Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Game of Cricket

Talk about hype and the first thing that comes to your mind is India vs. Pakistan World Cup Semi-final match. Our office is gearing up for some action as well. Report early, get off early. Sounds like a plan. Our cultural committee has apparently arranged for a screen that's bigger than the match itself, or so they claim. Speaking of cultural committee, I can imagine the scenario when a core Indian crowd of over 300 reacts to an Indian dismissal or a Pakistani 4 or 6.

As for how important this match is for Indians and Pakistanis, you can read the news papers if you aren't from the subcontinent. But along with all the hype, The Times of India (which on some rare occasions gives greater importance to relevant and valuable articles instead of pictures of half naked women) also had an interesting article of how the patients with coronary heart disease are going to triple by 2015 in India. See the connection?

Manmohan Singh, in a very cocky gesture (like a noob playing Counter Strike) invited Pak PM to watch the match, giving this match unnecessary political overtones. Unnecessary because whatever Gilani says or does (which is highly unlikely in the first place) will be irrelevant, as Pakistan is ruled by the Army. Gilani ka kya jaata hain? Phokat mein match dekhne ko mili jiske liye Mukesh Ambani karodo kharch kiya. I bet that both Manny and Gilli must have dreamt about betting Kashmir on this match. So much gimmicking over a match! I want Manmohan Singh to do a Hritik Roshan from Kaho Na Pyaar Hain if we win the match to complete his act. Maybe take his shirt off and do a Saurav.

The Pakistani team on the other hand has nothing to lose. They haven't won a single match against India in a World Cup. If they win against India, they go home heroes irrespective of whether they win the cup or not. If they lose the match, the entire team stays back in India and takes permanent Indian citizenship. It's not irate fans but some 'internal minister' who has threatened the team with dire consequences if they fix the match (read: lose the match). Anything short of  a win, in Pakistani lingo = spot fixing. Pakistan can never lose a match because of their own incompetence, EVER!

I hear some Indian viewers offered their tickets to their Pakistani counterparts to watch the much coveted match.

From these exasperating gestures, you can clearly see why we (India) are such pushovers and some random half-assed rogue nation dares to talk to us on equal terms. I won't be surprised if while people are enjoying the match, there will be another Kargil in the making.

That's how this game plays!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Low Cost Airlines of Games - Part 3

I played Bioshock, the PC game a few days back and instead of being awed by the environment, the plasmids, the tonics, big daddy's and little sisters, I was surprised that everything in the game was actually free. I had been playing Cityville prior to this :). A very welcome change, I must say. (Note that I have nothing against Social Games. It's just the business model that is hard to digest.)

I feel lucky at times that I managed to join the industry well before it was just about money. Initially too, it was just about money, but people used to care a bit about entertainment as well. The way people (industry stalwarts) are talking these days, you would feel that they want to recover all the money for all the games ever made in a year's time or so, even for the ones they didn't make. But I want you guys to keep in mind that 'Freemium' is a revenue generation model, by no means should you equate Freemium = Substandard games. So eventually the Premium games will adapt the Freemium model and we will jointly run this industry (That Shigeru Miyamoto single-handedly resurrected a few decades ago) back into the gutter it initially came from.

The day doesn't seem far when Dastaan, the ever confused Prince of Persia would, at just a single key press,  jump from pole to post, wall run, hang on to a vulture, power jump through a cleverly placed grunt enemy and land right in front of a smiling Dahaka (Look up) or Ratash (look up). Until this point it happens exactly like this in the latest Prince of Persia and that's why the day doesn't seem far. Anyway, as he auto draws his sword, you realize that it isn't a sword but a cleverly placed pop up message in the form of a white handkerchief that reads...

- 100 sand orbs to buy a water sword (the one with which you can kill Dahaka).
- 1000 sand orbs to tame Dahaka
- 5000 sand orbs to automatically finish the game and view the end game cut-scene.
- 2 million sand orbs to view the alternative ending

You can buy a 100 sand orbs for $1.


