Lectures of the Technopark. Game design from idea to release
This post, as you might guess, is dedicated to game design and game development. I used to make client and browser games, including Panzar action games. At Mail.Ru Group, I’m developing mobile games. This publication was conceived by me as a kind of master class based on a speech at the Technopark, where I shared my experience in organizing the process of building a game design. Despite the fact that part of the material in this article is more relevant for large companies, I tried to take into account the features of the development of game design in small studios and novice development teams.
What is a game?
In the classics, psychologists define a game as an unproductive activity in which the process itself is much more important than its outcome. You can agree with this or not, but there is a share of common sense in this. Still, introducing any game, we primarily think about the pleasure of the gameplay, and not about achieving personal goals. From their very birth, children comprehend the world through play. In fact, this is an important part of training, it helps people and animals to master the surrounding reality. Why do we find games interesting, exciting, why do we like them? It is inherent in us that this learning process should be interesting and exciting, so that we would be happy to devote our time to it and comprehend some information about the world. I am sincerely surprised that gaming technology is so rarely used in schools.
What attributes are inherent in the game? How can we distinguish a game from any other process? First of all, learning is inherent in the game. This is one of the key characteristics. Also, the game should give the person feedback so that he receives information about what happened in the system with which he plays. There can be no game without this feedback. The process in the game is set much higher than the goal - that is, you can play solitaire, not in order to fully collect it 25 times, but for the sake of the most fun folding. For example, the mother of one of my friends every day asks her daughter to feed her lamb on the farm. Not because she needs rams, but because she just likes to play farm.
The game also has the concept of an “interface”. In computer games, everything is simple - we mean by the interface a certain environment that provides interaction between the player and the logic of the game itself - these are certain dialog boxes. On tablets, even easier. In the classical sense, if we play with physical toys, with cubes, balls, when a child tries to insert an object into a suitable hole, this is the interaction interface. That is - a kind of intermediary between the logic of the game and understanding of its process by man. When a game designer imagines how a user will see his game, this can be compared to sifting rice through a sieve. Some grains remain in the sieve, they are not sifted, and part went down. The poured is what the game designer thought, and the sifted is what the players understood and saw. That is, our own prism of perception always distorts our understanding of the gameplay. Just the other day, my colleagues and I conducted the so-called usability testing. This is an observation of the behavior of the control group of players who are not familiar with our new project. We record the movement of the eyes on the screen, the player’s actions and his emotions. The test helped us see how much a developer can be mistaken when trying to predict player behavior.
In addition to everything described, any game has rules - external instructions that limit the set of available actions. And the last attribute of any game is a certain role, an avatar, that is, what a person plays out. In life, he can be Vasya Pupkin, a fifth-level locksmith, and does a wonderful job, but in the game he is a magician and sorcerer, kills 625 lambs in the first location to farm the third level, and then go to Karazhan with the Sword of a Thousand Truths and punish everyone who gets in his way. In Japan, there is even a separate term for people who are very much accustomed to a virtual role. They conducted a study and tried to compare the mechanisms that work in the head of a person with schizophrenia and when playing computer games, and found some analogies. The player involuntarily begins to associate himself with some other personality, transfers to it those attributes that he, perhaps, would like to see at home, and this is also part of the game. Sometimes he sees himself in the role of several personalities, between whom he can mentally switch.
What does the game teach us
Firstly, we generate certain reactions to events that occur in the game. You see the corridor, it has moves to the right and left - yeah, that means you can go there. That is, some algorithms of behavior are being formed, a reaction to the environment presented in the game. The game has the so-called predetermination, that is, it teaches us logic, a clear understanding, building algorithms, modeling certain situations. A classic example given by game designers is the door. If it is not locked, there is a handle on it, then the person understands that he can go through this door. If you make a closed door without a handle nearby, this is bad. Do not want him to enter - just make a wall, and he will not enter there. After all, the player has already formed the idea that since there is a door, then you can enter it. And he will beat at the door and not understand
You can go further - make a very large beautiful cutout next to the door. It is closed, you turn the switch, and it opens. This is perceived quite easily. Another example is a car. With this word, you imagine a means of transportation, and not 100 thousand parts that are assembled together and work thanks to the laws of chemistry, physics and a bunch of other processes. No one goes deeper into the understanding of how a car works, it’s just not necessary. In games, we use the same trick - we create images with which users have some associations about their behavior and functions.
If everything was predetermined in the game, it would be very boring. Indeed, in the real world, much does not depend on us, and this is completely natural. A brick fell on someone, someone was presented with a sixth iPhone, and someone had the same iPhone bent in his pocket. Life is a series of luck and failure. Therefore, in games there should always be an element of randomness. Let's say you are a great mage and wizard of the 80th level, who knows that now he will easily kill the same Vasya Pupkin, but Vasya Pupkin is a robber, and delivers a critical blow from the back, mercilessly destroying his victim. Even the weakest player should have a small chance to defeat the strongest, and the strongest should have a chance to lose. Without an element of chance, the game will turn into chess, interesting only to a hardcore audience.
Some studies show that when a person is in a state of excitement, a mechanism that is close to religious feelings is turned on. That is, the player elevates himself above other people, as if to say: “Behold, fortune smiled at me”, nourishing his pride, for heaven, relatively speaking, today is favorable to him.
What else does the game teach? Of course, the game forms an opinion, that is, educates. There are educational games for children, and regular games can carry an educational function. But through the game, you can convey to your people your vision of the situation on some topical issues and events. What does, say, GTA V teach? You walk, you kill everyone. It’s fun. It would seem that this game teaches aggression. But practice shows that, in fact, nothing of the kind: people let go of their aggression in the game and in life begin to think even more positively. The main thing here is not to play too much, I guess.
