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Come for the ___, Stay for the ___
by Shay Pierce on 12/10/13 07:30:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


This is expanding a bit on a Twitter discussion, mostly between me and James Lantz... here.

If you care about getting people to actually start playing and keep playing your games, then you have to be able to complete this madlib: "PLAYERS COME FOR THE ____ BUT THEY STAY FOR THE ____."

In my opinion, "HIGH QUALITY GAMEPLAY" is usually only a correct answer in the second column.

I wish this wasn't true but I'm pretty sure it is. "HIGH QUALITY GAMEPLAY" is not a good reason to give people to try your game for the first time.

That first column needs something with a strong and unique appeal; something novel. Basically it's this simple: there needs to be a reason for people to want your game.

Saying "COME FOR THE HIGH QUALITY GAMEPLAY" doesn't work because every developer is saying that... and everyone will assume you're lying, because most developers are. Zynga can afford to tell a thousand lies in the time it takes you to say this truthfully once.

Either way, people won't believe this claim coming from you - and unless you have an easy way to put a demo in their hands, you can't prove it to them.

You have to give them another reason to want your game. This is important, you can't neglect it.

There are exceptions and caveats though:

  1. Some games have sufficiently high-quality gameplay that most people who play the game will be excited enough to share it with others and attest to the quality. However this doesn't take HIGH QUALITY GAMEPLAY, it takes SUPER HIGH QUALITY GAMEPLAY.
  2. People may not believe you saying this about your game - at first. But guess what: "THE BLIZZARD NAME IS ON THE BOX" is all that Blizzard needs to take care of column #1. That's because Blizzard has consistently delivered SUPER HIGH QUALITY GAMEPLAY, and can depend solely on their reputation, without having to worry about novelty. This takes time though.
  3. Giving the player a sample of the gameplay is becoming common (though still not common enough IMO). The fact that every Ouya game is required to provide free gameplay is something I absolutely support - though I feel they're guilty of criminally mis-messaging this aspect of their service. But even when a demo is available, you have to give people a reason to hit that "Try" button.

All this is frustrating for those of us who want our games to sink or swim based solely on the quality of their gameplay. I used to read blogs saying things like these, and they made me feel stressed: did it mean  I needed to shoehorn a weird "hook" into my game just to get people to pay attention to it? It felt inauthentic and even deceptive.

It's actually pretty simple. Just do one (or preferably both) of the following:

  1. When picking a game idea you want to make (or prototype), try to pick ones where the gameplay has a unique appeal that can be communicated easily.
  2. Choose a theme that fits the gameplay, but which has a unique appeal - something that's not quite like what anyone else is doing, and that appeals strongly to you (and, presumably, people like you).

Neither of these is terribly hard (at least not compared to actually building that HIGH QUALITY GAMEPLAY, which you still need for column #2).

Filling in these mad-libs is something worth thinking about throughout your game's development. And just count yourself lucky that we no longer live in the age where the only valid thing to put in the first column is "AWESOME HIGH-POLY GRAPHICS." (Ugh.)

Shay Pierce is a human being who makes video games. He once worked for Blizzard on Hearthstone; he designed/ programmed/launched an iOS puzzle game; and he's that guy who turned down that job with Zynga that one time. He also possesses a great deal of hair.

This is cross-posted from Shay's "Deep Plaid Games" blog.

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Maxim Zogheib
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Just a small comment, though. Players tend to stay for more, than just quality gameplay from my experience. Including, but not limited to instances where social communities or cumulative cash spending are involved.

I know this is tangential to the point you're trying to make, but call me anal retentive <_<

Michael Wenk
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I think saying high quality gameplay is a vast over simplification. Unfortunately, the true answer is not just one thing. The truth is that people will stay for varying reason. One group of players may stay because of high quality gameplay, one group may stay because of epicness of the game (or perceived epicness), or any number of reasons. The reasons are not going to be unique per player, but there's definitely going to be more than one or even more than a handful of reasons why people play your game.

