Posts Tagged ‘Game Design’

Free-to-Play Games on the Rise

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Many experts in the game design industry predict that the rising trend in free-to-play games will continue during 2014 and the foreseeable future. Insiders and outsiders alike are of the opinion that free-to-play was just for mobile and browser titles, but that’s not the case.

Some high quality offerings have become available over the last couple of years and with the success they’ve experienced, more are planned. Full games such as Team Fortress 2, League of Legends, PlanetSide 2, and Star Wars: The Old Republic have all launched on the free-to-play platform.

There are definitely pros and cons to free-to-play. On the positive side, people can try the game and play for extended periods of time before spending money. Casual gamers can enjoy playing without paying monthly fees. It offers a cheap entertainment alternative.

The flip side is that free isn’t free in a lot of cases, and it’s difficult to tell when you first start playing how much it will cost to maintain interest or stay competitive because many players will choose to add options. Some options give players a competitive advantage, hence the allegations of “pay to win,” and many players are willing to buy anything and pay any price to win.

How game designers make money with free-to-play games

It seems counter-intuitive that a game designer would make money for a free game, but they can actually make more money if done correctly by offering it for free rather than a pay-to-play model.

Through micro-transactions, (generally $1-$5) game designers make options available to enhance the player’s experience. Some purists decry this as “pay to win,” but many of the things you can buy in the cash shop are cosmetic options to differentiate players from each other.

Free-to-play games also monetize through advertising. Many have ads that pop up during breaks; in-game advertising banners placed throughout the game simulate advertising at sporting events. In-game adverting affects the game as little as possible.

It’s estimated that the free-to-play version of Team Fortress 2 generated 12 times the revenue of its subscription counterpart. So if it’s done well, game designers will find the free-to-play platform very lucrative.

As a consumer, do you use free-to-play games, or spend a little extra to enjoy an ad free gaming experience?

Can Indie Games Thrive Without Big Publishers?

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

As the gaming landscape evolves, it’s becoming more common for Indie Game Developers to go beyond industry barriers to get their game to the public. Digital downloads and crowdfunding has made this type of self-publishing seem like a feasible alternative to working for big name publishers.

“The publishing people all watch [a game] and then make passive, aesthetic appraisals of active, functional aspects of a game,” wrote an anonymous developer, providing an attack on major game publishers. “This is because the bulk of execs can’t and don’t want to play or understand how games work.”

The recent success of indie developed games such as Minecraft, Super Meat Boy, and Broken Age have broken through the industry barriers and have given independent game developers hope that they can make a living without exchanging their intellectual property over to the big name publishers.

“Doing independent development via Indie Fund or Kickstarter allows us to be free of the pressure to change our game and to avoid things that seem risky,” Double Fine developer, Tim Shafer, says, “Now, we will rise or fall on our own merits.”

Check out this Mashable article for more on game developers who self-funded a game, and how the Indie Game industry has evolved. There are risks and benefits with working for major publishers and through self-funding. If given the choice, which route would you take?

Listen in as the Development Team of ‘Elder Scrolls Online’ Discuss Gameplay Strategy

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Would you rather play a game by yourself or be part of a group effort? ‘Elder Scrolls Online’ hopes you choose the latter and their game design team was tasked with motivating gamers on their MMO to play with others.

Paul Sage, Creative Director; Nick Konkle, Lead Game Play Designer and Dan Crenshaw, Dungeon Lead talk about the strategies they used and challenges they faced to achieve their goal in this article in GameInformer. Some of the game incentives offered to players include the ability to teleport to join your team and creating foes that are too strong for a single player to defeat. Their discussions take place as voice-overs during scenes from the game.

What strategies would you use to encourage multiple players in a game?

Independence High School After School Program

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Faculty,Tony Dias, helps students with the day's lesson. Tony graduated from Independence High.

Cogswell College and Independence High School have teamed up to introduce high school students to the exciting opportunities that blending art and technology opens to them. Over the course of 10 weeks students choose either digital painting or audio desktop production for the first 5 weeks and software engineering or video game design for the final 5 weeks.

“The goal of this program is to get students excited about something they might initially think is boring,” says Abraham Chacko, executive director of admissions and facilitator for the after school program at Cogswell College. “These are kids from the Silicon Valley,” Chacko continues. “When they hear the word ‘engineering,’ they think ‘I don’t want to have a job like my parents,’ but when you mention Disney, Pixar or video games and the job opportunities associated with them, they become excited about learning programming and engineering skills.”

