Why I just quit my console development job to try making social games

Hands down, best blog post title yet.

So. This is a big one. It also has absolutely nothing to do with Thomas Was Alone. Readers uninterested by subjects not involving rectangles should probably skip to the final paragraph.

Still here? Good. Right. Today was my final day in the conventional console games industry. I’ve worked for nearly 4 years designing levels and mechanics for a range of games on all modern consoles (I even got one out on the dusty old PS2!). For the last year I’ve worked with an amazing team coming up with ideas and producing pitch materials for a few games which have already made their way into development. It’s been awesome, and my (now) previous employer gave me an incredible number of opportunities to make fun stuff and be creative. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

So why, today, do I leave to step into a lead designer role at a new London based social games studio? Time for a big list 😀

My favourite game of last year was a social game

Minecraft was a profound experience for me. It showed me what could be achieved by a small team of incredibly talented people, and that those people could, you know, afford their rent while doing so. More importantly, it was a hardcore social game. The debates I’ve seen online generally go ‘hahaha minecraft is just farmville for nerds, har har, you’re as bad as a farmville player’. It’s a dumb argument, designed to troll and wind up hardcore players who despise Zynga style social games. The point is that Minecraft is undoubtedly a social game, about engaging in activity with the ultimate goal of being creative and sharing that creativity with others. It’s also a better game than Farmville :).

Social games are where the innovative design is going to be done in the next few years

Incidentally, my favourite console game was Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – a game which featured a Mafia Wars esque questing mechanic. Sure these social mechanics are inspired by mechanics as old as games themselves, but the field is ready for innovation, ready for games which put fun innovative experiences at their core. This is starting. I want to be part of that wave. Compare that to the current state of console games, where the genres are very well defined, and outside of some awesome indie studios, it’s about small tweaks rather than genuinely massive new ideas.

Small games made by small teams with low risks

Console game budgets have gotten ridiculous. Publishers plow so much money in that less and less risks can be taken, and inevitably that means less interesting work for designers who want to do something different. This is compounded by the fact that fewer of these AAA games are actually making their money back than ever before.

Compare that to the social games industry. Small teams gather around risky new ideas to make new experiences. Just like the early console and arcade days, cloning is rife – but just like those times, innovation isn’t just an aspiration, for many companies it’s a business model. Working as part of a small team, the pressure will be on me to create engaging new ways to play – and follow those ideas through

Iteration past the point of delivery

This is the big one for me. Social games don’t have a ship date. Design for console games is guesswork, you’re constantly trying to work out what a player will like. That’s helped by play testing and focus testing – but every game developer who’s waited with bated breath for their latest release to hit metacritic knows how much of a leap of faith every game is.

Social games aren’t released in the same way. They start small, building an audience. You can update and change the game around the players, producing an experience they want around them. I had a very small taste of this with Thomas Was Alone. I got a lot of messages in the first hour of its release telling me about a sucky challenge in an early level. I could dip in, make a jump more forgiving, and watch as people enjoyed my work more. I liked it. Social game development hinges on this kind of ongoing problem solving and reactive design.

I can’t wait!

I’m not entirely done with consoles

I’m not ruling out a return to console dev. I know some awesome guys I’d love to work with in the future. The time felt right to try this new exciting industry on for size. I expect there to be an increasing amount of overlap between the two fields as time goes on – especially as games move more into digital distribution, the cloud, and so on.

So those are the big five reasons. I’ll no doubt think of more the second I post this. I’d like to take the opportunity to say thanks and goodbye to my amazing colleagues at Blitz, the studio where I learned everything I know about game development.

The cool news is, none of this affects Thomas. The game will continue to be developed in my spare time. The amount of spare time I have has obviously been constricted by all the big changes – I’m moving to a new city, new job etc etc all in one go. But I aim to ramp up this blog with more content, as I begin to solve some design issues in the game, and come up with some cool mechanics.

Cheers for reading – time to go update all my social networking sites 🙂


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3 Responses to “Why I just quit my console development job to try making social games”

  1. Tweets that mention Why I just quit my console development job to try making social games « Thinking in Rectangles -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Robin Yang, Christian Arca, Mike Bithell, Carlos García, Justin Sicking and others. Justin Sicking said: RT @mikeBithell: New on the blog.. Why I just quit my console development job to try making social games http://bit.ly/ifLthM […]

  2. Ed Lago Says:

    interesting news mr mike.

    Actually i´m working in a casual game with some “social” aspects and the challenge is something really good.

    looking forward for your next projects.

    so now that you are out of blitz games? can you share some of your concept arts from invincible tiger? lol

    good luck dude

  3. mikebithell Says:

    cheers Ed,

    All Invincible Tiger assets / art is the property of the studios which made it I’m afraid.

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