Have you noticed that in games there is almost always a game currency? Why? It’s convenient to pay in rubles. Why did they come up with this currency? In fact, this is very important. Imagine a casino. You come there, buy chips, play. It is easy to part with a chip, but with a ruble, oh, how unpleasant it is, how to tear it from your heart. Therefore, the same trick is used in games: in-game currency acts as chips.
Many game designers believe that the player thinks something like this: “There is some service, I want to buy it. How much should I spend on her? ” Therefore, they make difficult courses so that the player does not feel unpleasant to calculate this, and he does not deal with it. In fact, only 20% of people approach the game this way, and the rest think the opposite, from the bill: “I have 200 rubles in my hands. What can I buy for them in the game? ” Understanding this nuance helps create pricing in games.
How do you imagine the money? The first association is banknotes, coins. It does not occur to you that these are just numbers. We all think, first of all, about some physical analogue of money, therefore, when we come up with prices, we take real pieces of paper 10 rubles, 50 rubles, 100 rubles - after which we add some fluctuations regarding these amounts. The maximum prices we have reached three thousand rubles. Why three, not five, because now it is the largest bill? Approximately so much the average family spends when purchased in Auchan for a week. If in Auchan he is not ready to leave more, then he is unlikely to spend significant amounts in the game. Therefore, we often classify our paying players into these bills.
What is game design?
Of course, we think that we are engaged in creativity, we create worlds and heroes, but in fact we are sitting in a pile of documents, formulas, in mathematics, and constantly inventing and calculating something. One of the most important tasks of a game designer is to see the whole picture. Usually it’s very difficult, because people are used to crushing everything into parts and evaluating them individually, and then putting it back together into one whole is quite difficult.
What are close, similar professions that are often confused with game design? Content manager - a person who comes up with quests, enters data in the admin panel, writes texts, etc. A wonderful profession, a game designer is very closely connected with it, often even deals with it himself, but this is not a game designer. There is a level designer - this is a person who collects labyrinths and dungeons from pieces, creates beautiful maps on which there are a huge number of mobs to make the player live harder, and everything in his life was bad. This is also not a game designer. There are usability experts and graphic designers - those who come up with and draw interfaces. When you see that the button is completely uncomfortable - say “thank you” to them. There are programmers of various scripting languages and databases who also work closely with the game designer, they constantly help him fill the game with content, come up with the behavior of various creatures in the game, calculate the balance, but this is also not a game design. There are screenwriters who come up with an awesome story so that it clings to emotions and drive. Yes, the game designer is involved in all of this, but this is also a little bit wrong.
What then is game design and what does the representative of this profession do? No matter how much I want to say this, one of the most important things for a game designer is mathematics. Of course, this is not a mathematical analysis used to torture university students, but anyway, to calculate a simple battle of two characters is already a system of differential equations. Characters have only two characteristics that can be reduced to everything: attack and health. If we say that a character delivers a critical strike that doubles the attack with a 50% chance, this is the same as his equivalent attack an average of 150% more. Or for example, if he has an absorption shield that reduces all incoming damage by half, it just means that the character has twice as much equivalent health. But, in fact, the trick is that this can be simplified. So the character has only one characteristic - this is power. From which all others can be deduced. Yes, game designers invented all sorts of systems like SPECIAL (strength, perception, endurance, etc.), DnD-based systems for calculating characteristics, a bunch of stats and parameters, but power is always at the core. In World of Warcraft, this parameter is called conditionally item level, from which the characteristics on items, then on the characters, are calculated.
If we have mastered mathematics, then the next discipline that needs to be known and applied is psychology. If we do not understand how our player thinks, it will be difficult to make a game that he likes. Therefore, we must know at least the basics of psychology. In addition to psychology, of course, one can note logic, abstract thinking, fantasy and much more. In particular, competent written language. It is logical that if a game designer does not have imagination, then inventing something new will be difficult.
Once a colleague asked me: “Can you come up with a new game until the evening?” - “Yes, good. Let there be elves, let the elves have ears - everything, the game is ready. " This is practically the work of a game designer. We come to the leader and say: “So be it,” he says: “Good. Now prove it, ”and we sit down, write a 30-page tract that proves why elves should have ears, weave statistics, market analysis and much more so that they believe - yes, elves' ears are what they will do The project is interesting for the target audience.
If you know programming, this will be a plus, because all tasks on a project usually come from a game designer. Not from the project manager and not from the leader, for the most part they are in control. But what exactly to do in each specific feature is usually decided by the game designer, because no one can better understand how to develop this feature. By a feature, I mean any particular element of the game - say, a resource system, craft, craft, game tasks. If you know Russian and English well, this will also be a big plus, since you will have to write and read technical documentation. Most often it will be necessary to read in English, almost all books on game design are written on it. It would be useful to have experience in usability and interface design, game designers also periodically do this. If you are a good manager and able to organize the work of the team, this is also a big plus. Game designers who are desperate in life and realize that their imagination has dried up usually go to producers, PMs or executives. Although I’ll say from my own experience that the producer is paid less, it’s better to go to game designers. Marketing and production is also understandable. If you do not know how to sell your product, then it will be harder to do.
Game development start
The very first and most important point is to understand if you need to make a game at all. Maybe you should not bother? Why are we even making games? Usually, we spend a month to answer this question. This is a very difficult question, because we need to understand what goals we want to achieve as a result, how much we will spend on it, how much we will earn on it, what are the terms. Let's say you can go up to your leader, offer a game and say: “It will be done for three years”, he will say: “Okay, good. Here you are three years old, here are people for you, ”but at the same time he will say:“ In three years she should earn $ 10 million a month. ” If this does not happen, then there’s no point in taking it. ” If you tell him that you will make the game in half a year, then it should earn two million dollars a month, conditionally.
