The islands of game development – videogame, boardgame, physical activities are starting to blend together in many new ways. This often includes and physical and digital element combined in a novel way. Cataloging the various hybrid games can be helpful to find patterns, and document new combinations that haven’t been explored. Some examples:
- Boardgames that use a mobile device
- Location based gaming
- Osmo – iPad that sees physical pieces
- Augmented reality card games
Boardgames have been around much longer than videogames, but videogames already seem to have more vetted processes to design and develop them. It would be valuable to collect learnings and best practices from several sources and synthesize some effective methods for designing, iterating, testing and publishing boardgames. Sources and structures may include: large boardgame publishers (inventor/developer pairs), videogame development(vertical slice, beta testing), software development(agile, etc), and processes of solo designers.
In this new world of ‘games as a service’ and self publishing, the responsibilities of our companies are far broader than simply designing a great core game. Our player’s experience extends beyond the digital interaction they have with our product and out into social media, customer support, live streaming, community gatherings, physical product… Each an every one of these ancillary functions are just as important to the success of our company as the code or artwork we craft for the core product.
The companies that are hugely successful these days think about all of this in a holistic fashion, forging lifelong connections with their fans that become a core part of their player’s identity. Supercell, Riot, Valve, Blizzard, all have this consistent thread of long term, umbrella brand thinking, placing their customers at the centre of everything.
How could we use best practice game design to expand the delight of our player experience beyond the software, and into every facet of interacting with our brands?
Meditation has been used for thousands of years as a way to support our mental well being. These techniques are enjoying a resurgence in popularity in recent years, with considerable scientific evidence backing its benefits, especially for those suffering from anxiety or depression. We’ve even seen some meditation apps crack the top grossing charts!
Could our modern games benefit from the integration of mindful moments or techniques?
Could whole games even be centered around a mindful mechanic?
Ian Bogust did a good write up a few years back on ‘Video Game Zen’ and the potential for mindfulness games:
He even made a game of his own for the Atari Joyboard:
His critique of Cloud as still too “lean in” to be truely meditative was fair at the time, but TGC’s subsequent work (Flower and Journey) have smoothed out the interactions and made experiences that are more blissful. Still, these exemplary titles rely heavily on more traditional game mechanics that require the player to problem solve and traverse space in a way that breaks the meditative state.
A core principle in mindfulness that many people struggle with, is that it is not the practice of eliminating thought entirely, but instead allowing your internal (monkey mind) and external (physical senses) stimulus to rage around you without letting them control you. This video summaries it beautifully:
Could games somehow present a pathway to learning how to be more mindful?
Could ‘walking simulators’ like Firewatch present a way forward? Is zoning out in No Man’s Sky as effective as sitting in lotus chanting mantras? Are perfectly beautiful moments like the giraffe scene in The Last of Us enough to provide us brief windows into bliss that might help us appreciate the world around us more?
Let’s explore the concept of mindfulness as something we might be able to integrate into our design and thinking to create more fulfilling experiences for our players.
[this may be mergeable with social bonds in competitive play and/or core games on mobile]
Much of mobile gaming is designed around short session play patterns with reuseable and replayable content. This has led vast tranches of games down a deep pit of micro-transaction-driven designs that offer little meaning, and too often leading players by the nose through a thin layer of fun, shmeared lightly over a very long and large loaf of bread. These games rarely offer the life-changing emotional engagement of longer-session narrative or simulation games. Can we design our way out of the pit? Break open the bonds of consumer purchase pattern expectations (free to play, micro transactions) while still offering replayable content that caters to the short session play pattern, yet delivers meaningful, emotionally engaging experiences? There are after all many examples in other media of meaningful short session experiences.
This topic builds on Jason Vandenberghe’s work mapping game elements and player preferences to the Big Five motivational factors.