Also, you say you should try for a unique appeal. And I find that pretty foolish in most cases if not all cases. Partially because most ideas have already been made and made a number of times over the years, but mostly because while people say they want unique, they sure as hell don't seem to spend their time/money actually doing it. The games that have tried to do anything unique have either been laughed at until they change their ways, or have failed. Just to make sure I wasn't confused, I went and did a check on Amazon of the top selling games of 2013, and none of them have any real unique characteristics. Even Minecraft, while some say is unique isn't. Its incredibly similar to MUD engines from back in the day. If it has anything it makes the type of game accessible, but that's to me is not all that related to appeal.

The fact of the matter is if you try to go unique, you're likely to fail, and I assume you're trying to make video games as a business, and that success matters. If not, feel free to create whatever. If you're not just throwing paint on the canvas, then what I would do is look at the market you're going to try to penetrate. Try to find something that the current games do not do, or do not do well. If you can't do that, analyze the comments from the players, both good and bad and try to infer something those players want that you can provide.

Take Halo 1 for example. Its game play is not all that unique, parts of it were in many games before, but taken in total it made a bunch of people happy and provided much entertainment. Same with a game like World of Warcraft. Was it really that unique? No, much of what was in WoW was in EQ/AC/UO, etc before. But the game was incredibly successful. Why? Do even the authors know? Probably not.

To me the whole "come up with a game idea that will work" is a sociological problem. I think that once people look at it from the people down to the game rather than the game up to the people, the whole games industry will do much better.

I think the most likely outcome of designing a game you think is unique would be:

I don't understand why no one understands how good my game is.

Maxim Zogheib
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I think you're missing the point of what the author's trying to say.

It's not about having unique features. It's about KNOWING what you're game is very strong at, and playing those strengths up, when attracting new players.

Unique doesn't mean it has to be conceptually unheard of. You may, for example, use a set of existing and proven features, and present or combine them in an interesting way (minecraft excelled at this), or introduce systems to a genre they were never used in before (at some point someone decided that it would be cool to have metagame progression systems in shooters), etc... There are much more subtle things you can do too, I used extreme examples to get the point across.

And, sorry mate, but this statement:
"I think that once people look at it from the people down to the game rather than the game up to the people, the whole games industry will do much better."
Literally makes no sense.

Michael Wenk
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"I think that once people look at it from the people down to the game rather than the game up to the people, the whole games industry will do much better."
Literally makes no sense.

In my view from the outside it seems that most of the time game developers make games that are either cool for their own sakes, or are games they would want themselves to play. Yes, I realize that they look at the market later, but not during the initial conception. That to me is making the game and then fitting it to the player, or making the game to the player. Making the player to the game is opposite. Starting out with a group of players or archetypes of players and then developing what they want to play. Its starting out with a problem ("How do we make something to entertain X") and then developing a solution from it. That to me is going from the player to the game. It forces you not to make something that is just cool, or that you want, but something that other people, ie paying customers want. It forces you to look at your players and not only look at what they think they want, but what they actually do want.

I think the point he's making is to find something unique and run with it. But the problem with that risk is very high. And you won't be able to truly gauge your success until you're pretty far in the process, which means you have spent a lot of time and energy on it.

I'd be the first to admit there are some people who excel at just coming up with a game. Sid M comes to mind on that. But most? Not so much.

Luis Guimaraes
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"'I think that once people look at it from the people down to the game rather than the game up to the people, the whole games industry will do much better.'
Literally makes no sense."

Sounds like what has been happening a lot lately: the use of focus groups and metrics to make uninspired and boring "faster" horses designed by committee. I wouldn't call any of that "better".

tony oakden
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I agree with this article up to this point: "There are exceptions and caveats though:"

There are no exceptions IMO. If you want your game to get noticed it needs to look completely different or do something completely different. Otherwise indie developers are basically just taking part in a lottery.

Luis Guimaraes
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What about, showing the gameplay?

Alexander Jhin
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Agreed. I'll watch a YouTube of gameplay before downloading a demo all day long. But, what gets you to even watch a YouTube? Something interesting in Column 1.