Thursday, December 31, 2009

GDAM 2009: Year in Review

Originating as a proposed initiative for the IGDA's new Game Design SIG, Game Design Aspect of the Month (or GDAM) began on March 1 of 2009 to serve as a platform and community blog for game developers and scholars to discuss design issues.

Since then, we have covered several topics. They were:
We look forward to more great topics in the coming year! To participate, please submit topic suggestions for future months and contribute articles. You can also become a regular contributor or an editor.

Happy Holidays! And many thanks to our readers and contributors!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

January 2010: Mechanics That Artificially Lengthen Gameplay

January 2010's topic is Mechanics That Artificially Lengthen Gameplay, originally proposed by game design student Helder Mauricio Gomes Ferreira and refined by game designer Ryon Levitt and scholar Altug Isigan.

A significant number of players complain about game designs that seem to be deliberately wasting their time. Due to the amount of grinding and long walks that can be seen in this genre, it is often MMORPG's that are subject to such criticism. It appears, however, that from time to time all types of games and genres suffer from sequences that mindlessly waste the time of their players.

During its January rally, GDAM asks you to provide insight and answers to the problem of game mechanics that artificially lengthen gameplay. In the broader sense, we ask you what methods or mechanics the game designer has at her disposal to lengthen gameplay without annoying the gamers. In particular, we ask the following questions in the hope to inspire you for articles:
  • What is the relationship between business models and mechanics that artificially lengthen gameplay? Which business models or design principles built around mechanics that artificially lengthen gameplay could serve to increase a game's value for both players and developers?

  • How can dead time in runs and overall travel time be reduced without destroying the rationale behind the business model and the overall pace and rhythm of the game in question?

  • What design methods do exist that could be helpful in creating mechanics that preserve player motivation while gameplay is artificially lengthened? How, in that regard, can we utilize psychological processes like for example matching creatively?

  • What kind of ancillary reward systems do exist or could be developed and how could these help to foster a feel of environmental progression in the game that makes long walks feel like they are part of the game rather than being pointless and repetitive tasks?

  • What are design methods and principles that can be helpful in manipulating felt time and making it easier on the player when gameplay is lengthened artificially? How can we stretch game sequences by building additional moves into game mechanisms without making them feel artificial?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

An Advertising Approach to High Concept Pitching (Part 2)

In Part I, scholar Altug Isigan looks at the structure of commercials to see what tactics from advertising can be applied to high concept pitching. In Part 2, he explains the role of the structural parts of commercials and gives examples on how these can be used to shape a high concept.

Expose Benefits over Features

In the exposure part, it is most important that you avoid listing mere features. They may all mean a lot to you and the group of people you work with. But a feature, if it is not explained as to what benefits it brings to the user of the product, could be easily overlooked or deemed insignificant. So you got to remind your addressee of what the feature translates to in real life and how, in practical terms, it answers the need you’ve addressed in the teaser.

So, how do we expose a feature as a benefit? Here are two examples: Instead of saying that the game can be played with up to six players you could say that it is for the whole family or can be played with a large group of friends. Instead of saying that the game features a total of 72 hours of gameplay you could say that it features more than 30 exciting levels with over 100 items to be unlocked.

What’s really important is to translate the feature into the type of “currency” that makes sense to the user and expresses “value” on her terms, not yours.

The Peak of the High Concept

We don’t write a high concept because we want it to be forgotten. We write it because we want it to be actively considered by our addressee, and because we want it to be remembered over longer periods, even if it initially got rejected. Well, that is where the climax jumps in.

On one hand, a climax is something cool or funny or worth to remember about our presentation. A pun, a wit, a catchphrase, anything that is impressive or fills the heart with lightness. The climax presents us something that we will remember whenever the same need resurfaces. And the other way round: remembering the climax will make the addressee think over and over of the idea that had been pitched.

On the other hand, the climax can also be build upon a promise: Something that will increase what the addressee can gain from the proposal if she decides to maintain her interest in it. Maybe there is already work in progress about a sequel to the proposed idea? Maybe the proposed game introduces a technology that the company’s whole product line can benefit from, once it is being crafted? Whatever the promise is, it should definitely be something intriguing.

