Tag Archives: guest blog

Videogames: Levelling the playing field

Illustration by Josh Rufford www.ruffbat.com

Do you own a computer? Do you also own a gaming console? Do you own more than one gaming console?

For most gamers these days the answer is yes, yes and yes. With technology getting cheaper and cheaper video games becoming more and more accessible, people are able to play the exact same game on their work computer, console and even on their mobile phone.

Multi-platform release games are the norm now with developers looking to have as wide a market as possible. Every salesman knows the first rule of selling is to make your product as easy to buy as possible and it works, sales from videogames are much higher from services such as Steam (PC/MAC), Xbox, PlayStation and iTunes App stores then any physical store.

You can buy a game while walking around during lunch, work, school or at home watching TV, but all this accessibility and great technology is starting to give rise to a new frustration in gamers.

How come when I purchase a game for the Playstation 3 I can’t play that exact same game on my computer without having to fork out another $100? Or why do I have to buy a digital copy of a game when I’ve already bought a physical copy for the same system?

Ten years ago the reason for this was obvious, every computer and console game were worlds apart from each other in hardware and often no two consoles would even have the same game. When deciding on a console you were signing up for all the exclusive titles that particular system would release. If you had told me in a few years Mario and Sonic would be hanging out with each other at the Olympics I would have called you a dirty damn liar, but in reality this is the world we live in now.

With these developments in mind, the future of gaming looks hopeful. Very soon every system will be able to play the same games as each other and they will all have some sort of digital platform for selling their games.

This could mean some very significant developments for the gamer.

Firstly, if you buy a game on one system you would be able to play a digital copy of it on all other major consoles (remember the first rule of selling? Make your product as easy to buy as possible). For instance, if I own Console A and have a long list of games for it, I’m less likely to purchase Console B or even newer models of Console A, because in the current system buying a new console makes you feel redundant if you can’t play games on it you’ve technically already paid for.

Secondly, every digital purchase could be connected to a universal account that could be accessed by every console or computer under that name. This would cause sales to rise astronomically. The reason for this is that developers lose millions of dollars a year because of pre-owned games. They can only make money off selling a physical copy of a videogame once, so if somebody sells that game back to a store or online then the developer will never see another dollar from that sale.

If games were all digital copies then there would be no way to sell or trade them, meaning every copy would see a profit to the developer and the consumer who bought it would get to have this digital copy virtually forever.

This isn’t just one gamer’s pipe dream, recently the Playstation 3 version of Portal 2 contained a free digital copy of the game for use on PC and Mac computers. Not only tha,t but the online co-op was compatible with all systems meaning that someone on a Playstation could play with somebody playing on a PC.

This sort of company cooperation is going to be a hard sell to organisations who believe the future security of their brand is through remaining totally self reliant, but they will soon find that once others begin to do it they wont have any other option as consumers will always opt for this consumer friendly system.


The price of free-to-play gaming

Illustration by Josh Rufford

Illustration by Josh Rufford www.ruffoart.com

As far back as 1971 people have been playing video games. Since then there has been an interesting shift in the way we interact with the games of today. No, I’m not talking about motion control, touchscreens or 3D gaming, I’m talking about Free-to-Play gaming.

Back in the 70’s and early 80’s, the only way to access and play a video game was via arcade machines. With an arcade machine you were required to pay money for each life you would use up in a game. This commercial system dictated the sorts of games that were being developed. Developers made games which often never had an ending and would become increasingly difficult very quickly, prompting the consumer to either purchase more lives or simply move along so somebody else could feed money into it.

When home gaming consoles became the norm you no longer paid the developer for each life. You would buy a game outright and, as the commercial system changed from the arcade model, so did the inherent mechanics of video games. Games began to have a clear start, middle and end giving a sense of closure to the game once it had been beaten. Often a game would be more about the experience than the challenge. This has been the general model since the birth of the home console and still is, for the most part, the way games are made.

The interesting shift of Free-to-Play gaming ironically was borne from the polar opposite of the concept – subscription gaming. Games such as World of Warcraft and EVE Online require a monthly fee to be paid AFTER purchasing the game from a store, which means that even though you may have bought a game outright, you must still pay money to the publisher in order to continue playing the game.