Faculty, Reid Winfrey, offers design tips to students on the day's lesson.

The demand for skilled engineers in the U.S. continues to grow, with engineering degree holders experiencing some of the best job prospects in the country straight out of college. Jack Aiello is a Project Lead The Way trained instructor who teaches Introduction Engineering Design at Independence High, and is coordinator of the pre-engineering program, Space Technology Engineering Academy Magnet (STEAM). He serves as the faculty facilitator for the after-school program, in partnership with Chacko and uses a project-based, individualized teaching method similar to Cogswell’s.

“The ability to connect and engage our students in Cogswell’s environment is incredible,” says Aiello. “Running a class with 25 students working in a project-based environment is more advantageous than a traditional teaching model with lectures or video presentations at the front of a classroom of 35 or more students. The hands-on computer and audio equipment, programming tools and Industry experienced instructors available at Cogswell allow our students an exciting peek into the real world of the digital creative arts. At the end of each of our two hour weekly sessions at Cogswell, the students walk away with a feeling of accomplishment and pride for what they have created. They are enthusiastic and look forward to coming back next week.  Our students are on the consumer side of the ‘Digital Divide’, many from immigrant families that use technology, social media and video games, but don’t know how to leverage the technology to create something NEW; such as designing a video game, making an animated movie, or producing their own music. ”

Learn more in this news item.

Game Studio Class Works with Prairie Rainbow Company

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

This fall the Game Studio Class will roll up its collective sleeves, put on their thinking caps and create a ‘Rainbow Squares’ mobile and pc game for the Prairie Rainbow Company to help elementary school children learn math.

This Oakland California company is operated by George Gagnon, Pre-Engineering Partnerships Director at UC Berkeley and Michelle Collay, Director of the Urban Teacher Leadership program at Cal State East Bay. Prairie Rainbow develops board games and teacher and parent guides to help students learn math. The Rainbow Math Models are designed to engage tactile learners who need to build a physical model, image learners who need to create a representation of  a mental model, and language learners who need to hear, read, or write a number model. Rainbow Math Models are made of wood that is hand cut and painted by home crafts people in the Bay Area of California.

“We are looking forward to the opportunity to work with Rainbow Prairie Company to help them move in a new direction by designing a video game that suits the learning needs of their customers,” said Jerome Solomon, head of the Game Design & Development program at Cogswell. “One goal of our Game program is to offer students real-world learning opportunities. This partnership gives students the chance to not only design a math learning game but to test the prototype in local schools.”

This is a big step for Prairie Rainbow Company as it ventures into the realm of using video games to help children master important math and conceptualization skills. Cogswell College is pleased they chose to partner with us to develop this additional learning pathway for its customers.

You can enroll for the class now. Fall 2013 semester starts August 26.

From Zombies to Loving with Brendon Chung of Blendo Games

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Brendon Chung of Blendo Games, thinks that variety is the spice of life. Since each of his games are quite different in approach and focus, he lives this philosophy constantly in his professional life.

In this short video, Brendon discusses his game design creative process, how he learned to speed up the design work and also shares what software helped him get started.

What tools did you use when you were just starting to learn game design?

The Power of Game Mechanics for the Real World

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

How Companies, Non-profits and Government Organizations Can Utilize Advanced Gamification


Cogswell Assistant Professor Albert Chen (second from right) and the panel of game mechanics experts

The idea of using game mechanics for business purposes is a popular one, with “gamification” elements being added to a lot of products or experiences. From profile completeness scores in LinkedIn, to badges in FourSquare to commenting leaderboards on popular blogs, game mechanics have become fairly ubiquitous.

But according to a panel of experts in the game mechanics space, these elements are just touching the surface of this powerful emotional and psychological force. Video gaming companies are at the forefront of developing increasingly sophisticated games, but businesses, non-profits and governmental organizations will increasingly be tapping into these powerful gaming mechanics as new models are created.

Read on to see why game mechanics are so powerful and how they can be used for various different business or non-business applications.

The Power of Game Mechanics

1) Game Mechanics Impact Brain Chemistry

Game mechanics are powerful because they impact brain chemistry. The different types of games can provide different types of physiological rewards to the player.