Suppose we still understand - yes, we want to make a game. Now we need to come up with an idea - what kind of game are we doing? Maybe we want to make a small farm, because we saw how farms bring big money and believe in them. Maybe we want to make a card butler or a collectible like HearthStone - easily. Here the method that came up with Edward de Bono helps us; it is called Six Hats of Thinking. He has books about the so-called lateral shifts, and this is one of the most interesting methods. What does it consist of? We ourselves invent six hats and put them in our imagination on the heads of all participants in the discussion. The essence of the method is that all participants think in one direction and do not compete, defending their ideas. There is one participant with a blue hat - the one who controls the process. He doesn't interfere, he doesn't think
Then we put on, say, white - this is a hat of ideas. We all need to generate ideas. Let there be a game about the Kremlin, where cockroaches crawl and kill seals — they recorded it. Whatever delusional thought is, we record everything. Let the White House begin to sell mushrooms - recorded. So, we came up with the craziest ideas, wrote down a huge pile of nonsense on a piece of paper - together we take off our white hat. Now we think what we want next. Maybe we want emotions? Maybe we want to argue with each other? We put on a red hat, and begin to discuss our ideas, give vent to emotional impulses. Swore, steam released - take off our red hat.
Next, we want logic to analyze our ideas. We put on the next hat. Then you need to weed out all unnecessary ideas, put on another hat. That is, the essence of this method is to clearly separate the processes of thinking, in no case do not confuse the generation of ideas and criticism at the same time, because if one person proposes an idea and another criticizes it immediately, the conflict begins.
Suppose we came up with the idea of a game. By the way, now I am developing a new mobile game combining card mechanics and a strategic component. From the perspective of major publishers, $ 200 million a year is not that much money. Say, the same World of Warcraft brings about $ 1.5 billion a year for 10 years. By the way, he took fourth place in the world according to the results of 2013 in terms of revenue before expenses and taxation. In 2014, League of Legends was actively crowding him, but among the classic MMORPGs, Warcraft still leads in revenue. I wonder what the picture will be for 2015. In 2013, GTA V came in first - more than $ 2 billion, but we consider its success, realizing that the game was sold once, and that’s all. Yes, then the PC version, maybe add-ons,
When we decide what kind of games we want to make and how many there will be, we are guided by a very simple logic: how many game designers have in our team who can pull this project? How many studio managers do we have? If this person makes a game that will bring in 200 million, will it be good for us? Maybe we can make a game that will bring 500 million? Yes, this is good money, and the difference may not be that big, but our goal is to get the maximum. If we do not set very high goals, then we will not get an average result. To make $ 200 million, we need to aim for a billion. Every time we develop a new project, we must greatly raise the bar. Therefore, to get HearthStone, you need to plan for Warcraft. HearthStone itself is an interesting game, because at first there were only 12 people in the team, and by the end there were 32. Compared to the Allods Team studio or the development team of the same WoW, or other projects, 30 people are a very small, “chamber” team, and it’s really inexpensive to maintain one year of development. In this regard, the costs of developing HearthStone were very small, because, say, they took all the art that they have on their cards from their own board card game, saving a lot of money.
So, we have an idea, we won it in our head. Next comes the turn of the concept.
Read more about the concept
The goal of this stage is to form a vision, a concept document, where we will fully state all the information about our game. This will be brief enough, in general terms, much will change later, because we do not work out specific features. There is no content, no formulas, nothing, this is exactly the vision of how our project is presented to us. What is a concept document, what are its main sections, and why is it so cool? I must say about terminology. In Western literature, what we call vision or concept is commonly called a design document. In Russian-language articles, a dzdock is often called a description of a specific feature or game mechanics. A concept document is written in order to understand what our game is. The very first thing in the concept is, oddly enough, to write a distribution platform. Everything depends on it. One thing when you create colossal AAA-class client projects, the other is when you make a small mobile phone. Different budgets, different teams, different specialists, so it all starts with choosing a platform.
What are the distribution platforms for games? Browser games, consoles, PC offline and online games. There are still social games, that is, we highlight the social network as a separate distribution platform. After choosing a platform, we select a genre. Also a very important point. If you do an action where there will be blood, mochilovo, hack, then something tells me that playing on a small mobile screen will be difficult to play. Maybe we will make more money if we make a farm or a logic game for a mobile phone - here, too, our own standards. Recently, the boundaries of genres have become very blurred. And now we often call not a genre, but combinations or key mechanics.
