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Designing Mechanics for the right Reasons – for the right People

Discussion in 'Game Design' started by theANMATOR2b, Mar 16, 2017.

  1. theANMATOR2b

    theANMATOR2b

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    Hello Everyone

    I frequent this Game Design forum because the most eye opening discussions about topics I have little experience in or have even thought about happen here.
    This forum has made me think about specifics I’ve never even considered and provided interesting opinions and advice – many of which I have written down, duplicated, typed, copied, documented and attempted to infuse into my brain – so I can one day develop a game that is compelling, provides just the right balance of choice, flow, simplicity, juice, reward & consequence, difficulty, complexity, all geared towards the right demographic on the right platform.

    So –
    Over the past two months I’ve been actively developing my first game with an old college and work colleague. He’s not old we’ve just known each other since 99’. I was finally able to break him down and submit to my yearly badgering (I got some dirt on him) to join me in developing a game. Really he has always wanted to develop games, but job security and economic stability have taken priority over his desire to develop games, as has mine. I won’t go into much detail about us because it’s not relevant for this post, although I will say we compliment each others strengths pretty well by taking on separate but equal responsibilities, he codes, I art, he musics, I market, he shaders, I design and research and paper work, etc. etc.

    (I’m vague about the specifics of the game – only because it’s not important to the discussion and we’re on schedule to reveal the first week in April)

    Our design is targeted primarily for mobile and because of this, our core mechanic has been designed in a very specific way to be very “pick up and play” able. The game is not overly easy (I think), but I wanted the core of the game to be easily recognizable to EVERYBODY. Familiar to everybody like solitaire, hop scotch, mahjong, or any match3 game is , the core is based on tic-tac-toe, with an interesting twist.

    I’ve made design decisions geared towards the demographic that commonly plays match3 games, however I think there is potential to address the match3 players who enjoy games that are less cutesy – are more adventure like, those who enjoy Puzzle Quest like games.

    Keeping in mind the platform and our audience we’ve iterated on the design and have limited expanding complexity specifically because we believe a mobile game like this should be playable in 30 second to 5 minute play sessions, depending upon the players ability to play for very short sessions or just – short sessions. Once the mechanics of the game are learned (in approximately 1 minute) the game stays true to this core mechanic and does not add additional complexity to the mechanic – like adding double jumps when the power boots are acquired, or providing the player with a dash bash attack when the boots of Icarus are found.

    We’ve also steered away from creating special actors/effects that have special abilities that could result in the player, having not played the game in 2 weeks, not remembering what ‘special’ abilities do when they pick the game up again to continue the adventure.

    Instant pick up and play ability in my humble opinion is one of many elements that ‘can’ make a mobile game successful.
    The game will also offer (hopefully) a rich and entertaining story element that extends the value of the game to those who find entertainment in it.
    Although the game has a strong 'hook', I believe the game is fun and will be ‘enough’ for mobile players to experience value in the game, there is a real risk of the game being too repetitive, or even considered shallow. To this point we are prepared to modify/expand the core mechanics after we’ve gauged reaction to the game beginning in April.
    We will be attending a small local games conference and plan to release a portion of the game on web portals to gain user input.

    I believe sticking to this minimalistic core mechanic is smart design, although this could be faulty logic, I’m honestly only basing this belief on my gut and deducing from other games – that could be considered ‘similar’ to our game genre.

    MVP – (touchy subject round these parts) :) We could have released the game two weeks ago. We could have released the game three weeks after starting the game. However – I believe MVP games, similar to our core design – offer limited entertainment value to gamers who – like me look at the entire package of a game and see where content was purposefully limited to push the game out the door as fast as it can be once the core is in place. I also think (circle, square, triangle) games have stiff competition to be even considered or given a second look – because there are 50 (my guesstimate) new MVP games a day being pushed onto every store by new developers and – others who think that saturating the market with these type of games will eventually result in 1-2 hits out of 50 if they keep pumping simple mvp games out at a rate of 1 per week, or more.
    Honestly I'd rather pound sand than create a game without visuals that are 'fun' for me to look at and I believe I'm part of the majority of gamers - even mobile/casual gamers with respect to this point.
    Plus – my own specialty is art - animation specifically - so the game we are making is a game I would play. Nuff said bout that I think.

