A quick snapshot of what you’ll listen to on this podcast:
1. Minute 4:00 – Rob shares with us how he got into the games industry, his design background and his experience of 15+ at Activision Blizzard.
2. Minute 14:43 – We asked Rob how he collects player feedback even before launching a game and how to make a game fun according to your audience.
3. Minute 23:02 – The impact of adding or removing mechanics to a game on the player experience and a special emphasis on Diablo 2 Resurrected.
4. Minute 27:47 – We asked Rob how’s the process of listening to players, respecting the feedback, respecting the community, but also, figuring out how to create something new out of it without disappointing the fans and he shared his insights.
5. Minute 41:11 – Rob shares his input on how perception is everything in a game and how Game Studios can use this when analyzing player feedback.
6. Minute 47:57 – Rob and Itamar discuss the differences between single-player and multi-player games nowadays and why people feel so connected to multiplayer games and why they find these games fun.
7. Minute 51:01 – Rob shares with us amazing insights on his top 3 player insights that he remembers made the biggest impact on the games he was part of.
8. Minute 55:36 – you don’t want to miss what Rob answered when we asked him what would be a dream insight he could get from players.
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 00:55
Hey, welcome, Rob to our podcast. Super excited to have you here. So, first of all, where are you joining us from, and how’s your day going?
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 01:06
It’s pretty good. It’s about two o’clock in the afternoon here. I’m a little north of New York City. So, it’s how you were but most people in the world like oh, yeah, I know where New York City is.
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 01:19
Yeah. Although people tend to generally talk about upstate New York, for some reason, like as a place generally familiar, but they don’t remember the names.
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 01:29
Everyone, even people in Pennsylvania, which is literally, you know, two hours away. They’re like, Oh, you’re from New York or from the city. I’m like, no, like, Montreal is closer to me than New York City. But sure. I’m from New York City.
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 01:45
So, thank you for joining us today and Rob Galleriani is a Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard, correct?
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 01:53
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 01:54
Yeah, and it is really great to have you. My name is Itamar. I’m a co-founder of Affogata and Chief Product Officer here at Affogata and today, we love to talk to you a bit about your experience in the industry. And, of course, a lot about how to utilize the voice of players when designing games and when improving them and optimizing them and you know, we would love to start a bit with your background and really how you got into the industry. You’re a real veteran. You know, correct me or anything I’m saying here that may or may not be like if do you have any details to add, but you’ve studied computer animation, right, like over 20 years ago. If it’s okay to say that.
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 02:43
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 02:46
So, did you get into the industry from that angle would love to kind of learn how it started.
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 02:50
So, I actually grew up in central New York and I really wanted to get into, at first architecture, and with architecture, when you start you have lots of papers and blueprints and rulers and everything is very machine perfect and that industry a little over 20 years ago, had already kind of started to just to transition over to being very computerized and we started working with a program called AutoCAD, and AutoCAD actually has become like Autodesk in 3d Studio Max and things like that. But at the time, when I started making 3d buildings, I also noticed that you could do animations and most of the animations were, you could make a tree blow because it was for architecture, you’re going to show how your building was going to look in like the real world. But once I saw that you could animate it in 3d and this was the time of like, I loved Mist and Riven and those types of games where like 3d graphics are amazing, right? And Toy Story was the thing, the first one.
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 04:00
And so at that point, I said, Hey, I really want to get into computer graphics and there was really no place to do that and I ended up getting an apprenticeship from the same, like from a small like 2d like hand drawn on acetate cells that did stuff for like Sesame Street and TV shows and that kind of led me to get into college where I, you know, majored in computer animation and I just assumed I would go into movies or special effects. In fact, my minor was in industrial design doing like, monster makeup and like building spaceships for stuff. But afterwards, I had to mail a VHS tape out to different studios, how old I was, and I got a call back from a place in Troy, New York, which is where I have been for the past 20 plus years, and that was Vicarious Visions and when I went there, I didn’t know what they had done, and they were starting to work on Tony Hawk Pro Skater for the Gameboy Advance and this was before the Gameboy Advance even announced and so they had like a Super Nintendo hotwire to a circuit board mounted on a pizza box and that was their dev kit that Nintendo had sent them and it was kind of like, from there, it’s always been there. So, for the first probably six years of my career, I was actually, you know, my degree was in animation, but games back then were made with a team of seven people and so it’s not like we had one person just do animation like I did level design.
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 05:28
Seven people for entire game, like all coding and everything?
Yeah, I think we had two and a half engineers, three artists, one person part-time to do the audio. But I mean, handheld games back then we’re probably closer to the mobile game industry of I don’t know, like four or five years ago, you know, and obviously, even now, the mobile industry is huge, but like, around probably the five or six year mark, I really got more interested in design, and especially like combat and handling and so I formally switched at that point to design and then for the past 15 plus years, I’ve just done game design to where I worked my way up, I was the studio design director of Vicarious Visions and within the past, I think a year or two kind of been a blur this last two years, because you know, global pandemic and all kinds of crazy stuff but VV moved from underneath Activision Publishing to underneath Blizzard Publishing and so Activision Blizzard is all one very large company, but they’re kind of just that’s it’s just go way up high. But like below them, we actually have King, we have Activision we have with Blizzard. So, we moved to under Blizzard and that was while I was the game director on Diablo 2- Resurrected and so yeah, so a long way from animating a little skateboarder. Handle game. Yeah.
