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SAN FRANCISCO — Video game developers have one simple task when it comes to making a hit game: keep the consumers happy. But the execution is not as simple, especially when gamers are constantly asking for more content or better graphics.

Former Zynga vice senior president Mark Skaggs spoke with Steve Peterson of at GamesBeat 2015 about how he caters to those demands, as well as other factors that come into play when developing games for every type of gamer.

Skaggs, the co-creator of FarmVille and the more recent Empires & Allies, said it’s all about knowing the audience first when it comes to making games for mobile phones or tablets. He said part of the secret to a making a hit game is figuring out where and when players use their devices the most. If users are standing in line for coffee or waiting for the bus to arrive, they might play a quick game with three- to five-minute battles or rounds.

He added games have to achieve a certain balance when it comes to adding more strategic functions or game-playing options. Developers shouldn’t get too carried away, he warned, because beginners might be turned off by more complicated features.


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Companies that focus more on strategy will create a smaller funnel for an audience, he said.

“Think about chess: It’s easier to play, but it’s hard to master,” Skaggs said.

And once a group of players are already used to playing simplistic games, it’ll be harder for them to dip into the more advanced real-time strategy titles. Skaggs did mention, however, that over the years, strategy games have slowly made their way from tabletops to mobile devices.

Making video games is similar to making a good television show, he said. In order to stay on top of the business they have to switch it up and keep things fresh.

“When you see the first ten episodes you have one experience,” Skaggs said. “By the 500th episode. it’s not going to feel the same. So you’ve gotta keep changing it and mixing it up.”

Skaggs said games need updates with new graphics or content.  But when new content comes out, it costs money to upgrade. Skaggs added that he wants to give gamers a great experience, but at the same time doesn’t want them to shell out cash every time something new comes out.

Skaggs also briefly spoke about how there’s a strong symbiosis between data science, used for gathering feedback, and marketing that helps spread the word out for game developers.

“The next step is how do you find the right players most efficiently?” Skaggs said.

Skaggs said he did it with FarmVille through Facebook by knowing who the audience was and taking advantage during the sudden growth of the social network. He allowed users the ability to socialize with friends or family and play simple, yet, entertaining video games.

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