    I also have strong opinions about in-game advertising (ads) and the free game market. Because of these opinions (rightly or wrongly) our final game will be a free to try premium game. I’m not interested in developing a game based on the hope of ad driven success. I don’t care or believe about statistics that say free with ads is the only option for success, nor do I consider sales statistics of other games a measure of success for our game. Since my colleague and I are career employees not working in the game industry our measure of success is a lot lower – and less glamorous than others.
    We will not go out of business if the game only sells 500 copies, we will not stop creating games if the game only sells 100 copies, and we will not go into deep despair if the game only sells 10 copies.
    If our game sucks (working hard so it doesn’t) and I’ve made design and development mistake after mistake – I might be a little grumpy for a week, but we’ve released a game and I've learned a S*** ton!
    Truthfully releasing a game is success to us, and if 10 people we don’t know buy our game – that is really going to be friggin awesome! If more do – that will be truly something special.
    But we are shooting for no less than 500,000 downloads in the first week! No need to set expectations low right? :eek::p

    So that is our design and my opinions about the decisions I’ve struggled with and made along the way.

    I’d really like to hear any opinions about the choices we’ve made so far, and theories/considerations about developing core mechanics for a specific gamer, demographic, belief or reason.

    Critical opinions are welcome also – however my decision not to go free with ads is pretty much chiseled in stone right next to where that sword was once stuck. It won’t be changing unless we release the game completely for free. No ads.

    Sorry for length of the post but I think context is important when expressing opinions others may find disagreeable or provocative.
     
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  2. Schneider21

    Schneider21

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    Geez, Dwight, this is easily the longest post I've ever seen you make! My TL;DR version of your post as I see it:

    There's nothing disagreeable or provocative there! Keep on keeping on, and I'll be looking out for your reveal!
     
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  3. Teila

    Teila

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    I almost always buy premium games on my tablet without ads or other things. The few times I haven't, I found the games much less enjoyable. So I think you are doing fine. :)
     
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  4. theANMATOR2b

    theANMATOR2b

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    I'd like to retain you as a consultant to create TLDRs for me when I start giving information about the game and if I'm lucky enough to have people interested to know more about our process and backgrounds. :D
     
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  5. EternalAmbiguity

    EternalAmbiguity

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    I see nothing disagreeable or provocative here.

    Unfortunately, I'm really not into mobile games so I doubt I have any "advice" or real opinions to offer on the matter. However, I will definitely try it out if it's free to try.
     
  6. cdarklock

    cdarklock

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    Same here, but is there IAP in your design?

    I think one of the smarter development ideas is the free-to-try premium game with IAP. Even if you don't buy the premium game, which would obviously come with some feature or bonus, you could play the free-to-try version as long as you wanted because of the IAP. But because F2P has become something of an epithet, you don't make your game F2P. You make it a premium game with a demo. Neither of them is F2P; you're expected to buy the game if you like it.

    But if you don't like it enough to buy it, feel free to keep playing the demo. It's only missing a couple really cool features. You probably won't miss them. Much.

    The key with IAP, I think, is to make it present and visible without aggressively slurping at the player's wallet every time he does anything.

    Art is not a statistic.

    More to the point, there's one specific problem in the ad model of monetization: you are not in control of the experience. Lately, I've been contemplating making a CCG. Coincidentally, Kongregate released a very large-budget CCG into beta. I've been playing it, and the aggressive af IAP implementation is bugging the crap out of me, but nowhere near as much as the ads.

    I can choose whether to watch ads or not, and it will let me watch three ads every few hours at times I select. The problem is that it always shows me the same three ads. Two of them are ads for Dell XPS laptops and one is for another CCG. The Dell ads are basically saying "don't forget to check Dell next time you buy a laptop," which I never do because they're on my short list of places to check, and the CCG ad is saying "why not play a different game?" which I am totally not going to do right now.

    This is bad for everybody. It's bad for me, because I don't care. It's bad for the game, because it inserts worthless crap into my experience. And it's bad for the advertiser, because I don't care so there's no ROI. But there's no way for me to communicate this, because the game keeps saying "watch this ad and get free S***." I like free S***, so I'll watch the ad. But I've seen all these ads a dozen times or more, and... well, I think I may have already said I don't care.
     
