I just moved my posts from Posterous! Do go though my blog for all the new posts.
Its easy to migrate try JustMigrate
Changing of the Guard: Greetings to the New Flixel Moderators!
Wow! What a great response - in about 24 short hours we have a whole new moderation team for the Flixel forums :) I couldn’t ask for a better community!! I wanted to take this opportunity to first say a big thank you to the original Flixel moderation team:
Last but not least, a big public thank you to the Flixel forum admins:
There’s no way the Flixel community would be what it is without all their help. Rich and Brandon did such a good job of setting things up that we haven’t needed much admin attention lately, but thanks to the ever-present threat of overwhelming spam, moderators are still badly needed. So, we’re giving the old moderation team a break (after like 2+ years??) and allowing these new volunteers to take up the mantle:
I just wanted to publicly say “THANK YOU, YOU GUYS ARE GREAT.” Again, there is no way the Flixel community could exist in the way that it does without the help of volunteers, and I am hugely thankful for their cooperation and assistance.
Lastly, I also had someone volunteer to help fix the syntax highlighting software on the Flash Game Dojo forums - Andy, The Software Alchemist (dramatic!!) will be helping us get our example codes back up and running on the wiki over the next few days.
So high fives to these excellent helpers!! Hooray!
Help! The Flixel community is in need of some assistance!
UPDATE: We got a bunch of amazing volunteers already! Thank you!
Hey everybody! We are looking for A Few Good Peeps to help out with some Flixel community management stuff. If this sounds like something you’re interested in helping out with for the next 6-12 months at least please hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org:
To help keep spam under control, we just need a few people who can log on and approve first-time posts once or twice a day. This will help keep the forum, still the best Flixel learning resource, running smooth and spam-free! Please contact me if you think you can sign on to help us out with this for a while.
Wiki Help (very short term)
Our syntax-highlighting plugin over at the Flash Game Dojo wiki is pretty busted. I have no idea what happened, or how to fix it. Probably we just need to update a thing, or something. But that would go a long ways toward getting that resource useful and helpful again! Also we might need to update the wiki software or patch it, but I don’t know anything about that either.
If this sounds like your bag, let me know, and we’ll try and get it patched up! Thanks :)
(flixel art by Paul Veer)
The Hunger Games: Girl on Fire - Available Now for Free on the iTunes App Store
The Hunger Games: Girl on Fire is the official teaser game for The Hunger Games and is available now, for free (no ads!), on the iTunes App Store.
Thank you first to the Girl on Fire team: programmers (and designers) Kevin, Mark and Guy, lead artist Paul, composer Danny B, the sound engineers at Ozone, and Kert for the sweet trailer you see above. There is no math sufficient to describe how impossible this would have been without them!
Thank you to our team at Lionsgate, who were, all things considered, extraordinarily patient and dedicated: David (who thought this crazy project up in the first place), Jessica, and Eric. If David hadn’t looked me up this thing would never have existed, so thanks guys :)
Thanks also to Suzanne Collins for creating such a wonderful story in the first place, and for her help with making sure the game had a place in that story. Finally, special thanks to the friends and family of the team for all their support throughout this project, especially my wife Bekah.
I’m Making an Original iOS Game for The Hunger Games!
After the third book in The Hunger Games trilogy finally came out I set aside a little time to read the whole series. I happily devoured all three books in as many nights. The Hunger Games is the story of a teenage girl who makes a kind of extraordinary sacrifice, helping (sometimes inadvertently) to change the world. Suzanne Collins presents us with a world full of ambiguity and brutality, and characters forced to choose between something bad or something even worse. It is a compelling and honest work of fiction that resonates with me.
(A quick note for those of you who may have arrived here from someplace other than my twitter feed: my name is Adam Saltsman, and I am the creator of the popular arcade games Gravity Hook and Canabalt. Welcome to my humble blog!)
When Lionsgate approached me this past October about maybe creating a game to go along with The Hunger Games film (opening March 23rd!), I was skeptical. I get at least one email a month from a well-meaning account executive for an advertising or media firm. They are, to a person, uniformly professional and friendly, but their assignment is to acquire a version of Canabalt that replaces the runner and the rooftops for their property, which, while flattering to a degree, is something that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me for a lot of different reasons. And so, most of these negotiations end quickly and amicably.
