The morning of the conference started at around 10 o’clock. The very first lecture I attended is “Building a Game: Half the Equation.” There are around 26 social networks to distribute casual games on. The Facebook credit systems takes 30% of the profit from the game and the publisher will have lack of control on Facebook as it has the audience. There is a viral multiplier when the game encourage collaboration with friends. Social games are like live service (24/7) where there is a reply all the time. There involves a lot of innovating, testing and documenting data. On a large scale there are quick win features. The analytics show different diminishing failure like load time will cause a drop of players. The partners are in charge of the payments where it can lead to success. Other platforms besides Facebook are just as good like Qzone, DeNA, VizeeNet and 3. The developer needs to love the game to keep on tweaking it and to find a partner to help run the game.
The following talk “State of Social in Social Games” is presented by Aki Jarvinen, the Lead Social Designer of Digital Chocolate. Becoming less “social” is more. An over excessive of social can cause people to be annoyed and quit the game. Freemium business model has consequences fro social features especially those that are Massively Parallel Multiplayer games. Viral marketing have changed from an acquisition tool to a retention tool. Social means communication and no relationship can be form without communication. Facebook provides that social substrate but it is constantly changing its communication channels. Some of the changes can be intimidating and change parallel play. More social presence does not mean good. It requires immediacy. Facebook games has weak impact in terms of social presence. The social graph and capital implies that social games brings additional value to social appreciation between you and your friends. XBL and Steam uses interest driven instead of relationship driven. Interest graphs center around a common interest and relations instead of relationships between enthusiast. The idea of cooperation and competition are no strangers in most social games
Social capital is the intangible value of one’s social network and value is gained by the relationship between friends. There are two types, bridging and bonding. Bridging types are weak ties but bonding times have strong ties and have an emotional component to it. Accepting a request is not a bonding type as the user is only making that decision in that fleeting moment. Jarvinen presented a case study in the social space. There is a “The Ghost Mechanic”. This computes the social space and see the social presence of your friend in your “city” which gives a sense of shared space. This is the reason for many social games taking place in shared space. The following ideas are more or less social. They are lone grind, para-social and extra channels. The lone grind is where less social is more. Para-social is on an emotional level where people treat many game elements are real. The game maker and publisher should not create extra channels as it would put a strain on the player and need more resources as it gets closer to real time gaming.
“Social Games: Making Publishers Obsolete” presented by Jens Bengemann, the Founder of Wooga, is a very controversial topic. Wooga is a major social games company that is working on overtaking Zynga in the social space. So what are publishers? They are the one that create the medium (physical media/internet), have the distribution channels (retail, online portal), consumer reach (branding ideas), market research (focus groups, analytics) and financing (advancing, steady cash flow). Game developers should not follow the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion). Games are more becoming like services, not just products. Each iteration of the game is based on analytics. Wooga implements different version changes at the same time to different players to see which version is best. Always test the different characters that the game offers. Achieving 1 million daily active users is the holy grail of social games. By making the game better every week, it can grow organically. Because of social games are becoming like services and that developers and publishers are becoming one, there needs to be a new name for social game companies. Wooga uses a separate system for analytics to see where the small drop number counts to reduce that number even further. Begemann reveals that a team of 5-6 to up to 10 people work on a Facebook game.
Now to counter Benegemann argument about publishers, there is “Obsolete!? Publishers Work Harder Than Ever To Provide Scalable Social Game Services!”. This is present by a panel of four publishers like Plinga, 6waves, I-Play and i-Jet Media. Distribution is becoming more and more important. To make the game better, there has to be support. This can be through constantly updating it like new content. Publishers help work with others networks that are closed and require contracts. This can be a huge risk. Time management, localization and manging the cost is done through the publishers and they do not pick every game to insure quality. Games are a product and there is a chance there is a game like it already out in the market. If the user is emotionally attached to the game they will play it no matter where it is. There are possible for publishers to publish games for a niche. Publishers usually do not know what will happen but the marketing cost is the same for mass market and niche. They will take multiple directions with the game by putting it on multiple networks. In the future, games will still be like products and game design is important and confined. Each game will have their own social integration which can be implemented on multiple platforms. I would say that the publishers argument was not as strong as Wooga’s. They did not present any hard facts or give any reasons why Wooga’s vision may not come true. I guess we will see 20 years from now.
