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SGA Game Developers' Workshop

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Yesterday SGA had its first Game Developers' Workshop. I've been with SGA in different ways since 2002, and the quality of the participants really has gone up! But last year, I got to participate in the jury weekend (not part of the jury, but helping out by starting games and serving coffee *whip!*). That was a real eye opener; the participants were making such easily corrected mistakes!! Most mistakes would take 1 min to get feedback on and fixed in 5 min, such as waaay to low gravity in a car game. Some were even misguided, turning a great adventure game into a semi-fighter. Or completely missing its point, mech-fights without the actual mechs.

I travel throughout Sweden in the SGA-Tour and I always give out tips, such as: "Test, test, test!". Test the game with people from outside the group! But people don't seem to listen or they "forget". So now we created this workshop so they would get to present their games before the jury two full months before the final deadline. Something 12 out of ~70 teams tried. All were extremely happy with the event! And it was very little work for us, during the actual event that is - planning was hell. We divided the workshop in two sessions, between 10:00-12:00 and 13:00-17:00.

Workshop goal: Raise the quality of the games.
Workshop method: Give the teams a clear vision of their game and some focus points.

Workshop Session 1 - Two parallel workshops

The centre of the whole day is reshaping the game concept with input from industry veterans; the SGA07 Jury. As only one team can get feedback at a time we have to keep the other teams occupied, which we did with a workshop to get their creative minds started.

Jury pre-judgement

SGA07 jury:
Patrick Bach, Producer, EA Digital Illusions (not present)
Oscar Burman, Project Administrator, Avalanche Studios
Rickard Johansson, Lead World Designer, Grin
Johan Lindfors, Developer Evangelist, Microsoft
Patrick Liu, Project Manager, Starbreeze Studios
Tommy Palm, Head of Research and Development, Jadestone
John Severinson, Editor-in-chief, FZ.se
Tobias Sjogren, CEO, Peligroso (not present)
Niklas Westberg, Technical Director, Massive Entertainment

Each participating team would get 10 min with the jury. 5 min to present their game concept, in any way they like; prototype on computer, concept art on paper, whiteboard, etc. The jury would rain comments and try to help the team find what they should focus on, as too many try to too much which just makes the game thin - and they won't make it to the deadline. A secretary was present to compile a list of max five pointers for Workshop Session 2.

Extended Gameplay: Keeping the Players Happy

The game isn't done just because it went gold.

Gordon Van Dyke, Live Team, EA DICE. Supervises updates and patches for most DICE games, such as Battlefield 2142.
Henrik Oquist, Developer, Dawnspire. Designs and develops content updates, such as new playable classes.

Anyone who has released a game to a public knows this to be true. You'll have to continue working on your game, whether you want to or not, if you want to keep the players happy - otherwise you risk getting a bad reputation and no followers (that will buy/download your next game). Basically you should provide:
* Updates: new content. Players like that. Either free as a customer service or priced as a source of income.
* Patches: bug fixes. People hate that, not the patch itself but that the game had bugs in the first place.

The workshop focused on updates since they revolve around game design. The premise was: Super Mario Bros. 3 was just released! Ignoring technological advancements since then, the participants should focus on the possibility of extending SMB3 - to keep the players happy. We would act as the players and give them "feedback", which is essentially short forum post looking comments, and they would try to make us happy by coming up with new ideas. The "feedback"s were, in this order:

  1. "We love the suits! Give us mooore!"

  2. "The game is too short. We want mooore!"

  3. "Jumping on enemies is sooo old. We want something NEW!"

  4. "Only going left/right and up/down is boring now. We want mooore!"

The participating teams were broken up into groups of four, with no team member in it. This was to reduce the impact of having a competition team leaving for 10 min with the jury. The groups would get 15 min on each feedback. After all four feedbacks they would all get to present their "solutions" in five minutes, to the other teams and the panel which would comment on these solutions. One noteworthy point by Gordon was that players want to use new content in old, such as a new skill in the old maps.

So one of the solutions for feedback #1, which was a "digging suit, like a mole", was shot down since you'd have to redesign all the previous levels to add content in the earth - as well as design different earth-types to block or promote the player. And what would happen if a player accidentally dug himself stuck?.. One of the better suits was the "ninja suit", besides being awesome by the ninja-factor it was accompanied by a whole new world (solution for feedback #2), "new" enemies (just slap a bandana on all the old ones, solution for feedback #2 with minimal effort), and ninja attacks (solutions for feedback #3).

Workshop Session 2 - Game Concept Document: Rewrite

The first deliverable in SGA is the concept document. It's a mixture between the game design document and a sales pitch document, slimed down to actually readable material. Two simple rules: max one A4 page of text and unlimited illustrations (total number of pages becomes unlimited). The goal is to give the reader an idea of how the game is played. Most people go about it wrong and write about the story, or which buttons do what action - which still leaves you wondering if you're playing a action FPS or topdown RTS. With the feedback from the jury the goal is to write down max three goals for the final deliverable; the game demo and trailer. As a bonus, the jury were available for further feedback and would sit down with the teams helping them find a vision for their game.

Last words

The workshop worked out really well and the participants and jury liked both sessions a lot. They especially liked the fact that they could speak with each other, as the jury are as interested in the teams as vice versa. This event is something I really hope SGA continues to do, but we won't know if it really was worth it until the final deliverable - did the 12 teams really listen and improve their games? Stay tuned...

SGA final deliverable deadline: 19 May. Winners revealed: 2 June, at Kulturhuset in Stockholm, Sweden.
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I really wish I didn't miss hangin out at GDC this year :( Ah well hopefully you'll go to GDC next year as there is no way I'll miss 3 in a row.

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