As more mobile game developers move into the F2P space or integrate IAP into their premium game, a common set of problems occur around process (or lack thereof) when it comes to designing for monetization. Many game teams I talk to or work with in my role as a monetization design consultant are working in F2P begrudgingly. They distrust the business model and this sentiment bleeds through to the game’s implementation, limiting their chance for success.
In my opinion, the ideal game development process on a game with IAP will consider monetization from day one. Not only will the design of the game as a business be considered from the outset, but each member of the team will embrace the business model in their work. This does not mean starting your first discussion of the game with the question “how do we milk our players for all they are worth?” Instead, it means that each member of the team recognizes that success depends on a game that forges a long term relationship with the player and is unafraid to ask the player for money when appropriate.
This idyllic vision is at odds with what I tend to see out in the real world. In practice, there tends to be one person on the team responsible for the money side of game design. This person (be it product manager, producer, CEO or other) leads a frustrating life where she is constantly suggesting ways to improve the game only to be shot down by her teammates, or fighting to get a small part of her overall ideas implemented. This results in a compromised game where monetization elements are hidden from the player or overall lacking, and can result in the failure of an otherwise good game.
Continue reading Designing for monetization from day one
The simple truth of game development is that a finished game will never be all that you imagine it to be. Even the best managed game development processes result in a game that represents 5 to 10 percent of the initial ambition. Ideas are cheap, implementation is expensive and at a certain point games must be shipped. For instance, even if my team’s current game Enhanced Wars is a runaway success and we continuously improve it for the 3 years after launching, it will never be all that we want it to be.
Once upon a time, when I set out to design a game I would start by writing a lengthy document detailing every aspect of the game. Eventually I learned that these documents are largely a waste of effort. No one else would ever read a 75 to 100 page document and most of the initial concepts get changed dramatically in implementation. Nowadays when working on a game, I prescribe a method of managing the design process for all these features that is lightweight and flexible.
Continue reading Design Tutorial – How to write a feature brief
Before Alex and I decided to start Quarter Spiral, we both spent a significant amount of time as Producers leading teams at BioWare. In the San Francisco studio, he led the platform technology team and I ran the game team. Although we both have creative backgrounds as designers (he graphics, me games) we both learned to love process. As a team leader, I put down the game design document and picked up the process as my tool of quality and control.
So the very first day Alex and I met to discuss our product vision, we opened up Pivotal Tracker and wrote stories in a backlog. The first full time day for Quarter Spiral, the three co-founders met on Skype for sprint planning. Before the second day was over, Alex and I had already held an ad hoc meeting to review the process we cobbled together; dissatisfied with some kludginess we began to make changes.
Quarter Spiral has been a virtual team from day one. Being virtual is key to keeping our burn rate low and working cohesively while spanning from the west coast of California to the northern tip of Germany. As such, a strong focus on process has been key to keeping our team humming as we build product. Along the way, we’ve picked up some tips and tricks that keep our virtual team strong.
Continue reading 6 process tips for virtual teams
or, What to do when Scrum Fails?
During a GDC beer break, I had an interesting talk about scrum with a former colleague who works as a scrum master type (your studio may classify him as a development director, producer or project manager depending on culture). He vented his frustration with his current game team. Like me, he is a believer in scrum methodology and has seen it catalyze teams into cohesive units that produce powerful results and ship great games.
But, scrum only works when team culture buys in to the philosophy. My colleague is fighting widespread ambivalence. He faces ambivalence from studio leaders, who are stretched too thin to deliver their influence and feedback against a timeline, helping create stability. He faces ambivalence from senior team members, who are content to finish their individual tasks without reinforcing the team-centric mentality. He faces ambivalence from junior team members, who are not mature enough to have internal motivation driving the completion of committed tasks. He is fighting an uphill culture battle with no support and he is losing.