The choice of setting greatly affects the success of the game. We conducted a study on a wide audience of the Mail.Ru Group Games, about 50 million people, and obtained very interesting results. I always sincerely believed that the most popular setting is fantasy, because there are many fantasy-style games. It turned out nothing like that. The most popular setting was jailbreak, and it has the greatest popularity among the female audience. This was a double shock for us. Why is that? There is an assumption that a person in a metropolis feels small and insignificant, feels as if in a prison, surrounded by other people, trying to somehow break out of this. And maybe that’s why he impresses the hero who escaped from prison, tore off his shackles and became free. How it really is, I don’t know. However, we must take advantage of this. In second place was the Second World War and various fantasy settings. The most unpopular are the heroes of the Marvell comics. In principle, it is logical. Since the age range of the audience is very wide, the comic book culture has not yet covered most of it. We associate the popularity of tanks not only with love for the setting itself, but also with the influence of large titles that have been popular lately. Anime turned out to be unpopular. Again, this is a foreign culture that is not close to the middle and older age categories. If you take only those under the age of 18, then the popularity of anime increases dramatically to 30%. The unpopular settings were also Western and Stone Age, and for all categories of users. People do not want to live in caves. is logical. Since the age range of the audience is very wide, the comic book culture has not yet covered most of it. We associate the popularity of tanks not only with love for the setting itself, but also with the influence of large titles that have been popular lately. Anime turned out to be unpopular. Again, this is a foreign culture that is not close to the middle and older age categories. If you take only those under the age of 18, then the popularity of anime increases dramatically to 30%. The unpopular settings were also Western and Stone Age, and for all categories of users. People do not want to live in caves. is logical. Since the age range of the audience is very wide, the comic book culture has not yet covered most of it. We associate the popularity of tanks not only with love for the setting itself, but also with the influence of large titles that have been popular lately. Anime turned out to be unpopular. Again, this is a foreign culture that is not close to the middle and older age categories. If you take only those under the age of 18, then the popularity of anime increases dramatically to 30%. The unpopular settings were also Western and Stone Age, and for all categories of users. People do not want to live in caves. Anime turned out to be unpopular. Again, this is a foreign culture that is not close to the middle and older age categories. If you take only those under the age of 18, then the popularity of anime increases dramatically to 30%. The unpopular settings were also Western and Stone Age, and for all categories of users. People do not want to live in caves. Anime turned out to be unpopular. Again, this is a foreign culture that is not close to the middle and older age categories. If you take only those under the age of 18, then the popularity of anime increases dramatically to 30%. The unpopular settings were also Western and Stone Age, and for all categories of users. People do not want to live in caves.
What are our conclusions? If we take a toy in a popular setting, then, it would seem, we will get a wider audience. But there is very strong competition. It is important to remember that when making games, we focus not on the entire spectrum of the audience, but rather on solvent players. We are doing business. Therefore, we are forced to give people entertainment so that they play with us and slowly pay. This is a crude analogy, but it is. When we eliminated everyone who is not ready to pay, we saw that those same elves and orcs had risen sharply up to first place. This explains why everyone around makes games in a fantasy setting. A paying audience that brings in basic money loves elves, orcs, and fantasy. The Second World War kept the second place only with a very wide margin. That is, tankers also pay money.
When we decided on the genre of setting, we move on to the most important thing - USP (unique selling points) or, in Russian, unique trading offers. This is a definition of how your game is different from others. If you cannot answer this question, then you cannot force the consumer to answer. If a person does not understand why he should play a WoW clone, then he will play the original game.
When we formulated the first three points of the concept, we answer questions about the target audience and the target market. Small studios, medium-sized studios, individual development teams can say: “Our target market is Russia,” or the States, and that will be right and good. Corporations of the Mail.Ru Group, Blizzard, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft level can never say this, otherwise they will simply go bankrupt - too much money is invested in development. We must say: "Our target market is the whole world." We have no other options. Of course, here I exaggerate, and we always highlight the key region under which we orient the game.
When we have chosen the target audience and the market, we move on to core-gameplay. This is what the game is all about - the basic gameplay. There are games in which there is only core-gameplay, and nothing more: no content, no graphics, no sounds, no features. For example, Tetris: you roll cubes, and everything is great, this is one of the most popular games in the world. When we have decided what our game is, we can evaluate the terms of its development and the investments that we must make. First of all, this is necessary so that we think about payback, lower costs, so that the game becomes cheaper and faster in development. Sometimes technical aspects are recorded in a concept document, say, a selected engine. Because you need to understand that it will cost something - either royalties or money, respectively, you need specialists who can work with the engine, and this is also taken into account. Finally, the last point is a risk assessment. To do this, there are proven methods such as SWOT analysis, which allow you to make simple estimates. But in general, this is the work of a good manager whose tools are far superior to SWOT.
When we painted the concept, we must answer the question why we take this game to development. This is the question of whether a lot or a little 200 million dollars in profit per year. Yes, this is a lot, but if we could earn 500 million, then at this moment we should think about which game to choose in order to get the maximum profit. Sometimes we can create a prototype, spend three to four months of work, and then give up the game, because in the end we realized that we would not get the money that we would like to get. The task, in fact, is very difficult, because from the height of time we can always evaluate which project was successful and which was not. Yes, now everyone can say that "If I then launched Warcraft, then I would have become rich." In fact, if instead of Warcraft and its fantasy setting, they started a game about gnomes in the same quality, like Warcraft, they would have earned the same money. That is, the point is not in the setting, not in the idea, not even in that wonderful world that is implemented in the game. It was just a new trend in quality. All games did not reach the quality of WoW, and I do not mean graphics. And then no one could understand this, not even Blizzard themselves. Now all game designers are saying: "Well, if only ...". It is always difficult to predict what will happen in a year, even in half a year, in three months, and our task is to understand what kind of product the market will need in the years when we finish development. even Blizzard themselves. Now all game designers are saying: "Well, if only ...". It is always difficult to predict what will happen in a year, even in half a year, in three months, and our task is to understand what kind of product the market will need in the years when we finish development. even Blizzard themselves. Now all game designers are saying: "Well, if only ...". It is always difficult to predict what will happen in a year, even in half a year, in three months, and our task is to understand what kind of product the market will need in the years when we finish development.
Then we give our colleagues and management our product for evaluation. We look at how they react. Sometimes they pounce on us, try to beat us, so game designers are better off going to the rocking chair or boxing, and also stacked in flocks.