Lionsgate was different though. I made it clear to them right up front that while I was a big fan of The Hunger Games, a copy of Canabalt was out of the question. I pitched them on an original touch-based action game instead. It does feature a running character, but the focus of the game is more on marksmanship and strategy… but we’ll have more to say and show about that later! It’s a small idea, but a tight one too. Almost like a teaser game, in the same way there are teaser trailers. This is usually the part of the discussion where my prospective clients say “ah… I see. Well, if you change your mind…”
Lionsgate said “Great! When can you start?”
And so, I am happy to announce that I am collaborating with Lionsgate and a kind of indie dream-team to make The Hunger Games: Girl on Fire for iOS. Mark Johns (Tap Tap Dance) and Kevin Coulton, the minds behind Doomlaser (Hot Throttle, Space Barnacle), are fleshing out the design while they program the game from scratch. Paul Veer (Super Crate Box, Serious Sam: The Random Encounter) is the lead artist and animator. Daniel Baranowsky (Canabalt, Super Meat Boy) is composing an original soundtrack inspired by the film. Ozone Sound & Music (Max and Al’s Heavy-Duty) are handling the sound effects, and the one and only Kert Gartner (Winnitron) will be putting together our launch trailer. It is a genuine honor to get to work alongside these fantastic people, and this project would not be possible without them.
The Hunger Games: Girl on Fire is coming soon to your iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, timed to theatrical release.
The Pinch Artist (or, Contributors and Symbiosis?)
After hearing Nathan Vella’s talk at Indiecade this year, I reorganized my personal website into three distinct categories: creator projects, collaborator projects, and contributor projects. Contributor projects are projects that don’t really reflect my vision, or whatever you would call it. My input was limited to simply helping it exist somehow. The team or project was missing a piece, and I could fill that role, or complete that section, and help realize someone else’s vision.
This is something I used to do a lot of, but as a freelancer. There was some satisfaction there but it was different than what I’ve been doing lately. For the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to work voluntarily as a contributor, or “pinch artist”, on some high-profile projects, most notably Polytron’s much-anticipated ambient-exploration platformer FEZ, but also on the iPad port of Aquaria that my company published (and a bunch of other small things too). It has been a massively rewarding experience, even though the work itself is not always particularly thrilling.
Adam helped us out in a lot of small ways. After Paul Robertson was done with the big batch of animations we contracted him to do, we’d still come up with new details we’d need animated. things like waterfalls, caustics and additional effects and character movements. Adam offered to help, we quickly agreed to a super amicable deal, and that was pretty much it. Since he wasn’t a full-time team member, i’d just ping him a few days in advance, asking if he could make time this week for this or that, and then he would! It was really nice to have this kind of “casual contractor” we knew we could count on whenever we needed something new animated. (Phil Fish)
What is a “pinch artist” exactly? To me, it means a few different things. One, I am bringing all my skills to bear on this project, and all my sensibilities as an artist, but my goal is to realize someone else’s vision. Sometimes this means emulating or manipulating another style (Derek’s gorgeous backgrounds and sprite work in Aquaria), or helping to design a new approach to something that suits everyone involved (like square water for FEZ). But the pinch artist is there as an assistant, a facilitator, an enabler. A pinch artist is not a critic, and a pinch artist never makes a suggestion they don’t want to personally commit to implementing (unless they are specifically asked for feedback of course).
A pinch artist is not a full-time contributor. A pinch artist may not even contribute a full person-month of hours even at the end of a multi-year project. A pinch artist may not be an “artist” in the traditional sense at all - maybe they are a web guru, or a database genius.
As with most game designers, I’ve got reams of ideas that I’d love to see implemented. In some cases, time constraints prevent those ideas from coming to fruition. In other cases, a lack of artistic or technical skill will stand in my way. But when Matthew and I sat together for a day or two, some of those ideas have suddenly become possible. Matthew is an expert with Unity and database technology, and working with him we created some tech just for the sake of building something fun. In one case, we built the database backend for a collaborative level editor that would allow for a number of concurrent users never seen in a game before. Building tech or even small games in these rapid development settings is often the best way to evaluate whether a game idea, or a piece of tech is worth investing real blood and sweat into. (Andy Schatz)
A pinch artist may not even be a “specialist”, even if that’s their role on your project. But generally speaking, the pinch artist is a part-time helper with a specific focus and a specific ability that helps get the project into the air with just a little less friction and terror, and a little more quality and attention to detail.
