Friday, March 30, 2007

Game Designer as Event Host

It occurs to me that if game design is about creating an enjoyable player experience, it must share something in common with other fields that have similar goals: hotel guest services, cruise ship directing, wedding/party planning, and special event hosting. The abstract idea of "customer-centric" thinking and design applies to all of these.

Yesterday, we were fortunate enough to have a special event on campus that was one of the most terribly-run things I've had the misfortune to attend. It was a great case study for my design students; I hope they come back in future years to provide such a powerful object lesson for future classes.

The event was run by some promotions company that was apparently hired by Microsoft to push the Xbox 360, but in the process picked up game-friendly sponsors like Best Buy and (for some reason) Suzuki. They were certainly well-funded; they came with a pimped-out car and a large bus with sponsor decals all over, and they brought forty 360's (I suppose that makes one Xbox 14400, har) and so many plasma screens, and all kinds of giveaway swag. The guys running the event had an average of about ten years experience each. So, they had all the tools and potential for a massively successful event on any college campus. Which makes the whole thing that much more disappointing (and informative).

Among their errors:
  • No advance promotion of the event. They had people scattered across campus handing out fliers the morning of. No one I talked to knew anything about it beforehand, in spite of there being rather prominent television, radio and newspaper media all over the place.
  • Very loud music was playing at the event, making it impossible to hear any sound from the games themselves. This made the new Dance Dance Revolution game impossible to play.
  • All those consoles and not enough controllers. Dance Dance Revolution (a game meant to be played socially) had one dance mat per console, so you couldn't play with a friend (and it was one of those cheap $10 pads too, so you couldn't play any advanced songs). Fuzion Frenzy 2, a party game meant to be played with four people, had two controllers. Gears of War, a first-person shooter known for its excellent multiplayer mode (and equally known for its mediocre one-player) had one controller.
  • Some guy was trying to be an emcee, walking around with a microphone and taunting the people who were trying to play. In the words of one of my students, "he was trying way too hard to look like he was cool."
  • Overall, the whole thing just felt like it was put together by people who knew a lot about promotional events... and absolutely nothing about games or gamers. The result is similar to what happens when an all-male team of game developers tries to make a game for little girls.

What lessons do we learn about game design from this? Well, that's an exercise I left to my students!

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