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 06:50
So, let me ask you. So, when you transition from like, when you kind of change your goal from Hey, I’m gonna do these things that end up as buildings in the real world. So, I’m going to do these things that are, you know, only in a digital space, right? Did you ever think about that, how you might like changing from sunny, ultimately physical to the non-physical?
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 07:11
So, that’s actually a really good question because I don’t think I realized the weight of that until I had I till I shipped my first game. I could work a 24-hour day, like, I could work nonstop and really, at the end of the day, when I shut off my computer, there’s nothing there, right? Like, it’s blank, it’s blank screen and even in back then, not only did you have to get your whole all of your code, everything all checked in, you’d have to make a master and it has to be manufactured. Really, nobody buys a box product anymore. But back then we had to send it off to get either printed to a disk or burned, you know, put on a cartridge and it had to go and put in somebody had to put it in a box and then put it in a shelf and so the delayed gratification from I’ve been working on something, you know, nonstop for a very long time to, oh, it’s now on a shelf, and other people can experience it. Like, you don’t get that when you’re not and maybe in the actual architecture field you do like it goes from blueprints to you finally see it as a building years later. But it’s very different from like, especially me growing up, like I grew up on a small town farm. It was like that’s broken, Okay, you go fix it and literally, as you’re fixing it, you see it, and it’s done and then at the end of the day, you’re like, Look, I just fixed that window, or you know, that truck tractor is now running like it definitely and I think that’s just kind of true for most all of the digital thing and even when you transition from being a like a team, like an independent contributor of like, oh, I write this code, or I do this art to being a leader, right? As a leader, I’m not checking in files into our source control on a daily basis, right? Like, I’m working with people and so you even then get one more step removed and it’s your people who are doing stuff on a daily basis and you get the gratification when they succeed, which adds another bit of delay to it.
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 09:11
Yeah, I actually never thought about it because, you know, it’s kind of like managing a team of whatever people who write code or anything, but oftentimes, like when this when you like one step removed from they’re actually doing the actual, like the creation of the models or the design or the animation or whatever it could be, I imagine it can be hard, right? You see people do things in a way that maybe you do, but in a slightly different way or whatever and it’s artistic. So, it’s not like, you know, in code, you could say, Hey, this is not the best way to do that. This is not an efficient solution, whatever it is, right? But in, you know, the creative like this creative line of work, there’s no one way so it’s like, well, I would create it this way but this can work too. It’s can be tricky I imagine.
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 09:59
Yeah, and I mean, we might even talk, this might be swaying too fast into the discussion. But when we’re starting to design, when you’re focusing on just the design, which you could say is like the rules of the game, or is the game fun? I strongly believe in the approach of fail fast, right? Like, find out if it’s wrong and what you need to be able to do is, let’s pretend we were making a game where you could, you know, run around and throw fireballs. Well, making a world to run around in or if the VFX for the fireball took like real fire, like, that takes many people a long time to look good. But to prove, okay, this works like this fireball does five damage. It’s like, Okay, we’re gonna make it a cube, and the cube is going to move forward, and it’s going to hit this bigger cube that we’ve made blue, and pretend it’s the bad guy, right? Like, and you kind of have to work in that space. Like, there are many times where we’ll prototype with index cards and rubber bands and dice to see if something feels good. But when it comes to knowing if something’s fun, we’re very like developers are too close to it and so you need to get other people to test it and some of the problems is people who test it like playing a game is a whole experience of a lot of features working together. It’s the audio. It’s the visuals. It’s the animation, it’s the soundtrack and if you’re like, Hey, can you play this? It’s almost completely broken. But we only want you to focus on this little part. Most of your players actually won’t, right, like, because they’re going to because those other things are too distracting for them to say, Is this fun or not? And so, the figuring out, Is this fun, without investing any more work than you need to is, really valuable and yeah, you spend a lot of time in that, like, let’s just get it in really dirty. It’s probably bad code. It’s probably riddled with bugs. But we can just get in really quickly to be like, oh, yeah, this mechanic will work, right?
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 11:56
Okay, so this is super fascinating actually. Like, it’s a great segue, I would love to hear, especially about, you know, how you do those things when you’re early in the design process, right? It’s not like you can have gamers to test it on just some internal processes. So, I would love to hear more about that. Just before we do that, I know we have a story. Kind of a backward story that we would like everyone to hear. So, let’s meet you guys on the other side of this interesting story and Rob will tell us much more.
