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Fight Design Bloat with Data
by Tadhg Kelly on 09/10/10 10:22:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

There's a saying in advertising that 50% of the money spent on any campaign is wasted. The only problem is that you can never know which 50%.

The games industry lives in much the same state. There are a huge number of constituent parts included in a modern big-box videogame and most of the time drag involved in those projects comes from spinning off in a dozen directions and then reconciling them all into something. And, often, then realising that what the project has reconciled into has serious problems so it must once again be unpicked and rewoven.

The other side of the advertising story mentioned above is that in the modern age, metrics help to find where that wasteful 50% exists. The reason why Google is a multi-billion dollar corporation (and Facebook likewise) is that it provides tools to advertisers by which they can measure what works and what does not, with the net result being that much of what was the advertising business and industry culture is dying. It is *proven* to not work as well as the people inside the walls of the industry argue that it might. 

The thing is: 80% of those parts included in a modern game are unnecessary. In any successful game, the reason for why it is successful usually boil down to a few key things - and what defines a great game versus a rubbish game is how those few key things behave. All the other parts are generally just sitting there, not paying for themselves, and with most of the team arguing the "what about the player who does like X" minority interests.

As a current example, Bioware has shown through stats that 80% of Mass Effect players just play the default male character, and most of them play the Soldier class, and only 50% of all players ever bother to finish the main quests in the game. Doubtless many will argue that the game should serve the 20%, the minority and the 50% anyway in order to capture the greatest overall number of players, right?

Wrong. 

"Keep It Simple Stupid" is not just a bumper sticker slogan. It means working very hard to find the most efficient design that users will actually use, not including a variety of pet projects as part of a bloated software project on the idea that someone somewhere might find that one feature useful once. That's just ego talking. The hard job of game design is knowing what to cut and what is an *efficient* use of team resources to make a great game. Once you manage to do that, and do it well, the audience for your game will geometrically increase while the cost to produce it will dramatically fall. 

Measurement is the best way to cut to the heart of what actually works and what does not. It cuts through all of the ego in one fell swoop and shows, baldly, what is working and what is not. Done early enough and often enough, measurement tells you what you're doing wrong. 

Pure test-driven-development and design is only good for telling you how what you have is working or not. You do still have to do the hard work of making the next leap, the step beyond and the next stage. You still have to be an artist because tests can't act as a replacement for creativity of course. 

They also can't act as a replacement for courage. It is a part of the tradition of development that it is a team effort, but that sentiment to find agreement among parties is often the source of a raft of included features that are included because nobody in the team has the courage to tell other members that their ideas are rubbish. While many studios are now using some forms of metrics in order to get some idea of where the might be going right or wrong, at their core the decision-making often still tends toward groupthink rather edict. Right?

Wrong again. What happens is institutional cowardice, I'm-not-to-blame syndrome, and a project that actually devolves into a set of poorly-connected sub-projects and sub-teams who believe that at least "their bit" will be good even if they think the rest of the game stinks. Management by consensus might make everyone feel a bit better about themselves in the short term, but in the long term it results in massive amounts of cruft.

The two things that I would encourage any studio to start doing are:

1. Define design tests and metrics as a part of any work they do. You should state not just what your fancy mechanic is, but also how you propose to validate it with real people (not your testers, nor team members, nor the producer's son/wife/dog), see whether it's a good idea or not in reality and then - and only then - include it  as a part of the main project. Without that hard information, all you're doing is creating project bloat. 

2. Appoint a director whose principle job is to say "no" and to remove anyone from the team who can't work with that authority. Without that authority in place, the metrics are just going to lead to a lot of down-the-rabbit-hole arguments and get nothing done. Somebody needs to be in charge and call the play. 


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Comments


Megan Fox
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"As a current example, Bioware has shown through stats that 80% of Mass Effect players just play the default male character, and most of them play the Soldier class, and only 50% of all players ever bother to finish the main quests in the game. Doubtless many will argue that the game should serve the 20%, the minority and the 50% anyway in order to capture the greatest overall number of players, right?



Wrong."



I'm going to have to disagree.



If you're attempting to design a game to appeal to explorer or choice-driven types, by definition, you have to include a substantial amount of content that most players simply won't see. The fact that they won't see it is irrelevant, and typically doesn't enter into their purchasing decision - you're selling them on the idea of an unending world, of choices that matter, etc, even if they as a player choose to end up playing it for 5 hours and shelving it (but being satisfied).