Then we create a prototype of the game. The goal is very simple - to understand whether it will be interesting for us to play or not, does the game catch something, start it up somehow, bring emotions? Errors are made in the prototype, interfaces are draft-level, test graphics. The prototype is distinguished by an absolute minimum of content: no more than necessary for the test. The most important thing at this stage is to choose the main elements that we want to check, to understand what is really important in the game. In HearthStone, the important thing is not so much the logic of the cards and their abilities, not the art, not even the design. First of all, this is game mechanics - a battle of disc cards with small numbers that are easy to count in your mind. In the first HearthStone prototype, a battle of a fixed set of cards without abilities and animations with one single hero is enough. This is enough to understand if there can be a game. Next, we add visual effects to the prototype: a beautiful start to the game, map animations, a couple of abilities. This produces the so-called wow-effect, and on its wave the player wants to further understand the logic. If the audience is more hardcore, she may not need it, she can immediately understand whether an interesting game or not. But since we focus on a wide audience, we are always forced to take into account the tastes and behavior of casuals. The share of hardcore players is about 5%, midcore players are usually up to 15%, the rest are casuals, 80% of players. you are always forced to consider the tastes and behavior of casuals. The share of hardcore players is about 5%, midcore players are usually up to 15%, the rest are casuals, 80% of players. you are always forced to consider the tastes and behavior of casuals. The share of hardcore players is about 5%, midcore players are usually up to 15%, the rest are casuals, 80% of players.
I work in the Mini-Games studio at Mail.Ru Group, we have a large audience. There are many more who play billiards and poker than those who play Warcraft and even farms. For example, in Odnoklassniki there is a toy “Find a Cat”, it brings a lot of money. People are looking for cats in a variety of photos, and this simple gameplay brings more profit than many projects with multi-million development budgets. Games that have been made over the years that have spent millions of dollars can be unsuccessful. Yes, they are interesting for us, for specific game designers who invented them, but not for a wide audience. The first mistake of a game designer is to believe that if the game he invented is interesting to him and his friends, then it will be interesting to a wide paying audience. Casual players pay well for appearance, for appearance. Among hardcore and midcore players, the purchase of strength (advantages over other players) is more popular. In second place for them is the sale of time, in third - visualization. It sells well to the so-called social workers. However, the average casual check is usually lower than that of a hardcore worker. Despite this, there are many casuals, and you can earn money from them. Now commercially successful projects often do not focus on only one market segment. The same Clash of Clans may be of interest to both casual and midcore players. Moreover, he himself gradually makes the audience playing him more hardcore, deepens her understanding of game mechanics. than a hardcore worker. Despite this, there are many casuals, and you can earn money from them. Now commercially successful projects often do not focus on only one market segment. The same Clash of Clans may be of interest to both casual and midcore players. Moreover, he himself gradually makes the audience playing him more hardcore, deepens her understanding of game mechanics. than a hardcore worker. Despite this, there are many casuals, and you can earn money from them. Now commercially successful projects often do not focus on only one market segment. The same Clash of Clans may be of interest to both casual and midcore players. Moreover, he himself gradually makes the audience playing him more hardcore, deepens her understanding of game mechanics.
What methods do we have to correctly understand, evaluate and coordinate our work? Three approaches are usually distinguished. The first is authoritarian, when there is a certain leader who says: “I have a lot of life experience, I know how to do it.” Most often it happens. The second approach is when there is an expert circle. We at Mail.Ru Group often gather all the leading game design studios, literally 10 people, and give them a new game, offer an idea for trial. They read a document or play a prototype and express their opinions on various points. This is a general expert opinion on the project. But the perception of game designers is so "perverted" that their opinion cannot be considered key in the assessment of the project: the attitude of ordinary users to the game can be diametrically opposite. Therefore, the third point is analytics.
To test the hypothesis that the developer’s eye is blurred, we conducted surveys on the desired game features and the choice of art style for a mobile game. The opinion of experts, all employees of the company and just the players diverged. Do not rely on authorities thoughtlessly - they will not bring money to your game. However, this does not diminish the benefits of collecting expert opinions. It’s just not enough to see the whole picture.
The goal of this stage is to prove that the work is going in the right direction, that there is a game in what we do. In contrast to the prototype, in a vertical section we evaluate not one feature or core mechanics that interests us, but a whole range of game features that will form the basis of our game in the future. This is usually three to four months after the prototype. We must collect some working version of the game. Most often, this is one location in an MMO or a limited number of radishes on a farm. You have a radish, but no cabbage - this is Vertical-Slice, when there is very little content, there are only basic core-mechanics and basic core-features around it. No additional strapping.
Friends & Family / Alpha
At this stage, the game already has enough content to test, there are all the main features. Maybe they are not fully developed, not worked out, but the project no longer has critical bugs, you can play it, you can show it not only inside the studio. The purpose of this stage is to see the reaction of the public, to see logical errors, that is, errors by game designers.
Open beta test
Here we eliminate all the errors found. This is a kind of polishing of the game, when we opened it to a wide audience, everyone can go in, register, but the main traffic is not going on yet. The game has almost completely worked out all the content that we planned to introduce at the start. We look at the reaction of a wide audience, how our equipment copes with the load, how the social infrastructure functions - groups in social networks, forums, that is, everything that surrounds our game. And of course, the commemoration of this stage is the connection of billing. That is, you can accept money from people. And it’s important to check how our monetization works.
The last stage, when we release the game in almost free swimming. The only goal is to make money. The main thing at the release stage is to let the maximum possible number of players into the game so that it can then be monetized. Here, the game designer is more concerned with analytics and content, and less with the development of new features. It is accepted that in the first three months of work, the game should reach a normal estimated income. If this did not happen, then something in the game design was probably wrong: either the game is not monetized, or it is not interesting to the audience, or something else.
What are the three main tasks a game designer solves when he goes through the steps described? The first task is attraction. If you don’t know how to flood your game with traffic, thousands of people who came on banners with cats, then there is no point in doing it. Yes, kitty banners work well. There was an effective banner that I saw, however, it was quickly removed - there is a girl, behind her a sawmill and the slogan: "I will give you at the fifth level." People go, the reception works - but not everyone loves such banners.