Here’s an idea. If you were about to launch a new multimillion-dollar video game, what would be the best fear stands to get people excited? If you said, to hire a guy to put on a mask and wave a gun around in a crowded bar? Well, you probably work for the boneheaded PR team behind Ubisoft 2010 video game, Splinter Cell Conviction. Yes, to drum up anticipation from the game in New Zealand, Ubisoft hired an actor to dress up like an enemy from the game, enter a popular Auckland bar and wave a fake gun in people’s faces. While the cops were inevitably called, the actor was almost shot. As far as ill-advised PR stunts go, anything that warrants 911 call probably shouldn’t make it past the pitch stage. Thank you for joining me, and see you next week on tales from the feedback crypt.
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 13:51
Okay, so with that story in mind, sets us up to dive more deeply here. So, you were saying how you want to test those things, because making something fun. It’s hard, right? There’s a lot of components that go into that and just kind of a feeling if I understood you correctly, there’s kind of like, you know, when something is fun, you know what, that something isn’t fun, but you can really just decomposing in, you know, into, like, into numbers, right? And you want but you also want to test things as early as possible before you like invest, you know, in do them like to the pixel or for like level not only the graphical aspect, like in any aspect, right? So, how do you do that when you like, you’ve worked on some great games, you mentioned a couple of them, early in the process, you know, how do you get that feedback? How do you do that experimentation?
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 14:43
So, it really starts with identifying what your goal is. What your win condition is, right? Because I think that a lot of times and I’m guilty of this just as much as anyone else like the goal is not just make something fun, right? Because there’s lots of games out there that are different kinds of fun for different kinds of people. I have way too many board games and there are certain board games that my wife will love to play with me and there are certain board games that she refuses to play with me and there are certain board games that no matter how many people were playing with, and so you have to identify at the start of any design, like, who are we making this for, right, because if you’re making it for a very kind of, they love crunchy numbers, they love direct competition, they love to min-max things like that is a certain group of people and they will find value in certain mechanics, and they find fun in certain things. Whereas you have other people who are like curators. They like collecting things, they like showing off content, they don’t want to be competitive, they want to collaborate, like those are people who find a different type of fun, right? So, if I was to give Animal Crossing to someone who is a Call of Duty, like PDPwe, they are not going to find any joy. They’re going to say, this is a waste of my time and if I was to take someone who loves Animal Crossing, and said, hey, I want you to go deathmatch with these four other people.
They’re not even going to turn the game on, right? And so that’s really where it starts and I think a lot of times people forget to take that step where they’re like, Okay, let’s make a cool game and it’s like, whoa, we all want to make something that’s cool. But we have to define what cool is before we can start building stuff to then measure against it and so that’s where I think the trickiest part for me, is you have to look from like 10,000 feet up in the air of like, as a product, how many people do we want to target? What is that? But then from like, the super low level, it’s like, what am I doing for 30 seconds that’s fun, right? Like, what is the 30 seconds to fun? Is it I’m running around trying to not get shot with the spells while I kill monsters? Is it managing, like, how much magic points I have to spend? Like, that’s 30 seconds of fun and then it’s like, Oh, no. So, if you look at like Diablo, Diablo-2, was is a remake of a 20-year-old game, but the game loops that are there are kind of timeless and so the 30 seconds of fun in Diablo, or really any RPG is click on the monster and kill it, right?
It’s fun to run around and you see a bunch of creepy monsters and you’re blowing them up and you’re trying to not get hurt, that’s 30 seconds. But the five or 10 minutes of gameplay there is oh, if I wear this armor, I’m going to have this many points and so you’re playing kind of the inventory game and you know, the paper doll of what your character is. But then you have the Okay, what is the two-week gameplay in that game and that’s like, Okay, I need to beat these levels of difficulty so that I can grind this part of the game for 10 hours to get this one piece, right? Like, in the end, that game is all about a gear. It’s a gear chase and there are some gear in that game that people have played for hundreds, hundreds of 1000s of hours, and they haven’t even gotten that item and so you kind of have to think about what your game looks like in all of these stages because while you know, we could sit down and get something rough in prototype and be like, yeah, that 30 seconds is fun. It’s fun to move around and click and kill a monster. How do you test: is this going to be fun after someone plays there for 400 hours, like, that’s where it gets very tricky and that’s where you tend to use, you know, open betas or public play test because even when you do play testing, you usually can only do play testing in at most 100 people groups and if your game is targeting 20 million people, like 1000 people is actually still not enough and so you then have to do much larger groups and that’s where it gets into the quantitative and qualitative and like, okay, it’s really easy to get the data, but it’s not really telling us the story and stuff like that.
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 19:02
Right. So, okay, so there’s a lot here to drill down into super interesting. So, I want to hear more, of course, about what you just started alluding to. But before that, it’s really interesting how you described, almost what I would say is a first principles approach to game design, or, you know, starting from fun, which sounds kind of silly, but this is, you know, this is what the games are about and the thing is, you know, oftentimes, and you tell me if you saw this thinking oftentimes when we talk to people in to be because there’s a lot of ways to approach a problem of course, if people even you know, create really good games. Nowadays, you know, the interesting the place where like, okay, there’s these genres, and now we want to create a game like, you know, that like, this is the genre. It’s kind of like this game from this other company that we feel we don’t have an equivalent to, but it will be with you know, whatever here it’s a village so for us it will be Vampire World, whatever it is, right? Have you saw such thinking? Like, it’s really different because it’s very, so encountered that?
