explosivelimes

Jeff Dehut, Illustration & Design

The Perfect Game

Jeff DehutComment

How do you know whether or not your latest game idea is the one? You know, the one game that is going to make it big. The one game that will make your career in the gaming industry worth it all. I think it's safe to say that we do our best to avoid risk as much as possible. The question is, with the ecosystem of the mobile gaming world changing as fast as a speeding comet, how can you be sure that your great idea will make any kind of an impact? While I don't believe there is any perfect formula to guarantee a blockbuster every time, I do have some suggestions that may help.

 

Stop looking for the perfect game.

The early stages of game design start with pencil and paper. Coming up with a good idea for a fun game isn’t always easy, trying to find a perfect game idea with zero chance of failure is impossible so stop looking for it. If the only thing you ever do is keep looking until you have found the perfect game to release to the public, chances are, you will never find it.

There is hope though, sometimes we just like to make things more difficult than they need to be. Test early and test often. Create as many sketches, paragraphs and core loop diagrams as you need to. Don’t invest too much time in any one idea. If the game seems boring as a sketch then chances are no matter how you pretty it up the game will still be boring.

While it is great to accumulate a plethora of ideas the process of concepting needs to eventually come to an end. If you don’t have even one solid idea that you are willing to pursue after a reasonable time then perhaps it’s time to look into a different career. Brainstorm, create many ideas, then look through your creative inventory and pick one. Then run with it. It’s bold and it’s risky, but give it a shot. No one ever landed on the moon by just staring at it every night. Take the leap. Make a fun game!

 

Forget about money.

Making money is, obviously, integral to staying in business. There is definitely a time and place for working out the numbers. It needs to happen, but it needs to happen after the game is fun. Once you have wracked your brain and designed a mechanic that not only works but is fun to play then you can allow yourself to think about the best way to monetize it.

I believe that too many studios are shooting themselves in the foot because they are worried about monetization too early in the process. This is an easy trap to fall into. We need to worry about it, absolutely. First things first though, if the game isn’t fun people won’t play it and you won’t make any money no matter how many opportunities you afford the consumer. Make the game fun.

 

Virality is not a thing.

This is a hard sell, I know. It would be incredible if we could market our game just right and implement social features that players jump into. No matter what anyone tells you, no one has control over whether or not a game goes viral. You can’t control it and you are wasting your time and resources that should be spent on making your game more fun. The best way to make your game go viral is to stop trying to make your game go viral.

If people like something they want to tell their friends about it. This is a natural instinct that humans have. We want to share in pleasure. If something is making us feel good then we feel compelled to talk about it. If something that we experience inspires or encourages us, we naturally want to share that experience. The best way for people to share these feelings is through social media. You may be able to artificially force a type of that behavior for a little while, but eventually people will grow dull to those tricks and start sharing the things that really get them excited again.

If you really, really want to know the secret to making your game go viral it is this: Make your game an experience so incredible and heartfelt that people can’t help themselves but to talk about it. Make your game fun.

 

Make it fun.

You probably noticed by now that there is really only one secret to all of this. A game needs to be fun. It really is that simple! This fact should give those of us who design games hope. I get excited about creating a game that other people may find enjoyable. I hope that my next game will be just that! I don’t need to top the charts or become a ba-jillionaire, I just want to make fun games that teach people something. Whether that something is a new way of thinking, or a new way of looking at the real world is irrelevant to me.

In the last few years many games have been released upon the world that have proven that there really is no such thing as a perfect formula that creates success in the gaming industry. A game doesn’t need social integration, level maps, timers, daily rewards or gems in order to be successful.

It only needs to be fun.

Go make a fun game! (:

~ Jeff Dehut

On My Device

Jeff DehutComment

They may be old, or they may be new. For whatever reason I have been playing these three games a whole lot this week. I would like to take a brief look and talk about the things I like and what I dislike about each one. This list is not in any type of order, and I won't be doing this type of article every week otherwise we would never talk about anything else. So, without any delay here are the top three games that I have been addicted to this week:

 

Two Dots.

Things I Love: I loved the original game, ‘Dots: A Game About Connecting.’ It was so simple, pleasant to look at and fun! You could easily play with one hand while standing in a grocery line, which is a staple for mobile games. The sequel plays nearly identically to the original, with few exceptions. There are objective to meet each level, which is a nice twist. The cute animations added along the way as your progress through the game provide a very pleasant touch. My favorite part, however, about this game are the excellent illustrations that tie the gameplay in with a cute storyline which is told with subtly. Well done Betaworks One.

Not So Great Stuff: I’m not a huge fan of the trend to turn every game into Candy Crush. For some reason there is a large crowd of developers who have it in their minds that in order to make a game financially successful it has to look and feel like CCS. That idea is like thinking that every restaurant must serve the same type of food, it’s just silly. I could go deeper into this idea in a separate post, I’m holding off for fear of ranting.

Decent Rating: It’s pretty decent! It is free to play so if you’re unsure it is still worth giving a shot. Simply uninstall if you’re not into it.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/twodots/id880178264?ls=1&mt=8

 

Knights of Puzzelot.

