Thursday, April 12, 2018

GDC2018: Professional Ethics for Game Designers

The previous year has brought its share of gaming controversies, from anger over loot boxes to ties to gun violence to the World Health Organization's recognition of gaming disorder as a mental health condition. The roundtable, "Professional Ethics for Game Designers (Presented by the IGDA Game Design SIG)," at this year's Game Developers Conference, sought to shed light on the thoughts and opinions of professional game designers on their ethical obligations to players.  The discussion was spirited and showed that there was no easy consensus.

The roundtable started off with a warning from a professor who studies these matters.  He cautioned the group that if the industry doesn't self-regulate, governments will inevitably step in with their own regulations that might not make sense.  He cited some examples from Asia, such as a law limiting gameplay hours to school-age children, and said that there were even systems in place whereby in-game rewards were reduced based on the number of hours played.   There have even been rumblings in Europe about possible regulations.

While regulations may be looming, others felt like designers should not have any ethical obligations to players, even if players dropped dead after playing too much.  With a comparison to the tobacco industry, one decried the nanny state and felt like players needed to be responsible for their own well-being.  Another felt that game-playing was viewed too negatively and surely, no one would object if someone practiced continuously as an athlete.  He relayed the story of a co-worker who had taken a week's vacation to get higher on the leaderboard and how people immediately thought his co-worker might have a gaming disorder.

Still others felt that without addictive design elements, players would not come back to the game.  After all, there's pressure on designers to design an addictive, fun game that makes players come back and play the game.  Even if designers objected to exploitative practices, their bosses or marketing would want them to keep on using those methods.  And of course, a designer who wants to still have a job there will want the company to be successful.  But there were designers at the roundtable who had quit because they just couldn't stand what was happening to the players.  They recommended that designers think carefully about what line they would cross before being asked to cross that line.

After hearing jokes about some possible warning labels, like "WARNING:  TOO MUCH FUN," the professor interjected, saying that tobacco wasn't the right comparison, but gambling was.  He pointed out that the game industry even takes the same terminology, such as "whales," from the gambling industry.  While the WHO's definition of gaming disorder can be subject to interpretation, it's most similar to gambling disorder.  It doesn't specify a number of hours, just describes the way that compulsive gaming can cause distress or significant life problems.  We commonly say a game is addictive to mean it's fun, but addiction has a clinical definition that is much more bothersome.

Another game designer said that he doesn't mind if his games have a specific target audience, like women over 50, but he would have a problem if the target was "senile women," or any vulnerable demographic.  He would rather players come back to play the game because of its fun qualities rather than because they're addicted and they have a compulsion.

Another designer wondered if these addictive game systems were even necessary and offered other design alternatives to making a game sticky.

All in all, it was an interesting roundtable that could have gone on to discuss various other ethical issues.  Do you have any opinions on the subject?  I have heard from game design professors who include ethics in their lessons.  Do you believe that game designers should have an ethical code?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

IGDA GDSIG's 2018 Play Harder Challenge

Just in time for 2018 GDC, game designer Daniel Harrison and I have compiled a list for the first ever IGDA GDSIG's Play Harder Challenge, patterned after Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge. The gist of this is a list of tasks intended to expand your game playing boundaries, introduce you to new genres or designers, and encourage you to think more about the art game design.

You can try to find one game to fulfill a bunch of challenges or play one game per challenge.  The choice is up to you! 

This isn't a test.  There's no score.  But if you do happen to finish all the challenges, do let us know, and maybe we'll get around to making a badge for you :)


  1. Play a text-based game
  2. Play a game made by students
  3. Play a game created during a game jam
  4. Play an arcade game
  5. Play a social impact game
  6. Play a single player AAA game
  7. Play an old school platformer
  8. Play a game that's in a museum or art gallery
  9. Play a nonviolent shooter
  10. Play a game made by less than 10 people
  11. Play a tabletop game published in the last 5 years
  12. Play a game after remapping controller to your non-dominant hand 
  13. Play a twitch game that doesn't involve shooting
  14. Play a mobile game with on screen joysticks
  15. Play a location-based game
  16. Play a VR phone game
  17. Play a game with asymmetric multiplayer
  18. Play a game using an emulator
  19. Play a mobile game that uses the camera
  20. Play a game that requires user-created content
  21. Play a cooperative game
  22. Play a hardcore handheld game

Monday, February 26, 2018

IGDA Game Design SIG at 2018 Game Developers Conference

Apologies for the late update!

I was at Northwestern University speaking about Games and Gamification in the Classroom as part of the TEACHxpert Series and I also have been busy with my various classes and event planning.

To note, I'd like to inform you of the planned activities for the IGDA Game Design SIG (GDSIG) at the 2018 Game Developers Conference (GDC) next month.