Looking specifically at multiplayer game scenarios, it appears that:
1) using a Prisoner’s Dilemma approach, and
2) assigning weights to various player options (as available in the game’s feature set) to create
3) a Nash equilibrium payoff matrix that attributes to each player a set of payoffs based on each player’s particular Big Five motivational model
…we might theoretically be able to predict player enjoyment and likely play styles when placed into a known game milieu with other players whose Big Five motivation maps and play choices are also known (or knowable).
How true is this theory, on a scale of bullshit to canon?
How practical/useful is this today? If the answer is “not much,” what would we need in order to really apply it? (Yes, a comprehensive motivational payoff matrix for an MMO in this model challenges even today’s definition of “Big Data.”)
Where might this be leveraged, and how? AI? Feature prioritization? Social interaction design? Marketing? Server/clan recommendations? Improved game designer navel-gazing?
What does it tell us about the opportunities for player enjoyment?
How can our games be smart about this, and help players find their particular fun in a multiplayer experience?
The Five Domains Of Play:Mapping Psychology’s Five Factor Model to Game Design
The Care Bear Myth:Debunking a Game Design Urban Legend
Game Theory in Video Games: How You’re in a Prisoner’s Dilemma
I’ll happily own that I endeavor to create games/mechanics which foster positive behaviors in games. Karma systems, advanced/complex social systems, etc., are strewn throughout my work. Recently, a new Basket of Desirables landed in my sphere: the concept of positive psychology in games. How do we foster/encourage/teach and internalize things like:
in games? Is it doable? Desirable? I think yes to both.
There are a LOT of veterans of the age of multiuser games at PH. It’d be a shame if we didn’t get together to share what we’ve learned with each other, and especially with those who want to learn from our 30+ years of so-many-mistakes. Recent entries, Pokemon Go clearly shows that there hasn’t been enough sharing, or something … 🙂
So – if your designed/created/operated/nurtured/end-of-life’d/resurrected a multiuser game through it’s lifecycle, please bring a lesson to share. If you are making one anytime soon, come and learn to avoid our pain.
[We should probably keep notes for this one.]
[New this year – I’m not sure if this is an appropriate submission for a Workshop – perhaps it is a BOF (if PH has BOFs)]
What would it be like if a scalable multi-user server for your game/app (including mobile) could be written/deployed in days instead of years?
Elko is the 9th generation multiuser gaming server platform descended directly from the Lucasfilm Habitat distributed object model, and it’s open source. I’m rebuilding Habitat (the original MMO) on top of Elko, which will be announced as an open source project in early November [You’re reading it first!]
One *could* say that I’m the primary programmer of virtual objects for every generation of this server/object model – and I’d love to share it with you all in whatever level of detail you wish. This is a *serious* shortcut in deploying distributed gaming objects. We had a prototype Pokemon-Go-like application (but true multiuser who could interact with each other) in 2012. We wrote the core server objects (including wandering robots) in four days, tested with over 1m simultaneous user connections (thank you AWS!)
Docs are available at the site above.
If this is the wrong format/place for this material, please forgive the bad entry and move this message to the appropriate place. 🙂
In the (not so) Good Old Days, a publisher gave you (barely enough) money to create a game, which you created, and then you shared the profits (in the same way that the lion shares the kill with the hyena).
At this week’s Game Designers Workshop, Gordon Walton brought up an interesting topic. In today’s mobile game world and beyond, this role of the publisher (as funder and, in rare cases, as helpful mentor) is going away. Where will the funding come from to make games? And more generally, how can “the little guys” make games in this post-publisher world? VCs have no interest in funding individual game projects. Kickstarter (or, as Warren Spector calls it, “Kickfinisher”) showed promise for a while, but appears to be waning in effectiveness.
Are we facing a future dystopia in which the 1% feasts and the 99% starves? What are the current avenues for getting games funded, and what are avenues that don’t exist, but should be willed into existence? We discussed some of this during Gordon’s session at the GDW, but I think it deserves a longer discussion.
Playing with strangers on team-based competitive games can be a very hostile experience. I’d like to discuss ways to build better player communities including:
- Matching players likely to form friendships early based on personality traits we can intuit or implicitly monitor or geographic location
- Providing ways to align incentives to mentor (or at least not condemn) fellow players
- Segregating those with negative behavior
- Incentivizing positive behavior on forum
There is a particular aspect of learning that is deeply intrinsically motivating in general.
