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Schell Games is unveiling an online game that all of us can jointly design. Puzzle Clubhouse, which will formally kick off on Aug. 30, will have monthly installments, each inspired by the ideas and preferences of its players. This type of crowdsourced game content represents a new business model.
The game is intended to turn everybody into a game designer, much the same way that YouTube has turned everyone into a filmmaker, chief executive Jesse Schell told GamesBeat. Schell is also a well-known professor of entertainment technology and game design at Carnegie Mellon University.
The company is continuing a trend inspired by games with user-generated content such as Minecraft and do-it-yourself fashion web sites ModCloth and Threadless.
Puzzle Clubhouse will feature a story-driven game in which players have to solve a number of puzzles. Once they solve the puzzles, they unlock another part of the story. Each month, new episodes appear. But the audience has a chance to vote on and contribute art work, music, stories, jokes, game ideas, and more. The game will put a lot of emphasis on comedy.
“We wanted to have close interaction with the audience,” Schell said. “Becoming a game developer is tough and full of pain. But this is a more casual way to ease into the role and be a part of that world. We do the hard part and let the fans to the fun part.”
The Pittsburgh-based company tested the idea for Puzzle Clubhouse with a Kickstarter project, which raised $11,403 in January to create the first episode for the game.
Schell also took inspiration from his days as a street performer, where no two shows are alike and you can work directly with the audience to change the show. He felt that, while making games is fun, he missed the direct interaction with an audience and wanted game design to be more collaborative.
The game is free-to-play. Each player gets 10 puzzle pieces in a day and can use them to vote on preferences based on what they play in the game. But users who choose to pay $19.95 a year can get more votes (25 a day), essentially wielding more influence over what happens in the game. They can also submit content for use in the game.
Schell founded Schell Games in 2002, and to date it has made a series of online and social games, interactive theme park attractions, console and handheld games, internet-enabled toys, and virtual worlds. The game will be available on a web site on Aug. 30, timed to coincide with the beginning of the PAX Prime game conference in Seattle. PAX attendees will receive a six-month free membership.
For those who are interested in getting credit for their work, Schell Games will list the title in MobyGames (an archival site where game designers are credited) and credit developers and content submitters for their work.
Schell said the company toyed with the idea for 2.5 years, focusing first on episodic gaming, where episodes appear on a regular basis like a TV show. Audience participation was a must, but the team had to figure out how fast they could turn around the episodes. They figured out what gamers can vote on, such as characters or outcomes. The team has eight employees for now.
As for designing the game in this unique way, Schell said, “It’s just such a bloodbath in the App Store. And retail wasn’t working for us. We decided to look at what can we do that no one else can.”
Schell has given a number of popular lectures like a talk on gamifying life and another on the Pleasure Revolution, or discovering the fun motivating forces in games. He said the new game relates to the Pleasure Revolution talk in that it tries to go after pleasures that game designers don’t normally pursue, like the comedy element or the pleasure of creating something new together or becoming involved with a group that you aspire to be a part of.
“As time goes on, we want to open the game up more and more,” Schell said. “We hope Puzzle Clubhouse can live for a long time.”