Tag Archive : daniel floyd

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Making Your First Game: Practical Rules – Setting (and Keeping) Goals – Extra Credits


All right So last time we gave you general tips for starting your first game scope small Build around your talents ask the internet if you get stuck and don’t give up this time we’re going to dive down into the nitty-Gritty There are a lot of tutorials out there that cover how to do the programming or create the art for your first game So we’re going to stick to giving you the best practices for how to actually approach the project itself So for your first game tip number one don’t plan a project that you think will take you more than a month. remember You’re going to be getting better with every game you build and you’ll actually often be better off Just tossing your first project aside and starting from scratch after you’ve gotten it out there and learned all you can from it Tip number two. It’s Gonna. Take you more than a month, but don’t sweat it You won’t have much frame of reference when you’re planning that first game you’re going to create and even the most hardened Professionals have learned over time to just take their best Scheduling estimate and then add 50% to it because surprise has always come up in game development and each game presents its own unique challenges So if you overshoot your one month deadline don’t panic it happens, but if you’re coming up on three months, well, you probably scoped Too large take what you’ve learned and start something smaller next time Tip number three don’t worry too much about the design of your first game it kills james to say this but don’t spend weeks designing Systems or mechanics that you don’t even know if you can implement yet? Just get to building something as quickly as you can the experience is way more valuable than the end results this time around Tip number four set milestones this one sounds obvious But it can be so easy to ignore on a small project if you estimate your project should take you about a month set yourself A milestone goal for every week tip number five take those big milestone tasks and break them down even further as you plan any Tasks that you’ve listed as taking more than a week is probably best broken down into smaller tasks This is true for pretty much any game you’ll ever build build graphics engine or complete character art are way too big to be tasks Implement hardware instancing or Rig main character those are at least closer even those can probably be broken down further Having a granular task list will help you plan better keep you on track and make you feel like you’re really accomplishing things as you take them off the list Tip number six send yourself Producer emails at the beginning of each week send yourself an email saying what you did last week And what you plan to do this week, then compare that with last week’s email This is a quick and dirty way of making sure that things don’t fall off the production schedule And it will help you organize your time each week tip number seven review your game at least once a week even if life gets hectic if your job or school gets in the way of you making A lot of progress on your game make yourself at least to look at your game. Just for a half hour once a week It’s really really easy to let two weeks slip by without touching your game And then when you finally get back to it finding yourself totally lost and not remembering what you were doing or where you are at This is the point at which a lot of people quit Don’t let that happen to you tip number eight Don’t worry about production values a lot of people get derailed by trying to make their first game look or sound good Don’t worry about that if your game plays amazing you’ll have plenty of time to work on the polish later But unless you’re adding one of those polish touches just to learn how to do it none of it matters for your first game Keep in mind. There are a lot of great games out there that are made of nothing, but moving squares tip number nine Don’t spend more than one hour trying to do anything yourself if you find yourself stuck on a problem Take a stab at it because it’ll help you learn But you shouldn’t be spending more than an hour on any individual problem in your game given that. It’s your first game everything You’re trying to do probably has an excellent tutorial out there for it use those resources One of the most common quitting points for first-time developers is spending a week making no progress on a problem that the world at large Could have helped them solve in minutes I know that many of us myself included want to solve everything ourselves but take advice from someone who’s learned this the hard way don’t try to do that and Finally tip number 10 make people play your game I know that we mentioned this last time But this is incredibly important you will learn an unbelievable amount just from seeing how people play what you’ve created It’s easy to be embarrassed or shy about these things and it’s easy to look at other games out there and say wow my game Does not measure up to that I’ll show people my game once I have something that does But trust me the path to making great games is marked by all the real you’ll have from people actually playing your earlier work don’t Deny yourself that Incredible resource Hopefully these guidelines should serve to help you get your first game out in no time Well three months at most if you find yourself struggling cut stuff find the smallest possible game you can make make that Once that’s done Find one or two new things that you’d like to experiment with and base your next game around those ideas if you keep things small And you can keep blazing your way through these projects you’ll find that by the time a year is out You’ll really be able to make games that let you experiment with a huge range of design ideas and game types and if you’re wondering just how to keep your game small join us on the next episode for a dive into Prototyping and the idea of Minimum viable product see you then