What a player gets out of a game can't always be drawn from utilization metrics. Simply presenting the choice of gender, choice of facial customization, etc, subtly influences a customer's appreciation of their game - and most importantly, their internal value calculation when considering how much they need this game and how much they're willing to pay for it.



Taken to the nines, you would have us not bother including the ending of a game, because only a few players actually bother completing it. I think you can see that, on its face, that is a ridiculous notion - unless you did a very good job of hiding it, players would avoid your game like the plague, because you've voided their internal value calculation by presenting them with an incomplete product.



In those cases where you are presenting a linear experience, I more or less agree with you, but when the gaming world is gradually putting more and more choice and self-determination into games specifically to break away from the linear experience, I think it's very dangerous to assume that current metrics catch sufficient data to cut content as "inefficient." You would need a way of capturing not only what they do, but what they like the idea of being ABLE to do.

Tim Keenan
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I definitely agree that these metrics in themselves can be misleading. And that perception, like Megan says, is king. Even if the back story didn't affect the game too much. I did enjoy choosing it.

Jonathan Hibberd
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First, I don't know where these stats are coming from, but from what I've seen throughout various sites and polls, the numbers are at least 50% that always play the female character, and some that have it closer to 70% that mostly played the female character.



Back to the point, at some point there is a line of diminishing returns. But that point comes at different points for different games and different companies. If Bungie (don't play their games, so I'm not sure if I'm spelling it right) were to implement a fancy character customization system like Bioware has, I would agree that it would be overkill. People don't play Halo to immerse themselves in a character. They play it to shoot stuff. However Bioware has been all about character and story from the start. If you play a Bioware game, you know that you're going to get those options. So take those away, and you risk angering your core fan base.



I think the #1 thing that any company can do is decide who they are. What market do they want? What types of games do they want to make? What type of fan do they want to appeal to? Once you have this set in stone, it helps to drive all the other decisions you have to make.

Tadhg Kelly
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The stats come from Bioware themselves.



http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/30288/BioWare_Gathers_Mass_Eff
ect_2_Metrics_For_Player_Behavior_Cues.php

Tadhg Kelly
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@Megan



...If you're attempting to design a game to appeal to explorer or choice-driven types, by definition, you have to include a substantial amount of content that most players simply won't see. The fact that they won't see it is irrelevant, and typically doesn't enter into their purchasing decision - you're selling them on the idea of an unending world, of choices that matter, etc, even if they as a player choose to end up playing it for 5 hours and shelving it (but being satisfied)...



This is the fallacy of trying to please all of the people all of the time. It's impossible because it creates paradoxical design. So for example, by including lots of exploring content you are also creating conditions in which exploration-hating players will find themselves doing the thing they hate, which is exploring.



The point is that it is better if you pick your customer (or better yet validate that they exist) rather than assume that "your customer = all customers" and get into the carnival idea of including a little bit of everything for everyone. All it does it amass expense, create complication and paradoxes within the design. Pick your customer, make the game that they want, and - not to put too fine a point on it - forget everyone else.



...What a player gets out of a game can't always be drawn from utilization metrics. Simply presenting the choice of gender, choice of facial customization, etc, subtly influences a customer's appreciation of their game - and most importantly, their internal value calculation when considering how much they need this game and how much they're willing to pay for it...



Unless it doesn't. And how would anyone propose to divine which it is? By validating. Metrics, in short. There are lots of very useful things that can be learned or inferred from metrics (the Bioware data is a case in point) but ultimately they will only paint a picture. The real question is whether the team has the leadership and the courage to follow through and make cuts. Or whether they'll consider any attempt at data to basically be a threat.



In most cases, the answer is the latter: Left to a committee, most people will act out of their own self-interest. That is why you need an arbiter.



...Taken to the nines, you would have us not bother including the ending of a game, because only a few players actually bother completing it. I think you can see that, on its face, that is a ridiculous notion - unless you did a very good job of hiding it, players would avoid your game like the plague, because you've voided their internal value calculation by presenting them with an incomplete product



In those cases where you are presenting a linear experience, I more or less agree with you, but when the gaming world is gradually putting more and more choice and self-determination into games specifically to break away from the linear experience, I think it's very dangerous to assume that current metrics catch sufficient data to cut content as "inefficient." You would need a way of capturing not only what they do, but what they like the idea of being ABLE to do...



Or it would lead you to make a different product. Your assumption here is that what this means is taking a game as-is and excising some bits. That's not it at all. Instead, what metrics should be doing is leading you to consider making a different product instead. For instance, if Mass Effect's stats show that the trad roleplaying elements of character-creation and a hoary old story aren't really that interesting then perhaps a better product to make is a looser universe in which players can explore and complete missions, but no need for the grander plot. (Mass Effect meets Elite, basically).