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 20:11
110%. Yeah. So, like, I think the reason why it’s easy to fall into that is that if I was making a game with three of my friends, and we’re just going to self-publish, like the three of us can easily communicate and if one of us disagrees, we can one on one time hash it out and we can come up with a game that’s incredibly abstract, and no one’s ever seen before, right? Like, if you’ve ever played like, The Witness, or like any of these games, where they’re more like art playable art pieces, which I love them, but to try to say, Okay, now I’m going to work on a AAA title that has hundreds, if not 1000s of people working on it, I need a message that’s not only really clear to, you know, marketing to get as many people to come play it as possible. But I also need to get all of the people on the team excited about it and it’s just very, very easy to be like, oh, yeah, we’re totally, you guys have played Halo, right? And you like Harry Potter. We’re totally making Harry Potter Muse Halo and people like, Oh, I get it and so it’s…
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 21:17
The people like you have to meet people’s expectations also, throughout the onboarding, perhaps. Oh, I’ll just this doesn’t make any sense. Like I’m out. Especially in the mobile space, I guess. Yeah.
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 21:27
And I think the Wallet is very effective. The downside of that is, if I say, Oh, we’re making an MMO, that has raids, but those two words, mean very different things to very different people and you could get like, you could get a year into development and then you finally have it all up and standing up and everyone’s playing it and your stakeholders, like one person’s like, this is exactly what I knew is going to be and the other five are like, this is nothing like what I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be a World of Warcraft raid and we’re like, well, no, it was going to be more like a Destiny and that’s the downside of using those very broad terms is it’s easy to get people onboard. But it’s kind of like the 80% is easy and the last 20% is a nightmare and so yeah, but it’s hard to talk about something when there isn’t something to talk about. But yeah, it’s all just words and ideas.
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 22:23
Yeah, and you mentioned how, you know, the problem of coordination across a large team. That’s you know, that’s true for any large human project, right? But it’s really interesting how that applies here because I think we’ve all seen those games, where it feels like, they took this basic game mechanic and kind of stitch it with some other game mechanic. It’s works in some other games, some other cards, but they kind of don’t fit in together perfectly. You know, without naming any names definitely have played some games that are like, wait a minute, why is this here? Like this doesn’t make any sense and I think it’s part of the phenomenon you describe. It’s a very, very tricky pitfall.
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 23:02
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s also because games are so big, and have so many systems that coordinate with each other, that unless you fully understand the impacts, I’m not saying you can’t change it. But I’m going to use I’m only going to use it because it was the last game I worked on. But so Diablo 2 Resurrected it was a remake of an old game, right? So, we had all the old rules of the old game. But when you take something that’s 20-plus years old, you can’t just expect people to play it the same way they did, right? Like 20 years ago, people were using America Online discs and they had like, dial up modems and there was no such thing as Oh, I’m just going to watch YouTube to see how that level was? Like, it was a totally different world and there weren’t 19 other games similar to it on the market that you’re competing with. And so when we brought it forward, there was a lot of things like, hey, we want to change this. So, like controller support was something we added, but it’s like, how do you make it feel like the old game when the old game never even had a controller, right?
And so this approach of changing stuff gets dangerous and so one of the things that we were talking about is, Diablo 2 had a stamina meter and it was essentially, like, you could run or you could walk in that game and if you run, your stamina meter drains, and when your stamina runs out, you can’t run anymore and it was it’s a very, very annoying feature. Everyone hates it, and they’re like, why didn’t you just get rid of stamina? Well, we actually investigated it, but we did it very diligently like, Okay, what would it do? What harm could it do? We took this one feature out, and we realized that like, Okay, one, there are all of these, like, bonus shrines in the game that if you click on them, they give you stamina. So, it’s like, okay, well, we have to remove those. There are items in the game that are potions, and if we took those out, it would change the loot tables for all the monsters that would have rolled that. Also, your armor changes. So in the original game, when you run your armor class is different than if you’re standing still. So, it’s like, it was this kind of like, interwoven web of all of these other things and I think what happens is a lot of times people be like, Oh, well, we’re just going to take this mechanic from this game, and this mechanic from this game, and we’re going to slam them together and they should just work and not just with like, game design, but like with business models, like the business model of the game is huge now and so are you free to play game?
Are you like a box product with DLC? Or do you have microtransactions, or you have loot boxes, like, and it’s something that changes every almost feels like every couple of months, there’s a new way to change it. At the end of the day, it costs money to pay your team to make a game. So, you have to charge something. Like people don’t like to think of like, Oh, can you just play it for free? I’m like, no, you can’t give things away. But I see a lot of times people are like, Oh, well, we’ll just take this thing from this, we’ll take loot boxes and stick them in with this other model and this model, it’s like, yeah, it doesn’t really work either. So, I think that is a very sticky problem of like mixing and matching, because games are not the six people in a studio cranking it out anymore. Like they’re literally hundreds of people around the world making games in 16 different languages. You got to have your ducks in a row, right?
