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5 Reasons Why all Game Makers Should Get a Creative Audit for their Games

July 17, 2014 — by Industry Contributions


resized In this month’s Game Audio Artistry column, video game industry veteran Nick Thomas, CEO and co-founder of SomaTone, Inc., discusses the importance of a creative audit and what it can do for a game. 

Our Creative Audit process was spawned through our involvement with Chartboost University, which brings in eight of the most talented Indie developers from across the globe, with the philanthropic goal of helping these devs learn and grown in a mentorship environment.

SomaTone’s role was to serve as the creative auditor of the audio in these games, and to provide an expert perspective on the tech, creative, and overall experience of the audio within these games—and to do so with zero bias. The response from the indie community at CBU was a combination of gratitude, excitement, and relief that there were creative experts, with hundreds of games to their credit, who could evaluate and constructively critique the quality of this aspect of their games. Questions were answered and the end result was a clear understanding of the “temperatures” of their current audio, with a clear road map on what could and should be done to bring their game from passable to excellent.

Michael Bross discussing games in a format similar to what is done during a Creative Audit at Chartboost University.

Not Only For Indies

It turns out that it is not just the indie community who finds this service useful. In fact, indies arguably have a more advanced sense of how to approach audio in games and what sounds good, what tech to use, and how to make their game sound like an excellent product. Established mobile game developers and publishers have also found that the Creative Audit provides them with an invaluable opportunity to gain a critical, objective perspective on the relatively subjective world of game creativity (including design, art, and audio).

While it’s always helpful to get feedback and fresh eyes and ears on any project at various stages of development, gathering input, insights, and ideas from experts and specialists can make a big difference toward enhancing a game. So here are five key reasons why all game makers should seek out a Creative Audit for their games at some point along the way:

5 Reasons for a Creative Audit

We’re in an age when specialists, not generalists, are key players in the fine-tuning process.

1.  The Creative Audit leverages the experience of experts. No single game designer or producer can be an expert an all aspects of game production. While some experience may lean more towards visual design, others have an audio background, and some specialize in analytics. We’re in an age when specialists, not generalists, are key players in the fine-tuning process. Experts often have a highly focused set of expertise, so there is wisdom and benefit derived from seeking creative assessments from a range of seasoned and skilled industry pros representing different disciplines.

2.  It’s all in the polish, and a Creative Audit takes you there. Candy Crush is one of the most polished games I have ever seen in the mobile games space. All aspects of the art, programming, design, and even audio have been scrutinized with granular precision. In today’s crowded and highly competitive gaming ecosystem, there is no room for a marginal or even just good product. It must be excellent. The Creative Audit offers an opportunity to bring a product to the next level by offering qualitative assessments that spring from solid experience and expertise, coupled with actionable recommendations for improving and further polishing a game.

Different minds see things differently, and these kinds of divergent viewpoints can really enhance the creative levels of a game, often in unexpected ways.

3.  Even experts need an outside perspective. Even if you have hired the most talented art director, composer, artists, level designer, (whatever), there is simply a human limitation to what comes with an inside-only perspective. After 6-12 months of looking at only one product, and doing so intensively, it is practically impossible to avoid tunnel vision. By giving fresh perspective, a creative audit can do a lot to re-inspire and re-invigorate a game and identify key opportunities that may have been missed by those so intimately (and exhaustively) familiar with the game. Different minds see things differently, and these kinds of divergent viewpoints can really enhance the creative levels of a game, often in unexpected ways.

4.  Asking the right questions leads to interesting answers. It takes a level of humility to admit that we cannot know what we don’t know. It can be vexing to attempt to evaluate a game’s creativity level without knowing the essential questions to pose in this analytical process. When the right questions are asked, some interesting answers and realizations can be unearthed that will amp up the degree of originality and excellence in a game.

5.  No harm, no foul. A Creative Audit is a free, or at most, a very inexpensive way to benefit from an outside perspective from a team of experts. This process can serve as the catalyst for key tweaks, improvements, and embellishments to correct aspects of a game that need some work and catapult good games to a higher level of creative excellence.

Asking questions is widely considered to be the single most important habit of innovative thinkers, so naturally the Creative Audit process is bound to lead to higher levels of creativity and innovation within a game. What do you think?

Check back next month for the next Game Audio Artistry article!


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Moving with the Latest Pendulum Swing: Right Before Our Eyes, Another Gaming Industry Transformation

April 4, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska


Nick ThomasNick Thomas, CEO and Co-Founder of SomaTone, Inc., is a video games industry veteran and thought leader with 10+ years of proven executive leadership results with a focus on developing strategic industry partnerships, innovating creative outsourcing solutions and managing talented teams that contribute to more than 100 games annually from nearly all major publishers and developers, as well as independent developers. He discusses the transformation occurring in the industry in this article.

It’s happening again, right before our eyes; we’re in the midst of yet another era of redefinition and reinvention in the ever-evolving gaming industry. While the landscape is changing dramatically, history shows us that something new and good will invariably emerge. After all, (and despite many attempts), you cannot own or control creativity, or predict the future of gaming.

