dwlt.thinksOutLoud

What I Talk About When I Talk About Ludometrics

Occasionally, I’m asked where the name “Ludometrics” came from. No, really. I first coined it in 2005 (December if the domain record is to be believed), after I found out about something called “econometrics”. Wikipedia provides this definition of econometrics:

the quantitative analysis of actual economic phenomena based on the concurrent development of theory and observation, related by appropriate methods of inference

Thankfully, it also provides this one:

the application of mathematics and statistical methods to economic data

As an example, what I was thinking about was measuring things like how long Mario stayed in the air for when he jumped, and then comparing that with other games that didn’t “feel” as good. Turned out that Ben Cousins had already done some work along those lines. I subsequently used it for measuring difficulty curves and level progression, and saw some surprisingly consistent results. Perhaps I should fund some more research.

Anyway, when I was looking for a new company name, I kept trying to come up with something new, only to find I didn’t like it. I then went trawling through the domains I already owned and decided to go with Ludometrics. This is now confusing as when people hear the word ‘metrics’ these days, they instantly assume you’re providing some sort of analytics service.

[Semi-interesting aside: I registered the company on May 20, 2010. Turns out that May 20 is, in fact, World Metrology Day – a day specifically celebrating the measuring of things. Who knew?]

After I decided to go with it, I also remembered that “metre” is an important aspect of poetics. According to Dictionary.com:

the rhythmic arrangement of syllables in verse, usually according to the number and kind of feet in a line

That fits pretty well with the level progression aspect, particularly in terms of introducing elements and pacing play. I might describe Plants vs Zombies as having excellent metre, for example, were it not for the fact that statement is essentially useless until there’s language around describing pacing. Perhaps, borrowing from musical tempo, I would use Andante (walking pace)? Perhaps not.

But here’s the thing: metrics in any form are no substitute for product vision. Metre can inform structure, data can provide clues on where to go next, but neither should be the starting point. They’re tools we can use to inform what it is we’re meant to be doing.

But what we’re meant to be doing is bringing fun to the world.

We’re Not Famous Any More

Something disturbing happened at Casual Connect in Seattle. I had a conversation that went along the lines of:

Me: I’m from Ludometrics, we’re based in Scotland.

Other: Scotland, cool, Is there much of a games industry there, then?

If it had been a one-off, I might have brushed it off. But it wasn’t – it happened at least twice a day for the three days of the conference. When I mentioned GTA, there was some vague recognition from some people that they’d heard it was made in Scotland, once, somewhere, a while ago. And really, aside from GTA, what else is there you can mention?

Me (looking into camera): Uh-oh.

You may say that Casual Connect was the wrong conference to talk about that, given the legacy of Lemmings, Crackdown and GTA. APB hasn’t been doing too badly either. The problem with that, though, is that virtually every company in Scotland is now working on mobile or social games – pretty much what the whole conference was centred around.

You may say it doesn’t matter, nobody really cares where the games are made. That may be true on some level, but on another level – attracting (or even just retaining) talent to the country to help make those games is a fairly critical part of having an “industry”.

I’ve written about this before (in The Scale of the Problem), where I lament the lack of famous games in attracting outsiders. But if other people in the industry don’t realise we have a games industry here, we’re in trouble my friends. I don’t want to work in the Scottish games cottage industry.

So what to do? Making games that make money (as opposed to making money by making games) would be a good start. Talking about them, getting other people talking about them and telling people where they’re made would also be good ideas.

Telling people where they’re made sounds simple enough. Inspired by “Made in New York”, I’ve created a new site which is called (amazingly), “Made in Scotland”. If you’re making games (or any sort of tech) in Scotland, please go there and add your company to the list (it’s a simple form). Include the simple phrase “Made in Scotland” on your credits or options screen. People who want to or do work in games look at these screens. They’ll see it. It seems like a small thing, but small things matter. And it’s helped well enough for the tech scene in New York, so why not for Scotland?

Casual Connect 2012 and Selfish Creativity

Last week I attended Casual Connect 2012 in Seattle, where I was also speaking (slides at the end) about what I call Selfish Creativity. There was an IGDA summit on as well, although unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend that. Thomas Bidaux of ICO has a great write up on it, though, and he sums up my thoughts on the Casual Connect conference itself:

It was massively biased towards user acquisition solutions and monetisation services. It makes a lot of sense as it makes the most sense for B2B companies to be exhibiting at this kind of events, but it definetely fed into the impression it is all about numbers and gaming the poor discoverability of the different ecosystems.

This ties in with the one word I keep using to describe my overall feeling of the event: ‘frothy’. In other words, lots of activity on the surface, but no real structural integrity or substance. There are only so many ‘payment solutions’ you can use, surely?

