Thursday, March 23, 2017

Panel Tonight and Next Monday Game Writing

So many things happening this week!  As part of PlayCrafting NYC's celebration of Women's History Month, I will be on the Women in Games panel tonight at Microsoft NY.  Free admission and pizza.  Come see and play demos from local female developers.  We will be talking about inclusivity for women in the game industry.

Next week, of course, I will be part of the free information session and mini-expo next Thursday, March 30 on PlayCrafting's longer courses, including the new 4-week Game Writing Primer.

But let's not forget about Game Writing Portfolio Workout happening Monday, March 27! If you want to see what the life of a free-lance game writer is like, come to this workshop for a deep dive into typical game writing tasks.  These sessions were considered the most valuable of this series.  You'll be writing continually, so be sure to bring a laptop or notepad.

Here's what a former student has said about Game Writing Portfolio Workout:
"This is so far best one of the Playcrafting workshops. The teacher was funny, incredibly knowledgeable and shared the best insider's secrets!"
Come and write!
Date:  Monday, March 27
Time: 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM 

As always, Playcrafting NYC, which offers classes and events related to game development, has Early Bird tickets, but if they sell out (and they have in the past), you'll have to pay full price.

About Me

My background is a mixture of theatre, film, journalism, economics, and writing.  I received a S.B. in Writing and Humanistic Studies (now the major of Comparative Media Studies) at MIT and then I specialized in Screenwriting at USC's School of Cinematic Arts.  My first published game as a writer was on the epic space combat RPG, Terminus, which won 2 awards at the 1999 Independent Games Festival.  Afterwards, I worked on the episodic fantasy series Siege of Avalon, MMO Wizard101, and the dark fantasy RPG, The Witcher, for which I was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in Videogame Writing.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Issues About Impact

In this article, game designer Sande Chen ponders issues about social impact and the difficulties regarding its implementation and assessment.

A study of the poverty simulator, SPENT, which resulted in players with increased negative feelings towards poor people instead of empathetic concern, illustrates the difficulties in pursuing attitudinal change among players. Entrenched within our own social beliefs and bubbles, we may not know how to best reach the other side and begin this empathetic exchange.  How do we create conditions for empathy?  While preaching to the choir reinforces existing beliefs, it doesn't achieve the desired social impact.

I wrote up my reasons why I felt SPENT failed to convince the "unbelievers" and have spent my PlayCrafting NYC classes on Designing Games For Impact exploring the myriad issues around persuasion, emotional connection, and TBA measurement. (Stay tuned for the next Designing Games For Impact class announcement.)  The Games For Change April 2016 report, "Impact With Games: A Fragmented Field," describes the different perspectives even in defining what exactly would be considered a game's "impact".

In my article, "The World According to Edu-Larps: The Analog Learning Games," I wrote about the difficulties of assessing play activities that cross disciplines.  The desire for assessment is well-known and is often a factor in determining the value of a project.  A game designer can certainly employ analytics to track a player's actions, but the full picture won't emerge without qualitative assessment. In addition, if the desired goal is a form of meta-gaming, with its intrinsic motivation, again, this benefit can't be measured with any on-board assessment tools.

However, through the use of qualitative and quantitative assessment, a game designer may be able to assess and make changes while a pilot project is happening before a complete rollout.  Using the iterative process, the designer can refine the game's message.  In this case, the art of survey design will be very important in order to erase biases and gain useful information.

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.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

New Course: Game Writing Primer

4 Weeks to Learn the Basics of Narrative Design and Build a Game
When:  Tuesdays and Thurdays, April 18 - May 11, 2017, 6:30 - 9:00 PM
Where:  Microsoft NY, 11 Times Square, New York, NY 10019

I am so pleased to announce that my longer 4-week course through PlayCrafting NYC is finally here!  Game Writing Primer was especially created for students who want to learn the process of story design and be on their way to a portfolio piece. I also wanted students without coding experience to be able to create a story-based game and be on a pathway to publication.