Word Choice – How to Handle Exposition in Games – Extra Credits


*intro plays* All right, so this week We’re back to the subject of exposition. like we said before most of you probably learned a lot of this stuff in high school, But we’re going to put it in the context of games because writing for games often presents us with some pretty unique challenges We’re going to focus this episode specifically on word choice And simple literary techniques that will help us get the most out of our Exposition because games generally lend us a very limited amount of space to deliver dialogue first Let’s talk about characterization. characterization is probably the easiest thing to understand in a broad sense But the hardest to give specific tips on. perhaps a good example is the difference between portal and quantum conundrum Sure, quantum conundrum had some issues with its physics puzzles and such, but when it comes down to it the reason that that game will Never get the love that portal does is because fitz Quadrangle is no glados and this all comes down to an understanding of the character and the way that understanding is translated into the words They say. both of these characters are experienced primarily through dialogue They are almost entirely presented to us through the words they say. so, how come one resonates so much more than the other? well, very few of Fitz’s Lines serve to do anything other than to deliver information Fitz says Lines like, “that cylinder in an IDS battery and it powers dimensional shifts. toss it into the large receptacle mounted on the wall over there on the second story. now, glados is often giving you instructions, too but her lines simultaneously give you a sense of the world you’ve found yourself in as well as an understanding of her own schadenfreude (or pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune) and insanity. ” any contact with the chamber floor will result in an unsatisfactory mark on your official testing record, …followed by death” as a writer, the difference is in how well you know the character And how will you know what needs to be conveyed. Ezio Auditore saying “Requiescat in Pace” after every kill, or even Coltrane’s “WOOOO” Helps the player to understand those characters just a little bit better. who they are, what’s important to them. That’s what gets us invested in them. It’s what makes us like them. But try not to limit yourself to catchphrases and accents. that alone will still leave you with props – generic animated Mannequins rather than human beings Instead, think about why your character would pick up such affectations in the first place, and what that means about them as a person. As a whole. Figure out exactly who your character is. what their quirks are what makes them unique. Then, rather than wasting more words to convey that information, put it in the tone of your dialogue, conveying personality through verbiage How a character phrases things will tell us more than all the weepy backstory exposition in the world. Backstory can’t live without character, but characters can be vibrant without a ton of backstory. After all, investment in the characters is the only reason we care about the backstory in the first place So prioritize character, and then figure out how much backstory you actually need. all right So know your characters, know their quirks, and make sure their personalities clearly convey through their dialogue even if they’re simply delivering the player instructions Enough on that, moving on. the second thing we want to talk about, this idea of word choice, is perhaps easier to give concrete Suggestions about, but harder to talk about as a generalized whole, but we’ll try. Even if two sets of words might seem on the surface to have the same meaning in a literal dictionary sense, There’s so much conveyed in the relation of words. Their meaning in relation to your sentences as a whole, that two seemingly identical Phrases can have a radically different impact on your viewer. for example, “To be or not to be, that is the question” has a very different impact on the listener than “Ayo dog I was thinking about whether I should off myself” these phrases might mean the same thing on the simplest mechanical level, But the viewer is going to perceive them very differently. so what do we need to think about regarding word choice for our games? More than just beauty or lyrical quality, word choice allows us to kick the viewer in the brain; to say to our player, “This is important. Listen. care.” There are a number of minor techniques we can use to make a sentence stand out. draw the player out of simply passively playing and instead make their brain actively engage with A narrative. perhaps the simplest of these techniques is repetition. it sounds silly, But simply by repeating a word or phrase, we can highlight its importance and have it be the part that sticks in the players mind The part that we force them to think about. It works for the choruses of songs and it works for games Remember that famous fallout line – “War never changes” the actual phrase from the game is “war – war never changes” In that intro sequence they say the word ‘war’ seven times and repeat the phrase war never changes Again about halfway through as a transition, as their tie between talking about the past and talking about the game world future. Or how about Andrew Ryan’s, “a man chooses. a slave obeys” He says that phrase four times in the two minutes You’re talking to him. throwing in the words man And slave another half dozen times on top of that. this sort of kick to the brain is vital as it clues the player in That this isn’t just dressed up exposition nor is it some moving the story forward plot device but something that really needs to be thought about this is doubly important as we, the gaming audience haven’t yet been Acclimatized to the idea that one should be watching reading or listening as closely to a game as one might a film or a book But the writer has to be careful because poor use of repetition Can easily feel stayed in clumsy or worse still sound like a bad translation? Make sure you use your key phrases judiciously repeating them for impact the best way to tell if you’re doing this correctly is just a test get some people together read the Lines to them see how they feel remember like the rest of game development writing should also be a process of testing and iterating Don’t let people change your vision, but let them help you know when that vision is not coming through But let’s talk about another technique bookending when you begin and end with something whether it be a Location or a phrase it forces the audience to reflect because of all the context gained in the intervening time it makes us Reconsider the phrase image or scene that we started off with the final fantasy series likes to do this a lot look at the return To [zanarkand] and final fantasy tens opening sequence you see it before the story begins and then again when you reach that scene chronologically It’s not at the end of the game of course But it still achieves the [bookending] effect or we could talk about silent hill 2’s letter reading one of the most famous examples of book Ending in games if you want to get a player to think about the transformed meaning of something This is an excellent technique Next I want to talk about dissonant Juxtaposition when you place two things side by side they provide context for each other when that context appears to be contradictory [it] creates a mental dissonance that the audience has to resolve it forces us to stop and think phrases like a clockwork orange or Rippling Walls serve this purpose [the] bastion actually has a number of good examples of word choice if you’re looking for examples So long as meaning in here is in this juxtaposition It’ll not only give you a cool phrase but also force the player to pause and process what you’re trying to say we could go four episodes listing off techniques like this we’ve only described the tiniest fraction of writing techniques games can employ But hopefully this gives you a springboard to start digging even further – how to save more with your games and how to get your players to notice if I have one final suggestion to offer It’s this read your lines aloud with a friend I have seen far too many Professional developers who never play act through their scenes never read their lines aloud never see how they flow live before it’s time to record Them with voice actors don’t make that mistake Live your characters get into their heads take on their personas and try to act like them What would they really say in this situation? What would they [say] to this specific person? They’re talking to grabbing some people and acting these things out will help you immensely You’ll be able to feel at the moment something rings on true. I hope that helps [I’ll] see you next week