  • Learning (concentrating/solving problems/exploring) – Norepinephrine)
  • Overcoming Challenges – Epinephrine (Adrenaline)
  • Building Social Connections – Oxytocin)
  • Building/Finding Order – Seratonin

2) Core Loops Lead to More Usage (and repeat visits)

Game mechanics create simple core loops that gamers do over and over again. These create an addictive cycle that makes it hard to stop playing.

For example, the core loop in Farmville is:

  • Plant Seeds -> Harvest Resources -> Buy Seeds -> Plant Seeds.

The core loop for Gears of War is:

  • Move to Next Position -> Select Correct Weapon -> Aim and Fire Until Clear -> Move to Next Position

It was argued that core loops in daily life can be powerful for consumer behavior beyond games. For example, the core loop for Starbucks is something like:

  • Arrive at Starbucks – > Order and Chat with Regular Barrista -> Enjoy Your Coffee -> Repeat Tomorrow

This core loop turns buying coffee into an annuity for Starbucks. Perhaps this ability to create a strong core loop is why the Starbuck’s model has been so powerful.

3) New Element Prevent Core Loop “Tolerance”

As with anything addictive, the emotional (and chemical) rewards provided by the core loop decrease over time. So, how does a game company (or other business) bring people back to play (or buy) again?

A game like Angry Birds does this with new worlds and increased difficulty. Another way they bring people back it is to show incomplete levels that require “clean up”, keeping people busy getting creating order!

Providing a special item that is only available for a limited time is a way to stimulate demand and sales (and to keep up interest). For example, the McRib is one of McDonald’s ways of stimulating their customer base. Happy meals and various giveaways are others. Disney DVDs that would come out of the vault and be available for a limited time is another example of this.

4) Games Don’t Depend On Increasing Player Motivation

Game mechanics can’t assume that players will become more motivated to learn or add skills to play higher and higher levels. In other words, the challenges can’t become so hard for any level of player that they give up. So, to create this “system of the grind”, as a player’s level increases, it should be just about as easy to kill the mouse from level 1 as it is to kill the dragon in level 10. Perhaps the player will have accumulated more powers and slightly more skill, but it can’t be too far off from the original level of difficulty.

For a real-life example, Village Harvest had success with taking donated fruit from people’s trees and giving it to the elderly. But with success, they didn’t necessarily want to expand the program, making it harder for volunteers to help. They wanted to make the process a simple habit (a core loop) for each volunteer, making the overall program more sustainable and not a burden on them.

5) Game Mechanics Can Be Applied to Real World Problems

Game designers have access to huge numbers of rabid fans and they are pushing the envelope in terms of building powerful experiences that are designed to influence user behavior.

Games like Call of Duty, SIM City and Grand Theft Auto are examples of immersive experiences where game designers have a choice of what to simulate and what not to – simulating real life but with parts specifically removed.  Mobile games like Angry Birds and Diner Dash create seemingly mindless but nevertheless addictive games. Both types of games attract millions and game designers are constantly refining the games to improve stickiness and return visits.

Cases: Applying Game Mechanics to the Real World

Game mechanics can be applied to solve real world problems, to generate new ideas, or to provide better (or cheaper) results. Some examples of practical applications include:

  • NASA and Life Support: NASA created a competition for developers to work on life support systems for travel to Mars. They used the motivation of competition to push for better and more unique ideas.
  • Netflix used a similar competition to improve the algorithm for its movie database.
  • Galaxy Zoo was created to use a game-like system to allow people to crowd-source the classification of galaxies. They received 70,000 classifications within 24 hours of the launch in 2007. That’s one approach to handling “big data”.
  • The problem that Hope Labs wanted to solve was that people would stop taking their medication, leading to health issues. So, they developed an immersive game where players could go into their bodies and shoot the cancer cells, allowing patients to visualize the power of the medicines.
  • FitBit, Fitocracy and other fitness companies provide scoring, social elements and feedback loops that help people keep up their level of activity.
  • Smoking: In an experiment in Canada, virtual reality games were used to successfully reduce the urge to smoke.
  • Poker and currency conversion: In another example, a poker site solved the massive problem of online currency conversion in order to facilitate play across the world.

How To Make Game Mechanics Work For Your Organization

In thinking about how to add game mechanics to your company’s products or services (or any other organization, for that matter), here are six elements to consider:

1) Make It “Crunchy” – Crisply define the target audience for the change (e.g. mothers between 25-45 years old) and the behavior you would like to impact.

2) Make It Measurable – Make sure the behavior is specifically described and is measurable.

