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What About Game Design?

Now I'm finishing my three-part introductory discussion, based on an article originally published dec 24 2008 in another gamedev website. Soon, I will publish fresh content about game design stuff, specially about soccer games.

As said in some article in Edge Online, LBP made the line between game design and game play tenuous. The game said it is possible to, with that ease of use, almost create an entirely new game. And with so, players will no longer *need* a previous designed game – or, at least, pre designed levels. The ideally perfect game, which will address all stuffs said in this article (ease of use, freedom of play, non-effort consuming, innovation), will be a challenge to game designers, especially because they will be an “accessory” to the game player and to the game itself.

I am sure so much people reading this right now are saying how insane my words are, but be sure it will happen someday in a near future. Just take a second and think what people would say if you talk about a LBP game just five or seven years ago (2002, maybe in the PS2 apex). Remember what was said in the industry about the Spore first announcing, to take a simple idea of that, and see how possible it is. There were so much skepticism about the game viability, but there it is – and LBP and GTA 4 as well.

If I can create anything I want, I will only prefer what comes from the developer when they release something better than what I can actually do, or what I can get from other users. And that space favorable to game designers, ideally, will occur only while players don’t get smart enough with the edit tools – or if game designers change their minds about what game design is, and how far they can go (re)defining the field.

At least, I don’t see so much reason to release full expansion packs to LBP, for example, as people create more and more content to the game. The add-on packs strategy would fit much better, with little packs of objects and maps available on demand of players, not as a needing to get a better experience. 

So, is that dangerous, or even poisoning to the industry? Not at all. Let’s take a look at the MMORPGs. There are tons of them around there, but they’re equal in essence: defeat some bad guys, collect some XPs, take better items, reach new levels before others, and be the best. It came to the point that I really must ask what else they do (in some cases) more than simply change the graphics and audio.

And here the microtransactions and “free-of-play”, as we see today, come in place: if you pay, you will have something new, different, and better than other players. If a million players pays 10 bucks to buy items, you got 10 million bucks easily – which is really nice. But how dirty it is, offering a game in which you must pay to get something really entertaining and, most important of all, challenging?

There is no player that wants to play with much more chances to lose, or to stagnate because of other more wealthy players. Where are the “free-of-play” they say, after all? As they do today, it’s only a reverse way to do the same thing subscription (or boxed games) do. They offer unbalanced games to the public, as the wealthier players (with more money and/or time) will always be the best around.

If we, as game designers (and industry as a whole) keep doing so, obviously the LBP way should be dangerous – as we saw in many cases around, people feel and see when things are going wrong; and we will still see this as user x game designer contest.

But if we change the direction to offer more tools and content that complement what already exists (not as a needing, but a true complement to extend what is already full-independent and nice by default), this way is healthy – and wealthy, as everybody will love to play this way, a true interactive “non-ended” experience (or as it will feel to the user).

Conclusions

With all this in mind, we came to the end with some interesting insights: a better option to a future venture in game distribution could be offering AAA games with digital subscription (like Steam, subscribe for free and pay for the games you want), but with REALLY meaningful content update, and better prices. It will, moreover, keep industry away from GameStop-ish “attacks”.

But there’s something important to say: we must stop offering full games with only half options available, asking players to “conquer” what they already paid for. One thing is to offer special teams in a soccer game, other is to block all official content I pay for in the original pack, asking me to “conquer” it. More on this (especially about soccer games) in near posts.

With more effort, we can all offer better freedom-like experience to players. And the “effort” here doesn’t come from the difficulty of reach the tech specs of that, but to the fact we must offer more “sincere” experience to players, in order to them doesn’t feel betrayed from what we offered (left 4 Dead 2 remember you something?).

The worse part of an interactive experience is to know that, in fact, you will only do what a movie can: execute scripts, or any sort of predefined actions and possibilities. Those days of predefined play should belong to our past, not to our future. We said with our games what we can do, so let’s do more to move forward, not backwards. We do not need aesthetics more than we need fresh and sincere insights.

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