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The New Design Paradigm

My friend Thomas Reid sent me a link to a Gamasutra article called “Manipulative Game Monetization Shows Gamers No Respect, says Super Meat Boy dev”


I did a talk at the Leadership Conference on this subject as it’s one I find myself worrying over a lot. Specifically I’ve been thinking about how this monetization strategy actually changes how we have to design games.

In the past, all we to do was  make really great games. Something that made us.. and hopefully our players jump up and holler YAY! We judged their success (or failure) on player response and feedback.. measured mostly on how many units sold and how long it continued to sell.

Unfortunately, today our goal is being changed. It’s no longer “make great games”,  it’s make games that produce X amount of revenue for every Y minutes the player plays. And.. that  change is being dictated not from our players but from our management.

The definition of a “good game” is far different now than when I started. Then a good game was one that made its money back and hopefully a bit more,  AND got great reviews.. both player and critic.

Today the only thing that defines a good social game is the bottom line. Publishers don’t  care what reviewers or players say.. unless they are voting with their wallets. This takes designers from the role of “make fun entertainment” to, essentially, part of the Biz Dev team.

Another way it has changed is in the design model.

In the world of pre-Zynga subscription games, as designers we had to do something really really egregiously wrong to get our players to stop paying. This is because to stop paying they had to log into the company website, log into their account and go through several hoops to stop paying. This was a luxury for designers as we could build deep stories with intriguing and tough game play and not have to worry about how much money per minute of game play we were generating.

Today, in the world of casual MMOs\Facebook games, it’s exactly the opposite. To get our player to pay, we have to do something SO exciting or thrilling or demanding that they go to the extra step to GIVE us money. And conversely, if we do NOT do something thrilling every time the player logs in, then they do not send us money and we fail.

This may not seem like a big difference, but it is HUGE when it comes to building stories or emotional content. Think of it this way.. it’d be like writing a book where you had to get the reader to pay a nickle for each page. Or a movie with a coin slot where you had to feed quarters in like a parking meter to keep the movie running. If the movie or book weren’t doing something very exciting every moment, it isn’t likely the audience would keep paying for it.

In short, we are designing VERY different games for the social market than we are for the traditional market. and the definition of a “good game” has drastically changed. I’m not sure it’s a good way for EVERYONE in the industry to be going.

Published inRandom Musings