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February 2013 Miscellany

Thoughts about some game-related topics that are not long enough for separate blog posts.

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BGDF readers might want to look at "What's in a Name (especially trademarks) http://pulsiphergamedesign.blogspot.com/2013/02/whats-in-name.html For various reasons I haven't wanted to post it here.
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I expect to be at PrezCon in Charlottesville, VA on the last weekend of Feburary, and at WBC in Lancaster PA. Remains to be seen whether I'll be at Origins or GenCon.

I'll have various versions of Britannia (one less than two hours long) to try out, as well as a pirates game that needs to be tested by the more hard-core kinds of players we get at PrezCon.

I'm also interested in talking with people about the nature of game design. (Which can be really interesting, believe me.) You don't need to be an expert, you don't even need to be a game designer, because the players are more important than the designers. . .

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Alan Paull, English game designer and publisher, has started a blog that I'm sure will be good reading. I've known him since 1977, and enjoyed many of his insights even as I sometimes disagree with him. http://www.boardgamegeek.com/blog/2165
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A new review of my book: http://littlemetaldog.com/2013/02/07/game-design-how-to-create-video-and...
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What is typically called "gamification" is usually "scorification". Scoring mechanisms are adapted to some work that is goal-oriented. That, plus the idea that you're "playing" rather than working, can help make work less onerous. But it isn't turning work into games. Not good games, anyway.
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Even the higher class game magazines can get stupid, as when they're disappointed that Sony's presentation at E3 was not "stunning". Getting punched in the face is stunning if you're not expecting it; finding out you have cancer is stunning, whether you expect it or not. Being "stunned" by what someone says or shows in a presentation at E3 is NOT stunning, that's a sign of a weak mind.
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My book "Game Design" etc. is now available in a Kindle edition for $14.74! http://amzn.to/Wq3Vmx.
A "Nook Book" (ebook) edition from Barnes & Noble is $13.74. The "Nook book" version may only be readable on Barnes & Noble ereaders! http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/game-design-lewis-pulsipher/1110783952 .

You may know that you can get a free PC program that lets you read (and buy) Kindle books. Something of the same kind is available to read "Nook Books" on iPhones, but I don't know about other platforms.
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My wife tells me about a friend whose 3 year old is spending money playing a "free to play" smartphone game. Peter Molyneuax (Fable, etc.) thinks many "whales" (big spenders on F2P gmaes) are kids. What happens when people, and smartphone controls, stop a lot of this? Hard on F2P games?
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A big topic in the video game industry is whether consoles will continue to be viable in the future. Some had predicted we wouldn't see new ones from Sony and Microsoft, but it looks like there will be. I've always thought of consoles as 1) ways to stay away from a scary keyboard (long ago when people were much more apprehensive about computers) and 2) wannabe computers that quickly become outdated. Yet they have persisted because they provide completely standard platforms for games (which PCs do not), because they're designed to be played on a big TV (which PCs are not), and because the manufacturers could make lots of money by controlling the games that could be played, and by thwarting piracy (especially in the cartridge era).

So given the directions of PC gaming and mobile gaming, why do people even want consoles, even if they're ultimately moneymakers for the manufacturers? I don't know.
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Many video game makers have the saying "fail fast" (or "fail quickly"). That is, if something isn't working in a game, get it out of there, don't stick with it when you know, in your heart, that it isn't good enough. Good advice for tabletop designers, too.

The only caution is that some people become so used to losing (failing) that they don't care any more. Which is probably worse than the people who win all the time (assuming they win because they're good).

I understand that some first and second grade classes in some places are no longer given grades, so that we don't differentiate those who do better (for a variety of reasons) from those who do worse . . . Hereabouts, the kindergarten teachers aren't allowed to give gold stars for exceptional work any more, for fear it might make the kids who don't do anything exceptional feel bad . . .
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In computer games, you can have complex rules that go on behind the scenes, if the players don't have to see what's going on. You cannot do that in tabletop because people have to understand what's going on. But if people have to see it, they need to understand why it is the way it is whether it's tabletop or video game.
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Here's an unusual website: http://www.virtualworldlaw.com/. You can read about such things as a lawsuit over the ownership of twitter followers.
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Accumulation of victory points:

The older method tended to be, see who had the most points at the end of the game, don't accumulate points during the game. The focus was on the long term, not the short term.

