Wednesday, December 14, 2011

IGDA on Kickstarter

Check out some game projects on the IGDA Kickstarter page!

There, you will find games affiliated with IGDA chapters and other projects that are waiting to be funded.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Trick to Kickstarter

In this article, game designer Matt Forbeck gives advice on how to get started on a crowdfunding project.

Crowdfunding is taking independent creatives by storm these days. People of all sorts are taking to the web, standing on a virtual street corner, and turning over a hat into which passerby can toss their hard-earned credit. And it’s working on sites like and the current king of the hill, Kickstarter.

Well, it’s working for some people. Some projects fail to meet their goals, while others smash through their planners’ dreams and rake in tens of thousands of dollars. So, what’s the secret?

I launched a Kickstarter drive in early November for a crazy plan I have called 12 for ’12, in which I propose to write a dozen novels next year, one each month. At the moment, I’ve lined up nearly $8,000 worth of pledges, and we still have a few days left to go. (It ends at noon on December 4. You can find out more about it at

Before I submitted my project, I gave it a lot of thought, and I did a ton of research on other people’s ideas, trying to figure out why some worked or others didn’t. I did my homework, and you should too.
As with most things in life, success comes from hard work. Setting up a proper Kickstarter project isn’t for the faint of heart. On the surface, it’s a snap. You just set a goal and an end date, submit it, and watch the money roll in.

Of course, there’s far more to it than that. You need to come up with a proposal for your project, a story about what it is and how you plan to bring it to life. You need to concoct a schedule of reward tiers for your backers, a progressive list of things they can get for offering you increasing amounts of money. And you should come up with a video and some graphics to help you connect with potential backers and show them just how cool your proposed project is.

Some people can step up and post an idea and have thousands of dollars come their way. Others can have a nearly finished product in their hands and have their efforts wash out. One thing separates them: trust.

Backers only give money to people they trust to produce. If they don’t know you or at least of you, there’s little reason for them to believe that you can do what you propose.

You can build trust in a few different ways. If you put together a professional package — if you look like you know what you’re doing — people may be willing to trust you. If you get enough backers lined up behind you, others may take that as a sign that you’re trustworthy too.

The best and hardest way, of course, is to establish a reputation as someone who delivers on promises over the course of years, long before you launch your Kickstarter project. That usually comes with an established base of fans who you’ve trained to trust you, and they’re often the first people to sign on.

Give that a lot of thought before you launch your project. Who’s going to trust you, and why? If you have a good answer for that, you’re already on your way.

Matt Forbeck is an award-winning game designer and novelist with countless games and 15 novels published. You can see his Kickstarter project at and learn more about him at

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

November 2011: Crowdfunding

November 2011's topic, Crowdfunding, was submitted by independent developer Michael Lubker.

He writes:

Crowdfunding raises many questions, both in the business and design of a game. Some games give funders an in-game character. Others give out of game rewards, (metarewards?). People ask where to go and how many funding operations to start at once, and how to start. Is it distasteful, or a valid way of funding (and do Minecraft, Mount and Blade, Cortex Command and others point to the answers?)

Here are some questions from the Game Design SIG to think about, if you want to contribute an article:

  1. Is it possible to use multiple crowdfund sources simultaneously? If so, is that distasteful? Regarding the "distastefulness" see
  2. What is the minimum expected / acknowledged amount of work needed for Crowdfunding to work? We have seen people have as much as a game demo, and some with as little as a description. What is found to work best?
  3. which crowdfund sources have the highest percentage of completed/successful pledges?
  4. What determines success of crowfunding? Obviously worthy project is a must :) but what else.   
Michael Lubker is an executive producer and designer at Axelo Inc, currently finishing up his first 2 games in a production/design position. He has also worked in QA on The Sims Castaway Stories,
Supreme Commander, and 1701AD Gold. He also was a founding advisor for the Independent Game Conference, is co-coordinator of the IGDA Indie SIG, and is a coordinator for the Global Game Jam in Austin, TX, where he helped produce a working XNA/Xbox 360 title in 48 hours.

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    November 2011 Poll

    Hello!  As you can tell, I have fallen behind.  I used to have regular contributors and Altug used to help out, but now it's just me!  So, if you would like to be a regular contributor to GDAM or editor, pls lmk.

    Please vote for the November 2011 topic! As always, feel free to suggest more topics!  Look at the submission guidelines for Topics and Blog Entries.

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

    • Sequels
    • Crowdfunding
    • Microtransactions

    Sunday, October 23, 2011

    On giving away stuff for free

    In this article, independent developer Dave Gilbert discusses a recent decision concerning a promotional giveaway.

    Today I wanted to address another infrequent question I'm getting about the pre-order offer. The DVD contains all the previous Blackwell games burned onto the disc, and buying it gives you immediate access to Blackwell Convergence, the third game in the series.

    I've gotten a few emails from customers asking why I didn't give them access to Blackwell Legacy instead, since it is the first game in the series. It technically makes the most sense, but in practice... not so much. When a company gives a product away for free, it's not just to be nice (well, maybe a bit nice). The free product is being used - primarily - as a promotional tool. So why not lead with your best product? Telltale did this with Sam and Max a few years ago. The fourth game in the series - Abe Lincoln Must Die! - is now freeware, and it is widely considered by fans and critics alike as the best of the season. This is no coincidence.

    Blackwell Legacy is a solid game, but it was also my first game, and I've improved my skills significantly since it was released five years ago. Convergence is a much better showcase for the series, so it made more sense to give the customers immediate access to it. Had I given them Legacy instead (or given them all three, in which case they would play Legacy first), I ran the risk of them not seeing me at my best.

    Maybe this was the right decision, maybe it wasn't. Some of you might feel slighted. Heck, you bought the DVD which contains the games, so why can't you play them now? To you I say: I understand. So, here's what I'll do. If you bought the DVD and don't want to wait for it to arrive before playing the first three games, I will give you a voucher so you can nab the downloads free of charge. Send me your DVD order receipt and I'll hook you up.

    [This article originally appeared on New York Gamedev.]

    Dave Gilbert has been interested in adventure games ever since 1986, when his mother made the mistake of buying him a copy of Wishbringer. Since then, he has authored over six successful freeware games, including 2004's award-winning Two of a Kind. In 2006, he turned his hobby into a fulltime career and founded Wadjet Eye Games.  

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011

    September 2011: Free-to-Play

    There has always been free-to-play games, but the question remains: How do we earn money? Unless you are a non-profit or a philanthropist, that money issue will always come up.

    With casual games and shareware, the try-before-you-buy system of downloading the trial or demo version has been a proven method. There has also been tiered membership, divvying up perks to be added to each tier, from basic free up to the deluxe premium package. And of course, we are familiar with the ad-supported Web sites and games. No doubt some companies have tried to combine one or two of these business models.

    Lately, though, microtransactional games are all the rage. They are not new, since Asian companies were happy to charge for every little thing in a free-to-play environment, but people were unsure if this would work in the Western economies. Facebook showed that people were more than willing to shell out cash for little birthday icons.

    But as these types of games flourish on the iPhone and social networks, there are now more articles about aghast parents dealing with bills for $1400 or more, all spent on virtual dog biscuits or Smurfberries.

    Some things to think about:
    • Are there any special considerations when designing a free-to-play game?  Does it matter if it's ad-supported or microtransactional?
    • Do microtransactional games prey upon gamers' (or children's) addictions?
    • What is the best way to deal with ads in an ad-supported game?  Should they surround the game or be inside the game?
    • Do you still maintain a subscription model while allowing for free-to-play and pay-as-you-go?
    • How do you make free-to-play players feel just as valued as paying customers?
    • Are there any community headaches that pertain particularly to free-to-play games?

    Thursday, September 8, 2011

    Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Case Study

    In this excerpt from the book, Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform, by David Michael and Sande Chen, the authors present a case study on game development through the Small Business Innovation Research or SBIR program.

    Perhaps the easiest way to get involved with developing for the military, and a number of other government agencies, is through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

    Created in 1982, the SBIR program currently provides $1.6 billion each year to support research and development (R&D) for small businesses across the United States. In short, SBIR makes it possible for smaller companies (those with 500 or fewer employees) to participate in government research grants. SBIR projects cover many topics, including key technologies, and even some high-risk areas. The Department of Defense SBIR awards in 2003 came to almost $900 million.

    There are many rules and regulations for participating in the SBIR program beyond being a qualifying business, as listed earlier. There are specific submission formats, and each of the participating department has its own requirements. The following case study touches on some of those issues.

    SBIR Case Study: Online Alchemy

    Originally founded to create a new type of game engine, the Dynemotion engine, Online Alchemy, an independent game developer in Austin, TX, found that its efforts were of interest to DARPA. Specifically, DARPA expressed an interest in Online Alchemy's work on creating more realistic non-player character (NPC) behavior. Though already working on a commercial game to showcase the Dynemotion engine, the work for the SBIR "dovetailed nicely" with Online Alchemy's efforts and business plan, said Craig Fryar, VP of Online Alchemy. At the time of the interview for this book, Online Alchemy had sent in the last paperwork to complete Phase I of the SBIR.

    "When we first looked at SBIR it was daunting," Fryar said. The specification for the project had a broad scope, much broader than any one company could manage. Fryar suspected that the sponsor of the SBIR was trying to "test the mettle" of the companies that responded. Not all SBIRs are like that.

