Interesting Marketing Techniques of Video Games

I’ve been learning about marketing and the business aspects of game development in my Game Design class. Coincidentally I saw a tweet that made me think about this a little more. AAA games are being developed for 20-40 million dollars. Then there’s another 10 million odd dollars they spend on marketing. Having ads before the Star Wars movie to having front isle display pieces and kiosks.

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Marketing can be done in different forms.

Ad Campaigns:

The most recent one I saw was Uncharted 4’s campaign before the Star Wars movie. It was this heartwarming story-like ad which talked about the emotions of the characters and how the game has evolved to what it is today. It was an impressive ad but ofcourse was in CG. It was the perfect time slot for a game that massive. It captured the right audience to a good extent as well.

In-game Ads:

The typical model chosen by most mobile developers is to have ads in their game. InMobi has introduced this new feature wherein you can actually play the game while the ad pops up. The ad loads a level in the game and it helps the guest understand the most fun part of the game. Its like a mini-game inside a game.

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Amazon:

This is the reason why I started writing about this. I came across this marketing channel recently from Neil Druckmann’s tweet. It is possible to tie up with Amazon and have packaging boxes with the game’s branding on it. I thought this was quite an interesting take on marketing. I was reading up on this and I noticed even Call of Duty did it about 4 years back. They also have a unique URL to the game on Amazon. I feel this is a powerful way of marketing the game. In a country where there are a ton of packaging boxes being used a day, this approach helps reach the audience that might not be hooked onto IGN or GameSpot.

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Naughty Dog is doing the same with Uncharted. Here’s the packaging for the same:

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Here’s the tweet I was talking about:

https://twitter.com/Neil_Druckmann?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

States in Shadow of Mordor

Isn’t is cool that a game can exist in different forms or states across guests but at the end of the day its the same game. Shadow of Mordor is an action-adventure video game created by Monolith Productions, more importantly the makers of Captain Claw. I would probably write about Captain Claw later as it was one of my favourite games growing up.

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Shadow of Mordor came out with their new Nemesis System wherein the enemies around us come ‘alive’ in the most realistic way possible. Mordor is an open-world game and our protagonist encounters enemies in the form of Uruks spread across the world. Like other games, these Uruks get suspicious of you, chase you around and even attach you. But the best part about them is that, incase they kill you during a battle, they directly enter the Nemesis System hierarchy. They enter the ranks of Sauron’s army directly. If we’re defeated again, they start to grow in ranks.

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There is almost a parallel story to these Captains in the ranks. They often have fights between themselves, they overthrow others above and below them and there’s always new Uruks that join the ranks from time to time. The eco-system of these Uruks are maintained seemlessly throughout the game. This is different for each guest as the hierarchy can be completely different even if two of them are at the same point in the game’s storyline.

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Also, incase guests encounter battles with these Uruks and the Uruks survive or flee, they bear scares and injuries from their battle with the guest. They also remember how the guest fought during their previous encounter and also talks about it before the fight begins. This is such an interesting mechanic to have as its so powerful in storytelling. Revisiting someone from the past and them having memories from that encounter is a great experience for the guest.

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The knowledge of the Uruks can be used by the player by dominating them and collecting intelligence which could be used to build strategies or to have insights into war chiefs higher up in the hierarchy.Thus the whole game world is build on state transitions and intentional emergences providing the interactor with a more real world experience.

I have never seen such a state being saved throughout the game and how it affects the entire play-through of the game.

Breakdown of Eagle Flight by Ubisoft

Last week, I was fortunate to attend the Game Developers Conference (GDC) at San Francisco. I was excited to be part of the event and to check out all the latest advancements and talks in the game development community. Another major attraction towards the event was ofcourse VRDC. This time, GDC had a dedicated mini-conference for virtual reality. This was not even a summit. It was much more than that. They actually had to shift the venue to a larger space to accommodate for the large number of people who were attending that event. There were a lot of interesting virtual reality experiences.

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One of them that caught my attention was the Eagle Flight game by Ubisoft for the Oculus Rift. During our research and development for Sony PlayStation, I tried out many games for virtual reality, but this game gave me a higher sense of immersion compared to many others despite being grounded to a chair. The game comprised of a 2 vs 2 capture the flag setting over the network. Guests were not falling sick despite being a fast-paced game. The game had a black vignette effect around the periphery of the eyes which dynamically changed as you tilted your head to change direction of the eagle. This was interesting as it blocked out the light to your eyes from that direction. But this effect was not viewable while wearing the headset. The only way I noticed this was by observing others play the demo. Research proves that motion is most perceived using the corner of our eyes.

