Sunday, May 31, 2015

The tech arms race in AAA - and why I'm abandoning it

When I was 13 years old, my dad finally fulfilled my dream of owning a PC. He brought me a woefully underpowered 10MHz MHz 8088 box, but with an upgraded VGA card and a color monitor. I was too excited to care about the comically mismatched package: I could finally play games in my own house, just like many of my friends and cousins were doing.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Social Games and their opportunity frontier

When I first downloaded Clash of Clans, I deleted the game a short 15 minute session later. Despite the cute graphics and sleek interface, the city building and battle elements seemed too shallow compared to the deeper games I grew up playing. It wasn't until a few months later that I started playing again, with a clearer goal: I needed to unlock the clan castle so I could join the clan my coworkers wouldn't stop talking about. I’m happy I did, because I've being playing for two years and have discovered a fun game that takes many months to expose a surprising amount of depth. But had it not been for the social element, I would never have given that game a second chance.

Later, when I started working for Supercell (the developer of the game), I was further exposed to a fascinating amount of social activity, both inside and outside the game. What stuck the most with me was how a small amount of dead simple game rules encouraged and shaped a wide variety of social organization and behaviors. I spent an entire summer moving somewhat randomly from clan to clan, in an effort to gain a deeper understanding of the social dynamics that drive the game. What I found was a varied collection of "societies", many of which had structured their own habits and norms in profoundly distinct ways. I found myself in some "my word is the law", strong leader dictatorship-style clans; in some "we're just here to have fun, no pressure"-style democracies; and a lot of complex political variations in between.