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The first crowd-designed video game has frogs, lasers and hats Exclusive
The first crowd-designed video game has frogs, lasers and hats
September 5, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi

September 5, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi
More: Social/Online, Indie, Art, Design, Production, Exclusive

Jesse Schell's grand scheme for crowd-designed video games started with a simple observation: Just about everyone who loves playing games would like to make them, but few know how.

"It's like starting a band," Schell, who leads the team at Schell Games told us last year. "It's very hard to do by yourself."

Schell's solution is called Puzzle Clubhouse, an episodic, crowd-designed monthly series of online games that successfully surpassed a modest $10,000 Kickstarter goal earlier this year. With an online community creating and voting on pieces as small as a character's name to as substantial as the core mechanics, contributors do all of the fun stuff while Schell's staff does the technical work of putting the actual games together.

The first episode, Laz0r Fr0gz!!!!!!!!1, launched this weekend. The game concept was contributed by forum member "madmik3," whose notes included "OMG Those frogs got lasers." A hat-throwing mechanic was contributed by user "palenoue."

Other contributions included a cute joke during the ending cinematic and the name of an environment. The full game should take most players less than 20 minutes to complete its 13 overhead maze levels, give or take another 15 minutes or so for those stuck on the tricky (though ultimately very clever) final level.

The experiment was a success: a game managed to be crowd-designed by Puzzle Clubhouse's modest community, using simple forums software.

"The big question is, how does it scale?" Schell asked when I caught up with him showing off the game in Seattle this weekend, wearing a fez and juggling bowling pins to attract passersby. "If we get thousands of people to participate, can we still make that work?"

Schell and his team compare the development process to improv comedy, where crowd-contributed ideas are made funny by the professional comedians on stage.

"The audience feels a part of it. When you have this balance between participation from the audience and some professionals who know how to hammer it into shape and make it as good as it can be, we think that's a really good balance. And no one's done that in games before."

The game is being monetized in what is surely a unique way. The games are free to play, and voting on content can also be done at no cost. But only those signing up as paid members ($19.95 a year) can submit content and ideas. Paying members also have a louder voice in the actual voting process.

"It's an experimental model," Schell says.

"We'll see if it works."

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Stephen Dick
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Very cool concept. I'd look to to get an idea of how to scale a crowdsourcing model.

k s
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I'd had a similar concept for crowd designing of games. Using a series of voting screens (every vote costs at least 1 dollar) users vote on genre, setting, mechanics, etc and the cost to develop comes from the donation to vote. When finally released the game would cost nothing extra and anyone could downloaded it.

It's a ruff concept and I haven't tested it yet but it looks like Mr Schell has proven that such a concept could work.

Maria Jayne
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This sounds a fun and exciting, no idea how well it will work, given fan forums are full of arguments and armchair designers who are convinced their way is the only way. Still, an interesting concept to try.

jaime kuroiwa
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A couple years ago, I participated in a crowd-designed game experiment called "Top Secret." I don't know if the actual game was released -- at the time, it was supposed to be some card-based racing game -- but it was an...interesting experience.

Reading this article is giving me flashbacks.

Jeremy Reaban
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There is also a crowd developed game on Playstation.

They called it "Gamocracy", there are a bunch of articles on the EU PS Blog about it. The end result was Legend of Robot, actually a pretty decent platformer

Terry Matthes
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After reading The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses I'd look at anything Jesse Schell's involved in!

Chris McLeod
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Cool concept for sure! We're still a ways off from our first game build, due to lack of funds, but we have a slightly different approach. Ours is a a collectible tactics game. What we built first was the game itself, and from there we made sure nearly everything was modular : game mechanics, new cards, art, sounds, story, etc. If we can create a solid enough style and format guide, we should be able to get people to submit work in a way that fits directly into our canon. Our next step would be to get a solid feedback forum, so that we can have the community vote on their favourite works. We'll give ourselves final say and reward the contributors that make it, somehow.

The ideas are still untested and early, but I like the idea of people accepting the basic rules of the game and then building on it, in much the way my own team would if we were trying to expand it ourselves.