Scott Foe: Passing the Porch

What he's learned in the mobile gaming world

Scott Foe: Passing the Porch
Scott Foe's last day at Nokia was Friday. The senior producer and guiding light behind Reset Generation is leaving the N-Gage team for pastures new.

We asked him if he had any parting shots based on what he's learned working in the mobile gaming industry for the last few years. He did. Read on.

My name is Scott Foe; in 2003, I left the comfort of the online console gaming world to lead some seriously talented teams in developing and launching online handheld games.

With Sega's Pocket Kingdom: Own the World, we stood at the forefront of (and even helped to define) connected handheld gaming. And with Nokia's Reset Generation, we made cross-platform (PC-to-mobile) connected gaming - something that so many have been promising for years - a reality.

One of the big attractions for me when it came to mobile gaming was that, though our projects were huge by handheld standards (bigger than most PlayStation Portable games), our projects were relatively small by console-standards: One person could do more.

For each project, I was able to lead not only production efforts, but also launch marketing and public relations efforts, and (though not as sexy) quality assurance efforts.

My own personal learnings from these past six years have been considerable, and here, I would like to share some of those learnings with you ...

Flush-Handle Design

"Easy to learn, impossible to master," has been the mantra of games industry design since the dawn of arcade gaming. In the context of mobile gaming, the mantra is a fallacy: "Easy to learn, easy to master," serves better.

Designing a truly great mobile game is akin to designing a truly great toilet, in that the product of your design should be so easy to use, and so satisfying when you use it.

  • Having two dimensions for player action is more accesssible than having three dimensions for player action.

  • Real-time gameplay is more accessible than turn-based gameplay.

  • Perfect information (showing everything on-screen at once) is more accessible than imperfect information (scrolling).

  • Having one-and-only-one actor for player action is more accessible than having multiple actors for player action.

Beware the Dancing Bear

Have you ever seen a dancing bear? It's impressive! But that bear will never win Dancing with the Stars: Because it's a still a bear - it doesn't dance very well.

Some people will exclaim, "But the bear dances!" Expert designers would call those people "apologists." And there are way too many apologists working in mobile gaming today.

In a dancing bear competition, a dancing bear is going to win, but introduce (behind reinforced safety glass) Cheryl Burke into the mix, and those bears are going to get their furry butts high-kicked. Is your product a dancing bear? Or a dancing Cheryl Burke?

Eat Your Own Dog Food

It positively floors me how many mobile game designers drive to work every day: take the bus; take your game. Go to the movie 30 minutes earlier than you normally would and play in the theater.

Sitting at your desk and playing is not going to give you anything close to a true player experience. I've heard it said that gaming is "the red-headed stepchild of Hollywood," and so mobile gaming must be the dog who lives under the porch: Eat your own dog food.

Attractiveness Bias

Psychological studies of design focusing on users of automated bank teller machines show us that - given human interfaces which are completely identical save that one interface is more ascetically pleasing than another - interfaces which are prettier seem easier and more fulfilling to use.

Make every last screen of your game beautiful: Even the menus - no more ugly system font - even if you have to reduce scope in order to apply resources to do so.

Entertainment Property Development
Pokemon was a handheld game - and also a billion dollar enterprise. The entertainment property development lessons applied to the creation of AAA console games are not just for AAA console games: Those lessons can be applied even to the lowliest, one screen, mobile titles.

Nokia's Snake is the most-proliferated video game of all-time, no other game truly comes close: imagine if the creators of Snake had over the years developed and introduced a compelling storyverse/narrative which featured a memorable cast of characters: A win for players, in the form of more interesting content and a win for the business-heads, in the form of greater possibilities for brand monetization.

Consumers are the Bullets

If marketing is warfare, consumers are the bullets: And nowhere does that sentiment matter more than in a space where the players carry the games around in their pockets, everywhere they go.

Even with the dawn of new and exciting mobile gaming platforms, the level of purchase research done by mobile gaming consumers is still pretty abysmal: people generally try and then buy what's in front of them (on the device deck or in the storefront) or they try and then buy what their friends are playing.

Does your game have that "HOLY SHIT YOU MUST SEE THIS" moment? Are you incentivising your players to become the most valuable members of your sales force?

My pocket porch dogs, I leave you (for now) with the words of Broadway lyricist Herbert Kretzmer: "Never kick a dog because he's just a pup. He'll fight like twenty armies and he won't give up. So you better run for cover when the pup grows up."
Scott Foe's continuing adventures can be tracked via his blog.

Contributing Editor

Stuart is a freelance journalist and blogger who's been getting paid to write stuff since 1998. In that time, he's focused on topics ranging from Sega's Dreamcast console to robots. That's what you call versatility. (Or a short attention span.)


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