How to make sure a game idea is good?
You finally came up with the game of your dreams. You wrote everything down, used all available studies and it sounds too good to be true on paper. But how do you make sure it ends up being fun to play? You could build the game and throw in endless testing afterwards until your test subjects think it’s fun. But is that really the way to go? I think not. There are better ways to do quality checks. So what easier and quicker ways are there?
Periodic player involvement
Don’t shy away from asking potential players to try and review your game concept. Besides the obvious part where they give feedback on what they like or dislike, they are also the first to try the game itself when it’s finished. If you gain their interest the chances are they will be the first group to spread the word. Not to mention they feel a part of the game since they were involved. It’s a good way for a small indie developer to get some attention. But let’s get back to the obvious part. If you think developing your game takes around 5 months. Make sure to involve your future players at least once a month. It gives you time to act on their fears and comments. Later on this will lower the time taken during testing.
Prototype, prototype and implement
I learned that creating your game at once with all features feels good, but it gave a headache to test it with my audience. Instead, I tend to build smart prototypes in the GameCreator with the most important game features. When I’m making a platform game with a special boss I take the bosses mechanics and put it in a small level which I can easily fine-tune. It’s quicker and easier to get done for your next session with players. Nothing beats seeing your involved audience smile for five minutes rather than get stuck on issues you didn’t want them to comment on.
To further know if your game will be a success, write down which statistics to record and how you expect them to analyse. Letting players test your game is one. But how do you record the necessary information you need to know the players act as you wish? Is watching enough? Do you need to record the screen and eye moments? Before I get to play-tests I write a simple table with bullet points I need to know in Excel. It often contains: time needed to finish a level/section, amount of retries, keys being pressed, the player’s emotion and their average compared with all others.
This is just a small set of techniques I use and have seen in other companies. They give you the edge and act as a forward warning system when users freak out about your concept. Large game development companies even have their own departments with data analytics who analyse every pixel of a game during game-play.
How do you make sure your users enjoy? Did you ever use play tests? Or are you planning to? I would love to know!
Which aspects are important in a game?
Although there are millions of games these days, only a few really succeed and even less are worth to play. How is this possible? A game consists of a set of rules, right? But a bunch of rules don’t make it fun to play. Actually, far from in my opinion. Throwing in some random rules doesn’t make a game good. So, which aspects are important related to the rules and make it worth the play? What gives rules the edge to play a game again and again?
There are lots different theories about that. But let’s start analyzing it a bit on our own first. Take FarmVille, already a much debate game reflecting micro economics and social play. While you’re forced to do social play and use the micro economics, most people keep returning as long as they can. Why do they get back? If you ask players what makes the game fun, you’ll receive several answers. I took the three most heard reasons to analyze:
- It’s my farm
- I keep finding new stuff
- Crops harvesting before they wither
It’s my farm ‘cause I build it
What makes them think it’s their farm? Well, they have put time in it, they decorated the farm themselves by earning or buying options. It gives the player the idea it’s his own farm. He actually did create the farm based on the game’s rules. It’s like drawing a painting or building a house. You put effort in it to create it. It’s a strong drive for players to return. We can define this as “creativity” and “ownership”. Depending on the theories I know there are around 4 to 16 “drivers”.
The need of collecting
Will you keep finding new stuff? Yes, because there isn’t much stronger than the human’s curiosity. If it grabs hold of your attention. You want to know all of it. So that’s a very strong game driver. The drivers I normally define are: calling, creativity, curiosity, possession, social pressure, impatience, scarcity and accomplishments. If a game contains all of these, the theory is, it will be playable by most if not all people.
The need to avoid loss
In FarmVille you need to tend your crops like a baby? A very strong drive in this game to get back is to prevent your farm from dying. The last thing you want is to hinder the progress of building your farm by letting crops wither. This forces you to get back regularly. Yet, they don’t go as far as destroying the entire farm. The behavior is known as avoidance and creates a pressure driver.
I can analyze a game much further than this to find if the game is good. But luckily I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are already a lot of gamification and analyzing guidelines and frameworks you can grab. In the past I used the following frameworks: Octalysis, Marczeweski, GAME, RAMP and much more. They contain questions, constraints and rules. I often find these incomplete and I normally use a set of frameworks to get all drivers and aspects correctly.
Although a game implementing all these drivers has more change of succeeding, focusing on less drivers could also end up being a very popular game. But even in a first person shooter where the focus lies with the story and thrill for action it often also contains ownership and creativity. Weapons, different paths to solve the level and even scores are related to a driver. But they aren’t always very clear or even the focus of the game.
Although these frameworks can predict your game’s popularity and acceptance, I see them more as guidelines. I find it easier to set up a fun game and balance my game before development starts. It allows me to shift my attention to actually creating the game rather than endlessly include game testers and that makes it easier to compare it with your target audience’s profile.
You probably unconsciously use a lot of these aspects already. can you find them? How do you define your game’s aspects during Ludum Dare?
What exactly is a game?
We all know games, everyone plays games, but do we really know what defines a game? Before we can create a good game we need some sort of definition of it. So what is it? Sure, everything with rules can be defined as a sort of game. But let’s define it a bit better than that. So let’s try!
What would be the most simplistic game you can think of? The first game that comes to my mind is the child’s game “Tagging”. It has two very basic rules: One player is “it” and if you’re being tagged by “it”, you become it. Remembering my years on the primary school’s playground the game had different additional rules all the time. An often used additional rule was “You can’t tag the old “it” back”. Although these were set by us, additional constants where there too. For example the teachers didn’t allow you to leave the playground or trip others. Not a rule set by us, the players, but by our superiors.
The summary of the game? There’s conflict, no-one wants to be “it”. It would be boring if someone wanted to be “it” because of the lack of conflict. The rules define boundaries in the game. The outcome of the game was clear too, the child being “it” at the moment of the school bell lost the game. Katie Salen, a veteran game developer, her description of a game comes to my mind:
“A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that result in a quantifiable outcome” (Katie Salen, Game Design Fundamentals, page 80)
If I apply this logic to one of my previous Ludum Dare games, for example, “You only get one” we could describe it like this:
Conflict: the player wants to get home without being eaten while the dragon keeps advancing.
Rules: the player is constraint in a 2D world, there’s gravity, the game is lost when touching the dragon, his fire or falling out of the screen.
Outcome: the player wins when he enters his house (time constraint).
That is quite clear, but how does this apply to popular games like Minecraft? Is it a real game? Let’s try:
Conflict: the player needs to stay alive (retain its hearts)
Rules: the player loses hearts when hungry, the player receives damage from mobs, the game is lost when its hearts are depleted, the player can eat food, can create weapons and armor etc.
Outcome: is there any? What about defeating the ender dragon?
Is the ender dragon really a quantifiable outcome? After defeating the dragon the conflict itself remains, nothing is resolved. The main conflict centers around staying alive, not on the dragon roaming a different realm. Thus, I wouldn’t describe it as an outcome or a game, but more of a sandbox or toy. Though open world games like Oblivion feature some kind of the same freedom as Minecraft, in the end you resolve the main conflict, defeat the bad guy and establishes peace. That’s a clear quantifiable outcome with rules and conflicts.
What’s your take on the definition? Does it fit mine?