This is where it gets interesting. The games began to give rise to a black market which was formed outside of the confines of the developers’ intentions. People started “paying to win” – trading real-world money in exchange for in-game money or items. This allowed them to artificially get ahead in-game instead of earning it as the game intended. This market is basically the premise of the Free-to-Play model.

Now, almost every month a new game is released that is marketed as “Free-to-Play”, the most notable at the moment being Global Agenda, Spiral Knights, and Age of Empires online. These games are actually Free-to-Play, you can download them, jump online to do battle, and play with others. A lot of them are very fun but when it comes down to it, the developers are out to make money.

So, how do they do it?

By taking control of the market they can sell “non-essential items” to players so they can customize their characters if they wish to do so, or even sell rare or impossible to obtain in-game items in order to turn a profit.

This might not sound so bad, but as with the commercial model shift from arcade machine to home console, this new model means drastic changes to the way the games are made.

Free-to-Play games are often made to be very addictive and entertaining – up to a point. You can spend hours on a game and really enjoy yourself, but you will inevitably hit a brick wall where all of a sudden you’re not leveling up as much as you once were, and all the items you find seem pale in comparison to the items offered in the beginning.

They are partial games, a fact which is only revealed once you have already invested a significant amount of your time in the game, and so you are left with two choices: abandon the game, leaving behind all of your hard work, or start paying fees and micro-transactions to try and rekindle your enjoyment.

These series of micro-transactions begin to accumulate and, coupled with the time spent on the game already, will often snowball into spending even more time and money on it. The micro-transactions are similar to the pay-per-life scheme of the arcade machines and, like the arcade machine model, the games don’t have an actual end to them. Potentially, developers have combined the pay-per-life scheme with the convenience of home gaming, sprinkled it with an addictive substance, and removed any possible feeling of closure a player might have playing it.

It’s an almost diabolical system, but it’s still early days in Free-to-Play history, so who knows how it will develop in the future.


Let your gamer side out to play

Illustration by Christoffer Klungerbo www.klungart.com

Next to “are games art?” (Yes, indeed) the other burning question that often leads to passionate debate amongst a certain crowd is what makes someone a ”true gamer” these days.  As a gamer since 1972 and collector since the 80’s, I can report that despite amazing leaps in technology and an ever increasing variety of titles available, the answer is still the same as it ever was. It’s not what types of games you play, it’s playing ANY game and enjoying them enough to keep coming back for more that’s key. You don’t need overpaid industry analysts, PR-created buzzwords like “casual” and “core” or social media sites to tell you this, just a bit of experimentation on your own. Whether you’re a fan of Cate West, or Call of Duty, you’re part of a nicely-sized crowd of normal human beings that loves interactive entertainment.

Even if you’re totally clueless as to the development process, you’ll soon find that most video games are layered artistic experiences designed to attract your attention and at least get you to take them for a spin. As with food and drink, experimentation is key to discovering what you’ll like. You won’t appreciate everything you taste, but you’ll often be surprised as something hits the right spots and brings a smile to your face. If you’re on the hunt for a deeper experience, fear not. Some of the best story-driven games can be as stimulating as a good book. Granted, one can argue the academic value of Plato is better brain food than an issue of Superman, or the deep emotional impact of Heavy Rain is superior to the well-hyped addictiveness of Angry Birds. Nevertheless, all stimulate enough grey matter to be rewarding at the end of the day.

Look carefully beyond the cosmetic appeal (or lack of it) and you’ll find similarities that leap at you across different genres. Some gamers on either side of the fence might not think much of titles outside their comfort zones. ”Casual” players who prefer family-oriented content may refuse to be lumped into the same category as those who play more violent games.  Some ”core” gamers hate the fact that a wider range of age groups are encroaching on “their” territory. Both camps, as well as the industry, should understand gaming has ALWAYS been for all. Granted, there is indeed content out there that’s absolutely not for everyone. But there are more than enough genres and sub-genres available that anyone can find his or her own niche without exploring areas they might find unsavoury.