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  7. EternalAmbiguity

    EternalAmbiguity

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    With google ads you can choose to stop seeing an ad. There are two buttons in the corner of the ad, one is an "x" and the other looks like the traditional "play" triangle. Pressing the x (I think--it was on my phone in an app) closed the ad with an optional button saying "stop seeing this ad."

    Not sure exactly how it works, though.
     
  8. cdarklock

    cdarklock

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    That's great, if it's Google ads, which in this case it's not. ;)

    It's retargeting in reverse.
     
  9. theANMATOR2b

    theANMATOR2b

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    The only IAP in our design is to unlock the entire game after a lengthly demo phase. Basically we've designed to allow the player to play roughly the first 1/6 or so of the game for free with the option to pay for the complete game.

    In my opinion, optional IAP at a set time after release isn't a bad idea, especially if a developer continues to support a game, and work on updates. However IAP options right out the gate to me seem a little shady when the game could of been released as a premium game to begin with. It's like locking content behind a pay wall shipped on the physical disc, which I think is really suspect and morally questionable.
     
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  10. frosted

    frosted

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    Be as clear and singular about your goals as possible.

    Self: "Slot machines are crutches and make crappy games"
    Player: "Man, it'd be great if I could play a slot machine each time I leveled up!"
    Wallet: "...I bet he'll pay to give us money to play the slot machine!"

    Your different audiences (self, player, wallet) might agree on many things, but now and then they'll fight each other tooth and nail. I am pretty sure that your odds of success go up more and more the clearer you are on what your goals are and what your priorities are.

    If you're already at MVP - playtest! Even if it's kinda boring. Do at least a feedback friday or something. Even if the feedback itself isn't super useful, the process of giving your game to people and having any kind of feedback is gold.
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2017
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  11. cdarklock

    cdarklock

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    If your game isn't designed from jump to work well with IAP, you can't really bolt it on later.

    And if it is, you can't exactly leave it out.... I see a lot of games convert to either premium Steam games or Amazon Underground by chucking their IAP and trying to replace it with some other mechanic - or, occasionally, with nothing at all.

    Basically it seems to me you have to make a choice and stick with it. Either your game has IAP at launch, or it never has IAP. It might be possible to flip a switch later, but I've never seen it work.

    I'm not sure how much of that plays into the IAP decision, but it passes the sniff test to be a meaningful factor. Adding or removing IAP later may be problematic not just because of the resulting mechanics, but also because you've violated user expectations.

    Which is primarily of academic interest, since you're already going the "no IAP" route.
     
  12. theANMATOR2b

    theANMATOR2b

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    Good point @frosted
    We've been play testing the entire time. As soon as we had a build that was (mostly) bug free we began letting others play it. It was really enjoyable to see my son and his friend play the game for over 5 minutes. It's hard enough to keep those 'young ones' tuned in to something for longer than a minute anyway. An equally gratifying moment was my son's buddy asking where the play again button was at. :)

    We are partially setup to release for extensive play testing after the first week in April to gain feedback from multiple perspectives and avenues. Feedback friday, web portals, local game conference, and comic book table top gaming night are planned for now.

    This will hopefully provide some useful insight from different perspectives on the mechanics and allow us to proceed with what we think is best for the game and the players.
     
    frosted likes this.
  13. frosted

    frosted

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    That's the best feedback you can hope for!

    From my (limited experience) people tend to laser focus on UI and control stuff, so make sure you double/triple check those things before you send out for playtest.

    I might even suggest like doing one site, then giving it a couple days to collect feedback and make some quick fixes/tweeks before you do the next one (and so on). The second or third time someone plays something is super different, and there really aren't many people who want to playtest games (way too many out there these days) - you don't want to waste all your playtesters on like one bug they all hit at once!

    One more thing!

    If it's not too hard, try to make it so that people can't see/hear eachothers feedback. I found that people tend to all just latch onto the first strong opinion. It's really weird, especially with online groups, the first strong opinion colors all the next ones.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2017
    theANMATOR2b likes this.
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