There’s two benefits to having someone contribute to your project. First, work gets done and you don’t have to do it. This sounds super simple, but when your pushing to finish a project and time is at a premium, one less component to worry about is a godsend.
The second is less obvious but much more important. It adds another fresh set of eyes & a fresh perspective to the project, often when you’re utterly burnt out and have lost all your perspective. Games are a medium where one little idea can push a project from good to great, or from great to greater, and sometimes subbing in a pinch hitter will provide that. It could be as basic as a redesign for a small piece of art or an additional sound for a key moment… or as big as a design concept that adds a ton.
On #sworcery, Jim Guthrie’s music was the hallmark piece… but one song & one set of sounds came from Scientific American (aka scntfc). The moon grotto song, and listening station sounds really added to #sworcery. Not just in a “hey this is cool” way, but in a tangible, “the game is actually better with them” way. (Nathan Vella)
Part of the power of being a contributor is the 80-20 rule, or the idea that sometimes a lot of the value or appeal of a finished work can be created with relatively little time and effort. Inviting contributors to work on your game or getting the opportunity to contribute to someone else’s game improves the likelihood that you’ll find more of those little gems that have a big impact.
In games, though, maybe the most common manifestation of the 80-20 rule is that the first 80% of a project takes just 20% of the overall effort, and the last 20% takes 80% of the effort. Pinch artists can help chip away at that latter 20% in a way that is psychologically and objectively meaningful, remaining fresh and excited about a project that may have lost some of its luster for the core team.
Haha, this is starting to sound like a public service announcement isn’t it? "Help change a life; become a pinch artist today!" That makes it sound like charity work or something, which isn’t quite how it works or feels. But it is a scale of collaboration that was new to me a couple years ago, and I’ve been noticing more and more is a really positive thing, especially for smaller studios. Even as a relative control freak obsessed with my own ideas, I’ve really enjoyed making contributions to my friends’ games over the last couple years.
For game makers who are looking for a way to blow off some creative steam, donating a little bit of your time to helping someone else’s game exist is a great way make the world better and still expand your own gameography and experience at the same time.
My Favorite Films from Fantastic Fest 2011
I posted one of these last year, though in a slightly more timely fashion. Before I completely forget about these films I wanted to repost them here, as they should be either getting limited US releases or becoming available on netflix (or getting easier to bt!) sometime soon.
My #1 film of the festival this year was A Boy and His Samurai, from the team that brought us the marvelous fugitive film Golden Slumber last year:
I particularly loved the main conflict in this film had to do with trying to figure out what a modern family is, and how that works, logistically and psychologically. I feel like films ignore this but that it is just a huge part of life in the modern world. Wonderful!
My #2 film was the small but surprisingly vivid slow-burn sci-fi Carre Blanc:
Carre Blanc didn’t floor me, but it was so tight, and tidy, and meticulous, and cold, and funny… if A Boy and His Samurai wasn’t so absurdly adorable and sweet Carre Blanc would have been my favorite film without question.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the following movies and can recommend them without reservation. Many of these films contain… adult content, in one form or another, just a heads up! In no particular order:
How to Steal 2 Million (brilliant low-key South African noir - lead actor is so charismatic!)
You Said What?
Snowman’s Land (if you dug In Bruges definitely check this one out)
I also want to call out one film in particular, Milocrorze, but primarily for one scene, involving a super slow-mo single cut sequence of a samurai crashing through a brothel in unbelievable style that went on seemingly forever, with visual cues from the almost abstract renderings of ancient samurai you see on scrolls in museums. It’s an incredible scene. The rest of the movie does not compare!
And finally, the festival offerings I most sorely regret missing:
The Yellow Sea (the new film from the South Korean crew that created The Chaser!)
Extraterrestrial (from Time Crimes and Oscar-winning 7:35am director Nacho Vigalondo)
Beyond the Black Rainbow
[aw man I couldn’t even find a trailer for this!!]
You’re Next (pulled from the festival after securing distribution after the first screening. That’s how good it is. Criminy.)
Gamenauts Just Doesn’t Get It, It’s Kind of Sad
UPDATE: Gamenauts responds in less than ten minutes. Holy smokes, “extreme hypocrisy” indeed.
