Warren Spector – Lecture 3 w/Harvey “Witchboy” Smith

The Life and Times of Harvey “Witchboy” Smith

Worked on

  • Ultima 8
  • CyberMage: Darklight Awakening
  • Technosaur (Never shipped)
  • FireTeam
  • Deus Ex
  • Deus Ex: Invisible War
  • Area 51: Blacksite
  • Speaker, Character in 2nd Life, Award-winner
  • Web Site: http://www.witchboy.net

My Favorite Harvey Quote?

  • “Focus so you don’t have to compromise quality.
  • Do not undertake the creation of a bunch of brand-new tech if you are not prepared for the time hit involved.
  • Good process is critical.
  • You’ve got to surround yourself with people smarter than you are in areas where you’re weak.
  • And you should pare your team back to positive, mature, people.” – Interview at gamespy.com, April, 2004

“If you don’t keep a quote file, you should” – Spector

Question: “You’ve described some of your early years as hellish. Where did that come from?”

What percentage are software engineers: 50%
Visual or audio oriented: 25%
Storytellers: 25%
Business people: 0

Every game developer I’ve ever met is a different beast. Driven by some of the same stuff, but a different background. Lived all over, including Germany for a while and the Bay Area.

The best thing about the industry is that it puts it mark on you as much as you put your mark on it. “Escapism was a huge huge thing for me.” We were rabid consumers of media in all forms. I was constantly looking for an outlet. Games was just another angle on that. “These [music, games, radio, books, movies, etc.] were like magical forces in the world.”

Question: “One of the things that I find disturbing about video games in particular is that they tend to be male adolescent power trips. Was it empowering for you as gamer? Or was it escape or an outlet for energies which you didn’t know what to do with?”

[SPECTOR! Holy hell was this a crap question. Talk about defining empowering as a negative. As something different than the necessary precursors of what it takes for something to be empowering. In order for something to be empowering, it must first show you a different and compelling [escape] version of the world, and a path [outlet] to get there. The or is really conduct unbecoming here. /STOMP.]
“I think it was both. … As much as people malign them [power fantasies], you immediately point to an adolescent power fantasy and talk about it as a cliche or as a nacient drive that young people have. As much as we dismiss it, it’s hugely important.”
[No kidding – How are we to find the capabilities of our agency and, in turn, ourselves as individuals without considering how they interact with others and society as a whole?]
“Fighting daemons is sort of a literal presentation of an abstract idea. … There kind of a cathartic process there. Part of it was expression and exploration.”
[Adults understand this. Kids do not. Yet Adults seem to forget this when evaluating games when they are played by kids. They use the wrong lens.]
Psychological term is Mastery.

Question: “For me as a D&D player, I loved putting on different costumes. To try out what it was like? Where you trying out who you were?”

I don’t think so. Gave a talk called The Imago Effect (2006). About ideal identity. Summary Notes. About the idealized self, because I realized early on because my game avatars, regardless of games which were very different from himself.

“I Want through therapy, because that guy [Spector] influenced me.” – Smith
“Only because I think that everybody should go through therapy to be a member of the human race not because I’m making a comment about Harvey.” – Spector

One of the interesting things I did early on was making a list of D&D characters that I had made. For the first time, I saw patterns in them – history, fiction, signature marks. For me, it was always a different aspect of myself – pushing it to the extreme.

Some players take on a different role. Some players take on an idealized aspect of themselves.
[Hey – look! It’s why so much of game criticism and commentary is so controversial. The other person is having a completely different play experience than you, because how they relate to the character, and the choices they make, come from fundamentally different wellsprings.]

Question: “Do you think that still informs your design sensibilities today? … People too old to be doing what they’re doing are really important to me. That was true even when I was the youngest person in the room, not the oldest one. Dysfunctional families.”

I find that totally true. You sit around and think about what you could do with technology, with the IP available. You stir the post for a while, find something that excites you and then you start running with it. Later, you back up and look at it, you’ll recognize it as a variant of something you made before. Patterns.

Question: “From D&D and Freeport, you went to the military. What the heck?”

He spent 6 years in the Air Force. Wanted to marry his high school sweetheart. Random chapter in his life. Wanted to get away from the small town. I was totally miserable before I talked to the recruiter. [LOL, have I heard this story before.] “I read comics since I was 4. I never realized that someone wrote comics for a living.” [How is this even remotely possible? He doesn’t understand how that leap didn’t happen and then it did happen either.]

