Monthly Archives: June 2013

Designing Games and the heritage industry

Today I learned what the “heritage industry” is. And you can too, if you take a look a these two articles by heritage expert Matthew Tyler-Jones bouncing ideas out of Designing Games.

I do think there’s great value in cross-discipline pollination of ideas. Some people call it the Medici Effect – the observation that really groundbreaking thoughts come at the interface of fields that you didn’t think were related.

I wrote a response in comment to his second post.

Ludeon Studios is born

I’ve been working on an indie project called Eclipse Colony for a while now. I’ve just started creating a studio identity to attach it to. It is Ludeon Studios.


Currently, the company is just me. And it’s a stretch to even call it a company, since I still need to do the business paperwork of registering it as such. But it feels good to have hit a point where this old vague dream is finally coming half-alive.

And again, as with the book, I did a lot of pyjama work on the product before I even started working on the business chassis to surround it. This time, however, I’m getting to making a public face earlier because I want to get the publicity ball rolling.

I plan on having a playable version of Eclipse Colony ready soon. We’ve had a few playtests that went very well. In one, a couple testers played for three hours straight and wouldn’t stop until 3am. The game is still full of problems, but I have a pretty good feeling about Eclipse Colony so far.

Check out the studio and the game.

On Game Trading

Since this issue is big right now, I’ll just weigh in.


Forget about money for a second and focus on the physical reality.

Used game trading is a massively negative-sum economic activity. All those trading shops have to be built and staffed. People have to travel there and back. People have to spend mental effort to hunt around for games at low prices in an opaque market.

Simply transmitting all the games over the Internet, with a universal and transparent pricing model, would be massively less costly in real wealth, physical resources and human time.

Twisting Design

Second, note how much used games twist design goals. I don’t like having to muck around with my design to make it monetizable, or freemium, or to make it into a long grind so people won’t trade it in.

Freely-traded used games mean that long-grind games like WoW bring 100% of the profits to the developer (since there is no trading), while short-but-awesome games like Portal and BioShock bring only a small fraction of the profits to the developer (since huge numbers of copies will be traded around, suppressing demand for the new copies). The end result is huge economic pressure away from short, rich games towards all this other stuff.

I’d rather the only pressures game designers were worried about was making a better game. Because this economic twisting effect is seriously affecting how we design our games, and not in a good way. I want more short, rich games.

We Already Live Without It

Funny thing is, we’ve had a trade-less online distribution system for years. It’s called Steam, and it works very well.

And Steam sales demonstrate quite clearly how low new (though not just-released) game prices can go in a transparent market that’s not being flooded by dirty dusty scratched copies of games from a store on the corner.

There’s no reason to make a console phone home every 24 hours, like the Xbox One does. But I really do wish game trading would go away. I think we’d all benefit in the end.

The Simulation Dream

This article is a written version of a talk I delivered at Ottawa International Game Conference on June 1 2013. I also posted it on Gamasutra where it got some good discussion, and designer Jiwon Ryu of Nexon translated it into Korean.


There’s an old dream in game design. It drives the design of games like SimCity, Dwarf Fortress, Tropico, The Sims, and Prison Architect. I like to call it the Simulation Dream.

In 1996, Starr Long, the associate producer of Ultima Online, talked about the game before release:

“Nearly everything in the world, from grass to goblins, has a purpose, and not just as cannon fodder either. The ‘virtual ecology’ affects nearly every aspect of the game world, from the very small to the very large. If the rabbit population suddenly drops (because some gung-ho adventurer was trying out his new mace) then wolves may have to find different food sources (e.g., deer). When the deer population drops as a result, the local dragon, unable to find the food he’s accustomed to, may head into a local village and attack. Since all of this happens automatically, it generates numerous adventure possibilities.”

That’s the Simulation Dream – the idea of making a complex simulation of a story world, which creates fascinating emergent stories as powerful as those you might write yourself. The idea bursts with potential. And it appears everywhere. Early in the development of BioShock, that game had an ecology too. There were three parts to it. Splicers would hunt Gatherers, who were in turn guarded by Protectors. The player was supposed to interact with and manipulate this ecology to survive.

But these dreams shattered. After its release, Richard Garriott said of Ultima Online:

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