Friday, October 11, 2013

Reprint: Five Simple Guidelines That (Almost) Guarantee Success from Jake Simpson

There is a great article that has been deprecated from its original post and I want to reprint it here in its entirety. I have gained a lot of insight and direction from this article and want to share it with you, too. Please share your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom.
The Rules of Casual Game Development
Five Simple Guidelines That (Almost) Guarantee Success
Jake Simpson
Casual Connect Magazine, Winter 2008
Although the gaming industry may have started with casual games, the core of the industry (and many of its most intellectual developers) walked away from casual games many years ago, enticed by the style and multi-million dollar budgets of games built for true gaming enthusiasts. And yet in spite of all they have going for them—experienced developers, huge budgets, high production values, sophisticated game mechanics, excellent sound quality, exceptional graphics—core games are not always good games. Perhaps you’ve noticed.

I certainly have. I spent several years creating games for enthusiasts, including games in the Heretic, Soldier of Fortune, Star Trek series, along with some of the Golden Age Midway Arcade Games. I also worked on The Sims which appeals to demographics very similar to casual games. As a result of that odyssey, and my recent observations of the casual games space, I have developed a few rules for casual games that I think are worth following. They aren’t exhaustive (and they definitely don’t guarantee success), but following them will put you in a better position to succeed. 

1. The Fewer Clicks the Better
It’s always a good idea to get people into the game-play as soon as possible. That means you should get things started quickly, with a minimum number of clicks. For Quake III, id Software wanted players to be just three clicks away from playing the game. Even if you have many screens of text for players to wade through before getting into the game, enable them to click past those screens instantly. The same principle applies to cinematics. They may satisfy the inner movie maker in you, but they are unnecessary—especially to the casual gamer. Make it easy for people to skip right over them. Likewise you should minimize interruptions from pop-ups. Any unnecessary interruption of play is an annoyance.

Remind yourself that people want to play, not watch. That’s why they’re called players. 

2. Introduce Complexity Slowly
It’s OK for your game mechanic to be complex. It can have lots of effectors (power-ups or stuff that changes how you play). But do not include any of them on the first few levels. When people are just becoming familiar with your game, you want to pare down game-play to the barest essentials—leaving out anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. You should think of it this way: In the early stages, you are literally training people to play your game. Introduce abilities or mechanic effectors slowly, one by one, and get people used to them before you add more. 

3. Make People Instantly Successful
If there is any secret to making casual games, its this one: The first few levels should be achievable by a brain-dead moron. The whole idea is to entice people with instant success and the feeling of power, and then very slowly turn the screws, doing so only after you know the player has mastered the basics. 

Don’t ever forget that the success of your game depends on your ability to make successful even those people who can’t figure out how to send email.

4. Test It Before You Release It
Prior to sending your game off (even to the publisher), put it in the hands of unschooled strangers and see how it performs. Think of it as a “Kleenex” test: Use people once and never again. The idea is to let your actual target audience try the game and tell you what they think. And when they tell you, LISTEN. Never dismiss them by saying: “Well, they just don’t know how to play it” or “They just don’t get it.” The fact is that if you don’t do something about their complaints, your game is almost surely destined for failure. User testing should be front and center in your design process. Listen to your users as if they were Angels from God.

5. Keep It Simple
Ideally, someone should be able to watch a friend playing your game and pretty much understand how to play it. New players shouldn’t have to practice or rely on multiple pop-ups or explanation screens in order to figure it out. If you don’t have a root mechanic that can be communicated via a YouTube video, then there’s something wrong.

In fact, it’s a good idea to record and watch a video of your game to see if it is obvious what is going on. You might try showing that video to a couple of your Kleenex testers and see if they catch on quickly.

If first-time players cannot determine game-play mechanics immediately, or if something basic isn’t clear and obvious, they will simply stop playing. Which, by the way, isn’t good.
Jake Simpson is an opinionated software developer and game designer who has been around the block more than once—and is still running. Jake can be reached at 

What do you think? Is simplicity wrong? Or is it the term "brain-dead moron" that turns your stomach?

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