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Also, the game implemented a subtle motion blur which always directed the guest’s eyes to the center of the screen. The game also has a beak as a point of reference as though the guest is being railroaded in virtual reality. The game being fast paced, got me slightly sick, not during the fast-paced chasing sequences but when I got out of such situations which was surprising to me as I always avoided fast paced sequences during the prototyping phase for our projects. I noticed a lot of guests including myself, weaving their way through the buildings, either chasing or being chased by their opponents. It was interesting to see that none of them were actually falling sick in the experience.

Also, Ubisoft made sure everyone spent enough time in the virtual world, in the single player game before jumping into the multiplayer version of the game. This ensured guests were comfortable with the game before jumping into a multiplayer showdown with other people.

In short, the game is quite well made for virtual reality and Ubisoft has given more emphasis on the head-based tracking rather than mapping out a bunch of controls to a controller.

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Co-op in single player games

Back in the days, co-op was always on split screen. I’m reminded on Need For Speed 2 where I used to race with my friends taking over Proving Grounds. For the longest time, split-screen was the most logic and direct approach to single couch, co-op.

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But then in the middle of it all, Sony came up with this mind-blowing technology of 3D TVs that would spit out two different displays for two separate headsets. The day they announced it, I was super excited to see where the technology was going to take us as it was plausible to refresh between two different views and have the glasses only pick up one. I could never get my hands on one and by the looks of things I do not think that technology went too far either.

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And now recently I played the game Bothers – A Tale of Two Sons and I just fell in love with the game. I’m not going to talk about the game and how beautiful the game design is, but rather their approach to how they’ve taken a game and implemented both single player and multiplayer elements which can be switched out any time the guests feel like. If my friend was to take a bathroom break, I could continue playing the game without having to wait for him. Also, the game can be played alone as well. The game has different challenges when played as single player and multiplayer.

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So the game works like this. You have two brothers, controlled by the two analog sticks of the controller. The brothers are controller separately and L2 and R2 is the only other key you need to use for the two brothers. Its a puzzle solving game, wherein the puzzles require interaction from both the characters and also needs to be in sync. They have also made use of the two buttons as a push and release mechanic to avoid using other keys. So if you’re grabbing a ledge by holding onto the button, directing it to another foothold and releasing the button would make the character jump towards that position. This mechanic was interesting and to build a game around just one button was fascinating.

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The environment was also beautifully and meticulously planned out and even though the game an almost flat interest curve without a lot of twists and turns during the game, it does end in a non-traditional sense of video game storytelling which the developers have ceased quite well and have used that in their favor. All in all, it was a great game to experience and play.

First Global Game Jam

I participated in my first Global Game Jam last weekend. Come to think of it, this was my first hackathon event I was a part of and I wasn’t sure what to expect from it. The event took place in 48 hours and we had to deliver a game within that time frame. So in this post, I would like to go through the thought-process of how the game came to be. Game Jams usually have prompts each year and this year the prompt was ‘Rituals’.

Once we had our prompt in place, we started brain-storming as a team to figure out how we could build a fun game around it. From the beginning, we did not want to do a regular game. We wanted to go out of the box like how everybody wants to when it comes to any event. This is us brain-storming ideas:

Prototyping

The Toy

We discussed about various rituals in different countries, went on to discussing about satanic rituals (the obvious choice), funny rituals, scary rituals and down right disgusting ones. The most interesting thing about such events is that brainstorming happens under an hour as time is of the essence. Slowly, everybody started to branch out into their own ideas and suddenly we were struck with this idea of the tooth-fairy legend – about how the tooth fairy picks up teeth that has fallen off and inturn leaves money under the pillow. We were working on a storyline for that when we came up with the ritual of having a Thanksgiving turkey. Everybody loved the idea!

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We started iterating on that. Once the toy was decided, we moved onto the mechanic of the game. Being a fun event, we decided the game should be multiplayer. Soon we decided the turkey should be controlled by two people. We decided to use two controllers to move the turkey in space and escape from humans. One guest would control the right wings/feet of the turkey and the other guest would control the left. If someone moved only to the left, the turkey would spin around in that direction and vice versa.

The next challenge was to get the right camera angle to do the same. We discussed between first person and third person camera and finally settled on how the third person camera made more sense for this game as the guests had to see the humans chasing after them.

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Level Design

We soon broke off into groups and started working on all the requirements. In the mean time, couple of us worked out a level design for the game where the turkey would start the game in the dining room and had to work its way through the house to get to escape from the same.

Final Game

This was what came out of the 48 hours of development – Turkesh

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Download Link – http://globalgamejam.org/2016/games/turkesh

Assassin’s Creed Franchise’s New Features

I’ve been a huge Assassins Creed fan. From the time the franchise started in 2007, I remember playing the game on my Nvdia 8600 and as Altair framed every other second. The Ezio story-line blew the franchise into a global phenomenon and Ubisoft took the franchise into new heights. I was fine with the way Revelations ended even though they left us hanging with the story-line. But they eventually caught onto something interesting.

