Jan 16, 2014

Making murder real

During a great discussion about giving life value in DayZ, /u/cyb0rgmous3 writes:

TL;DR:

Constant massacre and butchery needs to have a game changing, negative effect on players, so that being helpful can be a reward in its own right.

People won’t work together, ever, because it’s a video game. No matter how much you want to imply they should. A line needs to be drawn and the developers needs to take a stand on either side of it.

A few Redditors replied with experiences they’ve had, either themselves or through people they know, with murder, and how it doesn’t fit cleanly into this model. It’s a great discussion. I replied a few comments down, which I’m reposting here.


There are two big pitfalls designers often run into when they put insanity in games: externalization and personalization.

Externalization

The worst thing a game can do is externalize what would normally be an internal experience in order to convey it to the player. If you’ve ever played a game with “sanity points,” you’ve felt this disconnect. The game tries to express encountering something unknowable or traumatic by lowering your sanity points, and nice things will raise them, but all it does is give our minds something else to weigh as a cost of our actions, not as something truly unhinging. You think of it the same way you might think of HP. It just becomes another bar to keep up.

The best ways I’ve seen games (and other designed experiences) get close to insanity or other real emotions is by simulating the triggers or outcomes of those emotions in highly distilled ways and hiding the specific mechanics. A counter-example: a FitBit, a pedometer that’s part of a suite of products to help you get fit, will wake you up in the morning with a little motivational phrase and a smile. It’ll tell you it loves you, or it’ll ask you to walk it. It creates an emotional bond that is, although extremely ephemeral, absolutely real, and it helps motivate people to use it.

Another example is the horror game Amnesia. It does some of the sanity points bit with light (if you’re outside of light too long, your vision and other aspects of control start to falter), but much of the feeling of fear is conveyed through the environment and the situations. I played the demo, so I haven’t had the full experience of the game, but I was in a corridor covered with random organic extrusions, chased through water by some invisible thing where I could only see its footsteps, vigorously, frantically turning a hand-crank (with circular mouse motions) to get through a gate to the other side before the thing caught me. I really did feel fear. But that brings me to the second pitfall.

Personalization

Not everyone experiences everything the same way, and by reducing sanity or mental state to a mechanic, it becomes homogeneous and you reduce the effects of personality. This is what I think /u/Bite_It_You_Scum and /u/whitebalverine were getting at: people react to unsettling acts differently, and their reactions change over time. These two pitfalls are related, because I think if a designer can convey the act well and convey the triggers and outcomes in a highly distilled way, the game will create the feeling in the player rather than just affect the person’s sanity points. I’m not saying you can’t have a game where your hands get shakey or your vision goes blurry, but the remorse or feeling of regret has to be real. In the same way that the FitBit creates this artificially, and you know it’s artificial but buy into it anyway, I think it’s possible to create that artificially in a game like DayZ.

If the designers were going to tackle it, that’s how I’d love to see it done: make the murder act feel as real as possible to the player, let the player react the way he or she would already, and don’t try to capture it strictly in game mechanics.

Aug 20, 2013

Soon(tm): 0x10c

If you ever wonder why Apple never announces products ahead of time, look no further than Notch’s experience with a totally undefined project. 0x10c.

Aug 19, 2013

‘The greatest [spoiler] story ever told’

If you’ve played Gone Home, click this link and read this article. If not, go play it and come back. Go ahead. Go go go.

Aug 14, 2013
Jul 30, 2013

Process improvements feed people

Mona El-Naggar writing for The New York Times:

“They make cars; I run a kitchen,” said Daryl Foriest, director of distribution at the Food Bank’s pantry and soup kitchen in Harlem. “This won’t work.”

When Toyota insisted it would, Mr. Foriest presented the company with a challenge.

“The line of people waiting to eat is too long,” Mr. Foriest said. “Make the line shorter.”

Toyota’s engineers went to work. The kitchen, which can seat 50 people, typically opened for dinner at 4 p.m., and when all the chairs were filled, a line would form outside. Mr. Foriest would wait for enough space to open up to allow 10 people in. The average wait time could be up to an hour and a half.

Toyota made three changes. They eliminated the 10-at-a-time system, allowing diners to flow in one by one as soon as a chair was free. Next, a waiting area was set up inside where people lined up closer to where they would pick up food trays. Finally, an employee was assigned the sole duty of spotting empty seats so they could be filled quickly. The average wait time dropped to 18 minutes and more people were fed.

Holy optimization batman.

Player experience improvements tend toward this dynamic as well. A change that makes the experience better — in this case, waiting in line for a soup kitchen — also helps the bottom line. If you monetize engagement, getting people into your game is probably the most important activity you can optimize, in the same way that a value of a food charity depends on how many people it can feed. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

[ via kottke ]

Jul 25, 2013

If you design things humans interact with

…you should consider taking this course.

