Why Online Multiplayer Is All That Important

Russell Carroll wrote a great article: Offline: Why Online Multiplayer isn’t all that Important. While there are some good points in that article, I believe some of the points can be used to argue why online multiplay mode is that important.

First of all, in that article it’s said that “online multiplayer is nice, but I think it’s a feature that is a bit over-rated”. While I somewhat agree with that point, I must add that there are players (like me) who play games only for the multiplayer feature. Battlefield 1942 and Battle for Middle Earth are great when played online, but I wouldn’t – and haven’t – touched the single player modes.

Multiplayer gaming is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think that online multiplayer modes are all that great. Unless I’m playing in the same room as the person I’m playing against, I lose the emotional and physical connection that makes multiplayer games fun.

Again, this depends on the player. While it’s fun to play in the same room I also don’t think a “emotional connection” would be lost if you are playing with a guy who is in different city. I remember several years ago playing Rogue Spear with several friends of mine, and even when we were located in different cities the ability to talk and play online together was more than enough. I also enjoy playing with total strangers and have fun online – I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

And then, just like attending a virtual dance from my living room, that empty feeling of online multiplayer would creep in, and I’d soon find myself, once again, totally ignoring the online multiplayer mode, and instead solely playing the single player and local multiplayer modes (same room = real fun).

I personally don’t seek for same feeling when I play online. I like to really get immersed in the game, not for the living room ,when I play online. I like to challenge friends, and that’s it. If I wanted everybody to be in the same room we might play billiard, cards or pen & paper role playing games rather than computer games.

I believe different people seek different feelings from multiplayer games, and some games are better suited for multiplayer mode. It must also be noted that when playing online, the meaning of game might change: the game might become less important, and simply the challenge against friends becomes more important.

Online multiplayer is a great idea, and gets better when the game gets home. With online multiplayer games you can really find challenge (and leave stupid AI away) and can play when you feel like it – not when the time schedules fit to arrange a game session in somebody’s home.

Online multiplayer is all that important – for some players.

TIGRS – The Independent Game Rating System

With TIGRS you can rate your game for free and let your players know what kind of content they are expected to see in your game

ESRB has been the industry standard for rating video game entertainment products. You can see below example images that ESRB uses. Their main intention is to help customers to know is the content is suitable for everybody or perhaps only for adult people. TIGRS is giving an alternative way for indie games to rate themselves.

TIGRS is different from ESRB in 2 major ways. First of all: it’s free. ESRB ratings cost a too big pile of money for casual games to get a rating, with TIGRS everybody can get their game rated. Secondly: it’s rated by developers.

Extremely easy and fast to use

Developers and publishers can use the extremely simple TIGRS generator to create a suitable rating for their game. The rating is fully customizable between “family, teen and adult” and takes care several kinds of elements like “drugs, alcohol, profanity” and so on. You may test the system and then simply use the generated HTML code to show the rating at the game page. I just created a rating for my Highpiled game, and it didn’t take many seconds to complete it.

Something to consider

Naturally there’s always the problem of misuse, since everybody can give their game the kind of rating they want. TIGRS website has an email address where players can report abuse so I suppose they can quite easily ban developers if they don’t use the system properly. The other problem with this system I see is that who is going to pay for the costs? At the moment TIGRS is said to remain free forever but with Internet, there’s always somebody who has to pay the costs. What if suddenly there’s million games rated with this system – who pays the increased bandwidth (since the rating image is fetched from the server) for example?

Bottom line – try it

While I see some tiny problems, that’s no excuse not to use the system. I think the author said the whole point of the system quite well:

By appealing to the good nature of people, I hope that TIGRS can facilitate a change among free and low-cost downloadable games developers and publishers by alerting their audiences of both positive and negative content contained within their games. TIGRS is by no means necessary, but it’s important that we show initiative and responsibility within our community if we want to be taken seriously.

Thumbs up for Daniel.

Anyone interested, check out TIGRS.org.