    One of the challenges Online Alchemy faced in Phase I was condensing their proposal to the 25-page format (which means exactly 25 pages) required for the SBIR. For people with an engineering background, Fryar pointed out, it can be difficult to fully describe an idea in such a limited space. You have to describe the team, the statement of work, the required resources, and so on, in addition to the actual technology you're proposing and make sure it follows a specific format. Less like a business plan than a technical design specification, the Phase I proposal includes less marketing and financial information and more engineering. The SBIR called for some deviations from the company's game concept, but addressing those deviations, Fryar said, should improve the completed game.

    According to Fryar, the government gets a royalty-free license to use the technology developed in the course of the SBIR. Despite this, the ownership of the technology (and the patent on that technology) remains with Online Alchemy. In other words, the U.S. government is providing funding to help Online Alchemy develop its technology in exchange for the right to use it any way the government sees fit.

    When the project is completed, Online Alchemy is permitted, and is in fact expected, to use the technology they developed in its own commercial endeavors. It can be used in games or in licensed products created for other purposes. This kind of commercial development is a key part of the SBIR process. The government wants to see ongoing commercial development. In short, Fryar said, "We've received additional funding to help us do what we were doing anyway."

    With the time it takes to be accepted for the SBIR, and with award money from the SBIRs coming in installments, game developers interested in pursuing the SBIR program will need to have sufficient funding to carry them for a number of months. It is very important to set aside some money to cover payroll and other expenses in the opening months. This is true of most grant funding programs, not just the military, as we will see in other chapters.

    Fryar offers the following advice to developers who are interested in SBIR projects:

    • Don't assume your idea for or response to the SBIR is unique. Do your research, possibly including patent searches, and be open to criticism. On the other hand, he said, don't compromise your project (by exposing it to the public or by changing your project to better match the SBIR) just to get the award money.
    • Take the time to be certain you understand the intent of the SBIR and its sponsor. If you don't understand the purpose of the SBIR, you could be wasting valuable time and resources.
    • Surround yourself with people who have done SBIRs and ask for their advice and feedback. The SBIR Phase I report format is very specific, and having the assistance of someone who has done it before can prove invaluable. Also, there are SBIR-specific dates for submissions and when you can and can't talk with the SBIR sponsor, as well as other possible pitfalls that can trap the SBIR rookie.
    • Don't get discouraged. The number of companies who get approved for SBIRs the first time is very small (less than 10 percent). If you want to participate in the SBIR program, you need to learn the process and keep trying.

    Further advice for SBIR hopefuls:

    • Get help from the SBIR sponsor, though be aware of when you can and can't discuss the SBIR with him or her.
    • Don't try to be the answer to the whole SBIR. Focus on what you can do best. SBIR awards are not exclusive. Multiple contracts can be awarded.
    • Check in with the SBIR Regional Officer for more information.

    In certain cases, if a sponsor is very impressed by your ongoing work or if you propose work on a related topic, the sponsor may even write a customized SBIR for you.

    In the world of military contracting, SBIRs are just one possibility. In fact, SBIRs are quite small compared to the huge contracts awarded to the likes of Boeing Company or Northrop Grumman Corporation. However, SBIRs represent a viable first step for newcomers to military contracting, and the contacts gained during the SBIR process may prove invaluable later.

    Tuesday, September 6, 2011

    September 2011 Poll

    Hello!  As you can tell, I have fallen behind.  I used to have regular contributors and Altug used to help out, but now it's just me!  So, if you would like to be a regular contributor to GDAM or editor, pls lmk.

    Please vote for the September 2011 topic! As always, feel free to suggest more topics!  Look at the submission guidelines for Topics and Blog Entries.

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

    • Girl Games
    • Free-to-Play
    • Agile Development

    Thursday, August 25, 2011

    FireFox workaround

    If you're having trouble replying to blog posts because you're using FireFox, here is a workaround submitted by one of our readers:

    Disabling the page style in Firefox (Display/Page Style/ No Style) gives you a scrollable comment box where you can fill out the capcha and submit your comment.

    Postmortem: Wadjet Eye's The Blackwell Convergence (Part II)

    In Part I, independent developer Dave Gilbert discusses what went right in the creation of adventure game sequel, The Blackwell Convergence.  In Part II, he discusses what went wrong.

    What Went Wrong

    1. Some Marketing Efforts, While Earnest, Were Quite Amateur

    I had a brilliant idea. I was going to create a bunch of short animated cartoons starring the two characters from the game and start spreading them around the internet. Curious about the characters in the cartoons, people would come to the website to learn more about them. Viral marketing! That's what it's all about.

    So, I brought on board a few writers to write the cartoon sketches for me. Six were written, and I brought in the actors to record the lines. Now all I needed to do was nab an animator to make the cartoons for me. Easy, right?

    Heck, no. I was a bit naïve, and I figured I could just hop onto Newgrounds and find some budding young animator who would be happy for the opportunity to make these in return for a bit of cash. I found some soon enough, but not a single
    one of them followed through.

    In the end, I ended up hiring a professional animation studio to do them. They gave me a generous rate, but even still I could only afford to make three of the cartoons and I had to severely limit the amount of animation in each one. But, hey at least they got made. So I had my cartoons, but it wasn't long before I realized I had no idea what to do with them. I put them on the usual places like YouTube, GameTrailers, Newgrounds, and announced them on various game sites, but they did not generate the buzz I was expecting.

    I like the cartoons. They are funny and people seem to like them. The idea of making the cartoons was sound, but my limited marketing experience left me with no idea what to do with them once I had them.

    2. Getting a Publishing Deal

    What? This is a bad thing? Well, not really. But read on.

    The second game in the series, Blackwell Unbound, was released in August of 2007. I soon announced that The Blackwell Convergence would be finished by March of 2008. What I did not expect was that I would get a call from a major game publisher who was interested in hiring me to design and produce a fully-funded game. This was an offer I couldn't refuse, so I accepted, and soon, Emerald City Confidential was greenlit and on its way.

    Getting this gig meant many good things. I was working with a genuine budget, and could create a game with real production values. I was working with a real marketing and sales department, who could help guide me into making something that would really sell. Also, for the first time in years, I had some semblance of financial stability.

    Unfortunately, this also meant that I had to put Blackwell Convergence on the back burner. I didn't have the energy or the manpower to work on both projects at once, so production on Convergence was almost completely halted. This disappointed many fans, who had been promised a new game by March and weren't going to get it. When they asked when the game was coming out, I could only reply that I didn't know.

    Blackwell Convergence came out in July of 2009 -- almost a year and half after it was promised. Do I regret what happened? I don't. I learned a lot working on Emerald City and the money I earned while making it enabled me to pay for the new artwork that I mentioned above, so Blackwell Convergence emerged significantly improved as a result. I do regret disappointing the fans, though, as well as not giving as much attention to my own budding community while I was working on the bigger game.

    3. The Notebook Interface
    In the first two Blackwell games, Blackwell Legacy and Blackwell Unbound, your character carried a notebook with her. As you went through the game, you'd collect clues and you'd write them in your notebook. These clues acted like inventory items that you could combine together and get more clues.

    This interface was touted by the critics as being very unique and innovative (although Discworld Noir did it first), but the players told a different story. For most players, the notebook gave them the greatest amount of frustration.

    "It's obvious that Cecil Sharpe and the band C-Sharps are related," complained players of Blackwell Unbound. "Why doesn't my character know it too?" My suggestion to combine the "C-Sharps" and "Cecil Sharpe" clues in the notebook was met with replies of "Oh. That's annoying.

    At first I shrugged off these complaints, but they were right. Combining clues in this fashion was not an intuitive way to get through a puzzle, even though it's a very appropriate mechanic for a mystery game. I had originally designed Blackwell Convergence to include the notebook mechanic and incorporated several puzzles with it, but after the umpteenth complaint about the system I knew it was dead weight and I had to remove it.

    However, this caused a problem. One the one hand, removing the notebook made the game much more streamlined and pleasant to play, but on the other hand it removed a significant amount of challenge. In the end, I decided that making the game more fun was more important than making it more challenging, so I removed the clue-combining aspect of the interface completely.

    The result? Many more players mourned the loss of the notebook than I thought would, especially the hardcore fans of the previous games, and the critics. A lot of reviews said that the "simplification" of the game was the one thing holding it back from being the best in the series. I still stand by the decision, but I wish I had made this decision earlier so I would have had time to come up with something better to take its place.

    Will the notebook return in the fourth game? Perhaps. At least now I can now plan ahead and make a solid attempt at making a clue-combining interface that is both intuitive and fun to use.

    4. Higher Production Values Made Little Difference in Profits

    I mentioned earlier how the production values of Convergence were significantly better than those of the previous games.

    This also meant that the game cost significantly more money to make!

    The slicker production values did help Convergence sell much better than its predecessors, but it also took much longer to earn back the production costs. So in terms of pure profit, my earnings are exactly the same as the previous titles. I am satisfied enough with how the game is selling, but I do have to ask the question: would I have been better off keeping the lower production values (and cost) of the original games?