How to attract people? Answering this question, we always start with USP - a unique selling proposition. Something must hook people. Often, a brand or setting of a game can pass for a USP. If you make a game in the setting of “Game of Thrones”, “Lord of the Rings” or Star Wars, then this will give the initial boost to the audience, because many people know these words. It is quite effective. But it’s worth understanding that for the same “Game of Thrones” you will have to give about 30% of the income to the copyright holder, and is it worth it to get involved in this? In addition, they will want to coordinate changes in the game, and you will have to butt them for a very long time, because the copyright holder dictates his conditions, trying to maintain the setting rules.
The next point in attraction is virality when the game is carried by word of mouth. At launch, the World of Tanks game had a fairly limited advertising campaign, marketing was very weak, and people started playing just talking to each other. Word of mouth gave her a huge audience. And only when they got money a few years later, they began to flood the Internet, metro and television with their ads. Why did this game shoot? Because she hooked the audience that had never played. Let's say World of Warcraft tried to go down, hook children, render it, simplify it, so that people from a new generation came to them. Buying new players was very expensive, and Blizzard decided to cut a new layer of the audience. New generations of gamers are growing. Let's simplify the project so that these generations come to us. World of Tanks went the other way - they hooked a senior audience. Those who sit on shifts and keep watch: oil workers, gas workers, old military men, tankers. They have a major paying audience over 40 years old. Now people are leaving the Tanks, their income is falling, but these people have already played games once. What will be next? Won't they play anymore? We cannot allow this to happen, so new military simulators are being created that really want to pick up the audience that is leaving the Tanks. We also understand that tanks are not popular everywhere in the world. Europe gives good incomes, Russia gives wonderful ones, but America and Asia do not bring anything at all. The Americans say: “In this game, donation, not subscription. What are you? We will not play it. There are Russians, it’s very difficult there, they are killing us. How can you play there? ” The setting played a key role here: they don’t understand tanks, they don’t have the historical and cultural background that we have. Europeans say: “Oh, my great-grandfather fought” or “My friend still fought.” We have the same. In America and Asia, no one fought, they do not know this, so tanks bring nothing there.
In fact, in engaging you can talk not only about the fact that we are taking a new audience, but also returning those who have already played before. For such old projects as Allods Online, Perfect World or Warcraft itself, this is very effective, because a lot of people went through these games, returning them cheaply enough. One new WoW player costs about 700 rubles, and a returned player costs less than 100 rubles. Therefore, it makes sense to work to bring back the old audience. This largely explains the theme of the next WoW update: they are trying to bring back an audience that left the project earlier.
All these processes are described mathematically by the coefficients of attraction and return. Attraction coefficient equal to unity means that one active player in the project brought another player, not necessarily active, at least registered. Thus, social networks are gaining their large audience. Similarly, with a return coefficient: what percentage of players relative to an active audience we managed to return to a unit of time, we usually consider per month.
This is the effectiveness of user actions. Let's say the conversion to registration shows what proportion of people who visited the site are registered. That is, a conversion to registration 10% says that out of 100 visitors, 10 registered. After registration, there are many other conversions - account activation (if any), downloading a client (if any), “game one” conversion (played the game for the first time), then “Effective registration” (entered the game on the second day), and so on. Then the conversion into an active player, that is, constantly goes in, and finally, the conversion into a payer, our favorite, made money. The active player who pays plays much more and longer. Because if a person has spent money on the game, it is psychologically harder to leave it, payers are always more loyal to the audience.
In addition to attracting, it is important for us to be able to keep the audience, and here everything is quite complicated. This is the main task of the game designer. If marketers and producers helped us in attracting, then here we mainly think for ourselves. If the game does not have addictive gameplay, then nothing will save it. If your game has turned out strange, but funny - they will play it. If it turned out with very beautiful graphics, but dull, then no matter how hard you try, whatever daily quests you come up with, the player will leave anyway, because he is bored.
Also in the game there must be replayability, that is, the ability of the player to replay the same content. Unfortunately, the content "burns out" very quickly, especially for hardcore players who have mastered the "absorption" of content well. If the game has carrots, they should be able to plant this carrot 20 times in a row and earn more. If the game has dungeons or locations, players must be able to go through this dungeon again and again. Without replayability, the game loses retention very much. Retention is the mathematical parameter that is responsible for retention, that is, a measure of retention efficiency. It is calculated as the percentage of the audience at the end of the month relative to the audience that was at the beginning of the month, with the exception of the new one brought from advertising. For example, if we had 100 people in the game at the beginning of the month, 40 left and 60 remained, then retention is 60%. Is this good or bad? It would seem that 40% lost - terribly! Actually, this is very good. 60% is the average good indicator in the market for client games.
In the mobile segment, everything is much worse, it’s not easy to consider retention there even for a month, it becomes less than 10%. People open their cell phones, watch, play and leave immediately. In one mobile game, another, third - games change too quickly. And this is a very big problem that we create for ourselves in the gaming industry. What do some reputable big tops think? There is a game, let's make another clone game, and it will repeat the success. Accordingly, some kind of audience will go to us, we will receive part of the money, everything will be cool. There are more and more games, the quality is getting lower, the market is oversaturated and the audience is diversified: people run from product to product and are constantly unsatisfied, not a single game fully meets their requirements.
Therefore, we ourselves are driving ourselves into such a situation that sooner or later the games will stop working - and this has already begun. Offline games are leaving, due to the fact of offline. Browsers filled the market. But they also become uninteresting for developers. Social programs are becoming less interesting to large companies in terms of income. Finally, the mobile market. He has a huge audience and great development potential. We are now actively working in the direction of the mobile market, because it allows you to accommodate a very large number of games, and our technique continues to work. But we understand that 5-10 years will pass, and the same market will overtake the mobile market - there will be so many games that it will be uninteresting.
