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Casual Connect: The Fatal Flaws Of Flash Game Design
Casual Connect: The Fatal Flaws Of Flash Game Design
July 23, 2009 | By Erin Bell

July 23, 2009 | By Erin Bell
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Kongregate's CEO Jim Greer and Developer Relations Manager Greg McClanahan used their Casual Connect panel in Seattle to talk about some of the design decisions that just don't work for Flash games.

The execs behind the popular free-to-play Flash game portal gave an overview of some of the top tips they've learnt on what to do -- and what not to do -- in Flash game design.

Along the way, they offered the following advice to new developers:

Don't Forget About The Fun

The duo explained: "For a lot of jobs, if you produce something of high quality, then it will do well. The thing about games is that they also have to be fun too. My biggest advice to developers is to start with fun first.

"Make a fun little mechanic that works and build on that. Don't go the other way around and start top down with the structure of the same and hope to make it fun later."

Art doesn't have to conflict with fun either, McClanahan stressed.

"I love games that are artful, and I definitely believe that games can be art and often are, but a lot of developers use this as a free ticket to their game not having to be fun. If people complain about their game not being fun, they say, 'well, it's art, and it doesn't have to be.' You don't have to look very far to see games that are artful and also very fun."

Don't Expect To Be Paid By The Hour

The Kongregate duo added: "Developers are shocked when they produce a game that they've been working on for four months and they only get a $1,000 or $2,000 sponsorship offer on it."

"The thing is, no one really asked them to make this game. It's something they did on their own, and reverse logic doesn't really work when you try to break it down by the hour. It doesn't matter how long you spent on the game, it's the final product that matters."

Don't Equate Length With Value

A lot of developers feel like they need to have a long game, which makes sense if they're trying to sell your game for $60 on a console, but not so much for a free Flash game, according to Kongregate.

The Several Journeys of Reemus series, for example, was a successful game on Kongregate, but most of the negative comments focused on its unnecessary length. The final level in particular, which was extremely repetitive, drove people crazy. When McClanahan asked the developer why he had made the final level so long, he said that the game would have been too short if he hadn't.

McClanahan contrasted that example with You Have to Burn the Rope - a game that was one minute long to play, but has an average rating of 4.02 (out of 5) at Kongregate.

Make Controls Clear

"Developers get very frustrated when players get confused by their game because they did not read the instructions, and I just want to make it clear, players do not read instructions," McClanahan said.

McClanahan said that the responsibility lies with the developers to communicate the controls to the player as clearly as possible, and suggested using dialogue boxes to explain new controls, abilities and weapons.

"Don't assume that players have memorized the instructions from the title screen and know how to do everything. If players are not immediately aware of what they should be doing with the controls, they'll rate the game down."

Understand The Difference Between Challenge And Frustration

Developers think it's cool to make a game hard because it's a sign of being "hardcore," but in reality having a gradual difficulty curve is a virtue. With some notable exceptions. McClanahan singled out Metanet Software's N as a game that can get away with being "hard for the sake of hard" for a number of reasons.

"The player has tremendous control over the character. You really do feel like a ninja because you can do anything, run, wall-jumps, whatever," McClanahan explained. "The other thing is the game doesn't punish you too much for dying. There's really just one room and if you die it's not a huge deal, you can just restart. It really just drives you to play it better."

"Once you're in a situation where you see the path to victory, your game is really fun, there's a high skill component to it and you don't punish the player too much for dying, you can get away with having a pretty brutally different game."

Don't Forget The Little Things

Finally, the duo pinpointed a smaller, but key learning, that Flash developers, like other game developers, should take care of the "Little things like having the ability to mute audio, save files, and pause buttons."

They are "...really simple things that developers overlook because they don't think they're that important, but they're the things that players claw their eyes out over."

[UPDATE: McClanahan has posted his full notes from the lecture to his Gamasutra Expert Blog, for further reading.]

[Gamasutra is presenting its Casual Connect 2009 coverage in association with Gamezebo (http://www.gamezebo.com), the leading editorial and community site for casual games across all platforms. The site features reviews, previews, news, and strategy guides for the latest and greatest in casual games.]


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