Games don’t need to have external reward systems (kind of)

Casual game designers can show us a big list of game mechanics & systems that “keep player playing the game”. Farmville and others are good at applying these. I have no problem that these games are successful and make money and all that.

But… when I think of games that I’ve enjoyed most, I cannot recall a single game where “achievements” or “external reward systems” would have mattered to me. Well, one. Diablo 1. There the pure joy of creating better character was just awesome. So, there the reward system was in the very core of the gameplay.

By external reward system I mean things like achievements, appointments, “share the game” viral bonuses, and such. All the things that don’t “happen in the game” so to speak. Of course all these games provide rewards that are part of the core gameplay (it’s satisfying to tackle somebody through a glass in NHL ’94, cough). Not sure if I’m able to explain the difference.

Anyway.

Besides Diablo, the games I’ve enjoyed have been like NHL ’94 – NHL ’11, Battle for Middle Earth (multiplayer RTS), Zombie Panic (multiplayer), Battlefield 1942, Monkey Island adventure games and many others. None of these had external rewards that I would have paid attention to. You just went and played the damn game.

A good example is this:

  • NHL ’94 had no external rewards system in the game – we played like hundreds of hours that game just to be able to beat our buddies. We had tons of fun.
  • NHL ’10 featured system where I could gain stuff and ranks and whatnot. At some point I was playing the game for the sake of gaining new level. At that point I stopped for moment and thought “whadda hell am I doing?” The game was fun, until I started concentrating on the reward system. It ruined my fun for a moment.

In a way, if game itself is so good that it’s fun to play, there’s no need for external reward system (achievements, online highscores, whatnot). If the game is played for the sake of earning rewards, then something is wrong.

Badly.

In NHL ’11 I stopped caring about rewards and just went back to playing it in because I know the game is fun. I forgot every reward there is and just enjoy doing good hip tackles or beating computer/buddies. Now it’s fun once again to play the game.

Diablo was fun as long as it was fun to level up and gaining new boosts. But when playing Diablo turns into playing for the sake of leveling up, then it’s no more fun. (Damn tough to explain. Maybe you get my point.)

If the game is fun – it doesn’t need additional “external” rewards. Playing the game is a reward in itself.

Salesfolks cannot fool programmers

Here’s two popular comments on “why you should buy [insert item here]”

  1. “We’ve reduced price now twice!”
  2. “It’s now 50% from original price”

Any True Programmer Mind immediately knows that the amount of times some price has gone lower has no relevance. Why would you care if item that costs let’s say 17.99 has got price “decreased twice” (or three times). It has no relevancy here: the item costs 17.99 and that’s it.

Another way to fool is to say that some thing costs “50% of the original price”. Let’s say some jacket costs 129.99 – now, what difference does it really make to you whether original price is 250 or 130. You are still going to spend 130 bucks on that thing.

“Yeh, but 250 thing has more ‘quality’ than 130 jacket.”

Possibly so, but why would you need to know the original price? If the jacket is good quality and costs 130 bucks, that should be enough knowledge. Programmers don’t need to know original price, number of discounts or amount of discount.

Daily progress report

Some of you might have noticed that I’ve started writing really short daily progress reports via twitter. I was thinking that while my grandest project requires quite a bit of my time (10 month baby), doing something each day helps keep me in motion.

I haven’t talked about The Infected game anywhere near as much that I wrote about Dead Wake development, but those short daily tweets tell something.

Things progress quite nicely but won’t say anything more for now. Still some things that require work before sharing more about the project.

Are you keeping daily log about your progress – public or private?

Do you have a face? (not the book, but like internet face)

I do.

My face is in Gravatar. It’s a pretty slick system. It works like this:

  • First I went here to type my email I use in blog comments (I’d recommend using secondary email if you have one)
  • Then I went and type some stuff on different blogs. Places. Things. All good.

And now my face appears whereever I comment.

And it’s nice to see people’s faces. Some people might not care, but somehow when I see the face (or whatever avatar game dev’s might have) it tells me something about the guy. And makes things perhaps lil bit more personal.

