. There’s plenty of room for creativity if you’re clever enough to find that spark – what makes that license worth exploiting. (Spector)

Where is the creativity? Is it gameplay, features? If you look at the products you’ll see that it every product. They do specifically reward for patents. Looking for improving technology.

Question: Why did you acquire Avalanche? (?)
They had be widely successful in their previous employer. It was obvious that those guys knew how to make a game. When Turok was released there was absolutely no doubt it was the right decision to do. Everyone just recognized the level of talent that was in that room. It made sense to bring that internally, because they wanted to control the creative a little bit more.

Question: Something about EA Spouse (http://ea-spouse.livejournal.com/274.html), re her previous work experience at EA.
It’s a hard working industry. We don’t want people to be killing themselves over this. We’re not saving lives. This is the entertainment industry, so we want to keep that perspective in there. You loose your perspective and you’re going to make mistakes. We do have a crunch period. There’s always that down to the wire. The goal is to make that shorter. They want to make that a whole lot shorter so people can have a life.

We’re bringing in people who do have the education background behind them, the business skills, the project skills, that they can plan a project out better than we could have in the past.

Warren Spector Lecture Start @ 52:17

Video Game Analysis: “Favorite” vs. “Important”

Agenda:
* 10 “Favorite” Games (and why)
* Some different criteria
* Differences & similarities between lists

His version of the class’ assignment. Some of this is on his blog.

His Criteria

  • Fun
  • Obsession
  • Personal significance
  • Professional influence

What did I get obsessed about and not realized that twelve hours had passed. Which games came along at key points in his life that were really meaningful. They represent big moments for me. Other games which brought me closer to my families and friends. I’m probably married today because I played {something} 2 with my wife. Which changed the way I think about games? Which games do I go back to?

His List

  • Tetris
  • M.U.L.E.
  • Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
  • Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past
  • Warcraft/Warcraft 2
  • Suikoden
  • Super Mario 64
  • Diablo
  • Half Life
  • Guitar Hero
  • Ico

[Ico !] Tetris is probably the best game of all time. The rest are in chronological order. None of the games I worked on are on this list. I don’t think it’s ok to pat yourself quite so hard on the back. None of the games on this list are the sort of games he likes to make. Is kind of weird. When I play games like the sort I like to make, I find myself obsessing about the ways in which I would have done it differently and that immediately pulls me out of the experience. I tend to like to play games which are exceptionally well executed.

Most of these games are pretty old. A game has to stand the test of time. He can got back and play these every couple of years and still get pleasure out of them?

Tetris

How many other 23 year games do you still play? That’s pretty much the bottom line. It’s everywhere. It’s enviable that we’re going to talk about D&D. The whole business owes a debt to Gary Gygax. In the same way, the casual game segment owes its existence to the creator of Tetris.

Ubiquity. There are Tetris shelves.

History is unbelievable. Created by Alexey Pajitnov. Book called Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered The World by David Sheff (http://www.amazon.com/Game-Over-Nintendo-Conquered-World/dp/0679736220). Covers the crazy history of this game. Textbook case everything which interesting and important about the game business. It’s crazy. Strongly recommend reading this.

Core Characteristics of the Medium

  • Could only be a video game
    ** No two games play out alike
    ** Action driven by player choice
  • Perfect Design
    ** Exquisitely balanced
    ** Short duration and inevitability of failure
  • Simplicity
    ** Nothing high tech
    ** Aestehetically pleasing visuals and sound

  • Who needs next ten graphics & 5.1 sound?
    This is a game which truly embodies these characteristics. Lots of player intentionality. It’s basically a perfect design. Exquisitely balanced. Short duration/high satisfaction. It’s simple. That’s the thing which is beautiful about it.

It’s pure game.

It created a new genre – a whole new thing.

M.U.L.E.

You gotta play MULE. Reference to Dan => Danny Button. The fact that no one has done a multiplayer version of MULE is just insane. Want a great project? Do a quickie multiplayer rip-off of MULE. I guarantee you will make a ton of money.

Basically it was a war-game translated to the screen. Had a realtime component. You had to decide which territory you wanted. Limited resource production. Continuos time pressure. There were things you spend resources on. Interactive 4 player interactive battering required because you couldn’t produce everything. Ability & Necessity to trade with other plays.

One of the critical thing about great games is you must be able to screw your friends.

It brought us closer together, not further apart.

Find an emulated version and play it.

Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar

At the time it came out he was still making tabletop games. As a video game player he had been getting really board really fast. First game he ever played which told him that games could be more than about just killing monsters. That games could give you even more freedom than he thought possible. Richard had a vision which changed how he thought about video games. It had real ethical conundrums. You had to behave like the avatar. You had to make ethical choices constantly. This is the game which made him want to help create a new medium

Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past

The finest game ever made with the possible exception of Tetris. He plays it about a year. Tetris would win his desert isle contest, because you can play it over and over. But Zelda, because of the storytelling, feeling like a hero. It’s an absolute jewel. It’s has wonderful iconic which you want to care about. Game balance is wonderful. He’s playing it on his Wii now. Simple and wonderful.