This was recognized by James Gee in his research, and he explains it so:
“Pleasure is the basis of learning for humans and learning is, like sex and eating, deeply pleasurable for human beings. Learning is a basic drive for humans… These pleasures are connected to control, agency, and meaningfulness.” (Learning by Design: Good video games as learning machines)
I noticed in my experience with certain games growing up, that some games provided challenges in ways that enabled me to learn them more easily and pleasantly than others. These games, by way of me surmounting their challenges, also left me with a great sense of motivation to undertake new challenges I feared might be beyond my ability. I noticed that this by degrees translated into motivation to take action in real life, especially in areas where I might not feel like I have much agency.
I believe there is something here about the potential power of games that has not yet been fully realized. If it could be, the implications are tremendous. In short, video games made in the right way could be used as a tool to expand and motivate human spirit and agency in real life in general as a deliberate side effect, while unsuspecting players are in it for the “entertainment” cover story.
This is taking the ‘video games can provide a safe place to learn and experiment’ concept to its ultimate conclusion: That they could significantly improve people’s senses of agency, resiliency, and motivation to take action in real life by providing the right dynamic environment regardless of theme or setting.
Games focused on collaborative play take many shapes and forms (think about the differences and similarities between LoL, WoW, DayZ, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, Spaceteam, etc). Competitive play has been analyzed thoroughly over the past decades and have a well established taxonomy that shapes a lot of our modern game design thinking (yomi, counterplay, etc). Can we define the various methods of creating meaningful collaborative play, and create a taxonomy for these design patterns?
While mobile games has been blowing up this decade the platform is dominated by shallow, simplistic or skinner box games (with some notable exceptions). Core games with deep immersion or twitchy control schemes that are common on traditional platforms have so far failed to migrate to this platform. Can we by identifying the limitations and problem areas of the platform find a set of core games on PC/Console that _would_ be suitable to transition to mobile? Alternatively, can we find new solutions to solve or diminish some of these inherent problems (control scheme, session length, form factor/screen size, etc)?
Compared to other game development disciplines evaluating designer proficiency can be quite tricky. Depending on the specialization there may be no portfolio to review, individual contribution to a design can be hard to determine when you’re hiring, many design decisions have no clear right/wrong and when giving a poor performance review the critique can seem subjective.
Can we create an objective and exhaustive system for evaluating and communicating your game design power level?
Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning have written an interesting paper based on Black’s theories of conflict that postulates that we’re in a period where our dominant moral culture is being subsumed by a new one, after having subsumed itself a previous dominant culture.
The paper: microaggression_and_moral_cultures-pre-pub-version
The Atlantic’s Article about it which is rather shorter.
The three cultures they list are:
- Honor Culture: Conflict may prompt people to engage in a duel or physical fight. Largely, but not completely, already subsumed by:
- Dignity Culture: Conflict prescribe direct but non-violent actions. Currently being challenged by:
- Victimhood Culture: Feature conflict tactics in which the aggrieved actively seek the support of third parties as well as those that focus on oppression.
While I’m not entirely sold on the idea, I often explore models of the world by thinking about ways game mechanics can help me understand them — & I suspect many of you have similar processes.
I’d like to examine what mechanics play to which cultures so that we can come away with a concrete list of examples upon which to base new game models, should they be called for in a future where our dominant conflict culture changes substantially.
Social conflict—our players hurting/offending other players—is a serious problem. It hurts our players, threatens the success and reputation of our title, and the games industry in general.
Unfortunately, most titles (outside of League of Legends) don’t seem to take this threat seriously, or try to reduce social conflict in a way that is both work-intensive (by detecting and banning trolls) not particularly effective. Some of the major gaming platforms (Steam, Playstation, and now Xbox) are trying to do this systemically, to disappointing results.