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 26:23
Yeah and you mentioned also, you know, how you’re thinking multiple timeframes, because you need to, you know, the fun comes in multiple timeframes, like you’ve elaborated earlier. So, correct me if I’m wrong, but I imagine it can also be a source of friction of like, this long-term mechanic is not really harmonious with this, like short-term mechanic, or a fun factor, whatever you want to call it. So, that can be tricky as well. So, let me ask you, you mentioned obviously working on, you know, Diablo is such a storied franchise, people and I think we’ve seen this in other kind of, you know, in other games and other franchises. This is a game that people played literally decades ago, right? And they have their expectations, and they have their childhood memories. And, you know what, most likely they don’t even remember it correctly, right? They remember something the rink was fun, but they don’t even remember exactly how it worked. They have, but whatever you present them with, there’ll be like, they will be upset about something likely and you’re creating something new, but you also have all these, these existing audience and at the same time, you know, well, I’m not going to just, you know, my game needs to make money sounds like I’m selling only to those people who are in the 90s or whatever, right? So, how do you on one hand, listen to players, respect the feedback, respect the community, but also, you know, figure out how to create something new and the same that is, you know, it’s probably impossible to disappoint anyone. So, how do you approach that and how does the process look like?
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 27:47
So, one, I wish I had a perfect process that I could use everywhere. It’s different every time and especially with a remastered game, right? Because we all good I totally unplugged my headphones with a with so with a remastered game, you’re absolutely right. Like the not only did I work on Diablo 2 Resurrected, but before then we did Tony Hawk one plus two, which was very bizarre working on the remaster of the first game that you worked on and then before that, we did Crash Bandicoot and so like, in those worlds, you’re right, like people had heavy nostalgia. Renew nostalgia was one of the reasons they were coming back, right? I mean, and it’s not just video games, it’s Hollywood, right? Like, I went to go see the last Ghostbusters movie because I love the first one. Like, that was literally it. But once you get people back, you have to do this little bit where you educate them on what the game used to be and you’re right, people, people only remember the good parts and unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, like, they remember more than just the game, right?
So, if we take like Diablo 2, like, that was a lot of people’s like it was their first PC game or it was the, like, the first game of this thing. So, they remember like, late nights with friends. They remember that first time they had a LAN party. They remember going away to college, and this was like, and that’s way more than any game, right? And so to give credit where credit’s due like that game was amazing. But it’s not just the game. It’s these people and their lives and where they were and so we just have to be respectful of that and so one of the cool tricks we could do with Diablo 2 Resurrected was we had a button that literally would toggle you back to the old graphics and so thank goodness we had it because what would happen is people would play the new game and they’d be like, Oh yeah, It looks pretty good and we’re like, well, it looks like a bajillion times better than it used to and I guess so and then we’re like, go hit the G button, and they would hit it like, oh my god, is that what it really used to look like? Because you just kind of forget, right? It’s like, it’s like going back and watching a movie. Like, I remember watching, rewatching He-man and I was like, did I think this was amazing and you’re like, Okay, I just, let’s not go back because, you know, you have those rose-colored nostalgic glasses.
So, reminding people what it was and there’s also something called the […], we like to reveal its first-time user experience and so there, there are features that you will put in your game, only for that one time, because once the player has discovered the feature, or learned of it or been educated about it, they’ll never touch it again. But it’s so important that they know where it is. Because if they don’t, it may be confusing later on and then you’ve kind of, you know, you’ve lost that moment in their onboarding. So, like that, like, Okay, I’m turning on this, this game, here’s my first experience kind of getting into it and so things like, if you have a really complicated game, maybe don’t put all of the buttons, like first level right in front of their face, because they’ll be overwhelmed, right? Like, it’s like, if you’re going to teach someone to swim, like put them in a kiddie pool, and then move them to the deep end, don’t just throw them off the diving board without a life preserver. Right, like so. I think that is another aspect that has to be really heavily considered, with just like, how you onboard people into the experience, and reminding them either what the game was or what it is if you’re not doing a remake.
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 31:37
Right. Yeah and I think, you know, it’s also something that changed throughout the years, right? Because I think at the time, you know, when people had, you know, they bought the game at the store at the box, like you said, and they came with it, you know, came back with at home. I think people at the time, they had the willingness to devote hours to figuring out a complex game and then we’d be like, you know, they would just sit and crack at it. But you know, they didn’t have cell phone notifications, you know, like, you know, live internet to go to they didn’t have all these things and today, it feels like, hey, you get 30 seconds. And, you know, if I don’t get it, I’m out. So, it’s just a very different mindset, very different attention span.
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 32:17
People used to read a manual, like that’s just…
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 32:21
I forgot about those. Manuals. Yeah. Yeah, so, you mentioned how you like using testers and you mentioned, like, for example, if you have a game, obviously, the audience has millions, but you’re working with 100 testers, and those testers, you know, internal to the company, or the people you recruit like, how does it work?
