A fast, efficient process for dividing game designers into groups

Talking about measurement is a highly effective way of dividing games designers into non-overlapping segments.   (An even quicker way to do this is to talk about experimentation.  That’s awesome.  But this one works really well, too. )

I had a fun time doing this last night at BAFTA’s games question time.    BAFTA lined up a great panel for the event, drawn from this year’s crop of BAFTA award game nominees:

• Dan Connors – CEO, director, founder, Telltale, Inc, The Walking Dead (@telltalegames)
• Mike Bithell – Creator and game designer, Thomas Was Alone (@mikeBithell)
• Jessica Curry – Composer and co-director, thechineseroom, Dear Esther (@jessicacurry2)
• Barry Meade – Co-founder and director, Fireproof Studios Ltd,  The Room (@Fireproof_Barry)

I’m really interested in the different ways that game dev teams collect and use feedback about play patterns in order to improve their designs.

So I grabbed the chance to ask the panel whether they had been able to look at how people played their games, and whether that had inspired them to change their designs.   I dropped in a reference to MBA’s swinging into the room on trapezes, equipped with machine guns, just to keep it real.  Just as I’d hoped – lots of fun ensued.

I’d summarise the reaction as follows – corrections welcome:

The Walking Dead  – used post-launch stats about which characters got fed in order to figure out which characters were most popular – so that they could later mess with your mind and change the story in response…

Thomas Was Alone  – did face to face  pre-launch testing with 10-20 people on each level, to see how it worked and what peoples’ reactions were, which was invaluable – “at the moment I’m just learning so I take all the feedback I can get”, was Mike’s reaction

Dear Esther  – set out to make a game that would have minimal possibilities for interaction and agency, and wouldn’t be replayed, but they found that people did replay it, sometimes 6, sometimes as many as 25 times – but that didn’t affect what they would do in the future, as they were pursuing a vision which was independent of people’s reaction to it, like all great art

The Room – looked at the stats but it didn’t tell them anything that they didn’t know – they knew people would get stuck on a certain level, and they did –  Barry’s take was basically that “we don’t have the type of game where metrics would help”.

Someone (Jessica or Barry, would be my guess 😉 –  said that anyone who changed something in the game because of a number was….. (I didn’t scribble down the exact phrase as I was too busy laughing,  but the gist of it was something a bit to the south of “not talented”).   I didn’t really take proper notes so there’s plenty I missed – but perhaps if BAFTA put the talk up online I’ll be able to add to this.    Corrections and comments welcome.

[Update March 6th:  highlights from the Q&A have been posted online on the BAFTA site.]