Eight years go a long way, especially if you work in an industry as demanding as free-to-play videogames and take part in projects as successful as Dragon City and Monster Legends at Social Point. And if one thing is clear after meeting Julián Serravi, it’s that being a good Game Designer is learned by playing games.
F2P Campus (F): What skills should a good Game Designer have?
Julián Serravi (JS): The most important ones from my point of view are communication, capacity for analysis, and a lot of empathy.
A good Game Designer needs:
- empathy to understand and design games for others. You need to be able to understand what needs and desires someone very different from you has, in order to create an experience in line with their motivations.
- a strong analytical ability to understand when an idea fits, or doesn’t, into a context. Game Design isn’t about creating a lot of ideas, it’s about knowing why one idea fits your system and another doesn’t.
- a great capacity for communication. The Game Design profile is a nexus between business, development and art. It’s very important to know how to adapt your communication to each of the different roles in order to convey a common vision.
F: After hearing your talk, we were left with the feeling that, today, designers have an angel on one shoulder, who cares about the experience, and a devil on the other, who cares about the monetization, each telling them what to do. How can you please both?
JS: Both of them are happy when, as designers, we stop demonizing payment by treating it as something evil and begin to understand that monetization is a necessary step in having a viable business in the free-to-play market.
The free-to-play market is more complex than the pay-to-play market in terms of business model. The fact that your players can decide whether to pay or not requires designers to think not only about creating an entertaining and memorable experience, but also how to create a viable and sustainable business through monetization mechanics.
So yes, if you want to work in free-to-play as a designer, you have to always think from this bipolarity.
F: In your experience as a mentor, what is the most common problem/mistake that teams usually have/make when developing a free-to-play game?
JS: The most common mistake is usually in the pre-production of the product, where there is usually no preliminary market study to understand where the product we’re going to design fits, or what need it fulfills.
It’s important to generate business awareness and training in the teams so that before starting development (which may last several years) they have their value proposal defined and have chosen a niche market to target.
It’s very tempting to start designing our game right from the beginning, start thinking about the story it’s going to have, the characters, or the downloads we’re going to have when we finish it, and completely forget the business strategy.
That’s why it’s so important to have a multidisciplinary team; someone with business vision or a marketing specialist is an increasingly necessary figure within a free-to-play team.
F: In your opinion, why choose free-to-play as a business model?
JS: The free-to-play model is ideal because it minimizes the entry barrier to the game while maximizing the possibility of earning income.
The problem is that not all genres fit this model. That’s where the work of a designer shines, being able to fit an entertaining experience with a recurring payment and make the whole system feel natural.
Not all genres fit this business model and in some cases it’s necessary to make a greater effort so that the match between experience and micropayments doesn’t feel artificial.
F: What advice would you give to someone taking their first steps in the industry?
JS: The best advice I can give you is to change your thinking process when creating your game. The logical process is: first I create a game and then I think about how to fit it into the market.
This method is a recipe for failure. It’s like making beer and then trying to sell it to a group of wine lovers.
My advice is to reverse the method. First think about the market, analyze which audience or genres do not yet have a presence in the free-to-play market, then analyze the needs of this audience and create a product that meets those needs.
Looking at it in this way, it may seem like an ambiguous concept, but it’s precisely the thought process that studios such as Natural Motion follow, with games like My Horse (a horse-care simulator) and CSR Racing (a driving and car-collecting simulator).
Many thanks to Julián Serravi for answering F2P Campus’s questions.