A few weeks ago we had Grant Allen and Loudon St Hill from Dlala Studios come in to talk to us about their experiences in the games industry. We were treated to two really interesting talks on the importance of listening to feedback about your work, and on how indie developers can start to make a change in the games industry, and now you lucky lot can read all about what they had to say.
About Dlala Studios
Founded by two guys called AJ and Craig when they left their jobs in the games industry, Dlala Studios are based in Witham, near Colchester. They have worked with Disney, USC (on counter terrorism forces games in the US), Microsoft, and our very own Mark Backler who is building his game Lost Words at The Games Hub.
Feedback and Analysis Grant Allen
Grant is a games designer at Dlala Studios mainly focusing on level design. You can find him tweeting @GrantTheHuman or email him at grant[at]dlalastudios.com.
What is feedback?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines feedback as:
“Information about reactions to a product, a person’s performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.”
And yet when you’re looking for feedback on your game, what you tend to get from players is often more like:
“I don’t get why I have to do that”
“I think the jumps are too hard”
“You should have Batman in it”
However, even though these might seem like throwaway comments, you still need to take this feedback on board when workington your game.
For example, when you consider “I don’t get why I have to do that”, you need to understand:
- “I” might be one person now, but it could be a thousand when you release the game.
- “Why I have to do that” tells you that there could be something you’re not telling the player. You need to consider: Are there enough visual clues? Is the mechanism not being reinforced enough? Is the challenge too hard for its position in the game?
It’s important to go through this process of breaking down the comments you hear – never just dismiss feedback. In fact, it tends to be better if you watch a player test a game rather than relying on written feedback, because you are more likely to get these throwaway comments.
In other words, it’s important to analyse your feedback.
Try to think of as many reasons as possible why someone might have made a comment, filter down those reasons to find the problem in the game (if there is one!), and then resolve it.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines analysis as:
“Detailed examination of the elements or structure of something.”
In other words, analysis is everything.
Dlala have been working on their current title for just over a year now, and they have conducted self-analysis 3 or 4 times in that period. It’s important to be constantly assessing your game, checking whether the idea you had a year ago still worked, whether what you have now matches your original vision, and so on.
For example, analysis was incredibly important in Dlala’s development of their game Boogie. They describe this game as point-and-click meets platform meets old-school Nickolodeon-style cartoons (all the artwork was hand drawn). The premise is that the player is trying to bring fear back into the world, so goes around spooking people.
They explained their analysis of the mimic mechanism they included in this game, which allowed the player to transform into an object and scare people. The feedback they received on this mechanism included:
“It feels like cheating”
“I don’t bother with the recipes as I can just used the mimic”
“I liked being sneaky”
The good points they pulled from this feedback was that people enjoyed being able transform, they enjoyed the tactical element of it, and thought it was fun to be sneaky; and the bad points were that the mechanism was overpowered, that there were too many opportunities to use it, and that it was easy to use.
They therefore implemented a number of changes to this mechanism to improve overall gameplay:
- Mimics can only be used to hide
- When learning, a mimic sound is emitted to draw the NPC closer
- Players can store up to three uses of the mechanism
- Mimics are static or non-static
Make sure you get the best out of feedback while being aware that not every comment is meaningful; do what’s best for the game while retaining your vision for it.
Making a change in the games industry Loudon St Hill
Loudon is a games designer at Dlala who started out with a degree in broadcasting, and now has over 10 years’ experience in the industry. He is on Twitter as @loudondontknow, or can be contacted via email at loudon[at]dlalastudios.com
The games industry as it is now
The video games industry is now bigger than the film and music industries combined; more people watch League of Legends than the world series, and approximately 3 billion people around the world play computer games.
We therefore have a responsibility to do good with the games we make – particularly as indie games developers, since every example of the games industry moving forwards has come from small studios and not AAA studios.
In the case of the larger studios, they have no desire to effect change because they make money from the games industry in the way that it is now; and because their games have to make money, they are reluctant to take risks.
So what should indie developers be doing?
- Be controversial (in a good way!)
- Be careful of Social Desirability Bias – some amazing games would never have been made if the developers had listened to popular opinion
And how to do those things?
Loudon espouses “The George Carlin Hierarchy of Video Games”.
George Carlin was a comedian who focused on a series of different topics throughout his career; as each topic’s comedic potential was exhausted, he was forced to dig a bit deeper to think of new topics to work on.
This should be the same in games development – since AAA studios have more or less covered games focusing on mainstream topics like sports, guns and cars, you need to dig a bit deeper to come up with an original idea for your indie game.
Be aware that some people might not buy into your idea, but ignore them because they’re probably not your target audience anyway. Focus on the people who you could actually get to make a change.