Metrics should be leading to questioning core structure, fundamental ideas and so on. Not just polishing what you already have.

Jake Akemann
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Metrics should absolutely be used in development of new games, but can also be vastly misinterpreted.



The male soldier is the default and will naturally be more popular than the other classes. Quoted from the IGN article - "a lot of people played Mass Effect 2 more than once." Did they replay it in the soldier class? Did they use the default the first time then try something different? Did they finish the game the second time? Or the third?



Also, one needs to take into consideration how popular this game is. Statistics vary, but the lowest I've seen are 1.6 million games sold. 50% completion is 800,000 people. Adding a female skeletal mesh, minor dialog variations, and voice acting is surely worth satisfying the 320,000 people (20%) who played as a female.

Tadhg Kelly
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No, see this is where I think danger lies.



The problem is in viewing each part of a game as a sales tool, and then thinking that the customer base for the game overall equals the sum of the sales tools. So you include 50 features because each of those features has a potential audience, and the sum of them together will lead to sales of X, right?



Not really, no. The introduction of 50 features means that users are also getting many features that they don't want. Such features create drag, which has a net negative effect on future purchasing decisions.



We see this in software all the time: The iPad is selling hand over fist on a message of "barn door simple computer" after years of using Windows. Windows has always had thousands of features to satisfy all comers, but many users just find the overall usage experience uncomfortable and confusing as a result.



GTA4 has a lot less user choice than Mass Effect, both in-combat and in character development. It has sold about 5 times as many units, as did its predecessors. Why?



Elegance. If build-50-features is how Microsoft made software for a long time, then demanding elegance is how Apple makes products, and measuring for elegance is how Google makes products. A combination of the two is also how Nintendo keeps making great games.

Jacob Pederson
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I would agree that certain types of features might create drag. Perhaps the endless piles of useless items in Mass Effect 1 or the planet mining in Mass Effect 2 might be some of these. However, how can a feature that you simply skip if you don't like it create drag? The male/female character customization might distract you for all of 5 seconds (probably less). Even a feature like a cover system, might simply be ignored on lower difficulties.



Another concern might be the veracity of whichever 20% of the audience you chose to ditch features on. We all know what happened to Valve over their "too early" release of lfd2, and Blizzard over the removal of LAN from Starcraft 2. It's debatable how much this bad publicity cost them in sales, but certainly with the amount these companies spend on marketing, it might be better to throw in a few features that pander to a vocal minority.

Jake Akemann
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That's a great point, Tadhg. The Windows/Mac and MassEffect/GTA comparisons are really good examples. I think an answer to this debate is that people simply desire different things in everything from operating systems to games.



Your article is very strong and meaningful to the people who are looking for "simple elegance" in game design. But, despite sales, there are people who prefer Mass Effect to GTA.



Which one is correct? I say neither. Both have a healthy demand. When considering game design, though, I think we could both agree that establishing an "elegancy vs. 50-choices" goal before any other planning would be smart thinking.

Jonathan Hibberd
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I think you're seeing things as too black and white. There's a difference between "features that you don't want", and features that you hate enough for them to have a "net negative effect" on your purchase decision. Most features are going to be neutral. They won't add to a person's decision to buy, but they also won't impact that decision in a negative way. And if a product has a feature that you really want, most people are willing to overlook things about a product that they dislike, to a point. Obviously if the bad outweighs the good, they won't.



For instance, going back to your example, I highly doubt that there were many people that truly disliked the character creation option. Even fewer for whom said feature was so hated that they decided not to buy the game. However, I am certain that if you removed it, its absence would be a major loss to those 20% who liked the playing the female character, to the point that they might not buy the game.



As for the analogy of Apple vs. Microsoft, you make it sound as if the iPad is Apple's first attempt at attacking Windows. However, that's obviously not the case. They've been competitors for decades, and it's only recently that Apple had made any significant headway. In fact, without the i-products (and a rescue from Microsoft themselves), Apple would be belly-up. The area where they've made any progress isn't in the desktop market, where Windows is still king. It's in the portable device realm, where there is still a dearth of competition, and where a simplified interface makes sense.