    Honestly, I don't know. Perhaps some kind of cost/sales analysis would shed some light, but as an indie developer with very little experience with business or sales I wouldn't know where to begin. Either way, on a personal level I love how the game looks and sounds. It easily conveys the dark mood and atmosphere of the series perfectly, and is exactly how I envisioned the game when I first started out.

    5. Over-Reliance on Distribution Channels

    When the first Blackwell game, The Blackwell Legacy, was accepted by the game distribution portals I was a nervous wreck.

    At the time, I was struggling very hard to sell my games and I figured their success on the portals would make or break me.

    When the game leapt up to the top 10 charts of game portals like Big Fish, PlayFirst, and iWin, I figured I had finally "made it" and had discovered the secret to successfully selling my games. In a nutshell, I was going to rely on the distribution networks to do it for me.

    That was in 2007. Now, a whole two years later, things are different. A lot of distribution channels have lowered their prices to the point where it's very difficult for a developer to earn any serious money. In addition, the competition is a heck of a lot more fierce and the economy is severely limiting the number of games people buy. The result is that customers are buying fewer games and paying less for them.

    So when Convergence went up on the portals, I was not surprised to see it struggling to get noticed. I learned my lesson very quickly: I could no longer rely on the game portals to sustain the majority of my income.

    They can make up a part of it, but relying on them completely was a bad idea. I had to -- gulp -- actually do some marketing and PR work myself. This forced me to become much more self-reliant, as I explained above.


    In reading over this postmortem I realize that most of my "rights" are about evolving the series and my "wrongs" are about sales and marketing, which I guess shows where my priorities are. Being an indie studio made up of me and a couple of freelance artists, there are limits to what I can accomplish.

    I have a story I want to tell, and this is the medium (no pun intended) that I've chosen to tell it. I am constantly re-evaluating what works and what doesn't and trying new approaches in how to tell an interactive story, but for too long I ignored the business end of things and that became a liability. I'm glad I finally noticed this and took steps to correct it. Learning from your mistakes is important, because it enables you to make room for more!

    [This article originally appeared on Gamasutra.]

    Dave Gilbert has been interested in adventure games ever since 1986, when his mother made the mistake of buying him a copy of Wishbringer. Since then, he has authored over six successful freeware games, including 2004's award-winning Two of a Kind. In 2006, he turned his hobby into a fulltime career and founded Wadjet Eye Games. 

    Sunday, August 21, 2011

    Postmortem: Wadjet Eye's The Blackwell Convergence (Part I)

    In Part I of this article, independent developer Dave Gilbert discusses what went right in the creation of adventure game sequel, The Blackwell Convergence.

    The Blackwell games are point-and-click adventures made by my small indie game studio, Wadjet Eye Games, that center on an awkward writer named Rosangela ("Rosa") Blackwell who, upon her aunt's death, inherited the family ghost. The ghost in question is Joey Malone, a sardonic spirit from the 1930s. Their task is to assist lost souls and investigate supernatural goings on.

    The Blackwell Convergence marks the third game in the series, and after three games I have realized that sequels are a very funny thing. On the one hand, you have the opportunity to enlarge a franchise and keep your characters in the public eye.

    You've learned from your mistakes, and can apply your newfound knowledge to making the next game better. But you also run the big risk of alienating your old fans in the hope of courting new ones. Is change always good? Well, read on, and see how I fared.

    What Went Right

    1. Evolving Rosa's Character

    When I wrote the first Blackwell game, my goal in creating Rosa Blackwell was to make a character who was hurt by her past and thrust into a situation she had no interest or desire to be in, but made the best of it and emerged a better person
    because of it.

    For the most part, people liked Rosa. They liked her awkwardness; they liked the fact that she was a relatable human being with flaws. Unfortunately, because of these qualities, they also found her very difficult to play. She was often so socially awkward that she became a hindrance rather than a help.

    There was a key moment in the first Blackwell game where Rosa needs to speak to a woman named Nishanthi. Nishanthi is in the park, playing her flute in front of a crowd of onlookers. A normal person would just walk up to her and say "Excuse me" but Rosa is too shy to approach her in front of a crowd. Instead, you have to solve a puzzle in order to draw Nishanthi away from the crowd so Rosa is comfortable enough to talk to her.

    As a character study, it worked. It's a natural thing for Rosa to do, and it really hammered home her sense of isolation and cemented her as a social misfit. But for a player involved in an interactive experience? It was frustrating. The original game was littered with moments like these and I wanted to fix that for Convergence.

    But, how was I supposed to "fix" Rosa without completely changing her character? Simple. I didn't change her. I just put more focus on her positive traits than her negative ones. Rosa is the bookish sort. She's a writer and a reporter, which makes her intellectual and very observant. She knows when people are acting suspicious or when they are lying. This is a side of Rosa that we didn't see in the first game, so I made a point of showing these traits in the sequel.

    Plus, the sequel takes place six months after the first, so she has had the time to mature and get used to her new supernatural abilities. Rosa is still very awkward in the game (and it provides the game with some of its more funny moments), but the awkwardness takes a back seat to her other qualities which get a chance to shine.

    When the game was released, the change in Rosa's character was instantly noticed by reviewers. Some criticized it for being too much of a drastic change, while others felt it gave her a much-needed edge. I don't think either is entirely accurate. For me, she is still the same Rosa Blackwell -- just viewed from a different angle.

    2. Using AGS as a Development Platform

    It's a very good time to be an indie, as there are countless free third party tools that you can use for development. As for myself, I use AGS. Short for Adventure Game Studio, it is a third party engine geared toward the creation of old-school adventure games. It is a system that has been tested and refined for almost 10 years by many users, so it one of the more reliable tools out there.

    Using a mature existing engine like AGS took a ton of the grunt work out of development. Being familiar with the system I was able to do 99% of the programming myself, saving a lot on development costs.

    It also enabled me to prototype game events very quickly so I (and QA testers) was able to see what worked well. If something didn't work well, it was a quick matter to make adjustments. The only disadvantage of the system is the lack of portability, so Convergence will never play on a Mac anytime soon -- but the benefits more than made up for it.

    3. The Change in Art Direction

    A large advantage of having an episodic series is that you can reuse assets. Two games in, I had lots of art and animations for Rosa and Joey which we could use (for free!) in Convergence, as well as several backgrounds that could be reused (again, for free!). All we had to do was make sure the other characters and backgrounds were drawn in the same style for consistency.

    The problem? The original artist who designed and animated the characters was not available. So, the quest was on to find an artist who could match his style. Unfortunately, that proved to be more difficult than I thought.

    The first artist I hired tried valiantly for several months, but his designs -- while very good -- were just slightly off when placed next to the original sprites from Legacy. The heads were too big or the proportions were never quite right. In the end, he didn't feel he was up to the job and politely bowed out.

    After spending ages trying to find an artist who could mimic the original style, I eventually came to the realization that I didn't have to. The purpose of reusing the original art was to save time and money, and that wasn't happening. So why not just cut my losses, redo the original designs to make them better?

    I called upon a sprite artist and animator I had worked with before and asked him if he was up for it. He was, and within a week he sent me new designs for Rosa and Joey that not only looked good, they even surpassed the originals. Within a month they were fully animated and he was on the way to creating the rest of the cast. The problem was not only solved -- it never existed in the first place.

    This improvement in art direction also extended to the backgrounds. The game needed nicer-looking backgrounds to go with the new characters, so I called upon an art studio to do the job. Working with a professional art studio to do the backgrounds was a totally new experience for me, and while they were more expensive than my usual freelancers the results were worth it.

    The lesson learned? Sometimes starting over from scratch is the best way to go.

    4. The Long Tail

    I first game up with the idea for Blackwell in 2003, and I knew very quickly that there was no way I could plug the entire story into one game. There was too much back story, too many characters, and way too much... well, everything, for it all to be easily absorbed in one sitting.

    I made it into an episodic series instead. The whole "episodic gaming" thing was kind of new at the time, but it made sense. You create one "episode" and you gain a following, which helps fund the second game. The second game then helps renew interest in the first, and so on...

    This is a great system for getting games out the door, except of course for when it isn't. The biggest risk in undertaking an episodic series is that the first game might not sell well enough, so the series becomes dead in the water. Fortunately, this never came to pass. While a struggle at first, the first two games in the series have slowly earned a steady following, so by the time Convergence came around there were plenty of customers waiting in the wings to buy it.

    The initial short-term sales of the game were more than satisfactory, but once that release buzz and initial flurry of sales winds down, something has to take its place. Which leads me to...

    5. Stepping up Marketing Efforts

    My knowledge of marketing and PR is only slightly greater than my knowledge of quantum physics.

    For years I had relied on word-of-mouth to sell my games, and I didn't do any marketing or PR at all aside from sending the games to review sites and buying the occasional cheap banner ad. I was putting most of my efforts into making the games so I couldn't be bothered with all that sales stuff. How I was able to earn my living for three years doing this is beyond me, but somehow I managed.

    Of course, that was before our current economic meltdown. There's only so far word-of-mouth can take you when people have less money to spend. When Convergence was released I knew I had to step my efforts up. I began speaking to every PR person I could find and asked them for advice.

    I sent out press releases, I offered discounts, I implemented limited-time offers. Basically, I did everything I could to make some noise and tell people that my games were out there and it would be a darn good idea to give me their cash in order to play them.