The following lecture is about the development of a mobile game. “Galaxy on Fire 2 – Bringing a Hardcore Space Sim to iOS, MeeGo and Android” presented by Marc Hehmeyer from FISHLABS. The mobile device market keeps growing and they are getting more powerful. Developers need to watch out on the GPU side as graphics get more complicated. They need to worry about OSes (Java – Android, iOS), graphics (mesh, texture, animation), sound (music, effects, voice over) and code (game engine). Java has a 256 X 256 pixels max so they would use 1 texture for all 3D models. On iOS, it was 2056 X 2056 pixels max which would have hundreds of textures for all 3D models. They had to learn how to convert the native Java code into C/C++. The engine used Java which had integer based performance. To have high quality graphics and high polygon count, the studio needed to implement techniques like Full Frustum (culling, batching). The Nvidia Tegra 2 clicks allows up to 71 million polygons a second. The iPhone has 28 million polygons a second. This allow the studio to expand into vertex and pixel shaders. It was a really cool insight on how they updated the game. Galaxy on Fire 2 is being used as a graphical benchmark for the Nvidia Tegra 2 chips for mobile devices.
From a larger developer, an Independent developer gave a talk about their game. “The Making of Puzzle Platformer ‘Continuity'”. The game was developed within 12 weeks with 4 people. The purpose was to create a single fun interaction prototype. TO validate the concept they perform observational playtesting. Some creative technique to generate the game idea were the use of idea cards and mixing and matching the cards. Some questions they asked where if there was a character, are there enemies, extra physics and what sort of visual style for the game. The developers did not want the player to be stressed when the cards were moving. To prevent this, the game would be paused when the cards were being shifted. They chose a platform where the game can be most accessible. Some design goals they had in mind was simple interactions, the player learn by doing and a smooth difficulty curve. On level design, they try to vary as much as possible and each level focus on a single idea as the levels are open and maze like. A problem with the game is that there is no re-playability and no reason for the player to return to the game. The developers use Google Analytics to study anonymous user data. A suggestion by the developers were to do more prototypes as bad ideas might turn out to be a good idea and it is important to work with the difficulty curve. A good rule of thumb is the no-patience-assumption and to sticking to the core concept.
“Cranking A Full-Scale RPG Inside A Tiny iPhone” by Arto Kistinen from Dicework Games was the next lecture that I attended. He picked a dice as it is easy to visualize, used in many digital RPG’s, has dice like system under hood and it is not just used as a visual gimmick. Character development does not have to be a hardcore feature. Levels are a good way to measure growth in character’s power. Casual leveling works because it is a simple decision. The designer does not need to flood the player with choices as there are no initial decisions and no character creations. Since this is not implemented, the designer can not expect the player to make meaningful choices. Choices should be visible and non-linear in some way. Balancing is important but it is a great deal of work. A spread sheet helps to make it work. Also general balancing guidelines are good for enemy balancing and gear balancing. When creating the game, easing the player in the and creating tutorials for them are important. This game was made by 2 developers, 2 part-time worker and some outsourcing. It is a very iterative design cycle. Make sure you do not panic and find out the essential features when they hidden.
The final lecture of the day is “Zombie Smash! What We’ve Learned, Fighting With Zombies” by Matthias Hoechsmann from GameDoctors. The technology includes multi-touch and dynamic animations. There is a splattered engine that runs the physics of the game. This includes skeleton animation, ragdoll physics and blood effects. All of this presented a challenge for performance. They made the game ran at 25 frames per second on all device from this generation. The sprite sheet takes up a lot of texture memory and are costly to created. The skeleton was created to help with the animation. To really make this game grow, the developers are active members on the forums and interact with gaming enthusiast. From this interaction, the forum members become their beta tester.
Zombie Smash also have strong marketing materials and their publisher helps to polish up their ideas. They also gave PR and marketing funding. After launch the developers created contests, promotions and give aways. They mentioned that most sales are with in the 1st or 2nd month since the game launch. The developer made the game better by having it below the 20MB limit, in app purchase, localization, a free version and better updating strategy. Some bad things included 8 free updates, the Easter special and a soccer special edition. The events should be focused on content. It is important to have a solid budget. Zombie Smash took 14 months to create.
After another fun day at the conference, there was an after party sponsored by Amazon web services at the Hoch3. The place was small again and it was hard to move around. Me and the other Game Jam participants were in the backyard chatting about various aspects of game design. We also talked about our games as our presentation would be tomorrow, the 3rd and final day of Casual Connect. I got some interesting German Cola that is like Coke Cola but German. It also game in a cool bottle. The food was not as good as yesterday’s party as they only had like pot-stickers and chocolate cake. After an hour or two, Brain, me and a participant from the German Game Jam team walked back and took the train to the hotel. Brain and I stayed up making some final polishing to the presentation. We practiced it so many times that the script was almost burned into my brain. This presentation is a big deal as it will be presented to really important people within the casual game industry. Wish us the best! 😀