Even the simplest game played on the way to school or work is cleverly training your eyes, brain and reflexes as you tap and swipe away while trying not to miss your stop. All games have the added benefit of being a form of language translated from design document, to code, to final product before being translated one more time by users playing the way they like. There’s a subtle learning process in every game that’s easy to miss, but can be quite rewarding once uncovered. Finally, a good game can help unlock one’s own creative energies, particularly if a player finds something that activates the urge to make art, music or writing based on their play sessions. Whether you follow the crowd or become a seeker of random experiences, there’s going to be a game out there just for you. In my next column, I’ll gently toss a few suggestions your way. While you’re waiting, absolutely do a bit of exploration on your own as you let your gamer side out to play. Of course, sharing your discoveries with others is highly recommended…


You’re the publisher now

Building games

'Illustration by Kadir Kiraz http://kadirkiraz.com

This three-part series written by Adam Corney, director of business at Brisbane gaming studio MiniMega, looks at the fundamentals you need to consider before you begin to develop your game as an independent developer. Spoiler alert: development starts waaay before coding...

Part 1 Building a Game | Part 2 You’re The Publisher Now

Back in nineteen-dickety-two when you launched a game, you had to make money from it straight away. You had investors and a publisher that gave you an enormous (or sometimes not so enormous) budget to create what few people in their lifetimes are capable of building: a successful mass-market title. It took you three years to build it – and your backers wanted to see their investment pay off.

Sometimes it flopped (Oh Duke, we had such high hopes).

Sometimes it succeeded (COD:MW2 made how much on launch day?!).

But it was always risky. You could lose that investment with one crucial gaming flaw.

Now, welcome to the internet and the complete opposite of the approach above.

You don’t need to make money just from the launch – you can make money as your players experience the game.

You don’t need big investors. You only need your own back pocket, or a few other back pockets, to create what many people in their spare time are capable of building: a minimum viable product that is constantly improving based on user interactions, feedback, and iterative development.

And it’s still risky. But you’ve got a lot more power over simple changes that can make or break your success story.

Publishers once ruled the land – they were the gatekeepers to the riches that awaited a game studio at the end of the development rainbow.

But now you’re the publisher, the walls have crumbled, and the rainbow has diffused across the land, spreading golden coins of joy to all and sundry.

Let’s focus on the newer style of sales model, and ask yourself: what do you want to make?

Some questions to help out:

  1. Are you building a single player or multiplayer game?
    • Single player: your customer is playing for entertainment. “I’m buying your game because I want to have more fun.
    • Multi player: your customer is playing for social reasons. “I’m buying your game because I want to have more fun with other people.”
  2. This then influences the next question: is your game free or paid?
    • If it’s free, are you doing it for funsies, or do you have revenue streams within and around the game to offset the development cost?
    • If it’s paid, how much do you want to charge? Do you have monetisation channels to support game sales, or will you only see revenue from the initial sale?
  3. And finally, since we’ve now decided to include some monetisation streams so we get paid for our work, what models are we looking at? Here are a few ideas:
    • Game subscription – player pays to play Eg. World of Warcraft
    • Community subscription – player pays to have access to more information and/or a premium game community Eg. Ye olde Battle.Net premium servers
    • In-Game Purchase – player pays for achievement/progress, status, or new content from within the game Eg. Downloadable content for consoles or in-app purchase for iOS
    • Advertising – you sell ad space within the game / around the game / before the game to advertisers

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are boundless revenue options when you’re the publisher.

Over in the UK, Nicholas Lovell of Gamesbrief has this to say about digital content sales (paraphrased):
“You’re not selling content. You’re selling feelings. You’re selling stuff that makes the player feel better about the purchase.  Make them think ‘I’m worth it. I can afford this.’ ”

But remember: the more you charge for a game, the more the player will feel entitled to some level of support and “free stuff” before they start paying for additional content or other sales-related items. And they’re right to feel that way too. You would.

So, at this point in our series: you have a need, you have someone to buy it, and you have an idea. You know what motivations a player has, either as a single-player or multi-player. And you know how you’re going to make money from your game. Time to start building, right? Wrong.

