Saturday, July 31, 2010

Meet the team: Brenda Brathwaite

Ever once in awhile we like to introduce an employee at Lolapps. We've only done a few of these, so look forward to more!

This week we'd like to introduce Brenda Brathwaite, our Creative Director

Brenda is a game industry veteran. She is an award-winning game designer and has worked on titles in the Wizardry®, Jagged Alliance®, Dungeons and Dragons® and Def Jam® series and has published on virtually every platform from tabletop to console to Facebook. Her non-digital game Train recently won the Vanguard award at IndieCade "for pushing the boundaries of game design and showing us what games can do." In addition to making games, Brenda is also a voracious game player, has her own d10s and plays well with others.

Below is our own internal Q&A with her:

What do you do at Loplapps?

I am Lolapps Creative Director and a game designer here. It means that I am one of the luckiest people I know. Making games, playing games and setting general director for a company's products is an amazing opportunity.

How'd you get into gaming and game design?

I got into the game industry in 1981 when I was just 15 years old. It was a rather chance meeting between me and Linda Currie, a fellow classmate in high school. To be polite, she struck up a conversation which turned into a job interview:

"You play games?"

Yes, love them.

"You hear of Sir-tech Software?"




"Have you ever played D&D?"


I showed up at her house the following afternoon and played Wizardry for the first time. It was then and remains now and utterly magical moment in my life. I was with Sir-tech for 18 years, and consider that time in my life truly formative and wonderful. I was able to apprentice with great game designer and work on many award-winning games.

As far as gaming goes, I don't remember a time when I didn't play games. I am always playing some game. Always.

What are your favorite applications on facebook?

This changes so rapidly. The answer I give you today will be different than the one I'd give you next week. I think what fascinates me most are particular mechanics and watching how they propagate from game to game. I really enjoy it when games do something that I haven't seen at all. I recall how Frontierville really upped the ante with the amount of activity per visit and how Nightclub City made your typical friend grind longer and more genuinely entertaining than many, many other games. I probably play three new Facebook games a day and return to maybe one a week for a regular sessions.

What games have you played recently?

Apart from social games, I play WoW a lot as well as Civilization Revolution. I am also a voracious consumer of board games. Ticket to Ride, Family Business, Container and Dominion are my current favorites.

What do you do in your free time?

This is going to sound tragically geeky, but I play games and work on building my board game series, The Mechanic is the Message. My partner is also a game designer, so it tends to occupy a lot of our time. When I'm not doing something with games, I really enjoy taking rides to wherever in my car (a convertible), visiting restaurants, exploring little towns and watching great films.

What you enjoy most about working at start-ups?

Lolapps feels different to me than a great many start ups. The personality of the owners is infused in the business, and their sense of humor carries through the whole place. So, it's super fun to come to work, even when we're working hard to hit milestones. Overall, the space feels very competitive to me, and I like that I can directly talk to and influence the people making the big decisions here. I've worked for bigger companies as an employee or contractor, and I my prefer the feeling of family that comes with having direct access to the powers that be.

What new initiatives and games are you most excited to see at Lolapps?

I am always excited to see a game release and see how people respond to it. I can't wait to get our current games out and focus on a brand new title. There's nothing like that.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Some Forming Social Game Theories

I started this on twitter (@bbrathwaite), but moved it here. Feel free to add to this list, disagree or discuss.

The player should:

  • Return to the game to good news (game progress, new content, visits from friends, mail, gifts).
  • Return to the game with a problem to solve (wilted crops, empty supplies, shifts to start).
  • Have short-term problems to solve (in a session) and long-term problems to solve (multiple sessions). Longer term problems/desires may be aspirational goals, collections or quests to complete.
  • Always be able to make progress on longer-term goals and complete short-term goals.
  • Always know precisely what they need to do to solve all problems in the game. These things should never be nested or “discoverable” if you’re clever. That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be discoverable things and surprises. There should be (Pocket God comes to mind). However, the player shouldn’t be confronted with a problem that has no obvious solution – that equals a block and goodbye.
  • Always have an aspirational goal on every screen, if possible (something they want – item/action gated by $, lvl, quest progress), and a clear understanding of what they need to do to reach it.
  • Have genuine motivation tied into the core of the game which makes them want those aspirational goals (if I get X, it will help me do Y faster or will earn me more $)
  • Be rewarded for every single click either visually, through XP, coins or some other measure of progress.
  • Clearly understand how and why every change state in the game occurs. If an NPC suddenly becomes happy, why did that happen? Is it visually obvious? Is the transition from normal state to happy state clear? Is it rewarding? Does the player know what they did (or something in the game did) to make that happen?
  • Feel like they have agency in the game. Through their direct action, something happens. Without them, it doesn’t happen. If you never plant crops, you never get results.
  • Understand your UI instantly. If you need to explain it, you need to redo it.
  • Have a pre-existing mental model of the game before they even play it. I know how a farm, a nightclub, a bakery and a restaurant run, at least at an abstract level. The less you need to teach people about the game, the better. This information should be pre-grokked before they even enter the game.
  • Feel good about posting something in their feed. They believe what they’re posting will help them and help their friends playing the game, too.
  • Have a “feel good” endgame state for a session. This is appointment gaming, and people want to feel like they’ve tidied up this session before moving on to the next. That means that they can finish or, in some cases, optimize until it’s not really optimum to continue anymore. If they leave feeling like the game didn’t really let them leave (because there was always something new to do), they leave in a sub-optimal and unsatisfied state and thus are less likely to return.
  • Have clear dailies including friend grind, playspace grind and bonus progression, if applicable. What do I do everyday when I come back to the game? Do I know that I have finished what I needed to do? How do I know that I need to do it (and no, your last play session isn’t enough).
  • Be reminded of what they need to do. They’re playing for 2, 5 or 10 mins at a time, and are possibly playing dozens of social games simultaneously. They need visual reminders of what they need to do to progress play in your game. Give them explicit and constantly visible goals, badges, or visual reminders of some kind.
  • If you nerf their playstate or playfield, the player better understand why and feel like they could have prevented it (keeping their appointment, getting an item by x time or it expires, etc).
  • Players want direction. Give it to them everywhere: tool tips, quests, pop ups, etc.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Choosing a Restaurant 2.0

Everyone who has ever worked at a start-up knows that the most important decisions are always about food. Especially when the choice concerns more than just one person. After all how are going to survive all those all-hands meetings or special events such as python meet-ups without good food? Of course there is always the alternative: a golden nectar, commonly referred to as "Beer". After all, the world's largest software company was built with the fundamental knowledge of the Ballmer Peak. But since we can't rely on beer indefinitely, back to food:

Most companies have one person who is responsible for picking the right stuff to order in and making sure that the majority is satisfied with the food. Most likely, that is the right decision from a management point of view. However, start-ups are here to innovate and that is precisely what we did. Since we are a social media start-up, we needed to make this process more social. However, we're also a tech start-up and nothing works without a proper Product Requirements Document. Enjoy!