    In the end, the efforts proved worthwhile. My traffic surged exponentially. My site's Alexa ranking, languishing in the two million range, sprinted ahead to a respectable 300,000 to 400,000 and it continues to gain traction. My monthly income is still enough to pay all the bills and keep me doing what I love. I still have a ways to go, and I'm always looking to PR people to talk to, but putting more time into PR was the best move I could have made.

    [This article originally appeared on Gamasutra.] 

    Dave Gilbert has been interested in adventure games ever since 1986, when his mother made the mistake of buying him a copy of Wishbringer. Since then, he has authored over six successful freeware games, including 2004's award-winning Two of a Kind. In 2006, he turned his hobby into a fulltime career and founded Wadjet Eye Games.

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

    August 2011: Indie Game Revelations

    August 2011's topic, Indie Game Revelations, was initially submitted by indie game developer Michael Lubker.

    Are you working on an indie game that deserves to be spotlighted?

    What lessons or interesting game design choices can the mainstream game industry learn from the indie sector?

    Also of interest would be articles about crowdsourcing (such as succeeding with Kickstarter), postmortems, and indie game culture.

    Look here for directions on how to submit an article!

    Monday, August 1, 2011

    August 2011 Poll

    Hello!  As you can tell, I have fallen behind.  I used to have regular contributors and Altug used to help out, but now it's just me!  So, if you would like to be a regular contributor to GDAM or editor, pls lmk.

    Also, if you would like to be considered for GDAM's column in the IGDA Newsletter, I am seeking submissions on the topic of Gaming the Game Developers.

    Please vote for the August 2011 topic! As always, feel free to suggest more topics!  Look at the submission guidelines for Topics and Blog Entries.

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

    • Advertising and Games
    • Indie Design Revelations
    • Dealing with Communities (How Fans Affect Our Games)

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    Wednesday Lunch in NYC

    The following article was written for the IGDA Newsletter.

    Several years ago, I decided I would move to New York. Driven by nostalgia for the places I remembered from childhood, I was under the mistaken belief that I missed seasons. I fared alright in the hot New York summers (nothing compared to Texas, really) but the bitter cold winters were something I could do without. I had already spent years in Boston and had experienced the joys of driving through blizzard conditions on the Turnpike.

    All the times I would move, I would seek out my local IGDA chapter. It’s the best way to find out about a local game scene. Some cities, like Boston, have monthly meetings while others are not as active. I did not know too much about what was going on in New York City at the time and so, I very enthusiastically volunteered to set up the IGDA Alternate Reality Games SIG meet’n’greet in New York City. There, I met game designer Brandon Van Slyke, then at GameLoft, and independent developer Dave Gilbert, who had just released a game called The Shivah. Together, we would form the Social Committee of the IGDA NYC chapter.

    But, as life got busier, I found that I did not have as much time to volunteer. My job as a Lead Producer was demanding plus I was working freelance. The hours were long and so was the commute. There were nights when I would skip dinner, preferring to sleep instead. I felt sad that I never had time to see my friends anymore.

    That’s how Wednesday Lunch began. Even when it was held on a Tuesday, we still called it Wednesday Lunch.

    Wednesday Lunch ensured that I at least ate on Wednesdays and that I had this social time to see anywhere from 3 to 12 friends at one time. It helped that at the time, a good deal of the bigger game companies in New York City were clustered in one area. As well as GameLoft, you could find Large Animal Games, Kaos, GameTrust, Atari, Arkadium, and Oberon all in walking distance. I guess you would call this area the Garment District. It was close enough to Herald Square and 34th Street to be an easy commute yet away from the crowds. You could even walk to the one block affectionately known as K-Town or Koreatown. There were also the media companies, like MTV, Lifetime, and HBO up near Times Square, one subway stop away.

    Wednesday Lunch really started small and sometimes, it was just Brandon and Dave. There was no stipulation that people had to be from the game industry but most of the time, it worked out that way. We encouraged people to bring a friend and so, the circle of regulars got larger and larger. Lunch was nothing fancy, just whatever was the $6 lunch special at a Chinese restaurant.

    The producer in me really liked how I solved this issue. Although I couldn’t party all night or go to events, I had found a way to get back a part of my life that I had felt was missing. Even if I met a person for one time at Wednesday Lunch and never again, I enjoyed the company. I never really saw Wednesday Lunch as networking, but I suppose some people did.

    Eventually, our lives changed. My company moved offices. Dave was enjoying success with Wadjet Eye Games. Brandon moved to Albany. Thus, Wednesday Lunch faded away due to impracticality.

    I still think of it fondly. I’m not sure I could have held Wednesday Lunch in a different city. There’s something about New York City and being in walking distance of almost everyone you know. It was such a routine: a weekly occurrence at the same restaurant, a time to catch up with news (in person, not on Facebook), and a way to connect with friends new and old.

    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, July 7, 2011

    July 2011: Game Culture

    In July 2011, Game Design Aspect of the Month continues its look at various game scenes and game culture around the globe.  If you would like to spotlight your local scene or a particular conference experience, please let me know!  See Submit! for details.

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    Free Ride (Part II)

    In Part I, researcher Ben Abraham discusses the importance of the land to Australia's cultural identity and wonders why there aren't more video games featuring Australia's unique environment. In Part II, he elaborates on how the game, Fuel, manages to captures this awesomeness.

    That distinctiveness in Fuel begins with the color palette. Fuel is itself an oddly colorful game, given its post-apocalyptic setting. Drive through a densely wooded forest of almost-eucalypts and the sunlight turns the same yellow-white color that often shows up in anything filmed in Australia. Travel junkies will tell you that the sunlight is not the same around the world, and the Australian light has a distinctive piercing characteristic, reproduced in Fuel. Similarly, purple night skies stretch out over the land like a blanket as night descends and the grey tarmac is illuminated by the glow thrown out by yellow headlights. The largely deserted roads are not unlike the rural back ways that we travelled to get to my grandmother’s farm when I was younger, the only other travellers on both being the trucks rumbling through on the midnight express. Yellow-on-black warning signs and dun-colored railings at the side of the road flash past, making me forget I’m playing a game and not driving down the Great Western Highway. Signs warning that I’m entering a “restricted area” are reminiscent of some of the great tracts of outback that have been used as army test ranges—like a section of the Woomera Prohibited Area, itself roughly the size of England, that was used for nuclear testing by the British.

    That hill where I stopped is covered with textures resembling the golden grasses in Arthur Streeton’s Golden Summer, Eaglemont — colors that may appear washed-out in comparison to verdant European landscapes. The visual arts in Australia followed a trajectory that appears to be playing out once again in games; the first colonial artists were faced with trees growing in strange new shapes and had to adopt a color palette that Robert Hughes says took decades to get right. But once representing the Australian landscape ceased being an issue of ability and instead one of taste, it still took years for Australian artists to acclimatize to representing the bush as-is, and for the public to acquire an appreciation for its distinctiveness. Clara Southern’s An Old Bee Farm may seem queerly infused with the bluish tinge of a decade-old VHS tape losing its magnetism, but it is not at all inaccurate; and vast tracts of the land in Fuel are similarly tinged with this distinctively Australian smoky-blue haze.

    Tsunami Reef in the northwestern corner of the map resembles so much the outback areas of Western Australia and the top end of the continent, where the deserts meet the ocean. In the same area, dilapidated outback homesteads squat with low corrugated roofs and the occasional rusty windmill out back. My imagination works to fill in some of the blanks — a large freestanding propane cylinder becomes a fat corrugated-iron rainwater tank instead. Sunsets turn the sky a deep, abiding orange and bring out the red color of the sand—the same color exuded by the iron-rich soils of central Australia regardless of the time of day. Tumble-down farmyard buildings resemble long-abandoned remnants of early attempts at habitation. Elsewhere, large areas of smoldering bush imitate the aftermath of notoriously ferocious Australian bushfires, like the February 2009 fires that tragically claimed 200 lives.

    Furthermore, with Fuel’s majestically sprawling map of 14,400 km², there is simply so much of the land — and so much that presents a monotony on such an unprecedented scale, (save perhaps for the legendary Desert Bus — that it adds to the sense of an Australian landscape aesthetic. (For an Australian corollary, there is a stretch of highway that crosses the Nullarbor desert and does not deviate from a straight line for 144 km.) It is also a great irony that, in the game’s flawless execution of such magnanimous scope, its very monotony and overweening size became one of its greatest criticisms. Matthew Burns wrote that, while fascinated with the size of the game’s map, his fascination gave way to horror at the realisation that it was “vast on a soul-deadening, terrible scale.”

    Yet Immanuel Kant found beauty in that terrifying, overwhelmed-ness he called the sublime. Exposure to the sublime has clearly had an effect on the Australian psyche, or at least my own. I would be disingenuous if I didn’t confess to taking some pleasure in Fuel’s relative inaccessibility to others, like Burns. Taking pride in hardship and difficulty, while not a uniquely Australian trait, is perhaps a central one; and it feels connected to the unique affects of Australian bush aesthetics and the historic struggle to overcome such inhospitable terrain.

