As designers, we still tend to think of our work like sending a rover to Mars: we create an experience, and others consume it in some far-off place we can’t see, then after a delay they report back to us on their experiences. Even most MMOs are created with that mindset until (and even after) the game goes live. With the rise of social media and game streaming, along with so many games now providing a live service even if it’s just leaderboards, achievements and stats, it’s time to open doors to new types of games and ways of playing.
The first example I saw of a community game was Twitch Plays Pokemon. A game of Pokemon is streamed live on Twitch, and viewers can vote in the chat for what the AI player should do next. It’s messy to say the least (hundreds of chat messages can fly by before you can read them), but the possibilities are immense. Here are articles from Polygon and Gamespot about the potential impact of this style of play.
Choice Chamber is an upcoming game using the community voting method to determine the play experience. It’s just the tip of the iceberg though: when you consider the combination of modular game elements–including narrative–with an effective method for viewers to vote and then witness the outcome, I believe we have the opportunity to create a new kind of play experience that unfolds like a live performance!
It’s long been part of the broader game design conversation that “fun is learning”, and that what we do as game designers is create smooth, usable, graceful progressions through a learning and discovery process — but I’ve yet to see a discussion of what organic systems and structures (even conventions) that have grown out of games (for example tech trees, leveling systems, first time user experience, resource management) can be best leveraged toward learning whether in or outside of a game.
We are heading into a time when the fields of learning and game design are beginning to converge and interact in ways they’ve never interacted before, from a standpoint of mutual respect and idea-sharing. How can we create a feedback loop into this system where game design informs learning design, and where learning design leads to the creation of better games? It starts with a shared vocabulary, and an understanding of what systems create what kinds of emotional and cognitive experiences. These “cookbook” approaches have been discussed inside and outside of Horseshoe before (“Multiplayer Game Atoms”, “Psychology for Game Designers”, “Solving Big Problems”…), but this topic would aim to create a list of major game structures and discuss their specific cognitive relationship to learning processes possibly as defined by the work of Piaget, Vygotsky, and more modern theorists and structures (systems thinking, persistence, affective impact, social norms).
The flip side of the feedback loop is that by understanding what it is that is fulfilling about learning, what the learning state looks like, what is happening on a microscopic level inside a person’s thinking when they learn, we can create more compelling introductory systems, smoother progressions, and stickier elder loops. First time user experience remains a persistent problem in most games, and some of the answers could well exist inside the heads of teachers and education scientists. It seems likely that even in thinking of the “first time user experience” as a universal thing, we might well discover that a diverse approach toward a first time user experience depending upon the kind of learning desired is what is most effective.
The industry is currently, for lack of a better word, under attack. This isn’t an isolated case, but something that’s part of a larger system. If anyone knows how to analyze, understand, and ultimately control systems, it should be game designers. So maybe we should say, fuck “solving game design’s hardest problems,” and instead use our time together to solve some of the hardest systemic problems out there in the rest of the world, as they are affecting our industry anyway.
There were some idiots out there targeting a bunch of academics at DiGRA on the theory that they are some kind of secret shadow organization that controls the game industry, apparently oblivious to the existence of PH. Clearly, if we work on this topic, the standard Code of Secrecy/Blabbing will need to be considered carefully, to protect all concerned.
What do the real life trends of cosplay and LARPing, escape the room and haunted house experiences, location-based and alternate reality gaming have in common? Adults are craving imaginative play more than ever. Wanting that uninhibited fun we had as children.
But many social stigmas and self-awareness impede us from letting each other have fun.
- What are ways that we can allow each other to have more silly, indulgent, imaginative play?
- Can we frame systems, rules or even just present games in a way that is disarming?
- What new types of play will compelling enough to make it irresistible to join in?
- What parts of these games should be physical or digital?
Many (though not all) game live and die based off their systems design. Yet this critical discipline lingers in the shadows, poorly understood and poorly promoted. Over the years that I’ve talked about systems design, I’ve found it to be a bit like chatting about advanced math at a loud dinner party. In almost any setting available to game developers, the conversation quickly shifts to rhetorically charged chatter about art, narrative, politics, business or even programming. There’s a place for that. But…how do we encourage a rich discussion about system design?
- What is a fruitful place to discuss systems design? How to create a safe space?
- How do we create a critical mass of serious and knowledgeable practitioners so the conversation isn’t washed away?
- How do we elevate and promote the practice?
- What are useful rules of engagement with more rhetoric-focused groups that only weakly understand or appreciate systems design?
Nearly every game project has, at some point, some designer doing work on balancing. Yet there is a dearth of resources explaining how we do it. Let’s get some heads together and figure out if any of us even do this in the same way, and if there’s a way we can formalize our methods so that others can make use of them.
(I realize balance is a massive topic, possibly beyond the scope of our ability to cover over a single weekend. If so, we can choose a suitable subtopic to elaborate on.)
Progression systems have seen all sorts of innovation lately. F2P, MMOs, and incremental games (In a Dark Room, Cookie Clicker, Gridland) all do fascinating things to ease the learning curve and keep players engaged long term.
- Tools we can use to make new progression systems
- Common and uncommon existing variations (leveling, unlocking, events, drops, etc)
- Techniques for mixing and matching existing systems (feedback loops, internal economies)
- Ways of introducing meaningful choice.
- Common design goals for the progression system and how we might meet them.