Finally; don’t forget: ideas are not rejected solely because they are bad. Sometimes you just weren’t lucky enough. Maybe it was not the right time for submission, but who knows, six months from now, your high concept might be exactly what the company is looking for. Give your addressee a reason to remember your game idea.

So, what’s next?

No advert is really complete without a call for action. This is simply when you invite your addressee to take a next step (one that takes her closer to your idea):

-“We’re having a testing session for the game on Monday afternoon. Come join us.”


What is there more to say? I hope that this article was useful and created in you the desire to have a closer look at advertising techniques. Good luck with your proposals!

Altug Isigan is a scholar at the Eastern Mediterranean University, Department of Radio-TV and Film, in sunny Famagusta, Cyprus, where he is writing a dissertation on narrative in games. You can read more of his work at his blog, the Ludosphere.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Advertising Approach to High Concept Pitching (Part I)

In Part I of this article, scholar Altug Isigan looks at the structure of commercials to see what tactics from advertising can be applied to high concept game pitching.

First and foremost we need to remember that the high concept has a target audience of its own. Often this target is the company’s creative director or someone in a similar lead or executive role who is well aware of the trends and brands out there in the market. This person will have a strong gut feel for what sells and what doesn’t because of her prior industry experience and closer relations to the people in the company’s marketing and R&D departments. Furthermore, as part of her job, this person must maintain a certain vision about company goals and product lines. It can be assumed that this person is skilled in seeing whether there is a match between the game vision in the proposed high concept and the player profiles that the company usually targets with its products (or now plans to expand into). Our goal is to communicate to this person the "match" we believe our game idea is.

Now this goal is exactly the reason why we should look into a few advertising techniques to find out whether we could learn something from the structure of commercials for better pitching.

The Structure of a Typical Commercial

To put it very simple, the structure of a typical commercial looks like this:

Teasers = Holding Mirrors into Faces

Teasers are not just fancy graphics or sounds. They are active attempts to pin down someone as their addressee. That means that teasers express a need or a problem of the addressee in a way in which the addressee usually isn’t able to express it. When addressees are confronted with the teaser, it will catch their attention because they will immediately relate to what is being said and they will like it that something about them has been expressed so much to the spot. Being “identified” by the teaser, now the addressee will be curious and willing to listen to more, since it looks like someone is really understanding them here. In short: whatever problem or need the teaser addresses, it should translate to the addressee as “Now that is something for me! Let me have a closer look at it!”

But it’s not just about finding the right title, tagline or catchphrase. Teasers are also about using the right graphical devices to create an overall impact and to guide the reader’s eye to what is essential. You should always carefully consider your layout and typography options. Even if it is a single page, the high concept can already reveal mood and identity through font type and size, spacing, paper type and color etc. Maybe you can come up with an illustration that serves as a summarizing metaphor of the game?

Altug Isigan is a scholar at the Eastern Mediterranean University, Department of Radio-TV and Film, in sunny Famagusta, Cyprus, where he is writing a dissertation on narrative in games. You can read more of his work at his blog, the Ludosphere.

Friday, December 18, 2009

5 key steps of pitching a successful and original game IP (Part II)

In Part I, lead designer Benjamin Krotin describes the prepatory work that needs to be done even before meeting with a prospective publisher. In Part II, he gives advice on how to find the right publisher and make the sale.

3. Fitting A Publisher

Far too often, developers will take their perfectly-crafted documents
/presentations and bombard every single publisher around the world with them. Although this is not an uncommon strategy, approaching too many companies too quickly could result in a diluted effort. Instead, developers should scout out which publisher would best suit their IP, and then target them for a more specific approach. For example: An imaginary IP like Super Magic Princess might be a good fit for companies like Disney Interactive, Majesco, or THQ, but this certainly would not be the case for an IP such as Ultra Bazooka Troopers. That sort of game would likely be more suited for companies such as Sega, Activision, or Midway. By tailoring their pitch to the appropriate publishers, developers decrease their odds of being shot down before they have had a chance to show off their work. By doing this, developers reduce the risk of overexposing themselves too quickly. Finding the right publisher to present an IP to is almost as important as coming up with the one.

