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SBGames 2010 [Day 3]

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SBGames 2010 [Day 3]

Jonathan Blow, keynote speaker of Day 3 of SBGames2010, presented the talk ‘The Perils of Game Design’. Jonathan Blow, former writer for 'Game Developer Magazine' is the man behind the game 'Braid'.

Naturally, he focused on Game Design and offered his input on the area. He referred early on that games are so much more than they were 30 years ago. Take ‘Pac-Man’ for example. What were the chances of finding someone playing ‘Pac-Man’ for more than 30 minutes? Today, we have people playing games during hours, 5 or 6 at a time.

Games have naturally evolved over time, thanks to better game design. Better game design was possible because of trial and error processes, resulting in a set of best game design practices that make games more engaging.

 

 

So what are some of these best game design practices? ‘Story’, ‘Eye & Ear Candy’, ‘Next Goal’ and ‘Feeling of Constant Improvement’. Why the latter of the list? Because the ‘human mind wants and needs to feel its improving. How is this possible in a game? Through ‘high-scores’ or ‘special abilities’, for example.

So, as Jonathan Blow exemplified, if we take the example of slot machines, they are in fact an addictive game play experience because they’re flashy (eye candy) and have a reward system. However, if you take away the ‘flashiness’ and the rewards, all you get is a win/lose game… which is boring.

The conversation then moved towards the idea of ‘boredom’. What is ‘boredom’? It’s a ‘healthy response to unproductive situations’… and continued in the direction of reward systems, once again.

Exemplifying with the work of BF Skinner, “reward systems are methods of positive control’ and ‘it is better to be a conscious slave than to be a happy one’. Strong words, huh?!

So what’s this all about? It’s about the fact that many games or systems control people by making them happy. This is a dangerous thing. Why? Because in this state of happiness, a person isn’t aware they’re being ‘controlled’.

Take ‘FarmVille’ or ‘FrontierVille’ for example (yes, these games again). They are, in a sense, systems of slavery. Why? Because they’re a system of planting crops, but they’ll die if you don’t take care of them. So the game/system ‘forces’ you to come back and take care of your farm/land…whatever it is. In a nutshell, ‘FarmVille’s’ game designers simply try to maximize the amount of time this game takes up, whether you’re in front of the monitor playing or not. In theory, this makes your life worse because you’re constantly worried that your crops will die or that you’re not making use of the free land you have to plant other things. The player is, therefore, controlled by the game. Nevertheless, the player will continually feel happy playing the game.

 

Naturally, these ideas caused a lot of ‘murmurs’ in the crowd… at the moment, and during the rest of the day. It was one of those ideas that really made a person reflect.

Jonathan Blow stated that ‘FarmVille’, or any social game for that matter, destroys our time while we’re away from them. He referred to, as I did in yesterday’s post, the parody game ‘Cow Clicker’ as being a simplified version of ‘FarmVille’. How can a simple click game be so persuasive? And worse yet, the fact that people are constantly publishing things on their walls, things like ‘I just harvested some corn’, ‘I just milked a cow’, and then having someone else click on these posts makes the game go viral.

While, as we’ve seen, reward systems are part of good game design, in ‘FarmVille’, the multiple reward systems are a great way to hide the pointlessness of the game. In the end, the companies that make these games don’t even like the games they make; they won’t even play them. They don’t care if they’re fun or not… they just want your money.

And believe it or not, there is some science to all of this. Tests are done to understand exactly how much rewards should be given to a player for completing a certain task. There are tests that observe player behavior and then optimize the game to make it more ‘appealing’.

 

To conclude his talk, he focused on some of his personal approaches in game design. He showed concern in the fact that game designers, when developing these games, are making people ‘dumber’. He stated that a game designer has a responsibility to develop good games and to respect the player.

How?

By being aware of manipulative tactics and avoiding them; by optimizing the gameplay and avoiding control techniques.

By developing a game regarding an issue that interests the designer; a game that can impact players’ lives.

And by doing such things, you can still make a reasonable amount of money.

 

As I mentioned, this was probably the most discussed talk. His ideas on control and slavery generated a lot of talk after the keynote. While in a way I do feel that certain games of the genre are manipulative and do control the player – I do know people that play the game and are returning to it multiple times a day to complete multiple objectives – being controlled is all about how easily you can be controlled and how much you give in to these games. If you’re desperate to be the best, you’ll probably give in a lot easier. If you play, but really don’t care… I don’t think you’ll be easily controlled by the game. This talk and the ideas that were generated can boil up a big conversation… no doubt about it.

 

And to finish off this post and series of posts related to SBGames, a word for my presentation that occurred on the morning of Day 3. I presented early, 9am, and there was a significant crowd. I think the presentation went well although it didn’t generate many questions.

That’s about it. 2011’s edition will be in Bahia. Only time will tell if I’ll be there!

 

 


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published by sja às 15:55

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