As Garrett the master thief, you must stay in the shadows to avoid detection. You can steal the 'grind currency' (Please look up the net) from in game characters, but that currency will only help you buy a necklace for yourself or clown boots. The real weaponry comes at a premium price or by collecting a bazillion gold coins that will take you forever to collect. Should you get caught or killed, you must pay real money to bribe the officer who captured you, to continue playing.


Download a Cricket World Cup game and you only have access to Canada and Zimbabwe. You can purchase teams like Bangladesh, UAE, Bermuda at fairly low prices, maybe with grind currency. For India, Australia, South Africa, you have to buy each player individually for just $1 per player. Ponting is the FREE player given to you. However, he will only be able to play one over at a time. Then he will sledge for a minute before you can play again. Pay to stop the sledging. Moreover, your players would have real world stamina. You can only play one game of cricket per day. Wanna play more? You know what to do... The $1 Sachin comes only in his briefs and won't actually play a game unless you buy a $40 Indian outfit for him. Unless you have purchased the rights to the stadium, all the matches would have a 2 minute compulsory advertisement after every over or Fall of Wicket.

For all you know, I am joking right now and some economy modeller is taking inspiration from this and thinking of actually doing this in his game.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Low Cost Airlines of Games - Part 2

...continuing from where we left off earlier this weekend. If you still haven't read Low Cost Airlines of Games - Part 1, might as well do it now.

All the games that use the 'free to play and then fortune to keep playing' model presently, are amongst the first to make such games. They have got millions of players thanks to the immense popularity of social networking sites and proliferation of iPhone, iPad devices. Publishers are getting away with absolutely substandard products because there was nothing like it in the market before this (And I hope this doesn't become a norm). And because these guys are making billions of dollars, quite a few publishers are jumping onto the bandwagon to reap the benefits.

But when there is more than one publisher in the foray, you no longer have the monopoly. And when someone doesn't have monopoly, their product needs to be much better or different from the competition. And people can easily figure out best amongst similar products. In short, the kitty splits.

With the attention span of present generation rivaling that of a gold fish, the Publishers don't know what game might work and what might not. Therefore to stay afloat, even the Dev/Publishers that have been renowned for unmatched quality have to cut the production costs so that a flop game won't result in a huge hit on their finances (amazing use of flop and hit in the same context). And therefore, they essentially try to get a game out within minimum possible time.

Typically a AAA console game usually takes around 1.5 to 3 years to make depending on whether it is a sequel/episodic or a 'from the scratch' game. The production costs of such games are huge. When these games pay, the payoff is huge; when they flop, entire studios close down.

A free to play game, of the current generation, usually takes around 5 months or less to make and new content gets released periodically. If it's a hit, the publisher keeps it going, if it's a flop, they kill the game.

Games that get made in 5 months and which need to appeal to millions of people (quite a hard task that) cannot be of the same quality as AAA products, in any respect (Most of FTP games are still Open Beta and buggy). Eventually, this idea of selling/playing quick frivolous games will become stale, even for the players. In short, the games will have to evolve. Evolution is always complex and complexity means more time to develop. The idea of making a game in 5 months will take a back seat and we will be back to square one of making a quality 'free to play' game. Longer production cycles, heavy costs, too many publishers

So all this is for what?
Look forward to the next installment for some hilarious examples of what might happen to current generation games if they are made free to play!

Low cost airlines of Games - Part 1

With the on-going boom in ‘free to play’ games on both PC and iOS platforms, it becomes impossible to ignore them and not to comment about them. But hey! Am I talking to the right audience?

Well, let's begin it this way...

First of all, there are games that you must pay for, to play. There have always been such games, and I am not talking about the peanuts some pay for the pirated CDs. When you understand that ‘games’ = ‘free’ is ‘your view’ = ‘wrong’, can you understand the gravity of having the ‘free to play’ games.
Free to play games are games that you can download and play (up to a certain extent) free of charge and then when you are addicted to them, you can purchase in-game stuff to keep going (efficiently and fast). This shift in the way games are made, distributed and monetized have been largely because of two reasons.