[He was in Germany @ the same time I was. Part of the University of Maryland’s LitClub. Thomas More was his professor.] “These people [that he met while being the military] changed my life. It was like being around the parents that I had always lacked.”

Question: “You’re largely self-educated from the University of Maryland?”

He dropped out. He was a satellite communication technician. [I wonder if I met him @ one point or another. Odds are non-trivial. For sure, we worked on the same systems.] “My self-confidence was so low.”

Long story where he was surrounded by people working on video games. He thought about them continuously. He eventually came around. Used classic dream job tactics: learned about job, socialized with people (skydiving with Lord British), played pen & paper with them. By the time he got hired, people thought he already worked there. For six months, total failure, but kept the pressure on. Wrote nice cover letter. Took a job as a tester in 1993. Warren pulled him into a Technical Design Assistant role.

Question: “Was QA a good way to get in the business?”

It was fantastic. He wrote a novel in the six months while he was trying to get in. [Awesome.] Where most people put their heads down on a team, look up and it’s been two years and you’ve been beating your head against the same problems. In QA it was a cross-functional role across many projects. Testing System Shock changed his life. Directly on top of his interests: sci-fi, cyberpunk, immersive worlds, etc. It was a powerful experience. By the end, he was lead tester.

Question: “You’ve played a lot of roles. Tester, Lead Tester, Associate Producer, Creative Director… Talk about the roles on each of your games.”

Lot of quest for legitimacy in there which everyone in this room is going to struggle with. [No shit. Don’t think it’s any different for anyone else.] When he first started, he went after writing and game design positions. Once he put his ego aside and started in the testing group, it turned out to be the best thing ever. A strong QA person works with all of the key people on the team. At some point or another, everyone had counted on him for something.

[Origin was really amazing at that point. Such a small group but so many quality people. I met many of them, and worked with a few, but the transition from a publisher to a development-only shop really killed that studio.]

The industry transition form one programmer making a game to one which required game designers as a discipline. Letting specialists do their thing results in a higher quality product. “Who foresaw that the game industry would explode like this and we’d have all of these specialist roles?”
[Interestingly, the pendulum has swung back a lot since 2007 on the requirement and game team sizes can be much smaller now, but the game designer, as a discipline, hasn’t gone away. Proved its worth. Wonder what his thoughts on this are now?]

Question: “Where did that person [specialist] come from? Who should it be?”

He’s hired many people straight out of college. This thing that’s happened to me by accident… He started to recruit people out of the mod community. One out of ten would really take off. He’s talking at schools like Full Sail, Carnage Mellon. Focused on multi-discipled people, specialist plus additional skills. Enforced mentoring by co-locating people. In two months a person can pick up 80% of an advanced skill [example used was game tuning.] They won’t get the last 20% without years of experience and multiple projects.
[Codified a process similar to Joel’s recruiting strategy.]

Question: “Back to QA. Wing Commander.”

What is a bug? At the time he had no idea. Required specific training. First ones he wrote were terrible. Had to be taught that he needed to find repeatable use cases. Playing games continuously for hours get really boring.

Question: “System Shock.”

Was one of the first games with VR. The technology wasn’t ready for prime time. [Wonder if it’s ready now?]

“Totally ready for VR headsets to come back. As crazy as it was… Seeing the world as if it was with no distractions. It was an amazing experience” – Warren

Best thing about working on System Shock was the availability of the team. Able to have creative conversations about the direction of the game.

Being a Producer for a while was a really phenomenal experience.

Re: Job at Looking Glass Studio

Long story about a keypad at the Looking Glass Studio. Door code was 0451 which is the same key code used for the first keypad in System Shock. Illusion to Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
“It wasn’t about being a genius it was about connecting the context.” – Harvey
“You got the job right there.” – Warren
He didn’t take the job.

Question: “From there – Ultima 8. That was you first real design challenge, right?”

When Ultima 8 shipped, he didn’t believe that it should have. He felt the development team was very hostile. “They were not about the end-user. They were about their own whims.” Some, not all. There were great people on that team. In terms of usability… user interface… [it just wasn’t fun.] Long example where a designer hid a death trap behind a tree, costing the him 30 minutes of his time. Players want to look out into the environment, see a problem, and solve the problem creatively with the tools they have. Highly constrained game or no. He likes the less linear experience. Figure things out according so rules without. The concept of information economy, where you deliberately withhold information, to make the player feel vulnerable (horror movies), there is a moment to do that. Need to choose the right time and be fair about it.