If everyone were going after the same market, then everyone would build GTA games, and I would toss my XBox in the dumpster. I for one like having options. I can tell you that if Bioware had done what you're advising, and cut the character customization from ME2, I wouldn't have bought it. Jennifer Hale is one of my favorite actresses, while I find the performance of the actor that plays the male Shepard to be dull at best and annoying at worst. So if my only option were play as male or not play, I wouldn't play. I don't enjoy FPS games, so if they cut all of the classes except soldier, I wouldn't play. You have to consider that lack of features is a feature as well, and can have the same negative impact. More so, since with a feature, often it can be ignored, but with a lack of a feature, there's nothing you can do.

Tadhg Kelly
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The point was that if you apply the same thinking to every part of a game, you can see why they balloon into these massive projects with not too much focus. It's not the one feature of character creation (to use the ME example), it's the compound effect of integrating many such features.



Does that affect purchase decisions? Absolutely it does. On one level it means that an experienced player who knows what they're looking for may evaluate closely. To be fair though, that's not likely to be a lot of players.



The more significant effect is on the execution of core features, which in turn affects the impression that the game makes among taste-makers and influencers (game reviewers, hardcore fans, people likely to tweet and talk) which in turn affects the kind of buzz that the game gathers around its quality.



On a third level, it affects the marketing story that gathers around the game. Genre-fication has two aspects, one good (there's a pre-existing audience that will be disposed to hearing that story) and one bad (labelling something into a genre excludes it from being interesting to the market as a whole). By following a laundry-list approach to features, games are usually immediately pegging themselves into a genre corner, and it is very difficult to create a new and different marketing story around that game. It will be reviewed and thought of in "This is a game of type X" terms, which is inherently self limiting.



You don't often see Sims or GTA-like success by pandering to genre, nor by creating a laundry list of features that fulfill a series of 10% market expectations. While you may do well, what you are actually doing is spending a massive amount of money in a dozen directions for lukewarm returns (creatively as well as financially) at best.

Tim Keenan
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I agree with you to an extent. I've tried to hone my latest game toward a single ideal experience, and to avoid different paths for different players, since as a small developer it's hard to afford the time for that. And perhaps If I hadn't been given a choice of sex or class for Mass Effect I might not have cared. But a good question would be, how much time was spent implementing the female character/path? 20% of players is not an insignificant number. And if they dedicated 3% of their time to accommodate those users than it may be time well spent.



The only thing I would worry about when trying to eliminate these extras is that you don't end up being driven by focus tests and catering to the safest path. Though I believe what you're saying is that if you decide to go edgy, decide that at the beginning, and don't compromise along the way.



Thanks for the blog.

Tadhg Kelly
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Sure (on the 3% for 20%).



The point I'm making however is that a big game like Mass Effect contains dozens, if not hundreds, of bits of functionality and content that all also have their 3% weight. Add them up and figure in the melding costs of making sure the whole thing works, and the project becomes very large indeed.



And I'm not singing out Bioware here. Just using their stats as a base point to make a general point about a lot of games.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Tadhg Kelly
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Bob, this isn't a chat about making money from games. It's about making better games.

Bart Stewart
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My impression is that there are actually two arguments being made here, a major argument and a minor one.



As I read them, the major argument is: define a clear, coherent vision for the game, and organize your development process to ruthlessly eliminate any features that don't measurably contribute to achieving that vision. And the minor argument is: features that are fun for "minority interest" playstyles -- features that "someone somewhere" might enjoy -- are rubbish and should be cut.



If I've got that right, then I'm in full agreement with the major argument, but -- bearing in mind that it's minor -- I'm not entirely convinced by the minor argument.



If it's unintentional, if people are just throwing random features into the design on the theory that they'll be fun for a few potential purchasers and that makes those features worth implementing, then sure, that's dumb. But what about the case where one of the core elements of a game's design, one of the very short list of things that make that game distinctive, is that it's explicitly designed to support multiple playstyle approaches to the game's content?



There aren't many games like that. But there are some, and it would be a mistake to deny them existence because they don't mindlessly stick to implementing only those features that the majority playstyle (whatever that might be) is thought to enjoy.



Certainly the challenge of keeping such games focused (per the major argument) is higher because it must be harder to avoid feature creep when you already have some "creep" built into the vision for the game. But a good designer will (as described) know the difference between a feature that effectively supports a carefully defined multi-playstyle vision and a feature that just sounds cool, and will have the courage and the power to enforce the former and reject the latter.



So, overall, yes, identify the short list of features that make your game unique and focus laser-like on implementing them as well as possible... but don't assume that "as well as possible" means "so that only the majority playstyle among today's gamers will enjoy them" if your game is intended to be broadly appealing.