3) Define Your Core Loop – Understand what core actions the person will do regularly to keep them participating.

4) Do Compulsion Analysis – Understand what will keep them coming back the next day.

5) Measure Behavior – Track and analyze the results.

6) Test Engagement Strategies – Make sure you engage with your participants and try different things to see the impact on their participation.

Game mechanics go beyond badges and leaderboards. They can wield significant power if used correctly in ways that align with participant motivation. While video game designers are at the cutting edge, increasingly companies and other organizations will be using more advanced game design techniques.

Are you integrating game design techniques into your company or organization’s business model?

Why or why not?

To Learn More…

To find out about Cogswell’s programs, including Game Design, Digital Art, Game Audio, Entrepreneurship and Innovation and Digital Media Management: Cogswell College, Silicon Valley, Programs.

This article is based on the panel by five experts, including Cogswell Assistant Professor Albert Chen and moderator Margarita Quihuis of SocialxDesign. It was held at law firm Sheppard Mullin for the Silicon Valley Innovation Institute on May 15th.

About the author: Tom Treanor will be teaching two courses in Cogswell’s Masters Program in Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Fall of 2013. He writes about Social Media Marketing in the Bay Area at Right Mix Marketing.

Just Make That Game Already!

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Blendo Games' Atom Zombie Smasher'

Blendo Game Designer, Brendon Chung, has a simple answer to the question, “How do I get started making games.” His answer is, “Make stuff. And then make more stuff.”

Great ideas are – well – not so great if they stay in your head or scratched out on a piece of paper. Until you actually start building something, you have no idea whether or not it will work or be any fun to play. At Cogswell College, we agree with Mr. Chung’s premise – you learn best by doing – so that’s the way we design our coursework.

Yes, learning good design theory will make your job easier and increase your chances for success but unless you get your hands dirty, you’ll never know if your idea has potential.

Read Brendon Chung’s amusing guide to getting started in video game design.

New Degree Program Game Design & Development

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Jerome Solomon, appointed Director for the new Game Design & Development bachelor degree program

Cogswell College announced the offering of a new degree program, Game Design & Development. Students will have the option of majoring in either Game Design Art (GDA) or Game Design Engineering (GDE). Each specialization focuses on one of the two sides of game development: art and content development or game design programming and software development.

“The creation of this new program presents a strong opportunity for students to make games in a more realistic industry environment,” says Jerome Solomon, assistant professor of Cogswell’s new game design program. Solomon is a film and game industry veteran, and currently sits on the National Committee for ACM SIGGRAPH.

While most of the classes are not new to Cogswell’s curriculum, creating a separate degree program around them gives the college more flexibility to adjust course offerings to keep up with current industry trends. The new degree program also allows graduates to emphasize their specialized skill-set on their resumes.

“Typically, games are created by multidisciplinary teams” Solomon continues. “Cogswell is one of only a handful of schools that bring together all of the elements of game development. We have students and faculty with expertise in art, engineering, design, audio, and entrepreneurship that work together on teams. This is exactly like the composition of game development teams in the industry.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for software developers will grow 30 per cent by 2020, equaling approximately 1.1 million new jobs or 14 per cent of all occupations in the U.S. economy. This demand is fueled by the gamification of everything from law enforcement to education to healthcare, which requires skills in game design, art, animation and programming and constitutes a significant portion of the projected 1.1 million jobs.

Last week’s Game Developer’s Conference was held in San Francisco. Thousands of hopeful game design and engineering graduates and job seekers flocked to the Career Pavilion that housed over 50 booths including Sony, Microsoft, Electronic Arts and WB Games along with various schools and recruiters.

Solomon visited the pavilion on behalf of the college and was encouraged by the positive reception to Cogswell’s new program from the industry exhibitors.

“Game development companies are either looking for an artist or an engineer,” explains Solomon. “Larger studios look for very specific skills; smaller studios look for those with multiple skills. The employers we met with were extremely receptive to the fact that we have every component of game development here at Cogswell, which creates a real-world, industry work environment for our students.”

Is Proteus a Game or Something Else?

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

In Proteus, players travel through a world to soothing music as they uncover pockets of wildlife and other things of interest along the way. There are no particular goals or rules to speak of – elements most students of game design learn are essential parts of a game.

Developer Ed Key, alongside musician David Kanaga, thinks of it more as an “anti-game.”

Follow the discussion in Indie Game the WebLog. What do you think? Is Proteus a Game or something else?