The response from the designer was really arrogant.

That made him really angry and sent a list of 100 things to Ultima 8 to key management. Richard Garriott, thinking three steps ahead, asked him to fix the bugs. That allowed them to release a much better game later. What he was really doing at the time was driving like a producer, but he didn’t realize it at the time.

Re: Cybermage & FireTeam

It’s very possible in the game industry to make a bad game, but realize later that you made something very innovative. Whether the game was a failure or a success, it was super interesting. One major failure of the process, was that this was the end of the era where one guy could do a game. It was the beginning of the era where you had to manage a team, of when you had to treat your customers well because you were no longer the only game in town. You have to respond to user feedback.

[Interestingly, while clearly true that there is more than one mobile game, there are truckloads which treat their customers really badly. I suppose they’re getting away with because of ignorance. I wonder how long before a social game-like flame-out happens.]

Question: “Technosaur. Terrific concept. Your first experience building a team. Every one of those guys is now a playa in the industry. What the heck happened?”

“One of the best experiences of my life.” He played Dune 2 and was blown away. Complexity and depth are not the same thing. Everyone gave you instant feedback with voice. He immediately wanted to do something like that. Describes the plot of the game at 1:05. He could describe it in such a way that excited people.

One of the truisms of games is that it’s very easy to put a demo together, but very hard to ship a game. The last 20% of the game, takes you 80% of the effort. There was one flaw – they wanted to have lots of animations with close-in zooming. The only way they could afford that was do them from purely top down instead of 3/4 angle like most other RTS games. At review at Electronic Arts, Don Mattrick rejected the top-down angle. He totally blew him off, but they ran into problems with it anyway because people couldn’t identify the units well. EA killed the project. “If I had just listened. I thought I knew everything. I was too hardheaded, so the project got killed. They fired all of us but 3. I watched 10 of my friends carry boxes out the door. It felt so bad.”

“The interesting thing is knowing what lesson to take away from that. In that case, the people who gave you that advice were right, but sometimes you have to stick to your guns. Making that judgement call is what separates out successful people.” – Spector

Re: FireTeam

“Art and I did our interview in the town of Diablo.” In chat. Over the top masculine warrior guys. Was a good experience. It was a video game in the video game sense. If you get that opportunity, you should take it. An arcade game teaches about dealing with compressed time. Everything has to happen very rapidly and clear. Distilled form of gaming.

Question: “This game was like a sporting event? Sounds perfect. What happened?”

The people who founded the company insisted that you can only buy the game over the Internet. [TOO SOON!] They made the game with VC funding and bypass the middlemen. [Interestingly this hasn’t happened. Steam has taken this place as a the digital distribution middleman. Credit Card on File is KING.]

Question: “Deus Ex. Harvey really functioned more as a Co-Director.”

So many people at so many levels contributed to it. The team even seemed small by today’s standards. ~30 people. Harvey, Warren, and Chris would fight like cats and dogs to make decisions. [Combative creativity.] Only the second time he had been a level designer. Really enjoyed that.

At the time, my then wife… [second ?]

Question: “You made huge contributions. I look back at two and thing Thank God Harvey was there. First, you redesigned the skill system. “

Lesser granularity, if a change happens in the game, you notice it. If it’s not demonstrable to the player, don’t do it. Originally the skill system was binary, he extended it and made it more granular than that. Didn’t remember actually doing that. Totally different perspectives on events. Signal loss. The next day it’s gone, from you even.

Question: “The other big thing on Deus Ex. Warren had huge grandiose stories and tried to ground it more. Harvey pitched a simpler variation of the same story which expressed everything.”

On a daily basis, we were building the rooms. They knew how long things were taking to do – what the limitations of the engine. If you routinely use the tools – you know what the limitations are. Intimacy with the technology. Very often a story is about a handful of people.

Example, Bioshock is really about story of Andrew Ryan who had this crazy vision – and thee player’s choice about the little girls. There’s probably five or so actual important characters in that game.

It wanted it to be more personal and intimate. Focus.

Deus Ex still had a non-stop cast. Guys would walk on screen and off without you talking with them again. It’s so hard for people to realize that whenever a player walks into a room, everything is new. The best games which take a small set of characters and repeat them over and over. That’s the best chance you have to get people to care about them.