1.      Rampant Piracy
2.      Game Publishers’ sudden itch to have an on-going relationship with their customers, even with the ones that don’t pay. (As a thumb rule Italics = Satire that I want ALL my readers to get.)

Okay so whatever the reason is, such games exist and pretty much all the games in future would use this model to distribute the games.

Now, because such games are free to play, the game developer cannot provide all the in-game content right at the beginning. It's not a charity, you know. Therefore, the game developers keep quite a lot of the game content locked so that people can purchase it sometime down the line. Of the millions of players who play such games only a few thousand players actually end up spending real money on these games. And because a game publisher needs to stay afloat and recover the game’s manufacturing costs and perhaps make a profit, he makes the paying players pay for almost every thing in the game.

Publishers say, 'We are not forcing anything on anyone. Either way the non-payers never pay, then why stop the payers from paying us if they wish to.'

On the face value this argument seems perfect. But there's more to it than meets the eye... To know more, catch the Part 2 of this article tomorrow, with Part 3 close at its heels with some awesome virtual hilarity.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Ideas Guy

Game Designer is the guy who gets paid to sit on his bum (where else? but still catchier than just 'sit'), stretch his legs over the table that is overflowing with toys, distant look in the eyes, slowly chewing on the pen, occasionally sipping coffee and million dollar ideas popping up in his head like an animated Disney film. Everyone knows him and respects him. And though nobody actually salutes him, their feelings are no less. He is the guy who makes the big decisions. He is the guy who comes up with the best of the ideas. Nobody can touch him in intellectual might.And nobody dare contradict him....

Huh! when I read that a couple of times, it actually reminded me of a jackass from the games industry who I worked with and who really thought of himself as the guy described above. He isn't a game designer. He's from some other department. (Come come, you don't have to worry that I am talking about you; for you wouldn't have been reading this blog if you were him.)

Anyway, you guys have a bad habit of taking me off track into some random discussion, so let's get back to the topic. I put that description in Italics cause as a game designer you cannot be farther from the truth than that. Cause that's what all the QA newbies, most of the GD aspirants and quite a few recruits (especially the ones fresh out of game design courses from respected Univs) like to think of.

Don't believe me? Look at the attrition rate. Look at my blog name. Look at the demoralized lot of ex-game designers.

I have been a game designer for 6.5 years now. I am not just talking the talk, having walked the walk.

The Ideas Guy facts
  1. Anyone can come up with ideas (God having provided us with brains). A game designer's job is to take the idea and make it into an enjoyable gaming experience. (Fact)
  2. That your ideas, though seeming awesome to you, might not be that awesome at all. (Fact)
  3. A game designer might not be the origin of the vision of the game, but he is the facilitator of the design to achieve the goal. (Fact)
  4. A game designer needs to have conviction about his design and decisions, but also the humility to accept more sensible options.( An absolute Rare and Raring quality)
  5. A game designer must essentially see a majority of his ideas go into a repository/wish list (recycle bin) and the ones that survive being altered by others to suit the purpose. (Fact)
  6. That ideas generation is just a fraction (1%) of the actual work that a game designer has to do. (Fact)
  7. Be prepared to get the full blame for failed ideas and successful ideas being the result of the team effort. (Sarcastic fact)
  8. Critical analysis of your ideas is not a critical analysis of you. (Depends. Try criticizing the critic's ideas and see his reaction. Not recommended if he can fire you.)
  9. You don't need to have an opinion on everything in the world. (Mr. Know it all)

Remember that a game designer is ultimately an entertainer. Your victory lies in seeing the player entertained, not just seeing your idea making into the game.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Engagement Ring

Got you, didn't I? There's no denying the fact that you thought, 'This guy is now suddenly into lovey dovey stuff and poems, having exhausted his stock of topics and wisecracks. But let's see what this is all about.' :)

Though I don't usually call it 'My Engagement Ring', it can be called the 'circle of addiction' or 'the vicious circle'. Just like I write to entertain you people and perhaps guide the 'rare and raring' (and feel good about it myself) and just like you people religiously come every day to see what's in store for you (Will he be sarcastic, or be talking about Vevi , or what theory will it be today that kind of stuff), all the games should and must engage the player into this circle of addiction.

