Thursday, April 16, 2015

IGDA Webinar: Interactive Fiction - An AI Based Overview

In this video, writer Emily Short reviews different ways to provide player choice in interactive fiction and how AI can be part of this process.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Color-Coded Pink and Blue

In this article, game designer Sande Chen explores the notion of girl and boy games and wonders if it's time to cease such labeling.

At last month's Digital Kids Conference, a panelist discussing gender barriers revealed that when 5-year-olds were informally surveyed, they tended to identify mobile app icons with the color blue as "boy" games and those with pink as "girl" games.  Boys would not click on a pink app even with a big robot on the icon.   I find it surprising that as a society, we are still so color-coded.  This superficial reskinning from blue to pink can really change the appeal to boys or girls.  According to a research study by Kids Industries, parents may be the ones reinforcing these gender conventions.  The panel noted that this labeling of pink or blue wasn't so prevalent 30 years ago when marketing to kids tended to be more gender neutral.

This year's Girl Toy of the Year
Even though 93% of parents say they shop by category (i.e. activity) rather than gender (as labeled by the manufacturer or retailer), 85% of the parents said they would not buy a pink kitchen toy for a boy, but had no qualms about buying the same product for a boy if it was in gender neutral colors.  They would in fact prefer gender neutral packaging.  The top 3 grossing kid apps at the time of the conference had neither pink or blue icons, but stuck to gender neutral colors like light orange.

This year's Boy Toy of the Year and Toy of the Year
While retailers like Wal-Mart definitely have pink and blue toy aisles, most popular kid game sites nowadays do not have a section for pink or "girl" games but rather, will categorize games of interest as dress-up, etc. games.  I think in the past, separate sections for girl games were created to encourage girls to play Web games and you can still see a special tab for girl games on FreeKIGames.  If you take a look at GirlsGoGames, which features games obviously marketed to girls, you'll notice a lot of pink.

Must we keep the Pink Ghetto for games?  Do we need to label games as girl or boy games?  Parents feel uneasy about the influence of marketers.  Boys can enjoy playing a hair salon game app, but won't touch one that is overly pink or labeled for girls.  A good game can appeal to both genders.

It seems to me that games marketed to girls tend to reinforce gender stereotypes by focusing on fashion, shopping, make-up, cooking and other stereotypically female activities.   Surrounding all these play activities with the color pink allows the color code to continue.

Pink = Girl = Existing Gender Roles.  

Marketing does influence our choices, but we can stop and think about how these choices may affect our children.  Parents do not need to follow the expectations of marketers.

I wonder:  Are we giving girls toys solely based on fashion, shopping, make-up etc. and not toys promoting STEM skills?

A game about space exploration could be marketed to girls and to boys and it doesn't even have to be pink or blue.  I don't think we need to label any game a girl game, just like we don't need to label a gamer a girl gamer.  Is it time to end this marketing convention of pink girl games?

[Sande Chen will be speaking at this year's Different Games Conference on the topic of female representation in games and game development.]

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

IGDA Webinar: How To Get More Speaking Gigs to Grow Your Career

Interested in speaking at the Game Developers Conference next year? Listen to this audio recording to get tips from past/present GDC speakers on how to land more speaking opportunities.

And if you're at the Game Developers Conference this week, be sure to stop by the IGDA Booth and learn how the IGDA can help with your professional growth.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

IGDA Game Design SIG at 2015 Game Developers Conference

In partnership with the Game Developers Conference, the IGDA and IGDA Game Design SIG are pleased to hold our roundtable Wednesday, March 4, 2015 at 11 AM in Room 111, North Hall.

Join us to discuss how our SIG can better help you. We will talk about how to better share questions, ideas, and information and what new fields we can include in our group discussions. Comments and suggestions this early would be appreciated if you want anything else in particular covered in the roundtable. A GDC pass (at least an EXPO Pass) is required so you may enter the premises.  This session is right before the lunch break so we can continue the discussion over lunch.  Independent developer Howard Dy Go will be moderating.

Event Link:

In addition, we will be having a Social Gathering, open to all (no GDC pass required) at the IGDA booth (usually located in the lobby; ask for directions) on Tuesday, March 3, 2015 at 4:00 - 4:30 PM.  This social meeting is scheduled during a break between conference sessions.  If you're there for the Summits only, this would be an opportune time to meet up with other game designers.

Event Link:
(through Game Design SIG group)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Who Needs a Fourth Wall?: Co-Designing A Game With Players

In this article, aspiring game designer Gabby Taylor remarks that co-designing games with players can be part of a great marketing plan that can either succeed or backfire.

Game development, in an ideal setting, is all about creativity. Brainstorming awesome ideas, refining those ideas, and polishing the execution of those refined ideas is what we do. But for some reason, we’ve mostly been doing this within the context of a game, never reaching through the fourth wall. Of course, once we caught on to that little fact, we did what we do best. Enter stage left: Co-designing games with players. 

The basic idea of co-designing with the players is simple: start with a basic idea, and implement suggestions that get tossed at you from people. In the end, the development process itself doubles as a brilliant marketing scheme (who doesn’t want to buy something fun they helped make?. #IDARB, a game that used design suggestions through Twitter, did a great job with this. Like all great ideas, though, this needs some refining.
The major sticking point is that this requires public interest, which not all of us are capable of garnering (I’ll be the first to admit to that fault). Going back to the #IDARB example, it really only took off once indie superstar Tim Schafer not only offered a suggestion, but also passed it along to his fans. Once the people have noticed, you need to work quickly to maintain interest (notice the difference between when it first started on Jan 3 to the updated version on Jan 10). The problem here is we can’t predict what goes viral or how, and this has a big risk of going one of two ways: either we keep putting in our own ideas and showing updates and essentially just developing traditionally, or we keep trying to get eyes and interest and come off desperate and pathetic.

