Narrative for Social Games

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<ul><li> 1111 Steve Introduction: Hi folks, Thanks for the warm welcome everyone. You may be wondering why there are two of us on this stage. Its a little known fact that GDCO has a height requirement for its speakers, so Jon and I joined forces to meet that requirement. However, we will need you help if you happen to see any GDC staff out there, give us a signal so I can climb on Jons shoulders. That said, my name is Steve Williams, senior game designer from Zynga Boston. JON: And Im Jon Myers, game writer on the project. [CLICK] JONATHON NEXT </li> <li> 2222 [CLICK TO START JON BIO] JONATHON Jons Bio Contract Writer and Narrative Designer for social and mobile games [CLICK TO START STEVE BIO] STEVE Steves Bio Im a former science teacher who decided to make MMOs. Through my career Ive gained a bit of experience working with IPs. STEVE NEXT SLIDE 2 </li> <li> 3333 STEVE SLIDE This is the game Jon and I made together, Indiana Jones Adventure World. Of course, Jon and I did everything ourselves. JON: EVERYTHING. STEVE NEXT SLIDE 3 </li> <li> 44 STEVE SLIDE Indiana Jones Adventure World was made by Zynga Boston, a studio of Zynga (Zynga is everywhere!) We had lots of help making this game a success. JON: But to give specific credit where credit is due, these people also had a huge influence on narrative for our game. STEVE NEXT SLIDE </li> <li> 5555 STEVE SLIDE What Game Did We Make? Indiana Jones Adventure World is: A game on Facebook Using handcrafted isometric Map-based gameboards Light RPG elements United with a powerful IP Map releases are episodic stories JONATHON START NEXT SLIDE </li> <li> 6666 JONATHON STARTS Although youre going to hear a talk about narrative for social games, this is not about writing copy for a social game. STEVE TAKES OVER Likewise, our Lead Designer talked about the design of core gameplay elsewhere. [CLICK] STEVE START NEXT SLIDE </li> <li> 7777 STEVE Today well be focusing on narrative design. We done did some narrative. JONATHON Well be viewing the game as an episodic story framework for delivering weekly serial content to a playing audience STEVE NEXT SLIDE </li> <li> 8888 STEVE SLIDE This is also a recollection of the personal journey we took, Jon &amp; Steve, writer and designer working together on a live game, building trust, accomplishing goals, running into challenges and encountering breakthroughs Because we are episodic in our content, we went episodic in our presentation. PAUSE Here are our main points, beginning with STEVE NEXT SLIDE </li> <li> 9999 STEVE SLIDE Episode 1: The Show Must Go On What we did is a little bit interesting. What we did was hard. What are the stakes when Jon and I would walk into work each day? [PUT HATS ON] JONATHON STARTS NEXT SLIDE </li> <li> 10101010 Jon: Morning Steve. I, uh, took a look at your Library map, and theres no Library of Alexandria in it. Steve: What? Let me go talk to art. Jon Announcer Voice: Steve returns 5 minutes later Steve: Okay, we dont get to have a Library of Alexandria. Jon: The map is called the Library of Alexandria! Steve: Well now the library is inside a tomb. Jon: Its Friday, I dont think well have this ready to release on Tuesday as planned. Steve: The reason we have this cadence is that our metrics have shown that our retention is best during the workweek off-schedule releases are something we should totally avoid! Jon: Can we at least push this map to Thursday rather than Tuesday to gain time to solve this issue so the narrative makes sense? Steve: The closer we get to the weekend, the smaller our potential audience for this release. We need to figure this out now. The show must go on! Jon: Okay, give me an hour to think of how this can all fit together with our story and then well meet to pow-wow this. Good luck! Steve: Good luck! 10 </li> <li> 11111111 JON: (Radio Announcer Voice) What will happen to our intrepid designer and writer?! Will they solve the problem in time to ship? Stay Tuned, Adventure Fans! [HATS OFF] STEVE COUGHS Ok, back to the presentation. STEVE NEXT SLIDE 11 </li> <li> 12121212 STEVE SLIDE The social game industry has a number of buzzwords. Lets recap that one sentence. The reason we have this cadence is that our metrics have shown that our DAU (and with it) retention is best during the workweek off-schedule releases are totally something we should avoid! JONATHON So what does this mean for narrative? 