4. It's Who You Know!

Okay, it is time to confirm a long-standing theory, it is who you know. Any developers that are ready to start approaching publishers should stop in their tracks and give their address books a quick run-through before taking another step. If that address book comes up a bit short, it is time to talk to someone whose is not. Before an IP pitch is even complete, developers should begin approaching the business development managers and producers at various publishers, and start getting their feet in the door. Whether it s through a cold-call, an e-mail, or through an introduction, it is best to know the person or persons that will be receiving a pitch before they are even sent one. This way, a pitch becomes more personal, and it becomes easier to express the emotion and principles behind a concept. Additionally, when the person at the other end is a friend instead of just a contact, a developer's project is likely to get more attention and avoid ending up in the "to-do" pile. By befriending the right people and establishing a proper network of connections, developers are letting themselves get known before they have even shown what they have been working on. A good rule of thumb to remember is this: It's who you know first, and then it's what you know.

5. The Meeting

The meeting is simultaneously one of the most over hyped and underrated aspects of any game developer's pitch. Getting a meeting with a publisher is usually the first step to taking a project out of the conceptual realm and bringing it closer to a development deal. Typically, whenever the first meeting is arranged, its ultimate purpose is to introduce the development team and its IP to the first set of decision makers at a publisher. Hence, the first meeting, though important, is really only one small fragment of an overall larger and more meeting-filled pitch process. The most important aspect of any meeting is to get the point across... What is this game about? Why does it fit this publisher? Why will it succeed? These are all just of a few of the questions that must be answered (without them being asked) if a publisher is going to take any project that is presented to them seriously. Another important aspect of this sort of mindset is to also always remember that by default, it can never be assumed that the publisher has any imagination. This may sound harsh, but the crux of the matter is that it is true. This is because the project acquisition arm of any given publisher is usually made up from more than just a few people. As such, it becomes nearly impossible for concepts like imagination to flow seamlessly between the staff, as everyone's interpretation of a game will likely differ. This is further compounded by the hierarchy that exists within these units. Person A, who is first in line to review something, is usually not in any way obligated to share what they have found with Person B, who is above them in the chain of command. As such, a pitch can be lost before it has even had a fair review. To prevent this, a developer must realize that they are never really pitching to a publisher per-se, but rather to a focused collective of individuals whose job is to either approve or reject ideas. If an idea is approved, it is then bumped to a superior, whose job is to do the same thing. Once enough of these individuals agree, that is when an IP gets a chance. By being informative, original, and extraordinarily persistent, a developer with the right IP can accomplish great things!

[This article originally appeared on the Mary-Margaret Network Blog.]

Benjamin Krotin is President and Lead Designer at 1988 Games, where he is currently pursuing the well-received original Wii IP Zombie Massacre. In addition to managing the day-to-day operations of 1988 Games, Ben is also a contributing writer for Cigar Press Magazine. Ben can be reached at this e-mail address.

Monday, December 14, 2009

January 2010 Poll

Please come and vote for the January 2010 topic!

You'll see the poll to the side. The choices are:

  • Cheats
  • Mechanics that artificially lengthen gameplay
  • Multiplayer Economies

Please vote by December 25. Thank you!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

5 key steps of pitching a successful and original game IP (Part I)

In Part I of this article, Lead Designer Benjamin Krotin describes the prepatory work that needs to be done even before meeting with a prospective publisher.

The game industry that we thrive in today is filled with many great ideas and many great idea makers. However, far too often great ideas and opportunities somehow get lost in the fray and sadly dwindle down to non-existence. To help reverse this, there are five key steps that anyone, at any level of game development can follow. By maximizing the methods by which an IP is produced and presented, a developer can increase their chances for success with publishing.

1. Making Sure Your Idea Is Novel

Rule #1: Do something new.
Rule #2: If you are not going to do something new, at least do something different!

