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GDC Europe: Design Your Game Around A Message, Not Features - Santiago

GDC Europe: Design Your Game Around A Message, Not Features - Santiago

August 15, 2011 | By Mike Rose

In order to tap into new audiences for your games, it's necessary to experiment with your game's message, and mold that message to fit the interests of press and gamers alike, according to Kellee Santiago of Journey and Fl0wer developer thatgamecompany.

At a Gamasutra-attended Indie Games Summit lecture today at the Game Developers Conference in Cologne, Germany, Santiago discussed how developers can forge new audiences for their games, even when past experiences do not lend themselves well to predicting the future of your games.

Santiago started by explaining that her company's original idea of how to be innovative and reach the hearts of gamers did not turn out to be as simple as it first seemed.

She described how she originally had a firm belief that the way to innovate a genre was to find a new message that worked with it, and then build all the usual features of the genres on top of that.

Using the racing genre as an example, Santiago explained that the core idea could be that the player should want to care or even love their car, and that focus on really caring about the vehicle would then see all the usual mechanics added into the mix, such as racing and speed.

However, she soon found that it was "pretty difficult" to tackle games from this angle, as it technically then became a "checkbox war" between developers, as each attempted to tack on to the original concept as many extra features as possible.

Instead, thatcgamecompany soon came to the conclusion that finding an idea and making it the central focus of the game was key. "Begin with the intent of your content and make it your guide," she said, be that immersion, sound et al.

Santiago explained that music, imagery and story arc are some of the most important elements to consider when trying to gauge how to pick up new ranges of gamers. She suggested that developers "make gamers aware of your journey" through varying highs and lows in the storyline.

She was keen to stress, however, that altering the original message is completely reasonable, and in fact sometimes necessary. She used thatgamecompany's upcoming PlayStation 3 title Journey as an example, explaining that originally the studio was molding the game around the phrase, "Together we can move the mountain."

However, as development progressed, the team realized the game was moving in a slightly different direction than was originally laid out. Hence, it altered the statement of focus to, "We all walk the path. Each journey is different."

She said this was especially important when it came to gauging the reaction from the press. If the press is picking up on certain key phrases and vocabulary from your upcoming game, keep note of this and consider focusing on this element in the future. Early interviews are especially great for "testbed" vocabulary, she concluded.

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