One more step to go: are you building a product, or a service?


These words mean just what I choose them to mean

The way we choose to talk about ourselves, about who we are and what we do, contributes not only to our own personal identity, but also to the identity of the culture we belong to. When we talk about ourselves as ‘gamers’ or as working in or aspiring to the ‘games industry’, we create certain expectations in those around us or boundaries around the discussion, even if we don’t mean to.

Both of those terms carry with them historical weight, but as time moves on, it can sometimes be useful to stop and reexamine them – to see if they still apply, and also to see if they’re still useful.

Let’s start with the audience: ‘Gamers’.

What does a person who plays games look like? If you delve into the statistics, they can tell you the shape of the ‘average gamer’, which sometimes, feels reassuring, but they can easily create a false sense of security. ‘We are all gamers then (or at least 68% of the population is) and it will only be a matter of time before everyone is like us.’

Unfortunately, that’s actually the least likely outcome of the increase in people who play games.

68% of the population equates to 14 million people. Try to imagine 14 million people agreeing on anything, let along all liking the same books or films or TV shows or music. Those 14 million people all play games, but they very likely wouldn’t class themselves as gamers. They don’t tell those sorts of stories about themselves or identify with some of the other aspects of a geek or nerd culture. They are just people who enjoy games, just as they enjoy movies or books or music.

The actual end-point of this increase in the number of people who play games is that the word ‘gamer’ will evolve to mean less and less an identity and simply become a description of what people do – amongst a whole other set of cultural engagement.

Which isn’t in any way a bad thing. This diversity opens up new opportunities and new audiences for creators, as well as creating a larger pool for the next generation of developers and artists to find what it is they want to do with their life. Even if they don’t identify themselves as ‘gamers’ in the same way that people do now.

Those same new developers are likely to step into quite a different space as the current games ‘industry’ – another shorthand word that is frequently used as a catch all term for everything associated in the creation, marketing, distribution, writing, and playing of games. Just as gamers are changing, the creation of games is changing too and it’s worthwhile reexamining whether or not using industry to describe so much of what happens is accurate – or useful.

Opportunities for game development have undergone huge shifts in the past few years. Everything from socially networked games, mobile phone gaming, motion control, digital distribution, free engines and middleware, crowd-funding, or alpha-funding, have all created an environment where previously boxed games funded by big publishers and sold on shop shelves is no longer the only way – or even the most desirable way – to create a game and find an audience.

Just like with ‘gamers’ there a greater diversity has evolved beneath the word ‘industry’ and the term no longer reflects all aspects of that. A 2-man team creating an iPhone game in their bedroom probably wouldn’t consider themselves part of an industry (and I imagine the industry wouldn’t either); an artist slaving away for the best part of a few years on a deeply personal project isn’t part of an industry; a writer reviewing or critiquing games is part of a different industry entirely; and an audience isn’t part of the creation process, – even if they might like to be, and even if sometimes they’re drawn – deliberately – into it.

And this is a good thing because greater diversity means greater choice – more ways to be part of the wider creative and artistic culture or, if you want, the industrial studio-led one.

I’ll admit, the world wouldn’t end if we continued to talk about things the same way, but sometimes adopted shorthands or stories sometimes don’t seem to fit properly. Sometimes you get older and how you identify yourself changes. A gamer at 16 may have other priorities by 20 or 25 or 30 and begin to try and find a better way to describe what they do. Someone coming from the ‘industry’ might be looking to break out, start something new, and find a better story to tell themselves about who they are and what they do.

The more options for stories we can tell ourselves, to find where in that growing population of 14 million people, the more diverse and engaged and personal we are, I think the better we can talk about what we care about to people who care too.

 

 

 


Library’s got game

Library's got game

Illustration by Rhiannon McLay www.rhiannonmclay.com

A library transformed through games; an interesting concept ripe for adventure. Using games as a way to engage and interact with library users has proven to incite discovery and collaboration. Not only this, but, games of this nature are designed to enhance the existing library experience. This means that the catalogue, books and borrowing still remain but are presented to users in a different way. Though libraries haven’t often been involved in the use and development of games there are a select few who have begun the revolution.