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 32:46
So, from my history, most of which is with Activision Blizzard, which is a very, very large company, but there are different pieces of feedback that you get from them. So, when I was working on Skylanders, Skylanders, was really targeted at a younger group of kids and so we would bring them into the studio, either in New York or in California and one of the super beneficial things we did there was any…I was the first one that VV worked on Skylanders, Swap Force. I was head of the character team. So, we made all the Skylanders and it was required that if you were a designer who was designing a character, it was mandatory, you watched the kids play that character and what a lot of designers forget is they don’t come with their character when the world sees it, right? And so we would be like, okay, cool, what’s your character do? And it’s like, well, you need to be able to figure out this character by just mashing the buttons and seeing what happens and so a lot of times, there’s gonna be like, Oh, we have this really cool character that, like, they’ll put this debuff on a monster and then if they stack it three times, and they hit this thing, and I’m like, dude, nobody gets that at all and like, but we had to keep coming up with brand new, crazy powers for the Skylanders. But like, just be like, kids are brutally honest and so kids are great, because one, they just have no problem speaking their mind, they have no problem failing, like, the older a person gets, the more afraid they are of looking bad and so they won’t try things because they’re like, oh, if I try it, it’s wrong. Like, where’s the killer? Like, whatever, I’ll try this 100 times, who cares? But so in-house testing was super, super valuable, recorded all and everything like that.
Another form of doing it is surveys. So, we would also just basically with the kids and with more of like people in from off the street. They were just like, they grabbed people at a mall and they’d be like, okay, here sign this NDA. We’re going to give you a survey, and then we’re going to show you some stuff or we might play some stuff and we kind of gather all that data. But once you get above like 50 people, you can’t like sit and read every interview question and how they answer it or watch them, right? Because there’s a lot of times like their face says it all. So, if someone’s face is smiling, and they’re nodding and they’re into it, versus someone who’s furrowed brow trying to figure something out, like they’d like, those are things that no data is going to show other than a video of their face and if and you could even go ask them, oh, hey, Jeff, did you have a good time? Oh yes, I thought you had a good time. Versus all I had a great time.
Like, they’re both gonna say positive, but that’s where and I think that’s a challenge is like, when you scale up to be really, really big, just, there’s not enough hours in the day, like we even have a team where they’ll go through and they’ll try to cherry pick out like key positive comments, or keep negative and you can put stuff in word bubbles, but like, it gets tricky and that’s where when we do big surveys, we have to do more of like, on a scale of 1 to 10, which one was good and so we and then you’re kind of just saying like, okay, look, where were the problem areas? And so you’ll kind of say like, alright, look at the 10,000 people that got this survey. 70% of them said that their least favorite class was this one and yeah, okay, well, let’s go look at the comments around that class and so you kind of like have to just wholly disregard, like anything that’s just kind of middle-of-the-road feedback. You’re just like, okay, these are really positive things. Let’s go with it. This is really negative, let’s pick focus on the negative, and you just kind of have to approach that when you’re dealing with that scale, right?
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 36:38
Right. So, then it’s already when you know, you have something out and you have a community, right? And you’re using tools to kind of see, okay, what kind of feedback is out there and from what you describe, it sounds like you’d like to start with the sentiment, right? Kind of as an entry point here. Let’s start with the bad stuff and see what it is. Let’s start with the good stuff and see what it is.
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 36:59
Yeah and if you’re making a sequel or something that franchise already has a fan base, you can most certainly start with nothing. You can be like, what would you like to see in a new one, will a new one excite you like, and then you can even just get sentiment right off the gate, which is good and bad. It’s a little bit dangerous because you want your team to kind of be creative about things. But still…
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 37:24
So, just to make sure I get it. So are you describing what you would ask in a survey? Or are you saying, hey, let’s just look out there because people are probably talking about it. Like if there’s a game, probably people already saying, oh, I love this, but I wish in the sequel, they will do that, we would like if we change this, right, to do just look for like this stuff gets organically there who do like to start with asking people?
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 37:46
Well, the thing with the internet nowadays is everyone’s going to share their opinion, whether you want to hear it or not like they’re gonna put it out there. But we have to be really mindful of there’s really only a certain group of people who give feedback by posting, you know, Youtube, or making tweets or commenting on Reddit. Like, that’s a certain type of people and they usually are not always the majority. You can get kind of a like a broad sentiment of the whole community. But there’s a very large number of people who are very happy and quite contented. They have no reason to complain and it’s not to say that you should design your game just for that group, either. But they’re actually like, harder to get to draw out because they’re not volunteering information. So, that’s where the survey data is nice, because we can usually couple it with other questions like, are you a fan of this franchise? What are other games you play, right? So, even though we’re obviously in a world where Activision Blizzard makes a large group of games, we can very happily say, well, do you play Fortnight? Do you play Minecraft? And then we know like, okay, these are the types of games that this type of player likes and so survey data is nice as well, like, I guess I’m saying like, we try to not just use one source and the Internet community, you can kind of define it as one source just because of the type of person that engages in that even though everyone like is kind of like a silent watcher. Like most people watch Youtube, most people watch Twitter or whatever. It’s the people who are trying to be like tastemakers and that’s why we will directly reach out to people who are like, oh, you have you made comments on our stuff, and you have, you know, 100,000 viewers, we’re just gonna reach out to you directly.