Last night, a representative of Gamenauts sent me this message on Twitter, completely out of the blue:
Wait a second here, let’s back up a minute. We need some context: do you remember the Ninja Fishing controversy from this summer? In case you don’t, here’s the TLDR version: a studio called Gamenauts (their slogan is “Exploring new frontiers of fun!”) plagiarized Vlambeer's Radical Fishing (right down to the names and effects of powerups in the in-game shop!), added a dash of Halfbrick's Fruit Ninja, then contracted successful PR firm TriplePoint to orchestrate their app store launch, subsequently making it into the top 10 best-selling apps during launch week.
[Aside: recently when asked on Twitter how they approached marketing, Gamenauts explained that it was mostly word of mouth. Weird that they just forgot to mention they hired the PR team behind Lego, SEGA, and some of the most successful iOS apps!]
Despite Vlambeer’s objections, Gamenauts refused to delay the launch of Ninja Fishing until Vlambeer’s own port, Ridiculous Fishing, was ready to ship. I encourage you to draw your own conclusions, but it seems to me that Gamenauts was making a money grab. Vlambeer had done all the prototyping work so Gamenauts didn’t have to; they could just rush it to market and grab that lucrative iOS audience. And it worked!
OK, so there’s some context for who Gamenauts is. Next up, this @chardish fellow! During the controversy this summer, an indie game maker named Evan Jones, who is also a senior programmer for a company called Lolapps, wrote a blog post about how blatant plagiarism in games is maybe not a great thing. Then, sometime in the last week, 6waves (the Chinese publisher that purchased Evan’s employer Lolapps) announced their new mobile game Yeti Town. Yeti Town, according to every comment and review I’ve read so far, is a pretty blatant clone of Spry Fox’s successful Kindle and Facebook game Triple Town.
I can only conclude based on the message I received from Gamenauts last night that Gamenauts believes that Evan Jones is a hypocrite, and that I am obliged, according to the 2012 Internet Fairness Ordinance, to publicly condemn him personally for his involvement, despite the fact that Triple Town is a successful social and mobile game with an active and growing fanbase on multiple platforms. Radical Fishing is still a relatively unknown Flash game. This is an important distinction: players who find Yeti Town on the App Store are much more likely to recognize it as a blatant clone (reviews and comments on Yeti Town and Ninja Fishing bear out this observation).
Yeti Town has not, by any measure, become a success. This could change, but as it stands, they are definitely not charting toward a top-10 sales position.
[Aside: Triple Town was a Kindle game long before it was a Facebook game. Thankfully, no one cloned it to Facebook before Spry Fox had the chance to port it themselves. They changed and improved the game, bringing it to a huge new audience in an improved package, and were rewarded for it. Just saying.]
Is it awkward for Evan to be so strongly anti-plagiarism and still work for an employer who commits blatant plagiarism? Of course! But Evan’s a grownup. I think he can make his own decisions. Plus, he’s a senior programmer for Lolapps; not their game designer, not their CEO. It is extremely unlikely that the higherups at 6waves approached Evan personally and said “we need a game idea!” to which Evan responded “AH HA I know just which game to copy!” However, Stanley Adrianas, a well-known defender of cloning and CEO of Gamenauts, did exactly that when he “created” Ninja Fishing.
So, unknown, unnamed representative of Gamenauts, that is my comment for Evan. Now, my comments for you: first, you are not being treated unfairly or selectively. Yes, cloning happens all the time. No, Yeti Town is not the same situation as Ninja Fishing. It’s funny; when you defend cloning, you are very eager to see it as a gradient or spectrum with a lot of gray area. But suddenly, when you want to come out against clones, you see it in black and white! A clone is a clone is a clone, eh? You can’t have it both ways. The games, audience and business models in question are all drastically different, so expecting people to react the same is, well, ridiculous.
Second, even if you were being treated unfairly in this case, I could not possibly care in the slightest. Scorn from an informed audience is just a risk you take when you blatantly clone the work of beloved creators. That’s your tradeoff; you can either take on the risk of creating something new and interesting (coming up with different answers to the same question, in Rami Ismail’s terms), or you can take on the risk of being villified for encroaching on the opportunities of small studios trying to make new things and stay in business.
Anyways. That’s what I think about that.
Hopefully Thought-Provoking Ideas From My Trip to Los Angeles
Earlier this month I got to spend a few days in LA, speaking at IndieCade and having some really inspirational conversations with friends I don’t get to see much. It was humbling and overwhelming in a lot of ways. I wanted to share some of the ideas I picked up from the trip with you, and record them for posterity before I cleared off that part of my whiteboard.