Public libraries often provide games for people to play as as part of their borrowable resources. Games can range from traditional board and card games through to console games for XBox, Playstation and more. It is only more recently that public libraries have begun exploring how to really use games as part of the whole library experience, acknowledging the validity of game playing as an end in itself and connecting players to reading according to their gaming tastes.

Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan USA is a leader in the use of games in libraries. Recently, in place of the typical summer reading program, Ann Arbor District Library ran a summer game. The game was not targeted at a specific age group and as a result people in their seventies were active participants, as well as many younger people. The game focused on many library related activities as a means of scoring points, for example using the catalogue, borrowing books and reading. It also rewarded participants’ exploration of the geograhpical area in a local studies contextl. The game drove people to use the library and its catalogue more frequently and expensively and it was fun. Parents also reported that their children were reading more.

Importantly, games in libraries can’t be tokenistic. The worldwide audience of gamers is huge, requiring that any games produced by libraries be fun and robust enough to stand up next to commercial counterparts. Ann Arbor District Library has provided an excellent example of an impressive game, designed and produced by a library, but there are many more.

New York Public Library, with their game Find the Future is helping the community discover the bredth and depth of the content of their collection. The game has been written around the experiences of 500 people who participated in a one night lock in at the librarywhere they explored the collection and created stories about it. Another example is Picture the Impossible, by the city of Rochester, which shows what is possible when a whole community plays a game (keep in mind that Rochester is home to the National Museum of Play). Finally, World of Temasek shows how information from libraries could be important for games. This game is set in 14th century Singapore and aims to teach people about the history of that time through a Massively Multiplayer Online game (MMO or MMOG). But games don’t have to be digitally based to connect to a wide audience. The three fold yarn game is a paper based way for people to discover items in the at their local library, linking items by connecting their stories.  These few examples start to show what is possible when libraries engage more deeply with games as discovery, collaboration and content creation tools.

Two national libraries are also doing similar things, one in a game and the other with games results.The National Library of Finland is using a game, Digitalkoot, has been very successful at involving people in the critical (but arduous) job of manually correcting online digitised newspapers, turning the task into one that is both fun and rewarding. The National Library of Australia also has a similar project to engage with crowdsourced newspaper digitisation corrections, without the formal games environment, though their Text Correctors Hall of Fame looks exactly like a games leader board.

As a final example, the Nordjyllands Historiske Museum in Denmark has a game played on mobile phones, connecting their four museum sites. The game is designed for children, who, playing Viking warriors, complete quests which help them learn about the history of the area. This is a great starting point for games which could help anyone explore the history of an area.

This game and the many other discussed point towards the potential for games in library settings. It would be exciting to see a game developed around the history of one area, which over time could have other areas added in as different local councils wanted to be involved. This opens up opportunities for collaborations around games, both from a developer and a user perspective. There are many exciting opportunities for libraries and game to develop together, and we are only just starting to see what is possible, and to consider who can be partners.


Can a Serious Game save the planet?

Illustration by Christine Sharp www.christinesharp.com

Illustration by Christine Sharp www.christinesharp.com

“I love eating croissants… being a baker must be 10 times as wonderful!”

This is the kind of naïve thinking that led me to making a computer game. While a croissant only takes 60 seconds to consume and is instantly satisfying, learning to bake good French pastry can take years of sweat, swearing and broken eggs. It’s the same with making games…minus the eggs.

Alternator is a futuristic online racing game, which inspires players to take an interest in clean and renewable technologies. The game came about thanks to ABC and Screen Australia’s serious games initiative. The brief was for filmmakers or screenwriters to team up with game makers to create a Serious Game.

I come from the film and TV side of the equation, including the creation of AFI award winning comedy show ‘Double the Fist’.  I had always wanted to make a game. I love playing games, I get seriously addicted, and I imagined making one was just like playing one only ten times more fun. Clearly I had never made a game before, and certainly not a Serious Game.

