Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Assume makes an...

Assuming things about your audience can definitely make an ass out of you (and me). And sometimes, it feels like some games designs are built on this foundation of assumptions about its players that might be excluding a large market.

So what inspired this was something I noticed in my email. Several months ago, I had joined Lord of the Rings Online so I could keep in touch with my boyfriend who enjoyed WoW. It was a free MMO (since I was not quite willing to pay a subscription fee). And quite seriously a little gem in the MMO scene.

Today I had received notice that their game guides had been updated and the message was very new player friendly. It had a colorful list of new player and beginner MMO guides to the game.
When I had first heard about this MMO it was at GDC. A developer was explaining to me how LOTR Online was aimed for a more mature group of people and that it was not as 'immature' as WoW. Now my research on MMOs had pointed out that these games attract the most unlikely player types.

What this site full of tutorial guides said to me was: "We are friendly to new players and non-players and n00bs." Anyone just starting out with this kind of gaming experience is going to feel intimidated because there are thousands of others all around playing the game effortlessly. It is like entering a new country where you only know a few words of the language.

My experience playing LOTR online was positive overall. The game cared about the fanbase which consisted mostly of fans of the franchise.

WoW also has a very good Beginner's Guide in addition to hundreds of supplemental guides about the details of the game.  Both LOTRO and WoW have good hand holding in-game tutorials. Although, LOTRO allowed for the very, very beginning of the quest be in an area where the user was alone so they could adjust to the game controls. Personally I find this highly useful as a new player because there's less social pressure in performing well. After that first portion then it opens up to the new player area and I can meet other players starting on a new character. There are several more new player quests that help familiarize the player with the game before entering the "real world".

Easing the player into a MMO is a good method utilized by many games. However, the tutorial itself should be easy to understand. If your game is going to be aimed at general audiences, then you have to do some tailoring to the non-gamer. How the language is presented in the tutorial is important. To some new gamers, some lingo or glossary terms should be established. It may seem dumb to an RPG gamer to have a reminder of what HP stands for but it is intimidating to see all these terms and bars on a screen.

In one of my books on game design, (can't remember which) it stressed the importance of releasing new information to the player in chunks. Give them time to feel like they have mastered one element before introducing a new one.

In Conclusion, designing an accessible game is possible if time is taken to think of how a complete non-gamer might interact with it. What might frustrate them? What would confuse them? How can we alleviate some of the stress associated with learning a new skill? Likewise, you have to choose who you are excluding in your audience. If you make this an active choice then you consciously make a better effort to cater to your intended audience.  If you subconsciously exclude an audience, you are losing by making general assumptions.

For more advice about ingame tutorials, please refer to Extra Credits.
Also about Sharing with Non-Players.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Angry Chicks

Another bit of a rant about games, or really one game. Angry effing Birds.
As an iPhone game developer, I can assure you that the easiest way to piss us off is to ask us about Angry Birds. In casual conversation when I bring up my profession, guaranteed 100% of the time the person will ask something along the lines of: Oh iPhone games, you mean like Angry Birds.
Or my personal favorite:
"Oh you know my son/daughter plays this one game alot...what was it?"
Me: Angry Birds. (There is no intonation of a question in this response. It's a factual response.)
"Yes that's the one."

What. The. Duck. Seriously, has Angry Birds become the FACE of the App Store? It really feels like it has. Yay for that company...they have made it into infamy. And I get so pissed off seeing their fisking merchandise at the mall.

Jealous? Perhaps a bit, but on the other hand I'm REALLY glad that an iPhone game has gotten that huge. That makes the platform meaningful for a wide audience. A larger demographic accepts the iPhone and iPad as a gaming platform.
But it does the rest of us no good if all people are playing is Angry Birds.

The other thing that gets my goat is that this kind of sets a bar as to what the expectations of an iPhone game should be. It's a physics puzzle. Granted there are a lot of these types of games on the App Store but it really hampers creative expansion if the only games that sell well are the physics puzzlers. The company I previously worked for had a staff dedicated to creating full 3D game experiences with wonderful graphics and console like mentality. These games are just not doing as well as the little physics puzzlers.

So here's to hoping that iPhone developers make a game that will finally shake the birds from their throne. And here's to hoping that my company Corvidology is heading down that path with out games.

Speaking of which, we've released our first title: Hubbub.
I'd appreciate the support!