Let's see...

I was actually so tired after a hectic day and some tough exercise regime, I could have dropped off on the bed any moment. So what am I doing here writing a blog and completely alert? MOTIVATION!

Quite a lot of time was spent thinking about what I am going to write about today. I cannot afford to lose even a single reader of this blog. So should I be technical or should I be funny? CHALLENGE

However, I made an EFFORT as you can see. (and shucks I seem to be pulling this one off fairly good)

And if you are reading this post, I have got my REWARD. That's what MOTIVATES me to write. And there completes the circle, the ring.

On a similar line, the readers of this blog have their own Engagement Ring (which I absolutely have to care about at all times) that makes them come back. If I fail to engage you guys in either Motivation, Challenge, Effort or the Reward, you won't return.

So remember, as I always remember, to engage your players, audience and readers into this circle of addiction. It will be absolutely worth it!

Now...I can sleep peacefully. Take care!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Game Designer Myths 1

'Starting salary 6 lakh toh rahega na minimum?' (for people who don't know Hindi, Should I be expecting an insanely high salary when I become a junior game designer?)was the first question an aspiring game designer working as a QA tester asked me. Without batting an eyelid I said, '...that and a company car with an all expenses paid  flat (apartment house).' 

Now the joke ends there for most of the guys with a 'heh heh....heh heh'. But the guy then added 'Really? That's awesome.' I salute you, man.

And before we proceed any further, let me be very clear that all that you are reading in this post actually happened.

'Yo Brother, I want to be a Designer.'  As I looked up and my eyes steadied on the source of that voice, I found myself looking at a bad copy of a stereotype game designer of yesteryear. Lanky build, disheveled hair, bespectacled, vague expression, sporting a goatee, Yantra T shirt, a loose fitting jeans just about hanging in there, over sized white running shoes, a couple of piercings, a large tattoo on a surprisingly thin arm. Whenever this guy spoke to me after that (which wasn't many times, mind you) there was this 'Yo Brother.' associated with it. If you want to be a rebel, be natural about it. You don't need to look like a typical stereotype game designer to be one.

Then there are a lot of people who come up with this when they know that I am a game designer.  'Mere paas ek jabardast idea hain game ka. You should be making a game on it.' or 'I have a great idea for a game.' I give them a smile and say 'Sure.' (We will really touch this topic later. I will perhaps dedicate a full post for this. So let's just wait.)

'I write a lot. Check out my blogs and fan fictions. I can be of great help in writing design documents.'  Excuse me? You write a lot? You use flowery language? You use words that makes me sit with a dictionary? And you want to help me in writing design documents?

It will take a lot of real estate to cover all the characters, for they are aplenty. For the very reason, I have started writing this blog. We will cover a few more and then a few more some other time.

Thanks for your support and keep those comments rolling.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Game Design

Vevina, my lovely daughter, is seven months old and despite me trying to be a 'typical old school parent', cannot help buying new toys for her. Toys are essentially tools that breed creativity amongst all. And Vevina tries to manipulate her toys in all possible ways. She being a Leo has a special affinity towards cows, giraffes and other prey animals (toys) whom she enjoys bossing and biting. No matter how we interpret these actions, nobody really knows what goes through that innocent mind. And eventually, because she is new to this world, she runs out of options to deal with her toys and gets bored.