12 </li> <li> 13131313 JONATHON SLIDE Our Challenge is to hold the audiences attention. [CLICK] We know that the social game audience generally plays games with Low per-session time investment (which means we dont have a lot of room for subtlety) There can also be a significant variation in the time gap between sessions This is a challenge for both narrative and gameplay! STEVE NEXT SLIDE 13 </li> <li> 14141414 STEVE SLIDE If your audience wont remember chapter 2, how can you tell them chapter 3? Serve them sliders! Make those extremely brief session times short and sweet! And repeat information as often as you can to keep from losing your audience. JON: Along those lines, longer form stories are tough sells. We had to keep it simple. [PUT HATS ON] STEVE STARTS NEXT SLIDE 14 </li> <li> 15151515 STEVE SLIDE If your audience wont remember chapter 2, how can you tell them chapter 3? Serve them sliders! Make those extremely brief session times short and sweet! And repeat information as often as you can to keep from losing your audience. JON: Along those lines, longer form stories are tough sells. We had to keep it simple. [PUT HATS ON] STEVE STARTS NEXT SLIDE 15 </li> <li> 16161616 - Steve: For our next release, we need to do a map set in a tomb in Egypt. - Jon: So, what are we trying to recover? - Steve: The Loincloth of Anubis? - Jon: But what does it do and why do we need to get it? - Steve: I dont know, the wearer is said to master the power of love? - Jon: Okay, then the Man w/ the Silver Eye wants it to seduce Prof. Allens daughter? - Steve: I dont know, that could lead to direct confrontation, maybe... - Jon: I got it, cant do that or go there, lets keep it simpler. - Steve: Whats the simplest thing? Money motivation? - Jon: The Man w/ the Silver Eye wants it to cash in and beat the Adventure Society/Indy - but we get to the tomb, find out the tomb holds members of an ancient harem, we encounter mysterious powers? - Steve: What if its simply the Pharoahs Loincloth that contains the family jewels. - Jon: Yes! Heres the story: 1) The Man with the Silver Eye, 2) Wants the family jewels contained in the Pharaohs Loincloth, so 3) player/Indy must travel to the Harems Tomb to get it first, or else 4) Silver Eye might sire an army, according to prophesied legend. - Steve: Oh, and it belongs in a museum! [REMOVE HATS] JONATHON NEXT SLIDE 16 </li> <li> 17171717 JONATHON SLIDE By keeping it simple during early idea sessions like the one we just demonstrated led us to a strong storytelling formula. [CLICK] Go to the thematic place. [CLICK] Get the powerful or mystical thing. [CLICK] Deal with the Looming Antagonist. [CLICK] Or else what? Where is the peril and danger? What is lost if the hero does not succeed? So, did arriving at a storytelling formula make it easier? [CLICK] STEVE NEXT SLIDE 17 </li> <li> 18181818 STEVE SLIDE Yes and no. We were indeed working on a live game. This means that Changes are Immediate Feedback can be incorporated later. Sometimes you ship it and make corrections after. Pause to Analyze the audience Analyze the process Paying attention to audience response upon release is a part of the process. How did that come off? Did the audience get it? WAS THIS THE FIRST ZYNGA GAME TO DO THIS? STEVE NEXT SLIDE 18 </li> <li> 19191919 STEVE STARTS Of course not. We built upon Zyngas prior success. Treasure Isle introduced map-based gameplay and a sense of exploration But [CLICK] FrontierVille provided... JON NEXT 19 </li> <li> 20202020 JON SLIDE Story! It had a strong engaging beginning moment and first act. You play a role, a character who has arrived at the frontier. [CLICK] JON CONTINUES 20 </li> <li> 21212121 JON SLIDE You receive a letter from your newly married spouse asking that you clear the land and build a homestead. He or she will not come to the frontier until your tasks are complete. The social game audience felt something for their character in a way they hadnt before. This technique became worthy of emulation by other titles. [CLICK] JON CONTINUES 21 </li> <li> 22222222 JON CONTINUES Our gameplay and story evolved out of these. We also took advantage of their systems and started with their techniques. Indiana Jones Adventure World we attempted to take all this further, to build around the player other characters in conflict with problems. This enabled the presentation of dramatic premises one after