Occasionally ChronoTrigger shows up on his favorite game lists, but this is the game.

Warcraft/Warcraft 2

Couldn’t pick which one deserved to be on the list. It’s the only game which has made him laugh and sweat at the same time. All you have to say is Zug Zug and people laugh. More personality in those little units… Multiplayer was a revelation – with the possible exception of Command & Conquer. This game almost destroyed Origin. We played a lot of this game.

This is the game which put Blizzard on the map and gave them the resources to produce StarCraft and conquer the MMO space.

Suikoden

I usually hate traditional Japanese RPGs. Boring. Random battles. I think you can do your taxes by creating a party in most jPRGs. I hate games which give you story, story, story… That only allow you make choices during the combat part. This game does all of that, so why is it here.

There is a recruiting system. You can optionally recruit them or not. You use them to participate in mass battles with their specific abilities. You decide who – so that’s really cool. It gives you a way to express yourself as a player in ways that most jRPGs don’t.

Start of game is a ruined castle. By the end of the game, it’s populated by the people you have chosen to bring there. It is made beautiful by them. It expresses who you are. I’ve been trying to get a home base like that for years. Some day I’m going to make a game which is all about the home base.

The conversation system is dirt simple. There’s basically no interaction. Linear. Every once and a while, they give you these big choices. If I answer that, it’s going to say more about me as a human being… It stopped me dead in his tracks. He was offered life & death choices which he actually felt.

“Do you leave your best friend to die? Y/N”
“Do you fight your father? Y/N”

When you have invested hours and hours to play a game, those moments change you. I could no more consider conversational systems which give you trivial choices which are completely irrelevant, uninteresting and are not revelatory of anything, let alone your personal character.

[Deus Ex came from here.]

Super Mario 64

This is a game which has inspired, intimated, and been ripped off than any other game. No game has done a better job of showing you goals before players are capable of reaching it. To entice them to keep them moving for it. Disney calls this a leaning.

The reward schedule is perfect. Even the save load system is terrific. You don’t loose real progress. You never loose any of that. This is a graduate education in game design.

Diablo

Has there ever been a sound as rewarding as the sound of gold as it hits the ground? Things which designers really understand: some economics, psychology, skinner rewards. The way they used sound to provide feedback is amazing. The randomized dungeons mean each play through is different. Diablo II skill’s system allows character differentiation and multiple ways to solve problems in the game. Multiplayer is the cherry on top.

This game has probably wasted more of this time…

Half-Life

The fact this this was Valve’s first game was terrifying. One of the most professional produced, best tuned experiences. There was a little misstep at the end with the jumping worlds. Prefers HL to HL2.

Guitar Hero

Made by best friends of his. Fulfills his fantasy. Picture of his mother and father in law playing is all you really need to know about why this is on his list. Any game which can get a roughly 70 year man/woman playing a video game is OK in his book.

Ico

It amazing him that he likes this game. His hates games like this. It was perfectly executed. Puzzles were exceptionally designed. When he first played it, the camera work seemed wrong to him, because of his experience as a RFT (Film) Major. The reality is the camera moved just a little further than he thought it should – too high etc. The camera is being used to reveal to elements in puzzles. It’s always int he perfect place to show you what you’re going to be interacting with in 15 minutes. It because a tool to help navigate through the world. Camera is a huge problem.

You drag the princess around by the hand. After a while you start feeling this. It’s a magic moment in a game. I’ve never felt anything like that since. If I were smart, I would figure out what that thing is and try to give it to other people. You really start feeling things for her because of that touch. [Totally and completely agree.]

There comes a point in the game where this complete turnaround. The princess who you’ve been dragging around, getting you killed, etc. does something which is awe inspiring. One of the most magic moments in a game. I still get chills thinking about it.

The fact that it didn’t sell worth a damn is a crime.

“Best” List Criteria

  • NOT fun…
  • Significance
    ** Creating a new genre
    ** Unique characteristics of the medium
    ** Influence
    Given how young this medium is, this list won’t survive. You can talk about things which do have significance.

The “Best” List (Chronological Order)

  1. Star Raiders
  2. Ultima IV
  3. SimCity/The Sims (everything)
  4. Tetris
  5. Doom
  6. Myst
  7. Command & Conquer
  8. Super Mario 64
  9. Ultimata Online
  10. Grand Theft Auto III
    Honorable Mention: Space War, Pong, Dungeons & Dragons, John Madden Football, World of Warcraft

[Rescue Raiders and Choplifter should be on this list.]

Star Raiders

You have to remember this was 1979. Atari 800. Amazing sound & graphics. D&D lost it’s luster for him. A video game which took itself seriously. It was a 1st person game. I was Luke Skywalker in Star Wars for the very verist time.

