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Game Design as Pedagogy

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On 4/18/18 at 3:30pm, I attended the Online Learning Consortium Virtual Conference Session Game Design as Pedagogy in an online session co-presented by John Stewart and Keegan Long-Wheeler of the University of Oklahoma.

Game Design As Pedagogy

We began this session by discussing game design as part of broader movement of active learning. Game design, like game play, readily fits into flipped and project-based learning pedagogies. Students must account for the many levels of their creation—as a narrative, as a game, as a journey to facilitate learning and self discovery.

This was fairly rigorous with some nice back-and-forth among the participants. Many wanted to use it in their classes and were looking for some practical methods, while others had used it ineffectively and were looking for tips which would improve performace.

A Bit of Background

Research conducted over the last twenty years has grounded game-based learning and gamification in both behaviorist and constructivist pedagogical frameworks (Rooney 2012).

However, there is still work to be done in assessing the pedagogical utility of game design in the classroom. Within the modern paradigm of ‘student creators,’ what are the pedagogical foundations for having students design games related to their coursework?

More Discussion

After some background discussion, we moved to discuss game design as part of broader movement of active learning.

For example, the game design framework allows students to reflect on the authenticity and fidelity of their game scenarios versus real world application of the skills and knowledge students convey in game design projects. This meta-reflection requires students to identify core concepts and embed them into narratives. Choosing game mechanics requires students to evaluate the best means of conveying content—a strength of game design over traditional project based learning. This iterative process of designing a game involves constant evaluation of core concepts and player experiences as students must account for the many levels of their creation—as a narrative, as a game, as a journey to facilitate learning and self discovery, etc.

Engaging Students

Using this framework for game design can engage students as teachers, as storytellers, and as problem solvers while simultaneously allowing for open-ended creativity.

Here, the co-presenters introduced the concept of game design as a pedagogical framework to start a conversation on the successes and challenges that instructors might face or have faced in the classroom.

Several people (myself included) discussed how gamification in the classroom has been working. There were a few hits (discussing the work Nicolas D’Agata has done with WEB141 Mobile Application Development). There were also a few misses (my work with WEB140 Web Development Tools was discussed. As I mentioned it as “chocolate-covered broccoli”, it elicited quite a few laughs. Most people who found gamification worked included it as an aside, and as a way of improving existing coursework. Many k-12 teachers used game-based math or english items like Prodigy, Reflex Math and WebMath items to keep students excited and ready for more.

They encourage participants will bring their own stories about students making and playing games. Some people made games as ways of working with statistics, determining the best mechanics for accurate and fair gameplay, etc.

Q&A:

  • What skillsets are students practicing when engaged in the game design process?
  • What pedagogies are inherent in the game design process?
  • What challenges should instructors anticipate when bringing game design into the classroom? Do these challenges vary by analog/digital game design?
  • How can game design be used to empower student voice and yield authentic projects?
  • How can students make the world a better place using game design?
  • What tools/platforms are available for game design in the classroom?
  • How is game design accomplished in online learning spaces versus face-to-face?
  • How to do we support student game design projects? Technically? Pedagogically?

In sharing ideas and stories, participants were encouraged to reflect on both their successful course interactions and what they have learned from failed classroom interventions. As a group, participants  explored pedagogical frameworks for implementing game design in their courses and engage with best practices.

Conclusion

It wasn’t really all that practical 100% of the time. Still, it is difficult to make a conference program that will be useful on a generic topic (gamification) and make it relevant to a specific group (curriculm education).

Presenters

Lead Presenter: John Stewart, University of Oklahoma

John Stewart is the Assistant Director of Digital Learning for the OU Center for Teaching Excellence. John is interested in developing learning environments to promote digital literacy and opportunities for undergraduate research. Before joining the center, John lectured on history of science at the University of Oklahoma and Missouri University of Science and Technology. He earned his Ph.D. in the History of Science from the University of Oklahoma.