Serious Games… It sounds a bit like Boring Fun.

I know. The seemingly contradictory nature of the concept struck me the first time I heard it too.

A “Serious Game” is any computer game that has a primary purpose other than entertainment. Serious Games are designed for a variety of reasons: education, information, health, even advertising. You’ve probably seen those fun little animated flash games at the top of some websites that challenge you to test your hand eye coordination… the real purpose of those games is to get you to click the link. I hope others have fallen for it as many times as I have.

Teachers and parents have known for centuries that games are a great way to encourage children to learn, but as our digital capabilities have increased the rest of the world has finally realised the incredible power of games to change thinking and behavior.

How do you make a Serious Game?

Games use all of the core aspects from film making; script, character, story, theme; and add the complexity of audience interactivity and multiple options. Serious games then add the extra complexity of a specific outcome for the player.

Being a novice game maker, I made sure I did plenty of research before starting development. Basically I spent weeks playing games! It was tough. Luckily there were plenty of Serious Games out there to test (I’ve included some links at the end of this post). I decided very quickly what made a great Serious Game.

It was simple.

Make sure it’s a great game! Even though the primary focus isn’t entertainment, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be just as entertaining as a regular game. You could have the greatest message in the world, but if no one wants to play your game the message will be lost, so I knew we had to make a game that was first and foremost 100 percent awesome fun to play.

There’s often a lot of doom and gloom surrounding the future of the planet, so I wanted to go against the negativity and create something that gave young people a feeling of optimism by showcasing some of the amazing planet saving inventions that exist right now! Using the fast action of car racing felt like the perfect game genre to do this.

Racing games are usually all about gas guzzling. We took a lot of the classic racing game structure and twisted it to our theme. You can drift around corners to create boost energy, which is pretty standard for car games, but in Alternator if you don’t use the boost, any extra energy you make is sold back to the grid for extra cash!

The Team

We put together a small, but highly skilled team of people that spanned across Australia. Producer Dean Tuttle and I are based in Sydney. John Welsh, our serious games expert and co-producer was in Adelaide. Our music and sound FX team were from NSW. And our core game developers were based in Brisbane. Check out some of the work our Brisbane devs have also done.

We also had plenty of support from around the world. Scientists and engineers from every corner of the globe contributed to the game. We were lucky to have American gaming guru Noah Falstein as a mentor. Making Alternator has been truly collaborative on a global scale.

Because Alternator straddles the present and the future, we designed all of the game elements to reflect this.

The music, sound FX, and art design, are wild and futuristic and like nothing you’ve seen or heard before, but they all have links to today. For instance, one of the music tracks combines, a beat boxing didgeridoo with digital distortion, slide guitar and synthesised metal chords. It rocks!

We wanted the upgrading of the car to happen in a way that we’d never seen in any other car racing game. We fell in love with the concept of the upgrades creating the shape of the car. Milenko Tunjic our car designer, went to town and came up with some amazing designs around that idea. We had to work very closely with Shawn Eustace our Art Director, to make sure the concepts were achievable in 3D.

The Serious Bit

As well as being a great fun online racer, the game needs to deliver on its ultimate aim of inspiring players about the amazing world of planet saving technology that exists today.

Developing the serious side was a massive undertaking, we wanted to avoid it feeling like two separate elements; a car racing game and then some information about renewable energy. A lot of serious games fall into this structure, which is less than ideal.

All the game experts I spoke to while making Alternator gave me the same advice: “Never let the player take their hands off the controls”. Games are an interactive art form. We didn’t want players to stop having fun to read a Wikipedia entry. So we spent a huge amount of time with the team to crack the solution for keeping the learning aspect tied intrinsically to the game play.

The game is set 50 years in the future. Scattered around the race tracks are ‘tech pods’ which you must find and collect. Each one of these pods contains a different clean technology to discover. As you unlock these new inventions for your car the game flashes back to the present to show you the real technology it’s based on.

In fact researching these technologies was one of the most exciting parts of working on the game. I had no idea just how many amazing inventions are out there, and so many sound like they’re from a science fiction movie.

