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The game is in the endgame

For quite a while I’ve been recognizing a trend in the way nintendo designs some of it’s games. I’ve mentioned it before but it seems I’m not the only one noticing it. As of late, games like Zelda, Pokemon and now Metroid follow a very simple formula:

  1. The first time through, guide the player from place to place. Locked doors, ridiculously broken paths and rude people blocking every single possible alternate path. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.
  2. Pepper the experience with cutscenes to make up for the loss in exploration. In case of emergency, throw in a long conversation about nothing that explains a tiny bit of story just for the sake of having the player read your beautiful prose.
  3. Prolong the tutorials as much as possible, make them unskippable and be sure to insult the player’s intelligence if necessary.
  4. After the credits roll, let the player finally go about the world however he or she pleases. Go ahead! Explore all the places you’ve already been to, just to get all the thingies you couldn’t get to before that only amount to basic rewards that could have been VERY helpful the first time through the game.

I realize that that wasn’t a very … objective description of this trend but I can’t help getting mad about it. I can see why they are bastardizing their franchises, but that doesn’t mean I agree with the direction they’re going.

Look, I get it, players can get lost if you don’t make it clear where to go. But you know what? Just outright telling them where to go every single chance you get is not the perfect solution, far from it. It’s just lazy. It’s an easy solution to a difficult problem that insults the player’s intelligence just to make sure everyone gets to the end of the game. And still, not everybody does get to the end because of various reasons. They may not have the time, some other game might catch their attention… or maybe they’re just tired of following the directions of the game designers, yearning to be free and to express themselves. To play.

Let me know how does this idea sound: Let the player do whatever he or she wants. If you make everything within the game interesting and build systems that point out the interesting things you can do, why not trust the player?

After all, Fallout 1 and 2 did this exact thing and they weren’t exactly punished for it. They’re remembered as classics for a reason: Because they did what almost no other game dared to: They let the player play and explore at their own pace. Sure, it was a hostile world and the way the player is introduced to it could use some work. We know these two games aren’t perfect… but they’ve aged well because we’ve not seen any other games with the same philosophy, save for a few exceptions that I’m not currently aware of.

I just get mad because there’s so much that can be done with that same philosophy of design. Many years have passed since that game came out and we’ve grown as an industry, our tools have matured and our knowledge about design has been increasingly growing in the last few years, thanks in no small part to the indie movement.

But we are still clinging to the same rotten way to circumvent a single (yet difficult) problem.

Nintendo… please, man up.

Link Compilation vol. 3.14265

Wood Link

Visual pun go!

Alright, it’s been a long while since I did one of these things so why not do another link compilation? After all, I have quite a few interesting things to link to:

Activision is evil. I know that, you know that, we all know that. They continually do the most douchy things they could possibly imagine and then expect to get away with it without their image being tarnished. Well, now we have a new interesting (and by “interesting” I mean “appalling”) look at how Activision works. The piece is centered around the company refusing to have female leads, but the system that leads to that conclusion is what’s most inexcusable. One thing is to want to avoid risks by making sequels and a whole another one is to require from a developer to include a checklist of features because “that’s what needs to be done in order to sell”. And don’t get me started on the focus groups and how they’re manipulated to suit their particular views instead of the other way around.

The comments section of that article however is the most infuriating thing I’ve read in a while. Apparently some of those juvenile idiots are developers (no surprise there) so … yeah.

This comment by Joe Rheaume summarizes the whole thing in a rather amusing way:

Article: Activision says games with female leads don’t sell, but here’s a list of games with female leads that do sell.
Commenter: Why do you want Activision to lose money? Only men are good action stars.
Me: /rolleyes.
Other Commenter: Here’s a list of Action movie heroines that made a lot of money and were awesome
Other other commenter: Oh no! Liberals! I am afraid of vaginas! Games must be sausagefests because they are now. Why do you hate capitalism?

Anyway, let’s change the mood, shall we? Hey look at this random youtube video. And this one! And this other one:

… yeah, I know, it’s awesome.