Jul 24, 2013

Shipping is just the beginning

Sergey Titov, CEO for Arktos Entertainment Group, writing for GamesIndustry International:

Ten years ago our work as game developers stopped as soon as a game went to retail. Now you essentially need to form a marriage with gamers by respecting customers, having customers respect you and by both compromising on things because so much content is created post launch or when beta starts. I’ll say this is totally new and sometimes really hard to master. If you’re smart and put lots of data mining capabilities into your title, then every day you’ll have direct access to the real time data that tells you what your users feel about the game… Not what they say on forums or websites, but what they really think and how they react to any of the changes. Are more players playing per day? Do they stay in a game for longer periods of time? Do they spend more money on in-game transactions, and so on.

Really valuable insight, but there’s also a nugget about free-to-play in the next paragraph that’s worth a quote. It’s an aspect of f2p that a lot of people miss:

Some of you may ask “so you basically are saying that the only way to survive in the industry is to learn how to make free-to-play games filled with microtransactions and burning through users?” Nope, this is not what I’m saying. Free to play is just a business model that allows users to try a game for free. By doing this you eliminate the entry barrier and make it easier for new players to try your game. It still needs to be a good game for them to actually stay.

Treating games as a service rather than a product is not necessarily tied to f2p, but f2p games do jive very nicely to the philosophy. No matter your marketing strategy or business model, you can’t just ship it and forget it anymore. Shipping is the beginning of a relationship with your player, and that relationship — as much as the content of the game — determines if they stick around or drop it.

Jul 22, 2013

Stop saying ‘our players’

From an office-wide letter Jack Dorsey sent to Square employees:

The word “user” abstracts the actual individual. This may seem like a small and insignificant detail that doesn’t matter, but the vernacular and words we use here at Square set a very strong and subtle tone for everything we do. So let’s now part ways with our industry and rethink this.

The word “customer” is a much more active and bolder word. It’s honest and direct. It immediately suggests a relationship we must deliver on. And our customers think of their customers in the same way.

We have two types of customers: sellers and buyers. So when we need to be more specific, we’ll use one of those two words.

I’d go a step further and rip out “our” from the phrase, too. Remove it entirely from your organization’s language. “Your players” don’t belong to you.1

Lots of players aren’t even fully aware of the developer behind the game they love. Or it’s one of many games they interact with, and they certainly don’t think of themselves as tied to you as a developer in any meaningful way.2

I have a lot of respect for leaders who pay attention to the language used in their organizations, because it’s so core to everyone’s perspective that they might not even notice it themselves. But the core is where you really need to pivot a perspective that’s ever-so-slightly off course.

If you want to truly adopt a players’ perspective,3 you have to start by understanding that your perspective is flawed, wrong, spoiled. Yours is a privileged view of your work, with teams and initiatives and projects and backlogs and trade-offs players won’t ever see. They see one thing: the experience you provide, and it’s good or bad.

Language changes like Dorsey’s are good ways to shake people out of the safe view that “we grok our players.” That view is dangerous, often when it’s mixed with some truth. You might be a player yourself, but no player can put a face to a feature like you can. You have to look at your work from the outside in or else you’ll be stuck in an echo chamber of how awesome you think you are, or you’ll start to believe in some idealized “player” or “user” that doesn’t exist, and eventually you’ll be wrong.

[ Via Daring Fireball’s link to a post by Benedict Evans. ]


  1. Riot Games purposefully doesn’t use the word “customer,” because not every player is also a customer in a free to play game. We took the time to redefine “customer support” as “player support” for that reason. The connotation for certain phrases will be different at every company. For Square, I think the term “customer” makes sense for the perspective shift they’re trying to adopt, and it sounds like they’re going for a similar concept analogous to Riot’s avoidance of “customer” or “user.” I’m certain it’ll be different at your company. 

  2. At least not at first. 

  3. Yeah. I almost wrote “your.” 

Jul 11, 2013

This Is Why People Still Pirate

Kyle Wagner writing for Gizmodo:

Some pirate because it’s free, and easy, but for many, it comes down to the convenience of it all. Just like you stick all your DVDs or books on a shelf, you can keep all your pirated files in a folder titled Movies on a hard drive or media server, or even transcode them and stick them in iTunes. It’s dead simple, if a little tedious. You know how you get piracy to stop, or at least slow down dramatically? Match that simplicity and stamp out the tedium. So far, no one has.

The best customer experience always wins, even if it’s on a janky website with the potential for viruses and porn ads in the corner. When someone prefers that experience to yours, you are losing.

Ben Kuchera writing for The Penny Arcade Report adds:

Piracy is, as always, a service problem, and the companies who sell the content are losing the fight because they think consumers don’t have any other options. It’s not that the free version is tolerable, and people are just trying to save a buck, it’s that the free version is often superior in a number of ways, so consumers have no incentive to pay for the content, other than their own morals.

And you know how that goes.

So it goes.

(Via Ben Kuchera.)

Jul 11, 2013

Somebody has to clean up all that blood

Every AAA game ends in hallways filled with blood, gore, bullet casings, body parts, and more. Someone’s gotta deal with the aftermath. Now that person can be you.

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