Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Game Dev Quote of the Week: Swen Vincke on Pigeonholing Games

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 7, 2014

DOS_0006While I am going to provide a (sizable) excerpt here, this is really, really a case where I’d want to say, “Read the whole thing” – Swen Vincke: “Educating Players.”

The problem here is that previewers and players will make assumptions about how a game is played based upon how it looks. They will absolutely miss the “meat” of the game because they are trying to play a fundamentally different game.

“It reminded me strongly of something another journalist had told me. During a demo, I think at the German magazine Gamestar, I was told that we’d probably have to re-educate players because they’re not used to this type of gameplay anymore, conditioned as they seem to be by all the streamlining games go through nowadays.”

And a little later…

“For the first time in long I also started wondering if I’m too old for this business. It’s not unusual for me to see guys around me get all excited about games I personally consider to be too shallow. I think Ralph Koster in a theory of fun said that fun = learning and maybe I’m not having fun with these games anymore because I’ve mastered the patterns they’re based around, patterns which still feel new to those with less gaming experience. I guess that may be the price you pay for playing too much, but on the other hand, I still do want my fun too and I do feel underserved.

“A revealing moment for me was when I shocked our young PR manager. On our flight from San Francisco to Minneapolis I went through his entire collection of iPad games, spending at max 15 minutes on each of them. I gave my biased opinion on each of them, judging right there and then what was interesting, what was boring etc… He commented that I had an interesting style of playing ;)

“I realized then that I was doing the exact same thing those previewers were doing and together with them probably every gamer out there. We are offered so much entertainment content these days and sadly a lot of it isn’t very good. To survive we’ve adopted a strategy of judging rapidly at the risk of missing out on something.  We know that the alternative, to spend time on each and every offering of entertainment industry has, is bound to disillusion us.”

I’ve been wondering a bit about this myself. It seems like back in the old days – when I was lucky to be able to afford a new game every month or two – I’d eagerly focus on a single game and really explore its depths.  Nowadays, supply has greatly outpaced my personal demand, and I have a massive backlog of games to play. So I tend to “graze” – play a few minutes of a game, and move on to another one. If I really like it, I might go back to it. It’s how I used to play games in the arcade days – it seemed like such a waste to put all my quarters or tokens into just one or two machines.

But for certain kinds of games – the ones I like the most, actually – that just doesn’t work. I love the games I can really sink my teeth into, but you can’t know if it’s actually going to be worth doing it until you invest the time and effort to do just that. I’m sure I am just as guilty as pigeonholing and dismissing some games as anybody else, and I wonder how much I’m out on because I do that.

Again – read the whole thing.

Filed Under: Quote of the Week - Comments: 7 Comments to Read

  • McTeddy said,

    Hey! “Thinking fast and slow” I got that recently because Apollo Robbins told me that’d be a good read.

    – – –

    As for Pidgeon-holing games, Jay. It’s not your fault, its %100 the developers failure.

    We will always have expectations when we go into a game based on what we see in marketing and what it looks like. If it looks like a duck and plays like a duck… it’s probably a diablo clone. Is that really the players fault?

    Worst case, break those expectations early in gameplay so that people know what you intended. The longer you wait the more likely people will assume they’ve “Played the game”

    It’s the developers job to control player expectations or suffer the consequences. While it’s easy to blame the player’s for “Not Getting it”… this is part of game design.

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    “It’s not your fault, its %100 the developers failure.”

    100%? You can have the entire game purchase page covered in nothing but “HEY, THIS GAME IS NOT MARIO”, “CLICK HERE TO BUY A GAME THAT IS NOT MARIO”, “CONFIRM THAT YOU WANT TO BUY A GAME THAT IS NOT MARIO” and you will *still* get players who complain because they bought a game expecting a Mario clone, or didn’t buy it because it’s a Mario clone, based on things like the name or the graphical style or vague rumors heard in the men’s room. 🙂

    It’s true that a lot of developers are bad at marketing and communicating gameplay points for super-fast attention spans. Browse front page of steam store, hover over new game listings, guess at how many of those descriptions will be even SLIGHTLY interesting… But of course, especially now with greenlight, people with no idea what they’re doing can just write generic words that they think sound professional, completely missing the chance to catch someone’s interest. There’s no one around to check their work and tell them what they’re doing wrong.