Solar panels made from spinach. Batteries made from viruses. A craft launched into the air with lasers. Even flying cars! And there’s plenty more in the game.

And the reward for unlocking all of this amazing technology? You get to use them. The game takes these inventions 50 years into the future, and they become the upgrades that help your car drive faster, drift better, and fly higher. It’s really cool!

From conception to completion has been a two year process. While it’s not as instantly gratifying as playing a game, making Alternator has been ultimately been a much more rewarding experience. Especially knowing that the effects will be longer lasting and much better for players than a buttery croissant!

But can it save the planet?

In ten days you can play it and let me know what you think. In a month I’ll let you all know how successful we were.

In the meantime, check out the alternatorindustries.com website for more info or check out some of these serious games for inspiration:

California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle)
National Geographic games
World without oil
Virtual world solar challenge

Habitat Heroes
Harpooned


Building a game

Building a game

'Illustration by Kadir Kiraz http://kadirkiraz.com

This three-part series written by Adam Corney, director of business at Brisbane gaming studio MiniMega, looks at the fundamentals you need to consider before you begin to develop your game as an independent developer. Spoiler alert: development starts waaay before coding.

Part 1 Finding audience | Part 2 You’re the publisher now

Your job as a game developer is simple: keep your players happy. You’re in the interactive entertainment business; people around the world will play your game every single day, and they’ll enjoy it. But the first step in building the shiny beacon of glory that is a successful game isn’t to start coding it; you need to know who you’re making it for.

You need to find an audience.

1. Recognise a need
Products and services do not exist in a vacuum; they solve a problem or satisfy a need for someone out there. And they does it in a cool and innovative way – something that makes people go “yes please!” and vote with their wallets.

So where do you start to find that problem or need for a game?

Have a look around. Pick your preferred distribution platform (iOS, Android, Xbox, PSN, PC, Mac). What do people really want? What are they currently using? Is there a gap? Is there a feature of the platform that isn’t being utilised? As an example, I immensely enjoyed a talk given by the Halfbrick guys at Game On the other month. Do you want to know where the idea for their astoundingly successful game Fruit Ninja came from?

The finger swipe.

They looked at the iOS device, looked at the marketplace, and realised that no one was really doing anything cool with the finger swipe across the screen. So they made something cool. They weren’t the first, but they were the best. And they are now crushing it, every day.

2. Identify a player
Now that you have found a need, who do you think it will appeal to? For example, a horror filled zombie game might not appeal to 90 year olds. But they might like a swiping teddy bear game they can play with the grandkids.

Get specific about who your ideal player is. “32 years old, career driven professional, doesn’t have a lot of time, plays games when bored at the bus stop, loves to show off her high scores to her mates on Facebook, secretly enjoys confetti explosions when she beats her personal best score, really hates games that take too long to finish.”

Now that sounds like someone I could make a game for.

3. Dig around
You need to be a student of popular culture, plain and simple. Dig around for the hidden gems in every day society. Being a tad bit creative also helps. Logic has killed more great ideas that it has created.

Ask yourself the following questions:

What are the current trends?

  • What’s hot at the moment? What was hot last week? Is there something in this cool new trend that has a bit of legs? Will it still be cool in 6 months when I finish my game?

What are some possible future trends?

  • What might be awesome in the future? What new gaming titles are being released? Has pop culture shifted – are we now embracing our inner nerds? Is there a new feature coming to your preferred device (eg. retina display updates for iPhone)?

What are some past trends that worked, but are a bit neglected now?

  • Is a murder mystery party still cool? Would a murder mystery party game that you play with your friends on Facebook be even cooler? What if it was only available after 10pm when the kids (or your parents!) are asleep?

What does your gut tell you would be a cool thing that people would want to play with?

  • You have to love your project. If it’s an intellectual exercise in making “a best selling game”, you’ll fail. 100% guaranteed. Because the game will be missing the spark that makes it magic – it’ll be missing the love you give it.

So at this point: you should have a need that is begging to be filled; a market that is likely to buy it; and an idea that might just have some legs.

Next up: Part 2 – what kind of game do you want to make?