In this century, short-term thinking is commonplace, and players evidently feel a need to be rewarded as they play - winning at the end is not sufficient reward (and of course, in multi-player games, most people don't win any particular game). Hence the tendency is to have a player score frequently, using the accumulated scores from the many scoring opportunities to decide who wins at the end.

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Every game has a narrative - a player's account of what happened to him and to others. Few have a story with plot, characterization, etc.
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All these egotistical dudes who think that the way they like games to work is the ONLY way, or is the way everyone likes them to work. . . I've been called an egotistical dude too, but I recognize that there are many, many ways to enjoy games, and my way is not even close to the majority nowadays.

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Tracking how "the word" gets around the Internet. This is a piece at the site of the (German) Game Designer Association, SAZ, pointing to an about.com piece that in turn points to Joe Huber's review of my book "Game Design" etc. http://www.spieleautorenzunft.de/newsreader-reports/items/tog-book-revie...

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Perhaps tabletop game designers focus more on "the journey" and less on "the destination" than video game designers, who tend to design for one player. You can't lose a video game. But most of the players in a multiplayer (more than two) tabletop game lose the game. So the designer needs to make the journey enjoyable, rather than the destination of "winning", in order to accommodate most of the players.

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I have often speculated about how well chess or Go might sell if they had not existed heretofore and were issued as games today. I think, not well at all. Quite apart from both being very "difficult" to play well, chess would be heavily criticized for being so unbalanced in favor of white, and having so many draws.

I don't see their long history and intertwining with culture as a substitute for story or theme, as some have suggested. It's simply the good luck of circumstances. Monopoly, a poor design at best, enjoys the same advantage. If it didn't exist and was issued today it would be a tremendous flop.

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Comic books might be the midpoint between RPGs that resemble novels and those that resemble tentpole (fantasy) adventure movies like Indiana Jones. Not that most comics make any attempt to be believable.

And I have to say that most video games that attempt to be photo-realistic, are actually more like comics in play because of the many accepted conventions in such games: unlimited respawning, unlimited ammo sometimes, unbelievably accurate shooting, etc.

Comments

Monopoly, yeah........

I made the same comment on MONOPOLY a week or so ago over on a thread on LINKDIN. It would never go anywhere today if it started out cold turkey [doubt you could get it funded on KICKSTARTER].

Your comment on Chess being in the same category is more interesting to me. I put together a game that would sell well with the 3 Classics - CHESS, CHECKERS, BACKGAMMON. It was actually one of the most difficult designs I ever put together - minimalism is REALLY HARD! But - it works, could easily have been around for the past 2,000 years with the others. It's also the only game I ever bothered to copyright legally [maybe I'll get lucky and somebody will steal it!].

The marketing [which I suck at abysmally] has been very interesting. I was afraid to release it when I finished it because I was concerned everybody and their brother who bundles games for a computer would include it and I would lose control of it. My hope was to push it to folks that bundle the Big 3 because it would give them an excellent way to remarket the Big 3 by adding the Big 4th.... but I couldn't figure out anybody to pitch to that would result in the same thing [I have nightmares of Chinese knockoffs that I would be powerless to stop].

Then came the iPad/APP phenomenon which I thought would be an ideal way to roll it out, but in checking out the landscape, I quickly discovered that without a VERY good AI my game would suck [at least as a solitaire game - have you checked the reviews of BACKGAMMON games?] and not go anywhere. By the time I got around to start digging into hunting down one of the really good AI guys, I found out that they are in such high demand they have their lives planned out for the next decade and I had waited too long.

*sigh*

Sometimes, timing is everything.... :-(

There's a two player abstract

There's a two player abstract game whose name I cannot recall (starts with an a I think) much recommended by people as an alternative. I recall reading the rules and looking at a sample game. But how would it do commercially? Poorly, I think. (I think it's in public domain now.)

Chess survives partly because it has been so heavily analyzed, I think. Fischer's variation of chess would put paid to all that analysis (scramble the pieces on the back row, each player has the same arrangement), and I'd think would help revive interest by people for whom all the analysis is "too much work" to keep track of. But he got nowhere with it.

