This post is part of a coordinated assault on the blogosphere by a number of indies – we’re all blogging today on the the theme of, “Size Doesn’t Matter”, either for or against. You can find a list of all the other posts at the bottom of this one.
Since not many indies are working in the social games space, we wanted to riff on that experience a little. We hope you enjoy.
Overall, the case can be easily made that game size doesn’t matter. Great small games have already been made – one of my favorites that pops right to mind is Strange Adventures in Infinite Space, a space exploration game where each game takes 20 minutes. We can also look at the AAA market, where games have been getting shorter for years, and people are still content to pay just as much for them. As indies, thank God for this. If the only way to succeed in finding fun was to crank out 100-hour experiences, few of us would be making games.
Something important changes, though, when you get into the social media space. If you want to make money in today’s social media (read: Facebook) market, you’ve only got a couple ways open to you. The biggest is virtual goods. But if your game is really small, how do you go about legitimately creating lots of content for it? If your game takes ten minutes total to play, good luck selling a bunch power-ups and decorative items for the experience.
The solution we see goes back to the basics of making a good game – come up with something with elegant, interesting, and simple core mechanics – and then enable your designers to create content that extends the game’s dynamics.
For those not familiar with the mechanics-dynamics-aesthetics model of game design, it posits that a game is made up of those three things. Mechanics are the rules the game operates with – like in poker, how many cards are dealt, if you can exchange some of your hand for new cards, etc. The aesthetics are the thematic and other elements that lend to the experience, but don’t directly impact the gameplay – such as what kind of poker chips you’re using, if you’re playing at a felt table, etc.
The dynamics – what I’m focused on in this post – are the gameplay considerations that arise with the framework created by the mechanics. So, again in poker, dynamics are things like a player deciding to bluff. They bluff by using mechanics in a certain way (for example, making a big bet), but the bluff itself is a result of the core rules, not a part of them.
With our unannounced Facebook game, we’re working on a small set of core mechanics that will support being extended as we add more content to the game.
So say, just hypothetically, that our new game was a steampunky mech game. It then makes a lot of sense to have interchangeable mech parts and a toolbox of different effects each attack and defense can have. The combinatorial possibilities of the parts help create many possible dynamics, just like deck building in Magic: The Gathering.
Most of this comes down to simply good game design. But in the social media space, this sort of thing becomes essential if your game is free, your team is small, and you are relying on virtual good transactions to pay the rent. If you don’t keep content in your pipeline, you can assume that revenue will dry up as well.
A small set of core mechanics means your development time to beta is shorter. The reliance on content to extend the game means your designer can contribute to the game’s bottom line on a regular basis with only light support from the rest of the team – something that you’ll all appreciate.
Please read some of the other great posts in this giant cross-blogging extravaganza:
Eitan Glinert of Fire Hose Games
Cliff Harris of Positech Games
Chris Hecker of Spy Party