This Developer's Life: Questions

Our media, like our medium, should be interactive, so this week I turn things on their head and throw a bunch of questions at you, the reader.

James Portnow's This Developer’s Life: Questions

May 4, 2009

Dear Reader:

I was going to talk about Login and my speech this week, but so much has gone on I don’t know if I can do it...

Anyway, onto the madness…

Work for Hire
Ever since I made a passing comment about opening up an iPhone division we’ve been inundated with work for hire offers… I don’t know how I feel about this.   

On the one hand, iPhone games are a blast and people have mostly been asking for design docs and specs, and after all, what could be more fun on the design side then that?  On the other hand we’re not really a work for hire house.  But several of the offers we’ve gotten have been so compelling that I had to say yes.  In fact it’s been so nuts that I’ve recently had to staff up a little to keep it from being a distraction from our core projects.

So here’s where I turn to my readership for some advice.  I’ve always counseled against work for hire.  In general I think it’s a distracting trap.  But doing work for hire lets me employ more people, which in this economy seems like a very good thing.  It also helps me balance workload and lets me give people mini-projects that they’re really into if they get burnt out on their main task.

Thoughts anyone?  Anybody in readerland been in a similar situation?  Help!

Bleh…I can’t really talk about this one in the specific, even though it’s a big part of my week.  Suffice it to say that you never know who’s going to want a piece of your company.  Sometimes it might just be household names from strange corners…

(It’s been Bizzaroworld the last few days.  I promise I’ll relate this as soon as I’m able.)

A designer I very much respect was in town this week.  He asked me not to mention him by name lest he get spammed once I discuss our discussions on the interwebz, so _____ I’m leaving you out of it.  Of all of our conversations the question I most want to throw at you was probably, “If you’re looking for fidelity, where should you spend your development dollars?”

For years this question was easy to answer, the answer was “Graphics.” but I think we’re past that point now.  I’ll probably end up writing a full length piece on this question shortly so I won’t go into it too much here, but voice acting, script writing, sound effects, gameplay testing (this was an interesting one), and physics all seem to be a better dollar for dollar investment at this point (in roughly that order) if you’re looking to increase fidelity.  Thoughts anyone?

No E3???
Looks like I might be off in a foreign land during E3 this year.  Is this a tragedy?  I don’t know.

Login – AKA Something that turned out to be a random rant about Microtransactions…
Alright, I’ll get to Login.  Login is that online game development conference, I'm wont to prattle about lately.  I’ll be giving a talk about how design meets monetization in the MMO world.  If you’re interested in the minutia of how to design to best monetize any specific model feel free to email me (as that is what most of my speech will be on), but I won’t belabor it too much here, though there is one specific point I want to make:

New monetization models open up new design possibilities.

This seems obvious, but I’ve heard much calumny about how this or that business model destroys good game design.    I hear this most often aimed at microtransactions.  For some reason I’ve heard certain US pundits espouse that microtransaction games will attempt to grind every dollar they can out of players.  This is true, but it’s true for most games.

First let’s look at current subscription games.  Take WoW for example.  Why is the death penalty in WoW running back to your corpse?  It’s a stupid waste of time…  That’s not only a statement, that’s the reason: the death penalty in WoW is running back to your corpse because it is a stupid waste of time.  That time, in aggregate has almost certainly amounted to millions of dollars for Blizzard.

But instead of harping on negatives, let’s look back a little further to find a positive example.  When consoles began to compete with arcades they were basically asking players to make an upfront investment of 30+ dollars on a game rather than allowing the user to try it out for a quarter.  But that new monetization system allowed for the creation  of many beloved console games that would have been completely unviable at twenty five sense a pop (most often because the developer wouldn’t make enough that way).

All new monetization models expand the scope of what can realistically be designed.  All monetization models provide new territory for great games to be designed.  I’ll happily hand grant that there haven’t been many good micro games in the states yet, but that’s not the fault of the model…rather it’s our lack of familiarity with it.

Art Games!!!  Wheee!!!
I’m very interested in the whole “games as art” debate (google me, you’ll find all too much from me on Gama and Edge about it) but I don’t have the time to keep up to date on these things the way I used to.  I’m extremely curious what I’ve been missing.  Shoot me a list of games that you think are works of art or just a list of the games that you “don’t get” (Path still baffles the hell out of me).

I’m out
With that, I’m off.  Send me comments or tips or even requests for what you’d like to see here ([email protected]). 



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