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Game designer crosses over from making Halo games to Zynga’s social games — he’s never going back (interview) | VentureBeat


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GamesBeat: Do you see it as a question like, “If you had infinite time, what games would you play?” And you could sort people out better that way. I would go back to a lot of these console games if I had 60 hours to kill, but then there’s a lot of people who would never get there even if they had all that time. They’re only going to play casual titles.

Veevaert: So I’ll challenge you again because I like going back and forth. I don’t have the time I used to have five years ago to sit down in front of the TV, throw a game in a console, and get invested in it. Because I know, even in something like Dead Space 2, I had to finish that game. I had to go from start to finish. Or Red Dead Redemption. I had to put my 23 hours in and finish the game. I didn’t feel like playing it incrementally: half a level today and come back to it next week. You have to be on it every night to stay in the experience of it. I found that, as far as my own lifestyle, that just doesn’t fit anymore. I’m curious about you. Does that still work for you?

GamesBeat: Yeah, I think that’s true. All these things have happened at once: the arrival and the usefulness of smartphones, and how they can take your time away. Because now you can do work at any time. I can work 24 hours a day now. I can be productive on my smartphone. I’ve got kids going to soccer games a lot. Maybe at halftime I’ve got some time to do something.

Veevaert: Isn’t that funny? I have a 9-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old boy. He took the controller away from me, literally, and became the default core gamer in the house. He’s the guy who plays everything. But even he’s pulling away from console games. He got more interested in the iPad and in playing more quick, accessible games. It’s been this interesting transition. How do I find the level of fulfillment I used to think was great in a console game, where I put in 15 or 20 hours a week? Now it’s just not the same thing anymore.

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Veevaert: Yeah. My son’s been dredging up old stuff like Mario Kart — just fun stuff we like to play. It’s interesting. In my console history, we spent so much time working on graphics and on the 720p resolution, making sure we had proper tiling. The framerate had to be perfect. There couldn’t be any latency loss between anything — just as seamless as possible. There are these interesting stats we came across about how many people finished Halo 3. This is what blew us away. We thought the numbers would be a lot higher, but it was actually around 20 percent. If you flipped it around, it would be like if people went to a movie and 80 percent of them walked out of the film before it was over. But people didn’t feel compelled enough to keep going. It’s a game that sold 12 million units, and yet only 20 percent of those people bothered to finish it. I thought, “God, isn’t that interesting?”

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Veevaert: Yeah. I think they’re talking about mobile there. When you talk about mobile, it’s monumental: what happens to the new iPhone, the new iPad, and how tablets take off. See, it’s interesting. A lot of times, the competition for that core market added up to everybody going for the same guy. That same 25-to-34-year-old. Everybody was competing for that same guy. Here’s the next first-person shooter. Here’s the next real-time strategy game.

The market here is so wide open, it’s amazing. And we see how fast games can grow on the Zynga network. It’s incredible. Even a game like Slingo grew to 4 million relatively quickly. People were able to adopt it, play it, and have a great time. Now it’s a matter of how we keep those people engaged in playing those games. How do we create cadenced content that keeps them engaged over a longer period of time? That’s what it’s about. I think that for a lot of console companies getting into the space, there are a lot of lessons to be learned. It’s not a matter of just putting the game up and letting people play it. Facebook and the web culture in general indicate to people that content is going to be fresh and hot. You’re not going to get the same game every time you go back. Do you look for something different every time you go back and play a game?

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Veevaert: I think a lot of people go through the same process I did. I assumed that game development and design was going to be really simplistic and rudimentary. Like, how complicated could this be? And even with a game like Ruby Blast or Slingo, we were shocked at the level of design: level to level, moment to moment, click to click. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in thinking about, “What do we get from that first two to three to four minutes of gameplay?” We never thought that way in the console world. We’d be saying, by level three, here’s where the player is going to be. We just assumed you were going to get to level three. We assumed you’d get here, move a bit forward, shoot, keep going, and you’d just get to level three.

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You can look at what stimulates great social interactions. That’s the part that’s fun. You might be playing on the phone, I’d be playing on the web, she’d be playing on the iPad, and all three of us could be adding to each other’s experiences, no matter where we are. That, to me, is awesome. You don’t have to be in front of the TV at 8 o’clock tonight. I can contribute to your gameplay experience today, wherever I’m traveling and wherever you’re traveling. I like the idea that we’re creating content that has a light narrative, and collectively we’re sharing and exploring the story together.

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