I realize that a lot of folks who work in games aren’t game designers. Their job isn’t to “create fun”. Their job is to make sure the developer survives, and in that respect, the folks who optimize for $ and retention and all those metrics – their jobs are often more important than the folks who are trying to give the players a great experience.
Because it’s often fairly easy to make fun. It’s really, really hard to make fun that people will pay for.
Similarly, as you “move up” in the development chain, the more you have to be concerned with survival, and the less directly involved you are in the player experience.
So it’s natural that, as someone who’s been in and around game dev for 24 years, most of what I hear is folks talking about how to get to financial success. Why Monopoly Go is hot shit, or why this one weird trick will double your retention/conversion/ARPDAU/whatever.
And holy mother fuck, I hate it.
On LinkedIn, I see a bunch of investors’ posts, a bunch of VC’s posts, a bunch of people “deconstructing” the “fun” of games’ posts, and they’re just mercenary shit.
And so even with all the earlier stuff acknowledged, I was wondering why I hate it so much. Why hearing someone breaking down the economic mechanics of Monopoly Go pisses me off. And I think the thing is, when I was making games, the economic (out-of-game) engine of the game and the *specific fun* we were trying to provide to people were deeply interlinked. To put it another way, trying to “deconstruct” Monopoly Go and apply lessons about its economy wouldn’t make any sense unless you were building Monopoly Go.
Because the core gameplay was the main driver of everything, and the economic engine was what you did with that code gameplay to generate money. But these days, it seems like a lot of people end up talking about the economic engine, and then trying to reverse-engineer mechanics that will allow folks to ape those economies. And then they call it “fun”.
I made games for 20+ years. The one thing that was consistent through all twenty of those years was that a smash hit was never, ever, ever a direct clone of another smash hit. Zynga made a hojillion dollars by cloning games and then out-marketing the original and crushing them under their boots. But they didn’t clone hits, they cloned games that were not yet hits. Not that that’s better (it’s much worse). But so many people seem to think that if they just ape the last smash hit – if they make the next Clash, or Genshin Impact, or whatever, that they’ll have a similar-sized hit. They won’t. That game already exists. People don’t need Fortnite 2 from some unknown bullshit developer. They already have Fortnite, and Epic knows so much about how Fortnite works that you can’t anticipate their next step. So you’ll never beat them.
You have to build a different game. You have to create an economic engine that suits that game. Yes, you can learn about the mechanics of other games. But if you’re not learning about those economic engines by playing the games, you’re fucking up your job. If you’re learning about those games by listening to podcasts about techbros analyzing the economies of smash hits and thinking you’re going to imitate those features without deeply understanding the mechanics of the source… fuck off. You’re going to fail.
And I know some folks think that has value, but I don’t. I think it has anti-value, because it tries to circumvent the understanding that you gain through experience to someone telling you “hot tipzzzz” about how to squeeze money from people without actually understanding the experience of the player. And these kinds of discussions put the economic engine first, but I have yet to see any kind of game I’ve ever loved that started by trying to figure out the hot new monetization trends.
It sucks that this is what a lot of games has become. And it’s frustrating to see a lot of really smart people devoting their mental bandwidth to this bullshit, instead of trying to come up with new, original things that create unexpected joy in players, who love it enough that they’re happy to spend money on it. Instead, they’re satisfied smashing a derivative parasitic version of success onto a photocopy of something someone loved, and believing they’re building something new.
Fuck that shit.