The pace of change in the video game market increased exponentially as I made the shift from colossal AAA titles into mobile games. We used to burn years in pre-production, then crunch for a year (or two) after that. Saving time in pre-production meant saving our own health, and that of our team members. We took that lesson with us to mobile games. We streamlined our production processes and tools so we can squeeze out several games a year. Our burn and development time has to be a fraction of AAA games to keep up with the pace of change in the mobile games market.
2010’s social game successes cemented the three R business model (retention, revenue and reach). By the end of 2012, we saw these mechanics saturate the mobile games market. There are plenty of resources on these monetization mechanics.
The successes in social and mobile gaming demonstrate a shift in what we’re designing and who we’re designing for. Innovative monetization mechanics in social games like Farmville were the product of good design methodology in pre-production. Designers evaluated the anatomy of a social gaming experience and exploited it in their game designs to make billions of dollars. The designers chose time-based activities like farming because they were a great metaphor for their games’ monetization mechanics.
I think it’s important for traditional game developers to consider why we came to mobile gaming. Trying to make Halo when you aren’t Microsoft, or WoW if you’re not Blizzard, doesn’t pay the bills when everybody else is doing it too. Now we use monetization mechanics, that were the product of good design methodology in pre-production. Our traditional game development background tells us that we should ”jump right in” and “get our hands dirty” in the tools and content so we can push a game out in a few months that focuses on the three R’s. I’m not saying every game needs to change the face of gaming. However, the mobile games market is changing quickly, and I think a little innovation in such a climate is necessary, to keep pace. Now might be a good time for traditional game developers to delve a little deeper into the anatomy of the experiences we are about to create.
A good design process, yields a good product.
This article describes the anatomy of an experience map. The experience map examples in the article are extremely extensive. Few, if any, mobile gaming experiences are this extensive because, fortunately, they don’t need to be! Envision an Angry Birds user experience map, using the anatomy described in this article. If it looked like the examples in the article, it wouldn’t be Angry Birds.
Understanding tools like this can help us know what to look for as we evaluate our own user experiences. Spending a little time in pre-production to look at the anatomy of your user experience helps you dodge predictable pot holes. It keeps your team honest and aware, and gives you an edge over the competition, the same way the three R’s gave you an edge before everybody else was using them.