Chris Trottier + gameplay models

At the 2011 Game Developer’s Conference, esteemed designer Chris Trottier assembled advice from her astounding career as a game designer on famed games such as Farmville, The Sims, and others we all know and love. Trottier says there is now, through Facebook, a new portal for a whole slew of players not before accessible. Experiencing the breakthrough new market with The Sims was a precursor to the sea change we are experiencing now with social games.

Designers are finding all kinds of people who didn’t think of themselves as being into games. Trottier calls these “accidental gamers.” Game designers are not used to this challenge– most designers have traditionally designed for those already, at least somewhat, into games. Accidental gamers are different kinds of players and don’t arrive to games “preloaded” to play games.

Trottier then discussed the state of mothers and their own resource management games. As little NPCs with a range of AI states, children themselves play a significant role in the life of some players. When kids melt down, parents deplete resources. (Parental Players might be very angry at the way in which the design of the parental game was tuned!) To Trottier, Moms game during those in between times, such as naptime, often when they are tapped out of energy. Designers could think of games that might pour a proverbial glass of wine at the end of the day, or be charming, or be a friend. She articulated “The Art of Woo,” that is, the way in which a game might in fact court the player with fun, charm, and value.

Trottier articulated the top 10 deal breakers for this demographic in gaming:

–Work to play. Make day one in the play experience very easy and charming — friction free.
–Quick play; the “always lose” Donkey Kong games don’t get people to return.
–Orcs, Dungeons, Castles etc are not necessarily interesting to this demographic
–Pinky Pink is also out. Players are quick to call thing “babyish”
–Rigid timing. Players need to leave and return. “my free time is not predictable.” No tournaments, live events, raid schedules. Rather, appointments one makes with oneself are ok – there is a big buffer. Think maturity of various crops in Farmville.
–Stuck Points. A strategic choice to make a large challenge is often a hemmorage point with these games.
–Strangers. Strangers are “a little freaky.” Best of Breed designers, thought, have thought in interesting ways about this. Strangers can act weird and talk like they are in secret clubs. For 40 year old accidental gamers, its off-putting.
–Gagetry – multiple button stuff isn’t all that interesting. For interfaces, each piece of information adds a reason not to engage.
–The mere scent of a right/wrong choice is a problem. That might be something very simple, such as  “Would you like to be an Elf or an Orc.” That kind of decision feels like a big deal to those not really into games. In Farmville, there were three types of goods to make. Bakery, Spa, or Winery. This feels like a heavy decision. When faced with a possibly large-seeming choice. players become stuck. If designers, however, post  “how many of your friends have chosen that specialty” etc.,  the roadblock  is cleared.
–3D camera. 3D navigation. These are not a priority way to spend time.
Trottier’s Top “Turn-Ons”
–Draw people into social-style games by thinking about their real world value to the player. To many adults and especially a “mom’ demographic, time spent for yourself is a guilty pleasure… What are the things you can do in the game to make a player say “I was really glad I spent my time here.” Fun is not enough. ‘Relaxes me’ is a clearer value. If it is good for me (Wii Fit or BrainAge). Farmville players felt really good about contributing to Haiti relief. Players report feeling more connected to their friends, family, and colleagues in a survey of players in 2010.
Creative outlet–keep connected–good for others — good for me — relaxes me — fun.
–It is hard to beat a satisfying deco (decoration, design) play.
–Keep evolving. Dev people need to keep pace with player curiosity. Things that keep surprising the player, and help them feel like anything is possible. When your first Sim dies and they come back as a ghost – these kind of pleasant surprises go a long way. Make existing mechanics new, or engage with a different aspect. Same core, different twist.
–Deeper Mechanics. Players put themselves into the game. There is real opportunity for growth – how to add features over time that are fresh, that are more than the sum of their parts. Deeper mechanics: when, and how much. Grow the experience for players.
–Real World Fantasy. The classic gamer fantasy is other worldly, armageddon, outer space, etc. For the mass market… well, as players, our own world is infinitely large, fantastic and relevant. Avatars can look like a cuter version of the player because that’s what is relevant. Fantasy is real life and a costume party. Make use of attractive stylistic outfits.

–Allow players to express their desires: to host a Beauty Pageant, or Over the top Christmas Decorations in Farmville
–The game should reflect ‘my people.’ The people we know in real life are more interesting to us than other characters we are going to come up with. Has amazing potential to really hit a nerve. Social network people are free aspects of the game.
–Leader boards never meant anything to Trottier until she saw Leader boards with personal information with friends.
–Big Deal Milestones. Fictionally, such as first dates, first kiss, weddings, having babies, getting promoted.
–Wanting, getting, having. Wanting it for a while. Working hard and getting it. It means a lot. Sometimes, soial games don’t let Trottier want long enough. In early days of Farmville, she was very motivated by the simple act of unlocking the crops. She really wanted to see what the next crop is like. Once she got the Corn, it was totally worth it; it was really beautiful. The reward has to be something she can actually want. Should be tied to game, not the trophy route vs vintage roadside signs. Collecting the signs is DEEPLY motivating, give a new crop sign offered for a limited time. To her, it is all about the content.
–Core Action. What is the endeavour? How satisfying is it. Quests work so well in Farmville because life can be governed by checklists and it is a natural way of tracking progress.

__Simple pleasures- when your game is clever, charming, adorable. Where play is irresistible. In her talk, Trottier confessed a  love for the little forklift in Social City. “When the Sim pees on the floor. When the Sims slap someone.” If these actions could happen, what else might happen?
__Yummy on the eyes – being attractive does not hurt. The kinds of games people are drawn to are stylized, with humor or a point of view. Chuzzle from Popcap is charming, and it is easy to know what to do, and witty. Gorgeous, juicy, happy. Beautiful crops is a huge huge part of the success of Farmville.
__Make game feel good to click. Juicy moments. Pleasurable clicks. Response.

Goal Adjectives:  satisfying, relaxing, expressive, intriguing, unstressed, intuitive, rewarding, useful, charming rewarding and worthwhile over time, feel good about it.