I was recently asked to make a simple conference on Game Design for people who conduct play-tests. These guys are so important, how could I possibly refuse? Also, these kinds of events are always interesting because every attempt to grasp the essence of game design brings new observations.
The presentation was covering the basics of game design and how we’re trying to create game experiences. Nothing super sophisticated but some interesting questions came out. I want to talk about two of those in particular…
The first question was: “What is game pacing?” It turned out they’ve asked this to several designers and never really felt they understood the concept accurately enough… Because of that, I decided to answer through an image. Great game pacing is like a well written book. When we’re really into it we count how many pages the next chapter has, if it’s quick and intriguing we can’t help ourselves but to read it. This urge is like a drug and often keeps us awake way too long. Writers have a lot of different tricks to provoke such a phenomenon. Some have some kind of 12 pages per chapter rule while others even tried to compose single phrase chapters.
Game pacing is the same. Designers must use every tool they have to keep player’s interest. Narrative structure, gameplay progression and sequence rhythm are only a few of those tools. It’s all about using the game design content smartly and each game needs a different recipe.
Following this answer, I got the REAL question: “How can we play-test and validate good game pacing?” Now that’s an interesting question. We cannot ask someone if he feels the pacing is right while he plays, his answer will not be reliable. But can we measure it? At that moment I remembered The Art of Innovation which I’ve read a while ago and how they were doing creative exercises to understand certain things. So I invited them to be creative and try to quantify the level of interest player’s had to the game. Of course, they wanted examples so I had to find something.
As crazy as it sounds, I suggested putting free coffee in the room and first invite players to take one. Then boot the game and evaluate how much time players would get attracted by a new coffee. Is the game doing better than the coffee machine?
What about you, do you believe the games you’ve done or the one you’re currently working on would beat free coffee aside the console? I know it is weird and imprecise, but remember it was a simple example to trigger creative thinking. I still have to admit I kind of like this weird play-test idea…