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 39:38
So, you actually reach out so you kind of combine the approaches like, Well, I see the site, it’s organically there and I see some voices I want to tap into, I actively reach out to them and you know, kind of, I guess, pick their minds a bit. Okay, that’s a really interesting approach. But it’s not trivial. I think not everyone does that. I think obviously, a lot of studios analyze feedback. A lot of studios use surveys. For active engagement, I don’t think it’s something that everyone does. I think it requires a process and maybe some comfort in doing that. So, this is a really interesting approach and I think, you know, as time goes by, I think, as you pointed out, like you have this, like there’s everything out there, right? That people talk a lot, does it reflect really how people feel? I think it’s time goes by the tools are getting better to kind of reflect why like, kind of do the right waiting, the right analysis to tell you, you know, what, yeah, this is very vocal. But this is not a true representation of what’s the sentiment, right? And here’s kind of a good representation of it because I think it’s always the challenge. When you do a survey, even if you do a very big one, it’s hard to get a statistically meaningful sample. It’s just hard. However, if you look at like, obviously, the data that is out there is statistically meaningful. But like you said, there’s some skill there that you need to account for. So, there’s just some trickiness there. But oh, you know, hopefully, the tools are getting better, and will help us.
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 41:11
Yeah, I mean, to add, like one more wrinkle to it is there’s a lot of times where we’ll so if we have like an open beta, or some type of public play test, not only do we have people survey results, but we actually have the real data in the game, right? And so, if someone goes on Youtube, and they’re like, oh, yeah, I played this game for whatever, like 100 hours. I can literally, if someone filled out the survey in the playtest, I can be like, oh, no, you played for 17 hours, and then you quit. So, it’s like, people don’t always tell the truth on surveys, either or their perception. Like perception becomes reality to a lot of people. So, like, in a lot of games, you’ll have feedback where people like this move is overpowered and we’re like, okay, and we’ll actually go and it will be like, no, like, you’re actually killing things at a slower rate. But because like, the screen effect is all shaking, and the noise is loud, like, and we’ve had times where I remember, years ago, we were working on Marvel Ultimate Alliance and there was this one level where people kept saying, oh, this isn’t intense enough, it needs to be harder. This is an intense enough and we just kept adding more and more baddies to the game to the point where like, we couldn’t add more baddies, because NG can only support so many and we’re like, Wait a minute and so we actually just went in and changed the soundtrack to the level to be a high-intensity soundtrack and everyone’s like, Oh, my God, you fixed it and we’re like, sure, we fixed it.
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 42:39
Perception is everything.
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 42:40
Perception is everything and so there is a lot of times where just how you present data changes, how people feel about it and so it’s sometimes it’s not actually, the game itself isn’t imbalanced or broken. It’s just how you’re showing it to the player.
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 42:57
Right! Yeah and you also point out that, so that’s amazing and he also pointed out to you now the challenge with surveys, how you ask or how you phrase, the question affects the answer, and the thing is, yeah, people, I don’t want to say lie. It is not that people lie on surveys. I mean, of course, some people do and of course, it happens. But it’s just that the perception like they believe the answer, which is not accurate, right? It’s a kind of a self-attestation problem or self-perception problem. So, it’s super interesting. It’s, you know, behavioral stuff, very tricky. Yeah, so you mentioned that these are some really great ways to, I guess, tap into the community, and get player feedback and you mentioned, you also worked on these, you know, franchises and a few remakes, right, so you know, what it’s like to have a hefty community to account for. Do you usually do that? We kind of from the get-go, if it’s like an existing franchise, from the get-go, you’ll do this kind of connected community getting feedback? Would you do that if you’re also like, when you do a brand-new game, just to you know, a complete new title, or, in that case, will the feedback phase come later? There’s also the phase where, you know, the game is already out and maybe you’re making some tweaks. How do you do these things across the lifecycle of a title?
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 44:17
So, when it comes to the type of game you’re making, I think that whether it’s a remake, or the next iteration of a game within the same franchise, or something entirely new. Even if it’s entirely new, it’s probably part of a certain genre and once again, you’re trying to target a certain type of player and so I think that what’s really key is like, what is the fun? Like, what’s it what is it that people love about that game, right? Because sometimes it’s not the look, you know, sometimes it’s not the sound sometimes it’s what is fun about and so like, with Diablo, like we had a 20-year-old game with Diablo 2, but there’s also Diablo 3 that is also an already existing game that is out there and there will soon be a Diablo 4. But each of those Diablos is distinctly different and so it’s like, well, we could go ahead and we could modernize Diablo 2 but we’re not trying to turn Diablo 2 into Diablo 3 or Diablo 4 we’re trying to keep Diablo 2 Diablo 2, right same with Tony Hawk like, there were certain things that people really loved about Diablo or with about Tony Hawk and if you look at the first couple of Tony Hawks, they’re arcade games, right? Like you play for a two-minute run and it’s like, what’s your score? What can you get in your one-trick attack? And like, that was really important, right?
