Tag Archive for: Game Business

What to Look for in New Game Designers

06 Jun
6 June 2011

Not long ago, colleges didn’t offer degrees in game development.  When they started to, the programs were generally not seen as a great source for new hires.

Things change.  Over the years, many programs have found their stride (helped in no small part by actual developers taking teaching positions).  So much so, in fact, that there’s now a symbiotic relationship at work – studios count on instructors to birddog promising graduates, and instructors count on devs to keep them current with the business.

As a result, I’m asked, “What do you look for when hiring new designers?” a lot.

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We Must Eradicate / Support Social Gaming Before It Ends Life On Earth / So Kittens Can Live Forever

05 Apr
5 April 2011

You couldn’t go ten minutes at GDC  this year without running into someone either raging against or defending the virtue of “social gaming.”  The content of the conference mirrored this, frequently seeming very much like the same arguments attendees were lobbing at one another only delivered on stage (and with somewhat less slurring).  Satoru Iwata, Nintendo CEO, bemoaned the decline of the industry at the hands of smartphone and social-media in his keynote.  The rant session was a collection of people from the social-gaming space ranting against the fact that other ranty people were ranting about them too (probably most mentioned from this being Brathwaite’s call for solidarity).

And now Zynga apparently feels a need to answer critics of their development process, with Brian Reynolds going out of his way to assure people that, hey, there actually is creativity involved in how they make games.

I’ll borrow from the late, great Kurt Vonnegut here and recast his take on overly-concerned literary critics to fit the current situation:

Any developer who expresses rage and loathing for a type of game is preposterous.  He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.

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“The Average Gamer” == /rolleyes

04 Jan
4 January 2011

Over the last few months, I’ve been presented with some interesting facts about “the average gamer”:

  • Facebook has become the platform of choice for the average gamer.
  • The iPhone has taken over as the most popular platform for the average gamer.
  • The console continues to be the primary gaming platform for the average gamer.
  • Due to the massive popularity of free-to-play, the average gamer won’t pay for anything anymore.
  • The average gamer has a subscription to Live.
  • The average gamer loves microtransactions and cannot wait to buy absolutely anything offered for sale.
  • The average gamer doesn’t  have any online friends, is unfamiliar with chat, and would never imagine asking a question in a general chat channel while playing a MMO.
  • The average gamer is a member of a younger generation characterized by familiarity with technology and a desire to be constantly in touch with friends via things like texting, Twitter, and Facebook.
  • The average gamer is in his mid-30s and gets older every year.
  • The average gamer is (or soon will be) female.
  • The average gamer only wants a “bite-size”, casual experience.
  • Competitive PvP is very important to the average gamer.

It would appear the average gamer is a great many things.


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Ensemble Figures Out How to Go from Empires to Kings

06 Jun
6 June 2010

It was early May, 1998. nearly all of Ensemble Studio’s employees were in San Jose, aboard the Queen Mary. We had just been awarded a pair of Spotlight Awards from the Computer Game Developers’ Conference, including “Best of Show.” The statuettes looked like miniature Klieg lights, and someone had plugged them in on one of our tables. Sheets and sheets of stickers advertising an entertainment network called Berzerk littered the bar. We had taken to using them to replace the labels on our beer bottles and, as they became more numerous, to toasting “berzerk” and then just randomly yelling “berzerk.”

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An Open Letter to Paul Bettner

16 Mar
16 March 2010


You and I worked together at Ensemble Studios for more than a decade.   I respect your right to your own opinion and your right to state it.  However,  I take issue with the manner you have decided to speak about your displeasure with “crunch culture” at the 2010 GDC. 

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The Catch 22 of Playtesting Games

27 Jan
27 January 2010

While the importance of playtest might seem obvious, the practice took time to catch on and gain acceptance.  In the late ’90s, it was still pretty routine to run into developers who didn’t playtest the games they were working on.

