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Think Big. Move Fast.

I didn’t make it up to Casual Connect this year, so have been scanning the blog writeups. It sounds like Jim and Greg from Kongregate had a great session about some of the Fatal Flaws of Flash Game Design.

Adrian Crook notes that game plays are not as long-tail as expected:

  • 1st game – 12m plays a month
  • 2nd game – 10m
  • 20th game – 2m
  • 60th game – 1m
  • Top 1% – 50% of playtime
  • Top 10% of games – 90% of playtime

This won’t be a surprise for most game designers – it turns out that quality matters!

Greg from Kongregate posted his own notes, summarized as:

#1 You’re Making a Game, Not a Homework Assignment (i.e. start with the fun in the game)

#2 Ask the People Who Matter (i.e. get strangers to play test, not just friends)

#3 “Controls, Controls, You Must Learn Controls” (i.e. no one reads the instructions so make controls intuitive)

#4 Calling Your Game Art/Hardcore Is Not an Excuse (i.e. making your game difficult to use or play is not a good idea)

#5 Start from the Bottom Up, Not the Top Down (same as #1)

#6 Focus on Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses – Don’t Try to do Everything (i.e. make sequels, clone your own successes, and don’t try to be all things to all people)

#7 The Player Does What’s Efficient, Not What’s Fun (so make sure the efficient way to play to win is also fun)

#8 Show That You’re Human (i.e. funny is good, and don’t kill yourself on graphics)

#9 The Final 10% is Most Important (i.e. launch the game, not the beta). This last point is worth quoting more extensively from Greg:

When your game is technically done, there’s a tremendous urge to release it immediately. It’s like finishing a book report and not wanting to proofread it. It’s done! I can turn it in! I can be finished! The light is here!

But resist it. The final 10% of polish is by far the most efficient use of your time, even if it’s the most annoying and feels the least productive (since you’re changing things rather than building them).

But its importance cannot be understated. Maybe the boss on level 1 has too much health, and 40% of the people who play your game give up at that point. Five minutes of tweaking a health number could have been the best five minutes of time you ever spent in your entire life.

Don’t forget to add the little things! Having a mute button (separate for sound and music) and an intuitive save system will go a long way in making players like your game (or, more accurately, in preventing them from hating it).

Play your game. Play it again and again and again. Get others to play it. Get their feedback. Tweak, tweak, tweak. Continue polishing and ironing out bugs. Don’t be afraid to cut something out entirely if it’s not beneficial to the game – yeah, I know, you already put the work into it, but the player doesn’t care how much work you’ve put into it. If something is there that’s not fun, it simply shouldn’t be there. There is no advantage to your game being big and long purely for the sake of being big and long. Again, it’s not a homework assignment.

While I agree with this last part, I think that launching the game with good analytics built in will help you do this tweaking with real player feedback.

Erin Bell at Gamasutra has a couple more notes

Don’t Expect To Be Paid By The Hour

The Kongregate duo added: “Developers are shocked when they produce a game that they’ve been working on for four months and they only get a $1,000 or $2,000 sponsorship offer on it.”

“The thing is, no one really asked them to make this game. It’s something they did on their own, and reverse logic doesn’t really work when you try to break it down by the hour. It doesn’t matter how long you spent on the game, it’s the final product that matters.”

Don’t Equate Length With Value

A lot of developers feel like they need to have a long game, which makes sense if they’re trying to sell your game for $60 on a console, but not so much for a free Flash game, according to Kongregate.

The Several Journeys of Reemus series, for example, was a successful game on Kongregate, but most of the negative comments focused on its unnecessary length. The final level in particular, which was extremely repetitive, drove people crazy. When McClanahan asked the developer why he had made the final level so long, he said that the game would have been too short if he hadn’t.

McClanahan contrasted that example with You Have to Burn the Rope – a game that was one minute long to play, but has an average rating of 4.02 (out of 5) at Kongregate.

On this point, I hold more with Dan Cook’s view that the way to break out of the $1-2k/game mindset for Flash Games is by integrating virtual goods as the business model. Usually a players willingness to spend money on virtual goods is correlated with their level of engagement. This means short games (unless they are replayable) are unlikely to be able to get users to open their wallets. Equally, games that are long for the sake of being long (and lose the fun) are also unlikely to be able to get users to open their wallets as well. Long play sessions driven by fun are the most likely to be able to make the jump to a more lucrative virtual goods driven business model in my opinion.

  • http://david.morenus.org/ David Morenus

    Speak of the devil…following the words “lucrative virtual goods driven business model” there was an Evony ad… :-)

  • http://www.zapp-games.com Anna Meier

    virtual goods like zynga or facebook ?