Interview With Adrian Crook, Relic Entertainment

GameProducer.Net had a chance to talk with Adrian Crook (he is the one more in the left in that above image), game producer at Relic Entertainment. Relic has stunning games in their portfolio, for example: Homeworld, Company of Heroes and The Outfit. In this interview Adrian is sharing lots of insight about the production of The Outfit.

GameProducer.net: Hi Adrian. Thanks for giving GameProducer.net a chance to have an interview with you. First it would be nice to hear about your background. Can you tell us little bit about your career in the gaming industry?

Adrian Crook: Sure. In January of 1995 I was a 19 year old bartender at a Vancouver restaurant. A month later, I started in the QA department of EA Canada. I spent about a year in QA before I got on as a Producer on Reboot, a PS1 game that took about 2.5 years to complete and sold terribly. Afterward, I had an idea for a snowmobile racing game. So the core team from Reboot – me, Tristan Brett (great artist and former roommate) and Tom Heath (UK-based programmer) – developed a really great prototype and sold EA executives on doing it. A year later, we finished the game – Sled Storm (PS1) – and it went on to sell over 1 million units.

At that point, I’d been at EA for nearly five years and wanted to started my own business. So in 1999, me and a couple partners founded a company called Moderngroove Entertainment. We raised $3M in funding, took the company public on the NASDAQ and published a PS2 lifestyle product called Moderngroove: Ministry of Sound Edition. In 2001, the tech wreck happened and with it went my paper millionaire status. Moderngroove was the university schooling I never had – it even cost me about the same as an Ivy League education!

Since then, I’ve done a lot… consulting here and there (with the most interesting gig being working with a behavioural psychologist to turn his research into a game), producing games and original IP for Decode Entertainment, a TV production company, and producing advertising at McCann Erickson (3rd largest ad conglomerate in the world). One of the IPs I co-developed at Decode will air this year as a 22 episode TV series called Urban Vermin – becoming the only product I’ve ever earned royalties from!

But for the last three years I’ve been a Producer at Relic Entertainment, a THQ company located in Vancouver, BC. In that time, I’ve shipped The Outfit, a squad-based third person action/strategy game for the Xbox 360. Now I’m working on new concept development for Relic, putting my experience with original IP to use to ensure Relic has exciting new games in the pipe.

GameProducer.net: Why did you choose a career in gaming? What would you be if you were not a game producer?

Adrian Crook: When I was growing up, I thought I would be a cop like my dad. I also thought I’d be a writer. Or, depending on which movie I had just watched, I thought I’d be Indiana Jones or a Top Gun fighter pilot. Realistically though, if I wasn’t a game producer I would probably be doing something in interactive – i.e. web stuff. With the web, you can put something out there relatively quickly and iterate on it based on consumer feedback. I really like that. With games, you spend 2+ years developing something and if it isn’t absolutely perfect out of the gate, it dies on the shelf a couple of weeks later. I don’t like that so much. :)

GameProducer.net: You have worked for several companies, including 5 years at industry leader Electronic Arts, and are now working at Relic Entertainment. How is it like to be a game producer in big companies?

Adrian Crook: At a big company, it’s easier to get stuff done but it takes longer to do it. I remember at Moderngroove our PS2 dev kits blew up over the holiday period of 2000. Due to our ubermicro status with Sony, we couldn’t get replacements for over a month. THQ would have had those replacements much faster. But when it comes to getting a new project off the ground, at a smaller company it is obviously faster to do so than getting a project through the greenlight process at a larger company.

But speaking of Relic specifically, it’s great. Relic is a fantastic blend of small and big company – i.e. the flexibility of small with the stability of big.

GameProducer.net: Can you describe your “typical work day as a game producer” at Relic?

Adrian Crook: The lack of a “typical” day is probably what I like best about being a producer! It’s always different. Most days you’re trying to remove “blockers” – i.e. things that are preventing team members from making progress. Other duties include facilitating design decisions, pushing forward recruiting, making tradeoffs with your lead programmer, feeding assets to the marketing machine, talking to press, risk managing the schedule with your APs, playing the product, presenting to execs, and so on. Very engaging and fast-paced.

