Posts Tagged ‘Video Games’
Whilst playing No More Zombies on the iPhone recently, I found myself trying to set a limit to my gaming. My limit was set to 100 residents. If I get to 100 people in my town I will stop playing, delete the game and get on with my life. Free of the distraction of stocking shops, building buildings and killing zombies I can discover the other delights of the mobile gaming world.
By 99 I knew the end was near and I was making my price with the world whilst secretly hoping that number 100 was far away. To my surprise, however, the illusive centennial resident was really far away. I continued to pack my shops full of goodies, made a shed load of money and killed more than my fair share of the undead. Yet the regular resident that appeared every few ‘minutes’ (in game time, not real time) failed to materialise.
This got me wondering. Is there a part of game theory that deals with checkpoints, achievements and round numbers in terms of exit points. Is there a shelf life for the casual gamer that can be manipulated to extend the general playtime?
In the old days a game had a beginning and an end, whereas now we have downloadable content which can extend the life of a game ten fold . What interest me though is whether game designers or testers look at ‘exit strategies’. In business an exit strategy is a point in which the investor or owner has got all the best out of a business and leaves the company with money, shares or a general good feeling. I suppose in games with DLC the main exit point is after the main quest or story has been completed but with more endless games such as city builders, when is a good time to unplug?
After some time scouring the Internet for studies or papers to support my theory I was surprised to find nothing that helped. There is a lot online about rewarding gamers in order to keep their attention which I assume is the reaction to losing gamers. However there is little written about when and why they leave the comfort of the gaming world. So for the record, I would like to claim the study of exit theory in gamers as my own.
Gamers leave a good game for many reasons. The top five reasons are:game completion (main game) most achievable achievements achieved left for newer/better game difficulty to steep time, family and other commitments
With further study and a whole host of questionnaires it might be possible to predict the most likely exit points of a game and inject these sections with additional goodies to retain their attention. Being aware that you might lose some of your players at 100 residents might encourage game designers to be smarter when it comes to these exit points.
Gaming is a great way to kill time, or your social life, depending on how you look at it, but constantly buying games can be expensive. A hardcore gamer can finish a $60 game in a matter of 20 hours or less (for example Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) which means buying a new game every week (or every few weeks), unless you want to keep playing your old games over and over again. For that reason, you might want to start looking into any of the free options available online. Yes! There are free games online and some of them are actually quite good. Believe it or not, you can also download free games from very famous franchises like Star Trek, Star Wars, and Dungeons and Dragons.Wait? Isn’t that Illegal?
If the game is currently copyrighted then it is illegal to download it. Generally, you can use common sense to decide if something is free or not. One good way to check to see if something is free is to look the game up and check to see if it is for sale anywhere. If it’s for sale on the developers website then it’s definitely not free. Quick tip? Do your research before you download any ‘free’ game. If it requires a code, keyword, crack, or any other type of confirmation other than simply logging on, then it is probably not free. Most free games do require you to sign up and submit your email address and give them a password.So How Do I Get Free Games?
While the majority of games are not free, there are a number of free to play games that you can enjoy without every paying a cent. Some of these games are ‘free to play’ and were designed to be free. These are most often MMORPGs such as Digimon, Rift, Warframe, and etc. They vary greatly in content and quality, but you can easily find more than a dozen of them in a few minutes. Other games are offered up for free for a limited time, sometimes from stores, and sometimes as part of special charity or cause promotions.Free Games
If you want free games, all you have to do is search ‘free to play games’ and see what comes up. You can add in other tags like ‘RPG’ or ‘FPS’ to get specific types of games, but other than that you can explore as much as you want. Using Free to Play rather than ‘Free’ ensures that your results are a bit more legitimate, and mostly roots out ‘free trial’ results. Once you find the game you want, you can download it via the developer’s website, and usually via torrent if you want it a bit faster.Temporarily Free Games
Sometimes developers will offer their games for free towards a cause or for a sale. In this case, you do have to download them quickly or they will go away. A few different sites that sometimes offer free games include Steam, GOG, Green Man Gaming, and even Amazon, although these are rare. For example, Green Man Gaming gave away Borderlands 1 & 2 during the holiday season in 2013, and Gog.com gave away the entire Fallout series. While these types of occurrences are rare, they are great to watch out for. Anyone interested should consider signing up for newsletters where similar deals might be announced.Downloading
While there are hundreds of free games out there, it can be difficult to find and download them. In addition, downloads from around the web can take a long time. For that reason, most gamers downloading games that are already free should consider looking for them via torrent. Some sites like Vuze even put together collections of free games that can be searched and browsed through right from the Bittorrent client. This makes the whole process easier, as well as more convenient. Most torrented games can be added and played with Steam for those that prefer to use a gaming client.