Co-presenter: Keegan Long-Wheeler, University of Oklahoma

Keegan Long-Wheeler is an educational technologist in the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Oklahoma. Keegan uses his background in science, pedagogy, and technical expertise to provide instructors with holistic solutions to their instructional and technological needs. Additionally, Keegan passionately creates open source professional development curriculum to engage faculty in digital literacy, experiential learning, game design, coding, and more! In particular, Keegan loves working with Domain of One’s Own projects and his open professional development programs: GOBLIN eXperience Play, WebFest, Canvas Camp, and more!
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Marketing Your Game in 2018 and Beyond

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At 10:00am on 4/18/2018, I attended the presentation “Marketing Your Game in 2018 and Beyond”, Presented by Logan Williams Founder of Indie Wolverine, at the 2018 East Coast Gaming Conference in At the Raleigh Convention Center in Raleigh, NC.

Marketing Your Game in 2018 and Beyond

Logan Williams of Indie Wolverine is a marketing & PR specialist in the video game industry. Logan has supported over 12 games in the span of 2 and a half years and has helped his clients earn coverage from the largest gaming publications around the world. Notable games Logan has supported are GRAV, Cosmic Trip VR, Heart Forth Alicia, Polygod, Reflex Arena and more.

 

More games are being released at a higher volume than ever before on the largest PC game digital distribution platform (Steam). With the mobile market and now PC games market becoming overcrowded and overly competitive, it’s feast or famine. Marketing isn’t an option and influencer marketing is no longer low-hanging fruit.

In this talk, we broke down marketing & PR in the video game industry to simple terms and begin to expand on more creative ways we can communicate the values of our games to our target market. This included ways to utilize guerilla marketing tactics and how to get the most out of our launch (Early Acess release, full release, major update etc..).

I hope to leave this talk with a new understanding of marketing and PR in the video game industry and the added creative knowledge of how to make the most of existing communication strategies.

This talk was aimed at industry newbies to professionals.

PRESENTATION

Catch the whole slide presentation at: https://www.slideshare.net/LoganWilliams2/ecgc-2018-marketing-your-game-in-2018-and-beyond

Indie Wolverine operates by default using guerilla marketing. Most customers have a few weeks until launch to gain coverage when they walk into the office.

FAILURE IS A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY

Last year, their business had a large-ish failure. They worked with a VR team with Steam Early access title, and they handled the process from early release, and they were picked up by tons of attention-getting youtubers. The attention converted into sales. Sales were great and the alunch with early access went well. rather than small updates, the teams focused on 2-3month update cycles.

Due to the large success in the past, expectations were high. Kotaku noted his game was the favorite VR game to date. They felt they could reach out to positive reviewers. A 3-week pre-release note went out with reviewers and new press. The first round went out with virtually no response. The 2nd-week pre-release note got little or no responses. People were opening the email, but there was no response. The development team was stoked, but red flags were flying all over the place. As this was a first in-studio experience he could see the excitement. On launch, only niche clients responded, and sales did not meet expectations.

On the flight home, he was disgusted, felt sick to his stomach. Mitigating the risk and stress became his mission moving forward. We’ll talk about PR but its really about mitigating stress on launch.

Steam mechanics here show that in 2017, 7,700 games were released- roughly by the numbers that’s 20 new games every single day. As noted repeatedly in podcasts by the Jimquisition, having so many products available there is no way to get your product noted and its very easy to find your materials reshuffled out of sight.

COMMUNITY BUILDING

This is something which is important and will always be important. These are your embassadors. They are ready and available on day 1. So have an incentive- give them a reason to buy your game. Engage that community- let them know and listen as they are an extension of your studio. Leverage that community- build the community and use that to make a following that uses the products, informs developers and community, and entices others to take part.

An incentive might be exclusive access to an exclusive build. Getting them in the door isn’t the last step, but rather the first step to building that community. Have team members amke contests, make them feel safe and valued and engaged. Leverage that community to validate the material you’re producing. Use the community to leverage merchandizing, partnerships, etc.