GameProducer.net: You were given the 2006 Canadian New Media Award, “Producer of the Year”. How do you feel about that and what does this award mean to you?

Adrian Crook: Individual awards are an odd thing in a team-driven business like ours. It’s really nice to be recognized because anyone who knows me also knows that I’m usually the last person to take credit for something! So it was a surprise to get the award.

GameProducer.net: You produced Relic Entertainment’s first console title: The Outfit. What were your responsibilities in that project?

Adrian Crook: As the Producer on a project at Relic, the leads and production team report to you. That doesn’t mean you become a power hungry meglomaniac, but it does mean that you’re ultimately responsible for ensuring the product meets the company’s goals. On a daily basis, I worked with the team, Relic management and THQ to ensure the project was coming in on time and on budget – which it did. To do that, I made decisions about the relative importance of certain features, the contents of trade show and press demos, the staffing and assignment of the team, the tradeoff between build and buy or internal development vs outsourcing, the design of the game, and so on. The team on The Outfit was around 100 people, so a big part of my job was also ensuring that everyone knew the plan.

GameProducer.net: The Outfit delivers explosive third person WWII combat through an epic, story driven campaign, complete with the freedom of total destruction. Total destruction is something that’s not seen in many games – how did you guys at Relic manage to make it happen, and were you happy with how it turned out?

Adrian Crook: The destruction aspect was very fun. Yup, I’m happy with how it turned out. As for how we made it happen, well we had to use a very complex destructible building system that ultimately stole memory from a lot of areas, as well as building many discrete destructible objects – so that everything you hit would blow up. The artists and programmers did a great job with destruction.

GameProducer.net: Did you – as a producer – get to design anything in the game? Did you give any ideas that ended up in the final game?

Adrian Crook: As a Producer, you have a hand in a lot of things. It’s tough to list out all the design areas I played a role in. The achievement/rewards system and the Destruction-on-Demand system (i.e. parachuting in items) were areas that I spent a bit more time on though. As much as I’m a creative guy who loves games, I realized that I had a great design team, led by Jeff Brown (ex-lead designer on Oddworld games), who were more than capable. On most days, the best thing I could do was stand back and provide feedback here and there.

GameProducer.net: What was the greatest lesson you learned from The Outfit production?

Adrian Crook: When you begin work on a project that’s already underway, always examine the inherited decisions and fight to change anything that you think will hurt the project. Although I did that on The Outfit, I could have done more of it.

GameProducer.net: What was the best experience in The Outfit production? Finishing the game must have been one great milestone, but were there some other situations that you remember?

Adrian Crook: The Outfit had to be one of the riskiest projects ever. It was a new engine, new team, original IP, launch window title and Relic’s first console project. For those reasons, every aspect of it is memorable. Every time we made progress despite the odds it was an incredible rush. Some big ones were our E3 demo, Leipzig demo, and the first time the game ran at 30fps. Incredibly, they happened in that order.

GameProducer.net: Here’s a question that aspiring game producers want answered: What would you recommend an enthuastic hobbyist gamer do to help them get job in the gaming industry? What should they do to become game producers?

Adrian Crook: I get asked this question all the time. You could go to a game school like Vancouver Film School, or work on a mod, or get a job in the production, QA or Balance departments of a developer or publisher. Or all of the above. Either way, you need to demonstrate a love of games and solid communication and organizational skills. Then you need to get noticed somehow… so taking any game industry job to start is a good thing. If you’re an awesome performer and vocal about your career goals, then you’ll likely end up where you want to be.

GameProducer.net: How would you describe a “great game producer”? What qualities and skills you need to become a great game producer? What kind of personality makes a great game producer?

