Monday, March 14, 2011

Being a freelance game designer - A look at the backstage (part 3)

Hello all,

In this last part of this post devoted to my latest publication in the February IGDA neweletter, I  I will summarize my recommendations for those of you who want to go freelance.

  • First and foremost, always remember that you are not doing your game but your client's game. You have the right to propose and fight for your ideas but you also have the duty to execute your client's demands, even if you believe you have better idea!
  • Think ethics. It is very important to build a reputation as a loyal and trustworthy partner, in particular don't kiss and tell (keep for yourself what you've seen or heard while working with a client), don't give names of client's employees to head hunters, at least as long as the person is still employed by your client and never say bad things about your client, even after a mission is completed.
  • Respect what you have promised to deliver: Budget, deadline, content, etc.. If for some reason you believe you won't be able to achieve something, inform your client as soon as you see the problem.
  • Be ready to work more than expected. Always remember that a client contracted you to bring a solution to a problem, not write a document or be in his office from 9 to 5. Work until it's done. It is only if the workload really get out of control that you should tell your client and renegotiate your contract.
  • Don't be arrogant with your client's development team. Making a game is difficult; making a good game is very difficult. Respect the work done by them, even if it's not perfect by your standards. I had my own failures, so I stay humble.
  • Respect the confidential agreement you have with your client to the letter. It happened several times that I had to stop myself from giving out information that my client's employees had already leaked!
Hope you found this serie of posts interesting and if you want to share your own experience, feel free to do so !

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Being a freelance game designer - A look at the backstage (part 2)

Hello all,

In the second part of this post devoted to my latest publication in the February IGDA neweletter, I will summarize my recommendations if you are in a position to hire or work with a freelance game designer.

Actually, working with a contractor is not much different from working with an employee. A freelance is not less loyal and trustworthy. Actually, if a freelance wants to keep getting missions, he better keep a good reputation.

If you're going to hire a freelance to work remotely, on a concept for instance, I would recommend the following:
  • Give clear, detailed and exhaustive design constraints. Tell him or her what you are looking for and what you don't want to see. Actually designers work better with strong constraints.
  • Give time. Creative work cannot be planned and shoehorned into a rigid planning.  An outside designer can bring fresh ideas to your development team but if you don't give enough time, he will simply mimic what already exists.
  • Don't insist on him or her to being on-site.  I had clients that contracted me to design game concepts but they wanted me to be on-site, all day. That was a waste of time because you cannot be creative 8 hours a day, sitting behind a computer. Actually, I am the most creative when I jog!
  • In the contract, state how the contractor will appear in the game credits and under what circumstances he can communicate on his work with you.
  • Following the previous points, put him or her in your game credits. Creative people hate not to be recognized for their contribution. If they believe they will not be credited for their work, they will keep their best ideas for themselves... or another client !
  • If your contractor is to work with your team remotely, to follow up how his or her design is implemented, organize a face to face meeting with your team. It will create stronger bonds between them.
  • Last, but not least, pay him or her well ! A freelance depends on his mission for his living. If you don't pay him decently, he'll probably shift his time to more lucrative jobs.
In the last part of this post, I will summarize my recommendations for those of you who want to go freelance.

Being a freelance game designer - A look at the backstage (part 1)

Hello all,

The IGDA Newsletter's editor asked me to write a paper on my peculiar status; I am a game designer and creative director but I work freelance, an unusual situation in our industry where those positions are not outsourced. This paper has been published in the February edition of the IGDA newsletter but to my non-IGDA readers, I will share in my blog the highlights of that publication.

A question I often get is what type of company outsources one of the key positions in the development of a game to a freelance. in fact, different studio profiles have different needs:

  • To small studios, , I essentially bring expertise and manpower. Thanks to my broad spectrum of experience, I can do almost anything related to the design of a game: The game concept, the full game and level design, the tuning, etc. Since I'm flexible, I can adapt the number of days I commit every week to the financial resources and needs of my clients.
  • To medium-size studios, I bring manpower. They often ask me to join the team, either on a part-time of full-time basis. I usually work in their studio for six to eighteen month periods.  I am embedded and treated like anybody else in the team (same hours, same LAN parties at lunch time, same bad coffee, etc.).
  • To large studios or publishers, who have plenty of internal resources, I bring a specific know-how or blend of expertise.  

Another question I get frequently is how I work with clients who can be located thousands of miles away. I'm based in Paris, France, but I've worked with companies as distant as the US or India.

  • For consulting or coaching missions, I either go on-site or I work remotely, depending on the client's requirement... and budget. Going on-site is usually mandatory for audit missions because the game build cannot leave the studio and needs frequent debugging . Furthermore, face-to-face discussion with the development team is very important if they are to use my analysis or recommendations
  • For full design assignments, I can work remotely if the game scope is reasonable. Mobile games, Facebook, iPhone, iPadPSN or XBLA titles fit that description. How is it possible ? It works when my client entrusts the entire design work to me, from concept to level design. This gives me complete control over the content of the game and makes it easier for me to propose a coherent design that I can follow up and that's achievable.
  • Lastly, for the clients that put me in with their team, I commute between my home and their studio. I stay on-site for a few days a week and work the rest of the week from my office, in Paris.

In my next posts, I will give my recommendations to studio managers interested in outsourcing some of their design work and I will conclude with some tips to those of you who consider going freelance.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The 3DS - Great 3D but what about Its potential for novel gameplays ?

Hello all,

I had the opportunity to experiment the new Nintendo 3DS and I must admit I am impressed.

