CN: You were very directly involved with Civ Rev and the idea of bringing Civilization to a new audience. And you were very directly involved in this, more than you were involved in Civ V. I'm wondering how you make decisions about how you spend your attention when it comes to the franchise.
SM: Right. Well, I would like to have the time and energy to do every Civ game, but this one appealed to me because of a lot of the new design challenges. On Civ V, Jon Shafer was the lead designer. What we found, actually, is that by bringing in new design ideas, new designers to kind of carry on the Civ tradition, we get a lot of cool new ideas.
When I've done a Civ game, I'm kind of burnt out for a while. I've put all my best ideas into a game. If you came to me and said, "Alright, Sid. You finished this Civ. Now it's time for you to make a new one."
It's like, "Well, I just made the best Civ I could make...It's going to take some time to kind of come up with new ideas or figure out what to do." So, we found, certainly with the Civ series, that getting some fresh blood in there, some fresh design ideas, has really been a good idea.
The projects that have kind of challenged me are taking it into new areas where what we've done before just is not going to work. We're forced to come up with new ideas.
I think I understand Civ, the concepts pretty well, and the challenge for me is to look at this new hardware, to look at this new situation, this new way of playing, and figure out how to make it work with the new Civ ideas.
CN: Something Brian Reynolds said -- he went to Zynga, as I'm sure you're well aware. He said that in the past, on big PC games he was working on, he got to do actually very little design work because they move so slowly.
But as he moved to working on Facebook games, he got to contribute a lot more and work a lot more directly on the games. So, I was wondering if you've had a similar experience, or if you have any insight into that?
SM: There's something to that. I think that designers love to design, and there's X amount of design to be done in a project, and we certainly see budgets and time scales increase over time, so projects take longer and take more people. There's more coordination for us.
One of the appeals of the Facebook world is this idea that games can be turned around more quickly, that they can evolve. They're always in beta. You're always designing more stuff. [laughs] I think there's some truth to that. I think that one of the things that's fun about this world is there's a higher proportion of design to non-design in the work that needs to be done.
But CivWorld has taken us, you know, a year and a half or more at this point. So, it's not a very quick game to make, but it's been a lot of design involved, and we continue to actually design things even at this point. So, I would kind of agree in a lot of ways with what Brian has said.
CN: You said even at this point, you're continuing to design. If you talk to people who are working on social games, they pretty much say at no point do you stop designing.
SM: Yeah. As a designer, that's fun. I think especially because you're doing design in collaboration with the community. As a designer, I'm always looking for feedback. Is it fun? Are you having fun? Is it good? Do you like it?
Generally, when we're designing here, there's a very small audience. You've got a few people playing, and that's where you're kind of bouncing off ideas and things like that. Here, you've got a much larger set of ideas and people to drawn on and kind of interact with. So, that's another thing. That's something that's appealing as a designer.
KG: Why is the game taking so much longer to develop than other social games? Why not launch soon, update often like so many other successful social games do?
SM: Well, this is Civ. I think there's another strategy, which is to kind of throw five games out there and see which ones stick. We don't have five games to throw out there and see what sticks. I think we kind of said from the beginning that this game has to be as good as we can make it. We're not going to have five opportunities to make games. We have to put all of our best ideas to make this game.
That's part of the reason it took longer. I think also your first game in any new genre is going to require tools and infrastructure and a bunch of stuff that you probably don't already have. So, we did it as quickly as we could, but there was quite a bit involved. I think that's the reason it took the time that it did.
CN: How much did you go with design versus analytics? How much did you go with your usual creative design process? How much [design] was based on putting Alphas and Betas or whatever you would say live and getting feedback, analytically through data mining?
SM: Well, we love to prototype, and we love to get feedback. We had a game running pretty quickly, and we were playing it internally fairly early. So, that generated a lot of great feedback and ideas, and kind of the process started... That's more subjective than analytical.
Our process is geared toward the idea of fun, whatever that is, so we're basically looking to find the fun. I think that's kind of a subjective process. We didn't do a lot of kind of numerical analysis, how many people are clicking here. I'm not sure whether that's the cart or the house. We're looking to find the fun, and we think that if people are having fun, they're probably clicking on the right places or the right buttons at the right time. So, it's more of a kind of subjective gameplay-oriented approach to development than maybe an analytical one.