the other. STEVE NEXT SLIDE 22 </li> <li> 23232323 STEVE SLIDE In this episode We learned a few things about telling stories on a live social game. JONATHON NEXT SLIDE 23 </li> <li> 24242424 JONATHON SLIDE Which leads us to our story IP, which was a perfect match for our innovative direction. However first lets rewind [MAKE DOODILY SOUND] STEVE NEXT SLIDE </li> <li> 25252525 STEVE SLIDE Zynga Boston knew it wanted to build an Adventure game, so we sought to understand what made a great adventure. We knew Indiana Jones was an important voice for the concept of adventure narratives, so we worked hard to understand what he represented. STEVE NEXT SLIDE 25 </li> <li> 26262626 STEVE SLIDE BUT, an adventure game without Indiana Jones isnt nearly as good as one with Indiana Jones And we are huge Indiana Jones fans at Zynga Boston (Hence my fedora). And thus we partnered with LucasArts to produce an Indiana Jones branded adventure game. Using that famous IP drove the need for better narrative What we needed was someone who could think about the IP and the story all the time. What we needed was a full time writer. [CLICK] JONATHON NEXT SLIDE 26 </li> <li> 27272727 JONATHON SLIDE Thats me! And I found out its an awesome opportunity to work on a story IP for a social game because there is less exposition necessary. The players already know the world and the background, they come ready to engage with what they know. This helps, because building a world and characters in a social game is difficult. The space for text is extremely limited. So we had to determine where our game existed in Indys lifespan We chose 1934, directly before the events of Raiders of the Lost Ark. [CLICK] STEVE NEXT SLIDE 27 </li> <li> 28282828 STEVE SLIDE This gave us a great playground for narrative. Case in point Indiana Jones has always strongly associated characters with specific locations. Were in Mesoamerica, so we introduced Forrestal. Why? Because thats where we saw him in the movies. [CLICK] STEVE CONTINUES 28 </li> <li> 29292929 STEVE SLIDE This is our bridge between the movies and the game you meet Forrestal who is someone who is dead by the time the movie begins. We placed the other Indy characters in their locations: Marion in Tibet, Oxley in Peru, and [CLICK] JONATHON NEXT SLIDE 29 </li> <li> 30303030 JONATHON SLIDE Sallah was in Egypt. We learned quickly that fans respond to the iconic so we delivered to fans what they wanted, and let them play the content how they like. STEVE: We found that players choose levels to play based on characters they want to interact with. Were a social game: You can jump around in our games chronology as much as you like, we dont have a linear story but a series of stories that we encourage you to replay. JON: Well wait, we did release these stories in a linear fashion, chronologically. They did sometimes build upon each other, even if predominantly episodic. STEVE: Ah, but the player get to go back and forth in these releases and play them in any order they desire. For instance, I really really like the character of Oxley, so I want to play the maps hes on often. STEVE NEXT SLIDE 30 </li> <li> 31313131 STEVE SLIDE They gave us creative freedom They asked us to respect the franchise, and we complied Both sides were excited to work with one another And it paid off. STEVE NEXT SLIDE 31 </li> <li> 32323232 STEVE SLIDE [CLICKFEST] JONATHON NEXT SLIDE 32 </li> <li> 33333333 JONATHON SLIDE Moving on to How We Did What We Did Point being, we know that much of this is elementary and basic. But the context and applications are unique. We didn't have a guidebook for social game narrative. We had to figure it out as we went... like Indy. JONATHON NEXT SLIDE </li> <li> 34343434 JONATHON SLIDE And so we went back to the source and found the soul of the IP. We explored the entire canon including the Lucas, Spielberg and Kasdan story transcripts that would result in the Raiders of the Lost Ark screenplay. Its there that we discovered that the primary influence for this genre was Saturday Matinee Serials. JONATHON NEXT SLIDE! 34 </li> <li> 353535 JONATHON SLIDE What did this mean for making content? In particular I studied comic, movie, and radio serials such as Flash Gordon. Flash Gordon in particular contains satisfying, simple story moments that held the audiences attention through weekly time gaps and successfully ran for decades. Another technique I used wa...</li></ul>