Adrian Crook: I think you need to be a good listener and a confident, clear communicator – as well as possessing solid analytical skills, patience and follow-through (for those 2+ year long projects!), and integrity. You also need to be able to work in “interrupt mode”… meaning finding a way to get your work done in those tiny gaps of time where a teammate doesn’t need you. If you can’t do that, you’ll forever be working overtime to catch up.

GameProducer.net: The gaming industry is getting bigger and bigger. What’s your take on the future of gaming? How is the industry changing and what will happen in the next years to come?

Adrian Crook: The future of gaming is a lot more diverse and exciting than it is today. Big budget games have become so complex that they’ve left a lot of people behind, creating huge emerging markets for casual games on platforms like the web, XBLA, Wii, and mobile. Business models are also changing, with MMO models such as “free-to-play, pay-for-items” enabling real freedom of choice for the consumer, not a monthly subscription that ties you down. I’m very excited about where the industry headed, but I’m even more excited to be a gamer.

GameProducer.net: Then in the end I’d like to ask you to tell us your TOP 5 hints for game producers out there. What are the 5 tips that every game producer in the world should need to know?

Adrian Crook:

1) All you have is your reputation. Don’t burn bridges, don’t stab backs, treat everyone with the respect you’d want for yourself.
2) Push decisions down to the lowest possible level. Trust and empower the team to own their areas of the project.
3) Make sure your bottom line is well understood by the team. I.e. “At the very least, we need feature x to do y”.
4) Have fun. If you’re not laughing, you’re in the wrong line of work. If you need to be the court jester to bring some levity to your team, do it.
5) Play games and read books. And if you’re like me and don’t have a photographic memory, take notes on each and discuss whenever possible.

GameProducer.net: I warmly recommend GameProducer.net readers to visit Relic Entertainment’s and Adrian Crook’s website. Thanks for the interview Adrian.

Adrian Crook: Thank you too! I read GameProducer.net all the time, so thanks for the chance to participate!

The opinions expressed by Adrian Crook are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, plans or positions of Relic or THQ.

GameProducer.net Update, Version 6.0

This is now the sixth GameProducer.net update. I decided to take away the bigger pictures and give more room to the text content, now the text in the top left gives a brief idea about the site and should help new people to first read the introduction. There’s still couple of visual things that I’m changing (like some fonts might be too big in some pages).

To make sure this is not a post only about GameProducer.net visual update, I’m writing here the lesson I learned today: compare your website to other people’s websites when making changes. I basically went to see the list of most popular blogs at Technorati and picked roughly 10. Then I typed three words on a notepad “better”, “equal”, “worse”. It was my idea to simply look at one popular site and then look at my new template and mark X after one of these words. I compared simply “how my site looks and feels compared to these sites visually, and which one is cleaner?”. I got one “x” in the “worse”, one mark in the “better” and rest I marked “equal” (although I felt there could have been few more marks in the “better” and also maybe one more in the “worse” category). I knew that I couldn’t beat the one site in simplicity at this point (simply because I’m keeping that much stuff in the sidebar) but for me this result was good enough. It helped me to put some final touches on how to arrange the layout and how to keep it clean. I also managed to find the colors for the header links quite well thanks to this comparison.

Here’s the list of the changed stuff:

  • Visuals: I removed 4 big images, and added a simpler header – and a small greyscale picture of me. I suppose this helps reminding readers that there’s only one guy behind this blog.
  • Introduction: I put a link to introduction in the top left corner with few welcome notes. My intention is to help new people to quickly understand what this site is all about (“daily gaming business & production tips”).
  • Free stuff: Everybody loves that, right? Now I have added free stuff section where I shall list (surprise, surprise) free stuff. At the moment there’s not much to check, but at least something – and I will be putting more free stuff there in the future.
  • Newsletter: I have had newsletter for some time already, but now I have put it in bit more visible space in the top left corner.
  • RSS feed: Like newsletter, RSS feed has changed place. Now it can be found via the header links, and also from the top left corner.
  • Reader introductions: About 60 people have already told about them in the Introduce yourself blog entry, and I’ve now put this item in the header links – to give it bit more visible spot that in the previous layout.