My Favorite Game Animation of 2019

January 15, 2020 | Articles, Blog | 100 Comments

My Favorite Game Animation of 2019


This was supposed to come
out in December! Oops. Well, whatever.
Let’s do it anyway. Hi! These are some of my favorite
bits of game animation I saw in 2019! Let’s begin with one of last year’s
early animation highlights… ANTHEM I think it’s fair to say that this is some of the
best-looking animation in a BioWare game yet. Characters are generally the highlight
of any great BioWare experience, and I don’t think I was prepared for how much
performance capture was going to add to that. Like, Owen as he’s voiced by T.J.
Ramini is already really charming. But Owen voiced AND physically performed
by Ramini brings a new level of charisma to that character that I don’t think
would have come across otherwise. Owen: ” Hey, considering that
the Monitor is both lancer and cypher, we could probably use a VERY fabulous
cypher/javelin pilot combo of our own.” Player Character: “Owen, be patient.” Of course, most of your NPC interactions use
this game’s conversation animation system, and there are some
gains on that front too, but seeing characters like these brought to
life with more natural performance detail in cinematics really makes me
excited for future BioWare projects. Also: running, jumping and especially flying
around in a javelin just feels cool as heck, in large part because the animation
sells their power so well. I will never get tired of sprinting toward a
ledge and launching into the air in this game. It just feels so cool. Next I want to
talk about Sekiro! The animation in FromSoft games has rarely been
the most polished-looking in the AAA space, but it almost always succeeds where
it matters: functional clarity. And that clarity is crucial
in a game like Sekiro, where players are expected to watch enemies
carefully and react to their attacks with so much more speed
and precision than before. The devs have talked in interviews
about how they spent a lot of time tuning each enemy’s attack animations
frame by frame, and it shows. Because, this game’s combat would not work
without those quickly-recognizable tells. And for their cinematics,
I love that From has maintained their trademark slooooow
timing and scene pacing. That willingness to let
characters move unnaturally slowly is a big reason why FromSoft
cutscenes feel so distinct, and it allows the sudden sharp movements
to feel even more surprising by contrast. From’s soft animation team really
is just getting better and better. Elden Ring cannot
come soon enough. Next up:
Luigi’s Mansion 3 Next Level Games has one of my favorite
animation teams in this industry. This is the same studio behind the
previous Luigi’s Mansion game for the 3DS AND – one of my favorite game
animation showcases of all time – the absolutely stellar
Punch-Out for the Wii. I already made an entire video singing
the praises of that game’s animation because this team is so good at delivering both
function and appeal simultaneously at 100%. And by gosh they are
good at animating Luigi. Next Level consistently brings
the best out of this character, from the moments when
he’s feeling scared, to the moments when he starts to feel
some of his confidence coming back to the moment that NOPE
NEVER-MIND, HE’S TERRIFIED AGAIN. Whatever Next Level is working on
now, I cannot wait to see it. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order We’ve seen a lot of Star Wars games
with lightsaber combat at this point, and a lot of different
approaches to animating it. Some of them have aimed to
replicate the fighting styles of existing characters as
we’ve seen them in the movies, and others try to create an
entirely new style all their own. And one thing that I really
enjoy in Fallen Order is the way Cal’s fighting animation feels like
it stylistically succeeds on both fronts. The way he handles a
lightsaber feels distinctly him and a little different from the stances or movements
that I’m used to seeing in Star Wars games, and yet I could totally see some Jedi moving
like this in a proper Star Wars movie which is something I’m not sure I
could say about the Force Unleashed. Combine that aesthetic balance with
some sharp controls and some stylish finishing animations and no wonder
the combat in this game feels so cool. Also, this? One of my
favorite Star Wars droids now. Look at ‘em. What a good little buddy. But next.
Pokemon Sword & Shield I’ve said before in a previous video
that the animation in the Pokemon series is a triumph of scope management rather than
visual flair, and that’s still true here. But in addition to the fact that they keep
managing to maintain a consistent level of charming animation quality across
these 400 creatures and human characters (which is still a feat
in its own right), I’m really digging the additional focus they’re
starting to put on animated personality. Like, the way the game instantly familiarizes you
with the personalities of all three starters just by showing you how they interact with
each other in one tiny cinematic is SO GOOD. And I think this cutscene
highlights a shift in focus that, really, has been happening
over the last few generations: Game Freak appears to be focusing
more and more of their resources on presenting Pokemon outside of
battle, which I think is a great call. Because one of the core elements of
the Pokemon fantasy is just living and traveling with
your team of creatures. And the earliest Pokemon games
just couldn’t provide that, so I really love the idea of the franchise
making that a higher priority now, because that’s where your Pokemon’s ability
to express themselves really shines. I think it’s telling that almost every time
I’ve seen people showing off their team online, or sharing clips
from their own game. Those clips tends to be video of their
Pokemon being goofballs in the Camp. So yeah! Real excited to see where
Game Freak takes things from here. Now high-quality traditional hand-drawn animation
is something of a rare treat in games, so I’m always grateful to see
the Banner Sagas and the Cupheads and the Hollow Knights out
there keeping that torch lit. And this year’s hand-drawn
champion was Indivisible. It is real fun seeing the
Skullgirls crew try on a new genre! I love these characters,
I love their designs, and their combat animations are just
loaded with tons of great little details… the team even brought in Studio
Trigger to animate the game’s opening! If you are enjoying the look of this
right now, I recommend picking it up, because not only is this
game loaded with charm, but you just don’t see games that
look like this coming out every day, and frankly I want to see studios like
Lab Zero, MDHR, Stoic and Team Cherry able to keep doing
what they’re doing. But, moving on. There were a LOT of extremely
AAA games raising the bar on photo-realistic human game
character animation this year. Devil May Cry 5, Modern Warfare,
Resident Evil 2, Death Stranding… lots of extremely
impressive work. I can’t imagine the hundreds of hours it
took hundreds of people to make all this. But the one team I’d like
to call out in particular is Remedy Entertainment for
their work on Control. I am legit impressed by
the degree of subtlety in character face performances
during some of these story scenes. Granted, certain moments and scenes can
dip into the uncanny from time to time, but this game’s setting already
exist so deep in the uncanny that, somehow, those moments kinda
just help contribute to the vibe. But the thing that push
this over the edge for me, and I’m sure that this effect is impart due
to the fact that your player character’s based on real
actor Courtney Hope and they occasionally use some live
footage of her in specific scenes, but I’ve got to confess: once or twice
while watching these story scene, there would be just a moment
that had me questioning: “…wait, is this the real
actor or the digital character?” And I can’t remember a time where a game
succeed in making me unsure of that before. So kudos, Remedy!
And good job making a darned cool game. But, leaving the realm of
the photo-real for a bit, let us all give thanks
to the indie scene for blessing us with so much
incredible pixel animation this year. Wargroove, Blasphemous, Cadence of Hyrule…
Katana Zero, for heck sake. Y’all spoil us. I do want to give special mention
to one in particular, though, and that is River City Girls. The Kunio-kun franchise has NEVER
had animation this gorgeous. Every character’s moveset is
just so fun to frame through. I highly recommend doing
so yourself sometime. Misako’s rage-y headbutt.
Kyoko’s selfie parry. The bookbag swing. The spinning power dab. How can you not
love a brawler with movesets like this. I’m so happy that games
with pixel animation are not only surviving in the year
2019, but THRIVING. And now for a couple
of honorable mentions! The first goes to Kingdom Hearts III, which
would almost definitely be on this list, except for the fact that I
intentionally have not played it yet. I’ve really been wanting to do
an unspoiled playthrough of it over on PlayFrame once
the ReMind DLC drops. But I’m just going to
take a shot in the dark and guess that the
animation was pretty darned good? Because it’s Kingdom Hearts and the animation in Kingdom Hearts
games tends to be pretty stellar, combat especially. And what I’ve seen of the Disney and Pixar
characters in trailers looks pretty incredible, so I am really excited to finally see
all this for myself pretty soon. And the other honorable mention goes
to Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, which I would talk
about at length here, but I already said all the exact same nice
things about Monster Hunter World last year. So just take everything
I said back in the 2018 Favorites videos and
add some snow I guess, because the animation in this
expansion is every bit as fantastic. And finally, before we wrap up,
let’s talk about Untitled Goose Game. Because having incredible game animation
isn’t always about realistic fidelity, or massive scope or
flashy movesets. Sometimes it’s about getting
one crucial thing exactly right. And for this game,
that thing is the goose. The perfection of that waddle
completes the comedy of this game. It’s amazing; it puts you in the right frame of mind
to be a dorky little nuisance almost instantly. And so many of your available moves
double as a tool for player expression! Like, I’m sure this wing-extension
move does something practical, but most of the time I’m just
using it to go MYEHHHHHHHH. Seriously, though,
if this waddle didn’t feel just right, I’ll bet this entire game would
feel noticeably less entertaining. And that makes this one
incredible piece of animation. But I think that should do it!
Did I miss anything? I mean, I will admit I
haven’t quite finished playing every single game
that came out in 2019, so… yes,
probably I did miss something. But, if you happen to know of
any games with stellar animation that I didn’t mention, please do call them
out in the comments, because I’m always eager
to see something cool! And here’s to all the great
game animation coming in 2020! I’ve got a lot planned for
New Frame Plus this year, so be sure to subscribe so
you don’t want to miss out. And consider supporting the show
like all these wonderful people. Thanks for watching,
and I will see you next time! [music]

