Thursday, May 11, 2006

Grand Theft Aquarium

[Game Design] [Personal]

We're sitting in the Board Room; there's three of us, and across from us is the manager of the company that we've contracted to develop an educational game for our organisation. We are not impressed by him.

This man's company has taken an amount of money from us to design a game. That amount of money is a five figure sum starting with three. The game centres around fishing. For this money, the man's company has come back to us with a game consisting entirely of question and answer quiz questions, punctuated by non-interactive animation sequences.

I have politely pointed out to my company that the game as currently proposed could have been developed using web pages and cookies in about two working days at a total cost of about $300 plus art assets, and that we are being taken to the cleaners.

Furthermore, this company was chosen on the basis of its alleged ability to make games that are "educational". In practice, this seems to translate into no particular knowledge of education but rather the political ability to schmooze various government bodies and content portals into taking their substandard products. They have advocated rote problem drilling as the pinnacle of modern educational game design and were bemused by the concept that a child engaged by the material is a child more receptive to learning, or the idea that half the educational value of a game will come from the child discussing it with other children. This is a company proposing in 2006 a style of game which was already falling by the wayside in the mid to late 80s when I was at school.

To the end of a) making the game not suck, and b) getting something close to our money's worth, we have asked that the money allocated to developing the non-interactive animations instead be channelled into a "mini-game" to sit between the question rounds, wherein the player goes fishing. It's a simple game where the gameplay largely centres around estimating the size of your potential catch, with the aim being to get as close to a set number of caught fish as possible without going over. The interactivity consists of single clicks to target a school of fish for catching, followed by a quick animation of the fish being caught. Not exactly GTA, but a big step up from how it already was.

And hence this meeting that I'm at.

CONTRACTOR: We're concerned that you're significantly expanding the scope of the project. We'll need more money and more time and we don't think it's a good idea. The main problem is these minigames.

US: Minigame. Singular.

CONTRACTOR: Well, you want it to appear in each fishery.

US: The difference between each fishery would be a different fish graphic, and a different catch animation.

CONTRACTOR: Well, I suppose we could recycle some of the code. But it's still a very complex minigame.

US: There are five variables. Boat x axis, fish x/y coordinates, fish caught, catch target.

CONTRACTOR: That's a lot more variables than what we had before.

US: There's only five variables in the minigame.

CONTRACTOR: Well, they all add up. Variables cost money.

US: You mean processes. Processes cost money.

CONTRACTOR: Sorry, there's going to be an ability for the player to process the fish too?

US: Never mind.

CONTRACTOR: Well, it's going to blow our timelines out. We'll be back to the drawing board.

US: Why, what have you done so far?

CONTRACTOR: Well... we've thought about it a lot. In any case, with this change the content portals won't accept it.

US: Why not?

CONTRACTOR: Because it has doubtful education value.

US: (Explains at length the educational value).

CONTRACTOR: Well, the problem is that with your change it feels too much like a game.


And there it is. I know there's a few people reading this who do game design for a living (the poor sods). Does anyone think this company is even remotely reasonable? Is anyone able to direct me to someone who would have, for our money, given us a game about fish, instead of a game that smells like fish? Or at least, you know, something that actually made use of an interactive medium instead of just becoming an unimaginative electronic quizmaster?

I'd love to go on at length about my experiences working on this game, but I've probably already said more than I should on my blog. BTW naturally if anyone reading this knows any of the people involved PLEASE don't name them in a comment. They're all very nice people, they should just have never been let anywhere near an interactive medium. I'd be highly surprised if they'd read anything at all about either game design or education in their lives; certainly no one in the company other than the (sole) programmer had the slightest idea about programming or coding (and the programmer was conspicuously unavailable to attend any meetings), and I'm pretty sure none of them have ever played an electronic game of any sort other than the ones they'd "created" themselves. Sigh.


Anonymous said...

Ouch. Makes me want to form a multimedia company just to do better than that.

David Cake said...

And that last comment was me. I hate blogger.

GregT said...

Hi Dave! Thanks for stopping through!

Jason O said...

People like that give people like me a bad name.

You know, I am always aware that there is a cheaper alternative to my services, as such I try to justify the cost of having me on-site by giving the client work they can't get just anywhere.

Yet I keep running into bozos who charge a lot of money and bring practically nothing to the table. How do these people stay in business?

GregT said...

I think in this case part of the problem was that the people who hired the company didn't know anything about games either - they'd seen an "educational game" as a thing they wanted to have, without any clear idea of what that might look like or what made a good one different from a bad one. I only got involved after the developer had been signed.

Julia B said...

I'd like a game where I was a tuna named Tina. I'd travel around with my school in the Pacific Ocean, with my best friend Tim and my Mum and Dad and 10 siblings. Then one day my entire family gets fished and I have to go and find them. You know what, I'm going to go and work on this some more. Go to my blog later today for the full story of Tina.

Phrancq said...

They do seem to suck

Msquared said...

Can you smack them down with the contract? Was enough detail of the requirements included in the contract or accompanying scope/spect?

GregT said...

No, the relevant people apparently never got a final contract signed. *sigh* BTW hi Msquared!