Repeat Exposure. [Hey look – it’s a Thinking Fast & Slow concept.]

This is one of the basics of storytelling which we as developers were not applying.

[Long story about Gunther Herman. Talks about the kill codes of the cyborgs. ]

Give all of the characters a finale.

Question: “Deus Ex: Invisible War, you took a leadership position…”

This was a difficult project [separated from wife.] I feel like they had bad tech choices, bad AI, bad team chemistry, bad story, shipped too early. Moved into the future which undermined what made Deus Ex great by removing the grounded-ness.

Question: “There were certain thinks that we say as problems in Deus Ex which we wanted to address. I’ll start talking if you don’t…” [Nice…]

Really talk to the players that you’re aiming at. Don’t go for the extreme. It’s not selling out to cater to an audience. The listened to their designer friends and not to the players of the original game. They tried to fix some of those things, which took fantasy away from the player. Hindsight is 20/20.

Blacksite:Area 51 demo started at 1:33

Achievements are a collectable. Players love collectables. Game develop teams are going to start doing clever things with them. [Hadn’t ever thought of it that way.]

Never underestimate how much effort it takes to communicate something new to a player in a game. [I would remove the word new. Especially on mobile.]

[No wonder this game didn’t do well. Was very anti-US & highly political. Again and again. Katrina. Bush. Iraqi War. FEMA. Like all the damn time. Does NOT miss any opportunity to make an anti-American/anti-Bush statement. Using every tool available: pictures, words, setup, weapons, scenarios, story. As nearly as I can tell, the game embodied everything which made Democrats angry over the last six years of the Bush Administration. Preachy and ham-handed.

Here’s a tip: don’t piss of a potential 50% of your audience.

Here’s another tip: anger passes – it’s not a stable foundation on which to build art, or even a lasting memory.

Isn’t the commercial failure of this game a relearning of the player feedback lesson from Ultima 8?

Metascore of 62 didn’t just come from bugs. Sales.

Granted CoD isn’t much better on this point, and trending worse every generation but, for that series, the single player part of those games isn’t what sells them, it’s the multiplayer which is politically agnostic.]

Audience Question: Intelligible.

Tips of the day are a really good idea. You typically write these at the end with what people are confused about. It’s a stopgap, because it would better that the game would train you.

Question: “Section of questions about game design philosophy.”

Alternation is pleasing – color palette, gameplay situation, etc. Goes a long way for making an experience enjoyable.

Blacksite hits three or four of my most deeply held beliefs we hit: good story, fair immersive, alternates experiences. It misses on things like differentiated creature mechanics, second stage mechanics (example pac man interacting with ghosts). Every project you ever work on will be like that.

Don’t bury the lede. List it first, don’t build up to it. Use simpler words for communication. Had problems using jargon words when communicating within the team.

Question: “Orthogonal Unit Differentiation?”

Make each creature distinctive with different mechanics.

Question: “Emergent gameplay?”

Making the game as a chemistry set with five things which can be combined in interesting ways. You have enough tools, the environment works consistently, that you can solve your problems. You only have a certain amount of complexity to spend on the player. You’d better hope that players are signed up for a sandbox experience if there aren’t enough directed goals. I think most people need that.

He’s a big proponent of story in the game – by which he means the fantasy in the players head. Example: Band of Bugs. Interesting mechanics for good fantasy even though the story doesn’t appeal to him.

Question: “Gameplay ecology”

There are tools, rules, players and enemies. You could just make lists of each, but you will interesting second order interactions if you think of them as an interconnected structure. You need to pay attention that if you want to not “waste” your development budget. The game gets stronger if there are relationships between those things.

Question: “That’s a great way to think about analysis. Customizable avatars.”
Totally believe in self-expression in game combined with strong narrative. There’s a time for customizable and canned avatars. Some gamers would like to have a strong central lead. He’s learned to be less dismissive of the player. It’s a dialog between the player and the designer. It’s a bizarre thing to make entertainment software.

Question: “Balancing your creativity with the players. What’s the hardest part? Most enjoyable?”

The emotional component of the team is the hardest part. Management issues. Keeping the creativity moving in a consistent direction. Specialists who don’t get other’s issues. The stakes are high. Max out a skill + maxing out collaboration. How to loose arguments a certain percentage of a time.

Question: “5 favorite games?”