MMO Economies – Hyperinflation, Reserve Currencies & You! – Extra Credits


MMOs suffer from a strange problem, at least in a real world economic sense. Everybody is printing money all the time. For years, every massive multiplayer game has struggled with this. And as any old school MMO player will tell you, the results were as devastating as they often were hilarious. But of late, games have stolen a very real world economic solution. We’ve covered this a bit before, but basically every time you kill a monster in an MMO it drops money or a piece of loot that a vendor can conveniently convert to money for you. This money doesn’t come from anywhere. There’s not a limited supply of it at all. Rather, it’s just magically created every time you win a fight. And with hundreds of thousands of players killing monsters 24 hours a day, 365 days a year that’s a lot of money being constantly added to the economy. Imagine what this would do to a real world economy. Imagine if rather than your central bank having the exclusive right to print money and keeping careful tabs on how much money is out there, everybody was just printing money all the time. You would hit hyperinflation pretty fast The value of the currency would plummet and the loaf of bread that costs five dollars one day would cost 50 the next week. And then 5,000. And then people would just stop accepting money for bread altogether. Your currency would be effectively worthless. And that is exactly what happens in most MMOs. In Asheron’s Call, the in-game currency became so inflated that shards were used as money. In Diablo 2, stones of Jordan rapidly replaced gold. And in Gaia Online, the currency became so worthless that the company started offering to donate two hundred and fifty dollars to charity every time the players threw away 15 trillion gold. Players just abandoned the designated currency and chose a different, more restricted currency because they could no longer trust the initial game currency to retain any value at all. And this has a devastating impact on these games. It makes the game less approachable for new players. It means that returning players come back to a now worthless bank account. It makes it harder for players to exchange goods, and in some poorly supported MMOs, it’s even rendered the in-game auction house unusable. So of course, there were all sorts of ways we always used to try to design around this. We would put money sinks in the game. Things like auction house fees, vendor-only consumable items that were practically necessary to play. Guild dues, or even property tax for owning in-game real estate. Those sinks were designed to remove currency from the game. When you paid for any of those items or services, the money you paid with simply vanished, which theoretically would have a deflationary effect. But as we all know when it comes to MMO players there is practically no money sink you can build that’s going to exceed how much people are willing to grind. And even if you could get close, well that could hurt your economy, too. And honestly, it might make your game less engaging to play if the player feels like they’re spending all of their time just paying fees. It’s not really why we play games. But lately it seems like designers have discovered another solution. A reserve currency. In the real world, almost every nation holds onto a bunch of currency from other countries to serve as a reserve currency. This reserve currency is used for international transactions, but far more importantly to us, it’s used to anchor the local currency. Because, after all, if you have 500 billion dollars in the bank and you tell everybody that they can trade 50 of your currency for one u.s. dollar well then the least your currency is worth is 2 cents. It can’t go below that so long as you’ve got some of your reserve currency left. If your currency starts to inflate, then people start to trade in your local money for the reserve currency, effectively creating a floor for what your currency is worth so long as you still have a supply of the reserve currency. So how does this work in MMOs? Well of late, many MMOs have started to allow players to buy things of real-world value with in-game currency, like Plex in EVE Online. Many of the free-to-play MMOs have gone one step even further and let players buy their microtransaction currency — the currency that has to be bought with real money — from other players for currency earned in game. By tying the in-game currency to real world currency, which has real value, the in-game currency now can’t lose all of its value. But that alone didn’t end up being enough to prevent hyperinflation in a lot of these games, so two other aspects, somewhat lifted from how real world reserve currencies work, were put into place in order to overcome the infinite money printing that MMOs naturally engage in. The first is illiquidity. In the real world, reserve currencies can’t really be traded among the local populace. Like if you go to China, even though the Chinese keep huge amounts of US dollars as reserve currency, you can’t really simply trade US dollars for things on the street. You usually need to convert your money into yuan first. And while clearly this is not a hundred percent true in the real world because the real world basically breaks every rule at some point, you can make it a hundred percent true in games because you set the rules of that world. You can prevent players from trading the purchased currency. Players can convert their earned currency to purchased currency, but that currency can’t then be traded to players except by converting it back to earn currency through the same system. The purchased currency can only ever be spent. You know what, this would actually probably be easier to follow if I had named these currencies and gave some examples or something. So, let’s call the currency you earn in-game by killing monsters and stuff silver pieces, and the currency that you’ve gotta pay real money for, those are diamonds. In our hypothetical game, you can use the game’s currency exchange to, let’s say, pay 10,000 silver pieces to buy a hundred diamonds. Once you’ve done that, you either have to spend those 100 diamonds in the in-game store, thereby permanently removing those diamonds from the economy, or you can just sell the diamonds to somebody else for 10,000 silver to get your money back. You can’t ever use diamonds to buy things from players. Like, you can’t offer to buy somebody’s Epic Sword of Awesomeness using your newly acquired diamonds because if you could do that, diamonds would just become the new currency and people would abandon silver entirely. But, because there’s a whole host of items that you can’t buy with diamonds, even players with a lot of money to spend on the game still need to earn that in-game silver, and thus will trade their diamonds for it. In our real-world analog, buying something with diamonds is basically like buying something from a foreign market. That money leaves the economy, but in return you get a good or a service that you couldn’t purchase locally. But clearly in this scenario, if silver is added to the world faster than diamonds, the price of silver to diamonds will inflate. Creating a reserve currency might help you avoid the problem of silver becoming totally worthless, but you haven’t yet prevented crippling inflation. To do that, you need to take one more step. And that is setting a maximum limit on how much a diamond can cost. Back when we used the gold standard in the real world which we talked about a little bit in this Extra History series on paper money, and gold was used as the reserve currency internationally, nations would just set a fixed price for how much an ounce of gold was worth. They would say, alright the government says you can always trade 23 US dollars for an ounce of gold. And all of a sudden, the very least a dollar could be worth. Or put another way, the most it could inflate to is 120 third of an ounce of gold. Now in the real world, there’s all sorts of problems and complications with this that involve the limit on the gold supply and how hard it is to respond to economic shocks when you have declared your currency worth a certain amount of gold, but we don’t have to deal with any of that in games. And this form of currency reserve was really really good at one thing: keeping inflation down. Now, because money is still being perpetually printed in your game, you are still gonna need money sinks. And even with those, because there are items that simply can’t be bought with diamonds, some inflation is going to occur. But, with these systems in place, instead of hitting hyperinflation, you’ll get something much closer to the rational real-world inflation that comes with an expanding economy. And while there are a million other complexities with reserve currencies that I’ve not been able to even scratch the surface of in this 10-minute video, and because there’s other weirdness with MMOs that throws a bit of a wrench into the whole thing, this stuff isn’t a magic bullet. It’s not a perfect solution. But by stealing one of the quintessential economic tools that makes our real-world run, we are one huge step closer to solving one of the oldest problems in MMO design. See you next time!