    I consulted an article on GameFAQs about speeding up the tedious process of unlocking new zones, as the racing itself does not warrant more than a cursory engagement. I found a kindred spirit in the author, known only as ‘Xeigrich’, whose preface elegantly and comprehensively sums up the game’s unique attraction:
    Fuel has one thing that other open-world games with vehicles don't have, and that's the peace of mind that you don't have anything to worry about while you're not racing. No health bar, no continues, no annoying NPC friends calling you to go bowling (Niko, cousin!!), and hardly even any AI traffic to get in your way! You can just sit back and drive, and drive, and drive. And I think that's awesome.
    I think so too.

    [This article originally appeared on Kill Screen, Issue 2.] 

    Ben Abraham is a PhD researcher from Sydney Australia, studying the rise of online communities of videogame critics. He writes about games and technology at and collects examples of excellent games criticism weekly at Critical Distance.

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    Free Ride (Part I)

    In this article, researcher Ben Abraham discusses the importance of the land to Australia's cultural identity and wonders why there aren't more video games featuring Australia's unique environment.

    There was a particular hill that I came across in Fuel, in an area that was covered with a tall field of crackling brown and straw-colored grasses. The battered remnants of a series of wind turbines crowned the rise. I stopped my quadbike and gazed around at the horizon, stretching away as far as 40 km. Trees bunched together in small ragged clumps that followed the contours of the mottled grey-green and brown landscape. The hill reminded me of hot summer holidays spent at my grandmother’s farm in rural New South Wales, of riding around on bikes and quads in grass that came up to the knee, grasshoppers spastically jumping into chests, hands, faces. The vista brought up memories of the property near the town of Wyangla (famous only for its dam, with a capacity three times that of Sydney harbour, which has been drought-stricken to a pathetic 3-percent capacity for the past five years).

    The Australian environment is unique among the world. An island fortress in evolutionary terms, the entirety of the landscape—the dirt, grasses, rocks, trees, and shrubs—all bear the distinctive stamp of antipodean separateness. While the Australian bush has often been captured in film and moving image, painted, drawn, and even sculpted, until Fuel there was nothing close to a digital version in a videogame.

    With the attention of the Australian development community locked firmly overseas for funding, investment, and (dare I say) inspiration—and only a handful of studios big enough to handle the sprawling nature of “AAA”-style productions—the result is a resource on the Aussie doorstep that remains entirely untapped. While tourism is a cornerstone of the Australian economy, people do not visit our shores to see Movie World. Instead, they spend thousands of dollars to see the remarkable beauty of the wild and untamed Australian bush. Yet aside from Fuel, no one has had the enterprising thought to make it virtual—and not even Fuel, an open-world racing game released in 2009, did it intentionally.

    Somehow, through a magical osmosis of influences—from the movie Mad Max to fears about severe global warming—the French developer, Asobo Studio, ended up creating a topography that in places mimics the features and aesthetics of the Australian bush. That it’s taken a French studio to make an Australian landscape may seem an odd enough observation, but it speaks volumes.

    The importance of this dearth of a virtual Australia must be understood in the context of the Australian identity. Australians have always possessed a close relationship with the bush, going all the way back to its first inhabitants. Before the continent even saw its first pair of English boots, indigenous Australians had inhabited it for a good 30,000 years and developed their own deep appreciation of the land—a land whose scrubby brushlands and forests without cultivation were the entire means of their subsistence. The centrality of the bush in Australian aboriginal culture is reflected in its art, spirituality, and regional languages, of which there were between some 350 and 700, developed as a result of long-established tribal territories, of which the inhabitants considered themselves merely custodians. The sense of a bond between people and land was passed down through the stories from “the Dreaming”—orally transmitted, colorful creation myths.

    For the first British arrivals, it was a lonely, hostile, and often terrifying place. In his exceptional history of the formative years of Australia, The Fatal Shore, the historian Robert Hughes (whose own relationship with Australia is a story in itself) wrote that “until about 1830 the transportation ballads and broadsides present the bush as sterile and hostile, its fauna (except for the kangaroo, which no one could dislike) as eerie when not disgusting.”

    That view would change dramatically as the colony grew and encroached on the formerly impenetrable bush. The interior would eventually take on the role of a place to flee from the tyranny of convictry, aided by the figure of the bushranger and the absconder who, as Hughes notes, “by making the bush his new home, renamed it with the sign of freedom. On its blankness, he could inscribe what could not be read in spaces already colonised and subject to the laws and penal imagery of England.” In fact, Hughes goes on to note that, with respect to the bushranger, “popular sentiment would praise him for this transvaluation of the landscape (though at a safe distance, of course) for another hundred and fifty years.”

    In Australian literature and print in the 1930s and ’40s, a resurgent interest in nationalism in connection with the land arose as a result of the efforts of writers and journalists as well as public intellectuals, and established a link between the nature of the Australian identity and the Australian landscape. In a three-part essay from 1935 on “The Foundations of Culture in Australia,” P.R. Stevenson, considering the case for an Australian identity (as separate from that of a British subject), advocates one informed by the environment itself. He suggests that “as the culture of every nation is an intellectual and emotional expression of the genius loci, our Australian culture will diverge from the purely local color of the British Islands to the precise extent that our environment differs from that of Britain. A hemisphere separates us from ‘home’—we are Antipodeans; a gumtree is not a branch of an oak; our Australian culture will evolve distinctively.”

    [This article originally appeared on Kill Screen, Issue 2.]
    Ben Abraham is a PhD researcher from Sydney Australia, studying the rise of online communities of videogame critics. He writes about games and technology at and collects examples of excellent games criticism weekly at Critical Distance.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    June 2011: The International Scene

    Game Design Aspect of the Month is seeking blog entries about games and game culture around the world.  If you have a game or scene to spotlight, please see the Submission Guidelines.

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    June 2011 Poll

    Oops! Forgot to put up the poll.

    Please vote for the June 2011 topic! As always, feel free to suggest more topics! Look at the submission guidelines for Topics and Blog Entries.

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

    * The American Scene (Spotlight on Games Dev in American Cities)
    * The International Scene (Games and Game Culture Not in U.S.)
    * Indie Design Revelations

    Indie Design Revelations
    What takeaways are there from the current crop of indie games?

    Thursday, May 26, 2011

    Emergence in Game Audio

    In this article, lead audio designer Gina Zdanowicz explains how audio designers can achieve epic soundscapes while still complementing emergent gameplay.

    It’s no secret that over the years game audio has evolved from sound chip generated blips and beeps with simple musical melodies to three-dimensional SFX with epic sound tracks. In the past, game audio has been viewed as a backdrop to the game’s visuals. However, more recent advances in game audio demonstrates that sound is no longer a subtle component of the game experience. In fact, sound is one of the key factors for total player immersion into to 3D virtual environment. Interactive soundscapes are the vehicle that forms the interactive partnership between the player and the game. Game audio designers are tasked with immersing the player into these 3D worlds and keeping them there by creating a unified soundscape made up diegetic (actual) and non-diegetic (commentary) sounds for both linear and interactive segments of the game.

    As emergent game play becomes the more desired technique in game design, the outcome is a globally designed game system comprised of rules and boundaries for player interactions, rather than scripted paths and events. Players can use basic elements of the game such as the story or strategic moves to play the game in a way that was not specifically designed or implemented by the game designer. What does this mean for game audio designers? Simply put, game audio designers need to create techniques to adapt to this emergent and highly user interactive medium.

    Emergent game design encourages replayability as each time the player plays the game they make different decisions, which changes the game as a whole and results in different possibilities for action and endings. Additional sounds and music are needed for the action brought on by these different choices. For example in the game Scribblenauts, the player can choose from over 10,000 pre-programmed words to create objects that will be needed to complete tasks in the game by writing it out. For instance, if a player wants a saw, they simply type or write, “saw” and it will appear in the game. The player then has the freedom to use and move the saw around in any strategic manner possible. What’s interesting about this from an audio perspective is the fact that there are so many unique sound effects associated with the magnitude of objects that can be created by the player. The same magnitude of sounds can be found in larger more open-ended game worlds but the draw in Scribblenauts is both the ability to create objects and to see and hear them in action on screen.

    As game play choices and games become more filmic and realistic by nature, game audio designers adapt film audio techniques to achieve an epic and adaptive sound for their game environments. In the past, one of the biggest problems facing game audio has been the endless repetition of SFX that are triggered constantly along with short pieces of music which loop endlessly through the game without changing.