Let’s discuss ways that social conflict can and has been reduced via social design, and how we can help the gaming industry adopt and extend those techniques and thinking, so that more (ideally all) players feel welcome in all games.
EDIT: my proposal is very similar to Danc’s ‘friendship leveling’ post, so we will hopefully merge the topics.
The difference between a junior and senior level game designer: the junior sees all kinds of “design decisions” that aren’t decisions at all to the senior, there’s a clear right answer that the senior already knows through experience; meanwhile, the senior’s decisions are things that the junior doesn’t even see as decisions because they don’t realize there are alternatives to consider at all.
Can we find ways to ramp juniors faster? I’m thinking a list of most common junior-level mistakes, questions, uncertainties and their obvious-to-a-senior-level solutions, with the ultimate goal of making a short guide for first-time designers to get them more productive more quickly, by identifying core areas that they tend to miss if left to their own devices.
How do we level up player relationships? We work hard at leveling up their skills with careful scaffolding of level difficulty combined with a slow drip of new concepts. We level up their virtual skills and sense of power with RPG style leveling schemes. But can we level up players from strangers to friends that cooperate?
In psychology, there’s numerous studies on how friendships form. They identify factors like similarity, repeated unplanned interactions (logistics) and the economics of reciprocation loops. All those are factors we can directly manipulate with our game designs. We do this already in a folk design fashion with blindly followed MMO conventions. However, we can explicitly design systems that methodically create positive human relationships. What are the exact tools? What elements should a crafted friendship leveling system contain?
This is a group that would require some research ahead of time. Collect some papers. Bring them with you. Let’s not just sit around and bullshit, but start with materials and distill out something real and useful.
Some initial reading and viewing that might be of interest
There’s been some great work over the past years when it comes to creating practical abstract tools for game design. Internal economics (Joris Dormans) give us a language for describing and modeling feedback loops and resource sources, sinks and transformations. Interaction loops (Crawford, Koster, myself and many others) give us a diagnostic framework for identifying and fixing issues around players interactions and skills. At smaller timescales, interaction loops let us perform fine surgery on game feel (without falling back on non-transferable word salad like ‘sticky friction’) At larger times scales, scaffolding and progression concept built off internal economies and interaction loops give us tools for understand how players learn and change over time. These are shockingly useful and I find myself applying them in every game I design. Arguably you can’t help but use them because they are fundamental aspects of how games operate. Exciting times.
Yet. I still would struggle to create a good game entirely from these theories. I’ve tried. And the one piece that remains missing is topology. When we talk of core mechanics, we often are discussing some spacial, temporal or logistical problem space bound by interesting constraints. This is hinted at in the game grammar tools, but only remains addressed superficially. Raph has talked about this in the past in terms of the math of games, so that’s probably a critical starting point.
So what are spacial or topological tools for game grammar that fit the following constraints?:
- Predictive models: They make a prediction about how a game system *functions*. They are not merely descriptions like MDA or lists of descriptive categories.
- General tools: They can be used to fruitfully analyze almost any game. They are not genre specific rules of thumb.
- Transformative legos: If you break down a game into the atomic elements using a game grammar tool, you should see ways to reconfigure the problem and come up with something new. Joris’s Machinations does this with feedback loops…once you know the tool it becomes trivial to imagine adding new loops or subtle friction to something that was before a mystical black box.
- Impossible to unsee: Once you’ve understood the tool, you can no longer look at a game without seeing these foundational elements.
Process in video game development is often driven by production and process trends are driven by engineers in the wider tech industry. What about designers? We know process! We have opinions! We could start methodology trends and make millions as consultants too! What would a development process for video games look like if it was design driven? What if everything centered around design (schedule, workflow, prioritization, etc?) Honestly? We’d probably never get anything shipped, but I think it could be an interesting exercise. In my studio I often see design accommodate and compromise for the other disciplines because our workflow is flexible and our goals less defined. Holistically, this is a good thing and helps us ship reliably and maintain a good collaborative environment, but it also means we sometimes put design concerns last and sacrifice risk-taking and design iteration. Since Horseshoe is a time for designers to self indulge so let’s dream up a process that is all about us!
