Old vs. New: How to acquire new players with a largely veteran community

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I have a specific problem I’m trying to solve. I have a game that’s been running since the 90s and most of the player base has been playing for at least a few years. I’m in the process of redoing the game to make it more accessible, and my primary obstacle hasn’t been anything technical, but rather the community itself.

It’s a competitive game that relies a lot on teamwork and veteran players tend to be very impatient with newer players, which results in the classic poor experience (getting removed from games, yelled at, etc.).  Some ideas I’ve had to fix this problem:

  • segregating players based on experience
  • reducing exposure of new players to the community (disabling chat by default, etc)

However I’m not sure if this going to help or harm. I know that “making online MP a better place” has been a topic in the past and touched on this issue, but I would like to focus in on this specific problem in depth.

“Shall we play a game?”

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A few years back, when the Milo tech demo made the rounds, it was met with a mix of curiosity and confusion. While pet simulators like Nintendogs were adopted by the masses, and Seaman is a cult classic,  the idea of interacting with a lifelike virtual human, a child no less, it seemed to alienate more people than it intrigued.

On my current project, I’m working with social simulation software to create interactive prose fiction where the characters in the story react in real time. The medium is different, but for me, the goal is similar to project Milo’s — to create the illusion of life; to lull the player into forgetting that they are interacting with an AI. Early days, but a lot of fun, and the fact that it’s prose and not an avatar helps blunt the uncanny valley.

Ignore for now the challenge of how to make smarter AI characters. What I would be interested in talking about at Horseshoe is what new kinds of games and game-like experiences could we create around characters with all the expressiveness, vulnerabilities and spontaneity of human beings. And what are the ethical implications as empathy with AI characters increases alongside freedom of interaction?

Good Grief

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This may be a little weird, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the mechanics of grief. Mainly how grief is really weird in how it seems to completely disregard time, as in how you could have lost someone 8 years ago and then out of nowhere have the grief return as fresh as though it had just been yesterday. Such a strange, human system!

I’m interested in breaking down this experience and exploring the rules that may drive it. Mind you, this isn’t so much “make people sad when they play games,” or “make a character and get the player really attached to it and then off it. Grief!” but more looking at how grief behaves in the weirder sense and if we can extract that shared experience and do something interesting with it in an interactive context.

When do you kill a game?

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There are multiple stages to a game. Prototyping, Production, Live game.  And in each of these multiple moments, it might be a really good idea for the game to die.  Life is short, resources are limited and there are more games to make in the future.

  • When do you kill a game?  
  • What criteria do you use?  What are tools that make us murder intelligently?
  • What are the emotional costs and benefits?  Parents are always over invested in our sickly children.
  • What are ways of ending a game that open up the maximum opportunities for the future? Is the corpse worth preserving?  Can its essential organs be harvested and used elsewhere?

Creating games that command respect

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Have you seen Ian Bogost’s last presentation on fun? http://vimeo.com/74943170

I want to talk about this with my cogent and wise game design fellows!

Some quotes:

  • Fun comes from the work of working a system
  • Fun: the feeling of operating a system, particularly in a way we haven’t seen before.
  • Fun is related to structure, not to effect.
  • Fun is an admiration for the absurd arbitrariness of things.
  • Fun is a name for the feeling of deliberately operating a constrained system.
  • Shift the frame from play as an activity to play as a condition for certain media. Shift the frame from fun as an experience to fun as an exhaust that is produced when an operator can treat a thing with dignity.
  • Designing something fun: Conceiving of something worthy of being treated with respect.
  • Fun at its best: the whole world watches an abstraction give up its secrets.
  • The thing that makes a job fun is not finding the element of fun that makes it a game, but finding the element of fun that makes it a job. Jobs are fun when they are not games, when we treat them seriously.
  • We fail to facilitate fun when we don’t take things seriously, not because we take them too seriously. It’s not that we’re not having enough enjoyment.
  • Fun is measured in historical time. Fun cooks slow. It demands seeking out novelties within boundaries that have largely been erected for a long time.
  • Fun is a way of finding the air bubbles of freshness in something that is suffocatingly familiar.

I’m so excited by this kind of thinking. Can we talk about how to best design when adopting this viewpoint? I hate grinding but I appreciate the “job of playing”. How do I design a game that feels like the latter and not the former?

