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Brenda Romero

I am the Program Director for the UC Santa Cruz Master's in Games + Playable Media and the CEO and Co-Founder of Loot Drop, game studio focused on fun. I have been fortunate to make games my whole life.

GDC 2011: Slides for Metrics vs. Intuition Talk

March 1, 2011

Laralyn McWilliams and I gave a talk today at GDC. These are the slides for those who are interested: Intuition vs. Metrics: How Social Game Design Has Evolved.

Getting Players to Return to Facebook Games

February 9, 2011

Getting players to post to the viral channel is a challenge every game designer faces when he or she is making Facebook games. It’s known that players are most likely to post when they’ve just started a game, but what motivates returning players?

Four things:

  • It helps me. There is a particular item or objective that is core to the progression of my game with which I need your help. Typically, the game allows you to buy your way around the “Ask Friends For Help” option. If I need your help to progress, short of paying cash, I’ll post it.
  • I know it helps you. It’s key here that it actually does help other players. I am likely to post something to my feed if it gives you something I would want for myself. I understand the item’s value and scarcity. It’s also important to consider that over the lifetime of a game as well as the curve of player progression, the value and scarcity of an object may change. What I care about in an early game may not mean anything to me later on. Does that mean the viral messages should change? Not always, but catering to player’s needs and a player’s perceived value is critical. I have seen messages in feeds which offer stuff I have absolutely no desire for. There is just no reason I would click. Other times, I am prompted to post a feed which will give my friends something which I know has no value. Likewise, I am not likely to post through.
  • It helps us both. Parody though it may be, Cow Clicker suggests players post a message to their feed. Anyone who clicks on the viral message not only gets “mooney” with which they can buy “clicks” to add to their “click” total, but also gives the original poster “mooney” as well. It is an example of a mutually beneficial viral which trades in the only thing that matters in the game – “clicks”.
  • Pride. I will post if I am actually proud of what I have achieved, be it a quest, an item or something else. Generally, I am proud of this because I want to show off the great thing that I have done. Recently, I posted that I’d leveled to 17 in a game, because it took me quite a while. When I finish building the epic chapel I am working on in another game, I can assure you I’ll post about that, too.

Does this mean we should only include virals which fit the above themes? No. What makes one player proud could make another feel frustrated at the conclusion. For instance, an epic quest to gather a lot of materials could challenge and excite one player but irritate another. Likewise, some players abhor all forms of feed messages while others are happy to click through a wide variety of virals. In fact, there is a whole class of player for whom “playing the feeds” has become a pleasant meta-game to the game it supports. Of course, we also don’t want to limit a player’s viral opportunities, particularly when our games depend on it, nor do we want to overdo it.

Ultimately, your only defense against subpar virals is playing your own game. Do you actually feel motivated to click your own viral message? If not, why do you think others will? Are you aware of the click through? Have you investigated the good ones vs. the lame ducks to understand what hooks they’re using? Are you watching your competitors like a hawk? Remember, though, that you are only one player in your game. Watch how others play, too, particularly if their play style is different than yours.

Analyzing your own play, feeling the hooks in the game and watching the results via metrics offers the best chance of creating compelling virals which players feel motivated to click through.

Developing Self-Discipline

January 16, 2011
Several years ago, I was working for EA designing the lifestyle system for an urban fighting game. I had it FINISHED, and planned to send it off that day. Then, an idea occurred to me that would make it better – not massively, but maybe by 10%. It was certainly a better way to do it, the right way, I would argue. Now, I vividly remember thinking about how much time it would take me to make this change. It was going to affect EVERYTHING I’d already written. I was on contract for a fixed fee, so it didn’t matter whether my work took 200 or 300 hours. Done was done and $ = the same. It was the first time I had been in such a situation.

I vividly remember everything about that moment. Where I was sitting, what I was doing, what work the decision would affect. It wasn’t a pleasant thought. But then came an important moment of professional growth for me – my only responsibility was to do it right for the game. That is what I was hired to do. So, I took the massive amount of time, the stress on other things in my life (I was just starting at SCAD at the time, and that workload was nuts), and I did the job right. The critical thing is that had I not done it, NO ONE would have known. It was good enough, but I knew I could do better.

