For over a decade, I made a career out of trashing other people’s games, writing things like “It’s just not enjoyable in any conceivable way whatsoever” and “It doesn’t even begin to be good at any point at all”.
You see, when you’re a games journalist, you get to play more bad games than anyone else so you get to trash more games than anyone else. Gamers play the games they like, they pick and choose. But games journalists have to play a game regardless of whether it’s good or bad. And if you get a lousy one, you’re duty-bound to warn potential buyers off it. There’s no room for forgiveness.
My critique, however, came solely from a users’ point of view. I met a lot of developers, saw a lot of presentations, visited a lot of studios, played a lot of early builds of games, but I never really witnessed up close what it actually takes to create a game, especially a good one.
But as chance would have it, I came across a job ad for a game writer at Outfit7 Group that would involve being on the opposite side of the game divide. Let’s just say I was curious and applied. I became even more interested in the job once I received the expertise test during the application process – it wasn’t just about writing texts, it was also about getting involved in the user experience and the design of the games. My kinda thing, I thought.
Once I got the job, I was ready and keen to apply the gaming knowledge I’d gathered as a journo to my new role. I tell you though, my perspective on game development totally shifted within days:
Making games is HARD.
Developing a game from scratch is a totally different ball game to critiquing a ready-to-play product. The sheer number of people involved, across different departments and different specialist skill sets, combined with the number of stages and iterations a game goes through in the space of a year, not to mention all the decisions that have to be debated, then made, then tested, then un-made, then debated and made again…
Just keeping the production of a game moving forward at all is a challenging enough task, but ensuring that it’s also a great game when it’s finished… there are people working miracles here, man!
I wouldn’t say I’m one of them, at least not yet, but I am responsible for all of the text in our games, which is itself no simple task. There are a lot of factors to be taken into account. All Outfit7 in-game text has to be lively and fun, but also clear and easy to understand. And it has to fit in the space available. And it has to be translatable into a lot of different languages.
One seemingly small task I had early on was to name all of the visitors who come to Talking Tom’s water park in Talking Tom Pool. I say “seemingly small” because the game was hardly going to sink or swim on the strength of the names of some minor characters. But when I was playing the game with my 7-year-old nephew over Christmas, I discovered that he already had some favourite park visitors, and even knew them by name.
“Look! It’s Prickly Clare!” he’d announce, excitedly pointing at the screen, “And here comes Soda Sid!”. It was great to see that the character names really meant something to him, and really added to the fun. And awesome to know that there are millions of kids like him all over the world who enjoy our games in the same way.
In order to write texts for our games, I’ve had to quickly learn about all the different aspects that make them so successful. It’s really made me focus on the design of user experience. Good text is just one aspect of great UX. Honestly, now that I can witness from the inside just how much difficulty, complexity and risk is involved in developing and publishing games, I appreciate them on a whole new level, and with a real sense of awe and wonder.
But I also get why Outift7’s games are as popular as they are and why they collectively have more downloads than there are people on the planet! Here we’re all involved in the process one way or another – no talent or idea is wasted. Everyone has the opportunity to contribute and develop ideas, and there’s always time to polish, refine and perfect what we do. One thing that our CEO Jure Prek said to me early on was “Nothing’s ever final at Outfit7”, and it took a little while to get my head around what he meant. It certainly doesn’t mean there’s never enough time to finish things. In fact, it’s more like the opposite – there’s always time to improve our products, even after they’ve been released – a luxury afforded by very few employers and something I just love about our company culture!