Who Drives Design Decisions?

I sat through a few presentations last week from potential suppliers and a few of them shared the “new” tech that “beacons” storefronts. This tech will ping every cell phone that passes by your storefront door and give you a unique traffic count  each day. It does ping unique versus non unique but no personal information is stored. This is only if you have Wi-Fi turned on your phone. It’s non evasive and doesn’t creep me out that much. Another one (which is becoming increasingly common) is when you hit that space in front of the storefront it sends you a text, or SMS, or push notification with an offer to “come buy” or otherwise engage the customer. That actually DOES creep me out. I don’t want that to happen to me. The salesman assures me that every 16 year old kid does, however, because “it makes sense to them”, and that they can also filter that option out to only happen to certain age demographics (which further creeps me out).

I love technology in general and am often an early adopter but am still from a mindset that loyalty is build on interaction and exceeding expectations, not discounting. (which is why I pick on Steam a lot here). If it is true this is how people want to be engaged by businesses I suppose I will have to adjust – I just don’t have a comfort level with it yet. It makes me think of Minority Report and how they use eyes to track where you are, what you bought last time, and where you are going. I don’t think the average person wants that yet.

I’m only 40 and feeling really old when told this kind of technology is what people want. Since I am 40 it feels like my “prime” time as a gamer is long gone when companies are considering development strategies. Games are being designed around what the new market wants, what the new consumer wants. I still think I would be a prime candidate to market to – I have high disposable income with less disposable time – so I am willing to pay for a great experience (full price – doesn’t have to be a Steam sale!) as long as the game engages me and respects my limited time.

All of this intro is to discuss an upcoming title that I have a lot of excitement for – The Division, by Tom Clancy. Check out the various vids. I love the setting, the over the shoulder FPS style works in it, I like Tom Clancy games in general. It has a lot going for it and could be an engaging story.

In the video below it shows someone controlling a drone – and reading some interviews and deeper dives into the game that person is interfacing the multiplayer aspect of the game via his/her tablet. The designer goes on to share that this game is built around Multiplayer and the different ways to interface with the game and play with friends. Check out the video – it looks interesting. He is buffing, marking, doing all sorts of supportive (yet mundane) tasks.

What I am going to question here, is who actually asked for this? Have gamers been emailing Tom saying “hey, I love your AAA titles but what I *really* want is to assist friends playing the full game while on my tablet”. I just don’t see where the need is here to dedicate so much of the theme of the game, and the design time, to engage gamers this different way – for the sake of being different. If I am sitting at home in front of my PS4 I am not pulling out a tablet to play along – I’ll grab the controller instead. This leads back to my WildStar observation of who actually asked for the WoW 2004 grind  to be brought back? And are developers innovating simply to be different or to actually improve our quality of gaming life?

I wonder if the goal of providing something different or innovative is getting in the way of foundational and sound game design. This decision feels like it was made by designers in a room trying to find something cool to introduce so they have a talking point instead of any evidence of a need for this in the marketplace. If any developer were to ask me what I want, I’d tell them an immersive and engaging gaming experience. I don’t need gimmicks. Maybe I don’t matter as a gamer anymore but it feels like designers are asking the wrong questions or to the wrong people (or both). Maybe I am just the wrong gaming demographic now.

It may be a really cool feature and it will be interesting to see it play out – I will be following this one pretty closely. I just hope they didn’t have to cut out the parts that interest me personally to fit in ideas that may not interest anyone.

7 Comments

  1. Jasyla

    This is something I wonder about a lot as well. Who asks for these innovations? Are developers spending too much time on innovation and not enough on solid games? (yes).

    One of the reasons I like Xbox (which I sort of forgot in my comment on your last post), is that they didn’t feel a need to innovate their controller. Playing through Infamous: Second Son on PS4 it drove me crazy any time the game wanted me to swipe the touchpad. Why can’t I just push a button to open a door? Making a swiping motion with my finger doesn’t make it feel anymore realistic, or fun, or enhance my door-opening experience. Of course, though XBox left their controller alone, they did release SmartGlass for phones. While playing Dead Rising 3 I thought that the SmartGlass integration was neat for about 5 minutes, until I wondered, why can’t you just give me those messages and extra missions in the regular game interface? Why do I need to use my phone? This isn’t adding to the experience, it’s just making me use another device, which keeps going to sleep to save the battery so I have to turn it back on 600 times.

    And don’t get me started on the Wii U gamepad (oops, too late). My bf and I were playing Super Mario 3D World together (him with the gamepad, me with an actual controller), and there were points in the game where he needed to blow on the mic in order to progress in the game. Seriously. Blowing on the controller. Who asked for this? He looked ridiculous, and likely felt ridiculous.

    Reply
    1. Isey (Post author)

      This is definitely what it feels like. I love your controller example, it perfectly demonstrates what I was trying to explain. I wonder why they just don’t ask? In my business, every single one of our innovations over the past 5 years were driven by CONSUMER desire/demand – not OUR desire to be the cool innovators.

      Reply
  2. bhagpuss

    These kind of innovations are always driven by producers not consumers. No-one has any real idea what will or won’t sell in any entertainment medium and never has had. The way producers in games, books, movies, music, TV, you name it operate is by flinging everything they can think of at the wall and seeing what sticks.

    If any of these innovations hit a public nerve (the way the Walkman, Mobile Phones or Harry Potter did) you can expect to have them in your life for decades if not forever. All the rest will be gone and forgotten in a matter of one or two development cycles.

    Bloody annoying while they’re here though!

    Reply
    1. Isey (Post author)

      Annoying, and with such a low conversion rate I can’t help but think what parts of the game that could have been better had resources diverted from it to take a stab at something that most likely won’t succeed. I suppose that “one in a million” thing though drives people trying things. Still, see my response to Jasyla for how I feel it should be done =)

      Reply
  3. Scott

    the over the shoulder FPS style

    WHAP!!! That’d be third-person, not first-person, which is what the FP in FPS stands for. Pet peeve of mine. =)

    I’ll also agree with Jasyla about the controllers. I’m a solid Xbox kinda guy but I had to go with the PS4’s hardware this time around. Not overly fond of the DS4 (DualShock 4 controller) though. It’s better than the DS3, certainly, but it aches my fingers (especially on the left hand) playing very long because it isn’t as ergonomic as an Xbox controller. Who the hell wanted a touchpad on a controller? It’s nothing but a gimmick, and worse, it’s in my damn way when I want to press the Options or Share button.

    The tablet support though? I dunno, I think it’s “neat” that it’s even possible. Watch Dogs has a cool companion app, and you can even do a couple race types. But what I really wanted was a sort of overhead view so I could be playing the game on my PS4 and my non-gamer girlfriend could use the app and suggest turns or possibly hit the hacks for me so I could concentrate on driving. For The Division it sounds like I could actually use her in that manner and let her spot for me, do some buffs or whatever and not have to teach her to be a real gamer or how to use a controller or anything else.

    Reply
    1. Isey (Post author)

      THIRD PERSON. Thank you. When I was writing it I couldn’t sort out the proper term and they actually wrote that three times in articles I was reading. Was driving me nuts. Thanks for solving that for me =)

      Tablet could be cool, and funny that you are interested in how you can get your girlfriend involved in your hobby eased in nicely. A triple A pandemic title is probably not the right place to start – I’d go more peggle. =)

      Reply
      1. Scott

        Oh, no, she’s fairly opposed to joining the hobby but she seems more open to the idea of doing something like I mentioned above. Helping me out while I’m playing without her actually have to “play the game,” so to speak.

        Reply

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