I should stress that I did not think these things up myself, nor am I certain that these are somehow universal truths. These are things that came up in the course of conversation with some people for whom I have an immense amount of respect, and the ideas struck me as thought-provoking or inspirational in one way or another. I hope you’ll read these in the same spirit of thoughtful consideration, and whether you ultimately agree with them or not I hope you find them interesting or useful.
NOTE: I have attempted to credit the folks who turned me on to each idea, but I have also paraphrased these ideas for this brief transcription. Anything about the formulation of the following ideas that seems wrong or bad or whatever is almost definitely my fault, and not theirs at all!! Nor am I claiming necessarily that these ideas are deeply held beliefs of the credited individuals. But these ideas are somehow connected to these individuals in my head, and I’d like to at least thank them for that.
Tabula Rasa: If you live someplace or work in an industry or study in a field that is relatively new, it is easy to feel like the lack of foundations, history or tradition might doom our existence in those spheres to be somehow less rich or less valid than life in a more traditional or historically rich space. But what if the opposite is true? What if tradition and history choke innovation and strangle evolution? What if we can invent our own traditions and our own standards? What if we can learn from the traditions of everything around us and use those ideas to build our own rich culture, full of the best of everything from everywhere else, but free of some of the crippling constraints? (Kazu Kibuishi)
Power of Focus: Picking one thing and sticking to it and obsessing over it forever can change the world in impossible, unimaginable ways. (Kazu Kibuishi)
Service: A lot of people like to talk about providing things “as a service” these days, but maybe it’s more interesting to think of “service” less like a commercial or retail system, or more like the religious and/or civil connotations. Maybe the art we make is a service in that sense. Something we owe humanity in exchange for being human. (Kazu Kibuishi)
Making Mainstream Art: As an indie game dev it is really easy to settle into a kind of comfortable disdain for mainstream games or mainstream gamers or the amorphous and vaguely threatening mainstream itself. It’s really important to remember though that a lot of the things we perceive as mainstream in games (Call of Duty, Halo, etc) aren’t mainstream for humans at all. Maybe thinking of “mainstream games” as games for humans, instead of games for gamers, is a more interesting and valid pursuit. (Kazu Kibuishi)
Experiential Systems: One of the great strengths of video games has nothing to do with “gamey” systems, and everything to do with atmosphere and that certain sense of place and mystery and isolation and connection. However, I think it’s common for people to think of these sorts of videogames as being somehow less system-based than more “gamey” experiences. I guess what I’m saying is don’t underestimate the systemic complexity of a good Not-Game, or “open” game. It’s quite possible that “gamey” games are the easier systems to build. (Kris Piotrowski)
Folk Games: Folk games (JOUST, Ninja) and folk game design is totally amazing and ridiculously fun. Folk games may be to tabletop what tabletop is to videogames. Badly want to put on some Austin game jams now that don’t involve computers even a little bit, Flixel be damned. (Doug Wilson)
Infinite Truths: Designing games that explore and illustrate surprising truths about systems is a worthwhile and satisfying alternative to “fun” or “addictive” game design, and perfectly suited to the strengths of videogames. (Jonathan Blow)
Collaboration & Contribution: Work with as many people on as many projects as you can. Everyone is amazing and including them in your “work” in whatever capacity makes sense just enriches everyone all the time forever. (Nathan Vella)
The Big Picture: We spend a lot of time solving small problems in game design - balancing, tuning, and so on. But it rarely feels like we tackle longer-term, almost meta-problems in our designs. I’m having trouble explaining more than this without giving away things I can’t give away, but I am concerned that our expertise at solving short- and medium-term problems is distracting us from considering all the advances that could be made in communicating long-term goals, and I think this can have a huge impact on our new audience of truly “mainstream” players. (Jordan Mechner)
Contrivance and Extortion II: Clarifications, Feedback & Suggestions
I don’t hate the freemium business model. That is a silly, made-up word anyways, and as many people rightly pointed out, is a term that can be broadly applied to include things like shareware or other transparent and common business models. Even downloading demos and unlocking the full version of a game could be considered freemium. Others rightly observed that freemium has all sorts of advantages - players can try games for free, pay for as much game as they want, and so on. Before I introduce my suggestions and ideas for ways to take advantage of the positive aspects of freemium, I want to address some of the most common, kneejerk reactions to predatory game design criticism (including a lot of freemium game criticism), and why these are utterly illegitimate defenses of these unethical practices. This doesn’t mean there aren’t other, more legitimate defenses; I have just seen these ones pop up a lot in the last two days, and would like to address them in bulk.