I’ve been experimenting with trying to get people to co-design a game I’ve been working on for a few years called Avalon. Like I mentioned before, I am by no means any good at marketing or getting attention, but I’ve found that suggestions don’t usually come snowballing in like they did with #IDARB. They come in spurts-- one suggestion on name spelling here, maybe two suggestions on combat a bit later, with another suggestion about a week after that for adjusting graphics. I’ve pretty much been just working traditionally with frequent updates, while walking the razor’s edge between invitations and pleading for feedback (sometimes not so successfully, which I think has foiled a lot of my better attempts).

A minor sticking point to co-designing is picking and choosing which ideas you implement. Not all ideas can get in, lest the game become overloaded and the design break down entirely, but part of maintaining interest is making sure you implement enough of them in such a way that they’re recognizable as their ideas and the game still flows nicely. Shunted ideas are all well and good, but ignored players are former players who will tell their friends they’re being ignored. Want to watch your game go from 60 to 0 in no time flat? That’s how you do that. And trust me, if trying to capture interest initially is an uphill battle, trying to recapture interest after the game falls on its face is like a fight up Everest. This is another reason you need to implement ideas very quickly, and update as soon as it’s in.

Co-designing a game with players requires tact, great people skills, and a very quick workflow. While it’s a constant balancing act between failure and shining success, the experience and the payoff can be amazing, such as with #IDARB. Just remember: the internet has no attention span, but it will never forget failure.

Gabby Taylor is an aspiring game designer and head of GreyBox Studio. When not making design documents, she contemplates going outside, and sometimes even takes a few steps when feeling particularly frisky.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

IGDA Webinar: Constructing Ramped Difficulty in Gameplay

In this video, game designer Michael John of GlassLab discusses the concept of flow in macro design and how it relates to difficulty and engagement. 

Game design Webinars from the IGDA are held on every third Wednesday of the month.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Motivational Boosts to Fitness Behavior Modification

In this article, game designer Sande Chen discusses the use of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators in fitness apps.

As I mentioned previously in the article, Fitness Behavior Modification, January is the month for fitness goals, weight loss goals, and other behavior modification goals (e.g. smoking cessation).  Numerous smartphone tools, trackers, and devices such as FitBit exist to help people succeed.  Has technology helped boost motivation to change behaviors? 

In a 2014 study of approximately 1900 volunteers around the world, researchers at Imperial College London wrote that there was a "significant although modest" reduction in BMI of those dieters who used social media and smartphone apps compared to those who didn't use technology.  Another study at Arizona State University's School of Nutrition and Health Promotion noted that those who used smartphone calorie trackers were more likely to continue tracking food intake than those who used pencil and paper.

To me, it seems like the technological leap in the Arizona State University study seems to be more about convenience.  I have tried both calorie tracking methods -- smartphone and the more traditional pencil & paper -- and I can state that it is somewhat of a chore to accurately track calories.  I never bothered to weigh my food with a food scale and if I couldn't find the exact information I needed, I would put down whatever was approximate.  A smartphone app made it easier for me to track calories, but I confess that even with the app,  I stopped after a month or two.  This experience of mine isn't unique.  People often take to New Year's resolutions with eagerness, only to fall back into old habits by March.

Still, a monitor or tracker would seem to point to intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivation. The information gained from the data tracking compels the individual to get better numbers and do better.  Intrinsic motivation is about a person's internal desire to engage in the activity without the fear of a negative event or the promise of a reward. Intrinsic motivation arises from within an individual whereas extrinsic motivation is from an outside source.

While I do not know the apps specified in the Imperial College London study, the researchers reasoned that the community forums provided support, advice, and approval to the dieters who used them.  While peer approval would appear to be an extrinsic motivator, it has been seen in research that praise in certain situations can improve intrinsic motivation.  Excessive praise for minimal work certainly does erode intrinsic motivation but if the praise isn't evaluative like "Great job!" and more a subjective expression of appreciation than a reward, then praise can lead to a boost in intrinsic motivation.

Let's take a look at other fitness apps: Here's the carrot or stick approach.
  • Nexercise allows users to earn discounts and gift cards in a gamified environment of XP points, leveling and badges.  
  • FIT ACC punishes users who fail to work out regularly with a monetary fine. 
Competition can be considered an extrinsic motivator, even if it's just about bragging rights.  But what about competing against yourself?
  • Cardio Smackdown allows players to compete against friends.
  • Ghost Race allows players to compete against friends but also a player's best time in the form of a "ghost" self.
Many people consider cut scenes in video games to be a story reward. Run and get some story?
  •  Zombies, Run!  is a well-known exergame in which the runner player needs to avoid zombies
  • Superhero Workout helps defenders of the Earth get in shape for the alien invasion.
So what's better, intrinsic or extrinsic motivation?  The danger to extrinsic rewards, as many researchers have observed, is that it tends to diminish performance.  Enthusiasm turns to boredom.  Now it's just work rather than fun.  Extrinsic motivation is useful for mechanical tasks, which I'm not sure if exercise would be considered one.  Extrinsic motivation can get previously uninterested individuals to start the process of behavior modification, but I think for a real life change to happen, intrinsic motivators need to take over.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.