About GDN: Interactive Learning

Today I’d like to talk a bit more about our approach when it comes to integrating advice with tools and some of our personal philosophy.

One of our goals with GDN is to help developers manage the business side of game development. We’ll be talking about how some of our tools will help do that, and the power of integration next week, but right now I wanted to address a different question:

How do we help developers maximise the use of these tools without existing business or marketing experience?

Traditionally this is a two step process: Firstly you learn from a source: This could be an article, a book, a friend who has developed something before. Secondly, you try to put that into action with your own game.

It’s similar to the way that learning to code, or learning a language, used to work. You could go to classes, but if you wanted to self learn, you bought a book and you started to practice.

Perhaps you’ve already got some books about marketing video games. There are a few excellent ones out there, for sure. Here’s the very first book I bought on Game Marketing about ten years ago. It’s focused on Triple A and my version is very dated now, but it did at least get me hyped to go and work in the industry:

I always enjoyed the foreword was from Trip Hawkins. He created EA, so props there, but he also created the 3DO, which was not exactly a roaring success…

Books can be great methods of learning, but I’ve always found them more helpful as a primer than a way to put learning into action. I can go read the instructions in my car manual about how to drive, but I’d probably still need a few actual lessons as well.

Nowadays though, we have options other than books and classes, and that’s where we hope GDN can step in. Just like there are apps like DuoLingo, or sites like Codeacademy, that attempt to make language learning interactive, we want to make learning business, marketing and planning your game interactive.

Learning from Games

Not only does making learning interactive help you to constantly think about marketing, business and development as all parts of the bigger whole that is your final game, it also lets you develop skills while you work on your game. You’re not going to a class, taking notes and then applying it – you’re doing it all at once.

Of course, we don’t have to look far in the games industry to see some excellent examples of interactive learning, both good:

…and the bad:

This mess was my first experience with my favourite game series of all time – this tutorial was awkward enough to make me not come back to the Witcher until the Enhanced Edition.

One of the things we’re working on at GDN is making sure that the right level of help is available to the right teams. The example above of Mario 1-1 is awesome, but it’s also explaining concepts a lot simpler than how to produce and market a video game.

We want to make sure wherever possible we can inform and advise without overloading. One way interactive learning really helps here is that we’ll already know a little bit about you, your game, and your goals.

For example, if your game won’t be an Early Access title, let’s take away all the extraneous advice that won’t apply to you. Likewise if it will be, we want that to be front and centre and help you build your plans around it. If you’re a solo developer you don’t need to have to search through information and advice on working in a large team.

One way modern games solve this problem is using a Codex:

Mass Effect Codex

The original ME Codex. I forgot just how dated the original Mass Effect UI is now!

This way, if you want to learn about a specific feature, or gather more information about in-game lore, you can do so via the menu, but the flow of the game isn’t disrupted.

I was one of those people that read literally every Mass Effect codex entry, but I’m sure those playing it as more of an action-adventure title were grateful not to have it be presented as part of the main game.

This is a similar philosophy to our own ideas on learning, and organising information. We’re developing a Codex style system combined with a larger wiki database that is configured to provide relevant help, links and further reading on a huge amount of subjects relevant to indie developers, from multiple sources.

Learning from Experience

But what about experienced developers and larger teams? There’s nothing worse than trying to use new software that assumes you have no knowledge or experience, trying to skip past onscreen pop-ups as fast as possible to get to the tool you want to use.

How many times have you played a game that stops you right at the start and tells you to use the right analogue stick or WASD to move your character?

These days, most of us are already hardwired to expect those sorts of basics. Some games have a very simple method of solving this problem: They simply ask a player if they have experience playing that sort of game before and then adjust accordingly, and that’s similar to our approach.

With a few quick questions we’ll be able to work out exactly how much help you want, from a complete tutorial all the way through to turning off all help and advice. We’ll also change our interface and the way tools are explained and presented depending on this information, and we’ll always provide a way for you to tweak and change those settings at any point.

Our First Steps

From next week, we’ll be moving towards our first steps to create a helpful resource for developers on this blog.

We’ll be highlighting marketing and business articles, news and trends that may help you think about and develop ways to market your own title.

As we build up to the launch of GDN, we’ll also be bringing on other voices, including marketers, producers and other developers to provide a wider variety of voices and opinions.

In the meantime, thank you for reading, you can follow us on Twitter, and you can sign-up to be informed of our launch and beta plans via the form on our main page.

Featured Image: Braid by Johnathan Blow

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