During his own career in the game industry, InstantAction’s CEO and co-founder of Westwood Studios Louis Castle has had his fare share of having reinventing himself. From the time he had to pick his future livelihood as a teenager, to founding and setting up Westwood from his own garage. Here are some tips he shared with his audience during his GDC Europe talk.
During the Browser vs. Client-based Freetoplay MMOs panel at GDC Europe, one major problem with client-based games was also brought to attention that normally never receives that much attention at game conferences. The game-client’s size.
“Size does matter,” IGG’s chief operating officer Kevin Xu told a slightly giggling audience. “The smaller the better.” IGG’s mixed strategy has them currently publishing both browser and client-based games and according to Xu, the latter’s success has been influenced by their download size. IGG’s most successful client-based game is Godswar Online, which cost 800.000 to developer and has a download size of around 150 megabytes. According to Xu, the game had a 60% download completion rate, generating an average of $ 1.2-1.3 million US dollars a month. “With 1.5 Gig games, we had so much trouble converting with only a 15-20% download rate.”
“We are a publisher ourselves, so when we develop the game, we know it has to be small. There’s a lot of developers trying to go into the f2p space. They come out with games that are gigantic of 2 3 gigs. It doesn’t help us with publishing.”
“For core gamers, less than 2 gigs is fine,” Gamigo’s Patrick Streppel added. According to gamigo’s research, the preferred download size varies per demographic, with racing gamers being the worse. A150 megabyte tennis game in Germany apparently wasn’t an advantage for his company at all, but “for a core game everything under 2 gig is fine.”
Quantic Dream’s CEO and founder David Cage was invited to GDC Europe to explain why, how and what happened after his team made Heavy Rain. Not before he started his talk criticizing the state of current games as being too much “defined by who you kill or what you destroy”. Cage argued that games have barely changed in the past 25 years, which are mostly based on violent actions, similar gameplay patterns, are emotionally poor and mainly target kids and teenagers. “I believe you lose something in this experience,” He stated. “Your experience can be much richer with all these great emotions. There is very little that you take away from your games.”
Why they did it
Cage continued to explain his opinion that games be art and not toys. Cage went on to call adult gamers an untapped market that is strongly interested in emotion and narrative. “Games do not have to be challenging to be entertaining,” he argued. “That’s fine, but as an adult, I have little time.”
“The market is ready for new paradigms,” Cage also suggested. “Our industry is about technical innovation, but very little conceptual innovation.” Accordign to cage, the game industry should stop doing the same things over and over, while the few people who want to innovate often do not have the opportunity to do so. Over a year has passed since Cage and his team had worked on Heavy Rain. Both Sony and Quantic Dream apparently did not expect the game to be such as a success.
How they did it
Cage went on to describe the biggest challenges his team had faced. “You need a very clear idea you want to achieve,” he explained. His team first had to face the problem of creating new paradigms that made Heavy Rain into more of a journey than a challenge.”What you see, what road you take, what you’re experiencing or feel, makes the difference.”
The second problem became the interface, with any average game controller limiting the animation of the protagonist to a number of buttons. This required Cage’s team to invent a new interface that supported strongly contextual interactions. “This is a big change and it solved many problems when people have to tell stories and create emotions in games.”
The third problem was hitting the right strings of emotion and meaning for the player. ”We wanted you to have something that resonates with you, that gives you food for thought.” According to Cage’s findings, many players reported that it really made them think about the relationships they have with their own family and friends. “I wish more games would explore this direction,” Cage admitted. “It is still unfortunately very rare in games.”
Heavy Rain also posed a lot of narrative challenges and required Cage’s team to invent a new language to convey the game’s story to the player, with no real reference material to work with. The team had adventure games and movies to work from for puzzles and dialogue, but that clearly wasn’t enough. “We could borrow the visual language from movies, but the interactive language had to be invented.”
Failing certain parts of the game had to become usual while playing Heavy Rain. Cage admitted that he was always against the fact that failing has always been a big punishment in games. His team found that some testers would fail pretty much ever single action scene. “When we asked them about the game, they answered it was easy,” Cage explained. “When we told the guy that he basically missed every single action scene, he was surprised.” It dawned on the team that the tester thought he couldn’t actually succeed in the game’s scene.
The 2000 pages of script for Heavy Rain took over more than a year in writing, but Cage highly doubts he could pull it off again. “The bad news is that there is no recipe,” Cage admitted. “If you ask me how you did it, I don’t have a clue.”
After they did it
Cage ended his talk by sharing some numbers on Heavy Rain. The game got a total of 4475 reviews with a 90,1% average worldwide. The game also sold out with 600.000 copies in the first two weeks and has sold over 1,5 million to date on full price. The title also won numerous awards, including Develop’s best new franchise and best independent studio. Though what Cage was personally most thankful for, was the support and respect he’d received from both journalists and game developers.
During his keynote talk on the first day of GDC Europe Tencent Games’ vice president Bo Wang talked about how Tencent reached the top of the Chinese online games market. While Tencent is best known as a leading provider of Internet and mobile & telecommunications value-added services in China, Wang spoke of the massive potential for growth in the Chinse market and how his gaming department had already generated $1.3 billion U.S. dollars in the first six months of 2010. Tencent currently has two of the top three online game titles in China.
“It’s evolution,” argued Playfish studio director Jeferson Valadares during his talk on intuition versus metrics on the first day of GDC Europe. After offering a quick and swift introduction to the most recent and popular debate within the game development community, Valadares continued to explain why both are equally important and require two completely different state of minds. “Using both is quite hard,” Valadares admitted.” The single biggest reason, is because you’re using the wrong one at the wrong time.”
During his keynote at GDC Europe, Warren Spector had a lot of advice and wisdom to share on how to mature the game industry. Having worked with several people in Hollywood, Spector addressed the matter of being careful, when borrowing concepts from other media might be fine and developers should step in to do their own thing.