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» Game Design

Archive for the 'Game Design' Category

Games for a 10% Attention Span: Why this Matters

My original post last summer about Games for a 10% Attention Span generated a fair amount of complimentary feedback from friends and colleagues, but also came with a number of questions. Most of those revolved around existing titles that might fit the bill;  the rest can be summed up as “so?”

I’ll address existing titles in future posts. Today I want to talk about the relevance question, particularly from a consumer adoption standpoint. For that I’m going to turn to some research done in the mobile game sector.

Several studies were done on consumer play habits in the mobile space a few years back, by companies such as Nokia, In-Fusio and (what was then) Sorrent. At the time, many of us in the space assumed consumers played mobile games when they had no other entertainment options available:  at the bus stop, on the subway, waiting for your dentist, etc. Given the availability of cable TV, the web or an Xbox, people would turn to those instead.

What they found was very different. Of those that played mobile games:

  • About 60% played at home.
  • Average play sessions were roughly 20 minutes, with a subset exceeding that by a fair amount (in the Sorrent study, up to 2 hours).
  • Roughly a third played every day.

Now these are games built to be played in very short chunks of time, maybe five minutes, tops.  They’re typically light affairs, without a lot of depth.   So why would anyone pick them up at all when they’re at home, with more compelling experiences at their disposal?

The studies above don’t address that.  But my takeaway is that these games are:

  • Accessible:  The most accessible product is more likely to garner consumer attention, not the richest or deepest.  Mobile games are the kings of accessibility (at least, good ones are).  Shoot, every design I ever wrote for a mobile game included a section on how many key presses it would take to start playing the game, and whether you’d have to move your thumb at all during that process.
  • Commitment Friendly:  Consumers probably didn’t sit down thinking they were going to play for 20 minutes (or more).  The likely turned to the mobile game because they could get in faster and be done in a couple minutes.  They just wound up playing again and again.

Consumers were facing the friction of playing something else and went for the mobile game instead.  It may sound trivial to go find the Halo 3 disc, turn on the Xbox, turn on the TV, find the controller and/or remote, and then assume you’ll have a good 20 – 30 minutes to play, but that’s an eternity compared to a mobile game.  And in a world of media overload and scarce attention, a game that asks less of the consumer has a greater opportunity to gain traction.

Now there are other problems with how the mobile game business works.  But the premise is still sound, and it applies to any game, mobile or not.  Games with a flexible attention requirement reduce friction:  the friction to try, the friction to keep playing and the friction to come back. Less friction means more consumers will try and stay with the game.  And consumers who play longer offer more opportunities to generate revenue;  their lifetime value increases.

Next time I’ll tackle an asynchronous web game that almost – but not quite – fits the flexible attention model.

January 05 2009 | Game Design | 6 Comments »

Content Communities

I have a fairly complex social graph (or social graphs, if that’s the right way to look at it): there’s the obvious work, family, friends breakdown; but I’m also an avid photographer and I play sand volleyball four days a week. And outside of work there’s really industry, comprised of people in my field I keep in contact with on a regular basis, and not necessarily about work-related things.

A number of tools help me stay in touch with everyone: email, IM, text messaging, social networks, blogs and so forth. I can see them in person too– I run into my volleyball friends regularly on the courts, and I sometimes play board games with fellow game industry folk.

Here’s my concern: the communities I am a part of are defined by my social graph and do not map well to the structure of the web.

Take photography, for example. I have my flickr site, flickr groups, photo news sites, online stores I regularly buy gear from, photo-centric blogs and the social network pages of other photographers. Not to mention my own blog, portfolio and Facebook pages. At any one of these locations I might participate in a discussion about photography (or about anything else but with people who share a common interest in photography). Do I really need to monitor a dozen different locations to connect with other photographers, particularly when many of the same people are monitoring the same sites?

The photography community I am part of is content-centric, not location centric. It’s not well defined — the edges are very soft. I might have eight online locations in common with one photographer, but only six with another and maybe four shared between the three of us. The way the web is structured now, I have to pick a couple places and because I can only monitor so many, I’m forced to cut out a number of others. And along with that I lose a number of folks who may partly but not entirely overlap.

I’d like to see a product that treated the internet as subservient to the content communities I am a part of. Something that layered on top of the web and viewed it through a community lens: where are the people in my social graph(s), what are they talking about, how can I chat with them without having to take the conversation to one particular place. For that matter, who else is at the same site as I am, whether I know them or not, that I can talk to about this temporary, shared experience we’re both having (i.e. the news / game / video / etc we’re both looking at).

Intentionally or not, a wide range of companies are circling around this issue: site-centric mini-worlds (Lively, Rocketon), browser replacements (Flock), shared browsing experiments (Medium, BumpIn), fancy IM clients (IMVU, vSide), and so forth. Even Twitter, social networks, mashups and stuff like Delicious and Digg probably qualify. All of these products have, at best, a nice solution to a piece of the problem.

However, I suspect the reason most of those products fail to meet our larger content community needs is that they ask us to exchange our current method of social communication for something new. But in their desire to change how people interact on the web, they hamper or disregard things that already work really really well. Take Rocketon. Here’s a cool idea: avatar chat with others who are at the same web page. Visitors can even move around the page in a kind of temporary 2d space. Except they cannot interact with the page itself in any way — which was the whole reason for being were here in the first place (yes, you can toggle Rocketon off to get to the page, but then you lose the chat).

There isn’t one single way I interact with a particular community (content centric or not): I read, browse, select, chat, comment, show off, save, contribute, modify, buy, sell, etc.  What’s missing from today’s community products is a way to bring these varied interactions together around the common interest (i.e. the context) of my social graph. But I can understand why no one’s done it yet– it’s a far more difficult problem than just ditching everything and proposing a new interface paradigm.

Of course, many of these businesses aren’t even concerned with my so-called content community problem — Facebook, Delicious and smaller products like IMVU are quite successful and have no need to go in this direction. But they could be so much more if they did.

August 07 2008 | Game Design | 2 Comments »

Not Casual vs. Not Hardcore

Most of the discussion on casual and hardcore games paints a mutually exclusive picture. But casual and hardcore aren’t two ends of the same spectrum: the opposite of a casual feature is not a hardcore feature.

There are, however, things that interfere or reduce a game’s ability to be played in a casual or hardcore manner. Why define what casual/hardcore aren’t instead of what they are? Because, for example, having simple controls says nothing about a game’s ability to be played casual or hardcore (it’s useful for both), but complex controls make it difficult to be played casually. This is all relative, of course, and heavily dependent on pre-existing knowledge. Driving a manual transmission is a pretty complicated UI affair, but once you know it the experience is largely transparent and becomes a non-factor.

Things that reduce casual play:

  • Complex unfamiliar controls
  • Multiple channels of audio-visual stimulus
  • Steep (but not high) learning curve
  • Long start up to start play times
  • Long minimum play sessions
  • Inability for players of different skill levels to play together or against each other

Things that reduce hardcore play:

  • Lack of product depth
  • Lack of replayability

There’s probably a few I’m missing; I was surprised I couldn’t come up with more for the hardcore list.

How a game is played over it’s life cycle likely has an impact too. A game with a steep learning curve and complex controls would prevent it from being played casually, but once past that (and assuming no other barriers) you could conceivably play it in a casual manner. That may be particularly valuable if the product no longer has the same hold on the consumer’s attention as it did when they first got it.

August 01 2008 | Game Design | 4 Comments »