    With increased memory available on modern consoles, game audio designers are filling their games' soundscape with a variety of sounds that greatly improve the quality of this new generation of games:

    • Crisp dialog that cuts through the mix: Drake’s Fortune Uncharted 2 Among Thieves recorded all dialog while capturing the physical performance for the game on the Mo-Cap stage. Having all of the actors read their lines together on a single stage added a more definitive spontaneity to the scenes that you just can’t capture when recording lines separately in a sound booth. 
    •  Minimizing repetition using alternate SFX: Game animations such as footsteps, effort noises or armor movement can become very repetitive if there are only a couple of sounds, which are constantly triggered for each of those animations. Adding subtle variety to footsteps in a game can break up that repetition quickly and make walking around the game world more enjoyable for the player. Good Foley, ambient loops that change subtly with the environment as well as flow consistently between in-game and cut scenes and attention to the little details enhance the games audio and immerse the player fully into the world. It can also provide more information to the user about their environment that they may not have been aware of.
    • Mixing the soundscape with enough dynamics: God of War 3 is a great example of a dynamic soundscape. The carefully mastered mix allows the sound elements to change subtly as Kratos moves through the world. Action in the distance sound closer as the action moves into what was the foreground. Ambient tracks mixed in a way that allows action in the foreground to supersede while allowing the music track to add emotional depth to the scene.
    • Adaptive musical score: Adaptive Musical scores “adapt” as the game play changes and evolves based on the player’s choices. The use of branching music systems or stems allows the layering of musical or percussive tracks layers that can be flown in over the core layer to add enhanced tension or a positive vibe to the over all mood. Layers are used to build intensity as the player needs to be directed to move forward and additional layers with more tension and maybe more rhythm will be added as enemies approach and surround the players’ character. Layers of music can also build intensity, as the player’s character health is low. Real time DSP effects can be used in conjunction with these musical layers to filter the sound to give the effect of a dizzying loss of life. Layers can then be stripped away to lighten up the mood a bit by removing some of the rhythmic tracks and pulling back on the intensity as your player regains health or kills off the surrounding enemies and gets back to exploring the game and moving onto the next stage. L.A. Noire is a great example of using musical cues that adapt to changing game play or to lead the player to the next action in the game. During the first mission or tutorial phase the player is instructed to search for clues. On-screen text informs the player that the music will fade down when all clues in that location have been discovered and musical chimes will indicate objects that can be examined. A small chime indicates objects that need to be inspected further. Once the tutorial phase is over, it is up to the player to follow the musical cues through the game.

    As game audio evolves, so does the technical aspect of sound design in games. Audio designers have the ability to handle implementation of audio by using middle ware such as Fmod or Wwise with little to no programmer involvement therefore generating more control over the soundscape. Creating audio for interactive game segments can be a challenge as the players’ actions are able to alter the course of the game constantly and the sound needs to evolve along with those changes. Audio middleware such as FMOD helps the audio designer overcome the issue of repetition in game audio by enabling the creation of a dynamic sound environment while optimizing resources of the game’s platform. It also allows the audio implementer to see what is happening to the layers of music as situations develop in the game. It unveils a sort of behind the scenes look at the process from the viewpoint of the middleware. This allows the audio implementer to be sure the music flows seamlessly from simple to percussive and complex and back to simple again with out any hiccups or a break in the sonic soundscape, which would quickly draw the deeply immersed player out of the game world.

    Gina Zdanowicz is the Founder of Seriallab Studios, Lead Audio Designer at Mini Monster Media, LLC and a Game Audio Instructor at Berkleemusic. Seriallab Studios is a full service audio content provider supplying custom music and sound effects to the video game industry. Seriallab Studios has been involved in the audio development of 40+ titles in the last few years.

    Friday, May 13, 2011

    May 2010: Emergence

    May 2010's topic was submitted by game designer Pascal Belanger.

    I heard the most troubling thing from a narrative designer last year, which went like this: "If we are going to make art, we can't make emergence". I must say I was shocked about this. I could not believe that he would have that narrow a view about art and/or emergence. The first thought that came to mind was: What about Emergent Art?

    I thought the statement was nonsense but some people around me seem to think otherwise, except that when asked about it they seem to take sophistic approaches to the question.

    • What is emergence to you? 
    • How do you deal with it? 
    • What place do you let it take in your games/design? 
    • And in your opinion, can we make emergent games that would still be art? 
    • Or even better, are there any valid existing examples of such games?
    Jesper Juul on Emergence vs progression:

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    Game On! Can Playing Games Drive Adoption of Sales Force Automation

    In this article, market analyst Lauren Carlson gives examples of how one might gamify sales force automation software.

    There has been a lot of buzz lately around this term "gamification." But what is it? Gamification is the process of adding elements of games to non-gaming activities to encourage action or participation. Essentially, it is about making menial, repetitive or boring things a little more fun and engaging. Experts in the field of gamification have discussed introducing this concept into several different areas including education and e-commerce.

    What about adding gamification to an area of enterprise software with traditionally low levels of engagement and adoption: sales force automation (SFA) software? The connection seems logical. Sales people and gamers share that same fiercely competitive nature. Perhaps the addition of gaming elements to SFA software would encourage sales people to learn, use and master the software.

    Software Advice, a free online resource for software buyers, sketched out some pretty neat ideas for adding gamification to SFA software. They show how adding badges, leader boards and time v. completion charts can enhance the SFA software user experience.

    I. Badges

    II. Data Quality

    III. Goal Tracking

    Lauren Carlson writes about various topics related to CRM software, with particular interest in sales force automation, marketing automation, and customer service. She has a background in the music industry, and when she isn't writing about software, you can find her running at Town Lake and singing at local venues. She is a graduate of the University of Texas with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

    Thursday, April 28, 2011

    Spissify Da Gamify

    In this article, game designer David Calvo explains spissitude and why the gamification of life needs to be more transcendent to truly affect us as human beings.
    “When the fat gets thinner, the thin dies.”
    Darryl. F. Zanuck.
    I often get the same question, when I talk about my job. From mothers, teachers, activists.  Don’t you think games are dangerous? Don’t you think they worsen the problems of our world, isolating individuals in immersive realities, while letting the bad guys take care of the REAL reality? Don’t you think the Roman Empire was destroyed by breads, and games? Don’t you think the gamification of brushing your teeth is a bad thing for humankind?

    This is the Godwin point of all discussion about games.
    This is how I usually get out.


    Why do we play? Let me try my hand at a definition. We play because we want to be engaged in play. All the stuff you hear about FUN, JOY, MEANING, is an extra layer of an evolved discourse. I love game discourse, but when dealing with people who don’t play, we have to rely on old jedi tricks, like tautology. Here is one: Play is play. It is what brings the animals closer to humans, or the reverse. Otters playing hide and seek. It is an instinct. It is not rational. It is. Here is something Reason should not get a hold on. Ever. It is NATURE. Get it Mum? It’s like pissing. Don’t do it, you’ll die.

    I don’t want to create a sub category of games, that would be more “playful” than others, but why should we add a new layer on reality to make it fun? Reality is not played. That’s why it’s not a game. We need reality. We need patience, we need boredom. We need constraints. I’m pretty sure nobody likes constraints, but I’m also sure a constraint with a cherry on top is still a constraint. The balance between what is played and what is lived is a neat tool to keep us on the edge of ourselves, perpetually changing our assertions about the world, one side challenging the other.

    I know I sound like my father: oh, keep it boring, keep it real. Life is tough, eat your soup. I do think we need to change the world. I’m, as Steffen Walz put it, part of the Californian Sunshine School. I love Jane. But what experience has taught me is that we cannot help something that doesn’t want to be helped. Reality and its tenants are OK with the states of things. They want fear, tsunamis, nuclear toasters. People want comfort, entertainment, washing-machines. How can we change their perspective on life? By making more cows?


    I often feel something is missing from games. Something essential. But is this something missing from the design or from our appreciation of play? A little of both actually. What matters is Interdependence, and to define the space in between life and play. Because we have forgotten how to see it, and designers have never known how to turn it into gameplay. This thing has no name, it is a monad, in the pythagorician sense. Ludeme has often be quoted as the basic unit on which design is built. This Monad would the basic unit on which Meaning is built. Not symbolic meaning. Not systemic. Spiritual meaning. Let’s give it a name. Spissitude.
    Now, that’s a big word.

    Spissitude is a dimension where dwells the invisible. It was theorized by Henry More in the 17th century. Spissitude is everywhere. It is part of everything. It is the secret place where 5D dwells, observing us, appearing briefly as slices of saucers in the skies. It is the place where dwells the Soul, this HUGE part of us, immanent or transcendent, who cares? It is a massive realm, untapped by our human activity too busy surviving, not allowing itself the luxury of spiritual self-actualization. Of course we need to survive. But can we survive only on bodies? Can we survive in the dark, grey areas of this shrouded world? Ask David Foster Wallace.

    Now, I have a writer’s perspective on this, I believe games are texts that can be interpreted in many ways, not always obvious. Call it postmodern hermeneutics. More was a theist, I’m not, but I can see his point. I am no church goer, I am an agnostic. I believe in an invisible grace that makes things greater than the sum of its parts. Where is the friggin’ soul? The spine of what we do, why we do it. Fun is no longer relevant, in my opinion. Reality has become a trap. And we, as designers, are part of it. We cannot design Soul, we cannot create it from nothing. We need constraints, we need a source. To channel Soul, we need something more than a process.


    I was one of the people to see Brian Moriarty at the last GDC, talking about how true Art is devotional, and the rest is Kitsch. I don’t agree. I don’t agree in the split between high and low. I disagree that we should worship. But he was making a big point, in this era where believing in the invisible is an insult for the Empire of Reason we’ve built. We need something to devote to. We need a goal in our game to make games. What can we devote our craft to? We have no Gods. We have no horizons. We can’t even believe in reforming the system, except by adding extra rewards to it. Where does lie this new motivational trigger? Rapture is not a moment, Rapture is now a place. This is Real. How can we unmake the Real?

    This is for me the true essence of the so-called Gamification of life, which I would call the Vivification of Games, as someone brilliant put it before me. Bring Life unto Us. Grace cannot be engineered. Because Grace belongs to what we do and how we do it. It can’t be a “layer”. It is not a by-product. It is inside. It matters. It is personal. It is an individual relationship to something. In Arts and Entertainment, traditionally, Soul comes from the creator. The Uber director. The mastermind. But games are also collective, right? We can have powerful creators, telling strong narratives or branding this or that kind of games, but wouldn’t it be more compelling to deduce a soul from all individuals ? A noosphere of games. A cloud of ourselves, FROM ourselves, to connect with a higher sky. Immanence, bridging transcendence.