Creating a new genre

  • The World’s first Space Combat Sim
    ** Strategy meets Action
    ** Terrific graphics. 3D game – the first one ever.
    ** Imitators: Elite, Wing Commander, X Wing vs. Tie Fighter

Core Characteristics of the Medium

  • The power to transport…
  • Immersion in another world
  • It’s YOU in that star fighter
  • It’s YOU deciding
    ** Where to go
    ** When to fight
    ** How to fight
    ** When to run away

“For the cost of a Star Raiders cartridge, we who are earthbound can also experience the thrill of space travel.. The visual effects here are also very real, especially when you add a dash of imagination.” – Joe Hafner, ANTIC Magazine, July 1983 (https://archive.org/details/1983-07-anticmagazine)

That’s a game of huge significance. The fact that none of you know it or have experienced it is exactly why need to start preserving our history before it’s lost.

Sim Whatever

Will’s ability to take seeming unfun things and make them intensely fun is beyond belief. It’s player driven in every way that matters. How man God games have there been since then? The fact that it spawned The Sims…

Doom

I could have picked Wolfenstein. This is the first game which really cracked the mainstream consciousness. It was everywhere. It basically created online games and the mod community.

Myst

One of the first CD games. They upped the ante in terms of production values in a way which you could argue has been damaging, but has also allowed you to reach a whole new audience. It has a slower pace than tradition games. Pretty deep storyline. Non-violent interaction – made it OK for non-gamers to play games. First time maybe people started thinking that maybe this is an art form.

Command & Conquer

Everyone played this game. Made RTS games, for a while, as the most popular game genres.

Mario

11 million units sold. First time that anyone tried to adapt side scrolling gameplay to a 3D environment.

Ultima Online

Took MUSH/MOO/MUD and made it commercially viable. Holy cow did Richard Garriot have to fight to get this game made. No one else saw this. Marriages, divorces, friendships all sorts of things. Wouldn’t be to much of a stretch to say that WoW exists because this one did first. Austin wouldn’t have a thriving game development community if it weren’t for this game.

Grand Theft Auto III

I’ve gotten in so much trouble talking this game. I adore the game design and love the gameplay. I hate hate hate the content. The content is unspeakably horrible. This is the game which is one of the games which is one of the high water makers which we can not show off to people who could make difference and that really annoys me. I live for the day that the guys as RockStar apply their talent to something which he could show his mother.

Moving it into 3D changed everything. They honed the gameplay in the 2D GTA/GTAII and put it into a believable real world setting. There hadn’t been any when this game came out. Adults could play without feeling stupid. Players creating their own gameplay every time someone plays this game.

A sense of transgression. Games can allow players to test behaviors which can’t do in the real world.

Honorable Mentions

  • Dungeons & Dragons – Without D&D the video game industry would not exist. We’re only right now outgrowing our D&D roots.
  • Space War – Very first video game. MIT. Real time action.
  • Pong – Brought video games into the home.
  • John Madden Football – Put EA on the map. Mainstream content. Year based franchises.
  • Railroad Typcoon/Civiliation – Had to have Sid Meir games.
  • Halo – First console 1st person shooter which was any good.
  • World of Warcraft – My wife is probably playing right now.

Other Criteria?

  • Overall sales?
  • Best-sellers by platform?
  • Best-sellers by genre?
  • Metacritic scores

Overall Sales (Millions)

  1. Pokemon Red, Blue & Green – GB – 20
  2. Super Mario Bros – NES – 18
  3. Nintendogs – DS – 14.8
  4. Pokemon Gold & Silver – GB – 14.5
  5. Super Mario Land – GB – 14
  6. GTA: Vice City – PS2 – 13
  7. Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire – GBA – 13
  8. GTA: San Andreas – PS2 – 12
  9. Super Mario 64 – N64 – 11
  10. Gran Turismo 3: A-SPec – PS2 – 11
  11. GTA III – PS2 – 11
    Don’t believe that these values are perfect. These are the best overall selling games of all times according to some sources. That’s a pretty decent list.

What are the characteristics of those games which unite them? (Other than Nintendo) [Look at the mobile vs. stationary breakdown. Way more mobile anyway you slice it.]

Best-sellers by Platform 1:49:46.

Hard to read.

This seems a little less useful because the older platforms are less relevant now.

Best-sellers by Franchise (Millions)

  1. Mario – 193
  2. Pokemon – 155
  3. The Sims – 90
  4. Final Fantasy – 75
  5. Tetris – 60
  6. Madden NFL – 60
  7. The Legend of Zelda – 52
  8. GTA – 50
  9. Donkey Kong – 48
  10. Gran Turismo – 47
    A look at this list says supporting your brands is not the worse thing you can do. Franchises are huge. If you can’t be creative within them, maybe you should find another line of work.

Best-sellers by Genre 1:51:03

Hard to read.

If you’re putting studio together, and you’re trying to figure out what to do, you should get pressure to go where the money is. 10% of the GTA market is better than what most original games do – why wouldn’t we go after that market?

