Written by Bill Sabram, MeYou Health's Lead Game Designer
Last month, I attended the 27th annual Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, Calif. Learning, playing, and connecting with other game designers has kept me coming back time after time. Each year, I return inspired for the future of the game industry and charged with excitement for what games can do when they are combined with other industries (such as healthcare!). I’m happy to share this list of my Top 5 GDC Insights:
1. All games teach. These 3 also inspire.
Here are a few stand-out games from over a dozen that were shared at this perennial favorite GDC event, the Experimental Gameplay Workshop.
Hack ‘n Slash is a Zelda-like adventure game that teaches you how to code. It is brilliant, clever, and gets you thinking like a computer programmer! Use your sword to plug into USB ports on the objects in the game, and then hack them to solve the level. I can’t wait to play!
Elegy for a Dead World is a game for dreamers and poets. In the game, you are a journalist visiting an immersive world based on such famous works of literature as Lord Byron’s Darkness. Explore the world, imagine who built this lost civilization, and pen your thoughts. Then share your stories and read others’.
Metrico is a game about data visualizations. It has a very clever game dynamic that allows you to play upon the surface of various charts and graphs, discovering how your actions affect the game environment with each data entry. It is coming to PlayStation 4, and everyone was very excited to hear about this game – including me!
2. Sometimes we need to think like mathematicians.
Game designer and lawyer Fashih Sayin, PhD, gave a talk regarding user responses to narrative-driven games. He mentioned that people look for more detail to make an experience more real. We look at data and construct a narrative, which leads to something called the “conjunction fallacy.” Essentially, our desire to make decisions based on a perceived story can overtake our logic and reason. Fascinating stuff.
3. Great leaders ask, “Why?”
Epona Schweer, Senior Producer at 2and2, shared some valuable knowledge from her three-part talk, “Leading Without Power, Directing Without Authority.” From the start, she encouraged us to adopt new definitions. Leadership is making informed decisions. Direction is helping others make informed decisions.
Part 1: Figuring it out. Frame the problem, map obstacles, and test all assumptions. Reduce your tasks down to what you can do today.
Ask lots of questions: Why does each team member care about being here? What options do they have available to get the job done? What obstacles do they see? (Do they even see them as obstacles?) What do they believe would kill the project? What do they recognize as success? As failure?
Work with your teammates to get answers. Is what I did important? Did it matter? People often start working on things that might not be necessary at that moment. Keep asking them “why?”
Part 2: Discover motivations. Find options. Remove obstacles. Give feedback. You can find the logical solution for the problem by asking all the questions.
Part 3: Stay on track. Track individual progress daily, team progress weekly, and overall progress monthly.
4. And you thought we were just having coffee.
Here at MeYou Health, we are very familiar with the story of network social graphs and “contagious behavior.” Game companies, however, are typically blind to social graph stories. Usually, they are most interested in the users who spend the most money in their game. But that’s starting to change as game companies quantify the difference between big spenders and big influencers.
Dimitri Williams gave a fascinating talk entitled “Social Whales: Understanding and Leveraging a New Kind of Player.” Social whales are 10% of the population, but they cause 60% of influence. They exert a subtle but powerful monetary influence that Dimitri described as the “coffee shop effect.” Imagine you and I meet for coffee. You are my friend and I want to hang out with you more often, so I come back to the coffee shop. Even if you are not there, I still spend money. I’ll buy a coffee. You have influenced my purchase!
The takeaway: alter your game mechanic to empower the relationships between users! Try to create genuine social value.
5. If it’s pitch black, you are likely to be eaten by a grue.
In the summer of 1977, game developers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lab for Computer Science began building an amazing interactive computer game. At GDC 2014, Dave Lebling, one the game’s authors, shared stories of “acres of computing,” his love of time travel puzzles, and the origin of the “grue” (a sinister lurking presence that dined on adventurers and was terrified of light) for this beloved trio of fiction games from my early teens: Zork I, Zork II and Zork III.
If you have not played Zork, I highly recommend you check it out! It was wonderful to hear candid stories from Mr. Lebling about the development of these revolutionary adventure games which were so highly advanced for their time.