Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

But forums are great (bring a dagger)

So jeff thinks game devs should rarely read their forums. I disagree, although he makes some good points. The best point, is about taking things personally, and getting angry. I often get angry on forums, but rarely my own :D.

I’ve found my forums to be fantastic for four reasons:

1) I find out about bugs quickly from people who won’t email me

2) Other people find solutions to their problems really easily in a sort of self-updating FAQ method.

3) People who are considering buying the game can see it’s popular, and read real opinions on how it plays from actual buyers. As long as your game is good, this is a win.

4) I get great feedback on what works, and what doesn’t, and find out how people want the game to expand and develop.

That last point is vital. When I designed GSB, the challenge system was a bit of an afterthought. it wasn’t the core of the game, which was supposed to be offline. Eventually, that challenge system got vastly expanded and improved based on forum feedback. I also improved a number of things that people had asked for, but which had not bothered me, such as the ship design hull picker.

The big danger, and Jeff mentioned this, is that you can’t get too swayed by the forum posters into switching design decisions. There is a big temptation to do this, but be wary. If I look at the percentage of GSB buyers who are forum posters, it’s pretty small. They are a tiny percentage of the playerbase, and not the group that I should really take design cues from. Some of their ideas are truly cool (someone mentioned fighters that could repair other fighters recently), but the key is to knowing when you have spotted an idea that really is good, and when you are following the crowd.

There is a solution:

You develop a huge, planet-sized ego such as mine. This solves everything. That way, you can easily brush aside 5 page forum threads saying how you need to change the game to do X, because you know you are right and they are all wrong. It’s pretty much essential as a game designer working on an original design, to be pretty full of ego.

Most really good design decisions seem pretty insane. A turn-based life simulation game doesn’t sound like a top hit, nor does a politics game with a complex charting system of icons as a GUI. Nor does a space battle game where you can’t control anything. They all seemed to work for me. A virtual dolls house worked well for one guy, as I recall. You need confidence and ego to push those ideas through.

The only problem is, if you *do* have that frame of mind, you will not work well as a team. You need to be indie, or promoted rapidly to lead designer. Otherwise you will go mad. I was in a meeting with Peter Molyneux once, where he was explaining how the game would work, and I interrupted him mid-flow with the phrase “surely it would make more sense to do it like this…”

It was briefly, like that moment where Worf Challenges Gowron for control of the klingon empire. Sadly, my Daq Tagh was next door on my desk. Bah.

That was the last design meeting they let me in :(

In retrospect, I see that I am exactly the same sort of person myself, so no wonder I ended up as an indie developer. Also, let me be clear that I’m not saying you need to be a total bastard, and angry, or difficult. You just need to have the confidence to know when you are right. My aim is to do that, but to still be nice to people. I still manage it, 9 days out of ten :D

9 thoughts on But forums are great (bring a dagger)

  1. I think ideas are overhyped. There are always too many of those, and many of them (if not most) can be considered good for one reason or another. Games are not collections of ideas, anyway. A game is a system of interlocking components, like clockwork, or painting. Designer’s job is to take a bunch of components (a.k.a. ideas) and make them fit together. That’s what sets designers apart from programmers on one hand and artists on the other.

    I always try to encourage idea sharing, but whenever someone shares their idea, I ask myself if it fits with the rest of the game. It usually doesn’t. When it does, I’m more than happy to integrate it with the rest of my work, because hey, easy win is always a pleasure.

    Lots of people refuse to aknowledge that just because you’ve just had a good idea, it doesn’t mean you’ve done all the work. The work still needs to get done, and the core of it is making sure the idea doesn’t blow the game up. In fact, the better an idea, the more likely it is to dominate the system in a way that harms the whole. I used to work on a game that seemed to play in slow motion most of the time, because the lead designer enjoyed the notion of bullet time a tad too much.

    Instead of focusing on the actual work, people tend to focus on whose ideas are better, which is just a fancy way to say “whose weenie is bigger”, because there is no way to measure idea’s “goodness”. The discussion quickly degenerates into primitive power struggle, and I hate those.

    Fitness, however, is much more intuitive. It’s hard to explain why gratuitious space battles are a better game idea than flood relief, but it’s fairly easy to see why the two may not necessarily fit together.

    In my experience, any effort to pick the best idea that involves more than one person is near hopeless. But I’ve had many constructive discussions related to fitness. I guess part of the reason is that an idea is good when it meets any one arbitrary criterion, and it can be a different criterion for each idea. Fitness means meeting all or most criteria from a set that stays the same for each idea within a given project.

  2. I loved the first comment to jeff’s article:

    “Do you read these comments? We could always migrate here. :p “

  3. Molyneaux is a tool. Between crazy claims of ‘living worlds’ and the Kinect brat who ‘learns and grows,’ everything he leads turns out to be another lie wrapped in a white and green case. Sucking the Microshaft works for some folks, not everyone.

    Ignoring five pages of comments is your prerogative, but knowing which ideas/suggestion would be good to implement is the mark of a solid and confident designer.
    The approach you describe just means you end up developing in a vacuum and yes, your games will sell, but not as well as they could because they won’t appeal to a larger audience. They’ll appeal to folks who like the stuff you like and really, that’s a small percentile of the market.

  4. Thanks for the link and the article!

    “You develop a huge, planet-sized ego such as mine.”

    I wish I could. My ego and confidence are already very high. I think it’s necessary to write a game while (mostly) alone. But it has limits.,

    “Most really good design decisions seem pretty insane.”

    I LOVE this quote. True words.

    – Jeff Vogel
    Spiderweb Software

  5. I love your very self aware honesty. You never deny your self image but always demonstrate how it affects you. I think you and Jeff both have compelling arguments for what you believe is most effective for your community management.

  6. Hey Cliffski!

    As a (really really small) games developer, I would like to thank you for this article. Your viewpoint (and Jeff’s!) are certainly very interesting, and I shall try my best to keep fan feedback in perspective as I move ahead.


  7. Hey, just saw this blog post. I’ve to comment about that. I really like your position, Cliffski, and I much prefer it to Jeff’s one. I’ve had contact with a developer who pretty much seems to share Jeff’s opinion, and his unwillingness to cooperate and listen to his community has led to his community dying out and the failure of his game, so I think devs SHOULD listen to their fans, even when some of them are posting pretty unconstructive stuff.

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