Games for girls? Piece of cake!

Back in 2005 when we released the first phase of The Endless Forest, the idea of the fair sex playing videogames was strange and fascinating. So much so, that we made it a high priority at Tale of Tales to make games that would attract males and females in equal amounts. After running our little mmo for almost 3 years, we have done a survey that perhaps demonstrates that we may have exaggerated a little bit.

We have organized this survey together with PhD student Eva Kekou and we’re only expecting official results in the Fall. But we’d like to share some things that are abundantly clear without scientific investigation.

Of the over 30 thousand registered members, almost 250 have taken the survey. That’s less than 1 percent. So a grain of salt is in order. Also because some of the participants have expressed enjoying taking the survey. So perhaps the results only represent Endless Forest players who like filling in surveys.

We knew that a lot of women and girls are playing The Endless Forest but the bare figures did come as a bit of a shock to us: only 41 of the 247 participants who answered the gender question in the survey are male. That’s less than 1 in 5. I’m not sure if we should feel proud or embarrassed.

The following graph shows how the participants are divided per age group.

So the majority of players are teenagers. At least those who filled in the survey. Something interesting happens with the gender balance as players get older, though.

As players get older, the gender becomes more balanced. In the age group of over 25, there’s almost an equal amount of men and women.

We always thought that The Endless Forest was a casual experience, in the strict sense of the word. Something you do leisurely, just once in a while. But that was probably because we were only thinking of adult players. As the next graphs show, teenagers spend a lot more time in the Forest.

The one child of under 10 who particpated in the survey, apparently plays the game every day. The older the players get, the less frequently they play.

Something similar shows up in the data concerning the time of an average play session. Some teenagers play The Endless Forest for several hours on end. I find that quite astonishing, and slightly worrying. Most play around an hour. As players get older, the sessions get shorter.

We also asked whether participants played other games than The Endless Forest. Most of them do (almost 90%). The games that were mentioned most were games in which your avatar is also an animal: Okami and Wolf Quest. The Sims and Zelda games scored pretty well as well, followed by World of Warcraft, Zoo Tycoon, Pokemon, Final Fantasy and, believe or not, Halo (almost 5%).

Another thing that caught our eye was how many of the participants had first learned about The Endless Forest through fan art on Deviant Art: 1 in 5 players! Followed closely by word of mouth (friends and family: 16%). Google searches came up third (almost 10%), followed by the community around the Wolf Quest game.

With the relentless creativity displayed by the players on The Endless Forest community site, it should come as as no surprise that over 90% of the players considers themselves to be creative, an artist or designer (either professional or hobbyist). And many of them participate in other forms of culture (mostly music and books, but also comics and cinema, and fewer visit concerts or theater).

Overall, we’re very suspicious of surveys and statistics. So we’re not taking this too seriously. But it’s an interesting indicator. I wish we could interest more boys and men in our games. But I don’t think we’ll add any guns and sports for that purpose. Maybe we should just admit that we make games for girls. I don’t see other developers being embarassed about making games for boys. 😉

The Endless Forest player survey

Together with PhD student Eva Kekou, we’re taking a survey of players of The Endless Forest. If you have ever played the game please go and answer the questions on the Community site (log in with your deer name and password). Even if you’re not particularly fond of the game, or of surveys, or even if you’re male, we’d love to hear from you!

We will publish the results of this survey at a later date (without divulging the names of the participants, of course). I think it will be quite interesting…

Will mobility kill the medium?

Girls using laptops outside

Laptop computers are becoming increasingly popular. To my great frustration because they are often underpowered machines, certainly when it comes 3D graphics, and our games require every last bit of performance they can get. But is there something else going on too?

We’ve always been very fond of the intimate nature of desktop computing. One person alone with one computer in the sollitude of their home office. That’s more or less how we imagine the ideal environment for experiencing our work (not unlike a 19th century gentleman going through his secret drawer of lewd pictures). A very intimate situation in which the player can be at ease and concentrate on the work. But as more and more people use laptop computers instead of desktops, this ideal situation will occur less and less. Through becoming mobile, computers also become trivial. Mere accessories to take on the road, for convenience, not media that you actually devote some time to.