We will be holding the following roundtable open to All Pass Holders, including the Expo Pass:

Professional Ethics for Game Designers Roundtable (Presented by the IGDA)
Location: Room 105, Moscone South Hall
Date: Wednesday, March 21
Time: 5:00pm - 6:00pm

With gaming disorder a mental health concern, do game designers have an obligation to refrain what would be considered 'exploitative design,' that is, game design that takes advantage of player addictions and/or mental defects? Join game designers and other professionals in determining what are our main areas of ethical concern and in voicing an opinion as to whether or not game designers need a professional code of ethics much like the Hippocratic oath for doctors.

If you cannot make the roundtable, you can join us for our GDSIG Social MeetUp/Dinner where we will meeting outside Room 105 to go for a quick dinner. If you cannot meet in the conference area, please make arrangements with me to meet in the lobby of Moscone South. We also hope to have our special GDSIG GDC ribbons distributed at this time (*quantities limited to 200) and I also usually have the MIT name badges for MIT gamealums.

Location: Outside Room 105, Moscone South Hall, or Moscone South Lobby (If arranged)
Date: Wednesday, March 21
Time: 6:00pm - 7:00pm

Plus, don't forget the other IGDA events at GDC.  There will be the IGDA Networking Event in addition to the Mentor Cafes. If you're not yet a IGDA member, there is a special promotion running until March 25, 2018.  It is 25% discount on all individual IGDA memberships. To sign up or look at IGDA member benefits, go here.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

New Session: Game Writing Primer Course

4 Weeks to Learn the Basics of Narrative Design and Build a Game
When:  Tuesdays and Thursdays, Feb 20 - Mar 15, 2018, 6:30 - 9:00 PM
Where:  Microsoft NY, 11 Times Square, New York, NY 10019 

I'm pleased to announce that Game Writing Primer is starting up again in 2018!  Come to the free info session this Thursday, February 8 and hear from former students Mary Georgescu and Jon Aiello.  Sharang Biswas, winner of the Dark Horse award at last year's Indiecade, also described his experiences with the course in this Student Spotlight. If you can't make it in person and have questions about the course, you can submit questions through the link on the course information page or attend the Virtual Info Session on February 13.

Whether you’re brand new to making games or looking to level up your skills, all are welcome. You can bring an existing game you’re working on in the engine of your choice or start from scratch to create an entirely new story-based game. In four weeks, you’ll gain an understanding of how to tackle the challenges of writing for games. By the end of the month, you’ll be on your way towards a playable version that can be featured in any one of Playcrafting NYC’s Expos for thousands in the community to play.

Sign up for the 4-week intensive course here.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer with over 15 years of experience in the game industry.  Her writing credits include 1999 Independent Games Festival winner Terminus, MMO Hall of Fame inductee Wizard101, and the 2007 PC RPG of the Year, The Witcher, for which she was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in Videogame Writing.  She is the co-author of the book, Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform, and was a contributor to Secrets of the Game Business, Writing For Video Game Genres, and Professional Techniques for Videogame Writing.

Friday, February 2, 2018

GameACon 2016: Breaking Into Game Writing

In this podcast, game writers Sande Chen, Jennifer Estaris, David Kuelz, Matthue Roth, and Ant Tessitore, along with moderator Patrick Coursey, give inspiring and encouraging advice on how to break into the game industry as a writer.

I am really thankful to Michael Beeghley for salvaging this audio recording.  He has really worked wonders with the material, revealing previously inaudible portions.  You'll still hear water glasses clinking or other sound quality issues, but I found that after turning up the volume and listening to the panel, I was not bothered by the crowd noise.  

It was a very well-attended session.  Thank you to everyone who came to the panel! 

Breaking Into Game Writing
GameACon 2016
October 30, 2016

There are as many ways to break into game writing as there are writers, so taking your first steps can be daunting. Join our panel of award-winning writers and designers as they share their successes and struggles with getting a foot in the door of the industry. Whether you dream of writing the next big AAA game or an indie interactive novel, we’ve got the info to set you on the right path.

Moderator: Patrick Coursey
Panelists:  Sande Chen, Jennifer Estaris, David Kuelz, Matthue Roth, Ant Tessitore

You can find other download options here.

Patrick Coursey is a writer and narrative designer based out of Baltimore, Maryland. In 2015, he teamed up with Blindflug Studios as writer on the mobile roguelike, Cloud Chasers. The game received four awards including Grand Prize at European Indie Game Days and was an official selection of the Indie Arena at Gamescom. Before that he worked at Fourth Wall Studios in Los Angeles as a transmedia experience designer. He once again joined Blindflug Studios as a writer for their new game, Airheart. He infrequently tweets at @pjcoursey, but would like it if you followed him anyway.  