I was asked what I’d learned from the conference. Moreso than ever, it was “Nobody Knows Anything”. Everyone contradicts everyone else with advice on what to do, what works on what platforms, and so on. There were a handful of good talks (there always are), notably the two from SpryFox and one from Wooga.

As promised, here are the slides from my presentation, “Selfish Creativity; Or, Can Making The Game You Want To Play Lead To Success”. It seemed to be well received by the creators in the audience, which is largely who it was aimed at. (Everything was filmed, so the video should be online by the end of August I think.)

It’s a games oriented extension of a talk I originally gave at ScotSoft 2010 (run by ScotlandIS). I’ve found examples of it all over the place (not just in art, but also in clothing, restaurants, domestic appliances, and so on). Independently, the same idea was included as point 3 in Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like An Artist” list, and was also the topic of a 5-minute talk Brandon Sheffield (editor of Game Developer magazine) gave at GDC earlier this year called “Make Games For Yourself” (again, unknown to me). It just proves the point really, which is that we’re not so unique that other people won’t want what we want.

TL;DR: The biggest, bestest, break-outiest things are often made by people who want the things they’re making.

This Week I’ve Been Reading

Just a selection of choice quotes from things I’ve been reading this week:

Given the choice, I would prefer not to compete head-on with these people. If you know about the new platform opportunity, so does everyone else. If you think you can make a splash in a new marketplace, so does everyone else. Why would you want to risk entering that free-for-all when a calmer, quieter, already proven opportunity sits begging for fresh talent?

For the first time in the history of mass media, we can entertain huge audiences without first bombarding them with advertisements for sugar water and corn flakes and without making them pirates.

Quality doesn’t just magically rise to the surface, and Apple can only recommend so many titles.

Why not forget the labels and concentrate on making games? Focus on making something genuinely enjoyable.

Switching Costs in Games

In this world of “multiplayer games as a service”, I see lots of chat about the power of network effects but little about switching costs. Investopedia defines switching costs as so:

The negative costs that a consumer incurs as a result of changing suppliers, brands or products. Although most prevalent switching costs are monetary in nature, there are also psychological, effort- and time-based switching costs.

In other words, there’s a cost (usually non-monetary) involved in switching from one game with friends to another game of the same type with friends. In fact, this cost rockets when your new game is of the same type – I don’t mean just in the same genre, but of games where the differences are not immediately apparent. The problem with the adage “never judge a book by its cover” is that people inevitably do judge things from a quick glance. So if your game looks quite a lot like Scrabble or Hangman, for example, then people will assume that it is quite a lot like Scrabble or Hangman, and stick with the game they already have that looks quite a lot like (or possibly is) Scrabble or Hangman.

Even if you can get a few people to check your game out, you’re then likely to suffer from the downside of network effects. Normally, network effects, where a service becomes more valuable the more people use it, are viewed as a positive. The downside of attempting to build something that relies on this, however, is that if there’s no one there to play against, no one will hang around waiting for others to show up. That clearly poses problems in building momentum for your game.

None of which is to say your game can’t make that breakthrough against a well-established competitor, but it’s going to have to work incredibly hard (and might take a long time) to do so.

Happy Quarrel Day - Again

Finally! Quarrel is here for Xbox Live Arcade!

So who’s right then: Gamers like myself? Or the Games Industry?  Well, Wednesday January 25th 2012 is “The Day Of Reckoning”.  It’s Gamers vs The Games Industry, and one of us is definitely wrong.

http://www.denki.co.uk/2012/01/25/quarrel-vs-the-games-industry-whos-right/ Quarrel vs The Games Industry: Who’s Right?

It’s true. I remember all the discussions had regarding the received wisdom that “word games don’t sell”.

No, badly made word games don’t sell.

Anyway, I for one welcome our new word game overlord, and so should you. Buy it now, whether or not you have an Xbox. Either way, you won’t regret it.

Bad GameCity, No Biscuit

GamesIndustry.biz reports that GameCity “have launched the GameCity Prize, which it hopes will be the “Turner / Booker / Mercury Prize” of the industry.”

Brilliant – I’ve argued before that we need prizes to celebrate the best of British talent. That’s what the Turner (best British visual artist under the age of 50) and Mercury (best album from the UK and Ireland) prizes are about, and the Booker prize is for Commonwealth authors writing in English. The jury for the prize is fantastic, and the announcement comes with the following comment from Iain Simons, the brains behind GameCity:

The GameCity Prize is about videogames gaining cultural confidence and expressing their value in something other than financial terms. If games are worth almost £3 billion a year in the UK – then surely they’re worth thinking about too.

