Casual gamers vs hardcore gamers

hardcore vs casualA full month passed since my last post! Shame on me, but I was super busy… or I wasn’t and I simply was lazy… or both!

Talking about time, it flies and games and gamers change.

cc07b0a1498a3db3cf43025e0a4b65cf-casual-vs-hardcore-gamersA few years ago, when iPhones, iPads and Wii became popular, two new “genre of gamers” were born: casual gamers and, their counterpart, hardcore gamers. Who are these casual and hardcore gamers? Nowadays, this is really a tricky question, while it was easier to answer a few years ago. Why I say so? Because the so-called early casual gamers (those who played Farmville, for example) have evolved, have moved to more complex games and they don’t play “casually” anymore: they attach to a game for long time and many hours a day. Are they still casual than?

And, about hardcore gamers? Are they simply those who play many hours per day? Or are they those who play some games defined “hardcore”? And what about hardcore gamers appreciating more accessible ones? But which games are “hardcore”? Are considered hardcore the games that are time-consuming? Are considered hardcore the games that have high levels of difficulty? Are considered hardcore the niche games with a small amount of players although their high quality? Are considered hardcore the games containing a high quantity of violence?

These are just a few questions to try to define hardcore games, but the main ones. Usually it is believed that a hardcore game answers YES to all the previous questions, but let’s see if it is true and if it its true only for them:

  • Call of Duty:COD
    • many hours long? Yes, in multiplayer
    • difficult? Yes, depending on player and opponents’ skills
    • niche? No: a lot of people play COD
    • violence? Yes, lots of realistic violence
  • League of Legends:LOL
    • many hours long? Yes, in multiplayer
    • difficult? Yes, depending on player and opponents’ skills
    • niche? No, a lot of people play LOL
    • violence? Cartoon mild violence
  • Monster Hunter:
    • many hours lonMHg? Yes, several hundreds
    • difficult? Yes, it is solely based on player’s skills
    • niche? Depending on countries: in western ones it’s not very famous, but in Japan it’s a top seller
    • violence? Fantasy violence against monsters
  • Final Fantasy:Dissidia_Final_Fantasy_-_CG_artwork_of_Warriors_of_Cosmos
    • many hours long? Yes, several dozens
    • difficult? Depending on the time spent on grinding, so the answer could be, “not really”
    • niche? Depending on countries; in western ones it’s quite famous, but in Japan it’s a top seller
    • violence? Fantasy violence
  • FIFA:fifa09_large_1
    • many hours long? Yes, in multiplayer
    • difficult? Yes, depending on player and opponents’ skills
    • niche? Not at all
    • violence? No violence beside fouls
  • R-Type:rtype
    • many hours long? Depends on player’s skills
    • difficult? Extremely difficult
    • niche? Yes, extremely
    • violence? Somehow: spaceships shooting lasers…
  • Blitz Brigade:blitz
    • many hours long? Quite
    • difficult? Yes, depending on player and opponents’ skills
    • niche? No, this is a social game
    • violence? Yes, lots of realistic violence
  • Candy Crush Saga:candy
    • many hours long? Yes, a lot
    • difficult? Advanced levels can be really tough
    • niche? Not at all!
    • Violence? Extreme violence against candies! So, no.

hayday

From this list, if we take a closer look, we see that games like Call of Duty (which is considered hardcore) is not really different from Candy Crush Saga. Can we really judge a gamer from what he/she plays?
Would it be better to judge them by the amount of time spent playing per day? For example, on average Hay Day is played even 81 minutes per day per player, and Hay Day is definitely considered to be a casual game… Candy Crush Saga is played even more!

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Likewise, we could try to argue that it depends on the platform on which the game belongs, but we have several problems with games such as Angry Birds and Minecraft, which are long, difficult, one of niche, the other not and somehow violent. Even consoles such as Wii (erroneously considered to be casual) hosts games such as Pandora’s Tower and Mad World, which are far from being casual games!

So, we can not easily define casual vs hardcore gamers on the played game structures, on the quantity of time spent playing or on the platform used… This makes things really tricky… Especially if you add that somebody plays both games considered to be hardcore and casual!

But, we can ask another kind of question, maybe more interesting for future discussions: does it still make sense to divide these two kind of players in two opposed groups? Is this still relevant?

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Two worlds, two souls: being a game designer today and tomorrow

The profession of game designer is probably one of the most recent job existing. Video games are out for a quite short amount of time and it took a few decades before they become an appealing product for consumers. However, at that point, creating a game was more a matter of programming than anything else; the real need for artists began when hardwares were powerful enough to support nice graphics.