It can get worse. Self-published book authors might face 100,000 fiction books each year and they’re marketing on amazon. Building the community is the answer. How? Through mailing lists, connections, etc. The connected community are your footsoliders. They aren’t being paid, they’re paying you!

He used discord to build a dream community for our game descenders. WIth numerous options, they built a discord server with an exclusive release. They gave competition through team, protected channels, built community, and used the data to buildi nthe features which were used most by the community. You cannot depend on the game or mechanics. Community you can control

 

From the beginning of game build, you’ll have newsworthy beats for the media. Be organized. Have the ammunition and planned communication. Writers are trying to delight the reader. Give them good amunition. Be clear. Always have a clear call to action. Be clear to the media on what is new, what you’re doing, what they’ll like, where they should go, how you’d like it covered, how to contact you. This is for any communications. Have goals. What is the end goal? Organize your news feeds with a goal in mind. If the announcement gets on IGN, and you didn’t provide next steps for the readers, and the product doesn’t launch in the next month, you’ll disappear. If you have an exclusive beta on discord, include that info.

If you have a moment to shine, don’t step back and say “I’ll be back in 6 months”

EMPATHY

the abilty to understand… Empathy and creativity aligns you for success. This is especially good when dealing with the press. they have an audience. They need great content that the audience wants to know. The bigger audience the author can leverage, the more they can command value and attention. Put yourself in the shoes of the writer. not only that, but the audience of that writer. What does the reader want and how do you get them stoked toplay/buy this. What’s your value to the publisher? what’s your value to them

TARGETED OUTREACH

Google, twitter, and easily voila norbert.

Last night in the AIRBnB, he searched for the google query only in the IGN website AND VR. Here’s the result

Finding writers who like the genre and game type you create can be found this way. Use the tools button to change the date back to certain dates (not more than a year ago). This is a great way to reach out to writers who will likely have well-received reviews. In this example, I might not choose Calum Marsh, as he have only 1.5 stars. Rather than a cold email, a twitter contact might be good- we have their email, but in this example:

You might get immediate feedback. If you want anything, ask immediately. Even if it says they won’t, ask anyway. You won’t get anything if you don’t ask.

I don’t know how it finds these email addresses, but it does! first 50 are free. You can always get another gmail account.

THE IMPORTANCE OF CREATIVITY

Dominic had roughly 2 months to lead his game. he didn’t have a website, online presence, no press kit, nothing. But, after playing the game, they chose to take it on. Barebones wouldn’t work- no press releases, and they needed a spark for the launch- some newsfeeds (3 guarantees). To take it out of the hands of the press, they needed to get creative. S-nce binding of isaac had a hug following, they chose to go for that audience.  Those who played it, and LOVED IT. Since his game was so hard, it was an easy fit.

So what did we use? WordPress website, press kit, press lists, some other tools. The headline of the writer and the audience needed to match. SO what they did was choose that if you could receive a certain achievement on another super-difficult game with a massive following: Binding of Isaac (BOI), then you can have this game for free. It had to be a timed contest. Content creators, press, etc. They earned mass cover on the first day and it snowballed. They earned a ton of attention, but people who followed the influencers found out about this. They tweeted to other game developer and major content creators, and some of them picked it up

 

Mind Mapping For Success

The creative process through mind mapping can be visualized. They worked with a developer after the early access and launch. How could they inject that spark. THey added some materials which raised and lowered the difficulty level based on bitcoin rates. Using the advanced queries in google, they found games in FORBES magazine and website which likes video games and bitcoin. This person was able to take up the idea and really run with it. Once it rolled in FORBES, a few more places immediately picked it up.

Guerilla marketing is low cost, high risk, high reward. More often than not, that brings some nice feedback

when should you present? as soon as you’re presentable. Should niche games be the next big thing? Do what you’re passionate about. if its indy, if its the best new chess game, go for it. What if you have no specifc launch date, still show? yes, not a problem. What if lauch is approaching and you have no community? put yourself in the audinece shoes and give them what they need. get creative and think outside the box. use a simple demo. It may not be a high conversion, but it may bring coverage. Organize what you have, use it, and then extend into guerrilla tactics and target the people you genuinely believe will like it. It only takes a single reviewer to see things snowball. be thorough, find the best people and make it happen.