There are plenty of great free games out there and some of them are every bit as complex as games that charge a hefty monthly fine. Downloading free games is a great way to save money, but it is important to make sure it’s actually free before downloading. What else? Have fun playing your new games of course.
After you have been working on a game for so long it is common to develop “blindness” to certain aspects. A good tip is to get a post it note and write that user experience is not only about how intuitive features in the user interface are, it is about the ENTIRE gaming experience as a whole (including game balancing, the retention and viral mechanics, even the graphics and ensuring that it goes with the theme of the overall game). Here are a few top tips from working in gaming:1. Let non gamers play it
Ask non-gaming/non-techy friends to have a play of the game and watch them play it. Write down anything that was too difficult or confused them. Try to avoid helping them straight away when they get stuck, but try to include a few cheats for you to input to get your player further in the game depending on how much of your game you want them to test.2. Get them to explain what they are doing
Ask your test players every so often why they are doing whatever it is that they are doing. The answers may surprise you. “Well I don’t want to enter that dungeon yet so I am just going to chop down bunch of trees first.” or “Completing that level is too much effort (probably a game balancing issue), so I’m just going to explore for a while” or “I do not know what to do so I’m not even going to bother paying attention to it or interacting with it.”3. Balance the goals
User experience design in video games isn’t just about captivating your players (but it’s a big part of it), it’s also about balancing the goals. The UI is where users invite their friends, spend money, and it’s through the UI that you can get people to come back – the user interface is perhaps one of the most important, if not THE most important way to meet/exceed your product goals. You want to create a enjoyable and fun gaming experience while also retaining players, increasing virality, and monetizing (if that is your thing). This is more ‘Product Management’, but every UX designer should understand some principles of product management (and every product manager should understand some principles of user experience design). Sometimes, to meet product goals, you have to compromise with delighting users. Your players will tell you one thing but do the complete opposite. Example: during testing, we had users complain that they hated how they had to spend 3 energies to chop down one tree. Their feedback to us was to get rid of it. If we got rid of it, it would severely disadvantage our balancing of the game. But guess what? Looking at their behavior, they still did it to advance in the game. You’ll only be able to measure this in an unreleased game if you do a couple of user tests. There are a few ways to do this, here are two:For bigger teams, get a good group of users (around 50 or so) to test your game while you’re developing it. Be sure to prepare surveys/questionaires to send them. If these are all power users, well, I’d take the results with a grain of salt, but you’ll have a good starting point in that the mechanics and features at least work for them. Try using a service like usertesting.com to test your game in front of completely new people that haven’t been exposed to any of your previous games. 4. Test features on existing games
Use existing games that are maturing as a testing ground. If you’re introducing a new mechanic/feature/balancing, scrap something quick together and release it in an existing game you have that’s maturing in its userbase. This is powerful in that you have real users interacting with the feature or mechanic or the game balance, and you can measure quantitatively rather than qualitatively. That being said, you should also keep confounding factors in mind (theme of the game could be totally different, and therefor it works…etc etc).5. Check out the Competition
See what the competition is doing – you might find that every so often, much larger games companies have a larger budget to test things against their users, so if it’s working for them, chances are, it’s something that works. You can use that as a starting point.6. Don’t reinvent the wheel
There is no point reinventing the wheel or get overly creative. If there’s a common convention for a certain feature or mechanic, stick with it. Chances are, it’s something your players are already used to and it’s something they understand, so seeing something completely different can confuse them or throw them off. For example: in social games, players are used to their neighbour/friends hud on the bottom and Quests on the side. This is a fairly common convention, and if you decided to have the quests on the bottom, and friends on the side, it could cause confusion and frustration.And remember
Making something simple is often harder than creating something complex. Don’t bury anything beyond two clicks – if you do, it’s probably something your users won’t take the time to find, or it’s something that’s not significant. And if it’s not significant, why have it in the first place? It’s just taking up server/bandwidth space.
