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


tiny adventures: accessibility

Even though a game with the Dungeons & Dragons IP is unlikely to break into the mainstream, any game on the Facebook platform needs to have accessibility as a huge priority. People generally aren't looking for hardcore gaming experiences on Facebook. They want something they can ease into, with low time commitment and a gradual learning curve. And since Facebook games are free, it doesn't take much for a player to quit. When a player hasn't invested anything into the game (with a traditional purchased game, they've invested money up front), it's far easier for them to give up on it quickly. On the other hand, social mechanics work in your favor and encourage players to persist through difficulties.

Character creation, something that seems natural to include in any RPG, can actually be a large barrier to accessibility. It asks you to make hugely important decisions at a point when you understand the game the least. That said, it works fairly well for pen and paper D&D, because the DM or other players in the party will often help a new player through the process. But for a single player experience like Tiny Adventures, we decided to just give people a selection of reasonably balanced premade characters that they could choose between. This way, few players ended up making a choice that they later come to regret.

We kept adventuring simple as well. Players just had to choose an adventure and then return in a few hours and read the results. While there was a definite advantage to knowing D&D rules, it wasn't at all necessary. Players weren't asked to choose what skill to use, or choose which enemy to target, or anything along those lines. We were aided by the new 4th edition rules, where characters each focus on a single stat for their abilities, so we just gave every character a single primary stat that increased their attack bonus. Finally, we added tooltips to everything in the character screen that explained how the various bonuses worked.

You're probably thinking right about now that it sounds like we made the game too simple, but there's almost no such thing when it comes to Facebook, as long as you also have depth. I'll be talking about that soon.

Takeaway: Accessibility is key when it comes to Facebook games, and free games in general. Strong accessibility plus solid social mechanics will create the growth that you want.

Next topic: Adding depth while still preserving accessibility.

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  1. Good call. Our instincts betray us. It’s incredibly easy to make a game more complicated, later, down the line. We all know it. But complexity (not depth of choice, depth of choices) seduces far too many, before they’ve even realized it. Particularly if the designer has been working on a project for a long time (you get acclimated, and then “instinctify” the choices, and so assume you need more). Whoops!

    Proposed defense tactics:
    1) Playtest
    2) Playtest
    3) Keep projects short
    4) Make projects you don’t want to play
    5) Vacation (aka the less effective, easy way out)

  2. You made the choice so no-one would regret making a bad choice.

    I didn’t like that aspect of the game, but then again — I would’ve made a good choice.

    I don’t like ‘design for dummies’ but rather ‘design for smart people’ and let the GUI guide those who need help. (Easy to type, hard to create.)

    Then again, Google (and now FB) have designed lots of stuff that no one could figure out how to use. HA HA HA


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