Would cinema have been so succesfull, culturally, if it had become mobile before even maturing as a medium? I highly doubt it. It is exactly the demands that cinema makes on the viewer, that give the authors the room required to create their art. Cinema, nor literature, or theatrical or musical performances, are casual media. But if computing becomes mobile, what will be left of it as a medium?

Picture by fabuleuxfab

Tales of Tale of Tales of 2007

2007 has been a very full year, here at Tale of Tales.

Game Developers Conference Museo Tamayo

We crossed the Atlantic Ocean twice. After over 5 years of personal boycott against traveling to the USA, we flew over “for business” to participate in the Game Developers Conference in San Francsico. We showed The Endless Forest and a teaser for The Path in the BGIn booth on the exhibition floor. It was the first time we attended the American GDC. In August we crossed the ocean again, but this time with the much more pleasant destination of Mexico City, where we helped set up our first ever solo exhibition in Museo Tamayo. On the way back, we met with Jarboe, The Path’s music composer, in her black crow’s nest in Atlanta.

The Path demo prototype alpha 1 The Path demo alpha 2

The Path was our main focus this year. In January we implemented Drama Princess in the prototype of what was then still called 144. This marked the beginning of the real preproduction period. In May we had a first playable prototype for internal evaluation. And in October we submitted a second one with revised interaction design to the Independent Games Festival. In December The Path was selected in the “Excellence in Visual Art” category of the festival.
In November, CultuurInvest granted us a loan for the production of The Path. Realizing that there was this large chunk of money that we have to pay back, forced us to take the commercial aspect of the project a lot more seriously. This lead to the decision to release The Path via retail as well, and not just through digital download.

This very blog was started in February 2007. It was a big step for us because it signified our official acceptance, if reluctantly, of “web 2.0” after extensive nostalgia for the good old web of the 1990s that we still miss dearly to this very day. But the blog has been good to us. It allowed us to share our ideas about game design with the world and doubled the amount of visits to our website. In August, 36,000 people vistited this website, a personal record.
The most popular blog posts were Good games, bad games, ugly games, Games journalists and The New Games, Player-created gameplay, our interview with American McGee and the controversial Ten reasons why computer games are not games.

The Endless Forest Phase Three Day of the Dead in The Endless Forest

The Endless Forest continued to grow as well. We proudly crossed the 10,000 players mark in January, only to cross the 20,000 players mark in October, after releasing Phase Three of the project in September (almost exactly 2 years after the release of Phase One). There were several days when over 300 registered players visited the forest, one day even over 500. In November, the Forest turned dark and misty in celebration of Halloween.
Throughout the year, The Endless Forest was also on display in several art exhibitions around the world. There was the big Gameworld exhibition in Spain, curated by Carl Goodman and Daphne Dragona. And there was Rasa’s traveling Pixel Me exhibition for teenagers. There was the show in Mexico city, another one in Novi Sad, Serbia, one in Lleida in Spain, and in Lancaster, UK. We even showed the game in our home city of Gent, Belgium, at the birthday party of Vooruit.

2007 was also the year of Indiecade, with shows in US and the UK where 8 and The Endless Forest were on display.

The Kiss: Incorporator Vernanimalcula

In November, we remade a 2001 piece entitled The Kiss:Incorporator for a Muhka-curated exhibition in the Flemish Parliament (right in the middle of that funny Belgian government crisis). And in the beginning of the year, we released our first piece of corporate art: a screensaver called Vernanimalcula for the National Bank of Belgium.

The Path in Edge magazine Game Connection 2007

In 2007, we had several interesting contacts with the games industry. The double spread feature about The Path in Edge magazine is certainly a highlight. But our personal conversations with people from Steam, Sony, Nintendo and Ubisoft made a big impression as well. Not to mention the marathon meetings at the Game Connection in Lyon with Electronic Arts, Microsoft, THQ, DTP, Buka, 1C, Playlogic and many more.

All of this setting us up for a wild ride through 2008!…

Happy New Year!

Noir games?

What we’ve got left is a huge gulf between popular, full-experience 3D action/adventure games that need to be financial blockbusters to survive, and marginalized casual/handheld/movie licensed games that don’t register on the mass consciousness radar.

We need our B films. We need that freedom to explore truly meaningful new avenues of interaction, quickly and nimbly, without the pressure of an eight-figure budget and multi-year dev schedule weighing down on the whole enterprise. Noir already scouted this territory for us.