Continue reading Embrace the Inner A-hole
When I was 15, I received a free copy of Acid Music Studio while skipping out on Third Eye Blind at an alternative music festival in Chicago. I spent weekends in the basement with my friends, arranging pre-made loops with delusions of being the next Chemical Brothers. For my 16th birthday, I convinced my grandmother to buy me a Roland MC-505, leading to hours spent with the Groovebox sequencing bass lines and tweaking filters. I continued writing music and djing through college, eventually teaming up with Morgan Hendry on a DJ show for USC’s college radio and sporadic live electronic performances. I had spotty motivation and no great talent at finishing. Generously, I would say that I spent a lot of time sketching.
Continue reading I Made a Song with Scrum
Day 5 began with my second trip to Guitar Center of the week. I picked up a Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 usb audio interface and rushed home to record vocals. Setup was quick and easy, multiplying my regret at wasting most of the previous day trying to set up my outdated Mbox 2.
I closed the door on my bedroom and slightly embarrassedly began to record the vocal takes for “One of Us”. Listening to the recording, it is clear that I am out of practice, in my bedroom, singing quietly and completely lacking confidence. The results are not great, and will not be shared. But, I accomplished my goal of writing a song with lyrics, which is the important result. Even though I won’t share the output with you, I was still able to hit my sprint goal.
Continue reading Scrumification of Music – Day 5
I attacked day 4 with a renewed energy that quickly evaporated in the angry heat of hardware issues. My momentum point from the previous train wreck of a day was writing the vocals, so began day 4 attempting to burn down the 3 hours estimated against recording a scratch vocal track.
My first attempt was to get a microphone working with the mic-in jack on my laptop, since this take was solely for arrangement purposes. I could get audio to record, but could not eliminate heavy bleeding from the output track into the recording. No matter how low I turned my headphone volume down, I could still hear the click track on the vocal take.
Continue reading Scrumification of Music – Day 4
Day 3 was a disaster; completely unproductive, creatively bankrupt and frustrating. It is an inevitability of creative work. Despite the setbacks, the day underscored why using the scrum process to write music was a powerful idea.
On day 3, I watched tutorials and then left for a doctor appointment and visit to Guitar Center to pick up some audio gear. I had been making progress with only Ableton and my laptop so far, but I needed a midi keyboard and audio interface to fulfill the definition of done on my user stories. In a round trip that took 2.5 hours I did my errands, went to the store, settled on the Akai MPK25 but balked at the audio interface. The guy at the counter warned me my old Mbox 2 was not going to play nice with Ableton, but I was queasy about spending another $250 on an audio interface when I had an old, but expensive audio interface at home. I would soon regret not following his guidance.
Continue reading Scrumification of Music – Day 3
I began the second day of my scrum experiment by watching more tutorials to learn the basics of Ableton. After watching enough videos that I felt comfortable feeling my way around the production environment, I began writing drums. I had not purchased a midi keyboard or audio interface yet, and drums were the best place to start with only a mouse and laptop keyboard for input.
Historically, drums had been my biggest weaknesses when writing music. During college, I relied entirely on my DJing partner, Morgan Hendry of Beware of Safety if I wanted a respectable drum part for anything I was working on.
Continue reading Scrumification of Music – Day 2
I began the first day of my Scrum experiment by writing a one page work brief. The brief’s purpose is to set a clear intention and give a tool to measure quality of the end product. Writing a brief is a standard part of my game production process, but is an exercise I had never applied to music. The brief laid out a concept for the song I wanted to write, as well as an X Statement and a list of requirements. In retrospect, the act of setting a clear, measurable intention was critical. I never would have finished a song if I had not set out with a goal in mind.
I had recently listened to the Terry Gross interview of Trent Reznor, and was deeply inspired when he said “I’ve always tried to flirt with accessibility… I kind of like the idea of subversively working your way into people’s heads, and then you can say whatever you want.” As a result, the X Statement for the song, titled One of Us, was “NIN meets Avalanche (Photek) style dubstep”. I intended to “use pop-song writing formula to filter the ideas of alienation from mainstream society through heavy bass music.” You can read the full Work Brief here.
Continue reading Scrumification of Music – Day 1