Luckily, I earned my bones at Ensemble, where there was never anything else.  As the only founder with much real experience making games, Bruce Shelley was often responsible for providing us with some clue as to what we should be doing.  Playtesting was the process he had seen work in the past.  (Apparently, the development loop for Civilization involved Sid Meier writing some code, then Bruce playing and making notes, then Sid writing some code, then….)  Ensemble started with it and we never questioned it.

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PlaySpan and the Free-to-Play Hype Machine

23 Dec
23 December 2009

I know this will come as a shock but I’m a fan of arguing.

In fact, I’m such a fan of it that I’ve cultivated that truly endearing quality all your favorite debaters exhibit — the ability to fervently argue a position I in no way actually support.  That’s right, I’m not happy just arguing with people who don’t agree with me.  I want everyone in there.

Some of this is work-related.  I only truly get comfortable about some design decisions by attacking them myself, so I pick fights about these and take various stances and see what develops.

Some of this, according to my wife, is that I’m a jerk.

Who’s to say which of us is correct (P.S., I am) but, whatever the reason, I argue a lot and I tend to gravitate toward people who can hold their own in a verbal scuffle.  But, while I love a spirited discussion, I am not a fan of several trends in modern arguing, chief among them “the Google argument”.

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The “Death” of PC Games

29 Nov
29 November 2009

I gave Dusty a hard time for his recent assertion that the death of PC gaming wasn’t due to MMOs but rather five years of shit games.  I probably should have beat him up for suggesting that there has been any “death” at all….

I’m not overly averse to reality and I can read NPD’s data as well as the next guy, so I’m not trying to suggest that the PC games market hasn’t been suffering based on that metric.

But that isn’t “death”.

Death is when something goes away and doesn’t come back.

Whale oil?  That’s a dead business.  You probably don’t want to go looking for VC for an 8 track cassette factory either.  Rotary phones?  Butter churns?  Traditional  retail stores for games?  Elvis, Elvis, and Elvis.  (Ha ha, just kidding about that last one, GameStop, everything is going to be fine.)

“Death” happens when the demand for a product shrinks, generally because something comes along and satisfies the need it served better (and / or cheaper).  Why don’t you ride a buggy to work anymore?  Because your horseless carriage has AC and it doesn’t eat the begonias when you park it out front.

So, if PC games are “dead” what is it that’s replacing them?

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“Even Xena and Callisto are in 3-D”

25 Nov
25 November 2009

In 1997, Ensemble had yet to release a game and we were not well known.  Despite this, we received a considerable amount of mail (both actual paper and email) from fans.  Most was “can I has job” but every now and then there was something special in the inbox.

I started to keep an “X File” shortly after I came across a couple of the more awesome ones and I’ve lugged it around ever since.  The crown jewels of this collection are a series of notes that we continued to receive for several years from a fan (?) who had very detailed suggestions for a game.

I got into a discussion about this yesterday and was trying to accurately communicate the glory of these letters.  I’ve scanned one in so it can speak for itself.

(Caveat: I do not have the sanity points to read this start to finish.  If there’s anything offensive in here, apologies in advance.)

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

18 Nov
18 November 2009

(Via GamesIndustry.Biz; here.)

Pants size influences obesity three times more than fudge

Research by EEDAR has shown that buying really big pants increases the wearer’s weight three times more than eating dozens of Ho Hos.

The perception that stuffing your face with cake cylinders leads to obesity is a myth, said EEDAR’s Jesse Divnich speaking at the Montreal International Games Summit today, and developers should realize the cold fact that a person who buys enormous pants will weigh far more than a person who can’t say no to another Ring Ding.

“You can eat fistfuls of Doritos and it won’t even matter. I know that’s discouraging to developers at first but it’s very true,” Divnich told the audience.

“Outlandishly large pants influence the wearer’s weight three times more than pints of Haagen- Dazs eaten in the middle of the night. There’s a giant myth out there that eating sticks of butter is crucial to gaining weight. The reason why that is is the information is readily available – we can go to Arby’s – and we see people like that guy over there eating five sandwiches by himself and we make that correlation. But the truth is, huge pants actually have much more of an influence to weight than the Arby’s Five for Five promotion.”

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