The principles of metrics-led social game design can inform traditional, "intuition"-led game design and vice-versa. This was the message of Loot Drop's Brenda Brathwaite and Sony Online Entertainment's Laralyn McWilliams at the Game Developer's Conference 2011 today.
The pair defined "Intuition"-led design as the kind of work traditionally carried out by game designers within the industry.
"In past years, the games industry has largely been based on intuition," explained Brathwaite. "New projects are usually birthed by a designer coming up with an idea for a game that he or she would like to play, and banking on the fact that there's an audience of players who share their thoughts and values."
"By contrast, social game design strategy comes from a different perspective," said McWilliams. "In this space you are designing for the customer, not for yourself. You need to know what he and she is going to want and the way that you do that is to base your design on things that you know work, as expressed by hard data. It's metrics-led design."
Brathwaite argued that this difference in approach can feel like a clashing of worlds, one that has heightened as the traditional game industry has started to take more notice of social games and their success.
"Traditional game designers love the phrase: it's not ready yet!," she said. "They are usually deeply protective of scope as the designer has a vision of the completed game, and won't feel like it's ready till all of the features are in."
By contrast, in social game design, shipping the product is only the start of the process. "Most of the hard work in creating a social game comes after launch," said McWilliams. "It's about viewing the metrics and changing the game based on the results.
"The longer you hold onto a game the more you are guessing. From a business perspective it makes more sense to follow social gaming's lead, and base production and on-going design on hard data."
However, the duo was quick to point out that metrics form only part of the picture, and that social games still require the skills of traditional game designers in reaching their full potential.
"Metrics will not tell you what someone has never thought of," said McWilliams. "But they will tell you whether people played more of a particular mode, and let that knowledge steer what you do in your next game."
It's this kind of information that can help navigate game designers in helpful, positive directions, and lead them away from potential pitfalls, she argued.
However, social game makers will run in to trouble if they fail to meaningfully parse the metric information, she argued. "Metrics are great with facts ,but they can never tell you why things are happening.
In conclusion, the two women urged both factions to view the other with respect. "Social game makers need to give traditional, skilled game designers respect," said McWilliams. "They are equipped to solve problems that a metric-viewer just won't be able to perceive."
"Meanwhile, give metrics the respect they deserve too," she continued. They are extremely useful in that they exactly how people are playing your game; what they are buying and when. Bringing the two disciplines together is the key to a holistic understanding of a game."