There *is* some room for broadly appealing games, isn't there?

Tadhg Kelly
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...But what about the case where one of the core elements of a game's design, one of the very short list of things that make that game distinctive, is that it's explicitly designed to support multiple playstyle approaches to the game's content?...



Most of the time that decision is actually an avoidance. Designing for multiple player types is another way of saying "please all of the people all of the time" and what you end up building is a mongrel product that does a bunch of things badly. Infinitely better is to choose your customer and build what they want.



Even the much-vaunted Deus Ex had a lot of redundant elements and the actual combat gameplay didn't really work very well (when you're shooting an opponent 10 times in the head to kill it because of the games' hit points calculator, it just feels wrong). Deus Ex managed to work, I think, because it offered so much possibility at a time when most FPS games were very simple and so it was a breath of fresh air.



...There *is* some room for broadly appealing games, isn't there?...



Totally.

But broad appeal is generally not achieved through a laundry-list of pet features.

Mike Weldon
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In my opinion, one of the things that separates the good game experiences from the great are the moments when despite playing the game for many hours, you see something that you never saw before and never expected. These are rare, but that are the things that make a game really memorable.



I agree that many teams often waste time on features that aren't good or aren't important, but if you don't ever experiment with new features then you will never make anything original. It comes down to time management, and I think it important to devote some time to experimentation and iteration on features that you just don't know if they will be any good until you put them into the game. As long as you keep an eye on the big picture, of course.



I definitely agree that having a director who keeps the team focused in the right direction is very important to a successful project. But it sounds like you are suggesting that maybe Mass Effect would have been a better game if they had cut everything except the male Soldier and spent the extra time improving that experience. To that I would soundly disagree, and state that there are already lots of games that I could play that are exactly like that, but very few that are like Mass Effect. That added freedom of choice is what helps set it apart from the average linear adventure game.

Randy OConnor
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I agree with the major argument that you need to make sure you don't create unnecessary bloat.



It seems to me, however, that this article is overly critical of "open-world" games and general customization options. There are always going to be developers that seek to create a world that you can approach from different angles, and I feel as if you are approaching the idea from a sales-side approach rather than allowing for people to create big open games and actually put in a level of customization that makes an experience broader.



One of the games I dream of coming to life would be a modern day Shadowrun (after the old Sega classic). That had a multitude of ways you could play it, from stealthy hacker to run-n-gun to being a shaman (of all things). The friends I had all took different approaches and we all loved it for each. I wouldn't discount that game because it allowed those different approaches. Would you say Fallout 3 was wrong in allowing so many routes to success?



I guess the issue I have here is that you seem to be against roleplaying games in the sense that roleplaying is about offering choice of playstyle. You say multiple playstyles are just avoiding a decision, but I would argue that many of the large-scale games you are touting as examples were always intended to be large worlds for a variety of people.



Could Fallout 3 have been a better FPS if they had built their environments differently? Sure. Could it have been better at stealth? Yeah. And could it have had a more complicated economy? Definitely. But as a world, Fallout 3 was amazing. I am certain the developers planned from the start to offer so many ways to play the game. To discount such choice so developers only ever focus on a particular playstyle seems to denigrate such open-world/open-playstyle games to a lower tier, and that's where I don't agree.



But in the end it doesn't matter, because there will always be developers trying to build worlds that let you roam in all directions, and some of them will actually get it all right.

Tadhg Kelly
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Again, I just used Bioware's game as a present example. The point I'm making is not about RPGs or any one form of game in particular.

Randy OConnor
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Sure, Mass Effect was evidence for your point. That's fine and valid.



I do agree with what you're saying overall; I very strongly believe that most features are bloat and often there is unnecessary content, but there's just a slight edge to the idea that makes me uneasy.



I am not quite sure what it is, but there are undoubtedly edge cases, and I think that AAA titles (especially AAA RPGs) have more of those potential edge cases, in which they are world-building, implementing a lot of game systems to create more than a single game. I don't think it's wrong to build more than one game in the same cartridge/EXE, I just think it's much harder to pull off.



But certainly, to agree with you, Mirror's Edge was immensely frustrating because they added more and more FPS elements at the end when they had a mostly successful First Person Parkour game. Clearly there was feature bloat, and the game suffered because of it. And now the new iPhone version has rectified that, in my opinion, by not ever allowing you to pick up a gun. Simpler, and now I think truer to the original idea.

dana mcdonald
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To me it seems like the main point here is that companies can do really great AAA games for substantially less money if they consider their audience more carefully.



