In a speech at the 2011 D.I.C.E Summit, Bing Gordon said the ability to push more polygons has affected modern game design much less than a number of less technology-dependent design innovations that can really impact player behavior.
“Don’t chase Moore’s law, chase the mother-in-law,” Gordon urged. “Don’t disdain CityVille because it looks like a game we’d have made on Sega Genesis. Marvel at these asynchronous and social connections that matter.”
Gordon pointed out that, until 2002, games were by-and-large zero-sum affairs, with a winner and a loser. Today’s generation, he says is used to a positive-sum games, where players help each other. “The miracle of co-op games -- and this might be heresy to say this in Vegas -- is we can give 102 percent return,” he said.
Data shows that the idea of cooperation is much more effective in social networking games, Gordon said. A Facebook post saying “here’s a gift” gets clicked 30 times as much as a similar post saying “I just beat your score,” he said.
Even in traditionally competitive online games, co-operative missions are often more popular because “who wants to get schooled by a 12-year-old?” Gordon asked rhetorically.
Marketing can be the difference between a hit and a flop, Gordon suggested, using the example of a changed beer can label that increased sales by 25 percent. But he also suggested there are limits to what clever marketing can do.
“If you go to your marketing department and think you can take a dog and increase it 100 percent, you’re wrong,” he said. “The idea is to spend 10 percent to get 25 percent.”
But getting players to stick with a game, Gordon suggested, can be as simple as giving them some sort of meaningful recognition for their hard work. He noted that players who earned a castle in Ultima Online were four times more likely to stick with the game, and that the introduction of badges doubled usage of EA’s Pogo.com casual games portal.
Though he didn’t have data to support it, Gordon also guessed that very few World of Warcraft players quit around level 35, because the prospect of a mount at level 40 is so tantalizing.
Gordon's talk stressed how games could be much more effective than textbooks for education purposes. “If any of you are tired of making big ass games, the education market needs you,” he said. “Educators... have a sense that what we all know how to do is more valuable outside our business than inside our business.”
The educational lessons of a game don’t have to be overt, either, Gordon pointed out. While an educator might not know how to make arithmetic interesting to a student, a simple resource management game can be enough to get a child immersed in numbers.
“These 15 year old girls are experts in NeoPets, and can explain it better than an MBA explaining market prices,” he said.