  • Doom 2
  • XCom:
    Players can imbue random generated content with their own emotional value. Example: random generated soldiers who you go on missions with. The game generated two characters who had the same last name, one male, one female, so he generated a fantasy that they were married and had signed on to fight aliens together. When one died on a mission, he could not move on. Kept playing the mission over and over until they both got out alive.
  • Underworld
  • System Shock
  • Sacrifice

Audience Questions

Question: “Is there a demo?”

There is a demo for Blacksite. It’s old.
[Long description of even more anti-America setup from one of the missions in the game. “I doubt Joe Walmart will notice that…”

Uh, no.

Further buttresses my core assertion that game failed because it didn’t listen to its potential audience. If I had to wager, that’s why it was ripped out of their hands and shipped early, because a business person modeled the sales and blew the whistle on further investment.]

Question: “How did you get such a subversive game made?”

If marketing at Midway had known, they wouldn’t have paid for it. There are characters in the game with “other views.” It largely falls back to things which I think most of us can agree on. “Torture is not good.” [CoD:BLOPS… /sigh]

It’s kind of an innovation to actually run around America as a shooter. [Agreed.] I think the game operates at two levels and you can appreciate it if you agree with our views or not. I don’t think everyone knew what we were going to because many of these elements came on very late.

At the end of the day, he’s paid to impart some of his vision into the game. Otherwise you’re going to end up with something totally diffused and derivative. [Long story about how he had a list of things like mission names that he withheld from most of the team. Placeholder art was allowed to exist for a long time, until the last possible minute sounds like. He keeps using the word ironically in the literary-correct sense, but also arguably in a foreshadowing way.]

You want someone watching everything to make sure that you’re moving in a consistent direction. So not everyone on the team buys into it. [“Blacksite is political satire.” Maybe… That wasn’t my reaction from his presentation.]

He does have the support of a bulk of the team. [All sorts of warning signs in just having to utter that sentence aloud… Echoes of my experience at LucasArts. I wonder if it’s part and parcel of creative-driven development that this occurs. Might well be…

I do wonder though, how much different this would have gone had Midway’s marketing department been fully cognizant sooner about the nature of the game being made. At a floor minimum, it would have changed the “buy-in” equation substantially and might well not have resulted in his departure from Midway. Can’t ever really know that for sure, but fodder for consideration.

Echoes of the EA/Don Mattrick lesson unlearned? Having worked with that level of EA management in the past, you don’t get to make that mistake more than once. I have to believe that Midway would have been similar.]

Question: Unintelligible

If I had more time, I would pick the five clunkiest and make them better. Art Director would do the same.

Sounds like a total brutal crunch period. “Happens on every team.” [Nope.]

For what it’s worth, I have no idea how good the game is or not – I’m too close to it. Same was true of Deus Ex for him and Warren.

You can work yourself into a trap of being a perfectionist. I don’t know if he’s ever going to ship it.

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Copybooks: Privacy, Logjams, and Permanence

For some tactical copybook how-to listen: How To Create A Personal Knowledge Management System from Coaching for Leaders

In addition to the tactical, it really shook thoughts of privacy loose. I spend a lot of time interacting with, and thinking about things which, when taken out of context, could result in negative consequences. I wrote a study on binomial random number theory, based on the digits of Pi, spurred on by the Pioneer Plaque & the Voyager Golden Record, but also inspired by something else. For those keeping score: game design relevant math, To Infinity and Beyond!, somewhere from my past, and something I shouldn’t talk about.

Damn it.

Such is the way of things and, by no means, is it new.

Check out this crazy: History’s Greatest Alchemists, Part 1: Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

Isaac Newton was nuts for alchemy. As in lead to gold. Yes, the Royal Society of London member, 3 laws of motion, ouch an apple just hit my head. He published hundreds of pages about alchemy at a time when it was downright risqué. He spent more seeking the Philosopher’s Stone than on MATH. Who did he think he was? Harry Potter?

Actually no, Isaac was a following an already well worn path. There’s just something about Physics which led one to contemplate God, the existence and reality of his existence. There’s just something about wondering about the true nature of matter which makes one contemplate and invoke the divine – or to deny divinities existence.

All sorts of wonderfully heretical thoughts become possible. Should we worship the Sun and Stars in the context of Christianity? Should the be venerated as Saints? Isaac and Kepler (yes – THAT Kepler) thought so. Isaac didn’t just say that we should, he actually wrote it down (A short Schem for the true Religion.) He published it, back when that was difficult.