Those are probably the most visible changes, and feel free to browse the site to check out more. The good old sales stats are available and the article archives contains now over 500 posts. I will be making tiny changes on that page as well.

That’s it. In the end I would like to mention that Adrian Crook (Game Producer at Relic Entertainment) has given me an interview, and I will be putting this article online within just a few hours.

Stay tuned, and remember to subscribe to the newsletter to make sure you get informed when new interviews, sales stats and other special reports are available.

Feel free to tell your opinion about the new visuals.

P.S. I’m also postponing the Carnival of Game Production’s 3rd edition – I’m waiting to get few more articles before putting it online.

Challenge #10: What Opportunities Piracy Offers?

BBC reported that rampant piracy is threatening the future of the PC games industry. Todd Hollenshead, head of Doom 3 creator Id software was quoted for that statement. The comments and reasons for piracy were quite typical (that were have seen also before). It’s fun to see the “games would need to be cheaper” arguments (and then imaging how these people download those 2 gigabyte games over and over using their 100 megabit cables and drinking wine ;).

Enough joking.

I admit piracy can be a problem, but I doubt it will threaten PC games in the nearly future. One example is the Windows Vista & Xbox Live. They are basically merging Xbox and PC gamers to play together. Does that look like Microsoft is forgetting PC? I don’t think so.

Almost anywhere I look I see “piracy is a problem”. The business mantra I’ve heard over and over says exactly the opposite: there are no problems, only opportunities. What would happen if we’d say “piracy is an opportunity”?

As I start thinking about it, I come to see several opportunities. One opportunity is for copyright protection software developers: the one who makes such protection that keeps pirates away is going to get rich. Secondly there might be room for people to set up a “pirate hunting” group and start taking down pirate sites – money sponsored from developers. One opportunity for developers could be to use the piracy to help promoting their game: instead of fighting against pirates, they could distribute free software and use in-game ads, pay-per-item or other models to fund the development. I would also believe that if big players leave, it basically gives more room for indie and casual games. All of these opportunities might not be viable, but when one starts to look for opportunities – he starts to seem them.

The 10th GameProducer.net challenge: What opportunities you see in piracy? Feel free to post your comment on this.

4 Simple Ways to Get Your Game Reviewed

Getting journalists to review your game is very important in getting traffic, downloads and eventually sales. Some people might wonder where to find those review sites. Here are few very simple tips on where to find those journalists who could review your game.

#1 – Send a press release

One reason for doing a press release is to get people to review your site. There are many places and companies you can use to get the word out. One popular is SoftPressRelease. I’ve personally used my own service GameRelease.net and so has several other developers and companies as well. There’s a list of contacts available which might also get you a starting point if you want manually start sending press releases to companies.

#2 – Google

Simply go to Google and type for example “Diner Dash Review” or “Tribal Trouble review” (or basically name of any successful game) and you’ll get a big list of sites where this game has been reviewed. Then you can start checking out those sites and manually emailing them. If you don’t like doing it manually, consider sending a press release. Best option might be to combine both ways.

#3 – Go to some popular game review website and check lists

You may go to some popular game review & news site and then simply start looking where games have been reviewed. Here’s for example GameSpot list of reviews for Tenchu: Return From Darkness. Manually going through them is bit time consuming, so it might be worth considering a press release since those people might have already these contacts on their lists.

#4 – Use your own website

If you have a website, make a section for press where you state that “evaluation copy for journalists is available”. If you do this before sending a press release, it might prove pretty good strategy.

Notice, press releases alone won’t help much if you don’t have a good product or some unique story to share. But when you do, and once you try one or few of the tips, you’ll get the idea on how beneficial it is to get your game reviewed.