I hope that this somewhat clarifies my stance: “level up faster” and “pull the rug” style designs are unethical and dishonest, and the popularity and momentum of this approach is bad for players and the industry at large. However, unethical game designs are not limited to just freemium games! There are many games that are shallow and addictive, using simple psychological hacks like skinner boxes and checklists to engage people beyond the point when the system is offering up intrinsic pleasure. These tactics have existed for decades, but the rise of “social games” and “freemium games” have pushed them back into the spotlight. I propose a new term that includes all of these abusive, manipulative and addictive game designs: predatory game design.
Whiners, Trolls, Hurt Feelings, Meanness, Tone, etcThis defense takes many forms, thus the long title, but the result is the same no matter what: a dismissal of the argument without actually addressing any of the points or presenting a counter-argument, and a simultaneous attempt to discredit the original presenter (in this case, me). Some quick examples of the actual manifestations of this defense:"[responding] won’t do any good, and it’ll waste my time + raise my blood pressure.""I’m so tempted to write a counter blog post, but it would just be feeding the trolls. Whoever argues the longest wins.""I can’t believe all the bashing I’m reading about freemium games! The argument is "they’re not like games I like, so they’re crap".""If you’d asked first, we might have engaged in a philosophical conversation about it, because we might have had the impression you were actually curious to discuss rather than soapboxing. Now, forget it.""Yet another article complaining about In-App purchasing. How droll.""The whole argument behind the blogger’s post falls down to two points that are thinly veiled.
1. f2p players are dumb.
2. f2p developers are thieves who are just money grabbing.
Whenever you see an argument like that you’re either looking at someone trying to join a political race, or prey on ignorance. Neither are respectful or adult ways to start a conversation.”This defense accomplishes two important things, neither of which are actually defenses of the practices in question. First, it prevents them from having to actually point out any actual flaws in my argument. Second, it mis-characterizes both my argument and the arguments of anyone bothered by these trends as being about personal dislike, rather than evaluations of game systems and player psychology.
Players Voted With Their WalletsThis defense takes many forms as well, but I think that phrase sums it up very nicely. The argument here is that because predatory game designs actually work, and the developers make money (and lots of it), that that somehow validates these designs as ethical. This is sociopathic reasoning. It is like arguing that some activity or other is only illegal if you get caught, or that if you can’t prove that i’m lying, then obviously i’m not.The fact that predatory game designs reap massive financial rewards should be setting off warning alarms in our heads, not indignant defenses of the practice justified by circular logic and correlation.
Games Have Always Been About GreedI like this one a lot, for multiple reasons. First, it is a tacit admission that predatory game design is in fact greedy and bad for players, the humans who support us in our creative endeavors. Second, and I say this without irony or sarcasm, it rightly points out predatory game designs that pre-dated the modern freemium business models. Common examples are the grind-fest of Diablo, or the quarter-sucking arcade machines of days of yore. While I would argue that those games were at least more transparent about your psychological and financial investment, they are valid points, and should be part of the discussion.However, “of course these games are greedy” is a pretty sad defense.
All Games Are AddictiveWhile the line between genuine intrinsic engagement and addiction may sometimes be fuzzy, that line definitely exists. Some of the most influential games of recent times could hardly be described as either addictive or designed with player addiction in mind: Braid, Ico, Flower, Portal, and so on…The idea that all games are addictive is demonstrably false, and no excuse for creating deliberately addictive and predatory games.
Players Have a ChoiceSimilar to the “players voted with their wallets” defense, but different in some key ways. In this defense, the argument I believe is something like “hey man - we just put some things up for sale. if people buy them, they buy them - it’s their call. how is that bad?” This is profoundly disingenuous. You could make the same claim about grocery stores, but there is an entire industry dedicated to figuring out how to “make” people shop. Pretending that that same process is not happening in predatory games is ridiculous.Predatory game designs can and do design environments to strongly encourage and incentivize the purchase of unnecessary things by manipulating player psychology.
