Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer

Month: March 2007 (page 1 of 2)

Dancers Can Be Hardcore, Too

It seems like every few months, someone wants to reopen the question of what a ‘hardcore’ gamer is vs. a casual gamer. This time, the culprit is Ryan, who ends up where most other pundits seem to. But I’ve never felt comfortable with that direction of thought, which always seems to end up with the games industry making games for other gamers, while making light-weight fluffy crap for anyone else. When I think about the terms ‘hardcore’ vs ‘casual’, these are the thoughts that ruminate through my head:

All successful games and genres have hardcore players and casual players.
My mom is a hardcore solitaire player. I mean, she looks at a screen with Spider on it the way that Cypher looked at the Matrix and saw blondes, brunettes and redheads. Mom just sees things I never saw as there. She has an innate sense of opportunity. When she plays, cards light up for her as if she were the main character in A Beautiful Mind. She’s damn close to being able to move the cards telepathically. Continue reading

DFC to MMO Devs: Odds are You’re Doomed

A Report from DFC Intelligence on the MMO business points out that, while MMOs are being funded like there’s no tomorrow, odds are there will only be one or two winners and a whole lot of losers.

Perhaps the most important point to note is that there will be a great deal of money lost. Since the emergence of the current MMOG market, which we pegged as 1997, there have never been more than a handful of hit products in a given market at the same time. In North America there has been one product (Ultima Online, then Everquest, then World of Warcraft) which stood head and shoulders above a small group of second tier products that had 25-50% of the top game’s subscriber base. Never in the over thirty year history of massively multiplayer games has there been more than five top-line products in existence at one time in a given market. Even then, the top two or three games have always commanded between 85% and 90% of the market

Below that level, there have been niche efforts and upstarts. Despite the increasing variety and number of MMOGs in the market, this quasi-network effect appears to be strengthening, not weakening. The good news, thus far, is that the overall pie does seem to be expanding. That is to say, the niche efforts now sometimes have 50,000 subscribers instead of 5,000 and the mid-level games have 150,000 subscribers instead of 50,000.

Continue reading

How to Pick Up Women, WoW-Style

This thread is epic.

The responses are great too.

Don’t even TRY to start dating, until you have enough gold to buy a crapload of consumables. And you probably can’t even get to the instance without a flying mount.

The reason I love my wife is that she’s the sort of person who points things like this out to me.

The Final Ding (Again)

I finally have managed to drag my Undead Priest up to Level 70, it being the first WoW character that I’ve ever maxed out. As an aside, here’s a conversation I had near the end of today’s journey:

Me: Dear God, two of my last quests are actually going to involve picking flowers and killing giant cats.
Wife: In the literary world, this device is called ‘bookends’.

And may I just say: anyone on the WoW design team who thinks that Priests need nerfing should be forced to play one solo for a month. My group fell apart halfway through the last level, and the last bit was like crawling through broken glass — and then being thrown in a shark tank. I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone spec’d to actually heal (note to would-be designers: when no one plays a certain spec below level 70, there’s a problem).


Original comments thread is here.

Great Success

My talk on writing game design documents was the highest rated talk at GDC. Not bad, considering this was originally going to be a roundtable.

Major takeaway: propose talks that teach useful skills that can be used on any project in any genre.

For those who are late to the party, the GDC presentation can be found in the presentations section.


Original comments thread is here.


Exclusivity Makes the World Go ‘Round

When you think of a console, you are most likely to think of its most emblematic games: the Dreamcast had Soul Caliber, the XBox had Halo, the 360 has Gears of War. These games have something in common other than all being exemplary games – they were all hardware exclusives – at least for a while.

The flip side of it, of course, is that the developers of these titles are heavily incentivized NOT to have an exclusive game — unless they’re guarunteed to be as emblematic as Gears of War. For the most part, we want our games on as many platforms as possible. The 3 big companies want to fund games, but only want to fund exclusives. When I was running a startup, we actually walked away from a deal with Microsoft because they wanted our MMO to be an MS exclusive (not even a PC Port!) but weren’t willing to pay us the difference. “The difference” looked like the difference between a thin but healthy profit, and being in indentured servitude. Continue reading

Various Awesomeness

First off, Penny Arcade sums up my opinions of God of War II pretty succinctly. This game will get some serious time once I finally get my Priest to 70.

Secondly, we have awesome stupidity: Check out these idiots who robbed Richard Garriott’s cabin — and left a digital camera with pictures of all of them.

“We we’re joking to ourselves about tomorrow morning, when they wake up with a hangover, they’re going to wonder where that camera is,” he said. “This is one of those Darwin-style kind of awards, where people leave the self-incriminating evidence behind at the scene.”

And finally, Blizzard is coming to Austin. I can only imagine it’s a lot cheaper to pay CS costs here than in Irvine. I’m guessing the guys who are moving out here are glad that it’s not Topeka. Or Bangalesh.


Original comments thread is here.

MMO Roundtable Day 3: Why Classes, Levels, and the Grind?

On the third day of my roundtable, I took the talk in the most controversial of directions: the grind. More specifically, why do designers gravitate towards class-based, level-based experience-point based RPG systems for their advancement models? What’s wrong with them? Once again, the responses listed below are not necessarily my own, but are rather responses that came out of the group. However, many of the responses that appear are very similar to those that I mentioned in my AGC talk a year ago. Continue reading

MMO Roundtable Day 2: Why Combat?

Day two of my roundtable continued with a frank discussion why most of our MMOs seem to center on combat, and in particular, the classic turn-based, stats-more-than-skill, tank-mage-healer brand of combat which is the norm in massively multiplayer games today. Once again, these are the opinions of the group, and not necessarily my own. The group came up with: Continue reading

MMO Roundtable Day 1: Why Fantasy?

My Roundtable this year was “Moving Beyond Men In Tights”. There was a roundtable each day of the conference, and Wednesday’s question centered upon the simple question: “Why Fantasy?” The roundtable was moderated heavily by myself, with questions derived from my powerpoint presentation at AGC.

The first question I asked was “Why do we keep making fantasy games? We all want to see different things, and yet, the top 5 most talked about MMO launches in 2007 look to be more fantasy games. So what unique traits does fantasy have that make it well-suited to today’s MMO designs? ” I stressed that I wasn’t saying ‘keep making fantasy games’ – please don’t! I just wanted the participants to understand what reasons there might be beyond “we’re unimaginative bastards” and “it sells”. Continue reading

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