Class Prompt: Diminishing Returns in Content

In spring 2020 I taught a Technical Game Design class in Champlain College’s game design program. As part of my work I wrote discussion prompts. I’m expanding some of those prompts into blog posts, like the one below. The full set can be found here. Because they were meant as prompts for students to discuss, they do not necessarily provide strong conclusions or answer the questions that they pose.

Let’s talk about a problem that plagues live service games. If your game relies on releasing MORE content in pre-existing categories – characters in League of Legends or Overwatch, exotics in Destiny, new cards in Magic: The Gathering – then there are two fundamental design problems you need to solve:

  1. Diminishing Returns: How do you make content that is as exciting on the Nth update as it was on the first update? How can your 50th piece of content compete with all 49 previous pieces?
  2. Narrowing Design Space: How do you leave room for each new thing to feel unique and different over time?

These two problems are closely related, and designers must be careful because solving one of these can make the other worse.

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Class Prompt: Prioritization

In spring 2020 I taught a Technical Game Design class in Champlain College’s game design program. As part of my work I wrote discussion prompts. I’m expanding some of those prompts into blog posts, like the one below. The full set can be found here. Because they were meant as prompts for students to discuss, they do not necessarily provide strong conclusions or answer the questions that they pose.

This week let’s talk about an important skill: Prioritization.

In a large studio environment, the ability to prioritize – triage – every task or problem that comes your way is crucial, especially if you’re in a role where you may be randomized or need to react to sudden pivots, changes, or requests.

Let’s do some quick vocabulary. These are all terms that we use at Bungie. I can’t promise that they use these same definitions everywhere, but they’ll help us talk about these concepts:

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Class Prompt: The Technical Game Design Role

In spring 2020 I taught a Technical Game Design class in Champlain College’s game design program. As part of my work I wrote discussion prompts. I’m expanding some of those prompts into blog posts, like the one below. The full set can be found here. Because they were meant as prompts for students to discuss, they do not necessarily provide strong conclusions or answer the questions that they pose.

“Technical game designer” as a role in the industry is hard to pin down. I’ve known people with that title who solely build tools, and others who never touch code or tools and instead build content. Ask around, and every tech designer will give you a slightly different definition for the role. Here’s mine.

“Technical Game Design” is a subset of Game Design as a discipline. There are two features that set the role apart:

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Lay Off Post-Mortem

This is the story of my first lay off, what I learned from it, and how I recovered. I recently received a job offer; this story now has an ending, so the time has come to tell it!

Exeunt Max

In the summer of 2014 we were deeply entrenched in a new F2P service game that had gone into open beta a few months prior. The game was in a precarious position, a topic that our project leadership was very open with us about. We resolved to turn it around that summer, and set some very ambitious goals. And we succeeded! We built an excellent game: tightly balanced, responsive, polished, and great looking.

In the middle of this process, we learned that there were going to be some publisher-wide layoffs hitting our parent company and its devs at about the same time we were wrapping up this summer push. We knew layoffs were coming, and we knew that our project was at risk. We even knew the date that they were going to happen. The team handled it well, and we still built a great game: we were proud of it and wanted it to succeed, with or without us. But the weeks leading up to the layoffs were still tense with worry: we didn’t know who or how many were on the chopping block. (more…)

In Defense of DLC

Preface (5/12/2015): A few weeks ago Polygon posted a news article revealing the Arkham Knight DLC and pricing. The news post was very aggressive and judgmental of the model, and the tone of the comments was mostly angry. It was very clear that the core gamer crowd reading that article did not understand how DLC was made, or why it could be good for them. Later that day I wrote an article that I pitched to Polygon, with the goal of educating their readers a little bit. I haven’t heard back from them, so posting it here! My summary of it is really simplistic compared to the real deal, but it was as detailed as I wanted for the audience.

Hey Polygon readers! Recently Rocksteady announced a $40 season pass for Arkham Knight, and there was some lively discussion in the comments. I saw two themes: some people were angry because they thought that this DLC could have been ready at launch, and was being withheld from gamers out of greed. Others complained about the general trend of having to buy DLC to enjoy the “complete experience”.

I think that all of this anger is misplaced. So let’s talk about DLC, and why, done right, it is a great thing for gamers and game developers.

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Zelda Sales Numbers in Context 2014

Preface (3/23/2015): I did the original research for this because I wanted to win an argument on the internet. I was fascinated enough by what I learned that I did it again, with more in-depth and better researched data, and published it a year or so ago on my small Zelda website, Zeldadata.com. It was definitely intended for a Zelda-fan audience.

Zelda sales numbers seem straight-forward: They’re simple data about how much each game has sold. They’re easy to understand, and they’re easy to reference when you need to prove a point. But the attention generally stops there, when there is in fact much to be learned from sales data! Let us begin with the most important list: the sales data for each Zelda game, ranked:

fig1_sales

 

So now we know how much each Zelda title has sold. There’s some interesting data there. It’s tempting to use this data, exactly as it is, to draw conclusions about things like popularity and impact on games. Ocarina of Time is clearly the most popular Zelda game on this list. And A Link to the Past must have had a bigger impact on gaming than The Legend of Zelda, since it sold so much more. Right? (more…)