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Game Design From Outer Space

How We Work


Why an entire page about the way we work? Shouldn’t be just the results what count, especially when doing game design and development for clients?

Turns out it’s a little more complicated than that. Being the game design and development process something quite obscure for non-developers, often the clients come to us with their ideas and their biases. This can affect the quality of our work and even jeopardize the final product.

So, this little guide show you how our design process is done, and what a client wanting a game should bring to the table to help us do a better job and get better results.

What Games Are for Us

We define a game as “A system capable to generate emotions through agency in a ritual space”. Even if this may sound awkward to you, this means that games are great emotion engines. And the game design should aim to generate these emotions not just with the art, the music and the atmosphere, but primarily through the game mechanics and through the way they are experienced in-game. We try to conceive the game to the ground up keeping in mind the kind of emotions and the message the client needs to convey. In our job, emotions are central, and the player experience is tailored around them. That’s why we like to work on the game idea from the very start.

The First Concept

Usually we like to start from a first concept. That doesn’t mean you should come with a game idea if you need a game from us. Actually, it’s best if you don’t (see “But I’ve got this really cool idea…” section for more). Since we will build the game from the emotions and the messages you want to evoke, just focus on those. With these emotions in mind we try to build a consistent core mechanic and a theme. We usually write a concept document which is 2 to 10 pages long, depending on the complexity. With this in hand, we are ready to get our hands dirty.

Prototyping

Now we build a first prototype. Usually we don’t get digital in this phase. We reach for scissors, paper, dice and game bits and we see if your ideas are still solid on paper. Then we move to build a first digital prototype. It’s usually something very, very rough. The art is basic, we have no sound and no animations. But we are able to get the idea if our mechanics are working in the right direction, supporting the emotions and the message.

Iterations and Playtesting

Then it’s basically a matter of observing the prototype and state what is working and what not. We state all the changes and improvements we want to make. If we are just the designers in the project, then we compile a new document with the request and the directions for artist and programmers. If we are making the entire game, we still write the document, then go back to code and draw! This iterative project goes on and on. The first iterations (which usually take a week) are internally tested, then we start to add external playtesters to the recipe.

Final Release

After a certain amount of iterations (usually in sync with the project roadmap) we approach the final release. There, we polish our game, cut out all the loose ends and we are ready to show the game to the world.

Things We Try to Avoid

There are some game ideas and mechanics which are a constant request when working with clients. Unfortunately, while they are extremely easy to conceive, they almost never work. Why is that? We try to explain it here.

Contests. One of the first misunderstandings about games is that if you add a tangible reward, people will be encouraged to play more, attracted to the prize. Well, turns out it’s a bit more complicated than that. As you can see from this interesting video tangible rewards can actually hurt the player’s motivation. That’s why we don’t like gamification techniques based only on badges and points either.

Trivia Games. Trivia and quizzes are all the rage now, above all when dealing with educational games. That is perfectly understandable: the question and answer format is at the very basis of almost all educational systems. And that is exactly the problem with trivia games: they just add some bells and whistles to a school exam, but they are almost never perceived like real games. Plus, they tend to have a paternalistic tone in open contrast with the free and experimental-prone nature of games. Finally, they aren’t really educational: they just test notions without actually teaching anything. Did you like taking quizzes when you were in high school? Why should anyone be really entertained with that?

Clones of famous games. This is classic. I’d like to make a new Angry Birds/Farmville, can you do that for me? Perfectly understandable. These games make millions every day, so a clone should be appreciated by players. Plus, the game already exists, so creating a new version should be a lot easier, and therefore cost less. Well, I have some bad news. First, creating a clone of a famous game isn’t cheaper than creating a new game from scratch. You still have to carefully plan the development. You still have to tune-up values, create levels, graphic assets and stuff. And making a clone wouldn’t help you getting more players, either. A player liking Angry Birds will hardly abandon their favourite to play a blatant clone. It’s a Kobayashi Maru problem. You can’t compete on the same battlefield of these giants, so it’s better to change the environment and try something different.

But I’ve Got this Really Cool Idea…

Yeah, I know. Everyone has at least one really cool idea. Really.

Now, here’s our policy with ideas. If you are looking for some people able to build what you have in mind, maybe in a revenue sharing fashion, bear this in mind: your idea is worth almost nothing, no matter how good it is. What it accounts in this context is the ability to make it real. Plus, we have drawers full of our own ideas we could develop. Why should we buy new ones from other people? So, if you have a revenue sharing model in mind, please be able to bring to the table something more than just a good idea. Ideas alone are a deal breaker for us, sorry. If you can do something valuable for the project, well, your chances are more than zero. But we must see a really great potential in what you propose. Otherwise, we’ll just keep up developing our stuff and wish you best of luck.

Sometimes, the client comes to us with a great idea for an advergame. It’s not infrequent for us getting pretty detailed briefs to develop a complete game. Even if this means for us less work to do, it’s not how you get the best results. As we said, we believe in building the game from scratch to evoke the desired emotions or to convey a certain message; so, for us it’s best if the client is not biased towards a certain idea. Let us do our job and the results will be great. We promise.