ECGC Conference: Keynote Speaker — Mike Laidlaw

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At a 2:00pm Keynote session in the East Coast Gaming Conference held in the Raleigh Convention Center, Mike Laidlaw spoke to the attendees about …

ECGC Conference: Keynote Speaker— Mike Laidlaw

The ECGC conference will be held on April 19,20,21st next year 2016. Be looking for that.

We began with a the trailer for dragon age inquisition.

What is a creative director? What is it that they do? They are responsible for All games, all creative products, our spinoff animated series, comics, and anything related to Dragon Age. Every item must be coordinated so they are in the same world and follow canon. For the games things are different, but every aspect of the game must gel with everything our readers know from comics, fit with every animated episode, and match up to every idea already placed about the series.

Dragon Age Inquisition was ambitious. Our initial idea: Let’s run on 5 platforms at once and use this as the new game plan, OH, and let’s also use a brand new engine. The game would include everything that you’ve come to know and love about the series, but also include massive use of exploration, a new facet of getting lost in the world.

Agenda:

inspirations for open world gameplay
open world content
the power system

Throughout the agenda, we must always fulfill this razor: “the challenge: immerse yourself in a vast world of companions choice and consequence”

Inspriations:

Who else is doing it well? It’s good to be inspired by other games, but you cannot rip them off note for note. Then you’re just copying. And that’s obvious to everyone. Every 2 weeks Our team would pick a game and play through it. They’d discuss what the game did well, and what they did not. Communication is key. If there isn’t a shared vocabulary, things begin to fail.

  • SKYRIM: incredible freedom of space and role. the joy of cresting a hill and finding something cool “down there”
  • SID MEIERS PIRATE: the power of theme. self-directed goals & multiple vectors of success. Multiple playthroughs are often required to make everything work through.
  • FALLEN LONDON & SUNLESS SEA: the power of abstraction and allowing players to create their own connections. If something is not supposed to be available yet, the note which springs up might say: “Has the player met constable bob?” vs. Connected: the constables.
  • XCOM-ENEMY UNKNOWN: Example of a counter-objective: EU added more story to the xcom formula. Story beats reward for gameplay. Story brings more story rather than achievement bringing more story

Strategy1: Multi-region open world.

Advantages: Strengthen each region with its own narrative. Create diverse, distinct visul palettes.

regional narrative:

We sought to answer the following questions: what the overall feel of this locale? Why would I, the inquisitor, come there? What is special about it? How does my presence here advance the inquisition or hinder its foes?

Emerald grove- A wonderous forest. A band of refugees here have information for you and at the end of the day you cut off supplies to foes, and gain an ally.

We repeatedly ran into the problem that the first 5 or 10 minutes people didn’t understand what to do. A character sets the first camp, lets you know what to do, and where to go. This narrative character seem contrary to your role in the story, but keeps the theme strong.

Diverse palettes. You needed to move from region to region with no visual trouble. A series of choices make the game fun is what is seems from the outset. However, a series of compromises are what the builders will experience.

Strategy 2: shared content strategies

Content for the levels consisted of three major types:

  1. Placed, crafted content.
  2. Shared, systemic content.
  3. Designer hugs.

Systemic content used shared libraries of assets for consistency and ease of maintenance (pre-fabs could be placed, but our team could alter each instance). One update to the search system would allow all objects that reacted to that system to instantly respond to the changes without touching individual instances. In effect, one edit would allows for many updates, instantly and simultaneously.

Designer hugs: nooks and crannies of exploration that gives you a fun, neat reward. Big games that allow for an open area, and have neat effects will generate a buzz. It rewards you for making the right choices.

Strategy 3: Reviewing content.

Issues with in-room content reviews:

  1. long play length of area.
  2. Reviewing one path/perspective.
  3. out of context issues.
  4. directing player experience.
  5. content was at different levels of completion.