  • Tesh said,

    I had a similar experience with film in college. I studied films for my animation degree, and tot his day, I still can’t watch a film without seeing the problems, foreseeing the character arcs, noting bad pacing, spotting bad CG… it’s all reflexive because I’ve seen so much and studied it. I’ve seen behind the curtain, and I have to work hard to pretend I didn’t. I don’t usually care enough to go to that effort to actively turn my brain off.

    Sometimes I’ll give a film a chance, and on very rare occasions I’m surprised, but it’s all too often so predictable and shallow.

    I see a lot of it in games, too. Sure, I’ll play a Match-3 game variant like Bret Airborne or Marvel Puzzle Quest for a while to see what new twists they have introduced, but I don’t dig as deep as I might have back when I had a lot more spare time. I’ve ignored the newest StarCraft 2, for example, since I can’t help but think it’s More Of The Same. I’m sure that there are new wrinkles in there, but I don’t have the time to dig it out these days.

    I think this is a natural problem with iterative design and playing it safe in a saturated market. It makes business sense not to scare people off, but I’m one of those weird ones who does want new, interesting *gameplay*, not just a new coat of paint and more polygons. I naturally think “If I’ve played one Madden, I’ve pretty much played that series out”… even though it’s almost certainly not true.

  • JMab said,

    If you’re going to reach the masses successfully, I think in-development games have to be marketed in a similar way to in-development movies, following this truism:

    “Hollywood is about pitches and one line descriptions”


    If you can’t describe your game in one line, you’re going to struggle to connect with many people.

  • McTeddy said,

    I’ll give %95… although I can’t think of one example where the marketing said “We’re not Mario!” and people thought it would be Mario*. (Except cases where it really WAS Mario and everyone but the devs refuse to admit it)

    But those player expectations come from somewhere. Players don’t look at the back of an FPS box and expect an RTS. They will mentally link it with other shooters.
    It’s our job to either compete with those same shooters… or make the game unique enough that people won’t make the link in the first place.

    Even in the article Coyote linked…
    – “put him or her through the “torture” of a D:OS demo, they do eventually understand that there’s more than meets the eye”

    Does that sound like good design philosophy? THEY failed to show the player’s that it was different. It wasn’t dumb players… it was a design failure to learn from.

    These mental “Flaws” that he talked about DON’T change. If you fail to consider them… it’s your own fault and not the flawed humans.

    *Except maybe the modern “Reboots” where they say “X-Com is a third person shooter now” and the audience cries out “No it’ll suck!” but the devs ignore the customers and blame the audience for “not understanding” when it sucks.

  • ShadowTiger said,

    I wrote a couple responses but ended up deleting them because they didn’t really hone in on my complex feeling of this topic.

    You have to be pretty ignorant, lazy or just plain stupid if you conflate a turn based tactical combat game with a real time action based game.

    I think that designing around or against people’s preconceived notions of a genre is great but at the end of the day you should be making the game for your target demographic and what they need/want.

    It is really easy in the marketing phase to mis-represent your game, either purposely or accidentally, so I think it is mostly a matter of how you package your game and what your main marketing pitch is. I think thats the takeaway… don’t let your game speak for itself, for that language is foreign to many observers.

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    >I can’t think of one example where the marketing said “We’re not Mario!” and people thought it would be Mario

    I’m mostly being comically bitter about stuff like getting comments of “Wait, you can die in this game???” (about LLTQ) from people who clearly didn’t read the description, watch the trailer, look at the screenshots, or read anything ever written by anyone who’d played it, ever.