Metacrtic Scores

Most developers have bumps to their royalty payments based on metacrtic.com. Widely used metric to determine how successful a game was.

What about my own games?

  • Space Rogues
  • Ultima VI
  • Ultima Underworld
  • System Shock
  • Thief
  • Deus Ex
    In terms of favorites… These games have enough significance that I would probably put these games on some list somewhere.

Space Rogues

This game is largely forgotten today. It was hugely influential today because of the way it mixed and matched genres. Sort of Star Raiders. It was a Roleplaying game with conversations. Video arcade mini games. This game was successful enough to support the development of Ultima Underworld which lead to Thief. Paul Neurath (co-designer) is one of the unsung heroes of the game industry.

Ultima VI

Hotkey buttons. Streamlined conversation system. Trade-skill system – a really remarkable simulation. Ethical underpinnings. Showed the power of emergent gameplay – had to be the future of game. Core of Spector’s philosophy ever since.

Ultima Underworld

Largely a tech experiment. Came out before Wolfenstein. Could look up and down. First game which really clicked on the level of it was “you” in that world. It’s still the state in the art of roleplaying. If you updated the graphics in this game, it would be role-playing state of the art. Level 4 of this game is absolutely magic. Showed you could combine character development, player choice. action, storytelling, everything in one package.

System Shock

Small step forward from Underworld. Did establish new storytelling conventions. Supported leaning. More of an emphasis on simulation than any game he’d worked on. [Occulus VR foreshadowing.] Simulation. Immersion. Player choice. Emergent gameplay. You weren’t playing Lara Croft. No impediment to you believing that it was you in the world. You never spoke. Critical design decision.

Thief

I get way too much create for this game. This was the first stealth simulation – first person sneaker. Took the FPS conventions and stood it on the ear. It was the game about being balanced on the razors edge of danger. This was a game that succeeded not when you were in combat and not when you were completely safe. When you knew guys were looking for you. When you knew that any misstep on your part could cause disaster. It was that split second before something terrible happen that was the engine which drove Thief. No game had done that before. This was a stealth simulation.

Deus Ex

It was created out of frustrated with Thief. The player was consciously weakened. Games are almost always about power fantasies. About letting players do things they couldn’t do any other way. Thief forced a particular gamely style. Players will always find the easy way. This was the game that you could fight, sneak, or talk your way through. Also the real world roleplaying. Set in the real world. Build locations based on blueprints.

A game which was about something. Game stories have to be about more than it’s surface, just like novels or films. Dues Ex is about what it means to be part of a family. There are family relationships all through the game. It’s about what does it mean to be human? At what point will you stop being human? For what will you sacrifice your humanity? The balance of personal freedom and the good of community. What’s best for a community vs. the value of personal freedom.

I have my own opinions about that sort of stuff. But the whole point of Deus Ex was, just like we didn’t want to force a play style, I didn’t want to force my politics or ideology on players. What we did was we engaged with a dialog with players about how they felt about that story of stuff. At the end of the game, it wasn’t that they killed a monster and saved the world, it’s that they decided the world should be, not based on what the characters said or did, not based on I wanted them to do, but what they personally as human beings, not as players, not as characters what they thought was the right thing to do. As cool as it was that players solved problems the way they wanted to, the coolest thing was that players were talking about that after they finished the game.

Next Week’s Assignment

  • Game Play Critiques & Abstracted Interactions
    ** Present a “critique” of a game play experience using a novel way to describe the aesthetic.
    ** Game tuning exercises will be performed on various casual games.
    You need to be thinking about this if you’re going to be developing a game or if you’re going to be a game critic.

Content Analysis

  • If there’s a story, what’s the developer trying to tell me?
  • How is the story communicated?
  • How does the player interact with the story?
    Is there a difference between the surface story and the game. Is the story communicated via a linear cut scene? People cry in Final Fantasy games because the story is told as a movie. That’s a solved problem. It’s not hard to make people feel something well “all they’re doing is watching a movie.” Are players driving the story? Does their action uncover it? Bioshock is the perfect is example of uncovering the secrets of the place as you play. What kind of story is being told?

Mission Structure

  • Is the game mission-based?
  • How are missions structure?
  • How are missions offered and accepted or rejected?
    Are there failure paths? Is it branching tree or completely linear? How does the

Reward Schedules

  • How frequently is the player rewarded?
  • What are the rewards?
  • What behaviors are rewarded?
  • How are rewards delivered?
    This is about half of the job of the game designer.

Points? Stars? Opening up a new location? Little bits of story? Tools?

Everything you reward players with tells them what you want them to do more, or less of.

It’s not about playing games – it’s about understanding them.

Save/Load Scheme

  • Save anywhere, any time?
  • What prevents constant saving?
  • What does player give up, saving/loading?
  • What impact does save/load scheme have?
    You could write a treatise on this. You would not believe the arguments people have in the game development community.

Impact on pacing & playing.