Game designs boosting creativity

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When we are in a creative mode, we  find new solutions to old problems, and we get new perspectives on things we take for granted. We create things that are truly new and unique, things that has not existed before, things that are both valuable, surprising and impressive.

How can games boost creativity?

We know some about what makes us creative. Random stimulus is one trigger, where we we combine seemingly unrelated concepts.  How can we use  applications such as wordNet or big data mining? How can we add real world bleed?

Another trick is to constrain the border in which you solve a problem or create something. We find new ways to work within the borders, or we find new ways to break them. If we made a game that gave the borders – what would that game be like?

We also know that we are better at solving problems when we cooperate with each other. What would game utilising this look like? And, would it be true even if the one we cooperate with is a machine, or a game system? Would we be able to enable the creation of truly novel things?

Lets map this out, and lets design!


… just to give some context:
Some Game Pre-cursors:
Conceptual blends and collaborative storytelling:
Tarot, StoryCubes, Dixit, Fiasco, and any table top RPG.

Creative construction:
pine-cones, LEGO, CreatorVerse, MineCraft, SporeCreature Creator…etc.

 Pretty related
The Voynich Manuscript (unknown)

The Book of Imaginary Beings (Borges)
Codex Seraphinianus (Serafini)
A book of Surrealist Games

 Attempts to understand Creativity
M. A. Boden, The Creative Mind – Myths and Mechanisms (2. ed.). Routledge, 2003.

A. Newell, J. C. Shaw, H. A. Simon, “The process of creative thinking,” in Contemporary Approaches to Creative Thinking (G. T. H. E. Gruber and M. Wertheimer, eds.), pp. 63–19, Atherton, 1963.


The Games of Tomorrow

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Facebook is so yesterday. Mobile is hot right now, but is becoming so red-ocean that it’s not a fun place to be. What are the new frontiers of gaming that will be red hot in 5 years? The ones that I can see are multi-screen experiences (e.g. living room TV + tablets), wearable computing (e.g. Google glass, iWatch), and neurogaming (pure thoughtwaves as user input). I’d love to spend Horseshoe discussing the gaming implication of these new techs.

Pejorative user names & market segmentation words hurt industry reaction speed

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The game industry is still young, but we’re already showing our age by getting stuck in unproductive ruts.

The game industry was far too slow in embracing female players, continues to lag in appealing to players of color (especially Latinos) and seems loathe to embrace concepts that don’t fit the mainstream mold.  (Case in point, journalists and produces continue to exclude the Wii, despite its amazing sales record.)

Much of this comes from the industry’s pejorative names for everyone who isn’t in our most devoted demographic.  “Kid games,” “Girl games,” “Non-traditional gamers,” “Whales,” “Girlfriend mode,” “nOObz,” “Match-3 players,” etc.  How can we help top-level executives and studio heads, for a start, to re-think who they build games for in terms of actual market data, as opposed to stereotypes about players that haven’t been true for decades, if they ever were?

How to make great in-situ digital board games

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How can we create new shared experiences around a table that make the most out of tablets and smart phones?

I mentioned this topic a couple of years ago. I think that with the advent of games like Spaceteam, it’s even more relevant now.

There are some crazy ideas out there (like http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1613260297/golem-arcana?ref=live ) but no real design framework that I can find.

  • Can we come up with designs that solve the lack of hidden information problem without relying on randomness or on each player having his own hardware?
  • Are there games where players can play simultaneously without making the experience a mess? (or maybe, as in Spaceteam, how do we create new and fun kinds of mess?)
  • Are digitally-enforced rules the gateway to more tactical/strategic yet more accessible board games?

I’d like to find out 🙂

Endorsement of game design & game development courses at Universities

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An ever-growing number of schools offer courses or entire programs dedicated to game design, development, engineering, etc.  But there are no clearly recognized standards in place for such programs, and no official body which can provide reviews of such programs.  Most students in such programs complete 1 finished game at best, so there is very little data available from which any such official body could draw.

Compared to established fields of study such as English, Art, or the Sciences Game Development courses suffer from a lack of industry credibility.

How could this situation be improved?  What steps could be recommended to University programs?  What steps could be taken within the game industry?  What existing models best fit Game Development as a field of study?