Remember some social games. Remember there was a boom? Now people are throwing social games. At the beginning, the graphics there were weak, the quality of the games was lower, but they could be more interesting due to the fact that there were few of them, there was a certain variety. There are so many social games now that they are all alike, and there is nothing left to choose: new projects are buried in a vast sea of similar products. However, there are projects that are still working. Say, the game "Tyuryaga" from the studio "Kefir" still brings good money for a studio of its scale. But if we try to enter this market again, to make our own clone of "Tyuryag", it will not bring such profit.
What else increases retention besides replay value? Release Updates. This is a very dangerous moment. Imagine just a game and a game with an addon. These are, in fact, two different games. If you changed the mechanics, the logic of the game, then these are already different products. Yes, they are both called Warcraft, but one of them was Wrath of the Lich King, the other Mists of Pandaria. And the audience who loved to play Lich King, not necessarily fall in love with Mists of Pandaria. Game mechanics have changed, they have become more casual, this game is no longer interesting. Therefore, from the point of view of updates, there is always a simple solution - let's introduce only new content. It always keeps the audience safe enough. Want to change game mechanics? Open a new game. There was Lineage, it became Lineage II - please, no one bothers. If you see problems in the game logic, Be extremely careful when changing a mechanic. Try to answer the question: "Has your mistake in the game logic of features that has been holding many players in the game?"
And the last way is retention due to operation. When producers come up with marketing campaigns, events, marathons, all this works very positively on hold. In fact, in addition to retention, here you can also say about the parameter lifetime (the average life time of a player in a project), but it is calculated as a consequence of retention.
We talked about three key tasks of a game designer: attracting, retaining, monetizing players. However, one must remember that monetization happens both from the point of view of the developer (game designer) and from the point of view of the operator (producer). The developer comes up with how to make money, and the producer - how to increase it. A good producer can triple the average daily income of a project with his shares. The key parameter that we highlight during monetization is ARPPU (Average Revenue Per Paying User), the average income from one payer per month. Having collected the described values from the project statistics, one can fully predict its development in the near future. It is clear that the longer we make a forecast, the less accuracy. But at least three months in advance, we can forecast quite stably. What will happen in six months or a year is harder to say. Many projects show high conversions and monetization characteristics at the start, generating good revenue. Nevertheless, in six months they may lose a significant share of the audience and squander in income due to the lack of development of Hi-End Content, that is, the lack of activity for high-level players. Another popular reason for the gradual decline in the financial performance of many projects is the lack of protection from bots and cheating programs, whose malicious activity can have a significant impact on the gaming economy, balance and, as a result, the size of the audience and its motivation to make payments. As a result, we can get a wonderful, good project, but there will be little money in it. You must understand that the mathematical prediction of such situations and the analysis of their impact on the game is not only possible,
The famous psychologist Richard Alan Bartle in his book Designing virtual worlds described a model for segmenting players by psychological types. He proposed several options for dividing, but we will consider a basic one, consisting of four psychotypes, since it is he who is most often used in practice when developing game products. Bartle’s segmentation system was based on a scale of interests. He set aside two axes on it: from action to interaction and from the world to players. The type of player acting on other players was named Killer. The name was fixed due to the fact that Bartle formed his model in relation to multi-player worlds, one of the components of which was the battle between players (PvP). In games where there is no PvP, this psychotype will also be present. He appreciates passion and competition. His motive is superiority over other players, a sense of coolness and dominance. Killers in this regard are a rather dangerous audience: everyone does not like them. As a rule, they are few: no more than 10%, but they pay the most. They are willing to pay for their iPhone to be two centimeters longer.
The second group is formed by players acting on the world - these are Careerists. These are the players who most of all love to save wealth, resources, wealth. As a rule, this is the largest group, and its representatives occupy up to 40% of the total project audience. The exact number depends on the particular game and can vary greatly for different genres. Careerists love to feel that they are rich, love to show off their wealth. And wealth is not necessarily money, resources, it can be anything: “I have the most carrots”, “My farm is the largest.”
Those who engage in interaction with the world are conditionally called Researchers. If Killers are the least, and Careerists the most, then the Researchers are somewhere in between. Their share in the project often amounts to 30% of the total audience. Researchers are interesting in that they value skills and knowledge the most. The content they will learn is important to them. They are demanding on a variety of graphics, locations, the presence of Easter eggs, secrets - something that could attract attention in the game. The audience is very gracious and grateful, because it has the maximum retention, is very well held by the project, but only as long as there is something to explore. If the game no longer provides such opportunities, the explorers are slowly starting to whine, saying that before the grass was greener and the sky bluer, and everything was better. Researchers are hard enough to get into a project
The last fourth group - those who are involved in interacting with players, are Socialists. They like to chat, engage in guild activities, interact in every possible way with each other and with representatives of other psychotypes. It must be understood that no player will ever clearly fall under one of these groups. We say that most of the time a player often manifests himself in one of these roles. We establish the weight of each psychotype in the player’s behavior. For example, a player is 42% Researcher, 23% Killer, 25% Careerist and 10% Socialist. This means that 42% of the time the player showed himself as a Researcher, engaging in their inherent activities.
