Staying true to a laser-focused design is important when making games. Without a north star to look at when making decisions can lead to games that feel lost, contradictory or, at worse, soulless. Art designers use mood boards, accountants have bottom lines but what do designers have as a north star to look towards when weighing which game mechanic to implement or which features to cut to ship the game in time? Story time: I once worked at a big game publisher in their central org. One day, a co-worker presented our “targeted” games list based on some indicators that were questionable. Our target games included very broad categories and genres like “Action/Adventure” or “FPS”. What constitutes an Action/Adventure game?[…]

One tool I do not see enough developers use is a content burn map. This is one of the most powerful pre-production tools for any Producer or Product Manager and can answer questions from scoping and progression to drop rates and content burn rate. Have you ever pondered: How powerful will player characters be after  3-months? How many levels do I need at launch? How much content do I need to make and at what rate do I need to release it? Then I have the tool for you! A content burn map, which is a name I unceremoniously came up with for this article, is a tool that models how different cohorts of users interact with your game over[…]

Chances are if you have ever interviewed for a Product Manager role at a game company, FAANG or any b2c tech company you have been asked some form of this question: “You walk into the office and metric X is down by Y percent. What do you do?”. After you get the obligatory “blame it on the engineers” joke out of the way, you’ll need to dazzle your interviewer with what is known in consulting as root cause analysis. As games as a service continue to dominate the industry, root cause analysis will become an increasingly important skill to have in any live ops role PM role. Here’s the scenario: you come into the office and your daily revenue from[…]

After a long layoff, I’m happy to announce my blogging ways will return to a normal cadence. For the rest of 2019 and through 2020, I will be providing a new entry each and every week from breaking game design processes to sharing my thoughts on game strategy and the industry in general. – Eric McConnell

So I was listening to classic rock the other day and Rush’s 1980 anthem “Spirit of the Radio” came on the playlist. I’ve probably heard this song over a hundred times in my life starting all the way back to my dad driving me around Knightdale, NC and playing classic rock on FM 105.1, but something about the second verse really hit home this time around. All this machineryMaking modern musicCan still be open-heartedNot so coldly chartedIt’s really just a questionOf your honesty, yeah your honestyOne likes to believeIn the freedom of musicBut glittering prizesAnd endless compromisesShatter the illusionOf integrity, yeah Spirit of the Radio, Rush Neil Peart’s lyrics were about the transition of free-form radio to the commercial format[…]

What is it about the art of the late 80’s to mid 90’s that we can’t let go? How many 20XX platformers look like they could run on a SEGA Genesis? Why do 90% of indie-JRPGs seem like they visually resulted from the equation “Earthbound meets X”? When did Symphony of the Night clones become so ubiquitous that Metroidvania is now in the gaming nomenclature? I can’t logically comprehend why this period stuck so much. Sure we can all look back at those games and say, “Wow, this shit still holds up today”., but what does that actually mean? I can’t remember the last time I saw Atari 2600 inspired game art garnering press online. Nobody is eager to relive[…]

Somewhere in your game development career you start to notice game design is really a trade of manipulation. Utilize this technique to teach people not to do something, that technique to reward them for their actions; training a new player has a lot in common with training a puppy. Nothing in my game career makes me sadder than realizing that the most effective technique for making players feel as though they have accomplished something is to make a number increase. Dave Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, was said to have invented experience points and level advancements during the evolution of Chainmail’s combat resolution (link). Here, in the early 70’s, a game tool was invented so powerful that nearly 50[…]

I hate tools development. Tools are one of the few parts of game development that don’t contribute to the final experience. Sure we can all make excuses about easing development and streamlining content creation, but when all is said and done tools aren’t moving units. Don’t get me wrong, tools are needed. How long would a platformer take to develop if every single platform, enemy and item was placed and tested via pixel number instead of crafted inside a level editor? But tools iteration is the siren calls, luring game developers away from creating and towards solving problems that didn’t need to be solved. In fact, lots of famous SaaS companies started out as game developers that focused a little[…]