As Nolan Bushnell begins work on his first game for mobile, we’re already looking ahead to how people will play the game. It is essential to plan out a response to future analytics right from the first design meeting.
Bushnell announced he would partner with Spil Games in April and already work has started on the first game. The most advanced of these is code named “Bloxx,” and although the final game will be ground-breaking in many respects, it is based on a ’70s arcade game where players move blocks to solve a puzzle.
Bloxx will launch the third quarter of 2017, and we’re having a lot of fun brainstorming creative ideas to make the game really fly. However, we’re already thinking about live operations and how we can take analytics and build game tuning into the heart of the code.
I prefer to think about live operations primarily as a way to enhance the players’ enjoyment. Retention and monetization are part of the equation, but the principle is simple: If players love your game, odds are that they’ll keep playing it. Everything else follows from that.
Balancing simplicity with complexity in a game is the trickiest thing of all. Bushnell summed it up many years ago: “All the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master,” and he still says this today.
The aim is to keep a simple game challenging as people learn how to play. But different people have different learning curves (and when you work at a company where everyone is playing games all day, it is easy to overestimate how quickly people learn). Live operations can help you assess how fast players are learning in real life and adjust parameters in the game to match difficulty to skill level.
The problem is that it’s a fine line between too easy and too hard. It’s quite possible to get it slightly wrong and that may wreck the player’s fun. With live operations, you can change probability functions within the game after it has launched and you can see how people are playing it.
Mapping out player scenarios
The trick with live operations is to be thinking through scenarios while in dveleopment: right at the very start of the creative process. Before launch, you need to wire all the values you’re going to need into the live ops system so you can configure them without updating the app. You don’t know all the issues that may arise before people start playing the game. You have to identify values that you may want to fine tune and make sure there are hooks into the code that live operations can tap into.
Similarly, if you are planning to have events within your game, you have to map out how you think those events will go. You have to think about different players and different scenarios. For example, how does a player react to this event if they are playing the game while sitting in front of the TV; how would they react if they’re hanging off a grab rail on their commute to work? So you have to plan the things you may want to adjust in each event, in light of experience. This tells you the hooks you have to build into the code to make live operations truly effective.
There is a real upside to planning live operations as a game is being developed. It keeps the whole team focused on players and how they will be having fun with the game. Not just on how we would play the game, but on how everyone will play the game. And that, I think, will make Bloxx even better.
Franz Stradal is the vice president of content at Spil Games and has more than 25 years’ experience in the gaming industry, focused on game production, content, and R&D.