Controls

  • How does the player interact with the game?
  • How do abilities contribute to/detract from overall experience?
  • How do camera controls work?
    There’s almost nothing more important than the kinesthetic experience of the game. It’s you – the controller, a keyboard, a mouse. Is it good to use every button on a controller just because you can? Turn rates (Halo reference), jump heights, run speeds, etc. That determines so much about your world. Amazing how important that really detail kind of stuff can be.

Every game is different. Mario 64’s camera controls are spot on, but they may not work for your game. Indoor vs. Outdoor.

Character Development

  • Is there any?
  • How does it work?
  • How does it tie back into reward schedule, story communication, overall experience, etc.?
    In System Shock you were just a hacker, without voice. In Dues Ex, you had a name. We made the voice actor talk in monotone because we had no idea what emotion the player might be feeling at the time. Same for personality.

All of this stuff ties back together to make the overall experience.

Feedback

  • Positive/Negative feedback loops?
  • Player communication
    Positive feedback loops encourages a particular behavior. The game doesn’t allow anything to prevent the player from continuing to succeed. If you do this – and you do it well – you’ll get it even better at it. Sometimes you want that to get the game to an end. Sometimes you want to make less effective players, to make the game more challenging.

We are the only medium which lets them actually do stuff. The player needs to know what they can do, what impact is likely to happen and what impact did happen after the action taken. How does the player communicate this to the player? What about uncertainty?

Verbs

  • What can the player DO?
  • How does the player know?
  • Are specific verbs “good” or “bad” for games?
    This is the most important thing (for the whole semester.) Games are about verbs. They’re not about nouns or additives. Will Wright kind of disagrees with Spector on this. Games are all about what players can do. Think about what the verbs of a game are: run, jump, shoot, explore.

Identify the verbs of any game and you’re halfway to understanding it – then look for “good” and “bad” verbs. If you’re a designer and you say: “The player “learns” X, Y, and Z” Does that tell you anything useful? How does the player learn? If you say the player “runs” that’s very straightforward and clear. It’s a useful verb for a designer. Learn, not a useful verb. Look at the games you’re playing (critiquing) and identify the verbs both “good” and “bad”.

Seven Questions

  1. What are we trying to do?
  2. What’s the problem?
  3. What are the development challenges?
  4. Has anyone done this before?
  5. How well-suited to games is the idea?
  6. What is the player fantasy?
  7. What does the player do?
    Before I take a game to the one page write up concept document I ask myself these questions. It’s potentially useful as an analytical tool. What does Halo want you to feel? What’s the core idea behind the game? What is that idea’s potential?

What is the core idea which lead the developer to make that game and not the infinite number of other games they could have made?

What are the most challenging things that the developer tackled? People don’t even appreciate how sophisticated the AI was in Deus Ex. They got so hung up on other things. A lot of the criticism of the levels in Deus Ex 2 were as a result of technical limitations. They were too small to contain the game play that we wanted to offer to players.

Has anyone done this before? If the answer is no, you’re on the path to understanding something about what makes this game unique. When you can answer that question, you’re on the way to a decent analysis.

How well suited to games is it? I didn’t use to not talk about this. It was just something I just did. Was working a Love Story Panel with Raph Kostner. They had to come up with a love story. He fumbled the ball. Games are not well suited for telling love stories.

Does the player fantasy lead to good player goals and rewards? What are the verbs?

Related Posts:

Lecture 1 Warren Spector
Lecture 2 w/Patrica York
Lecture 3 w/Harvey “Witchboy” Smith
Thinking, Fast & Slow – Irrational Perseverance
Lecture 4 w/Hal Barwood
Lecture 7 w/Mike Morhaime

Warren Spector – Lecture 1

Intro

Started with board games. Steve Jackson is one of his mentors. He started working for him early on. Worked at TSR followed by Origin. Not a big fan of EA. Specifically mentioned their proclivities to lay people off.

Ultima 6 was his first realization that games could tell stories. Bad Blood game & Chris Roberts claiming credit for it – what’s the deal with that.

Steps in the evolution towards giving players more control over their experience. Not just the minute to minute part. The overall arc of their character and how the story unfolds.

Worked about 7 years everywhere he’s worked.

Summary

“Ch…Ch…ch…ch…ch…changes.”

“The scary bit: We’re making it up as we go. How scary is that?”

“I’m a very wordy guy.”

Why Games? Why UT?

  • Millions of players
  • Diverse audience (added women & older people)
    If you want to find the wierd kind, look for the one who doesn’t play games – Henery Jenkins, MIT
  • 30 billion a year revenue
  • Pilloried by Congress

Secret Agenda

See this dialog and cooperation taken to a whole new level. games in gaming. History. Criticism. Analysis. Effects Studies. Development. Production. Marketing. Permanent ongoing part of the curriculum. Doesn’t care which department. Bella Center thing? Entre into the mainstream of education.

What do developers get out games education efforts?

