Monday, January 27, 2014

Taking the EGO out of your creative work

In the old days
When I first started making games, I was heavily investing my ego / emotions into my work. When things didn't "work" with a player, I would feel personally hurt. And sometimes, I'd be upset that someone "couldn't figure something out."
Over the years, those reactions were slowly worn down so that I was able to let go and let the player become the most important part of the design.
Here's my take now
Believe in what you're creating. Believe in the heart of the project. Believe that you're taking a player on a journey. Know the core of the experience that you want to create.
Document it. Thoroughly.
Start building your project.
Now, get ready to change everything you thought would work. Just remember the core experience you are creating. The only thing that matters is that goal.
It is time for the rubber to hit the road, and the only person that matters is the player. Their experience is what matters. You have to let go and build the product for them.

Watch people play
Watch how they play the product. How do they interact with it? Are they having trouble with the interface? Are they delighted at times where you want them to be? Are they experiencing the emotional journey you want them to live? Watch their hands. Watch what's happening on the screen.
Most importantly... watch their emotions. Look at their eyes. Are they happy? Have they broken through the difficulties of the interface or do they struggle to figure out where things are or how to move, etc?
Let go
It is at this point where you have to LET GO of what you thought worked. You MUST listen to their emotions.
If you are really listening to your team, especially your quality assurance / testing team, you should have already learned these things and have addressed them. However, oftentimes your testers have played the game for so long, they have lost perspective.
You have to get people that have never played the game to sit down with it. Preferably people that have never played a game like yours.
What confuses them? What delights them?
Your emotional checklist will vary, but rest assured that you need to pay close attention. These players are representative of your real audience. If you don't listen to them, you'll find that once your product hits the market, your hubris will be met with a lack of sales.
This is why I tell people that need RAW feedback. Always. There is NO need to sugar coat ANYTHING. After all, if I don't hear exactly what they are thinking, I'll be facing the same resistance / concerns from people that won't tell me, and that just makes my products fall flat in the market.
I have NO ego about my work; I gave that up years ago. There's no point in it. Can you let yours go and listen to the players? Let me hear how YOU do it. Am I way off base? Light up those comments.


Billy Joe Cain started his game industry career at Origin Systems in 1992, and has participated in the creation of over 250 hit games for home game systems, mobile platforms, and PC / Mac, and has launched three game development studios in Austin, Texas. He believes that games are going to save the world through improving brain plasticity in adolescents as well as making education fun. 

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