Posts by Tag / TOPIC: Consumer Experience (64)

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Early Thoughts on Google Stadia

Google has announced that they are creating a streaming games platform called Stadia. The idea is you won’t need a console or even necessarily a controller if you already have a compatible one (and most modern console controllers appear to be compatible). You’ll be able to play games right in a browser on your TV/phone/tablet/PC via streaming. No extra download/installation required. Basically, it’s Netflix, except instead of streaming movies or TV, you’re streaming a video game and streaming back your controller inputs.

It’s worth noting that very little consumer-useful information is available yet. Nothing about how pricing will work (all-you-can-eat subscription like Netflix? rent games like the original PlayStation Now model? ad-based like YouTube? some combo?) or how expensive it’ll be. They’re also advertising it as capable of doing 4k video at 60fps - which would require an amount of bandwidth that’s implausibly high for most people’s internet connections.

But they have some big names on board - Doom Eternal and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey are confirmed for the service, and they’ve got Jade Raymond (creator of Assassin’s Creed) heading their in-house development studio where they will be developing first-party (probably exclusive?) titles.

With that background, here are my thoughts.

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The Designer is Dead: Five Reasons to Go Beyond Intended Experiences

Games are designed to create particular mental and emotional states in their players. The Dark Souls games use difficulty to “give players a sense of accomplishment by overcoming tremendous odds”, Dead Rising’s replay-enforcing time limit and oddball weapon options encourage humorous experimentation, Far Cry 2’s unreliable weapons force players to improvise in chaotic battles, and so on. We call this the game’s “intended experience.”

Good games are those which successfully guide their players to worthwhile experiences, so the designer’s intent is key to a game’s quality. This leads some of us to conclude that designer intent should be elevated above player freedom - that players should be prevented from altering a game’s experience lest they ruin it for themselves.

“Decisions like [Dark Souls’s difficulty level, Dead Rising’s time limit, and Far Cry 2’s jamming weapons] might be controversial, but if they’re an integral part of the experience that the developer is trying to create, then the player shouldn’t feel like they’re entitled to be able to mess with this stuff through options, modes, and toggles. Because that would screw with the developer’s intentions and could end up ruining the game in the long run."
—Mark Brown, What Makes Celeste’s Assist Mode Special | Game Maker’s Toolkit (at 22 seconds) (to be fair, the rest of the video adds a lot of nuance to this position)

I strongly disagree with this. To me, the designer’s intent is the starting point and not the finish line. If we cling to it and discourage players from exploring any further, we rob it of most of its value. Here’s why.

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FOMO and Giving Games a Chance

I can’t find it now, but some years ago I read an article suggesting that players can generally suss out the shape of a game within ten minutes. That’s enough time to get an idea of the game’s core loop and how appealing it is.

Obviously this will vary from game to game - some openings are more representative than others - but I can easily believe that on average ten minutes is where diminishing returns start hitting hard. I wouldn’t be surprised if something like one in twenty games that you don’t enjoy in the first ten minutes is one that you would end up liking if you kept going. In which case, you’ll have less good gaming time overall if you give every game a couple of hours to prove itself instead of cutting off earlier.

This makes sense to me, especially as we are long past the point at which there are more good games out there than anyone can possibly play and they still keep coming. But every time I put down a game because I didn’t enjoy the first ten minutes, I get this pang of fear. I think back to some of my all-time favorite games that I didn’t enjoy at first. Star Ocean: The Second Story. inFAMOUS. Mass Effect. Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando. If I tried those for the first time today, would I get frustrated or bored and abandoned them and miss out on some of the best gaming experiences I could ever have? In truth, any game I put down like that now could be another one of those games - and I would never know.

I have to remind myself that the math still checks out. Most games are not ones I’d love and my time is limited. Thanks to PlayStation Plus and Steam sales and Humble Bundles and so on, I literally own hundreds of games I’ve never played. Even my list of high-priority titles I expect to particularly enjoy has several dozen games in it including some serious heavy hitters that have been there for years. Batman: Arkham Asylum! Her Story! SteamWorld Heist! The list goes on. How can I justify spending more than ten minutes on a game that isn’t grabbing me when Persona 5 and Horizon Zero Dawn are waiting on the shelf?