Think on that for a moment.

How much trouble that could have caused for him. Did it cause trouble for him? How could it not? How could he be two so divergent and incompatible people at the same time? I immediately jump to the world was different in the early 1700’s than now, but that seems like to simple of an answer. Different how? Different why? Is there some way to be able to return to that level of “freedom”? Would we want to be able to? (Tons more on alchemy here: History of Alchemy Podcast.)

Thoughts for another day…

The Capture, Curation, and Create steps should be separated by time, to serve as an automatic filter, ensuring your limited time and effort is well spent. If something isn’t interesting two days later, why would you want to spend even more time with it? A reasonable enough assertion. But I think it’s also important to go back and ask yourself: What did I miss the first time I looked at this? It’s amazing to me how often that question comes to the answer: oh this is reductive and therefore uninteresting. Or: hey, this connects to that other thing in an interesting way. Or: this is cool, but I’ve got something better to work on.

I’m intentionally creating a logjam of ideas. Too much to fit through the hole. Too much to process in the time available. Too many other worthy choices. Often times really great things do not survive and are forgotten.

It’s harsh as hell.

It requires the conviction of the righteous – a conviction recently buttressed by the discovery that Robert Greene follows a similar approach (via Mixergy) with sufficient vigor that he requires it of others. (A detailed comparison of Ryan Holiday’s version of Robert’s system is one of the “logs” in the river at the moment. I expect it’ll come out a bit like the Telephone Game with aspects of game cloning artifacts. That said, TOO SOON…)

[I took a detour here to write in DayOne, because that lead to thoughts not suitable for public conception. An excellent segue to the concept of Permanence…]

Virtual knowledge stores (web pages, emails, twitter feeds photos, etc.) are incredibly fragile. Those that assert otherwise… Haven’t been on the Internet long enough. Haven’t been interacting with technology long enough. Haven’t heard people much smarter than I:

Yet, here I write on a service owned by someone else. On a server I don’t control. Under ToS for which I can’t veto, or even appeal. With the explicit intention of keeping, and using, this information in the future.

Oops…

Apple's Jonathan Ive gets obsessive about design

OBJECTIFIED from applechronicles on Vimeo.

I remember the first time I saw an Apple product. I remember it so clearly, because it was the first time I realized that I when I saw this product, I got a very clear sense of the people who designed it and made it.

A big definition of who you are as a designer, it’s the way that you look at the world. I guess it’s one of the sort of curses of what you do. Is that you’re constantly looking at something and thinking why… Why… WHY is it like that? What… Why is like that and not like this? In that sense you are constantly designing.

When we’re designing a product, we have to look to different attributes of the product. Some of those attributes will be the materials that it’s made from and the form of those materials. So for example, the first iMac that we made, the primary component of that was the CRT which was spherical. We would have an entirely different approach to designing something like than the current iMac which is a flat display. Other issues would be just physically how do you connect to the product. So for example, the iPhone everything defers to the display.

A lot of what we seem to be doing (in a product like that) is getting design out of the way. I think when forms develop with that sort of reason, and they’re not just arbitrary shapes, it feels almost inevitable. It feels almost undesigned. It feels almost like of course it’s that way, why wouldn’t it be any other way?

There is a remarkable efficiency and beauty to just how much a single part can do. One of the things we push and push ourselves on is trying to figure out can we do the job of those six parts with just one. The design of this, in many ways, wasn’t the design of a physical thing. It was figuring out process.

It’s really important in a product to have a sense of the hierarchy of what’s important and what’s not important, by removing those things which are all vying for your attention. An indicator has a value when it’s indicating something, but if it’s not indicating something, it shouldn’t be there. It’s one of those funny things. You spend so much time to make it less conspicuous and less obvious.

If you think about it, so many of the products we’re surrounded by, they want you to be aware of how clever the solution was.

When the indicator comes on, I wouldn’t expect anyone to point to that as a feature. But at, on some level I think you’re aware of a calm and considered solution. That therefore speaks about how you’re going to use it, and not the terrible struggles we as designed and engineers had in trying to solve some of the problems.

That’s quite obsessive, isn’t it?

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

Neil Strauss: Secrets to Writing

Assume nobody cares.

The only purpose for the 1st sentence is to transport them to the second one.

The cardinal rule of writing is to be interesting.

The cardinal sin is to be boring.