*clears throat*

Not so long ago, Jesse Schell painted a very very grim picture of the future where game designers would basically morph into the most powerful tools of the marketing business. Basically, we’d have to actually engage with advertisements on a daily basis and not only that, but we’d do so willingly because of the power of achievements and meaningless points that can be converted into fabulous gifts! …. yeah, that really sends a chill down your spine, doesn’t it? But something rings hollow there: it’s assuming that the masses are a bunch of idiots who are easily distracted and engaged in the most meaningless tasks as long as they are rewarded at the end. Even if the rewards are meaningless. Which is true because of the novelty value such a thing would have, but when it wears off… well, it ain’t going to work no more boy. Still, some people are just wired to fall for such traps and even they can get burnt out.

This whole dystopian future is even more unlikely when one considers how human motivation actually works and the possibility that achievements can be ultimately harmful. In fact, if one were to look at what some game designers are thinking and doing as of late, one would come to the conclusion that we are in for some very strange but interesting concepts in the next few years.

On one hand we have Brenda Brathwhite who dumped electricity to further her study of game design among other things and found some very interesting ways of expression involving some very personal and difficult topics. On the other hand, we have Clint Hocking who in this talk muses about (among many many things) the different ways of immersion and how the holo-deck is doomed to remain as pure fantasy just like jetpacks and flying cars are.

On the third mutant hand we have Ian Bogost who basically made a social game that makes fun of social games by making the behind the scenes calculations and motivations apparent to the user. You’re not taking care of your farm, you’re just clicking on a cow.

And finally, on the fourth self-serving mutant goro knock-off hand there’s me, actually reading all of this stuff and getting excited about what the future might hold for us. Sometimes even being inspired by some of these people to finally take a step in the direction I actually want to go, even if that direction is guiding me to a particularly difficult to traverse path.

Source of the image.

Why money isn’t everything

If anybody ever found the “indie movement” to come out of nowhere and wondered why would someone leave a major company to work on a small game of their own, please just watch this little video. To everyone else, watch it either way, it’s a very interesting subject on it’s own and the video is littered with research material worth hearing about.

Plus, it’s just fun to watch. Ooooohhhh, pretty drawings!

Summing the whole thing up: money, purpose, mastery and autonomy are the factors that drive us to work. What a coincidence that two of those, mastery and autonomy, are so prominent in every single game! Though this research does get me thinking on one thing in particular:

Say, if you were to equal getting paid in real life with leveling up in an RPG …. doesn’t that mean that the whole leveling scheme of RPGs works best when the task at hand (battle) is only mechanical and doesn’t require any cognitive thinking? The same goes for achievements and the like. They’re external rewards designed to incentivize a (more often than not) mechanical and mindless task.

Though I don’t know if this holds any water since I’m comparing two very different reward schemes, one being vital to, you know, live and the other being an ethereal reward with little to no actual impact on your real life.

Still, we don’t see this line of thinking or even subject very often in the blogosphere.

Humble Indie Bundle Part 3: Open sourcing

I’ve already talked in great detail about this bundle, I know, but things are getting more and more interesting as time passes and expectations are blown out of the water.
The major news is that the Humble Indie Bundle has reached a million dollars, 319,658 of those going to charity (Electronic Frontier Foundation and Child’s Play), the rest to the developers. Due to this fact, not only have they added 3 more days to the timer, but they’ve also kept their promise made in the video at the 1:17 mark: As of 5/11/10, Aquaria, Gish, Lugaru HD, and Penumbra Overture pledge to go open source.

I love indies.

At this moment, only Lugaru’s source code is available since this kind of thing requires some preparation, but the others will probably follow suit shortly thereafter.