If I’m not careful, though, this way of thinking replaces the fear of overlooking gems with guilt for ignoring important games. When I play a game that I like but don’t love, I end up feeling bad that I’m continuing with it instead of finally checking out the Yakuza games or something, and it’s just a little bit harder to enjoy my time with it.

It’s easy to say “just relax and play what you want.” It’s harder to do it.

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Sequels Dilute Economic Votes

It’s not clear to me the extent to which various game developers/publishers understand that sales within a franchise can be a lagging indicator.

For example, I used to love the Senran Kagura series of games and I was happy to support it by buying the first several installments - especially the ones that were clearly experiments to see if the games would sell in the west. But the series has clearly lost steam, and the last few games have each been noticeably worse than the one before.

Now here comes Senran Kagura: Burst Re:Newal, a remake of the 3DS original for PC/PS4, and it sounds much better. The original story’s emotional and moral depth is what hooked me on the series in the first place, and this title not only returns to the brawler-style gameplay but apparently improves on it.

This is probably going to be the first Senran Kagura game that I rent instead of buying. My willingness to throw money at this series is dulled considerably after playing the fine-I-guess Estival Versus, the disappointing Peach Beach Splash, and the terrible Reflexions - all of which I did buy. So now I’ve supported bad games and won’t be supporting the presumably-improved one.

I just hope that either most players aren’t like me or the decision makers here understand how this works. But I guess if Burst Re:Newal is totally amazing, I’ll probably go buy it just in case.

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How Engagement Rewards Backfire: The Overjustification Effect and the Peak-End Rule

Imagine you’re a kid at a new school deciding where to sit for lunch. Another kid sees you and offers you some candy, saying they have some extra they don’t want. You eagerly accept the candy and sit with the kid. The next day, you run into the same kid and they offer you candy again, explaining that their parents keep packing their lunch with this candy they don’t like. This keeps happening every day - when you sit with this kid at lunch, they give you candy.

Then one day you go to the candy store and see that same kid buying lots of the candy they supposedly don’t like. You realize they are deliberately getting this candy to give to other kids to try to make friends.

What might you say to this kid if you confronted them? Would you explain that their actions are not only clearly manipulative but also counterproductive in the long run - that they may have an easier time making new friends right now, but these people are likely to be put off when they realize what’s going on, even if they had actually enjoyed spending time together? Might you suggest that the kid should focus instead on being genuinely enjoyable to spend time with and seek out people with compatible personalities and shared interests who actually like spending time with them?

This is basically how I feel about games with log-in bonuses.

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Curating Steam: Moral Complexity versus Automatic Norms

Steam, owned by Valve, is the world’s biggest digital distributor of computer games. For years, it’s had frustratingly inconsistent and unpredictable rules on what games could be sold on its platform. After the most recent kerfuffle, Valve’s Erik Johnson published a post to the Steam blog titled “Who Gets To Be On The Steam Store?

It’s worth reading in its entirety, but here’s my summary: Deciding which games can be sold on Steam is a hard problem that Steam has struggled with for years. There’s a long list of controversial topics and kinds of content - and for each one, many people in Valve’s huge multinational audience feel strongly that it should be allowed on the store and many people feel strongly that it shouldn’t. Many of these topics are also controversial among Valve’s own employees. So rather than continue to struggle with the increasingly impossible goal of consistent curation, Valve is scaling back to block only games that are illegal or “straight up trolling” (later clarified somewhat to mean “designed to do nothing but generate outrage and cause conflict"). Valve’s efforts will instead go toward creating tools to allow people to control what content they see - customers will be able to block specific kinds of games from their own slice of Steam and creators will be able to avoid harassment if they release something controversial.

We’ll have to wait and see the filtering and anti-harassment tools to know whether this plan will succeed, but the reasoning and intent seem solid and likely to lead to a vast improvement over the current unpredictable mess. So I was shocked to see that the reaction from the game journalism community featured widespread rage and contempt.

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