A look at Game Creator with Kars Alfrink

I sat down with Kars Alfrink, interaction designer, teacher, and consultant for Playyoo, to get a behind-the-scenes look at the Game Creator, and see if he'd indulge me in revealing what's next. For those of you attending the upcoming GDC conference in San Francisco next week, be sure to check out Kars' talk on Feb 18: Designing a Casual Social Gaming Experience for Generation C.

[photo courtesy of Ram Yoga]

So, the Game Creator has been released for over a month now. What has it been like to see it in use? Any surprises?
First off, it’s been a lot of fun to watch how people are using the Game Creator and see their creations. Sure, there have been some pleasant surprises – for instance, I’ve seen some really cool snake levels, where people just went crazy with the layout of the levels. The Game Creator is about personal expression. And the games seem to fall into two categories. The first group of games uses graphics with a broad appeal – for example, a famous character, a scantily clad model, or a known politician. And then there are the games that are entirely personal. They make no sense to you or me, only to the person who created it and their friends. For example, I saw one variation of Lunar Lander where you need to land a crab on someone’s, let’s say Debbie’s, head. Now, I have no idea who Debbie is, but I can imagine Debbie is a friend or sister of the game's creator. And it must have been a lot of fun for them to include the picture, and then have an easy way to distribute it to their friends.

At its initial release, the Game Creator has 6 game types: Lunar Lander, Pairs, Revenge, Snake, Tic Tac Toe, and Ping Pong. Why these six?
In the early planning stages, we created a long list of potential games. We picked these six for various reasons: familiarity, opportunity for customization, and suitability for the mobile platform. Sticking with well-known games is key. With known games, there’s no learning curve. People already know how to play the game, and can instantly start thinking of ways to change it.

So, will we see some other games from the list? Sure. From day one, we always knew we were going to add more game types to the mix, and give people even more choices. I’m not going to give anything away right now, but we are working on some other game types, and definitely want to strike a good balance between classic arcade types and puzzle games.

Let’s talk a little about the social aspect of Playyoo, and in particular the interaction between the Game Creator and the larger Playyoo community.
For game designers, the social aspect is a fun thing to watch. They can see who’s playing their game, who’s getting the high scores, and various comments from players. With the Game Creator, most of the fun comes from creating games for your friends. From that standpoint, the games themselves become “social objects”, to use a term from the social media circle. The games essentially become an 'excuse' to have conversations with people.

And do you see different conversations forming around original games and those made with the Game Creator?
If you look at the conversations around original games, they tend to focus on the specifics of game play – does the game work, did it take too long to complete, was it too large. So here, designers can get instant feedback from players. It’s a little different with Game Creator games. The discussions center around the underlying message – like the silly picture someone put in, or the political figure that was used. But, the key here is that both conversations can coexist on the same site.

I see a lot of parallels with Flickr. I post photos that I captured on my camera phone. The comments on my photos aren’t focused on my photography skills, or the lighting, or any of that, but more the story behind the photo. On the other hand, my friend is an avid photographer with a professional-grade SLR camera. His photos generate comments on composition, technique, lighting, and more.

So, in some ways, the Game Creator is like the camera phone for the mobile gaming world. It might not be a perfect comparison, but it’s all about breaking down the barriers to creation and self-expression.
Tags : flickr game_creator socialobjects kars gdc playyoo