The numbers right now are:

  • Total raised $1,030,205
  • Number of contributions 113,797
  • Average contribution $9.05
  • Average Windows user contribution $7.95
  • Average Mac user contribution $10.18
  • Average Linux user contribution $14.54
  • Windows users contributed 54% of the total raised
  • Mac users contributed 22% of the total raised
  • Linux users contributed 24% of the total raised

Every single average went up, but one has to consider that the big contributions some people did might have something to do with the high averages:

  1. Anonymous    $3333.33
  2. Anonymous    $1337.0
  3. Anonymous    $1000.0
  4. Anonymous    $500.0
  5. Muhammad Haggag    $500.0
  6. Anonymous    $400.0
  7. Anonymous    $327.67
  8. Phil B.    $313.37
  9. Manuel Calavera    $281.0
  10. unsigned char    $255.0

Confirmed: Programmer and internet humor are  always present wherever you look. I’m kind of surprised nobody contributed the sum of 80085 dollars.

Humble Indie Bundle Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

Alright, I didn’t expect this, but the Humble Indie Bundle just got humbler. Jeffrey Rosen sent this in an email:

This morning, I was talking to fellow indie studio Amanita Design. They wanted to donate to the Humble Indie Bundle too — but in a unique way. They decided to donate their award-winning, cross-platform game, Samorost 2, to the bundle!

So… now it’s 6 games in one “pay what you want/can” bundle? That’s … that’s just humbling (alright alright, enough with that word), I don’t know how can anyone pass up on a deal such as this, even if you already own half of the games.

Onto the sales news of this bundle, I’m happy to say that in 4 days the money raised has been quintupled. The curious thing is, that the Mac and Linux users are paying quite a bit more than the Windows users, and when the wolfire blog pointed this out, the average payment went up all across the board. Competition can do wonderful things, don’t you think?

At the moment of this writing, the numbers are:

  • Total raised $624,706
  • Number of contributions 74,236
  • Average contribution $8.42
  • Average Windows user contribution $7.22
  • Average Mac user contribution $9.72
  • Average Linux user contribution $13.97
  • Windows users contributed 52% of the total raised
  • Mac users contributed 23% of the total raised
  • Linux users contributed 25% of the total raised
  • For further number crunching and other interesting data, go visit the wolfire blog

Anyway, there’s only two days and less than 2 hours for this bundle to expire, so… you know, hurry up.

An interesting point about piracy

It has being said time and time again that not every pirate would actually buy the games he downloads if he suddenly lost the ability to pirate. That’s a given, yes, but there’s one other thing that I haven’t seen people pay much attention to and that point is, as David Rosen puts it:

[...] most pirates that I’ve met have downloaded enough software to exceed their entire lifetime income, were they to have paid for it all. A more plausible (but still overly optimistic) guess is that if piracy was stopped the average pirate would behave like an average consumer. [...] So how do we calculate what percentage of the market consists of pirates? Do we just go with 90%? [...] The answer is simple — the average pirate downloads a lot more games than the average customer buys. This means that even though games see that 80% of their copies are pirated, only 10% of their potential customers are pirates, which means they are losing at most 10% of their sales.

He arrives at this conclusion by two means: common sense and by analyzing the case of the iphone: there’s an 80% piracy rate but only 10% of the iphones have been jailbroken. So, basically, 10% of the iphone users are the cause of that 80% piracy rate. On the PC side we normally see a 90% piracy rate… but jailbraking an iphone and just downloading a torrent require very different levels of expertise. The more difficult it is to do, the less people will do it, that’s a given. So there’s probably more pirates in the pc market than in the iphone one. But wait, there’s more: when pirating games, size matters. I’m willing to bet that the average iphone app at the very least is ten times smaller than the average pc game. So that will also affect the circumstances here: iphone pirates will likely download more apps than pc pirates.