AI is the killer for mobile games. I don't play them generally, but I wonder what proportion of them do not have an AI, but rely instead on playing with other people online.

Abstract games are had to market, period, chesslike or not. Which is why so many essentially abstract Eurostyle games have tacked-on atmospheres.

The name of the two player game is Arimaa.

2 player... hmmm...

I've thought about trying to release it as an APP game you can only play with another, but I was told by the few I approached that without a solitaire option I had little chance for success.

Can you suggest anyone? If you're interested, I'd be happy to email you a copy you could easily try on your own for evaluation.

Your Buddy, Chester

I don't play games on little

I don't play games on little screens, so cannot be of much help. If someone has collected some statistics on how many mobile games offer solo versions, how many P2P play against another player or players, and how many are play online against other ONLY, I don't know the source.

GOOD CALL

Hadn't thought about looking into that. If it turns out that there is significant interest in non-solo games, it would definitely be worth looking into! Thanks!

PS - I don't do video games at all. I'm all about the human interaction - but for this game, I'm convinced that INTRODUCING it via APP is the best way to go.

"My wife tells me about a

"My wife tells me about a friend whose 3 year old is spending money playing a "free to play" smartphone game. Peter Molyneuax (Fable, etc.) thinks many "whales" (big spenders on F2P gmaes) are kids. What happens when people, and smartphone controls, stop a lot of this? Hard on F2P games?"

There is a rather hillarious commercial involving a factory in China that springs to life and is going nuts creating, packaging, and shipping whatever it is they make. Then you see a 1 year old on a tablet jamming away on a "Buy Encyclopedia now" button. The narrator asks, "Do you know what your marketing is doing?".

"So given the directions of PC gaming and mobile gaming, why do people even want consoles, even if they're ultimately moneymakers for the manufacturers? I don't know."

The consumers want the exclusives. They also want to be able to play the best games without constantly upgrading their PC's. Game makers love the standardization and the established and quantifiable market.

"I understand that some first and second grade classes in some places are no longer given grades, so that we don't differentiate those who do better (for a variety of reasons) from those who do worse . . ."

You know things like this sound stupid. On the other hand, there is always a cause to these effects. People see a problem. They implement solution. Solution causes new problem, which gets a new solution. It goes round and round.

In our school systems, it is a gigantic mass of experimentation. Unfortunately, it takes years to understand the effects and it is the children at stake.

When today's kids are grown up, it will be interesting to see what they are complaining about regarding their children's school systems.

Future?

I'm rarely in a place for very long with little kids, but was last night at a company Christmas party. Many of them had smartphone-sized tablets that they were playing with - some may actually have been smartphones. Even the 20-month-old whose walk was still unsteady had her little screen to play with.

Lord knows where this is going - already people forget to interact with people face to face because they're messing with their smartphones - but it is what it is.

The new consoles are selling very well right now. Question is what sales will be a year from now.

"I'm rarely in a place for

"I'm rarely in a place for very long with little kids, but was last night at a company Christmas party. Many of them had smartphone-sized tablets that they were playing with - some may actually have been smartphones. Even the 20-month-old whose walk was still unsteady had her little screen to play with."

Do you think the smartphone has something to do with the 20 month old's unsteady walk?

My kids have had iPads since they were 6 months old(now 3.5 and 1.5 yrs) and I can't say I have noticed any developmental problems.

My 3 year old is bilingual and people often commend his speaking abilities(his precschool teachers included). He knew the alphabet, # 1-20, colors, shapes, etc at 18 months. I can't say what influence tablets have truly had on him, but if you fill them full of educational stuff it can't hurt that much.

As much as my kids love the iPads, what they really love to do is interact and play with other kids. I think the key for parents will be to ensure their kids have ample opportunity to get out and socialize.

But yeah, who knows. Machines are taking over, whatever the consequences.

Socializing is Key

I think you bring up a good point. Making sure your kids socialize is key. Many of the younger generation are having problems knowing how to interact with people face to face. Heck, even my generation is suffering from this. There is a time for tech, and there is a time to put it down.

The problem I see is when they get together with their friends, and their social interaction involves them getting out their tablets to watch each other goof off on them.

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