We at SomaTone are ten years deep as a leading provider of creative content for mobile, social, and casual games, working at the forefront of gaming over the last decade’s explosive growth. Having produced audio content on hundreds of games for many of the top publishers as well as for the indies, our vantage point gives us a sweeping perspective across the landscape of the games industry– from AAA console games, to MMO’s, to Social/Mobile, to Casual, and beyond.

We’re seeing the cyclical pendulum swing of innovation, homogenization, and reinvention continuing to keep the publishers of gaming content guessing as the smaller, faster, and more creative start-ups are yet again redefining the gaming industry.

Creative comrades in the face of an ever-changing industry
Creative comrades in the face of an ever-changing industry, SomaTone’s Nick Thomas with Tap4Fun CEO Kevin Yang at GDC 2014

The Ripple Effects of Converting Players into Users in Mobile Gaming

Casual games continue to go through a familiar pattern, and we are currently emerging from a decline of the smaller “Mom and Pop” game developers, who have been squeezed out by the realities of mobile publishing and the dominance of Free-to-Play (F2P) games. This economic model has sought to systematically convert game “users” into a currency that has been hoarded, sold, and traded in an effort to control access to “game players.”

As a consequence, the industry was stratified into large game publishers–who controlled the access to “users” and thus the majority of the market–and new start-ups and Indies, who were either being gobbled up by these same publishers, or self-publishing and hoping for a Flappy Bird-style anomalous hit.

The middle-class of game development–studios of 20-50 working on games that were sold via standard pay-to-play standards with supportive publishing partners–has suffered. With limited access to users, who are carefully controlled by game publishers, it was nearly impossible for mid-sized independent game developers to make and sell their own games and support their teams. The result was a polarized and stratified industry in which a small fraction of game publishers own the vast majority of market, making it extremely difficult for small game developers to independently make and sell their games without yielding to the requirements of the publishers, who will own the IP, take the lion’s share of the revenue, with no clear obligation to bring “users” to their game.

“Every time the industry has homogenized itself by the few having control of the many, a new era of gaming has invented itself.”

Now while all publisher models attempt to control access and distribution to customers (this is in fact what publishers are supposed to do), there is a dramatic new variable at play, with the F2P economy. This “race to the bottom” business model, which has led to disruptive game-play mechanics designed to extract fees from “users”, in their efforts to enjoy a fully featured game-play experience and be “players”, is highly dependent on publishers’ access to users, and their ability to monetize these users. Those “old school” game designers, who sought to develop great games, that offered fully featured immersive game-play experiences at the outrageously expensive price of $.99, never stood a chance against “free” games, which are developed by game publishers and promoted to their “users”, requiring players to pay for the features included in a 1-dollar competing title.

This Latest Cycle Will Induce a Painful Rebirth

This cycle of innovation, homogenization and reinvention is not a new trend. We have seen this same cycle in gaming in the past, with Big Fish Games‘ consolidation of the PC Downloadable market and subsequently, Zynga‘s dominance of browser-based Facebook, and in both cases, there was a painful rebirth of the industry. Those fastest to adapt to the new ecosystems survived, and those who could not evolve, died away.

However, it is also true that every time the industry has homogenized itself by the few having control of the many, a new era of gaming has invented itself. Just after Big Fish unequivocally took control of PC downloadable, Facebook came along and completely disrupted their reign. A few short years later, the kings of Facebook (Zynga, Playdom, Wooga) have been dethroned, only to be replaced by the current leaders of the mobile industry. With each successive attempt to control and “own” the industry, new life has begun.

“You cannot control game players or ‘own’ creativity. A new era is currently percolating under the thin crust of the mobile/casual games ecosystem, and by my observations, we are onto a new dawn of gaming.”

This reminds me of Jurassic Park. Life finds a way. In this case, creativity finds a way, and despite the attempts of the current reign of publishers to own and control this inherently creative marketplace, they are discovering, just as all others before them have, that you cannot control game players or “own” creativity.

A new era is currently percolating under the thin crust of the mobile/casual games ecosystem, and by my observations, we are onto a new dawn of gaming. One in which, and Kabam, or perhaps even the Apple Store and Google Play store, will soon find themselves trying to catch up, and wondering what happened as the world they felt so sure of has shifted beneath their feet.

“Mom and Pop” developers, take heart. The pendulum swings both ways. And from our vantage point, which reaches from the largest publishers to the smallest indies, the playing field is leveling.

2014 will be a year of reorganization and consolidation, as the bubble of Mobile/Social games refocuses its efforts, and quality will retake its place as the leading factor in a company’s success, rather than simply a publisher’s control of access to users. And developing innovative and high-quality games has always been what the “Mom and Pop” game studios have done best and are continuing to do.

Look forward to the next installment of this series next month, a case study on Zynga’s Puzzle Charms!