SQUASH & STRETCH – The 12 Principles of Animation in Games


Hello,
and welcome to New Frame Plus, a series about video
game animation. It’s time to learn about another
one of the 12 Principles! Last episode we
discussed Timing. This time,
we’re moving on to Squash & Stretch. Squash & Stretch is exactly
what it sounds like. It’s the squashing and stretching
of animated characters and objects to exaggerate motion
or show impact. It helps to convey
weight and elasticity. It helps to emphasize
contrast between poses. And it lends animated characters
an organic flexibility while still preserving
the volume of their form. As with many of the
animation principles, the easiest way to demonstrate Squash
& Stretch is with a bouncing ball. Let’s say we want to animate a rubber
ball bouncing across the floor. Here’s what that looks like with
no Squash & Stretch whatsoever. Which… I mean, it looks fine. Doesn’t really feel like it’s
made of rubber, though, does it? It’s too rigid.
It feels more like a marble. But what if we softened it up a
bit with some Squash & Stretch? To start, let’s make it so that,
when the ball contacts the floor, the downward force squashes it
down into a flatter oval shape… and we want to make it wider as well
to preserve the ball’s sense of volume. This compression is basically what
would happen to a real rubber ball, we’re just
exaggerating it a bit. See? That already makes the
ball feel a bit more rubbery. We can go even further, though! Let’s make it so that
the ball stretches a bit when it rebounds and
launches back into the air, emphasizing the ball’s
rapid momentum upward. And heck, we can do the same
thing when the ball is falling just before it hits the ground. Makes a pretty big difference, right?
This is what Squash & Stretch can do. As you can imagine, this principle lends
itself best to cartoony styles of animation, where the characters
are malleable and their movement can be exaggerated
to physically impossible extremes. The more Squash &
Stretch you apply, the more elastic and cartoony
the character is going to appear. When a cartoon character
moves somewhere super quickly, you’ll see their whole body stretch in
that direction to emphasize that speed, and there is a wonderful appeal to
that kind of extreme exaggeration. Of course, that squishiness isn’t going
to feel appropriate on every character, especially ones who are
meant to look more realistic. Like, you probably wouldn’t
want to animate Aloy this way. That would look very wierd. As an animator, it’s important to know when to
push this principle further and when to hold back. Fortunately, an object doesn’t
HAVE to be made out of rubber, or impossible cartoon physics to
benefit from Squash & Stretch! After all, compression and extension
are things our body does all the time. When we jump,
we start by squashing down, then we stretch out as
we leap into the air, and we stretch again in preparation to
land so we can squash down once more to absorb the force
of the landing. Our facial features even squash and
stretch while making expressions, which is something you’ll frequently
see exaggerated in animation. Even on realistic characters, adding
just a little bit of Squash & Stretch can make them feel slightly
softer, a little less plastic. Or when a character
is moving really fast and there are large gaps in
the spacing between each frame, stretching parts of that character out
in a smeared imitation of motion blur can be a handy way to bridge those gaps just
so our eyes can follow the movement better! You’ll see this in Overwatch and League
of Legends animation ALL THE TIME. Now, generally speaking,
Squash & Stretch is a principle that you don’t often see
pushed very far in games. There are examples to be
found, obviously, but especially when compared
to film and TV animation extreme Squash & Stretch in
games is relatively uncommon. Part of the reason for this is that
much of our industry currently favors realistic visual styles in which excessive Squash & Stretch would
just feel aesthetically inappropriate. But another big reason
is that 3D animation is far more common than
2D in today’s games, and cartoony elasticity can be
quite challenging to achieve in 3D. You see, for the traditional animator,
Squash & Stretch is pretty easy to apply. If you want to have your character hit
this really stretched-out bizarre pose, then just draw them that way.
Bam. Done. But in 3D, your ability to
distort a character’s proportions is defined by the skeleton
of joints inside the model, and those sorts of extremely
cartoony deformations can be rather difficult to achieve
without a robust character rig. Which means that it’s even HARDER to do
extensive 3D Squash & Stretch in games, because game characters have to be
rendered in real time, and complex, deformable character rigs tends to have
a pretty big memory and performance cost. But just because we can’t always easily
contort the character into bizarre shapes doesn’t mean we aren’t still
applying Squash and Stretch. Like I said before,
you don’t have to be doing zany cartoony stuff to
benefit from this principle. Even if your character rig won’t allow
for a complex rubbery squishiness, you can still apply this principle
in the way the character moves, exaggerating the extension and compression
of their body in the poses you make. Just look at Spider-Man. Remember when we
talked about his Zip-To-Point move; the way he coils, launches
himself, and then bunches up again to absorb the momentum at his destination?
That’s Squash & Stretch! Just like a cartoon ball springing
from one point to another. In fact, I think there
might even be a little actual stretching happening on
Spidey’s body during that launch? I might be wrong,
It’s very hard to tell, but there might be a subtle
amount of stretching in there. Or, going even more subtle, check out
the javelins’ jump launch in Anthem. Now they’re not actually stretching the
proportions of the javelins (to my knowledge) which is good, because they’re supposed
to feel solid and metal and heavy, but the animators are still deploying this
principle in the way the body compresses and then sharply extends to
really emphasize the speed and power of that
launch into the air. Which is one of the big reasons that this
basic move looks and feels so darned GOOD. But if you’d like a more extreme 3D example,
then look no further than Jak & Daxter. You can see Squash & Stretch happening
in just about every single move and attack. You can see it in Jak’s torso when he
runs… squash… stretch… squash… stretch… His entire body stretches out when
he jumps, then bunches up in middair, stretches out again and than squashes
down with the force of the landing. And you REALLY see it in his attacks. LOOK at that. And look at how much Daxter
cartoonishly stretches behind him! I’m still amazed at how well Naughty Dog
pulled this off so early in the PS2 era. And you can tell the animators were
having to fight those technical constraints. Like, they probably weren’t able to deform
every part of the characters’ bodies quite as much they
would’ve liked. Notice how Daxter’s head
stays perfectly round throughout this whole move instead
of stretching along with the body. But still, it is amazing what they achieved
in this early era of 3D game animation. Most of today’s 3D games aren’t pushing the
cartoony Squash & Stretch quite that far, but if you look around,
you can find examples. Some of them extreme,
some of them quite subtle! I am so happy that Nintendo’s animators
have started pushing the Squash & Stretch a little further with Mario lately.
It just looks so good on him. But of course, if you want to see where
the REALLY exaggerated stuff is happening, just look for the games
with 2D and pixel animation. The abundance of Squash & Stretch is
one of the big reasons why the animation in these particular games
is so fun to look at. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston called Squash & Stretch the
“most important discovery” those early Disney animators made
when establishing these principles. And you can see why! It can make your cartoony characters’
movement even more appealing, it can make your realistic
characters feel more organic, and using it to exaggerate the extension
and compression of your character’s body will often lead to stronger,
more visually-dynamic poses. It is one of the most powerful
tools in the animator’s toolkit. But I think that’ll do
it for Squash & Stretch. Two principles down,
ten left to go. If you haven’t already, be sure to
subscribe so you don’t miss the rest. And consider supporting the
show like all these great folks! Thank you for watching and
I’ll see you next time. [music]

