November 12, 2009, In the first part of this blog post I talked about the branding components of an Advergame. In part 2, we will discuss what makes for a great Computer Game, and in turn a great Advergame.
Think back to time when you first discovered video games – the thrill and excitement of actually interacting with some element on the screen was enthralling. Now, stop and think about your favorite video game. What made it so special? Was it the graphics, the action, the story, the music, or a combination of things that simply immersed you in the experience? Why would you spend hour after hour in front of your computer screen being transformed into an altered state? You can almost hear your mom calling from the other room “Stop playing that stupid game and get back to doing your homework. No one is going to pay you to play video games!"
Today you can indeed make a living playing computer games, and even though it is hard work, developing computer games can be very rewarding. Let’s take a look at some of the elements that go into great game design and answer the question – “What makes for a great computer game?”
Ask a veteran gamer to describe in a single word what makes their favorite game, and most likely they will say “gameplay.” Gameplay describes the interaction between the player and game. Simply put – it’s the overall experience you get from playing the game. A great game will be engaging, not too hard to learn, visually appealing, and most of all fun to play. If you dream about the game when you are away from the computer, or hit the “replay” button even when your eyes are closing and head nodding off from lack of sleep you know this game has great gameplay.
The perfect example is Pong. Pong is a game that is simply 4 walls, two lines to represent paddles, and a ball that bounces back and forth around the screen. The game was simple, straightforward, weak on graphics, but had amazing gameplay that kept people lined up at arcade machines. You are immersed in the experience, and if asked how long you have been playing, your guess may actually be half of the real time you have been in front of your monitor. It may be easy to confuse gameplay with screen graphics, a specific game engine, or the underlying story, but these are mere elements to the game.
Gameplay Equals Interactivity.
Gameplay is a series of challenges that provides you with choices that result in rewards or consequences. Often, you are provided with incomplete information, so both luck and logic play a role in your success. Keep in mind that gameplay is very subjective in nature and one person’s definition of a great game may be far different from another’s. The concept of gameplay applies to every game in existence from the newest 3D shooter to now-ancient 8-bit video and arcade games. Advergames are no different. The gameplay must be just as addicting, if not more, compared to the newest games around. They cannot rely on fast computers and the latest hardware to become amazing, instead they must work on a broad range of machines while remaining fun to play.
The gameplay involved in Advergames tends to be simpler and more straightforward when compared to regular games. All users in your target audience must be able to quickly learn the controls of your game and be able to enjoy it. Graphics While gameplay may be the most important aspect of your game, graphics play a crucial role in capturing and getting someone to try it out. In today’s gaming world, graphics and gameplay go hand in hand when creating those addictive games that keep you mesmerized. Graphics serve two purposes, first to create a stunning appearance that attracts the attention of new people and second to help create an immersive experience that users love. Today’s greatest games don’t look like a mass of copied and pasted art, but rather involve a cohesive design that was created specifically to work with the game.
Dark characters are placed in gritty settings while cartoon characters are placed in simpler, colorful atmospheres. To create an appealing game, a designer has to ensure that nothing is out of place and everything is aesthetically pleasing. Never underestimate the importance of great “eye candy”. Advergames are not expected to have the same quality artwork that is seen in games today. As with regular game designs, graphics are used to set up the atmosphere of a game and help to provide an immersive experience.
Where regular games are using real 3D layouts and complex layouts, Advergames can and, depending on your layout, should utilize attractive, yet simpler art. Incorporating complex 3D models into an Advergame pushes the game’s file size higher and higher resulting in longer download times for online Advergames. In addition, regular games tend to place high demands on a computer’s processing power, often times utilizing 100% of both the processor and graphics card while taking up a lot of RAM. With an Advergame, there is no room for taxing system resources as most people are looking for Advergames that are easy to start and allow them to have other things going on in the background.
And finally the problem of accessibility still exists. If everyone had a fast computer released in the last year, 3D models would not be a problem, but today many people are still using computers over five years old, or working with slower internet connections. If you create a game that is too intensive for these computers to handle, you’re immediately limiting your audience and crippling the effectiveness of your Advergame.
Music and Sound Effects
The next time you play your favorite video game, turn off the sound. Immediately, the mood changes, and the game has lost something very special. The addition of sound effects and carefully selected music gets the player emotionally involved in the action. When the music matches the level of action on screen, it’s truly a beautiful thing. Try playing a video game with the express purpose of listening to the music and hearing how the developer enriched the experience through the addition of sound. For additional inspiration, pay close attention to movie scores and see if you notice that some of the same techniques used in films are applied directly to video games. Unlike with a scene in a film, game music has to evolve and adapt to reflect the player's actions.
Sometimes, sound quality is sacrificed for the flexibility that comes with triggering digital sounds directly from the computers sound chip. “Interactive Music” must be flexible enough to be looped and unlike a movie, may vary in length from player to player. The key is to keep the momentum up and not make it boring. The only difference that exists with sound and music between Advergames and real games is the quality at which it is presented. In regular games, sound can be presented at the highest quality in a variety of methods including quadraphonic and surround sound, but in Advergames you have the same restraints that exist with graphics. Advergames deployed online need to remain wary of file size and all Advergames need to worry about their end users’ system capabilities.The tools used to create Advergames may also be very limiting, not even supporting higher quality sound.
Another aspect that gamers look at is the game’s storyline. Does it have a long, involved story that becomes an immersive experience, or does it completely lack a story and rely solely on gameplay and graphics to keep players interested? Depending on a gamer’s mood they tend to go for one or the other. A storyline is most commonly achieved through one of two ways. The first is to create a game that takes hours to complete with a storyline so developed it is almost like reading a book. The game ensnares the user by keeping them immersed in an ever developing plotline with twists and turns that mimic the cliffhangers in bestselling novels.
A great storyline relys on the desire to “find out what happens next” to keep the gamer coming back. The other option is to create a series of games that builds a story. This method is much more ideal for an Advergame since you can create installments to keep people coming back to see the next game. This technique is used in Webisodes and Web comics that release a new episode or strip on a regular basis. It is most effective if you have offers or content that change often and want your clients to remain aware of what is going on.
By embedding a brand into a video game, marketers are discovering a new way to draw attention to their products and services. Understanding branding and the elements of a great video game are critical to success. Advergaming blends branding with interactive video games and is quickly becoming an important tool in the arsenal of Product and Marketing Managers. Advergames are a form of Viral Marketing where “word of mouse” rewards the customer when they help with some of the heavy lifting that comes with releasing a new product, or promoting an existing brand.
At one extreme is a game that simply slaps a logo on the screen or displays a banner ad. At the other is a game that is created from the ground up specifically to showcase the unique features of the brand and immerse the player in the message. Advergames represent a great opportunity for individual game developers trying to break into the industry as well as multimedia development companies who are looking to extend their offerings into the game arena. This emerging sector of the game industry also merits serious consideration by advertisers who are looking for addictive content to build brand awareness and sales. Read, experiment, design, develop, play, and most important of all, have some fun creating a brand focused game. In the end, having fun and building a buzz about a brand is what Advergaming is all about.
Posted by Vic Cherubini on November 11, 2009
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