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The need for game designers, instead, arose later, when market started to be more competitive and games more complex. At that time, selling any game was no more that easy, consumers started to be more picky. There is no need to explain what is a designer and which tasks he/she holds during the development of a game (although, still nowadays, many managers are not fully convinced of the need of a designer for their projects and do not understand the advantages that these professionals can take to the products they work on; many still think that anybody can be a designer since, to be a designer, the only requirement is having an idea (any idea) for a game).

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In the last 6-8 years, the video game market changed a lot, thanks to the introduction of the digital delivery, the online stores and the mobile and social gaming; not to mention the creation of free(mium) games. These really brought a revolution in the industry and in the market!

From this long and boring opening, finally we reached the core of this post: being a designer today and in the future. With the new market and the new mobile and social games, the game designer’s expertise have started to adapt and changed. This fact is leading to a real split in this profession, creating to different and parallel business roles: the “traditional” console/pc game designer and the “social/mobile” one.

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The former is exactly the same as before: not much has changed; he/she works on complete (or almost complete) products, sold the old way and with no need to create players’ retention and loyalty to the product (at least, no more than pushing the player to buy the sequel of that game).

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The latter, on the contrary, given the platforms on which he/she works (mobile and/or social), given the fact that he is giving away a game for free but the company still needs to make a profit of it, given the totally different customers (mostly casual gamers), given the reduced development costs and tons of other factors, he/she needs a complete new set of skills, skills that are often extremely different from those needed by a “traditional” designer. 

With the passing of time, the two figures are getting more and more separated: the “traditional” one going everyday more in the storyteller/movie director job direction, while the “social/mobile” is transforming the designer into a seller with psychologist/mentalist competencies.

Take a look at the nowadays game designer job offers; they already witness the upcoming change. In the next few year, these two jobs require so many different skills that they will truly turn into two different professions. Extremely good expert from one sector will be almost totally unable to move to the other, exactly like a skilled UI artist can not instantly transform into a seasoned environment one.  separated: the “traditional” one going everyday more in the storyteller/movie director job direction, while the “social/mobile” is transforming the designer into a seller with psychologist/mentalist competencies.  game-designer

Yet another wannabe fantasy card game goes BOOM!

Blam! Sbang! Sbram! KA-BOOMKa-boom-app-store

Ka-boom is the latest game made by those crazy guys at Broken Arms Games, a small Indie company originating from Italy and recently moved to Australia. (Meet them on their new FaceBook page)
The crew is very young and driven by a natural passion towards gaming and game development. It is easy to recognize this feeling simply by starting to play one of its games, especially its baby-born, Ka-Boom.
Ka-Boom is a free fantasy card game released for mobile devices (and available on the Apple Store) which features a great quantity of humor and a “simple to learn and hard to master” gameplay. To let you have a quick glimpse about what I am talking about, please take a look at the game trailer (which, unluckily, I was only able to find in Italian).

The game is structured for offering a very amusing card game for two participants, both playing on a nine squares grid.
giocoDuring their turn, the users place a card in one of the squares and try to conquer opponent’s ones by having higher values. To make the game more thrilling, each card expires after a certain amounts of turns: a player who was gaining the upper hand in the challange, might suddenly find himself in a bad situation. Needless to say that these features, together with a huge number of cards, a cool crafting system and a very funny art style, make this game something that any iOS gamer should, at least, try.ka-boom-2

Now comes the part “Why are you writing about this and not about GTA 5?”
The answer is pretty easy: everybody is already taliking about GTA 5,  I personally know the guys at Broken Arms and they are my friends. While they were developing this cool app, they asked me for any game design suggestion and, since I gave them a small (but, I hope, good) one, they wanted to add me to the game credits. The least I can do is to make a blog entry on this!

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Once again, great job guys! And have an explosive (Ka-booming?) success with this game!

The struggle: the game development process

Hi all! Sorry for taking this long, but I was not really able to write anything until now.

Creepy towers logo

The last period was extremely busy, especially on the Creepy Towers’ development front.

Since we are in the middle of the development process, today I would like to spend some words about it, under a game designer point of view of course.

The game design phase starts far before any other one. Depending on the type of the company this process can require tons of documents or consist of some speeches and a few papers. During this phase all the participating actors (mainly designers, producers, leads and some other guys) discuss about the initial idea and goals, everyone trying to eviscerate and tear it apart as much as possible. At this moment, the game designer has to explain and convince people of the goodness of his proposals like (or better than) a demagogue. 

Presuming he was successful, now it starts the designing phase. Even if nowadays a game designer usually doesn’t have to write a full design bible, this stage could require several dozens of pages to be written down, concerning all general aspects of the game that will be developed.

This task might take some time and often causes the designer to rethink and modify some of his original ideas. Now that he is compelled to analyse them at a deeper state, he can notice that some stuffs does not really work or can present lots of problems, thus requiring new improvements. 

After this part and after being discussed again and again with the producer, the first design document is presented to the development team. No matter how careful or detailed or clear the designer was, something have been forgotten or can somehow be misinterpreted.