MMO Economies – How to Manage Inflation in Virtual Economies – Extra Credits


Before we start, a big thank you to Nick Dewitt for tackling guest art for this episode. Today, we’re gonna talk about economic balance in MMOs. It’s one of the most complex things you can wrestle with as a designer. And it offers a fascinating view into where real-world economic theory and the inherent strangeness of running an MMO collide. Now, this topic could easily be an entire series unto itself. But today, we’re gonna dive into one of the most important issues that MMO economies face: The tendency toward hyperinflation. Pretty much any of you who have played an MMO for any length of time have seen this tendency in effect. The value of a Gold piece in the game drops and drops as time passes. In the first month after launch, you could buy great items for 20 gold pieces. Fast forward to three years later, and those same items are costing ten thousand gold pieces in the auction house. This is why players eventually improvise by adopting alternate currencies… …such as Stones of Jordan in Diablo 2, or Shards in Asheron’s Call. But why does this hyperinflation happen in the first place, and how can we prevent it? Okay, so let’s start by defining “inflation”. When the buying power of a given amount of currency drops, we call that “inflation”. So, for example, a nickel buys a lot less in the United states today than it did in 1850. As you probably know, whenever you print money in a real-world economy, you inflate the currency. Print too much money and you hit hyperinflation – an economic state where the currency effectively becomes worthless. That’s essentially what’s happening in all of these MMOs. You see, in the real world, governments control how much money is printed in a given amount of time… …so that they can regulate how much currency enters the economy. And thus control the rate of inflation to some degree. But where does currency come from in an MMO? Well, monsters. Every time a monster spawns, you’re effectively printing money. Every time you kill a mob in an MMO, you either get money directly or you get loot that can be exchanged for money. But to keep the game engaging for the players, these monsters have to respawn in a timely fashion… …with an amount of loot and currency similar to what they had last time they spawned. If they didn’t, you just end up with big empty zones with nothing to fight. Or people feeling cheated when the first players to get to his own swipe all the good loot. It would be a great way to kill your MMO in a hurry. So over time, more and more currency is being added to the world as, in aggregate, the player base is killing and looting huge amounts of mobs. This effectively devalues the currency and leads to runaway inflation… …creating the worthless currency scenario that I described before. So how do we combat this problem as designers? The standard answer is to find currency sinks. Places where you can use game mechanics to take currency out of the world. The obvious go-to is your death mechanic. Every time you die in World of Warcraft, your equipment takes damage. Eventually you have to repair it, which costs money. And that money goes to a vendor, and not another player. So you’re giving money to an NPC without getting any resellable goods in return. Effectively taking the full value of that repair out of the world economy. It’s a great design idea, but it’s not gonna single-handedly solve your problem. The trouble with death sinks is that it’s almost impossible to make them effective enough by themselves without feeling onerous. The amount you’d have to charge for repairs would really start frustrating your players. Especially those playing tank classes. The only devs I’ve seen come close to controlling inflation solely through death mechanics are the folks at CCP with Eve Online. In that game, the economic cost of dying is so staggering, it becomes a strong tool to rein in inflation. They also encourage large-scale player wars as a key element of the game. These wars destroy so many goods, which then must be replaced, which helps to keep inflation in check. But since death penalties alone usually aren’t enough to prevent the hyperinflation incurred by player farming, what else do games do? Well, first off, they use the buy and sell prices of vendors. Note how most NPC vendors in these games only give you a very small percentage of an item’s value when you try to sell it to them. Where does that value difference go? Nowhere. It falls out of the economy, effectively reducing the amount of currency in circulation. Unfortunately, this technique isn’t a cure-all for the problem either. Because our NPC merchants aren’t all that discriminating about what they’ll buy. In real life, a shopkeep would tell you, “No. Stop trying to sell me rusty knives.” “You’ve sold me thirty of them now. I don’t want any more. Get out of here.” But nope, our NPCs are happy to pick up those tattered rat pelts all day long! Rag, weeds, a handful of rocks… Doesn’t matter if they’re worthless at the auction house; that NPC will buy as many as you can bring them. This means that items which otherwise would have zero economic value now have some economic value due to our NPC vendors. Which, in the end, often results in the sell function actually adding more currency to the economy than it removes. This is doubly true when you introduce the concept of soulbound items. Sure, it creates scarcity for those specific items… But it also means the only place you can eventually offload them is with a vendor. Which just floods more and more money into the economy. If it were a regular item, it could at least get circulated among the playerbase forever… …as players kept selling it to each other, which is a currency neutral activity. But okay, what other options do we have? Well, there’s also consumables. Potions, ammo, food and drink. All of these serve as ways to remove currency from the economy. And games which make these systems crucial parts of play tend to do so… …so that the designers can have a big lever to pull to stop runaway inflation when they need to. Is inflation growing too fast? Well, create an expensive high-end consumable that all your players are gonna wanna burn through… …and you can level out that problem real quick. Auction house fees are another common system. Besides simply deterring players from putting up junk auctions all the time… …these fees serve to remove a small percentage of the cost of an item from the economy every time it circulates through the playerbase. There’s also services. Have you ever wondered why you have to pay for fast travel, or why that griffin ride costs you money? It’s because it’s another economic sink. This can be anything from transportation, to fees for sending letters, to money paid to open up new bank slots. All of these services take money from the player without returning a tangible good, thus effectively deleting that money from circulation. I could go on all day about this stuff, but let’s talk about some of the more inventive solutions that could be used. First off, let’s talk about this idea of tying currency to a consumable necessity. Let’s say, for example, that you put a high-end potion into your game for ten thousand gold that every raid player is gonna want every time they go raiding. Now let’s say that it’s only purchasable from vendors. And not only does this remove ten thousand gold from your economy every time a player swings one of these things… …but it also sets a baseline for the value of money. Your currency may inflate, but by essentially backing it with another good – by saying that at any point, you can trade in ten thousand gold for this potion… Your currency will never become worthless. Or you could tie it to real-world currency. If players can trade your in-game currency for something with real-world value… It’ll inflate, but it’ll always retain value. In Eve Online, Plex serve this function. Plex are game codes that can be used to pay the monthly subscription fee for the game, but they’re also tradable on the in-game market. And this means that the in-game currency will always have value, because it’s tied directly to something with a real-world dollar value. There are also taxation systems in games, which help to keep things regulated. You wanna keep your guild for another month? Well, you better pay x amount of gold. You wanna keep that farmland you bought? I guess you better pay the NPC lord a few hundred guilders before the week is out. It’s an effective option, although it’s really hard to manage without making it feel burdensome to the player. Lastly, there’s the idea of permanent purchasable upgrades for a character. We do already use this to a limited degree. Have you ever wondered why this trainer who wants to guide you through life or prepare you to save the world… …isn’t gonna teach you that new kick until you fork over four platinum? It’s to get that money out of the game. The problem is that this often stops at the level cap, when you run out of stuff to learn. Which is unfortunate, because that’s the place where it would actually be most effective. There is an alternative, though: premium endgame trainers. Have you already maxed out your level? Well, here’s a special trainer who will increase any stat you want by one point, for 40,000 experience points and 10,000 gold. The great thing about this is that it can be an exponential system, which causes the high-end players to just drain money out of the economy. Which is good, because those players are usually the biggest generators of inflationary influxes of cash. This stuff is all just the tip of the iceberg, but we are way out of time. If you guys found this interesting, let us know. We may come back to it. There is no shortage of special weirdness that comes with trying to craft an economy for an MMO. See you next week!