I was blown away with the ending of Rogue and how it branched out into Assassin’s Creed Unity which in my opinion was a complete game even though quite a few people begged to different. The game was different. It showed branching narrative in each of the sub-missions. More importantly, each of these paths had a story-line to it.

Recently Assassin’s Creed Syndicate came out and I was so excited for the game, I went and got myself the Charing Cross Edition and no doubt it looks beautiful. The game starts off well and puts you in the boots of Jacob and Evie Frye, siblings in the Victorian London era. One way the game was different was, most of the main story-line stemmed from the train in which you took “shelter”. For some reason I did not completely understand that. At this point I’m doubting myself cause I’ve played games for a while now. I usually play the main story-line and then branch out into the side missions. But this time the narration between the characters forced me into the side missions for some reason and I still can’t wrap my head around that. I finished all the side missions and realised the entire game was still remaining.

This wasn’t the troubling part. The troubling parts began as I moved around the city of London. To start off with, the new rope launcher mechanism was interesting in terms of scaling buildings. But what annoyed me the most is that I could never cancel it. Accidentally pressing L1 would trigger this launcher and the protagonist starts to scale the building. Circle (O) didn’t do anything! I could never command him/her to not stop climbing. But while they were gliding from one building to another, they could cancel it in mid air which even facilitated air-assassinations. This was infuriating! Batman had a similar gadget and he could cancel it in the Arkham games.

Another issue that I faced were the camera angles that were implemented when we took over different territories. I felt it was ripped off from Shadow of Mordor. The way the people stood and ran head long into each other felt the same. Nothing was different. The protagonist would say his final words and then attack. Extremely similar to Shadow of Mordor. I don’t know why Ubisoft did that.

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Another feature that was borrowed from Shadow of Mordor (which was where I found it first) was the ‘R3 to reveal the protagonist’ feature. That matched Shadow of Mordor so well as it was part of the Nemesis system. Each Uruk leader was different. They had their strengths and weaknesses. Assassin’s Creed did not need that. Even though the idea of a territory was similar to that of Shadow of Mordor, they could have atleast implemented it differently. They did a half-ass job of copying an interesting mechanic that worked well for another game which did not translate well into this game as it did not involve stealth to defeat the enemy. It was a head-on confrontation. Losing that battle would only result in you getting killed unlike the Nemesis System which respawn you with the Uruks being more powerful and bearing scars from your previous encounter with them.

As I started the main story-line, killing the first leader (Rupert Ferris) was an instant let down for me. I could never come to terms with why the game designers did what they did. Once the protagonist is killed, they entered the Animus’ setup where they have their final exchange of words. Everything was going well as he was lying on the floor with Jacob (Evie) beside him. What happened next threw me away from the game instantly! While the protagonist talked, he was no longer lying down. He was standing up and talking straight at me.
I understand Ubisoft wanted to make you feel responsible of the decisions the guest took but this was not the way to do it. There was absolutely no connection between the guest and the protagonist. I was only introduced to him 5 minutes before the mission. He was speaking to Jacob not the guest. Assassin’s Creed, with its history, has never been about the guest. Its always been protagonist centric. Be it Altair, Ezio, Connor or Cormac, its been about their journey. It has never been about the guest’s journey. Forcing the guest’s reaction on themselves with this move, in my opinion was unwanted and unjustifiable.

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If you notice, his hat is on the floor. In the next shot, he’s wearing his hat and talking to the guest. I had discussed this issue on the Ubisoft Forums and the responses I got revolved around how the game is paying respect to the dead and also about how the choices made are the guest’s and not the avatar. From lectures I’ve attended from leading game designers like Jesse Schell, one thing to takeaway is that the guest never wants to be in the game. He wants to be the avatar. That’s the reason why features like mapping your face to a character in the game is still frowned upon.It is a reason why SIMS is so popular. Nobody wants to be in the game. People want their avatar to be in the virtual world, interacting with other virtual beings.

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The combat system has been improved. But there are times when the counter just never works even though you’re timing the counter perfectly. There have been frustrating times they kept happening but then again, the aggression in the kills and the fluidity in the combat took precedence over these minor issues.

I really like what Ubisoft has done with the franchise and their decision to make their launch every 2 years was a great move. As a fan, I’m not looking for a new Assassin’s Creed game every year, but a polished, well designed and developed game. With the recent announcement about how the next game will only be out in 2017, I’m really hoping the next instalment in the franchise will be more fun and exciting.