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“Everybody wants to jump on the multiplayer train right now, right? Well, it’s not that easy,” Bob Christof warned the audience during his session at Casual Connect USA 2014. “It all comes down to two different, very difficult things: community is going to be really difficult to manage, and the technical part is going to be more difficult to manage than, for example, single player games.”
Bob Christof, game director at Gamepoint, became interested in games in 1986. He was nine years old and started out with an Atari 800XL. Games fascinated him because he could become really immersed in them. He would imagine himself in the world of the game, and the game became more intense, interesting, and emotional. But games today have changed. He feels, “Current games are looking so good that they leave much less to the imagination.”
For The Fun Of Games
Christof began working for a game company while a student, writing news articles and reviews of games. For him, as a poor student, it was an excellent job, providing him with a steady stream of free games to play; writing about them was an added bonus.
The fun of working in the games industry is what keeps Christof going, and the most fun comes from the creative people you work with in a market that is constantly changing. He says, “When I was young, it was my dream to work in this industry, and the fact that I’m still loving it means I’m still living the dream. So, please, don’t wake me up!”
As game director, Christof oversees the development of multiple projects leading to new games, new features in the game itself, and community features. The community, games, and features change very rapidly, so it’s an ongoing process to become and stay successful
Besides developing new games, GamePoint is updating the look and feel of all its games once a year. Listening to feedback from players and knowing what the market needs is what makes this possible. Christof advises, “Change is very important to players, even more so it is important that they see that you listen. Don’t try to fake or over-promise in your community. Your core players know the game even better than you do, and they will be on to you if you make a mistake.” He recommends, “Just be honest and open to them, even in difficult times.”
A Helpful Start
Christof began working at GamePoint when they bought the company he had been with, gamer.nl, the biggest Dutch gaming news site. He started out doing game development, community development, and even help desk. Oddly enough, the help desk turned out to be very useful, allowing him to directly see the issues players had in the game; speaking to the players helped and continues to help development. He claims, “You solve major bugs this way. Other players won’t have this bug, and the player with the problem is happy someone from the development team personally calls him to solve it. It’s a win-win situation, so we still do it today.”
During his years at gamer.nl, Christof gained experience in managing communities and discovered that having and managing a large community is essential to your success. He emphasizes that a community is more than just having a chat and a friends list next to your game. It has to be integrated into the core gameplay of the game.
Christof believes that success with the community has been a major factor in GamePoint’s overall success. This is why they still strongly believe in and invest in community tools, both visible and invisible to players. GamePoint now has an entire floor of community specialists to manage their community, and he is now totally focused on game directing.
The most exciting time in Christof’s career came in 2005, when he took a risk to build a bingo game with multiplayer features that did not fit the company’s portfolio. At that time, there were only real money multiplayer bingo games. There were no casual bingo games, and certainly none with community features built in. Even though the company’s focus remained on other projects, he believed so strongly in the game that they worked in the evenings on it. When the game was done, they did a small test on it and the response was overwhelming. It became and remains by far the biggest game on GamePoint.
Christof is still waiting for HTML5 to mature, but he expects it to become the biggest trend in the games industry because it supports all ranges of devices. It will allow development for multi-platforms devices to be much faster and more efficient.
In his free time, Christof watches TV and movies, admitting to being especially addicted to those that have a good story. He thinks it is a pity that the games industry has difficulty making games that are as immersive and emotional as a movie. Although The Last of Us and Telltale’s Walking Dead series are more immersive that most, it is not common to be emotionally attached to a game. And with casual games, the story seems to be considered even less important. While some games do have a bit of a story, particularly hidden object games, usually there is no intent to engage the players emotionally. But he is certain, “There are enough possibilities to tell a good story that will have your players coming back to the game more often or re-engaging if you update the app with new content.”
These days, Christof is playing Dota 2. He claims the game is wonderfully balanced and addictive, has an enormous user base, and has revolutionized e-sports. The downside is that it takes longer for him to play than the games he buys the first day of release.
His favorite platform is definitely PC; he can get casual games, Facebook games, Steam, Origin, all with the best graphics. His second choice for playing is casual games on iOS, saying it is a closed platform, but the limitations you have to work with are easier for the average person to understand.