    If gamification is adding an external motivational pull to our daily activities, to our suffering, then here is what I choose : every game is a prayer for a better world. As all prayers, Games will not change the world. It will change us. Make us humans again, in this vast pool of green goo. What kind of world do we want? Would making a game out of brushing my teeth bad for civilization ? A vast majority of us don’t brush their teeth to prevent them from rotting. They brush their teeth to have a nice smile. This is seduction. The act of brushing one’s teeth has already become a Game. We need to consider the essential place of Play in our lives. Not make it our lives. Because to live is to play the biggest game of all: how do we learn to play death?

    David Calvo is a writer, cartoonist and game designer. he spends his life between France and the USA, busy building bridges between dreams and real time earth. His work can be found on

    Saturday, April 23, 2011

    May 2011 Poll

    Please vote for the May 2011 topic! As always, feel free to suggest more topics!  Look at the submission guidelines for Topics and Blog Entries.

    You'll see the poll to the right. The choices are:
    • Emergence
    • The International Scene (Games and Game Culture Not in U.S.)
    • Open Source Games
    Emergence (from Pascal Bélanger)
    What is emergence to you? How do you deal with it? What place do you let it take in your games/design? And in your opinion, can we make emergent games that would still be art? Or even better, are there any valid existing examples of such games?
    Jesper Juul on Emergence vs progression:

    Open Source Games (from Brandon Van Every)
    What happens to game designs when the underlying production process is collaborative and not commercial?
    Please vote by April 30.  Thank you!

    Friday, April 8, 2011

    Living on a Gamified World?

    In this article, game developer Dan Bahamon considers how gamification can help improve people's lives.

    I agree that most people think of achievements when they hear gamification, and I do agree that these little achievements will help many people to organize and learn about things that are good for them and the community, anywhere from getting kids to eat vegetables to reducing water over usage, awarding points and rewards will really help build these core behaviors.

    Now the term "gamification is the million dollar question, because up to now it seems something an app could handle, so it would be called "applification" or something like that.

    I've been thinking, and perhaps there are two game elements missing from this, a clear big end goal and enemies. This reminds me of the Ted Talk by Jane McGonigal.  She talks about making massive online games to get people working on a big goal like low fuel usage.  This would resemble something closer to gamification in my opinion, but to be honest, there is still some doubt on my mind. One belief I have that I really think is true is that people will not reach their potential if they are not emotionally involved with what they are doing. So some world wide problems might not motivate many people to play.

    The only goal of gamification is to help society improve. So I would suggest that instead of looking at games to solve big problems in the world, we turn to games to help each and every human reach their goals and dreams. Thus making a better world.

    Perhaps the closest example to help you visualize what I'm thinking it would be something like second life. But much more elaborate and with real life opportunities, with careers people can pursue, sort of like Warcraft, but with the difference that you are given real tasks and you are evaluated on performance.

    So for example, Let's say I want to be a police officer, and I'm 10, going out of my house at 1 am to fight crime is not a possibility, but with the use of games, there can be events like car chases, robberies and more, could be either simulated or user triggered. And as I play the game I gain badges or ranks that allow me to play or do different things in the game, and by the time I'm 18 I would have already understood many of the challenges and difficulties of this career, helping me make my decision on what career to choose. This career changing decisions are easier to make in game when young than during midlife chaos.

    This sort of reminds me of Wannado City, a wonderful place where kids get to run around in a kid-only "city", and they are given jobs they choose, like being chefs, police officers, scientists and many others.

    In conclusion, gamification should promote and encourage people to be who they want to be and to follow their dreams, It should help them understand what they say they want, and track their experience that will later be rewarded by real life jobs. It is a big dream, it would definitely take a world wide collaboration to accomplish it, but that didn't stop Wikipedia from being the top encyclopedia on earth.

    Thanks for reading and I would love to hear opinions, There is nothing more productive that teamwork.

    Daniel Bahamon is the founder of Impudia games. His goals are not only to entertain and engage players around the world but to use this technology to help kids around the world learn by playing.

    Wednesday, April 6, 2011

    April 2011: Gamification

    What does it mean to gamify? Does this mean that the world is full of activities, sites, and programs that can be "gamed"? Is this good or bad?

    When I was first introduced to gamification by its proponents, I thought it was very similar to what David Michael and I supported in our book, Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform. We could see that game design could be used to improve the learning experience. So, it was very exciting to hear tales of increased engagement and changed behaviors.

    But lately, when I hear about point systems to various things, I wonder: Are we trivializing what we want to emphasize? Is gamification about a point system, badges, or a way of thinking?

    Maybe you've seen Jesse Schell 2010 DICE speech in which he describes a Big Brother'ish world where all our actions are tracked and measured in order to award points. Is this where we're headed? Or is this so not what gamification is about?

    I want to hear from you. What's your opinion on gamification?
    • What exactly is gamification?  
    • Is gamification beneficial?  How so?
    • Is there anything wrong with gamification?
    • Is a gamified future inevitable?

    Thursday, March 31, 2011

    Metrics (Part III)

    In Part I, game designer Ian Schreiber outlines the debate between metrics-driven design and the more touchy-feely intuition-based design. In Part II, he explains the difficulties with trying to measure the "fun" in your game. In Part III, he tackles the issues of measuring difficulty, game balance, and the value of games to players.

    Another example: measuring difficulty

    Player difficulty, like fun, is another thing that’s basically impossible to measure directly, but what you can measure is progression, and failure to progress. Measures of progression are going to be different depending on your game.

    For a game that presents skill-based challenges like a retro arcade game, you can measure things like how long it takes the player to clear each level, how many times they lose a life on each level, and importantly, where and how they lose a life. Collecting this information makes it really easy to see where your hardest points are, and if there are any unintentional spikes in your difficulty curve. I understand that Valve does this for their FPS games, and that they actually have a visualizer tool that will not only display all of this information, but actually plot it overlaid on a map of the level, so you can see where player deaths are clustered. Interestingly, starting with Half-Life 2 Episode 2 they actually have live reporting and uploading from players to their servers, and they have displayed their metrics on a public page (which probably helps with the aforementioned privacy concerns, because players can see for themselves exactly what is being uploaded and how it’s being used).

    Yet another example: measuring game balance

    What if instead you want to know if your game is fair and balanced? That’s not something you can measure directly either. However, you can track just about any number attached to any player, action or object in the game, and this can tell you a lot about both normal play patterns, and also the relative balance of strategies, objects, and anything else.

    For example, suppose you have a strategy game where each player can take one of four different actions each turn, and you have a way of numerically tracking each player’s standing. You could record each turn, what action each player takes, and how it affects their respective standing in the game.

    Or, suppose you have a CCG where players build their own decks, or a Fighting game where each player chooses a fighter, or an RTS where players choose a faction, or an MMO or tabletop RPG where players choose a race/class combination. Two things you can track here are which choices seem to be the most and least popular, and also which choices seem to have the highest correlation with actually winning. Note that this is not always the same thing; sometimes the big, flashy, cool-looking thing that everyone likes because it’s impressive and easy to use is still easily defeated by a sufficiently skilled player who uses a less well-known strategy. Sometimes, dominant strategies take months or even years to emerge through tens of thousands of games played; the Necropotence card in Magic: the Gathering saw almost no play for six months or so after release, until some top players figured out how to use it, because it had this really complicated and obscure set of effects… but once people started experimenting with it, they found it to be one of the most powerful cards ever made. So, both popularity and correlation with winning are two useful metrics here.

    If a particular game object sees a lot more use than you expected, that can certainly signal a potential game balance issue. It may also mean that this one thing is just a lot more compelling to your target audience for whatever reason – for example, in a high fantasy game, you might be surprised to find more players creating Elves than Humans, regardless of balance issues… or maybe you wouldn’t be that surprised. Popularity can be a sign in some games that a certain play style is really fun compared to the others, and you can sometimes migrate that into other characters or classes or cards or what have you in order to make the game overall more fun.

    If a game object sees less use than expected, again that can mean it’s underpowered or overcosted. It might also mean that it’s just not very fun to use, even if it’s effective. Or it might mean it is too complicated to use, it has a high learning curve relative to the rest of the game, and so players aren’t experimenting with it right away (which can be really dangerous if you’re relying on playtesters to actually, you know, playtest, if they leave some of your things alone and don’t play with them).

    Metrics have other applications besides game objects. For example, one really useful area is in measuring beginning asymmetries, a common one being the first-player advantage (or disadvantage). Collect a bunch of data on seating arrangements versus end results. This happens a lot with professional games and sports; for example, I think statisticians have calculated the home-field advantage in American Football to be about 2.3 points, and depending on where you play the first-move advantage in Go is 6.5 or 7.5 points (in this latter case, the half point is used to prevent tie games). Statistics from Settlers of Catan tournaments have shown a very slight advantage to playing second in a four-player game, on the order of a few hundredths of a percent; normally we could discard that as random variation, but the sheer number of games that have been played gives the numbers some weight.