Noir begs game developers to reign in the scope of their production budgets, and the conflicts they depict. The noir approach promises games wherein the player isn’t saving the kingdom, world or galaxy; wherein the ubermensch doesn’t mow down a thousand men; wherein we can experience familiar settings in a new way, and infuse the everyday with the extraordinary.

Steve Gaynor on Gamasutra

I’m glad the writer isn’t satisfied with what somebody in the comments calls “indie/mini/flash/casual (whatever) games” but is calling for a kind of game design that is still ambitious while finding budget-friendly ways of using the technology. I also like his suggestion of certain themes, popular in film noir, that are easier to portray than epic, massive war stories. And I share his belief that this type of production can lead to revitalizing the medium and lifting it up to a higher artistic standard.

More resources for prototypes

Senior producer at Sony Computer Entertainment America Santa Monica, Rusty Buchert, in an article about game pitching by Brendan Sinclair, GameSpot on Gamespot:

The biggest change [Mr. Buchert would] like to see is more resources given to developers to create functional prototypes for their game ideas.

“That’s where we’re hurting,” Buchert said. “Somebody needs the time to test out this new idea and see if it pans out without committing to a full development process and discovering halfway in that it isn’t going to work.”
Such an outcome is bad for the industry, Buchert believes, because it winds up producing bad games that don’t deliver on their early promises. This hurts gamers because it both produces a game that isn’t as good as it could have been and makes them more apprehensive about buying games in the future because they don’t want to get stung twice.

Makes sense to me. And it seems that Sony is taking a leading role in this, especially via the Playstation Network. We’ve talked with Sony people over here ourselves, and they seemed quite interested in investing in prototyping.

I can sympathize with publishers being uncomfortable with taking big risks. Developing and marketing a game can be very expensive. Greenlighting the entire project in one go, based on an idea, a design document or even a preliminary demo, would make me quite nervous as well. Taking one step at a time seems like a much more sensible approach.
Greenlighting every step of the process separately, starting with the prototype, makes the initial investment much smaller. As a result, publishers will be much more comfortable with taking risks. And they also won’t run the risk of missing out on an opportunity that they didn’t recognize in a first round. The developer, working through the process with a publisher, will also understand much better why a game is ultimately considered a good investment or not.
Developers also would get burnt a lot less frequently if the greenlighting process was more gradual. Now we are expected to be enthusiastic and passionate about our ideas from the onset. And while that’s easy from an artistic point of view, it’s quite difficult from a commercial one (since developers obviously know less about about the market than publishers do).
A tight collaboration between publisher and developer in the production of a commercial game, sounds like a good idea to me.

The games industry is alright… maybe

Last week we attended the Game Connection. We were there to pitch The Path to games publishers to get an idea of the commercial viability of the project from their perspective and to see if we couldn’t find any help with publishing the game to retail (rather than exclusively online).

We had 30 minute meetings with both small and big games publishers and with representatives of the three console makers. Presenting a game like “The Path” to them was a very interesting experience indeed.

The Path is not a typical game. It is made very much from an artistic vision and is very uncompromising in terms of gameplay. In fact, there is hardly any. Simply because we didn’t feel such rule-based interactions helped to express our story. On top of that, it is an intensely sad and dark tale that perverts the player’s motivation to play.

Needless to say that some of the companies we met were freaked out by our demo (or FOBD’d as we started calling it). It was extremely amusing to see managers of these big companies go pale in the face.

But what was even more remarkable, and the reason for this post, was the incredible amount of positive response that we received. Contrary to the popular belief that this industry is conservative and risk-averse, we found many publishers to be quite open to what we were trying to do and willing to help us achieve it. In fact, they almost invariably made the same remark about how refreshing it was to meet designers who create out of artistic motivation. Apparently, these days, it is very common for developers to be mostly interested in sales.

We are not being naive about this. We know very well that the personal enthusiasm of the people that we met on the show, does not automatically translate to a business collaboration. But what has become very clear is that the industry is (getting) ready to publish all sorts of experiences. This is very different from our previous intensive encounters with publishers some 3 years ago. I guess it is the success of casual games, the Wii and the DS, MMOs and web 2.0 as a whole, that has made them see that the “games for gamers” dogma is not the only way to be commercially successful.

Now all they need is more developers who are able to meet this demand.