Game Development Reference
Arcade games are designed to get players to put money into the ma-
chine. To attract players walking by, they use fast-moving, visually expres-
sive mechanics. Long play times would reduce profits, so arcade games
are designed to play out in just a few minutes. To reduce the skill barrier
for passersby, controls and mechanics are extremely simple. To get players
to come back and plunk in more quarters, arcade games have extremely
elastic success conditions and a very high skill ceiling. Many arcade games
are unwinnable; the player just chases higher and higher scores, paying
all the while.
Massively multiplayer online (MMO) games typically make money
by charging a monthly fee for access. Their purpose, then, is to keep
players playing for as many months as possible. To this end, MMOs usu-
ally include massive amounts of content and very deep character upgrade
systems. Social interaction and community-building systems get players
committed to groups of peers who encourage them to stick around.
Traditional shrink-wrapped games make money by selling units, so
good reviews and word of mouth are the main goals. In some sense, this
business model encourages the purest game design, because the best way
to generate good reviews is just to make a great experience.
Noncommercial games tend to have very different goals. Many art
games are more about expressing an idea than creating an experience.
They might be focused on a real-world issue, something relevant to an
academic institution, or abstract concepts.
And sometimes a designer will make a game just for the hell of it.
When I first started out making games as a hobby, we didn't know what
we were doing, or even why we were doing it. We just did it because we
There are countless other models, and new ones emerge regularly.
In-game advertisements, shareware, advergames, edutainment, serious
games, ad-supported, user-generated content, episodic content, micro-
transactions, premium play, and fan presell are just some pieces that can
be rearranged into a thousand different business models.
Each model is a different design challenge. And in each one, there is
tremendous room for craft. Making a commercially successful single-
player narrative epic is hard, as is creating an original and moving art
piece for a small academic audience. But in each case, the challenges, re-
strictions, and opportunities are different.
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