A writer and game designer, Sande Chen has over 15 years experience in the industry. Her first game writing credit was on the epic space-combat RPG Terminus which won 2 awards at the 1999 Independent Games Festival. She was later nominated for a 2007 Writers Guild of America award in Videogame Writing for the dark fantasy RPG The Witcher. She is SIG leader of the IGDA Game Design SIG. Find her on Twitter @sandechen. 

Jennifer Estaris is a writer, game designer, and mother to a spinning 3 year old. She has worked on games for Nickelodeon, Disney, Tiltfactor, and Dreamworks, and is currently developing indie art games at her studio Astra Rise. Jennifer received her M.F.A. in fiction at Columbia University and why hasn’t my daughter stopped spinning?

David Kuelz is the founder of Awkward Pegasus Studios, a writing and story consultancy for game developers. Since starting Awkward Pegasus in 2012, he has written and consulted for game developers nationwide and has led workshops on video game writing and narrative design all across the Northeast, including for the Gotham Writers' Workshop and Playcrafting. He’s currently designing the narrative for an unannounced RPG at Juncture Media. 

Matthue Roth is a game designer and writer on 30+ acclaimed and award-winning games for iOS and Android. From 2012-2015 he was lead game designer at Amplify, an educational games company that won awards from the iTunes Store, BAFTA, and Games for Change. Most recently his games swept the 2015 Serious Play Conference, earning 3 out of 4 gold medals awarded that year. He’s also the author of six novels, and the New Yorker called his writing “eerie and imaginative.” 

Ant Tessitore is currently working as creative lead on a to be announced TCG and freelancing as a names and flavor text writer for Magic: The Gathering, Ant Tessitore is an avid gamer, writer and narrative designer. Ant most recently worked on Oath of the Gatewatch, and has cards to be released in both Conspiracy: Take the Crown and this year’s Commander product. Ant has also written for Artist Noah Bradley’s The Sin of Man Project, weekly articles at Gathering Magic, and supplement products for Dungeons and Dragons.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Free Game Writing Workshop this Saturday

Rejoice!  If you are in any way interested in game development and are close to NYC, then you still have time to sign up for this weekend's PlayCrafting + Microsoft Game Jam, which was the largest game jam site in the USA last year for Global Game Jam (GGJ).  Join first-time jammers and veteran developers in experimenting with new ideas for games and learning more about game development.  To participate, you will have to sign up at the official site AND register with PlayCrafting NYC. Watch the video from last year's GGJ.

In addition, Saturday will be Free Workshop Day, which will include my own game writing workshop patterned after Game Writing Portfolio Workout.  Sign up for all or any of the workshops on UI/UX, Unity, Unreal, or Game Design.  The Game Writing Workshop is from 3-4 PM.  It's a nice preview for the upcoming run of the PlayCrafting intensive course, Game Writing Primer, which is kicking off February 20, 2018.

4 Weeks to Learn the Basics of Narrative Design and Build a Game
When:  Tues and Thurs, February 20 - March 15, 2017, 6:30 - 8:30 PM
Where:  Microsoft NY, 11 Times Square, New York, NY 10019

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer with over 15 years of experience in the game industry.  Her writing credits include 1999 Independent Games Festival winner Terminus, MMO Hall of Fame inductee Wizard101, and the 2007 PC RPG of the Year, The Witcher, for which she was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in Videogame Writing.  She is the co-author of the book, Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform, and was a contributor to Secrets of the Game Business, Writing For Video Game Genres, and Professional Techniques for Videogame Writing.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

IGDA Survey Shows Diversity and Job Stability Concerns

In this article, game designer Sande Chen relates the lack of progress on diversity and job stability, as indicated by the IGDA 2017 Developer Satisfaction Survey.

The IGDA's 2017 Developer Satisfaction Survey (DSS) was released last week (and can be downloaded here) and in it, you'll find that according to the data, the typical worker in the video game industry, whether freelance, self-employed, or employed, is a 30-something, white or multiracial with white, heterosexual, college-educated, married male without a disability or children.  According to the 2017 survey, 74% of respondents identified as male while 21% identified as female.  Despite growing interest in the importance of diversity, very little has translated into actual change at companies, as can be seen from the similar results on the 2014 DSS survey.  

The survey also provided a snapshot of an industry with constant job volatility.  Even though 70% of respondents were permanent employees, on average they had already switched employers twice within 5 years. This is consistent with surveys from prior years. And only 39% expected that they would stay with their current employer for 3 years or less. 53% reported that crunch time was expected at the company and employees would work anywhere from 50 hours to more than 70 hours a week during crunch.

Just like the permanent employees, freelancers or contractors who responded to the survey predominately had 6 years or less experience working in the industry. But unlike the permanent employees, freelancers tended to have a longer relationship with clients, which leads to the concern that freelancers may be de facto employees, just without benefits or regulatory rules. The IGDA believes there is a real danger of freelancers bearing the brunt of the development work without any protection from potential abuse.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.