EGD News #65 — Asymmetric Opportunity
It’s Joakim here. Greetings from Helsinki!
I’m planning something new for the Elite Game Developers podcast, and wanted to bring it up here on the newsletter.
I’m starting a podcast series called “Ask Me Anything”, where I answer questions that listeners of Elite Game Developers have sent over. Later in the spring, I’ll bring on some guest hosts to answer some of the questions. This is going to fun!
How to participate? You can send a question by filling out this survey, and I’ll add your question to the list of questions that I will answer.
The first AMA episode would most likely come out at the end of February, or as soon as I get enough questions to answer in a 45 minute recording 🙂
Now, on to the news.
📈 Asymmetric Opportunity
I named my first book “The Long Term Game,” but I could have as well called it “The Asymmetric Opportunity.”
Asymmetric opportunities are bets which you place in life. These bets are often risky, but with a combination of skill and luck, they can lead to returns that dwarf what you invested in the first place. The returns can be financial, or learning new skills, or revealing new opportunities that weren’t available earlier.
As an example, I’ll give you two paths to pick from.
Path A leads to staying in a corporate job for ten years.
Path B leads to founding a startup and building that for ten years.
If plotted as X-axis as time and Y-axis as returns, Path A will draw a linear line, whereas path B can become exponential.
Even joining an early-stage startup can become an asymmetric opportunity. Or taking path A for the time being and starting a side-project that could eventually lead to the formation of your own company. The possibilities are endless with asymmetric opportunities.
Placing bets in gaming
Since we are in the games industry, the big question is: What can people in the games industry do that are asymmetric opportunities?
Starting a startup. We already covered this, but it’s a bet that is always a life-transformative one. Even if the startup fails and you don’t receive financial returns, you’ll have learned things that you can’t learn anywhere else. In any case, the returns can be infinite.
Building a video game. We are in this industry because we have a passion for games. When you create a game, you look into the unknown, finding out what an idea could be turned into. Think in small bets here, look to discover success as early as possible. Then move on, with the learnings in you back pocket.
Investing in game studios. I feel that there’s no better way of creating asymmetric opportunities than startup investing. Each angel check of $2,500, $5000, or ten-thousand you invest in startups can be returned in 5x, 10x, or 100x in a matter of years. After some returns, you can up your bets and start placing $25k, $50k, or $100k ones as time goes on.
Start small. This is something that I just recently figured out: I have an idea and I share it publicly, immediately. With a few hundred characters of text, sharing it on LinkedIn and Twitter. Each message can reach hundreds or thousands of people, leading to asymmetric opportunities.
In a recent Twitter tweet, Naval Ravikant, the founder of AngelList, talked about how people can utilize and get the most out of asymmetric opportunities in life.
1. Find positive asymmetric opportunities. Everything you look for in life, where the upside is X, and the downside is 1x.
2. Bet what you can afford on them. Get to work with what you have. Downplay opportunity costs and sunk-cost fallacy, loss aversion, and status quo bias by realizing that Path B is always better than Path A.
3. Avoid negative asymmetric opportunities. Don’t cheat and lie, and be cautious of zero-sum games. Always betting on acts and virtues that signal high integrity will have higher returns than dishonesty.
4. Keep doing so until you get your asymmetric return. The key is doing, committing, and taking action. In asymmetric opportunities, one of the costs is not receiving short-term gratification from your efforts. In the short-term, often the first few years of any activity with asymmetric opportunities will be only a slightly upwards-bending trajectory, and you have no evidence that it will turn into a hockey-stick curve. Prepare for a ten-year wait.
⭐️ The Case of Brawl Stars
This GDC talk from 2019, by Antti Summala, is interesting. When I was at Supercell in 2011 and 2012, I worked with Antti and he has come a long way. Very impressive work, Antti.
Most recently, Antti has worked as a game designer on the Brawl Stars team. He talks about the origin of the project and how they got to work.
Player progression was bad in the early days but became better as more systems were layered in.
“[We got] a lot of complaints about getting duplicate brawlers and small Elixir drops that felt meaningless. So we decided to iterate the progression system.”