And only when she is bored do we play. And when we play, it is not mere manipulation of toys and observing them at different angles, but we play by some rules. You poke the cow in the eye and she will dart at you, you pull her ears and she will say 'moo moo.' If you don't play with the cow for some time she will tickle you with her nose. Eventually, the baby starts anticipating these actions and feedback. And she draws immense joy when a particular action results in an expected (sometimes new) reaction.

There are many complex definitions for games and game design. In the simplest form of the definition, Game Design is formulating and applying rules of play to the toys. And a game is essentially a toy with rules of play attached to it.

And unless you are trying hard to get a place in my design team, we will not cram in concepts such as fun, interactivity, challenge, motivation at this stage and will not have them pollute our simple definition of games and game design. Because all these words in vogue are absolutely subjective.  We will dig deep into them once you acquaint yourself with the simple basics.

By now, you must have realized that at some point in time in your life, you did design a game. :)

Gear yourselves up for 'Game Designer - Myth Busters' in the next issue. Some virtual hilarity is promised there.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What's Design?

When people ask me what I do for a living and when I tell them that I am a Game Designer, I am invariably gearing up for an explanation. It's a question that most definitely pops up. The profession is not as well known as say an actor or a doctor. So I tend to answer their question by drawing parallels with a better known field of movie making. 'I am the writer and the director of the game.' While this answer serves the purpose in a conversation, it definitely does not when writing a blog about game design. Here the audience is far more interested and one needs to delve deeper.

But before we get into game design technicalities, I would like to clear a few fundamentals. 

Design (in my opinion) is a plan or a blueprint to reach a goal. All of us are designers in some way or the other. We use design in pretty much every step of our life and every day. Let us take an example.

Step 1 - I want to watch a movie. (I have some direction here, but not an exact goal)

Step 2 - I want to watch a certain movie. (Now I know what movie I want to watch)

Step 3 - I want to watch a certain movie at a certain cinema hall. (The goal has become clearer than ever)

Step 4 - I want to watch a certain movie at a certain cinema hall. I will watch it on a Sunday. (This is a plan to reach my goal, but not a very well chalked out one)

Step 5 - I need to watch a certain movie at a certain cinema hall. I will watch it on a Sunday at 7.30 p.m.
So ultimately in step 10 or 12, I would have watched the movie and had some fun. Mind you, all these steps do not happen at the same time and one after the other. But a plan seems to be taking shape in our minds without us knowing about it.  When we do it in a conscious and planned manner, it's called Design.

Let this be some food for thought for those who are new to Design. I will cover Game Design shortly.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Prologue - Here we go...

Rare and Raring

While rare means scarcity, raring doesn't mean scarcer (this isn't a 'save tiger' blog) but eager. And while the first part is a statement (I challenge you to prove it otherwise in this context), the second part is about hope. And no other name would have fit this web log any better when you know I am going to talk about competent game designers (In India especially).

At the onset, this might seem like an overtly sarcastic take on the situation in Indian Game Design, but this blog has more to do ABOUT the ones that are rare and raring and FOR the ones who aspire to be in that small percentage. Whatever you do, this percentage is always going to be small. I am also going to occasionally pan the bad game designers (of which there are a lot) with examples so that they smarten up, and for the rest of you to stay entertained ;).

So why am I doing this?

For the past few months, I have been searching for some really good game design talent and so far the candidates have been mediocre to downright dismal.

Because the game industry is literally booming in India and there isn't talent good enough or aware enough to tap it.

Because the few designers who ARE good have their heads very high up their assess (look forward to posts named "Fancy Pay Packages" in distant future and "Learning Humility" in near future).

This, my friends, is a prologue to my blog. In case you are wondering what Game Design is all about, you will have to wait until my next post. Or you can pay me $2 to view it immediately. Believe me, your $2 will be well spent on my next blog post than on quite a few games being made presently across the world (about these games, I will speak later). While I am obviously joking about you giving me $2, I 'm not about those games.

Here, the gyaan is going to be free and practical. Just be patient...