Let’s say that you are creating a game and you want to build anticipation among the gaming hordes. Furthermore, let’s say you’re not one of the giants, and thus your resources are limited. Regardless, you and your partners have designed this awesome game for the iPhone, and you want to generate excitement about it, which in turn will morph into paying customers, thereby allowing you to continue in your dream job of designing games. How do you go about achieving this dream?
First and foremost, creating a blog, especially one told from the point of view of the designer, is essential, as in mandatory. Not only does it get your company/product name out there, it gives people a chance to take a peek behind the curtain, and get excited about what they see. If you do in fact create a blog from the perspective of the game designer, people can follow along and see the progress, and anticipation builds as the release date gets nearer. If you can fit in a few sneak previews, screen shots, advance details, then so much the better.
Hooray! A company I never heard of is coming out with a game I know nothing about!Let’s Be Social
Put together a Facebook page dedicated to the game. This is even easier to do than a blog, and considering the strong gamer community on Facebook, you have an instant audience. Don’t forget Twitter, either. When it comes to financial outlay and time, it doesn’t get any easier than social media.Conventional Thinking
Okay, now we’re getting into a pricier realm here, but as the old adage goes, you have to spend money in order to make money. If you have an advertising budget set aside, then it’s time to start dipping into it. The thing is to not wait until after the game is released; you need to generate advance buzz. Naturally, in order to do so, you must already have a good idea what the game is about and how it’ll turn out. And you don’t even really have to go all out; get some cheap t-shirts printed up, or colorful information handouts, something that stands a good chance of sticking in gamers’ memories. Booth babes may be out of the question, but hey, there’s always a booth sock puppet. When you stop and think about it that would be pretty memorable, right?
No, not one of those that are pulled by your car. Movies generate excitement and interest by showing trailers before the main feature. You know, right before they warn you about smoking, using cell phones during the movie, and where the exits are located. It’s the same with the world of gaming. Put together a good trailer, or even multiple trailers, to show players what all the fuss is about. This idea fits neatly with the idea of blogs, since that’s where the trailers would ultimately reside. See? These things are interrelated.I’ll Alert The Media
It may seem obvious, but let’s be complete here. Fire off e-mails to periodicals, websites, trade journals, any media source that fits the gaming nice you’re going after, and introduce yourself. If you’re not a known quantity, forget targeting the mainstream media, and focus instead on the smaller outlets that specialize. And while you’re at it, generate some good word of mouth by notifying gaming bloggers. Try to cultivate a rapport with them, and let them help spread the word. But again, make sure that the blogs cover the type of game you’re developing. A blog dedicated to paper and dice gaming will be a bad choice to market your new iPhone game that features steel cage death matches between pieces of sentient produce.
If you find yourself in the position of having both an awesome new game release and a shoestring budget, consider gathering together a dedicated group of gamers that you’ve given a preview of your game and they happen to love it. This loyal army may get paid in merchandise, free copies of your game, or any other benefits you can think of, and in return they spread the word on websites, forums, at conventions, whatever. They are your evangelists. Remember that the most effective, the most trusted advertising is word of mouth!Final Thoughts
There are so many independent developers out there that it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. You need to stand out, build a rep, and give the people a killer product.
Photo Credit: Photos.com