Launching during a pandemic – weird feels

On one hand: I am so, so grateful to have stumbled on an industry that I can easily work-from-home, and thus have no worries about making rent next month.

On the other hand: I had a multi-hour discussion today about how we need to up our revenue numbers by a specified date, and strategies to do so. During a global pandemic.

Where I wish I was: Thinking of ways to bring some semblance of entertainment, joy, or sheer distraction to those trying to reconcile a complete shift to their life through games.

Here’s also where I admit that this project has burnt me out fairly thoroughly. I’ve reached a state I’ve managed to avoid for over a decade, and I’m finding it saps my energy to even consider extra-curricular (outside of work, or helping day-to-day things function, like laundry or dishes) activities that don’t involved spending quality time with loved ones.

So we launched, it wasn’t sprinting to a finish line (it never is for mobile anyway), there was no grand “HURRAH!” (due to social distancing we won’t be having any kind of launch party), and we just smoothly transition to “how to make more money”. I spend as much (if not more) time looking at data and analytics of COVID-19 spread as I do the game that just launched. Oh by the way, Congrats USA, on this date you reached #3 in the world with with 43,734 cases by jumping up +10,168 in a day. Ugh. Just… ugh.

Going to try and keep my writing words here connected to gaming and game design… or try to. In this case, I think the best connection I can make are the importance of rules. Here in BC, the “rule” was people were politely asked to social distance themselves, it was a soft rule with no penalties. Result? Vancouver’s Mayor yesterday had to tell his city to stop congregating and playing beer-pong in public.

Soft-rules (in games, rules that are either not fully enforced by the simulation, or with reasonable penalties that don’t prevent the action) can be used to help players define their own experience. Like cheats (an extreme example), if available, it leaves it to the players hands, whether the developer thinks it will genuinely create a better experience or not. Some players find more value in challenging/breaking certain rules than having them enforced.

In a multi-player scenario this is why security within the rules is incredibly important, choices made to challenge/break rules for personal enjoyment may negatively impact the enjoyment of other players, resulting in an overall net-negative and a smaller player-base online. I’ll showcase Starcraft as an example of both.

Soft Rule: Pathfinding. Navigation around resource collection units disrupted pathfinding in ways not intended, changing the rules of pathfinding expectations. Skilled players could use this to their advantage to win battles they otherwise should have no possibility of winning. From what I observed, when this was used it was celebrated much more than frowned upon.

Soft Rule: Map Observations. The client was trusted with all observation in the game making “map hacks” easily available, showing you information you shouldn’t normally have. These hacks provided an uncanny experience of opposing players, making them feel like nothing they attempted could ever succeed. Super disheartening. Additionally, because this became a known hack, the suspicion of someone hacking could be stronger than reality, making people extra-upset when they would lose games.

Two cases, one soft-rule which could be challenged/broken that allowed player ingenuity to create a positive, competitive experience vs. one that left people feeling powerless, taking net-joy away from the game.

When making rules, having an idea how those rules will be exploited are very important. Right now, of all things, obtaining toilet paper is incredibly difficult due to the rules in place here and people trying to exploit those rules to turn a profit (Seriously, it’s extra bizarre here, there’s a freakin’ toilet paper factory in the area – the hoarders/resellers can’t possibly win this fight, but they’ll keep tryin’). Fines are now being introduced for not obeying a social distancing order so those beer-pong players may lessen, but looking at all this data it feels to me those rule changes came in a little too late. Definitely too late for our rule-makers to publicly show their outrage.

Hopefully not too late that we look back on those soft rules and what appears to be a fear of “over-reacting” that we aren’t feeling an order-of-magnitude more pain than we otherwise would have.

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