Text is incredibly powerful and possibly our most sophisticated communication tool, and yet it can very difficult to get players to read. This isn’t a judgement, but a challenge. We have made incredible advancements in removing text from our interfaces but what about narrative? How do we tell great stories without text or maybe even without dialog? Video games have often looked to film for inspiration but I find film techniques leave a lot to be desired in the interaction/player autonomy realm. What story telling languages has video games developed that are all our own? And how can we push further forward in this area?
(Yes there are many wonderful games that are text based and there are cool things happening in that area in games. Text based games are great and I love them! This topic is just interested in the other side of that coin.)
Many game designers (myself included) have been thinking about how to make games that aren’t just fun, but also make people better, and/or change the world for the better. It’s hard, ’cause while we know of games that already try, it’s always harder to evaluate game MECHANICS for “goodness”, instead of just “fun”.
So I had a thought; suppose we find the games that benefit us (as humans), by trying to find the opposite of games that hurt or poison us (as humans). And to do that, we first have to find, study and design games that hurt or poison us (as humans).
Clearly we’ll run straight into the embedded thinking we all share; games are Art, artists can do what they want, personal responsibility, who are you to judge, blah blah blah.
And I can’t help the thought that this workgroup might be creating Ultron, or otherwise Meddling in God’s Domain.
Still, I’d like to join a few brave, foolhardy souls in an examination and analysis of games that are BAD for us (so we can eventually make games that are GOOD for us).
Let’s imagine two college students, Jimmy and Jane.
Jimmy got electronics kits from his dad when he was 8. He was soldering when he was 10. He always had access to the family computer, and was writing simple computer games by himself when he was 13. Everyone around him said Jimmy has such a bright future with technology.
Jane had none of those advantages, but now they are sitting next to each other in a class called “Intro To Computer Game Design 101”.
Jimmy shines brightly in this class, exceeding the scope of every assignment and letting everyone cluster around his computer to see his latest and greatest. Jane is confused, doesn’t know where to begin, and (with Jimmy right there) is intimidated into believing she isn’t ready for the class.
So she drops out.
Let me stress that 1) Jimmy and Jane have the same POTENTIAL, and 2) Jimmy isn’t TRYING to discourage Jane or anyone else. Even so, this situation is a real world problem. I know, ’cause I saw it happen in a class I taught. “Jane” DID re-enroll the next year, completed the whole 2-year degree, and even shined as the best level designer (using UnrealEd) in the class. But this is a particular sub-set of the problems facing goals of more gender diversity in our industry.
I’d like to work with a group to detail best practices to 1) nurture and protect Jane’s entry into videogame development, while 2) not punishing Jimmy for his advanced skills.
I just bought a raspberry PI zero. It’s the size of a stick of gum, it’s a complete computer (plays minecraft and browses the web), and I got mine from Microcenter for $0.99 . This isn’t unique. Ardunio, beaglebone, CHIP, small cheap hackable computers have entered a new age.
So far, the game-related uses of this new age appear to be hand-held MAME players. Meanwhile, everyone’s innovating over in the AR/VR space.
I’d like to work with a group to brainstorm how to use the new age of small cheap hackable (wearable, hideable) computers to make innovative videogames.
We have more computer horsepower at our fingertips than ever before. But I still use a text editor to program. And while 3D artists will use a more sophisticated editor to do their work, the point is still that we have way more cpu power than we realize (especially since our computers can run all night), and use it way too seldom for game design. SETI@home and Folding@home are (now relatively old) examples of how to use brute parallel-ized computer horsepower to try to solve problems.
I’d like to work with a group to brainstorm how to use our computer power in innovative ways in the service of videogame development, and especially in the service of videogame design.
I pitched this last year and it seemed like it was everyone’s #2 pick so it never got picked up. I heard several of you mention your regrets that you didn’t go for it, so I’m pitching it again.
Let’s choose a difficult real-world problem that can be solved through game creation, and actually solve it.