You don’t wanna be faceless, right?
(nnirvi is of course an exception)

Try it, and comment in this blog post if you wanna try it out. (Remember to use the same email in blog comment and in your gravatar signup)

New year resolution

In the past, I’ve made some promises to do something. This year, I’m doing things bit differently.

Here’s list of some things I WON’T do in year 2011:
- no email on my main computer
- no twitter on my main computer
- no (too much) NHL11
- no more ad sales hunting (my games have generated ca-ching via ads, but that requires me to work)
- no distraction (thinking this in many ways)
- no “maybe later” emails. Just mainly Inbox or Archive
- no more new Insider members accepted (planning on closing gates in February), quite likely
- no several points of focus (insiders, ads, games): focus in making game, having fun, generating the green stuff
- no wockas if being parent requires time: kids grow so fast. Gotta treasure the time spent with the baby, and realize that gamedev time is also more precious than ever
- no too fast conclusions: I have (had) a habit of making conclusions quite fast. Will try take timeout on these
- no zombies

Just kidding on that last one. What would a world be without zombies?

So. In conclusion: This year is the year of elimination.

I bet it will be easy to keep these promises: I don’t even need to do anything.

Now I just need electric chair

I now have a saddle chair. Yesterday I got my new table which can be lifted up and down using electricity – sort of an “electric table” I’d say. It took maybe like 5 hours to get it set up (didn’t organize wires just yet, and could drill some holes to make floor wireless) – including rearranging & clearing the office. I hope this combination of proper chair and table help keeps back pains away.

(Although now after setting everything up, my back is killing me)

Anyways, here’s me pressing the magical buttons to lift the table!

Infected game platform (and player expectations)

The Infected game I’ve been working on is essentially a card game that will be played either offline (on real physical tables) and online (using “virtual tabletop” system I built).

The online version
The online version mimics a “real physical dinner table”. You have players, chat, and cards to play with. There’s no forced rules, but it’s up to the players to make the gaming session fun. To get little idea about the platform, I recommend you check out this page In this page you won’t see The Infected card game, but rather a normal virtual deck of 52+2 cards which you can flip, rotate, move etc. You can also invite your buddies to join the room – just give them your game room link – and you can continue playing. The system remembers the state of the game so the link always gives you the state where you left. That’s pretty slick.

In theory, you could play almost any board game with this system. I’ve successfully played remakes of games as Battle Lines, Lord of the Rings Confrontation and also some others.

The system is still very crude looking, but functions ok.

It’s quite server intensive, so no promises on anything about the system. Server stuff costs real money and I need to cover the costs. And that means somebody needs to pay something. We’ll see how that goes. It is very much possible that online version becomes available only those who purchase the offline version, or that the online version is only available on some monthly fee. We’ll see.

The offline version
The offline version is physical version. It has been my plan to try approach a board game publisher and see if they would be interested in helping publishing the game. Other option is self-publish, but I doubt I will want to go through the hassle of learning that trade.

Getting to publisher, getting accepted and getting game out takes like at least several months, so if this game is available for offline purchase during year 2011 (closer to the end I think), then it’s all ok.

If I don’t get physical version out, that’s okay too. Maybe I then will do a really small self-print and get the game out for those who really, really want it.

The plan
Right now I’m more focused on getting the game out, and I will re-think how to deal with selling side of things when I have more solid information about how people play the game, how server intensive it is and how well the game is taken by the potential publisher and players.

I started prototyping and planning this game about 6 months ago. I did spend more time on “building the engine” than I first anticipated, but won’t go into that stuff just yet.

This sort of “experimental gameplay” (I very much feel that doing a multiplayer cross-breed of an card game & “video game” is a quite new venture, and I’ve been exploring this quite a bit now).

Player expectations
Some players were very puzzled about this. I guess they were expecting to see online 3d shooter (or whatever) and this is very far from it. Some of these guys come from the video game world.

Luckily, there’s also some guys who were thinking that the system is totally cool. These came from board game world (who really liked the online system) but also, I believe, from video game world.

And I cannot cater for everybody, so by choosing this platform I’m also choosing my customers. (And hoping customers are choosing this game, *cough*)