And again, this phase asks for new rethinking and changes and explanations and discussions. And the design document is modified and enriched accordingly.

The development goes on and for the whole duration of it the design document never stays still. improvement, new ideas, new concepts, changes and whatever occur and what’s written down and shared with the team have to be the same.

In the meantime, the game designer keeps on watching over his creature and guiding the team on the direction decided at the very beginning. It is not an easy task and this is also one reason why a good game designer is also a good team leader and motivator. 

 

Passing through prototype, alpha, beta and gold, a design document can be totally twisted, but it is always done on behalf of the final product the best possible. And it is funny to note how the game designer is his own worse enemy: several time during the development he has to find the strength to kill his own creatures, fighting against his beliefs, the time he spent and, above all, his pride.

(all pictures come from Creepy Towers Fecbook page; Like it!)

You shall not pass!

When it comes to blocking a path, no quote is better than the title one from Gandalf!tdg

Lately, since I’m working on a tower defense game (check previous post for more info) I had to check to a really big number of these games. I mainly tried iPad and iPhone (since we will deliver Creepy Towers on these platforms) version, but also browser and pc ones.

Let’s say that there is for sure a great quantity of these games. Many are truly remarkable, while others are awesomely boring.

Since nobody really cares about bad games (and trust me, there are so many that I could list down their names for hours) I’ll just mention the interesting ones, both for free and on sale.

Of course, many of you already know famous games such as Plant VS Zombies, FieldRunners and Kingdom Rush.

plants field
kingdom

I know, it’s too easy writing about successful games, but there should be a reason why these games sold a lot! For example, what do they have in common? Of course they all are tower defense games, but their gameplay structures are extremely different. Answering with a simple “they are funny” is not enough either… or, at least, why are they funny? It is important to notice how these three games are really, let’s say, charismatic. They feature a great attention to details, especially the graphical ones. For example, the enemies are so nice and nice that, actually, you feel a bit guilty in killing them. To tell the truth, their character design is far better than that of the towers! Furthermore, there are many other cool animations and features that make these games funny (from the very beginning) and absorbing (later on)! Their tutorial is effective but short (thus, not boring); enemy waves follow balanced structures; controls are easy and intuitive.
If I had to tell which aspect I do prefer from each of these games I’d say, respectively: character design, massive enemy invasions, simplicity.

Actually, I also really liked another game, Towers N Trolls (just like Dungeons & Dragons, nice pick guys!). trolls

In my opinion, this game really deserve a good look. Beside the beautiful art it features, this game is extremely rich of small details that make you wonder! The grass moving in the wind, the enemies falling in every possible direction and playing as much different animations, the water moving in the ponds, the minimal UI that does not annoy the game flow… I don’t know, but it’s really some kind of poem! And, of course, the game itself is really funny too! Towers N Trolls became my favourite tower defense game!

Another game that really caught my attention is Babel Rising. It is one of a kind, since it features an awesome 3D graphic. The Ubisoft team made an astonishing work here. 
babel

The game transforms players into punishing gods, willing to stop infidels and apostates from creating the famous Babel Tower. As such, the game idea is really funny, but, unluckily, the controls are often frustrating since they are not very precise.

Well, I believe that this should be all for today. Next week I should be able to deliver some really interesting article, since Delta Engine is planning to hold a Game Jam and, of course, I want to take part to it!
So, much more to come! Stay tuned!

Pay 4 fun

My good reader, sorry for not writing earlier, but my last weeks were extremely busy and rich of projects. Maybe, I’ll write about them soon!

Today I will write about freemium games and about what I believe makes player pay for additional contents. freemium

Freemium game players can be divided into many categories, but I believe that just a few should be sufficient.

They can be:

– non payers: they will never pay, neither a single penny (for any reason), whatever you offer them;

– whales: they are rich and not really that interested to the game itself, but they want it all. Probably they are mainly moved by greed.

– cautious: they might spend little money for buying one or more game content. cautious

Since non payers and whales are not so interesting, let’s see cautious! Cautious rarely spend money for a free game, but they will if they feel it is a right thing.

There are a few reason why a cautious player can be willing to pay out a dollar or two. Since the greatest part of users belong to this group, I think it might be interesting to analyse them.

So, I was asking, what can make a player spend?

First of all for acquiring cool things. Yeah, that sure! But if spending is the only way to get nice objects, probably only just few will pay and the game will become a post-mortem case of study in no time. It is important to remember that the so-called pay-to-win games are often unpopular and seen as unfair. So, aiming to this kind of result can be extremely dangerous. However,  many games use this tactic. Of course, on beautiful games, this can generate extremely positive incomes thanks to players’ rivalry and scoreboards! csr

Another solution, is making players spend in order to obtain the very same thing of ordinary players in a faster way. This method is quite good and is probably used by the greatest part of freemium games. It is the most prudent one. However, if the game is good, many users will pay; if it is crap, nobody will open their pocket.  simcity

The third way is selling extra levels and characters and so on. It can work but sometimes makes people feel they were robbed when they bought the game (even if it was free). “Lite games” are a typical example of this.