I return to this again and again. We must always do the right thing for design, allowing for the real constraints of THE GAME, not compromise the design because of our own mood, time or other non-game needs. I would have known that it could have been better and that I had cheated the game.


Design Truth 1

January 13, 2011

Focus on second-to-second play first. Nail it. Move on to minute-to-minute, then session-to-session, then day-to-day, then month-to-month (and so on). If your second-to-second play doesn’t work, nothing else matters. Along these lines, if your day-to-day fails, no one will care about month-to-month, either. 

Ravenwood Fair Named a Top Social Game of 2010 (Again)

January 13, 2011

A belated thanks to Inside Social Games for their nod to Ravenwood Fair. The new site’s top 10 listing includes us. Much appreciated!

Though many of the basics have been seen before, Ravenwood Fair feels original, and brings an interesting role-playing element to Facebook.

Ravenwood Fair Named a Top Social Game of 2010

December 28, 2010

Gamasutra has named Ravenwood Fair one of the top 5 social games of 2010. Thank you!

Built under the creative direction of industry notables Brenda Brathwaite (Wizardry) and John Romero (Doom, Quake), Ravenwood Fair has a completely different atmosphere from the sims you typically find on Facebook…

NES Belt Buckles

December 15, 2010

Yay! Just got pinged about these NES belt buckles and thought they would make a good addition to my previous posts on game belt buckles.


The Incredible Generosity of Programmers

December 14, 2010

I’m learning how to code in C, because as a designer of video games, my inability to code is something I constantly feel – as an artist of sorts, I spend my life asking people who can paint to put to canvas what I see in my head. It feels all very “once removed”. I love the pure creative act of coding, of seeing what I’ve hammered into a text window turn into something else, and I can’t wait to understand code like many of my friends do. It will take discipline and years, and that’s awesome and okay.

It’s during this process that I’ve become aware of the incredible generosity of programmers. I post my code to my Facebook wall, and within minutes, I have “likes” and comments from numerous coders, many of whom are badass and legendary in their own right. In this, there is no exaggeration. Some go back to the early 80’s, others are assembly language PS3 engine coders, and still others are currently coding something on games we all want to play. I get private messages from many asking if I need help. Others skype me to review my code live when a particularly tricky problem presents itself. Even the person teaching me coding is patient with what I am sure are Baby Coder 101 questions, and as he spends time explaining new functions to me, I think of what that mind could be coding instead. On Twitter, the feedback is 10x that of Facebook. Industry coders are so phenomenally supportive, egging me on (even if they are excited for the potential trainwreck that may occur when I hit pointers).

This whole exercise has given me a wonderful window into the coder community. I am humbled, humored and grateful that these coders spend even a minute looking at my rudimentary code, and their generosity makes me question my own as a game designer. Am I as willing to help the fledgling game designer as they are me?


For those interested, I am using this book – Learn C on the Mac (Learn Series). It has been phenomenally helpful, but doesn’t get you coding and practicing nearly as much as I wish it did. So, I am presently finished Ch 6 and working on exercise after exercise before moving on to Ch 7 (Pointers). My mentor gives me problems to see if I can solve them in code. My solutions are not optimal, of course, and I can only program with functions I know, so actual programmers will see better ways to do things, improve my syntax and formatting, etc. That will come with time for me. Right now, the focus is on solving problems with code.

Game Design is a Game

December 13, 2010

Now up on Inside Social Games, my new article Game Design Has Become a Game shares some reflections on what it’s like to be a game designer in this phenomenally competitive space where numbers are constantly and publicly updated. Have a look, and let me know what you think.

Great Books for Coders

December 8, 2010

If you’re not a coder, but love someone who is, these are books he or she will enjoy. I’ve recently picked all of these books up. Most can be purchased used for significant savings. The “Masterminds…” book is particularly good.