DDGC - Reflections on Game Design

February 27, 2006

To change subject from the Atari Situation for a day or two, I'd like to talk about game design. As you may know, I've made a trivia game based on Transformers. Trivia games, by their nature, are the definition of 'casual gaming'. The gameplay is simple: I ask a question, you answer. You get it right and you score a point. Everyone in the world understands this (gamer or not), because this is the basis of normal communication.

The best thing any developer can do is get someone else to play their game. When you're neck-deep in code-art-design, you tend to miss things. The assumptions that you made during development may not be true. When other people play, they see the things you don't. When they tell you about it, you make the decision to accept it and change where appropriate, or disregard it and call them an idiot.

As a 'gamer', trivia games are too simple for me. So, in making Transformers Broken Destiny Trivia Battle, I added a fancy scoring system which rewards players for speed, consistency and perseverance. In response to this, I received this piece of feedback. To paraphrase, the scoring system was 'buggy' because you can get a higher score by rapidly selecting the same answer option (being multiple-choice) for each question over and over than actually taking your time to answer the question properly.

This is what I thought when confronted with this criticism:
  • At first, I thought the 'rapid clicking' was stupid. What is the purpose of a trivia game? To test one's knowledge. Why then would you blindly click at the same answer over and over just to get a higher score? It was then that I realised that the score is meant to be a reflection of your performance. In a trivia game, your performance is your correct knowledge of the subject. Thus, a faulty score inflated one's performance, and made one out to be a bigger brain than one actually was. This is unfair (not Counter-Strike unfair, but similar). So, I changed the numbers I used to calculate the bonus scores. This stops people from using the Time Remaining bonus to offset the points they lost from answering incorrectly - thus putting the focus back on answering the question.
  • Is the scoring system buggy? In a technical sense, no. But from an audience perspective, it is indeed strange. My scoring system was a way to make a casual game more interesting to a hardcore gamer. But I forgot a simple fact: a casual game primarily attracts a casual audience. An audience who cares little (if any) about my hardcore scoring setup. So, I added a simple "you got x out of 50" score, because after all, it's a test - you want to know how many you got right (looking back, I'll admit this was a major failure in my design process).
Hope this sheds a little light on the nature of game design.
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