One of the key goals of audience segmentation by psychotype is to maximize player retention in the project. It is based on building the right model of relationships between representatives of various psychotypes and building a balance in the relationship between them. For example, Killers are the most aggressive; everyone else does not like them. Most social killers do not like killers, they simply can’t understand: “I came to chat in the chat. Why are they killing me, for what? ” Killers also do not like Socialists: “What are they interfering here? Why do they even exist? ” Since Killers create some kind of conflict, we must always separate them from other players. How to do it? Yes, it’s easy - we create battlefields, arenas, battlegrounds. Move them beyond, let them kill each other, and everything will be fine. Killers are calm about killing each other as part of a competition, but exactly until they start losing more often than winning. Then it becomes uninteresting to them, because their dignity is wounded, and we must periodically throw killers to a weaker enemy. To do this, we come up with different rating systems. There is an Elo system in chess, we use it in our games. As soon as a player begins to grow, often kill, his rating grows. Strong opponents like him begin to meet him, which evens out his chances of winning. The higher he moves, the stronger the enemies and the less chance of victory. And vice versa: the often losing Killer will begin to be reduced to PvP with a weaker opponent, who also often lost. and we must periodically plant killers of a weaker enemy. To do this, we come up with different rating systems. There is an Elo system in chess, we use it in our games. As soon as a player begins to grow, often kill, his rating grows. Strong opponents like him begin to meet him, which evens out his chances of winning. The higher he moves, the stronger the enemies and the less chance of victory. And vice versa: the often losing Killer will begin to be reduced to PvP with a weaker opponent, who also often lost. and we must periodically plant killers of a weaker enemy. To do this, we come up with different rating systems. There is an Elo system in chess, we use it in our games. As soon as a player begins to grow, often kill, his rating grows. Strong opponents like him begin to meet him, which evens out his chances of winning. The higher he moves, the stronger the enemies and the less chance of victory. And vice versa: the often losing Killer will begin to be reduced to PvP with a weaker opponent, who also often lost. The higher he moves, the stronger the enemies and the less chance of victory. And vice versa: the often losing Killer will begin to be reduced to PvP with a weaker opponent, who also often lost. The higher he moves, the stronger the enemies and the less chance of victory. And vice versa: the often losing Killer will begin to be reduced to PvP with a weaker opponent, who also often lost.
Careerists do not like Killer because they prevent them from developing. They rob them of their main resource - time. Killers love Careerists because killing them is usually easy, but the victim is resisting. Researchers are neutral to Killers, consider them to be disappointed in life by Researchers. Killers try to avoid the Researchers, because very often due to their understanding of game mechanics they can defeat Killer. How is it that some kind of “non-killer” who never defeated anyone with his skills in PvP took and killed me? It's not fair, it's wrong. He knows the game better, but this cannot be explained to Killer, he does not want to understand it. Therefore, we try not to bring them together. Careerists often consider Researchers as losers, unable to earn money, but value them for their accumulated knowledge if the Researcher shares with them. The Researcher sees in the Careerist another young Researcher, if he is inexperienced, or a huckster who is unpleasant to deal with. The researcher knows which raid is the most effective, which carrot is longer, and therefore Careerists are constantly trying to find out from them information that they like to share, thereby showing how smart they are.
How do Social Workers interact with Killers? Very negative. This is one of the strongest negative connections. Social workers with Careerists are a great relationship because Careerists show off their achievements to them. If the Careerist does not boast, the day will be spent in vain. And the Social Worker will then dissolve, tell his friends: “Listen, you know, he bought the sixth iPhone, he probably owns the oil business from his dad. Here is the asshole! ” The Researcher and the Socialist is also a good connection, because the Researcher tells the Socialist about all his actions, and in his eyes thus increases his own significance. The most ideal connection is Socialist and Socialist. They do not need anyone: here they communicate, everything is fine, the game was a success. Therefore, we always bring chat, a means of communication, a guild to a public place. Everywhere there has to be a chat, so that Socialists easily find each other and interact with others. For Researchers, we always complicate things, otherwise they will not be interested. They need large open spaces, difficulties, labyrinths and so on. And finally, for the Careerists we make an abundance of content: a lot of resources, money, development, achievements, what can be measured. The more mounts, pets, and so on in the game, the longer the Careerist will play with you.
Game Designer Education
I can hardly recommend a single book in Russian, except perhaps Edward de Bono “Lateral Thinking”. In English: Richard A. Bartle, Designing Virtual Worlds, A Book of Lenses, The Theory of Fun, David Perry on Game Design, and many others. The problem is that the closest higher education in game design to us was available in Helsinki, so there are not so many books in Russian. Since November 2014, the first state education in Russia in the field of game development and operation at the Higher School of Economics (HSE) has started. One-year evening education is considered as continuing education for students. Program: "Management of gaming Internet projects", they teach game design, monetization, marketing and so on. If you want, you can go to learn from the intensives of RealTime: study for several days in a row from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. eat there, and get a powerful stream of information. Scream School is, on the contrary, a format stretched for a longer period. Technopark and the Technosphere of Mail.Ru Group have the potential to learn how to develop games. Perhaps in the future we will see seminars on game design at MSTU and Moscow State University.
How are Game Designers Distributed by Games and Games by Games Designers in Mail.Ru Group?
When determining the number of projects under development, we are guided by an understandable logic: how many people can pull a project, so many of them are in the company. We have 20 people who can work out and organize the development of the game, which means we can make 20 games. Usually they say that there is one lead-designer, or a creative director, or a senior, leading designer, head of the studio, and a project is assigned to him. Along the way, several more game designers can help him. A studio of 20 people usually has one game designer. If the Allods Team has 100 people, then there will be five to six or more game designers. Roughly speaking, there are five programmers, several artists, and 10-15 other artists and managers per game designer.
In the Mail.Ru Group, dozens of projects are being developed simultaneously. Game designers always have growth potential. The grading system helps employees to receive a promotion and salary during recertification, while maintaining motivation and interest in work. Periodically, game designers are appointed to new projects, getting the opportunity to express themselves or to form new skills.