How To Start Your Game Narrative – Design Mechanics First – Extra Credits


Numerous people have asked, “Where do you start when creating a game’s narrative?” Great question and one which many professionals struggle with We can’t even remotely claim to have a definitive answer for this one but here’s our general thoughts and how James usually goes about it First, don’t start with the story All the time I run into young designers who’ve got a great story in mind that they want to build their game around This is going to lead you into a world of hurt Having a story already built tends to box you in a number of ways First, it limits what your mechanics can be You’ll have all these ideas about the actions your characters should be able to take, how they should interact, and what they should be able to do And that’ll just kill you right off the bat. You’ll build out these things and try to make them work but no set of mechanics springs fully formed from the designer’s head Instead, you’re going to end up with a lot of bloat that you’ll try and kluge and kick and squeeze into some shape that’s acceptable to your players… …and that rarely comes together in a tight coherent way Having your story planned from the outset will keep you from abandoning ideas entirely or cutting them down to the few that are really working Rather than just delivering the very best mechanics, you’ll deliver all sorts of things that’ll drag the rest of your experience down It’s just dooming yourself to failure No one’s gonna care about your story because it’s not being delivered in an engaging way Another reason why starting with the story is bad: because doing so locks yourself into a specific set of characters and places Maybe those characters and places won’t match your art team’s area of expertise? Maybe the players won’t find them engaging or interesting? Who knows how well those characters and places will read on-screen… …and who knows how expensive they might be the build? Most importantly, who knows how malleable these characters and places are? That your game’s inevitably going to go through some big changes in development. Every game does Will your story elements be able to adapt to fit those changes without breaking the entire plan? Lastly, starting with your story locks you into an emphasis on plot and a certain amount of exposition As a general rule I wouldn’t ever say, “We’re going to tell this story” before you at least have a prototype of your game up and playable Because it’s amazingly easy to put more words on paper than you’re ever going to be able to deliver in play You’ll find that doing so either leads to this unwillingness to let go, which means your story is going to bog down… …or that you’re forced to cut large chunks from your story later in development… …leaving your original idea full of holes, hastily patched sections, disjointed chunks In fact, this is probably one of the main reasons so many game stories feel as discombobulated and disconnected as they do And this all combines to push you toward a totally unreasonable scope It tends to be much, much easier to write a scene than to actually be able to create all the assets required to deliver that scene in the game: All the art, the animations, the sound, and the mechanics, both in terms of programming and design I’ve seen this bloated scope that comes from starting with a story destroy more than one team What I see many designers fail to realize is that 99% of the time, you can tell all the important parts of your story in many different settings All the things that matter are fungible, mutable, able to take many forms In fact, that’s often how you can tell what’s really at the heart of your story By looking at the things that would work just as well with different characters, a different setting, with all of the proper nouns replaced entirely I mean, think about Romeo and Juliet That story would work just as well in a space empire of the distant future as in Renaissance Italy It could be set in Rome. It could have anthropomorphic dogs Its main characters could be named Rupert and Periwinkle It could be a book, a game, a movie, a play a song, an opera… I mean, that story worked with dance-fighting 1950s Greaser gangs The same is true of any story you come up with for a game So, how does this work in practice? Well, let’s say James is going to make a game He would start his narrative simply by trying to understand what emotion or idea he wanted to explore with the game Then he would work with his team to find really compelling mechanics that in some way help explore that idea or convey that emotion Once they’ve got that, then he starts really asking himself: What story did these mechanics tell? What do they mean? What do they say inherently in and of themselves? From there, they build out the barest bones of a traditional story… …and try to put together a level or a few minutes of play that embodies everything they’re looking for And like any first level you build as a team, they expect to have to totally refactor or simply abandon that level in the long run… …but it helps them to hone in on what they’re looking for It helps them to understand the story the game can tell rather than trying to impose a story from on high And perhaps most Importantly, it helps them to understand how they’re delivering their story… …so they know the cost in terms of production for doing so, which in turn tells them exactly how much tale they can really afford to tell So however you do it, in the end if you just start with the things that really matter: the emotion at the core of your work, the idea you hope to explore… …you’ll be able to deliver a much better story in a game than if you’d simply started with the story first I know it’s not what a lot of people want to hear, but believe me, it’ll save you from a ton of pain in the end Good luck! We’ll see you next week.

Free-to-Play’s MECHANICS are Great – The Mini-Game Revolution – Extra Credits


All right. So, technically, the actual title for today’s topic should be: Free-to-Play mechanics actually work brilliantly as mini-games so long as you don’t actually have to spend the money and the games “microtransactions” are paid for with currency you earn by playing the game. But that sure ain’t fittin’ on a thumbnail, so: here we are. ♫ Intro Music ♫ And, yes: by ‘free-to-play mechanics’ I am talking about those horrible pay-to-win mechanics that have become a blight on the free-to-play model. So, what am I getting at when I say that they function great as mini-games? Well, take Gwent as an example case. Gwent was a fantastic card mini-game in The Witcher 3. One that people loved so much, they demanded that CD Project RED turned it into a full game. But if you think about it Gwent follows all the basic design patterns of a pay-to-win game. There’s a fair amount of strategy, but fundamentally, if you haven’t got a deck of cards with high enough numbers, you just aren’t going to win. And of course the way to get cards with higher numbers is to invest time and money into Gwent. But this is actually genius, because your money investment is all in-game money: money that the Witcher earns by doing Witcher-y things like slaying monsters and selling loot. And the time investment is mostly time spent, running around this big, beautiful world, getting sidetracked by the million other things to do. This all turns out to be great because, fundamentally, what they’ve done is put another RPG style treadmill into their game, but one that’s way better than the classic ‘grind for experience’ system. Because, when pay-to-win is all done with fake currency, that’s what it becomes: another kind of RPG treadmill. Better still, because this type of treadmill is highly self-guided and a small, completely non-integral part of a much larger experience, it doesn’t turn into the same Skinner Box trap that so many RPG treadmilling systems do. On top of that it also serves as a sink for in-game resources (which is something every RPG generally ends up needing) and it’s a way for the player to get a massive difference-in-kind whenever they’re looking for one. AND it allows the designers to do two powerful things with their mini-game. First, it lets them create an opportunity for players to play with the strategy that these sort of pay to win games provide. Often any strategy or enjoyment there is to be found in these games gets lost in the fact that you’ve got to spend $1,000 to even meaningfully play them. But as mini-game, it lets players enjoy searching for the best way to acquire things and continuously get to rethink the best way to apply whatever limited resources they have every time they unlock a new piece of that mini-games content. It actually creates interesting design possibilities that we don’t often get to see fully realized in games without the free-to-play model. But it also means that designers get to put something very important back into their mini-game: persistence. A lot of mini-games end up feeling shallow and like a waste of time, because, once you finish the mini-game, that’s it. You’re done. You’ve unlocked that lock, or gotten that bonus, or played that song, and now it’s time to move on. But much of the history of video game design is actually the history of us adding persistence where there was none. Whether it be adding level up mechanics to multiplayer games or adding player armories to shooters: Designers have found that people like to feel like they got something for their time. Even if it’s something they might never use and will, eventually, abandon. Players like to feel that because they fought hard and got that win that next time around they will be better, or, at the very least, cooler looking than they were last time. Tragically our main go-to approach for this has been just adding experience bars to everything. But the collection and acquisition mechanics taught to us by free-to-play games offer an interesting alternative. Those of you who played a lot of Final Fantasy 10: what mini-game do you remember most? I bet it’s Blitzball. But, depending on how you count it, there were, like, 5 other mini-games to play in Final Fantasy 10. Do you even remember any of them? I mean, other than those miserable side quests for the ultimate weapons? (Screw those things.) My point is: an element of a game that you don’t even remember (or worse: despise) isn’t worth your time, and isn’t worth the time it took to create. And, sure, you can argue that Blitzball had all sorts of flaws with it. It did. But I think it shows us the power of persistence even for mini-games. And serves as a serviceable example, because it integrated some of these aspects way before we really even thought of them as associated with a free-to-play world. It shows us where we might go with our mini-games. And Gwent shows us that, in the modern world, such mini games might eventually even turn into something profitable to create; a good testbed for smaller game ideas. It’ll be interesting to see how Gwent does outside of the world of Witcher 3. I’m very curious to see what changes they have to make to keep it from falling into the pay-to-win trap of so many other games of this nature. But, if nothing else, it’s shown us the value of persistence, even in our mini-games. Without it, so many of them just become the most forgettable differences-in-kind. Because the problem with pay-to-win games are threefold: one: there’s always somebody with more money out there, two: there’s always better things to spend your money on, and three: getting money is often not that fun in the first place. But in a single-player experience, where the money is earned by playing the game, all of those difficulties disappear. And, suddenly, all the mechanics we use for pay-to-win can actually be rewarding and different. So, let’s hope that we can take all the interesting design that we found was possible within the horrible pay-to-win games, and to relocate that to the single-player world, where it can be enjoyed and used positively. And, hey! Maybe we’ll even manage to sate all consumer desire for those games, and tank the current free-to-play market, so that we can get back to doing free-to-play right! Unlikely, I know, but it’s a lovely dream. See you all next week. ♫ Music ♫