“A lot of us don’t even have high school degrees.” One of the things which come out of universities is new ways of thinking about stuff. If anybody sits up here and tells you they have the secret – drill them.

No common vocabulary. Prevents ability to work together.

In the game business, secrecy is the norm. At GDC, you get just the tip of the iceberg.

“Freedom from the demands of wannabes.” We do not have the time to deal with all of the people who want to make games.

We get some staffers. Not people we have to train.

More up-to-date development processes. SCRUM method specifically mentioned.

Developers get credibility.

Games offer a new way to look at society. “A new window into culture.”

A new medium to explore and shape

If you’re NOT excited by this – find a new line of work. It’s not a solved problem. It’s very hard for people people to take big chances. Universities are still – I hope – about taking chances.

Has UT Season Tickets.

Modeled after Inside the Actors Studio. (Minus the end questions! ARGH!)

Course Topic Areas

  • Analysis (How do games work?)
  • Practice (How do you create a game?)
  • Business (How do you reach an audience?)
  • Culture (How do games affect us?)

Talk about if online games are games at all. He doesn’t think they are. Richard Garriot does.

One of his frustrations is that gamers are so undemanding. They keep accepting the same game, just with fancier graphics. Games can be more than they are now.

How do we start thinking about game design?

Many of the questions he’s going to be asking are driven from his own biases.

An approach to design

“Gaming will progress at a rate that’s tied to our awareness and exploitation of what makes games different from other media.” This is a “true fact.”

The key to the future of gaming

What makes games unique?
* Power to transport
* Immersiveness
* Participation & Responsiveness

ARGH. He got a KOTOR reference wrong.

Especially on a PC. Note: Bias.
If you stop playing a game – the game stops.
Player driven experiences – we can share authorship. (Dues Ex!)
Games become like constrained life. Let players find out something about themselves as they play. We’re the first medium which is two way.
“The best moments in the game belong to the players. A lot of people disagree.” (Specifically mentioned Tim Schaefer)

Shared Authorship Games

The Sims
GTA
Deus Ex
KOTOR
Fable
Tony Hawk
Elder Scrolls: Oblivion
WoW (Uh…)

What’s So Special?

  • Players interact in REAL-TIME.
  • Players make significant CHOICES.
  • Those choices have CONSEQUENCES.
  • RESPONSIVE worlds make consequences apparent to players.
  • Each play session is UNIQUE.

No patience for turn based games any more. (Unless playing with other people.)

Wishes Bioshock could have done more with it’s moral choices. “Who are you?” is a critical question to ask. “I can’t do that because what it says about me.” (Re harvesting little girls.)

Feedback is a word that you’re going hear constantly.

Re Unique: “It drives everyone crazy. I don’t care.”

Snort. He just stopped and caveated a description of a “place” as a “virtual place” even though everything about his story and body language belied that contrivance. He had really been there and knew it as well as any place he’d actually touched.

“I’m a little given to overstatement.”

Player experience comes first

It’s not about you. It’s true in all games. Players – people want to leave their mark.

In other words…

  • Give players the tools to DISCOVER and/or CREATE gameplay
  • Provide a CONTEXT in which players act
  • BOUND player experience
  • Don’t DETERMINE player experience

“Half-life is the ultimate roller coaster ride. I want to create worlds.”

The Playful World – Mark Pesce. “Well worth reading.”

“Why aren’t we letting the player decide that? …you and the player collaborate to create the final story. Every freedom you give the player is an artistic victory. And every needless boundary in your game should feel to you like a failure.” – Orson Scott Card, Compute Magazine, 3/1991

“I live by that.” Strongly emphasized. Also a lot of positive statements about Ender’s Game.

Collaboration is the key

  • Total freedom isn’t the goal.
  • Player and developer must have equally strong voices.

No interest in creating a Holodeck. Players are terrified of making choices. They stop dead playing the game. That tells you a lot about how most games are like about choices.

The developer’s voice

  • Developers create the RULES of the game.
  • We create the SOUNDS and IMAGES.
  • We determine what TOOLS players have at their disposal.
  • If we don’t allow something to happen, it can’t happen.

“Understanding Comics” – Scott McCloud. “Read this book.”

Games are responsive

They require direct action, on the part of the user, to be complete.

Player Intention

  • The ability of the player to device personally meaningful goals…
  • To formulate and execute plans to achieve those goals…
  • Using the information and resources provided by the game.

Intetionality is one of the core concepts of gaming. Idea from Doug Church.

If you have that in the back of your mind as you’re conceiving your first game, you’ll be way ahead.

Summing up

  • Gaming will progress by exploiting its unique characteristics
  • Games are THE medium of shared authorship.
  • Player experience trumps designer creativity.
  • Games are participatory rather than interpretive.

It’s not about you is one of the toughest things to embrace as a game developer.

“I have the thickest skin of any human being you’ve ever met.”

“Favorite game of all time is Zelda a Link to the Past on SNES. A linear game without choices.”

