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Ex-Pandemic devs emphasize "core" values to make it on Facebook

Seismic Games, a social developer with traditional gaming roots, today launched Celebrity Me, a casual dress-up title that borrows some key design philosophies from "core" game development.
Seismic Games, the Los Angeles-based studio founded by developers from Pandemic, Activision, and Vivendi, on Wednesday debuted its first game, a Facebook dress-up title dubbed Celebrity Me. While the game's subject matter is a huge departure from the developer's traditional roots, Seismic co-founder Eric "Giz" Gewirtz said that the team has leveraged some "core" gameplay philosophies to make the game more engaging for its target audience. Gewirtz, who previously worked on games such as Pandemic's Star Wars: Battlefront series, said that players tend to respond better to a game when they have an on-screen character or avatar to relate to. While many popular social games focus on isometric world-building scenarios or abstract puzzle mechanics, Seismic hopes to follow in the footsteps of The Sims Social and offer a game that gives players a chance to bond with their in-game character. "When you focus on characters, you can start to develop that sense of attachment that core MMOs and RPGs have," Gewirtz said. "Characters give you more attachment to the game, and more engagement. Especially with Facebook being linked to your persona, having a character that's linked to your account pushes that even further." "In our case, having a character-based game lets you live out some of those more common mainstream fantasies, like being a rock star, or a movie star," he said. When designing the game itself, Gewirtz said that Seismic, just like most social developers, is relying heavily on data-driven design, but noted that his traditional development experience has taught him to be wary of deceiving metrics. "The thing with social games is they have become very adept at refining their analytics, but that's also part of the problem," he said. "If you're just dealing with raw data, there are some things you just cant quantify." "For example, we think our game happens to be very funny -- and there's no metric for that. There's also no metric for fun. Instead, a lot of games have worked to maximize playtime experience and session length." In order to analyze the game's more subjective elements, Gewirtz said Seismic took some lessons from the team's experience in producing console games. Alongside its data, the studio is using traditional playtests and user surveys, but more than anything, the game's tone and entertainment value comes from the developers' intuition as game designers. As Gewirtz put it, "You sometimes just have to follow your gut." Going forward, Gewirtz said that he and Seismic plan to release a even more social games that emphasize character and allow players to live out their "mainstream fantasies."

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