While any game creation method or engine is welcome, PlayCrafting has partnered with One More Story Games to provide StoryStylus at a discounted price ($15 for 2 years of hosting). StoryStylus is the platform used to create Danielle's Inferno, a game recently reviewed on this blog. Students using StoryStylus will have the opportunity for publication through One More Story Games. There are also options for privacy so that the student's game can be only be viewed by select individuals for portfolio purposes.

A special information session and mini-expo will be held on March 30. Sign up for this free session and play games created by students in PlayCrafting courses.

Hundreds of games have been showcased in PlayCrafting NYC's Demo & Play Nights.  Will yours be next?

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer with over 15 years of experience in the game industry.  Her writing credits include 1999 Independent Games Festival winner Terminus, MMO Hall of Fame inductee Wizard101, and the 2007 PC RPG of the Year, The Witcher, for which she was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in Videogame Writing.  She is the co-author of the book, Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform, and was a contributor to Secrets of the Game Business, Writing For Video Game Genres, and Professional Techniques for Videogame Writing.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Balancing Data and Design

In this article, game designer Sande Chen reflects on the relationship between metrics and game design.

This week, StoryForward NYC offered a fascinating look at the use of metrics in storytelling with the panel, "The Art of Data-Driven Storytelling: Creating Context in a Content-Driven World." Of course, I was fully aware that it was the other "storytelling," the one with marketing focus.  Still, the discussion was eerily similar to ones held at GDC about the importance of metrics in game design.

Metrics give a glimpse into the mind of the consumer and with A/B testing, designers can learn what functions better with an audience.  Often, after analyzing metrics, designers tweak the design.  Metrics is especially illuminating if it turns out if players are quitting the game after failing to complete the goal.  Was the learning curve too difficult?  Without metrics, the game designer basically has playtesting to fine-tune problem areas. Metrics delivers large quantities of data about actual users. Metrics tells you what players actually do, not what they say. An advantage to metrics-driven design is that the effects of changes to design are measured and the response time can be instantaneous.

I remember one story from GDC whereby a game designer tweaked the numbers to make the game harder, but because the metrics showed that the players were unable to advance with the new changes, it was immediately switched back.

I can see why metrics-driven design has appeal, but one problem may be that there's simply too much data collection and not enough knowledge to know which data is pertinent.  Or metrics may not capture the full picture, just like in that parable with the blind men and elephant. Data is only as good as your analysis.

In regards to storytelling, panelist Matt McGowan regarded data as a guidepost.  He said, "Start with what emotion you want to evoke, the story you want to tell, and then look at the data to see how you are going to do that."

That's the approach many game designers take as well. They already have a plan and metrics is just one tool in the toolbox. They don't need to base their entire design on metrics but metrics can inform their choices. In fact, designers can help analysts determine what to measure in a game that would be a good indicator of progress, or engagement, or learning, or whatever the analysts were after. 

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.

Friday, February 24, 2017

IGDA Game Design SIG at GDC 2017!

The IGDA Game Design SIG will be holding its annual SIG meeting and roundtable at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco next week on Friday, March 3 from 10-11 AM in Moscone North Hall, Room 110.

Join us as we discuss 2016 highlights and accomplishments of the IGDA Game Design Special Interest Group (SIG) as well as plans for 2017 and beyond. Come prepared to discuss potential SIG projects, have an anecdotal conversation on designing games, and see how you can get more involved in the SIG.

GDSIG RT at GDC last year
 Doug Hill, Senior Game Designer at Nexon, will be leading the discussion.  All GDC passes are welcome to attend the roundtable, which is under the Advocacy track.

Doug Hill began his 12-year career at a small developer working as a designer and producer on a variety of Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS games. Since then, he has worked for Disney Interactive as a Lead Game Designer on Pirates of the Caribbean: Isles of War & Armies of Magic, and for Kixeye as Lead Game Designer for Battle Pirates. He is a founding member of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Specifically, our agenda includes a review of our initiatives, which include:
  • Upcoming GDSIG Webinar
  • Upcoming Mentor AMA with game designer Daniel Harrison
  • Game Design Resources Update 
  • Weekly Game Design Challenges
  • Weekly Game Design Discussion
  • GDAM Podcast
  • Game Design Study Groups
Volunteers are sought for all of these initiatives and any others that may arise at the roundtable.  As always, you may also submit an article or topic to Game Design Aspect of the Month.

