Sunday, May 03, 2015

Triptych IV

Three different topics in one blog post.

First, a comment about Reading Versus Listening and Watching.  I am not writing much in the blog, these days, as I tend to think in terms of screencasts (videos) because that’s where the education market has gone.  The proportion of people willing to read (as opposed to listen) decreases over time.  Before I retired from college teaching I saw that students often didn’t even get a copy of the textbook, let alone read it.

A blog such as this one naturally attracts the readers, rather than the listeners. So I’ll try to write more often.  I am also working on turning my online courses into books, for those who prefer to read.

“Growing” the Hobby

If you want to "grow" any game-related hobby, you make the games easier to play (require less thought/action by the participant) and make them more rewarding.

To do the first, you either:
tell the player what to do (as in many of the original Zynga Facebook games) or
you make things happen for the player (the player is a passive observer), or
you make every decision lead to success (that is, no "bad" decisions)

Further (and this is the second), make sure that there's feedback (at the very least) if not functional reward (such as loot) at every juncture/encounter.

Using these methods, people who don't want to make an effort (an attitude that seems to be more and more common in the days of the "Easy Button" - "I can't be bothered"), and people who want the game to be more like a movie, rewarding them rather than requiring them to earn something, will more likely be attracted.

This is what has happened in MMOs and F2P video games.  We're seeing some of it in tabletop games, though not as strongly as in video games.

I'm not going to say this broad appeal is bad.  But is it what you want as a designer, is that how you want to design "games"?  Are hobby games becoming famiily and party games?

 How being a game designer changes your perception

Christian Williams was describing Kickstarter in a blog post on LinkedIn recently.  Then he talked about the opening video for a KS project.  He showed three, including this one,

Christian said "Wow. Just wow. I watched this video and I wanted to play this game NOW!? "

What did I see, as a game designer?  I saw a fairly abstract game with some Euro influence and a little maneuver, more or less a game about collecting things.  I saw a video that emphasized story, but games aren't stories, they're games.  It hinted at the mechanics used, but emphasized the imagined story.

I saw how the game was constructed, not the story.  I only care about the story insofar as it influences the gameplay, the design, and I couldn't learn enough about the design to know, nor to be excited about the design.

I have no interest in playing it.  (Though I have to admit, I am not a game lover, I'm a lover of certain games and certain kinds of games, which is quite another thing.)

(Keep in mind, Kickstarters aren't about the game, they're about the product.  They're about the dream.  You don't really know what the game is like or how it will play, it may not even have been completed.)

Here's how a video game developer described the change in how the developer perceived games:

When you consider becoming a developer, you are going to develop a certain type of hypothetical 'developers glasses'. This means you'll be able to recognize the structure of games and how they are constructed. This sounds great at first, but it will soon transform you into an extremely critical judge, and these glasses will make it harder to swap back to your 'consumer glasses'. I won't say you will not enjoy games anymore, but pleasing yourself with what once was your hobby gets harder.  -Koen Deetman

Books are like games?

Books are like games in many ways.  Almost no game has original mechanics, original settings, themes, etc.  But a game can be new as a whole because of the way things are put together.  Nor could someone go out on the Web, find descriptions of some mechanics, and throw them together to be as good as a properly-designed game.

Books - fiction or non-fiction - rarely contain a lot that is original, but what is selected for inclusion, how it's arranged, how it's presented, makes a big difference.  For example, there are a couple dozen books on game design, but none that resemble my book.

Non-fiction books combine a lot of information that may be available somewhere, may be obscure: the author organizes it and infuses it with his or her understanding to make it something new.

The markets for games and books are behaving similarly, as well.  There's an oversupply of both, with the result that more and more games and books are being published each year, and on average each is selling fewer and fewer copies.  Hence the notion that you'll get rich designing boardgames becomes yet more ridiculous every year.  (It's happening in video games, too, with the average game on the Apple Store making all of $500 (median).)

Thanks to the difficulties of working with a Chinese printer for the first time, my adventure game Sea Kings from Worthington Publishing is now delayed until sometime in mid-summer.

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