  • First, the 3D effect, with NO special glasses, is amazing. Most of the games I played offered a true depth of field. And when you turn off the 3D rendering, you really miss the benefit of the 3D.
  • Second, the machine is powerful enough. I played Resident Evil 5 and it looks as good as the home console version.
  • Third, Nintendo is offering a very interesting feature that fits very well with current design trends, the StreetPass.When this feature is on, your 3DS will exchange data with any nearby 3DS.
  • Fourth, you can take good quality 3D pictures and once you have tasted 3D, it's hard to get back !

I predict a very nice commercial success for this machine but this blog is devoted to game design issues. So will it have an impact on the design of games as deep as the DS or the Wii had ? Here is my analysis:

3D makes games more immersive but I don't see new gameplays emerging from it. We'll probably see a few games whose gameplay takes some advantage of the extra depth of field but those will be highly specialized, puzzle-like, applications.

On the contrary, the StreetPass feature offers much more potential for novel gameplays. Why ? The success of Free-to-Play games largely relies on the player's interactions with his friends. In particular, F2P games give the players the tools to do two things he could not well before: Sharing and expressing himself, a.k.a showing off. The new 3DS feature expand that. You'll be now able to interact with total strangers nnd the fun will come from the surprise of what you get from them.

The 3DS will probably not impact game design the way its predecesors have done but it is a great machine built for success and I wish it good luck.

As usual, feel free to comment on my latest post. I'll do my best to answer all your comments.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Will Kinect take us beyond casual gaming ?

Kinect has just been launched along about 20 games. Nearly all of them are targeting the casual or the fitness market. There is only one title, Fighters Uncaged, that is targeting at a more gamer  public. So, what future do we see for Kinect ? Will it remain a peripheral devoted to casual applications or will it attract mainstream gamers as well  ?

In my opinion, it will be the case.Why ?  Kinect forces us to design from a blank page. We cannot simply adapt existing game mechanisms to a Kinect game because the control method is radically different. As a result, I expect entirely new game concepts to emerge. That is what happened with the DS, the Wii and the iPhone. The apparition on those platforms of new control mechanisms led to new game concepts with the success we know.

Kinect offers also a new gameplay dimension to explore: The physical abilities of the players. We all have different ways to execute a given movement, depending on the speed, trajectory and amplitude we give them.  There is room for design innovations and the development of new players experiences.

Last, but not least, Kinect also features vocal command. By combining motion and vocal commands, new gameplays will emerge for sure. Maybe Kinect is the key to develop strategy games on consoles ?

A last word, I had the chance to work as lead game designer on Fighters Uncaged, the first combat game for Kinect. We did a lot of playtest with all sort of players, casual, mainstream, even hardcore gamers and non-gamers.  Nearly all of them enjoyed the game. Why ? Because it offered them a new experience. Players exhausted themselves and they enjoyed that because they were doing gratifying actions; we offered them the experience of being martial arts champions.

Designing for Kinect requires an open mind and the will to explore new paths. Games for Kinect WILL be different from what we are used to.

Let's open the debate. What future do you see for Kinect ?

Friday, October 8, 2010

1378 - A game among others or a preview of what gaming can bring to the society ?

My attention has been caught by the controversy surrounding this upcoming title.

1378 is about the Berlin Wall (1378 refers to its length in kms). In that game you can either play as a candidate to exile, attempting to cross the wall at the peril of your life, or a border guard whose objective is the opposite: Preventing refugees from fleeing, even if it means shooting at them. The game shocked some people in Germany for two reasons:

- 200 people were killed while attemting to flee East Germany, German folks were shot by other Germans. Making a game on such a painful event is seen, by certain people, as immoral.
- Letting a gamer shoot at innocent and unharmed people is seen by others as flattering the basest of human instincts.

Are there good reasons for people to feel offended ?

On the first count, I say no. Nobody feels offended by movies or books talking about painful historical events. Why would a game desserve a different treatment ?

On the second count, possibly. However, in my opinion, it all depends on the way the game is designed. If you play a guard and end up feeling disgusted by what you have to do, then the game will have become a new way to develop our civic values, a tool to show people how easy it is for a political regim to ask his own citizens to do non-ethical things. A video game would have contributed to our societes by making us better-informed citizens.

I have not played the game yet but I am curious to see how it will play. It is scheduled to be released in December.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The expected price increase of the Xbox Live annual subscription : The tip of the iceberg

Hello all,

After a (too) long pause due to a heavy workload, I resume writing in my blog. Some friends told me I should post more and worry less about my writing style and that is exactly what I intend to do.

Last month, a well-informed source inside Microsoft hinted that the 12-month Xbox Live Gold subscription will increase from $50 to $60 in the US. A similar price hike would also be planned for the UK.

At first, I was surprised. Why would Microsoft take the risk of alienating its users when Sony is offering nearly the same service, for free, on its Playstation Network ? Then, I crossed that information with another one: The current debate on how to charge users of multiplayer games. Publishers are realizing that their players are sometimes spending far more time on the multiplayer mode of their game than the solo one ... and that does not yield a single cent. By charging more for the annual Xbox Live subscription, Microsoft might be planning to pay publishers whose titles are heavily played on the Live. That would be a smart move, probably far more acceptable to players that prohibiting the sales of used games, another hotly debated issue. Microsoft could develop thisbusiness model known as Games-on-Demand. Metaboli/Gametap is already doing it and it works.

Of course, this is only a speculation from my part but who knows ?