To join the IGDA Game Design SIG:

Learn how the IGDA Game Design SIG can help you to become a better game designer.

Friday, February 17, 2017

"Learnification" vs. Gamification

In this article, game designer Sande Chen explains the process of "learnification," as opposed to gamification.

In my last article, I described a reversed process for connecting emotionally with an audience.  Similarly, in my research reports, "The Merging of Entertainment and GBL" and "Facing Edutainment's Dark Legacy," published on Games + Learning, I approached learning games from another point of view, namely entertainment.  Rather than gamifying learning, we would be, in the words of Kuato Studios, engaged in "learnification."

What does this mean?  As I mentioned in my chapter on serious games in the book, Writing for Video Game Genres, subject matter experts are under no obligation to make the material "fun."  Often times, an educational game developer is given a set list of learning outcomes that need to be covered.  However, creating a game straight from a lesson plan may lead to poor gameplay.  If the game's not fun, then how is it going to get kids to play?

Prioritizing education over entertainment may not be the answer, but the reverse, prioritizing entertainment over education, may be the key.

It's ironic, but true:  Like I wrote previously, "Kids would rather play an entertainment title over an educational one, even if that entertainment game makes them learn astrophysics."

Hence, "learnification" is about ensuring an enjoyable game has teachable moments.  I find that it's also important to note that one game may not be able to hit all of the listed learning outcomes.  It helps to focus in on what's the most important point to be conveyed in this game and make sure the gameplay reinforces this point.

So, while gamification may have its merits, "learnification" may get better results.  Just remember, if our intention is to have kids play learning games to learn, then first the kids have to want to play the game.

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.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Emotion, Reverse Engineered

In this article, game designer Sande Chen looks at how storytelling is used in marketing to create emotional connection with audiences.

What does 'storytelling' mean to you?

It's curious to parse the exact meaning of words, but as we know from comparing the game industry to the tech sector, even job titles don't exactly mean the same from one company to the next.

I noticed a similar disconnect when I attended a storytelling event last year.  The first speaker was a game design professor who spoke eloquently about storytelling in games while the second speaker, a marketer, spoke about storytelling in a very different way.  A marketer is more interested in how the audience connects with a brand and it's the brand story that needs to be repeated.  But, both game designers and marketers recognize that storytelling has the power to connect with an audience through emotional means.

I think most writers strive to connect emotionally on a universal level. By that, I mean even if the nitty gritty details are about life in a slum, people can still recognize a story about perseverance, about rising above poverty and succeeding.  Marketers, though, tend to craft a message or story based on the preferences of the target audience.  A marketer asks, "What already resonates with my audience?" rather than trying to elicit emotion anew.  Then, the marketer provides the story that fits the target audience.

For example, AI software can analyze social media texts to determine personality traits like "adventuresome," "achievement striving," and "openness to change."  If the brand's story is about "achievement striving," then targeting the "achievement striving" results in 30% more engagement and sentiment.  If the target audience now associates the brand to an "achievement striving" lifestyle, that's a success.

In fact, social psychologists say that it may be hard to connect with audience members with different viewpoints from the author.  In analyzing liberals and conservatives, Professor Matt Feinberg and sociologist Robb Willer found that liberals value benevolence, nurturance, equality, and social justice whereas conservatives prize highly group loyalty, authority, and purity.  So, the thought of garbage left in a forest resonates more strongly with a conservative than the devastation on wildlife due to deforestation. By understanding these differences, a writer can reframe the message to the audience's moral values.

By writing this piece, I don't mean to suggest that we should all start writing to the audience.  After all, creative work can have different audience interpretations.  I just think it's interesting to note how a related field tackles the issue of how to create emotional connection in storytelling.

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.