As Long As It’s Fun, It’s OKNOTE: I may update this section at later, as this is exactly what Tak Fung (Forever Drive) and I are discussing right now. So, this section is my theory and my understanding, and I may be able to update it with better ideas later!This defense is specifically for “level up faster” style freemium models of predatory game design. This is I think a particularly insidious idea, because, unlike the other defenses, it can be hard to spot what’s wrong with it until you back up about 10 feet and see the big picture. This idea is one of the reasons I wrote that article in the first place. I think it is an idea that is very sticky, very attractive, and even masquerades as ethical, or at the very least lawful-neutral.This idea could be paraphrased as such: “Some players just don’t have as much time as other players. I want to provide a deep play experience for as wide an audience as possible, including people who are busy. If they have money, and want to skip ahead, why is that bad? Especially if the game itself is fun?”Untangling this proposition forces us to back up a bit and examine the whole game system and business model and the way they connect, and question some of the assumptions in that idea. First, games in which you can “level up faster” are, by necessity, games with an experience points system or leveling system of some sort. We can take that for granted. Second, usually if there is an experience or leveling system, there is some kind of checklist somewhere, where the player can unlock new things based on their experience or level.The “as long as it’s fun, it’s ok” argument posits, then, that as long as the intrinsic play or game experience is more interesting for players than the extrinsic checklist component, using an otherwise predatory game design pattern is acceptable.However, if the gameplay was more important and more compelling than the checklist, then it follows, I think, that no one would actually pay money in order to be able to achieve morechecklist progress with less gameplay. That would run pretty directly counter to the whole game design.However, if the checklist is in fact more compelling than the gameplay, and more important, then one can see how players would be willing to spend real money to avoid gameplay and acheive more of the checklist.I think it is very important to acknowledge this basic relationship, this basic systemic implication: if you sell the ability to “level up faster”, your business model probably depends on making money from the people who enjoy your game the least, and are the most succeptible to manipulative and addictive checklist features.I would really love to be wrong about this, but I can’t see this problem from another perspective (yet). If there is another side, please share it in the comments!
Doing It RightSo hopefully by now you understand the types of predatory game designs with which I take issue. There are some sound arguments against these kinds of designs, which I have tried to present in these two articles. The widespread use of these designs needs at the very least to be defended if it is going to continue unquestioned; it’s not an issue that can be ignored or dismissed anymore.However, as many people (including myself) have pointed out, it’s a lot easier to knock a house down than it is to build it up in the first place. So, a proposition: let’s knock down the house we built so far; it’s a crappy house. It takes all the worst aspects of game design and amplifies them using all the worst aspects of this new freemium craze.Let’s build a newer, better one in its place. Let’s look at the positive aspects of freemium, and build games around those things instead. Let’s give this business model a good name, and in turn give this massive sector of the game industry a good name too. Here are some things that freemium is great at:
I don’t hate the freemium business model. That is a silly, made-up word anyways, and as many people rightly pointed out, is a term that can be broadly applied to include things like shareware or other transparent and common business models. Even downloading demos and unlocking the full version of a game could be considered freemium. Others rightly observed that freemium has all sorts of advantages - players can try games for free, pay for as much game as they want, and so on.However, my article was specifically about the most popular, most widely talked about, most widely implemented and most widely marketed modern expressions of the “freemium” or “free to play” business model. The least harmful of these expressions is “level up faster” style freemium (Forever Drive, Jetpack Joyride to a lesser extent), in which the value of an extrinsic checklist takes priority over any intrinsic interest or value in the game system. The most harmful of these expressions is “pull the rug” style freemium (Infinity Blade), in which the rate at which players progress through the intrinsic and extrinsic systems in the game is suddenly changed at some optimal point, hopefully after “hooking” players.As expected, the article got some strong reactions, from both sides of the camp (if that is such a thing). The strongest reactions, not surprisingly, were from developers of games that use these business models. Many were from developers who don’t actually use these specific designs, and with whom I have no gripe, but I guess “freemium” is a touchy subject for a lot of people! Again, I don’t think that freemium is inherently evil, regardless of how silly a word it may be. But these particular expressions of it are definitely evil, as I explained.
Before I introduce my suggestions and ideas for ways to take advantage of the positive aspects of freemium, I want to address some of the most common, kneejerk reactions to predatory game design criticism (including a lot of freemium game criticism), and why these are utterly illegitimate defenses of these unethical practices. This doesn’t mean there aren’t other, more legitimate defenses; I have just seen these ones pop up a lot in the last two days, and would like to address them in bulk.