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Designing Free-to-play games with AAA Developers

By on June 27, 2012
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Working with traditional game developers is an interesting challenge for me as a business model designer. I am working with several different studios on a total of 15 different games. It is making me re-evaluate how I think about free-to-play game design and explaining how it works to traditional designers.

Here are some quick bullet points about what I think about when working with clients:

  • Replayability is key to F2P. Either of a repetitive experience (e.g. simulation games like CityVille) or of the core game (e.g. arcade games like Bejewelled Blitz).
  • WOW! moments, so beloved of scripted narrative game designers, are much harder to achieve in F2P
  • Many (not all) narrative games use “experience” – meaning new artwork, bigger explosions and more exposition – to cover up a game mechanic which is not compelling in its own right. Free to play games struggle to get away with this(although admittedly they sometimes cover up poor gameplay with “Skinner” box designs that use operant conditioning.)
  • Creating assets is very expensive. Free to play games need to be cheaper than traditional games. So my clients need to learn how to solve their design issues through the creative reuse of assetsnot through throwing more levels, more assets and more explosions at the problem
  • Polish isn’t important; Pizzazz is. (More on that in a future post)

These are just some initial thoughts while I’m sitting at the Game Horizon Conference. I plan to delve deeper into these issues over the next six months.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com
  • Sik

    I had to look up what “pizzazz” is 😐

    Yes, the “pizzazz” is important to attract players, but once they’re in, polish is more important since it’s what determines whether their experience with the game is acceptable or not. Moreover, polish can be the determining factor for making a player stick to your game and not to one from the competition which has the same “pizzazz” as yours (and if your game is successful, there *will* be more games trying to do the same).

  • I dunno about the point that “Polish isn’t important; Pizzazz is”. My thought is that both are extremely important for a game’s success in this highly competitive space. I am interested to hear the justification for this point in the future – hopefully sooner than later.

  • Riolis

    pizzazz?

  • From bullet point 1 and 4 your gonna love our next game MEGATROID Nicholas. 🙂 If you want a preview and perhaps give us a few pointers you got my email, just ping me and I’ll set you up 🙂

  • Alistair Aitcheson

    Interesting stuff. I’ll be very interested to hear your thoughts on “polish” and “pizzazz” – I look forward to reading that post 🙂