Q & A

Question: Should we not make literary games?
It’s not that those games shouldn’t be made. It’s that it’s holding back the medium. People will find those roller coaster experiences as less and less interesting. All I really want is a broader range of possibilities.

Question: what do think about different control schemes?
Guitar Hero is a fantastic game. The investment to buy the controllers is a barrier to entry. From a development perspective, it’s a nightmare because other systems don’t have those controllers.

It forces developers to think more creatively. Most people won’t leave their little box unless they have to. That’s all good. I don’t know if it’s going to push games into the mainstream. I’m sure glad it exists.

Question: unintelligible.
The games business is a wacky business. A lot like the movies. 80% of product fails. Just survival is really tough. Every time I go to a publisher, I have to fight the same fight (that player choices, multiple endgames, see biases list.) I will not compromise on those issues. We have an opportunity to create a new art form. Who gives a “darn” about maximum profit? You have to be willing to say you believe in that.

Question: unintelligible.
Because there are a lot of old farts who are not going to be around pretty soon. We don’t always know what’s going to have lasting value in the moment. You just never know. Whatever medium isn’t understood by the current cultural gate keepers, that’s the stuff that the adults rebel against. Assuming we find our footing as an art form, we’ll be fine. We could very well end up a cultural backwater. It’s not like there’s a department of Comicology, because the comic industry allowed themselves to be neutered.

Clint Hocking response to Rogert Ebert’s statement that games aren’t art – showing a complete lack of historical context. Read his response: http://clicknothing.typepad.com/click_nothing/2007/08/on-authorship-i.html

Question: How is technology shared if information doesn’t flow between developers?
Technology is shared through licensing. Imagine how effective if Steven Spielberg had to event a new camera every time he wanted to shoot a movie? We’re at the point where we have to license engines and then twist them around to make them do what we want.

There are pockets of people who talk to each other all of the time. If their employers found out it would be a disaster. Same point about design.

Question: Is middleware going to take a hit because of the suit Silicon Knights vs. Epic?
No. They’re the only place in town. It’s just too expensive for most developers to write their own.

Question: unintelligible. What about online games?
I hate online games. I wish they didn’t exist. I really do. The freedom is an illusion. Online gaming is different than MMO. I’m in a world of 10k of my closest friends. He’s not real interested in the social aspects of MMOs, because the tools most games provide are primitive and horrible. No one has, or probably ever will, solve the problem of how do you make 10k people feel like the hero of the story. You do the same things over and over. I want to some something which is much more meaningful. I’d rather do my socializing in person.

If someone were to solve the problem for how to make me feel like the hero in a MMO, I’d be all over it. Guildwars is kind of close.

Instancing?

I’ve got a whole proposal about instancing and MMOs. If I had a way to get together with specific people, and we could go out adventuring, that would be awesome (in a constrained space.) When you throw 10k people in one place, you get a mess. You get a society, but you don’t get a story. And you don’t get a compelling experience for me. I really wish people would stop making those games, but that’s just my prejudice.

Question: unintelligible
Digital distribution is a large part of our future. Read Chris Anderson’s book “The Long Tail.” Retail space is the most constraining thing in the world for creative goods. The big problem (for games) is we’re the only medium which doesn’t have a secondary market. [This is no longer true of just about all creative mediums now.]

I left Ion Storm to work on funding via an “alternate money stream” and came “this close” to pulling it off. Something with Saemus Blackley. [What the heck was it? F2P?]

We need another way to raise money. Currently we don’t have that.

Question: What about game developer unions? Unionizing?
EA_Spouse post about crunch. (http://ea-spouse.livejournal.com/274.html) There was talk about unionizing & paying overtime. Game developers will go 9 months of 7 day weeks. It doesn’t help make the game quicker or better. It’s just bad. I really believe in unions. I was really supportive of the workers. They’re being exploited, so yeah. As a developer, if I had to pay overtime, the US game development industry would cease to exist. All of game development would go overseas. We just couldn’t afford it. We can barely afford it now.

$273k Martian Dreams.
$5.5 million Deus Ex.
$11 million Deadly Shadows.
Next game is going to cost at least twice that. Welcome to the world of next gen development.

Wonder why the publishers don’t want to take risks?
Wonder why we don’t have alternate financing?

That’s the dilemma. That’s stifling creativity. The business is broken.

If my expectation is I’m going to spend $25 million, and I have to start paying overtime, profit goes to zero. Industry goes to China.

I hope I figure out a way to not have to exploit my workers. A union would just kill it.

Question: Processes?
We keep looking for new processes. We’ve tried waterfall. We’ve embraced Agile. SCRUM seems pretty well suited to game development. It’s a creative endeavor that quality is the only thing which matters. Things don’t have a predictable end-state like a bridge or a widget.

If the game isn’t fun, you have to make it fun. You have to fix it.

The definition of beginning pre-production, you have sufficient tools to start building the game.

Question: unintelligible

Worth the risk?