The fourth way is my favourite one. It consists of giving to the player something a bit different for their money. If players receive something interesting and/or funny, they will feel that it’s right to spend some money. I’m not talking about traditional extra contents. I’m referring to new strange capabilities, bizarre events, unforeseeable skills! The kind of things that make anyone laugh. And, as long as they requires just a couple of lines of code and a pair of quick draws, they are great! For example, you could sell “Lunar gravity” or change your avatar to a washing machine with no difficult. And you will be sure to cause a sincere smile on your player.

Of course, there is a fifth reason, why player can spend money; attached and faithful players can feel grateful to their favourite game authors and, therefore, will be glad to give them a symbolic sum as a reward and token of gratitude. Creating a community of attached players can be extremely important and profitable! It might be worth some time and energy! Many studies testify that attached players invest a great quantity of money! wow

Ok, that’s all for this time! Short, but dense!

See you next time (hopefully next week)!

I am you, you are me

After some time, let’s get finally back to some video game design!

Today I will write about identification. With this term, I mean the psychological condition when  players come up perceiving their game avatar as themselves. 

To create a favourable condition in order to allow identification with game characters is crucial for giving birth to an absorbing game. Many video games failed to become blockbusters because this fatal error. To design a successful game, it is necessary to make players somehow empathize with their avatars.

But, as anyone can easily presume, it’s not that easy creating this kind of situation.

First of all, a good game designer has to ask himself (or herself): what does make a player empathize with a fictional character?

Probably there isn’t a single answer, but many conditions are needed.

As I said some line above, players need to identify with their avatar. The more similar is the avatar to themself, the more likely this process takes place. But, of course it’s impossible to design a suitable game character for any player. For example, if I am a skinny boy, how am I supposed to empathize with a fat woman? Or vice versa. 

Many components can supply to this lacks, first of all admiration and physical/sexual attraction. If I would desire being like (or I experience desire toward) my avatar, I will probably get a step closer in identify myself in it. This reason is sufficient to make game developers design cool and sexy characters. 

A second way to allow this favourable condition is letting players create their own unique and personal game character; this way, of course, everyone is able to make exactly what they want. Of course, there are some limits, but anyone can come to a good compromise. 

Even though apparently technology and improved game graphics allow players to watch more fascinating and realistic characters, actually these risk to stop identification. The more the details, the lesser the chances. If we go back in time, players often empathized with poor detailed characters like Pac-Man, Super Mario and so on. Why? Exactly because they leaked many precise details! Anyone has a head and eat (Pac-Man); anyone is a human being (Super Mario). The fact that Mario wears mustaches is not important, since they are small in the game screen! 

So, today game developers have to face this duality: cool/sexy characters can actually be felt as cool (or, even worse, as cold, soulless). But a game figures are not only made of physical appearance, they also have a nature.

Nature is probably the trickiest facet. Again, avatar featuring precise and well-defined natures risk to be hard to empathize with. As an example to this I can quote Final Fantasy VIII  protagonist, Squall: many players weren’t able to identify with him given his antisocial nature. On the opposite, Final Fantasy VII protagonist, Cloud, was loved by almost any player; Cloud have a less detailed personality. 

A game series which strictly follows this general principle is Pokémon. In these games, the avatar never shows any signs of its nature, except for his love for peace,  justice and respect toward any form of life. These values are so big and global that anyone can recognize and agree with them. Furthermore, pokémon games protagonists represent common boys and girls, making identification even simpler.

It is interesting to mention Sonic, the Hedgehog. Notwithstanding the fact that he is not human, many teen players identified with him; why? Because his nature. Sonic is just like many teenager: somehow rebel, tireless, always on the move, unstoppable. Sonic has a strong, well-defined disposition, but a very common one. This fact shows how even a non-human game character can be attractive! 

A final note I would like to point out is the necessity to determine whether or not the protagonist has to speak. In my opinion, if we want players able to empathize with characters, we should not make avatars talk; since the avatar represents the user, we can not know what a player would make their character say. We should limit their dialogues to minimal choices, such as “yes and no”. The player has to be free of think and speak on their own through their virtual representation. In my opinion, this is vital for the success of many games.

As always, game designers have to take careful decisions and evaluate the right compromise between a strong storytelling and a strong sense of freedom. Creating a captivating fictional character is not easy. The doubts are many and errors hide beyond every corner… Probably only experience, intuition and good sense can lead to the right solution. And luck! Luck always matters!

Ok, that’s all for this time too!

Keep on following me! See you next time!