I think the best example of this was Shadow Of The Colossus. They had an objective and they stuck to it perfectly. I think most companies setting out to make that game would have doubled or tripled the budget and made all sorts of little enemies, fights and puzzles to fill in the time between the colossi, and the funny thing is if they had done that, I think many people would not have completed the game because the fluff got in the way of the real hook.

Prash Nelson-Smythe
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Great example. That game was really stripped down to the few things it needed, yet still provided a lot of content that provided an expansive feel.

Prash Nelson-Smythe
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I pretty much agree with this article as I understand it, as long as we are clear that metrics can be very misleading and there should be sufficient work put into interpreting them i.e. this does not mean that game design is simply informed by the result of some calculations. Also, they should not be used as a reason to avoid the unknown: since games are an entertainment medium, the audience do not always know what they want. The point is to surprise them.



The availability of hard data can encourage empiricism, and avoid developers from maintaining delusions. People might argue that game design should be done by "feel" and that's true and useful to some extent, but the flipside of feelings is that they can be very wrong.



On a related note, I think that as games get big and provide a lot of content, there becomes a temptation (or a natural tendency in development teams) to design in more features. So big games tend to get quite complicated to play. Conversely, games that are simple to pick up and play tend to lose out on content. It seems to me that there is a relatively unsatisfied demand for games that are both:

1. Simple to pick up and start playing

2. Provide lots of content

An example of such a game is New Super Mario Bros Wii, where it takes a reasonable amount of time to beat the "final" boss and a lot longer to get 100% (at least 20 hours by my conservative estimate). The assumption is sometimes that it sold well because it is "casual" or a brief nostalgic amusement, but if that was the case then why did it need all those levels? I think the content here is important, and the fact that it was delivered with simplicity is equally important. I am struggling to think of other recent examples of games that deliver decent proportions of these two elements together. On the other hand there are lots of fun, instantly playable games out there that end way too quickly.



The concepts of "content" and "features" should be kept separate. I understand feature drag but I'm not sure if there is an equivalent content drag. If it exists, I doubt it is as problematic. In fact, as you've mentioned elsewhere, creating worlds is a big part of gaming. Reaching the limits of the world is one way to damage the illusion that it exists. As a result, if it is clear that things remain undiscovered then the world feels more real.



I'm not sure if being able to select a female character is an example of feature drag since it is more content than feature (and there is bound to be a character customisation screen anyway), though I can understand your use of it as an example because it was a recently publicised metric. I've not played Mass Effect, but from what I have read, there are probably other features there that could be creating more drag.

Joshua McDonald
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I think a lot of people have missed the point of the article, though Mass Effect may not be the best example. The example I would use would be the Borderlands vehicles. The whole leveling, loot, and character design aspect that sets it apart from other shooters is completely unrelated to vehicles, but it's generally assumed that shooter games are supposed to have things you can drive, so in the end, it feels like something completely unrelated that was thrown in. There might be that small percentage of people who feel that vehicles improved the game, but for most Borderlands players, those resources would probably have been better spent improving the core experience.



For those who say that this stifles innovation, I would argue the opposite. It's hard to innovate if you think you have to have every significant feature of your genre as part of your game, or if you do innovate, it's often lost in the bloat of everything else. Had Portal followed the standard design process, there would have been 8 different guns, 20 different enemies to fight, 8 vehicles (after all, they make great bullet points on the retail box), and a mediocre co-op mode. It would have been three times the budget and a quarter as enjoyable.



In the cases of games that do innovate but include standard features, metrics are a good way to show if people are still interested in these features. My opinion on Borderlands vehicles is the way I believe it probably is, but I can't be certain. Metrics could prove me right (in which case, Borderlands 2 could nix the vehicles) or wrong (Borderlands 2 would add new vehicles). That's not stifling innovation: That's learning how to better entertain your consumers.

Tynan Sylvester
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Josh Foreman
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Very interesting article. I think the points here about Shadow of the Colossus and Portal certainly lend credence to you point that focusing like a laser on a limited theme can produce fantastic products. But towards the end of the article I realized I would not want to work at a company that ruthlessly followed your prescription. I just don't think I'd like the culture. That doesn't make it bad. I just think that artists need to dream big. And yeah, those big dreams eventually need to get chopped up and packaged if anyone wants to make a living. But the idea of an authoritarian director who's primary job is to say 'no' just sounds oppressive to me. Good for business? Sure. Good for the product overall? I guess it depends on how good that 'no' man is as a designer. Good for a work environment? I don't think so.


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