Negotiate With the Terrorists

I heard Finnish one politician saying “you don’t negotiate with terrorists” and have heard same from American politicians. I’ve heard some bosses, managers and producers having similar attitude: they have certain guidelines that must be obeyed and which cannot be negotiated. I think there’s couple of major problems with this attitude

First of all, if one chooses not to negotiate with certain group he might mistakenly ignore people who actually do not belong to that group. If a company chooses to ignore “hostile customers” they might miss valuable lessons. They might ignore comments that were made by some loyal customer just because he first seems arrogant, and “company policy says we don’t deal with arrogant people”.

The second, and more important point, is that whenever one choose a strict position the progress might stop. Like when one applies rule “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” they automatically miss the possibility of finding the solution via means of communication. One of the verses from Dao de Ching says:

Seventy-six

A man is born gentle and weak.
At his death he is hard and stiff.
Green plants are tender and filled with sap.
At their death they are withered and dry.

Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.

Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.

The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.

It doesn’t require reading a book to realize that those who don’t bend, are in danger to break. Common sense can tell you this. The moment somebody sets strict a rule, he is in danger of losing the battle so to speak – or is forcing all parties towards a conflict.

The point here is not that everybody should be allowed to do anything they want. I believe in achieving results: if there’s a situation where the result must be achieved or some people will lose jobs then it is reality and people need to deal with it. But, the moment somebody forces other people the way how those results must be achieved (by setting strict guidelines) and chooses not to negotiate about them, he is limiting his own options. It might happen that he could find an alternative solution with some of the team members that would achieve the necessary results, by letting them act their way. It’s useful to negotiate, since it might give you what you want without need of a conflict.

There’s hardly many situations where one should not choose to negotiate over something.

GDC 2007 Event Coverage

GDC 2007 is over for this year. First place to proceed to is GamaSutra’s own GDC 2007 Live Coverage that lists stories and news about what happened at GDC. There are good notes like Future of Indie Games and others, so browse the list and check if there’s something interesting for you there.

GDC has also been noted in the blogosphere. Various developers, producers, journalists and gamers have mentioned GDC in their blog posts. Here’s some of them: GDC: MMOs, past, present and future – great insight regarding the future of massively multiplayer online games. Raph Koster covered GDC 07: Game Studies Download – definitely worth checking to design better games. GDC: Miyamoto’s keynote – Nintendo talk. Why the GDC sucks – a different take on GDC by Psychochild. While I don’t think GDC is automatically not worth it, I think there’s good thinking in this post. Then there was GDC coverage at Mercurynews that you might find worth checking.

Feel free to throw links to your own blogs (or other people’s blogs) if you have some good ones to share.

Unbelievable In-game Art

Looks, like one of my predictions is coming true: Heavenly Sword in-game art looks so beautiful, that people have trouble finding words to describe it – as you can see on that Ninja Theory Forums.

The above picture is not modified high-resolution image for promotional use. It’s actually an in-game shot with resize, lighting and depth of field then applied to the scene so that it can be used as a desktop wallpaper. See Kotaku and Ninja Theory Forums for the original story.

I remember when I saw player face textures in NHL ’97 and thought “this is unbelievable”. Well, I guess I have to find another meaning for word “unbelievable”. Because this Heavenly Sword image is unbelievable.

You Need to Water the Plants to Make Them Grow

The most common problems or questions I see and hear people making about sales or marketing are something like these: How to get more sales? or How to get more traffic to my website?. For some people these are valid questions when they go explaining what they have done, what’s their situation is and what products they have. Others are focusing on the problem, and only on that.

Asking these questions might be bit useless if you only focus on the “get” part. It’s bit like waiting plants to grow without giving them water, and then asking “why my plants are not growing?” Well, plants won’t grow without water. Similarly, your business is not going to grow if you are not giving something first.

That’s the key: you first need to water the plants, then they’ll start growing. Not the other way around. If you want sales or traffic, you need to have something to offer. If you need to get some tips on how to promote your business, check out practical marketing tips. There’s currently about 70 entries that might help you getting those sales and traffic to your website.

Start watering those plants. Sooner or later they start to grow.