Flash Gaming Summit 2011 quickly came and went this year, packing a ton of awesome presentations into a one day conference.
For those of you not able to attend the conference, Mochi Media was kind enough to compile all the recorded sessions into a single page for you. But unless you’ve got an entire day to devote to video watching, it’s going to take you a while to work through all the presentations. So over the next few posts, I’m going to be recapping the presentations I was looking forward to the most at Flash Gaming Summit (with a few thoughts of my own thrown in), starting with the panel: Polish: Making Your Games Shine.
What is it?
This panel covers polish: all the little aspects of your game that really make it shine. The panelists will cover their ideas of polish, and the various aspects which are a part of it (tutorials, testing, difficulty, walk-throughs, achievements, and even microtransactions).
Who is in the panel?
- John Cooney – Armor Games
- Alexander Shen – Mochi Media
- Daniel Stradwick – Monstrum
- Jared Riley -Hero Interactive
- Mike Pollack – Tasselfoot
What is polish?
Jared: Polish means balancing time, money and resources as the game nears completion in order to finish with a good, profitable game. Don’t take shortcuts from the very beginning, and it’ll be easier at the end.
Tasselfoot: Instead of piling on all your testing at the end, when the core functions and mechanics of the game are already set in stone, test it throughout your development cycle. This way you aren’t stuck in a position where everything has to be done last minute.
Daniel: There are 2 components to polish:
Developers should remove points of friction with the player (in terms of mechanics) throughout the development cycle. This is the smooth part.
However, the shinyness aspect of polish should be left towards the end of development cycle. For example, you shouldn’t waste time making a neat looking user interface (menus and such) in the beginning because it might just get thrown away at the end. Time wasted.
Alex: Polish is about meeting expectations and providing a consistent gameflow experience. “What have people come to expect from the genre?”
My thoughts: I like what Jared said about polish being about balance. When you’re polishing a game, it comes down to; “How nice can I make this game look without spending too much time on it?” Sometimes it’s that extra bit of polish, whether it be menus, graphics, or simple gameplay tweaks, that pushes your game over the “good” level and into “viral” mode.
How to handle tutorials
Tasselfoot: Immerse the user into your game one piece at a time, introducing new aspects of gameplay throughout the first five to ten minutes.
Jared: Slowly introduce elements of gameplay. In Bubble Tanks we put the instructions in the background of the game so it was there for people who wanted it.
Daniel: Introduce mechanics gradually and come up with a consistent help system that can be used across multiple games, decreasing your development time.
Alex: Players have come to expect that games will have in-game tutorials (no big walls of text).
My thoughts: There are plenty of ways to teach controls to players, but the important thing is that you do it in a way that immerses the player into your game without overwhelming them. Every time the player has to pause the game to check instructions, you should die a little on the inside; you have failed as a developer.
Testing Your Game
Tasselfoot: Test often. I look for things that are obvious and people have come to expect such as:
- Custom key mapping
- Multiple methods of control
- Restart keys
- Mute buttons
Basically, have multiple methods of doing everything in your game. You want every person being comfortable playing how they want to play.
Alex: Cater to as many people as you can so people don’t leave out of frustration.
Jared: The best difficulty mechanisms have to be something that is built into the game and can be changed at the unconscious level without taking players out of the game.
- We tried to do this in Bubble Tanks by making it so that hard-core players could go straight out (the enemies get hard very fast), or they could spiral around from the center, building up their tank by taking on weaker enemies before facing the stronger ones.
I tend to balance games on the easier side because hardness causes rage against your game, which leads to terrible ratings. Easiness only knocks down the rating a point or so.
Tasselfoot: Do some beta testing using the little sister approach. You want to make sure someone with the skill levels of a younger sister would be able to get through the beginning parts of your game.
What about polish outside the flash game?
Daniel: It is especially important for the icon to be eye-catching.
Tasselfoot: Focus on the text and instructions in your game. Very few people will read the text below the game.
Jared: It’s important for me to get players excited before the game even comes out. We do this by using newsletters and our blog.
My thoughts: I’m glad this question was asked by John. Game details, such as icons and short descriptions, are essential to a game’s success. Before people can see the awesomeness of your game, they have to play it. And they aren’t going to play it if the game details don’t make it look interesting.
Alex: When Mochi sponsors a game, we require a walkthrough link. Walkthroughs can drive a lot of traffic to portals, especially for in-depth games.
Tasselfoot: In 2010, I had 47 million walkthrough views. Walkthroughs make sponsors happy. Players are going to find walkthroughs anyway, so you might as well put an official one in your game.
Jared: Videos can supplement tutorials in-game for hardcore players who want to learn more advanced techniques.
My thoughts: Walkthroughs make your game more valuable to sponsors. By putting one into your game, you are helping drive more traffic to your sponsor’s site. This makes your sponsor happy, and can help build a good relationship with them for the future (and even bring in more money for your next game).
Alex: Using microtransactions involves minimalizing player anger.
Games with microtransactions need to be put in a place where it is appropriate, otherwise the game’s score will be brought down because players don’t like seeing content behind a pay wall. However, players won’t complain as much about consumables that save paying players time (lives, points, experience, etc.), since the consumables just make the game easier, not necessarily different.
Jared: Microtransactions are a balancing act; “How much will the decrease in rating compare to the amount of money I’ll earn?” Offering free items alongside the premium items can help with player anger.