If one were to break a game down to its core elements, what would they find? Sure, there is story and artwork, and of course audio; but what really makes a game?

What makes a game is gameplay, and gameplay can be translated in basic terms as the raw, visceral enjoyment that a player receives from pushing buttons on a controller. Much like story is to cinema; gameplay is by far and away the single most important aspect of any game project. When combined with story, art and sound, good gameplay becomes magic, and capturing this magic is what every designer's job should be. With this in mind, any proper original IP should be grounded in solid and preferably original gameplay. Placing gameplay into the equation first, even before story, will help distinguish an IP right off of the bat and will serve as a solid foundation upon which the rest of a game's assets can be built. But gameplay alone will not move a publisher, so before a single designer can work their craft, the development team as a whole must find their niche before deciding which direction to take. Existing market conditions must be carefully examined and evaluated, with developers keeping in mind that an IP, which in its own way caters to either a lucrative or untapped market, is much more likely to succeed. Creating something original from the bottom to the top and targeting it to a distinct market will be far more enticing to a publisher than just blindly making yet another first-person shooter for the XBOX 360. That is of course unless this first-person shooter does something new and cool. One look at companies such as Nintendo, Harmonix, or Bungie is a testament to this notion.

2. Documentation

"No one reads that stuff anyway..." Anyone who has ever pitched an IP to a publisher has likely either heard this, or has even said this themselves. Although mostly true, it is still extremely important to have a bulletproof document that not only outlines, but concisely explains the game and its mechanics. Nothing will catch a producer's or business development manager's attention faster than a clean and easy-to-read document that answers all of their questions and shows off what an IP is about. The best way to tackle this is to break the game design down into a brief concept outline document that covers basics like story, gameplay, and controls. This is especially true for the controls, as these are the real meat of any game. A successful control layout will show a concise control diagram, and will include a breakdown of all of the various control mechanics and basic gameplay states that can exist within the outlined gameplay. It is important to be thorough but not to go overboard, as no one will be able to read, let alone understand any control breakdown that is too complex. By being thorough and concise with outline documentation, a developer is effectively presenting a summarized game design document to the publisher, but one where all of the technical fluff that is typically found in a full-scale design document is cut out. Bottom line: Get to the point, get their quickly, and then dress it all up with pretty pictures.

[This article originally appeared on the Mary-Margaret Network Blog.]

Benjamin Krotin is President and Lead Designer at 1988 Games, where he is currently pursuing the well-received original Wii IP Zombie Massacre. In addition to managing the day-to-day operations of 1988 Games, Ben is also a contributing writer for Cigar Press Magazine. Ben can be reached at this e-mail address.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

GDAM Reboot

After a very fruitful first year, the Game Design Aspect of the Month editors are preparing for the new year with the goal of building on last year's achievements and improving GDAM's features. We want to continue to present game designers, industry professionals and game researchers with a platform for high-standard discussions and exchange. We would like to express our gratitude to our readers and to all those who during the past year contributed to GDAM with their articles or took the time to participate in our podcasts: Thank you very much!

GDAM January: New Topic Suggestions

We are interested in hearing your topic suggestions for the month January. Please contact one of our editors if you believe you have an idea that would make a good GDAM topic. You can find out more about topic suggestions here. Some of our topics in the past were Mature Games, Prototyping and Player Death.

Call for Editors

GDAM wants to strengthen its team of editors and would like to hear from individuals who would be interested in joining us. Routine tasks of GDAM Editors include:
  • Developing or taking care of incoming topic suggestions
  • Acting as contact points for writers and assisting them during article submissions
  • Editing and preparing articles for publication
  • Participating in the production and publication of GDAM podcasts
  • Promoting GDAM via various communication platform
A certain level of commitment is expected.

Current GDAM Topic: Pitching and High Concepts

We are still looking for articles on our current topic Pitching and High Concepts. The topic was suggested by narrative designer Tobias Heussner and you can find a more detailed topic description here. Those who are interested can also participate in our podcast session on Pitching and High Concepts. Please contact our editors for more.