Thursday, August 27, 2015

Post-Launch Marketing

It's common for a TV show to introduce new viewers to its setting with a compilation of clips. Early in the season, clips are carefully selected to avoid upcoming plot twists while demonstrating the show's general method of entertainment. As the season progresses, anything from previous episodes is fair to use in this in-show trailer.

During the era of physical products, game publishers have relied heavily on release-week sales. Game marketing continues to reflect this focus on immediate sales. Like theater showings of movies, games are advertised before and around launch... with little effort made to refresh interest (until DLC is pitched).

Well, if gamers are only interested in newly released games, explain to me the rabid interest in backwards compatibility for Xbox 360 games or countless other examples of retro gaming. Explain why Microsoft or Amazon bother to have temporary sales on older games. If there is a viable market for games months and years after release, then imagine how much better the market would be if publishers bothered to advertise those games long after launch.

Like those TV show intros, post-launch trailers could incorporate clips of gameplay from happy customers. In addition to attracting new buyers, the potential for a gamer seeing his own clip in an official trailer would help to maintain interest in the game and sustain a market for DLC, merchandising, sequels, or spin-offs. Alternatively, contests are a cheap way to produce trailers because fans will do most of the work for free.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Difficulty can restrict freedom, fun

As I wrote on Twitter today, Destiny's Heroic Strikes demonstrate how severe difficulty limits player options. The result is rote and redundant gameplay.

For example, when enemy weapon damage is exaggerated so that the player can only take one or two hits without dying, then the player is strongly encouraged to avoid risk of being hit and so starts sniping from a safe position.

Perhaps that is what the developer intends. The player might be challenged to discover and well perform that strategy. Such a design ultimately offers much less value to the player than a design that preserves player freedom. A rote challenge is accomplished once or twice with pride, then abandoned or otherwise endured with minimal enjoyment. Once conquered, the opportunity for proud accomplishment is past and never regained.

Free and dynamic experiences, with surprises and a variety of choices for the player, allow for repeated enjoyment of content. Both players and developers get more bang-per-buck by dynamic content.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

hopes for Star Wars: Battlefront reboot

The original Star Wars: Battlefront (PC) is one of my all-time favorite games. When I heard the series would be coming to the Xbox One, I was very excited. In the hands of DICE, it is sure to be visually impressive and full of great physics. But will it be true to the series?

What features distinguish past Star Wars: Battlefront games from DICE's own Battlefield series? What made the original series great?

One difference between those old games and Battlefield is the option to play against and with bots in multiplayer. I have always found competing against bots in fragfest games more enjoyable than competing with other players, for a variety of reasons.

Ironically, the behaviors of human players are often more cartoonish than scripted characters — ways which are not fun for everyone. Many players hop around like kangaroos and spam grenades, for example.

Another way bots can be more fun is that a player is more free to play however he wants when other players are not counting on him to seize an objective, guard a position, or otherwise focus on team play. Against bots, a player can treat the fragfest like an open world sandbox, emphasizing victory sometimes and silly or over-the-top action other times.

Galactic Conquest mode was another key feature of the original game. It added a level of strategy on beyond individual battles, linking them into a war campaign. It also added team bonus dynamics. Which planet to attack next? Which team bonus (extra ammo, health regeneration, etc) to bring into this fight? What bonus will the enemy have? DICE could even expand this idea into a system more akin to LOTR: Battle For Middle Earth 2's excellent "War of the Ring" mode.

To be true to the series, DICE also must not give the factions identical class options. Droidekas and jet troopers, for example, had no equivalent units in the Rebel faction... which had Wookies.

One aspect many very popular games (Star Wars: Battlefront, Diablo, Super Smash Bros, Call of Duty, Mass Effect 3, etc) share is that they don't let an obsession with power balancing get in the way of providing variety of character, weapon, and skill options (among other dynamics). It is more important to provide players with thrilling and pleasantly surprising experiences than it is to ensure fairness. As any sports fan will tell you, nothing kills the fun as fast as an over-zealous referee.

I might not mind a few extra layers of dynamics, like destruction physics or a Mass Effect 3-style weapon and loot system.  I'm sure the movement, shooting mechanics, and vehicles will be fun in the hands of DICE.

Here's hoping that the new Star Wars: Battlefront's dynamics are as compelling as its core combat mechanics and visual treats.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dynamic vs static customization

Mass Effect 3 multiplayer demonstrates how important quality is to customization.

It's not enough for the player to have choices. If only a few choices are appealing to the typical player, then you have enabled the player to choose a particular playstyle but have not improved replayability. If the player does not alternate between a variety of options, but rather sticks to one or two playsets, then the game is less dynamic and less perpetually exciting for that player.

In ME3 multiplayer, I am constantly rediscovering classes and weapons. Returning to a previous choice after playing with other choices makes that option feel fresh and even surprising.

Monday, February 06, 2012

AI and predictability

I played the Syndicate demo again. My character is level 7 now. I have probably played that same mission seven or eight times now.

What strikes me is how important the AI is to the replayability. I see players using the same weapons and skills, yet the battle is a little different every time.

In the movie The Ghost and the Darkness , one character tells another, "They've got a saying in prize fighting: Everyone's got a plan until they've been hit."

Good, dynamic AI forces players to adapt every time. It provides just enough predictability to enable strategy, but it doesn't let players anticipate everything.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

memory markers

Dynamics make a game feel longer.

I realized this after reading an article about "Why Times Goes Faster as You Get Older." The article's point is basically that new or unique experiences act as markers in one's reflection on one's history as a whole. The older a person gets, the more routine his or her life is likely to become. By seeking out new and bold experiences, we can slow our lives down... at least in perception.

Likewise, unique and memorable experiences act as markers in a player's reflection. If you want players to feel like they have gotten their money's worth, dynamics can help create an impression of a grander adventure.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kinect bar games

Microsoft could sell a lot of console-Kinect bundles by creating a good collection of bar games which involve shouting.