Yes, absolutely! Let’s make a fuss and show off the best of what’s made in the UK! Let’s show that we’re not just about GTA.

Except. Except except except. The finalists announced for the GameCity prize are from the following countries: Norway, Denmark, USA, Japan (twice), Canada and Sweden. All worthy games, no doubt, and they’ll all win countless awards from other places. But they’ll all win countless awards from other places.

TIGA and UKIE spend all their time talking up the UK industry to anyone and everyone who will listen, and yet neither BAFTA nor GameCity (arguably the only other UK organisation that could give such a prize the credibility and platform it requires) are taking the opportunity to celebrate the industry.

Or is our industry not as good as we claim?

Happy Quarrel Day!

Finally. A full year, four months and three weeks since Black Easter Monday, Quarrel has seen the light of day, and you can now actually buy it for iPhone and iPad (Xbox next, with other platforms to follow, I believe). You should do that now.

The first time I saw Quarrel was almost exactly three years ago today. I was in the process of leaving Slam, and I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. I paid a visit to Denki to see what they were up to, since I hadn’t been for a while. Colin and Gary showed me a few of the pilot games they had (just about) secured funding for, one of which was of course Quarrel. Every single one blew me away, and I knew I needed to be working with them. Thankfully for me, they agreed.

Things clearly didn’t pan out exactly as we planned three years ago, but Quarrel is a game that I’m incredibly proud to have played a tiny part in the creation of. The fact that I still love to play the game after being involved with it for that length of time should say something about it’s quality and longevity. I hope you enjoy playing it as much as I do.

Sacrificing IP

There was a bit of a stramash last week regarding who gets to own the Intellectual Property (registration required) rights to games when someone other than the creator is paying for it. Good way to get publicity for a new publisher, some might say.

As you might expect, there was a mix of outrage, agreement, indifference and factual error in the comments that followed the article. Given that the most common question I’m asked in my role at the Cultural Enterprise Office is “Where can I get money?”, there were a surprising number of people prepared to turn down the chance to get their product made.

There’s a truism thrown around that game creators must maintain control over their IP at all costs. It’s certainly true that the only way you can build a sustainable games company is to retain as many rights to as many things as possible, but you also need a plan that actively builds that value. Simply making a game and releasing it will technically provide you with some IP, but if no one knows it exists is it actually valuable?

Sometimes, it’s worth sacrificing IP to reach your ultimate destination. Pixar never owned the IP in Toy Story. It was all transferred to Disney in the funding deal for the film. Pixar did retain several royalty streams as part of the deal (including merchandise, which for some reason no one at Disney thought would be a big deal in a movie about toys), but Disney had full control over when or if a sequel would happen, for example. The clue that there was a masterplan at work is the clause that stated Pixar’s logo would be given equal prominence to the Disney logo in all promotional materials.

When Pixar filed to go public (their IPO date was the week after Toy Story was due to open), they explicitly stated they wanted to build the next big consumer facing movie brand of note. A brand that acted as a stamp of quality and expectation in the same way as Disney, for example (the only other example). I’d say they certainly managed to achieve that, given that more than five years after Disney acquired them, the name “Pixar” lives on above the film name.

Not owning the IP to Toy Story didn’t hold Pixar back, but they had a clear understanding of why it didn’t matter quite so much at that point. So, by all means negotiate to keep your IP, but make sure you have a clear understanding of what you’re negotiating for.

Are Game Makers Scared of Crowdfunding?

Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site that can’t handle non-US projects, posted some stats from its first 10,000 funded projects:

Music and Film clearly dominate, taking 61.5% of all projects between them, but Games are way down at the other end of the scale, with just 180 projects: 1.8%.

Why? There’s an IGDA selected project page, after all. I’ve asked IndieGoGo (which does handle non-US projects) how games figured into their stats, and I’m waiting for them to get back to me. I’ll update this post as and when they do so. Update: IndieGoGo will only say that games are a “steadily increasing percentage” of their 30,000+ campaigns. That makes me think it’s a low percentage.

Are games creators deliberately avoiding this funding model? If so, why? Especially given that “lack of funding” is one of the main reasons given for not making something. Do they think they won’t raise enough money? You might not raise enough to make a big console game, but Urbanized (a documentary sequel to Helvetica and Objectified) raised $118,505. Are players not interested in supporting game makers? Do players even know who the game makers are? Are the rewards offered by games projects powerful enough?

Are game makers trying but failing? I follow a fair few people on Twitter from across film, games, music and theatre. I see lots of project promotion from all those sectors except games, which leads me to suspect that game makers aren’t even trying it out.

Clearly, I have more questions than answers about this, but given the fuss about this funding model in the worlds of film, music and art, I’m curious as to why more don’t seem to have taken this route.