a series of interesting choices thoughts on game design from paul sottosanti


tiny adventures: female character choices

One of the goals of the small strike team that created Tiny Adventures was to remain completely free of outside dependencies. Digital projects at Wizards had shown a tendency to get bogged down because they relied on other departments or contractors for various critical components, and since our goal was to create a game a month, we had to keep that to an absolute minimum. On the team we had two designers, a programmer, two producers, a quarter of an art director and a third of an editor (a lot of people at Wizards split their time between multiple projects). Like I mentioned in yesterday's post, we also utilized some contract writers for Tiny Adventures, but that was directly controlled by us and Brandon Bozzi did a great job of keeping everything moving.

Because of the restricted time schedule and insular nature of the team, we had zero ability to generate new art assets. One feature that we wanted to have was male and female versions of all of the character classes. While it would've been trivial from the technical side, it turned out that almost all of the decent D&D art that we had at our disposal showed off male heroes. We had three options: delay the app, put up subpar art, or only give one gender option for each class (with something like 6 male characters and 2 female characters). We chose the latter, foolishly thinking it wouldn't be that big of a deal.

Well, it ended up being probably the number one requested feature, and annoyed people to no end. Because you couldn't choose race and class separately, or choose how to spend your stat points, even players who didn't care about the gender of their character wanted the extra options. To the players who did, the imbalance implied sexism, since players tend not to think about production difficulties, and even if they did, it's hard to imagine a company like Wizards having trouble creating a few small pieces of art.

(As an aside, it's very clever that almost every app puts Alpha or Beta on the end of their title these days. It makes players be a little bit more forgiving, they feel like they're getting in early, and it costs you nothing, especially since it's become accepted to allow purchases during beta.)

Fortunately, the team that was tasked with maintaining the app eventually fixed the imbalance by digging through the archives and finding some quasi-reasonable options, so every class had both a male and a female option. As a bonus, this meant that a lot more races got to share in the spotlight as well, which meant that it was a lot easier for everyone to find a combination that they liked.

Takeaway: If at all possible, have gender balanced character choices. It's easy to underestimate how important this is to a lot of your players. Also, players don't care what hurdles you had to overcome or what prevented you from putting in a feature. They only care about what they're interacting with, which is the end result.

Next topic: The Adventure System, or "How do you tell a story without telling the same one every time?"

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