Once the team had worked on the game for a while, done internal playtesting, and gotten a good feel internally. Then, external playtesting revealed a lot more.
Antti Summala: (Go to this spot in the video)
“[Instead of using a finger,] our testers were using two thumbs, as in texting—the regular way they use the phone. Our ideas of deliberate and low actions-per-minute gameplay went out the window. It turned out to be incredibly hectic.”
“The feedback from that shooting wasn’t sufficient to let the player know that these are all the actions they can take for the moment. So the testers and our co-workers alike reported feeling very overwhelmed by the combat because they felt like they had to do 250 actions per minute.”
Antti continuing: (video)
“There was one virtual stick at the bottom corner, you could customize that for either left or right-handed. And then you would tap where you wanted to shoot. Now, user testing found that this was also frustrating for players. And the kind of drifting stick we had designed ended up drifting all over the screen.”
What follows is how data in a soft launch is critical, not just for KPIs but for revealing UX issues that you can’t often see from watching a dozen playtesting videos of paid playtesters.
Antti continues (video)
“There was no clear winner between our two control modes. Our data scientist dug a bit deeper and found one clear difference. Players were switching more to the joystick controls from tap controls than vice versa. And that led us to eventually phase out the tap controls.”
Brawl Stars’ approach to RPG progression, competitive gameplay, and power curve was not obvious and it couldn’t follow Clash Royale’s meta.
“We tried to walk a fine line here by keeping the power scaling very small, compared to Clash Royale. If you look at the very maximum of scaling you can have with common cards, it’s about 200%. So we went on the very conservative side and it felt like a good compromise. In fact, even though we were quite concerned about this choice, we had good results. Players weren’t complaining about the game being pay-to-win. Instead, the progression system, at least in the beginning felt meaningful.”
For the end game, the team has been thinking about building out more goals for the players. Not just collecting more and more brawlers.
“We’re looking at ways to give you goals, when you’re climbing in trophies, instead of focusing just on the stuff you can collect from loot boxes, or buying from the shop. Ever since the trophy road update, that’s been a focus for us. We’re looking at ways to make it more sustainable, where it doesn’t feel like you hit the ceiling.”
“The focus is now going to be on the trophies next. We’re going to add more characters and add more [character] star powers. The content will keep coming. We’re looking at ways to improve the trophy grind, as well.”
It’s a fascinating video and you’ll learn a lot about how to approach soft-launching a multiplayer game with lots of new core gameplay mechanics. I highly recommend that you’d watch the entire video here.
📃 Articles worth reading
+ Ultimate UA guide for testing and scaling a mobile game — “If, after learning, we are satisfied with the performance of the Ad Set, we can start increasing the budget. If we are not satisfied with the result, then the Ad Set should be turned off, copied, changed, and restarted.”
+ A How To Guide For LiveOps in 2021 — “Your business model has monetization happening after the download, so your users need to be around for long enough to be monetized. LiveOps works by keeping them coming back. It works by giving them fresh new ways to engage, by surprising them with doses of personalized excitement, and by making them feel like they’re a part of a real community.”
+ Glitch CEO launches early-stage Moonrise Fund — “Moonrise Fund is an early-stage fund that’s focused on supporting new types of gameplay that haven’t been seen before. The fund, they say, has three key components. The first of course is capital: between $100,000 and $250,000 per person, with the aim of funding “a good handful” of projects per year – Karr says the number is flexible. Those who receive funding are free to seek other funding as well.”
+ Top 10 articles on games in 2020 as written by top investors, columnists, and journalists in the biz — “Last year was big for video games journalism. The Washington Post’s new video game section Launcher now has had its first full year under its belt. WIRED launched its gaming vertical. Jason Schreier moved from Kotaku to Bloomberg. Netflix released its video game docu-series High Score. Scores of new gaming-dedicated newsletters have flooded the market, as gaming-dedicated funds were springing up one after another across the globe.”
💬 Quote that I’ve been thinking about
“Reading good books is like having conversations with the finest minds of the past.”
— René Descartes
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That’s all for this week. Take care and stay safe!