    A Note on Ethics

    The ethical consideration here is that a lot of these metrics look at player behavior but they don’t actually look at the value added (or removed) from the players’ lives. Some games, particularly those on Facebook which have evolved to make some of the most efficient use of metrics of any games ever made, have also been accused (by some people) of being blatantly manipulative, exploiting known flaws in human psychology to keep their players playing (and giving money) against their will. Now, this sounds silly when taken to the extreme, because we think of games as something inherently voluntary, so the idea of a game “holding us prisoner” seems strange. On the other hand, any game you’ve played for an extended period of time is a game you are emotionally invested in, and that emotional investment does have cash value. If it seems silly to you that I’d say a game “makes” you spend money, consider this: suppose I found all of your saved games and put them in one place. Maybe some of these are on console memory cards or hard disks. Maybe some of them are on your PC hard drive. For online games, your “saved game” is on some company’s server somewhere. And then suppose I threatened to destroy all of them… but not to worry, I’d replace the hardware. So you get free replacements of your hard drive and console memory cards, a fresh account on every online game you subscribe to, and so on. And then suppose I asked you, how much would you pay me to not do that. And I bet when you think about it, the answer is more than zero, and the reason is that those saved games have value to you! And more to the point, if one of these games threatened to delete all your saves unless you bought some extra downloadable content, you would at least consider it… not because you wanted to gain the content, but because you wanted to not lose your save.

    To be fair, all games involve some kind of psychological manipulation, just like movies and books and all other media (there’s that whole thing about suspending our disbelief, for example). And most people don’t really have a problem with this; they still see the game experience itself as a net value-add to their life, by letting them live more in the hours they spend playing than they would have lived had they done other activities.

    But just like difficulty curves, the difference between value added and taken away is not constant; it’s different from person to person. This is why we have things like MMOs that enhance the lives of millions of subscribers, while also causing horrendous bad events in the lives of a small minority that lose their marriage and family to their game obsession, or that play for so long without attending to basic bodily needs that they keel over and die at the keyboard.

    So there is a question of how far we can push our players to give us money, or just to play our game at all, before we cross an ethical line… especially in the case where our game design is being driven primarily by money-based metrics. As before, I invite you to think about where you stand on this, because if you don’t know, the decision will be made for you by someone else who does.

    [This article is an excerpt from Level 8: Metrics and Statistics, part of Ian Schreiber's course on game balance called Game Balance Concepts.]

    Ian Schreiber has been making games professionally since 2000, first as a programmer and then as a game designer. He currently teaches game design classes for Savannah College of Art and Design and Columbus State Community College. He has worked on five shipped games and hundreds of shipped students. You can learn more about Ian at his blog, Teaching Game Design.

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    April 2011 Poll

    Please vote for the April 2011 topic! As always, feel free to suggest more topics!  Look at the submission guidelines for Topics and Blog Entries.

    You'll see the poll to the right. The choices are:
    • Gamification
    • Emergence
    • Dealing with Communities (How Fans Affect Our Games)
    Emergence (from Pascal Bélanger)
    What is emergence to you? How do you deal with it? What place do you let it take in your games/design? And in your opinion, can we make emergent games that would still be art? Or even better, are there any valid existing examples of such games.
    Jesper Juul on Emergence vs progression:
    Please vote by March 28.  Thank you!

    Saturday, March 19, 2011

    Metrics (Part II)

    In Part I, game designer Ian Schreiber outlines the debate between metrics-driven design and the more touchy-feely intuition-based design. In Part II, he explains the difficulties with trying to measure the "fun" in your game.

    How much to measure?

    Suppose you want to take some metrics in your game so you can go back and do statistical analysis to improve your game balance. What metrics do you actually take – that is, what exactly do you measure?

    There are two schools of thought that I’ve seen. One is to record anything and everything you can think of, log it all, mine it later. The idea is that you’d rather collect too much information and not use it, than to not collect a piece of critical info and then have to re-do all your tests.

    Another school of thought is that “record everything” is fine in theory, but in practice you either have this overwhelming amount of extraneous information from which you’re supposed to find this needle in a haystack of something useful, or potentially worse, you mine the heck out of this data mountain to the point where you’re finding all kinds of correlations and relationships that don’t actually exist. By this way of thinking, instead you should figure out ahead of time what you’re going to need for your next playtest, measure that and only that, and that way you don’t get confused when you look at the wrong stuff in the wrong way later on.

    Again, think about where you stand on the issue.

    Personally, I think a lot depends on what resources you have. If it’s you and a few friends making a small commercial game in Flash, you probably don’t have time to do much in the way of intensive data mining, so you’re better off just figuring out the useful information you need ahead of time, and add more metrics later if a new question occurs to you that requires some data you aren’t tracking yet. If you’re at a large company with an army of actuarial statisticians with nothing better to do than find data correlations all day, then sure, go nuts with data collection and you’ll probably find all kinds of interesting things you’d never have thought of otherwise.

    What specific things do you measure?

    That’s all fine and good, but whether you say “just get what we need” or “collect everything we can,” neither of those is an actual design. At some point you need to specify what, exactly, you need to measure.

    Like game design itself, metrics is a second-order problem. Most of the things that you want to know about your game, you can’t actually measure directly, so instead you have to figure out some kind of thing that you can measure that correlates strongly with what you’re actually trying to learn.

    Example: measuring fun

    Let’s take an example. In a single-player Flash game, you might want to know if the game is fun or not, but there’s no way to measure fun. What correlates with fun, that you can measure? One thing might be if players continue to play for a long time, or if they spend enough time playing to finish the game and unlock all the achievements, or if they come back to play multiple sessions (especially if they replay even after they’ve “won”), and these are all things you can measure. Now, keep in mind this isn’t a perfect correlation; players might be coming back to your game for some other reason, like if you’ve put in a crop-withering mechanic that punishes them if they don’t return, or something. But at least we can assume that if a player keeps playing, there’s probably at least some reason, and that is useful information. More to the point, if lots of players stop playing your game at a certain point and don’t come back, that tells us that point in the game is probably not enjoyable and may be driving players away. (Or if the point where they stopped playing was the end, maybe they found it incredibly enjoyable but they beat the game and now they’re done, and you didn’t give a reason to continue playing after that. So it all depends on when.)

    Player usage patterns are a big deal, because whether people play, how often they play, and how long they play are (hopefully) correlated with how much they like the game. For games that require players to come back on a regular basis (like your typical Facebook game), the two buzzwords you hear a lot are Monthly Active Uniques and Daily Active Uniques (MAU and DAU). The “Active” part of that is important, because it makes sure you don’t overinflate your numbers by counting a bunch of old, dormant accounts belonging to people who stopped playing. The “Unique” part is also important, since one obsessive guy who checks FarmVille ten times a day doesn’t mean he counts as ten users. Now, normally you’d think Monthly and Daily should be equivalent, just multiply Daily by 30 or so to get Monthly, but in reality the two will be different based on how quickly your players burn out (that is, how much overlap there is between different sets of daily users). So if you divide MAU/DAU, that tells you something about how many of your players are new and how many are repeat customers.

    For example, suppose you have a really sticky game with a small player base, so you only have 100 players, but those players all log in at least once per day. Here your MAU is going to be 100, and your average DAU is also going to be 100, so your MAU/DAU is 1. Now, suppose instead that you have a game that people play once and never again, but your marketing is good, so you get 100 new players every day but they never come back. Here your average DAU is still going to be 100, but your MAU is around 3000, so your MAU/DAU is about 30 in this case. So that’s the range, MAU/DAU goes between 1 (for a game where every player is extremely loyal) to 28, 30 or 31 depending on the month (representing a game where no one ever plays more than once).

    A word of warning: a lot of metrics, like the ones Facebook provides, might use different ways of computing these numbers so that one set of numbers isn’t comparable to another. For example, I saw one website that listed the “worst” MAU/DAU ratio in the top 100 applications as 33-point-something, which should be flatly impossible, so clearly the numbers somewhere are being messed with (maybe they took the Dailies from a different range of dates than the Monthlies or something). And then some people compute this as a %, meaning on average, what percentage of your player pool logs in on a given day, which should range from a minimum of about 3.33% (1/30 of your monthly players logging in each day) to 100% (all of your monthly players log in every single day). This is computed by taking DAU/MAU (instead of MAU/DAU) and multiplying by 100 to get a percentage. So if you see any numbers like this from analytics websites, make sure you’re clear on how they’re computing the numbers so you’re not comparing apples to oranges.

    Why is it important to know this number? For one thing, if a lot of your players keep coming back, it probably means you’ve got a good game. For another, it means you’re more likely to make money on the game, because you’ve got the same people stopping by every day… sort of like how if you operate a brick-and-mortar storefront, an individual who just drops in to window-shop may not buy anything, but if that same individual comes in and is “just looking” every single day, they’re probably going to buy something from you eventually.

    [This article is an excerpt from Level 8: Metrics and Statistics, part of Ian Schreiber's course on game balance called Game Balance Concepts.]

    Ian Schreiber has been making games professionally since 2000, first as a programmer and then as a game designer. He currently teaches game design classes for Savannah College of Art and Design and Columbus State Community College. He has worked on five shipped games and hundreds of shipped students. You can learn more about Ian at his blog, Teaching Game Design.