The best way to circumvent these issues was to ask open ended questions to the team. We took those focus testings to the team and their ratings. By offering what they COULD do, players wanted to reach those goals. The team used inhouse heatmaps to see where people spent time on each level, where fights happened the most, where people died. This allowed them to tweak the areas, distributions of bad guys, and power levels.

Areas for improvment- plots

Open area plots were sad and lame. It was new to them and new to the team. The company budgeted lots of time and writing for plots, however,the quests very, very simple with little or no trouble to complete.

Variety

There was several systems. The systems appeared repeatedly in several sessions. People came to expect them, to prepare for them, and to be bored by them.

Jump

Put the jump in the game. Seriously. They put banter in the system to help keep the game live. However, players were more engaged by the ability to jump while moving.

POWER

How can you make it so that as a player you can progress the story without doing exactly as you’ve been asked to do? The Advisors within the game are smart, but help you understand that you’re still making the decisions. They took a complicated GUI and added bickering and resonance to the gameplay.

Operations were the core objectives, things that must happen.

Power had been earned, so it could be used to open new areas. Any area you opened should have enough power to open another area, so that you never achieved a zero-sum power solution. Power mechanics allowed you to continue buying and getting awesome armor, wtc. without hoarding. It allowed for a fluid economy. The open world idea allows the spoilers will not occur if they share the experience.

Completionist players had far, far too much power. And our team had to deal with that. As did the hinterlands pacing.

WHile it was a major struggle, looking back I feel:
It was a big game, the team worked hard, we did well.

Mike Laidlaw is Bioware’s Dragon Age Creative Director

Capstone Courses Roundtable with Walter Rotenberry

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As part of Wake Tech Community College’s professional development seminar, I attended the Capstone Course Roundtable presented by Walter Rotenberry. Walter Rotenberry is the lead for Wake Tech’s SGD department (simulation and video game development).

In the roundtable discussion, Rotenberry laid out his procedure for a capstone course, which I have vaguely outlined below:

  1. Establish the course as a capstone for your program. Inform students prior to entering and upon their first day in the class the details involved with the planned courses of action. Include all expectations, all contingencies, the level of quality required, and how their potential employment may be affected by their level of commitment. Remind them that they will get out of the course whatever they put into it.
  2. Set a final date for presentation. Plan that date and make sure that the course centers around the expectations required on that date.
  3. Focus on what is achievable. Students in Rotenberry’s class presented all their materials to the class in their first week, each choosing their best project to work with, fleshing it out over time to a perfect, finished project to present.
  4. Involve the community. Rotenberry contacted his closest contemporaries at surrounding colleges (in his case, NCSU and their graduate program in Game Development) and had a few joint sessions in which his team and their team could exchange ideas, discuss current projects, and discuss current topics, trends, and ideas in the industry. This was instrumental in achieving a program in which questions would be posed, answered, and attended to BEFORE presentation
  5. Pitch your programs to the best in the business. OK, we presented to CEOs and presidents of video game companies in our area, Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Walter Rotenbery lined up the individuals and set their dates to attend, reminding them prior to the festivities, and following up with each one.
  6. Make an event of it. Students came prepared to discuss their work, networked with the individuals present and enjoyed snacks. After a short time had passed, each student presented their projects to the group, and in some cases individual computers were opened so that industry folk could try out each game on their own.
  7. Don’t let the music stop. Walter’s students passed out business cards and links to online portfolios and games. Students followed up with individuals, and several made appointments to meet with industry designers. Several employment opportunities came out of the presentations, and it has become a permanent addition to the SGD (simulation and game development) track.

In attending this training, I could clearly see how our Graphic Design IV or our Portfolio classes could easily become capstone courses. Portfolio could easily transition to involvement with local organizations such as AIGA here in Raleigh, NC or TIMA (triangle interactive Media Association). Graphic Design IV could easily ally with the Addy Awards or with GDUSA and other magazine contests. I look forward to discussing this with Damu Murray, Woody Hayes, and Marsha Mills.