Things I Love: I know. It’s a typical match 3 game along the lines of Puzzles and Dragons, though basically built for a more Western audience. P&D is a great game, although it’s level of complexity can turn many people off. Knights of Puzzelot is a much more simplified version of that system. You play a knight who is out to vanquish evil by matching 3 of various items including swords, shields, potions and gold. After each dungeon you take the loot you earned and spend it to level up your hero or their equipment. The illustrations are killer and the sound effects compliment the game very well.

Not So Great Stuff: I have very little to complain about with Knights of Puzzelot. The biggest thing is the Candy Crush level progression. Seriously. This doesn’t need to be in every game. There have been a few times when I have spent all my courage (read, variant on the CCS lives system) and am still wanting to continue playing, but I refuse to spend money on this kind of thing. None of my friends play this game that I can tell so I can’t speak to the social aspects.

Decent Rating: Super decent. If you’re into knights, monsters, leveling up and match 3 games Puzzelot is for you. It is 

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/knights-of-puzzelot/id776882837?mt=8

 

Hungry Shark Evolution.

Things I Love: This game. Hilarious arcade action at it’s finest! You play a shark out to eat everything in site. Your hunger meter slowly drains as you play so you must continue to eat otherwise you starve to death. While you can eat most everything on the screen there are later predators out to destroy you that you have to watch out for. The better you do, the more your shark levels up and the stronger and faster your shark gets. It really is that simple. The controls are easy to pick up with a virtual d-pad on the right hand corner of the screen with an invisible button in the lower left corner that accelerates your swimming speed for a brief time.

Not So Great Stuff: The daily reward chest is a little tricky to find sometimes since it is found near the bottom of the sea which seems slightly randomly generated each time. Really that’s the only complaint I have about this game. It was made as a simple and fun arcade game and I believe it hits that mark very well. For those who may not appreciate the image of a shark eating innocent swimmers, I’d pass this one up.

Decent Rating: Hilarious. Free to play, but not pushy. Sounds like a win-win.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/hungry-shark-evolution/id535500008?mt=8

Goals vs. Chores and the Future of Mobile Games

Jeff DehutComment

I had a flash of insight this week while working on a few game concepts about the future of mobile gaming. It got me thinking about my childhood and playing at the park, specifically the swings. Seems like a bit of a random thought, doesn’t it? Briefly let me explain how I think the current trends of objectives, or missions, based mobile gaming will eventual run its course and how thinking about playing on the swings gave me a glimpse into what may be the future of games. Obviously, this is nothing more than an opinion piece. I don’t consider myself to be a prophet by any means.

Current trends in mobile games is to give players missions, or objectives to accomplish each time they play the game. Usually these are based on collecting a certain amount of an item, or running a course in a certain amount of time, or building a specific building. These tactics have worked and they probably will continue to work for a while now. I have no problems necessarily with this system, I can appreciate well thought out achievements which is along the same vein though not identical. Achievements in a way were the precursor to the modern missions systems.

Obviously some games have implemented this system better than others. The games that haven’t quite nailed this concept though make these missions feel more like chores and this is where I see the problem occurring. The less we tell players what they need to be doing, even in subtle ways, the more they feel in control of their virtual environment and this is exactly what we as game designers want them to feel. Nobody enjoys doing their chores. When people play games they especially don’t want to be stuck doing what someone has told them that they must in order to move forward. This is where the playground comes in.

The playground is a place where children go to escape responsibility for a moment, to exercise and to learn, not only to stretch their muscles but their minds. Games are created on the playground and this is a lesson we can learn. Kids are incredibly imaginative and they are perfectly capable at a very young age to create their own goals while at play.

Just like when I was a kid there was a game I would play while on the swings. I know it wasn’t the most unique thing, but I would see how far I could go when I jumped off. Each time I would get back on and see if swinging faster or higher would help me with this self created goal. How silly would it be if there was a sign posted at the entrance to a playground that said, ‘Swing 50 times then you can move on to the monkey bars.’ That sounds ridiculous, right? We put up with it in our mobile games though, why is that?

What if, instead of creating a list of tasks that player must perform in order to advance, we as game designers could simply create a system that allowed players enough freedom to generate their own goals like in a playground? What if this concept did not have to be limited to the sandbox genre? What if we removed the timer and gem barriers in modern builders and war sim games and just gave players the tools they needed to choose how they wanted to play?

One last thing, what if we also allowed players the opportunity…to lose? This is something that is pretty unique to mobile gaming, which is currently my area of expertise. This false sense of accomplishment can only hold a mobile gamers attention for so long. Even casual gamers don’t want everything handed to them. I realize I could totally be wrong about this. Time will tell wether or not players get board or wise up to this mechanic that really only serves the purpose of pulling cash from people’s pockets.

These are just my thoughts and some questions I would love to know the answers to. I would love to hear what you all think on this subject, feel free to comment below or just send me a message. We’ll see you next week!

~ Jeff Dehut

Inspiration, not Duplication, Creates Innovation.