  • Risk sometimes leads to failure
  • Sticking with the tried-and-true, the stuff we know works, IS easier. IT’s often quite profitable.
  • But it’s not good enough
  • Better to fail gloriously than to succeed in mediocrity

Did we succeed?

  • “I never thought to try that!”
  • “I always solve the that problem another way.”
  • “What do you mean that weapon’s useless? It’s my favorite…”
  • “Where the heck are you? I never saw that part of the game before?

You need to be constantly play testing. The instant we have 5 minutes of gameplay – we record it. We watch the player experience without talking to them.

Question: unintelligible
There are two types of developers who do that. They started with, or had a lucky hit, who have enough money to make AAA who own their own fate. There are also smaller people who also control their own fate and do something small (Example: Tino’s Fruit Stand: http://www.bigfishgames.com/online-games/1880/tinosfruitstand/index.html). I don’t want to do that. That’s the dilemma.

Kathy Schoback did a wonderful GDC talk re game sales vs. Game budgets. (http://www.gamespot.com/articles/gdc-rant-heard-round-the-world/1100-6120449/) $10 million and up – great business. $2 million and below – great business. Anywhere in the middle – you’re doomed. You’d better have corporate backing.

I was unwilling to compromise the scope of the kind of a game I wanted to make. I wasn’t willing to give up 1% of my company. It’s bad enough having someone who understands games telling you what to do. Having someone from outside of games as an investor, I couldn’t do it. I’ve seen too many companies sunk by VCs.

If digital distribution could work, maybe alternative financing would work. [Kickstarter?]

Question: How do you get in the game business?
I have no idea how I got into the game business. You can’t generalize from my experience. The easiest, but most ego sucking, is to get a job in QA. You’ll end up hating whatever game you’re testing. It doesn’t matter what you want to. On Underworld, one of our testers was a PhD from MIT.

Gets you in the door. Gets you in daily contact with the most senior people on a daily basis. You can show them that you get their vision, their game, and how to make their games better. To show what kind of games you would make. Hands on with the tools…

If you’re not willing to do that, you’d better be the best artist, programmer, writer, something or you won’t get in. You probably need to be a specialist in some way. We are going to get more resumes than we have openings. If you can demonstrate that you’re a master of a game relevant skill, you will get a job.

Question: MGS series?
The Metal Gear Solid games are becoming much to cinematic. Not a big fan.

Question: What do I think about video games being used to expose true/meaning?
“What can we learn from video games” – James Paul Gee. (http://www.amazon.com/Video-Games-Teach-Learning-Literacy/dp/1403961697) The capability of games to teach is powerful and under-apreciated. My wife played an early beta, but she’s never finished Deus Ex. She accidentally killed a dog. There are guns in the game and there are dogs. You never have to kill a dog. But in a game that’s all about choice and consequence, it would be stupid to prevent that from happening. I made it disturbing on purpose. She was so disturbed by it, that she had to stop playing. I’m sorry that she had to stop playing the game, but that was an appropriate response.

We can put players in situations where they become so uncomfortable is a good thing.

Question: Can games be used for satire? Teaching?
I hope every game I’ve done has had some level of social criticism in it. Take Bioshock. You can learn a lot about Ann Rands philosophy by playing that game. Some of it’s implicit. Some of it’s explicit. You can get quite an education playing that game.

It’s so hard to do humor in games. A simulation of humor is not well understood like a trigger or a tennis racket. Most of what we do is to make people feel more clever than they are. We don’t know how to do humor.

Someone has to figure out how to do a love story. How do you make a genuinely funny game where the player is funny – not the creator?

Someone needs to make a damn musical. A musical game which isn’t just a rhythm game. That’s going to take creativity and tools which I can’t even imagine.

Question: unintelligible
If you want to be a designer, you have a couple of routes. You are not going to start out as the guy who conceives the game. There are too many ideas already floating around. There are plenty of tools out there which allow you to build something which is so cool and compelling that the company is interviewing you has to hire you. Tailor it to them specifically. [Ack – oneitis!] Do a good mods. It ain’t easy.

If you’re trying to figure out what to study because every company is looking for something different. You need to have some technical chops. At least an introductory programming chops. You want to take some graphics classes. You’re the place where everything comes together. Even if you’re a bad artist, get yourself some graphics training.

Get yourself a really good liberal arts education. Economics. Behavior Psychology (rewards specifically.) Film classes because we’re a visual medium. You need a little bit of everything.

You need really good communication skills. You need to be able write & speak. Take every chance you get to speak in front of a class. You will be giving presentations. Take some writing classes. It’s very hard to be the shy person in the gaming business.

You must be a great communicator.

Question: unintelligible
You can’t rollback the clock. I am encouraged by the fact that are enough ways to reach an audience. There are inexpensive games out there which are hugely creative. There are 1-2 million dollar games out there. I just can’t make them, because it doesn’t fit what I want them to do.

You can still make a game for next to nothing. The problem is reaching an audience for it. It’s just not going to sell. It doesn’t matter how good of a game it is.

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