So, taking into account those three factors(higher rate of piracy, bigger size and easier to do), then one could estimate that the pc market worldwide has something around a 30% of pirates. But that’s not the whole story, there’s at least one more thing to this whole issue:

Anecdotally and from studies by companies like the BSA, it’s clear that pirates for the most part have very little income. They are unemployed students, or live in countries with very low per-capita GDP, where the price of a $60 game is more like $1000 (in terms of purchasing power parity and income percentage). When Reflexive games performed a series of experiments with anti-piracy measures, they found that they only made one extra sale for every 1000 pirated copies they blocked [7]. This implies that their 90% piracy statistic caused them to lose less than 1% of their sales.

It’s probably more than 1% and even then it’s only one case, but it’s strong evidence of the point made at the beginning: pirates are usually people that couldn’t afford the games in the first place. If you took out the piracy numbers coming from latin-america, russia, india and china you’d get a better picture of pirates that could potentially convert to real customers. And even then you’d still be ignoring unemployed students.

After all that, how would the estimate look like? My guess? Probably less than 8%.

pirate ship ride

Yes, the whole reason why I keep talking about piracy is because I get to post amusing pictures.

And then, as a final example, let me bring up Ubisoft for a second. Yes, they molested their PC customers, but Assassin’s Creed 2 stayed practically impervious to piracy for 6 weeks. Let me say that again: 6 weeks. That’s exactly what they wanted, to fend off piracy for as long as they could, but not forever. After all, almost every sale is made in the first few weeks of any big AAA game (not counting Blizzard).

How much did they actually sell? Apparently nobody tracks PC sales, or just aggregates them with other platform’s sales, which makes it very difficult to say for sure if the PC version of AC2 sold more or less than the predecessor. But what I can say is that apparently, AC1 sold 8 millions in total, and AC2 shipped 8 million by february 2010, and that’s before the PC version hit the streets, so at the very least the console versions of the sequel outsold the previous title. A similar result would be expected of the PC version then, regardless of the whole piracy issue… right?

If that were the case, then one would imagine that Ubisoft would have been shouting this fact from the rooftops. “Hey everybody, this whole DRM deal works! Let’s continue to molest our customers, they apparently love it!”. But no, not even a single word about sales numbers has been uttered. Sure, they shouted about outselling the original title, but that was before the PC version came out.

Mmmmhhh, strange isn’t it? It’s almost like this time they sold less, even when piracy wasn’t an issue like the first time around. I wonder why would that be. I mean, it’s a better game, it had better reviews, it already sold better on the consoles, it had no piracy for 6 weeks…

Huh.

Is it possible that the amount of people pissed off at the DRM was greater than the amount of pirates converted to legitimate customers?

I don’t know, I’m leaning towards a resounding “YES!” but maybe that’s more wishful thinking than actual objective analysis.

We’ll see, time will tell. *possible victory dance*

Image taken from flickr under a Creative Commons license. (Yes, took me long enough to find a way to search for images under CC)

Humble Indie Bundle

I don’t particularly like the above video, but that deal is frankly impossible to pass up:

  • Pay what you want (less than 30 cents is basically like giving them nothing due to what paypal charges).
  • You get 5 games in total: World of Goo(2D Boy), Aquaria(Bit Blot), Gish(Chronic Logic), Lugaru HD(Wolfire Games), and Penumbra(Frictional Games).
  • Choose where your money goes: charity, the developers or both (you can also choose how much goes to each one).
  • No middle-man, all profit goes to the desired destination, excluding the charges for the transaction of course.
  • All games are available on Windows, Linux and Mac (There’s three separate downloads for each game).
  • Absolutely no sight of DRM.

Oh, and the offer is time limited and will only be available for another 6 days and 18 hours. What are you waiting for? I know that’s a cliched question to ask, but come on. I’ve already linked to it three times. Er… four times now.

At the moment of this writting, the total amount of money raised is $119,598 (which is 50k more than the number I saw a few hours ago) and there’s been 14981 contributors so far.

????

Detective sketch

If you must know, no, I did not drew this sketch.

Game-making process: In progress.

Platform: Flash.

Deadline: March 20th.

Artist that made that sketch: Carla Pandolfo.

Cryptic post about me making a game in flash with the help of an illustrator: Done.

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