Jeff DehutComment

Let’s talk about mobile game business models for a moment. Many small studios and independent game developers get really excited when they hear of the success of games such as Flappy Bird and 2048. This flash of excitement and subsequent desire to enter the mobile game industry got me thinking about these recent success stories. I would like to take a brief look into these two games specifically and determine what made them so successful and give some advice for those who are serious about beginning a career in mobile gaming.

Time is Money

I think we should start with the time investment it took to create these two hugely popular mobile micro games. If you do a quick search and read a few articles you’ll see the hype that Flappy Bird and 2048 were created in just a couple of days. The articles make it seem as if these games were simply created over a weekend, released into the wild then fame and fortune quickly followed. What usually isn’t talked about though is that Flappy Bird was not the first game released by Dong Nguyen, neither was 2048 Gabriele Cirulli’s first app. This is a huge detail that is typically skimmed over but it is so incredibly important. It boils down to this, there was much failure before there was success.

I would say the first key here is persistence. Make a fun game, release it, then begin work on something else. Watch the fruits of your labor take root and see how they grow. Base your next project on the successes of your first, discard the aspects that did not work out so well. See what happens but don’t put all of your hope into one product. The previous work that these developers did gave them extremely valuable knowledge that they could put into effect in their next game.

Eggs & Baskets

The next point is a tricky one to explain and even harder to put into practice. Hope for success and do not expect it. One thing I found very interesting that was stated from both of these creators is that neither one of them had any inkling that their new app would be near as successful as it turned out to be. Financial success wasn’t really on their minds during the creation process. Sure they hoped they could make a living doing what they loved, but the financial aspect was not the driving force.

As a designer this is especially fascinating to me. I can attest to the fact that creative individuals do better work when they are not motivated by money. Don’t misunderstand, game designers enjoy monetary compensation just as much as the next guy, but that typically is not our primary focus. Yes, the business side of things should stay in the back of our minds at all times, but it should be laid aside momentarily when it comes time to brainstorm creatively about the next big thing.

Now, I am not suggesting that you should forget about market research and do everything you can to make your mobile game financially successful. I am simply trying to say that these two games were a financial fluke. If success in the mobile game industry was really that easy, believe me, everyone would be doing it. Seriously, nearly everyone is trying.

Fun First

More often than not people see these two success stories and use that to fuel a dream of entering the mobile game scene and making a killing. This leads into my next point which is, that money is the motivation for these would be game developers. However for Nguyen and Cirulli they just wanted to make a fun game. This is the third key, fun comes first.

Making your game fun to play should always be the primary focus. If you game is only decent you will be sinking money into an average app. As quickly as apps are entering the mobile game markets releasing a game that is only average will land you flat on your back every time. It doesn’t matter how many analytics you have, or how much you spend on marketing. If your product isn’t worth talking about, no one will talk about it.

Imitation is Flattering

I would like to briefly touch on the role that cloning played in this story with both of these games. Inspiration, not duplication leads to innovation. Making a direct copy of someone else’s previous work will get you a tiny portion of the success the original found. A better option, obviously, is to create something new. This is definitely more time consuming and a bit more expensive but consider the following point.

Do some quick research, clones of popular mobile games rocket up the charts, sure, just as quickly though they plummet and are never seen again. From a business stand point this should be a no brainer. These are one time shot deals and fizzle quickly. Cloning requires more and more work each time a new popular app is released.

On the other hand if what you are looking to create is a tried and true business model that is sustainable I would recommend looking to the big players, Supercell and King and take notes. Their development times are very often much longer than one weekend, but it seems to be paying off in a big way and for a long time. Now what this doesn’t mean is that you need to put a level map with social icons in your game in order to be successful, each game needs it own set of tools to become profitable. Supercell and King found two very different formulas that work for their specific genres.

There is nothing magical about level maps and Facebook friend icons. Those are helpful tools, but that point is for another article.

The key here is, be inspired by tried and true concepts and put your own twist on it. You don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel, take what makes the wheel successful and make it better. Remember, there are no new ideas only new combinations of old ideas.

Elbow Grease

One final thought I have on this subject is the idea that the success of these games came easily, fast and without risk. This is a business model that is not founded in reality. The published hype surrounding these games is only perpetuating these beliefs. I have a feeling that if you were to ask any business minded man or woman who has found even a moderate amount of financial success they will tell you some of the things it took to get there. I can pretty much guarantee that ‘quick’ and ‘easy’ won’t be on their list. It has held true for generations that hard work, learning from failure, time and the proper investments and informed risk are what lead to true success.

Be persistent. Don’t expect your game to be an overnight sensation. Be inspired by previous successes don’t simply duplicate them, it won’t last. Work hard, take informed risks. Be persistent and be persistent.

Gamers are a smart crowd of people and they are getting smarter all the time. These people are able to quickly discern between a good game and a gimmick that is simply trying to get their hard earned buck. You have to earn their loyalty, do that honestly and they will gladly and repeatedly remind you of why you got into this business in the first place.

~ Jeff Dehut