Doing Free to Play Wrong – How Bad Monetization Harms F2P Games – Extra Credits


I know we’ve talked a lot about free-to-play in the last year but as it becomes clearer and clearer that it’s going to be one of the predominant ways that we pay for games in the next decade it becomes increasingly important that we both as designers and consumers explore the ins and outs of this model and unfortunately something like 85% of the free-to-play games we see out there are just doing it wrong now 85% may sound hyperbolic a wildly high estimate but anyone who’s seen our other episodes on free-to-play games knows that we fundamentally believe in the model done right we think it’s better for everyone developers and consumers alike so we have no desire to throw the free-to-play industry under the bus here but after looking at all the free-to-play games he played or worked on in the last year James concluded that the vast majority were approaching free-to-play in a way that is detrimental for the player and the company alike and it all stems from one place a complete lack of underlying design philosophy you see too many free-to-play companies still conceptualize paying for a game and experiencing the game as two fundamentally different things when instead they should see monetizing as part of the experience so often very little high-level thought as devoted to how the monetization experience feels to the player it may sound silly it may sound simple but very often one of the first things James has to do when working with free-to-play companies is have them set an underlying design philosophy that’ll help them guide all decisions around a monetization and the philosophy he goes with is this the player has to enjoy spending money on your game this seems so basic and yet the vast majority of free-to-play games currently on the market fall rather into one of two completely opposed camps they are either a games where it’s actually far more enjoyable not to spend the money on the game or B games that try to force the player to pay money rather than giving them a reason to want to so let’s talk a little about each of those first games where it’s actually way more interesting to not spend the money on the game you’ve all probably played one you know games were the most interesting challenge is to see how far you can get without paying money games where it’s way more compelling to figure out all the ways you can get the fancy gear or compete with the paying players without spending a cent games where all the challenge disappears when you pay where a system that was before a crafty puzzle that you felt clever for solving just becomes dull and routine because you bought a fast track to the finish line these types of games fail not because they aren’t good for the player but because the player by definition won’t enjoy spending money on the game why would they want to working around the pay system is often actually a more engaging challenge than the core gameplay in these games and so the player never has a reason to monetize in fact it’s in their best interest not to and while this may be a lot of fun for the player at least for a little while it fails completely as a monetizing strategy and that failure actually ends up having negative consequences for the players – without a high conversion rate or a substantial revenue from their users most of these games tends to fade away or simply stop being supported by the company that built them because the game isn’t earning enough to justify the investment the developers slow down the number of updates or simply cease adding new content altogether just letting the game continue to shuffle on and provide the last few drops of revenue it can until it dies that sucks for developers and players alike and yet it’s the inevitable result of that underlying design philosophy because while many such games are just the result of careless monetization design many others were designed that way out of fear of being seen as the other type of free-to-play game the game that feels like it’s extorting you we’ve all played that second type – these are the pay to win games or the games that let you invest 20 hours and then hit you with a paywall that essentially requires that you pay up to continue these games stem from a design philosophy that doesn’t really consider you to be a player so much as a source of revenue it’s game design done by accountants rather than designers and it’s inevitably destructive it’s the complete divorce of play from pay and the worst thing is at first this type of monetization appears to work many of us have at some point grit our teeth and paid for some stupid thing we felt like a game was forcing us to pay for and we resented it and that niggling resentment stuck somewhere in the back of our minds and made the whole experience worse until at some point we hit yet another monetization squeeze and just threw off our hands and said screw you guys I’m done this is the worst possible experience but because it forces monetization so hard it will get a comparatively sizable number of players to convert early on and so it will appear to be very successful until a year down the line when it becomes clear how many players it’s forced out of the game and how much it’s segmented its own community this is the method that Zynga went with in many of its games and this art can very clearly be seen in many of its products unfortunately because this method appears at first to work if you’re simply looking at raw numbers and because from a design perspective this doesn’t require a great deal of effort or skill from the team the extorted version of free-to-play is something that much of the industry decided to emulate and this is what led to the bad reputation that free-to-play has gotten which in turn now drives many away from the free-to-play model entirely that’s bad for everyone we have got to find a way past this manipulative strategy as it leaves us with nothing to build on from a business perspective and it’s becoming less and less effective anyway as consumers are getting savvy er so how do we avoid the pitfall of making it more engaging for the player to game the free-to-play system than to pay money while at the same time not falling into the trap of making your player feel like the game is extorting money from them at every turn well it’s different for every game but it all comes back to the central philosophy of creating an environment where the players happy to spend money on your game think about when you back something cool on Kickstarter or even buy something at a regular game store you’re excited you’re happy to spend that money for something that you’re just glad exists sure you might rather it be free I mean that’s probably true about everything but you don’t mind paying for it in fact you’re often very happy just to be able to buy that thing that’s what a player should feel in a good free-to-play experience the best of these experiences feel like buying a toy or a model or something to treasure something that you want to own just for the sake of owning it and every time you look at it it makes you smile for any of you who’ve played Warhammer or maybe even HeroClix you know how that feels the games like League of Legends really capitalize on this well but things to own aren’t the only things we treasure so our experiences sometimes the experiences games can sell us our big things like a new clue Lloyd mystery in the secret world which I would eagerly buy and then lose myself in like getting a new season of my favorite TV show but as a developer you can’t always provide that new large-scale adventure or episode so what else can we do well just as an example that I particularly love there was an item I saw once in a Korean MMO called the money bomb and it was this item where when you used it it exploded into goodies like a popping pinata now the buyer of the money bomb couldn’t pick up any of the goodies that popped out but everyone else around you could and people loved buying these things because someone would walk into town and throw one of these babies down and it would just turn into a party the person who bought the money bomb would get tons of love from everyone around them and often other people would announce that they were going to go buy one too and soon the Town Square just turned into an impromptu online festival people loved buying these things they enjoy buying them they didn’t resent the money spent or feel like they had to spend that money and it wasn’t actively more fun to not buy them fantastic design so when building a free-to-play game don’t think about the money first a build a good game and the money will come and don’t base your design around fear of being perceived as extorting players either instead build your game around finding joy for the human-beings playing your game what will make each purchase something the players happy to do what will make each dollar spent feel completely worth it what will make finally spending your money feel like buying that thing you saw in that store window and longed for every day for a year till you finally saved up enough to buy it that’s where you should root your free-to-play design that’s what will make free-to-play a great model for everyone involved see you next week