What kind of process do you use to learn what your app is great at?  Let’s work through the process of going from idea to actually building a game.  This is only a thought experiment, and all of the data is from the numerous creatures that live in my brain (that is: all data is made up).  In reality you will need to talk to you families, friends and enemies to learn about how your game is viewed by them.

Idea:

You have thought of a freaking awesome game it is going to use multiple aquatic animals that fight against the pollution created by teenagers, players are going to win the ability to shame their friends on a social site when their friends litter.image

Research:

If you were building a business oriented app, then you would need to have an understanding of the environment and business problem.  With a game, games start with a mostly artistic research.  What is the current social aspect (anthropological/social research) art, tools and market for your game?  With a game, you will need to read graphic comics, play other games, look into current games and find out what is popular is required. 

In general for a Windows 8 Application you would start off with these two:

Observe user- for business: find pain points; for games: find pleasure points

Find potential users and track their tasks and the steps they most take to reach their goals. For a business application you would likely need to follow a worker around while they do their work.  With a game, you might need to observe people playing a game similar to what you are going to build.  This means if you are using Game Salad for your game design, then you need to observe people playing a game built with Game Salad, if you are using Scirra.com/construct2 same thing, UDK, and so forth.

In the case of a game, it isn’t “pain” points, it is “pleasure” points, do your target audience like high scores?  Lots of targets? Only a few targets?  Do they like to prepare strike patterns before playing?  Do they like to do mods?  And so forth.

Online brainstorming with potential users

imageUse your skills and build a forum on facebook, http://www.so.cl/, create a forum on one of the development sites and so forth.

It will take some use of microblogging (twitter or similar) to get people to join your forum.  If you are a college student you might want to beg your friends to participate, relatives are a good idea, although your mother will likely be negative about the violent zombie head chopping cut scenes (cut scene in more ways then one!).  But that is a view and you should consider your mother’s opinion if you ever want homemade cookies again! 

Now that last sentence, mother and homemade cookies, is important, some people’s opinion may be better to listen to then others, and that is what you gain with experience.  Usually you learn that mom is correct, but for everyone else, you find out that someone like Jerry Nixon or Daniel Egan when it comes to software design might be excellent to listen to, but the little kid with the Penny Skateboard and who’s Dad is a ultimate surfer might be a better source for what is fun in a game.  A marine biologist might be a good source for aquatic mammal images and behaviors.  The Doctor of Anthropology who works over at the Starbucks might be a good source of what a social archetype is and how it relates to aquatic mammals and teen age boys.

Your mother might say that you shouldn’t have any violence in your game.  Nice, now take mom on a whale watching ride and ask her what does those aquatic mammals eat?  Seems like if you are a squid, the dolphins seem pretty violent.  Krill are not a plant and a Blue Whale eats 4 metric tons a DAY, krill might think that one moment you are floating in the current and the next one this Volkswagen size tongue is wiping you off the baleen and being swallowed is a form of violence.  Then mom will likely tell you that violence is still bad.

You have to take all of this data and weight it, then make your own decisions.  James Cameron was “red-lighted” by Hollywood in 2001 when he tried to get a studio to do Avatar.  He decided to move ahead anyway and the movie was made.  You have to make these kinds of design decisions and you can only make these decisions by doing design.

What to do with the community information

  1. Keep the discussion open, and don’t simply lead the participants in a direction that you feel is helpful.
    • If you are used to a corporate type of “Con” calls where you are muted for hour long meetings, this isn’t that type of meeting, mute button should not be used, if there are talkers, ask them to be polite
    • If you are a manager used to “running” calls you might want to get some tips from people who run calls with participation
    • If you use Power Point or similar, do NOT use “posters” that is power points with more then three lines of text.
    • Use survey technology, http://www.surveymonkey.com is a good one to use, it’s free with less than 100 responses, and if you get more then 50, you are doing pretty good.
  2. Get details
    • If someone in the forum has a bunch of good ideas, no matter how whacked out, you need to talk them.  For a game, everything goes into the design pot.
    • Make sure that your write down everything in OneNote or similar that you can share with the other designers.

Conclusion

Research requires:

  • What tools are you going to use
  • Media: Artwork, sound effects, and music.  What kind of media are you going to use, after a couple of games you will likely have a suite of media that you can choose from, but initially, you will need to find media, and make sure you have the use license
  • Community feedback: Find an audience group, which can be your friends, family and enemies
  • Compile all of this information