Like Guitar Hero, like with Guitar Hero, I think that there was some time where people were kind of losing their way because they’re like, oh, we have to teach people how to play a real guitar and it’s like, no, no, no. People just want to, like, get together with their friends have a few beers, and pretend they’re awesome and they’re literally playing something says and it’s like, if you think anyone’s picking up Guitar Hero, because they want to learn to play a real guitar. Like, did you know that learning to play in realistic is really darn hard. So, like, it’s like, no, I want I want 30 seconds, you hand me this piece of plastic and now I feel like I’m awesome and so like to get your back to your point. Like, it’s identifying what that group of people finds to be fun and fun about that brand. Like, take the Souls Games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne like that, like, the fact that the game is brutally hard that it’s a very unforgiving game.
Like, if you were to come out with a casual and lighthearted Souls game, I even if it was had the same name, and the same art style, I don’t think it would drive with the audience at all, right? Because that’s not what they found important and so you have to identify that with your game mechanics, just as much of like, what is the type of fun that they like that it’s brutally hard, they liked it, it’s competitive, do they liked it, it needs 39 other people to get together and raid a big boss, like so that is something that. You don’t always have to ask. I think that when you’re starting on a franchise, you should have some familiarity with it. So, you and your team should just get in and play the game and understand why people are loving this thing. So, there’s just that. I guess the easy answer is go play it. But yeah, with that, like, I don’t, if you had to ask a survey of like, hey, why did you like it? Why did you like Tony Hawk? Like, we should know that already. But I think we knew that because we were also all fans, if you were truly new to a franchise, and you had no idea why people even liked this game. You might have other problems, I guess, to say, right?
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 47:42
It’s that sort of question. It’s hard to hard to answer truthfully, I think for a person, like why do you like this game? Well, you know, you have a lot of reasons, including, you know, maybe it’s your building personality.
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 47:57
I mean, that’s actually a great point on multiplayer games, like a lot of people say, oh, I love that game. I loved playing it with my friends and you’ll notice more and more games, like it’s very rare that you find out other than like, first-party games, it’s very rare to find a single-player game and I think it’s because if you and I, like we’re friends. We’ve been friends for like decades, and we get together and we play a game of like, I don’t like we can play the stupidest game ever. That’s actually a really bad game. But it doesn’t really matter because I’m hanging out with my friend, right? Like, I can go bowling with my friends at the bowling alley. I stink it but in fact, we can all stink of bowling and I’m not anything like bowling. But I’m spending time with my friends and games have become a pastime, where like we see people playing Fortnight where they don’t even care about what’s going on. They get into fortnight to go watch a concert, because to them, it’s just a place to hang out and so I think you’re right, like saying, well, what did you like about that game, especially when it’s multiplayer, it’s like, okay, what did you like about the game and pretend you didn’t make friends with anyone and you weren’t playing with? Like, you can’t? Like, that’s not it’s an unanswerable question.
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 49:05
It’s a really important insight. Yeah, the definitely the multiplayer changes everything in that respect. So, I know, you know, we only have you for a limited amount of time. So, I want to get kind of a couple more questions. So, you mentioned, you know, a couple of ways to tap into the community and to players and obviously, you’ve done this a lot. So, just for like some interesting examples that our listeners could learn from, like, what are some top three insights that you remember that you got from users whether you know, whatever way you collected the information that really affected like, you really remember that it really affected the game design or key decisions?
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 49:51
Yes, so there was one insight we had we were working on Skylanders. We were making this one character, who her inspiration was like roller derby. So, she was like a roller skating like, kind of brawler character and the original design for this character was she could kind of go into like a charge, and you would hit a button and now she was in this like fast-paced move where she was skating forward and anything she hits you with kind of headbutt and when you would push the button, she would start moving forward. Now, most of the time, when you played the game, you would use your thumb on the thumb stick to move the character around. Every single kid hated this move and we’re like, but it’s a really cool move, and they felt like it was uncontrollable and the reason why is it was the one of the first moves we ever made where, regardless of what you did with your thumb stick, it would keep moving your character forward. So, it would be kind of be like, if you were driving your car, and you hit a button and now regardless of what you do with the gas pedal, the car kept moving forward. It would instantly feel like the car is out of control.
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 50:59
I like this move based on just what you said.
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 51:01
Yeah, exactly, and so around the same time, we had another character that had a move, that was like an escape move and when you’d push a button, the character would spring backwards and that also freaked people out, where they’re like, I hate this move. I hate this move and really, where it got to is this line of like, choosing when you choose to take control away from the player and it sounds like you would never take control of the player, but you do, right? Like if you push a button, it’s like, oh, I want to use I’m making a Nina Jones game and I want to use my whip. But when you push the button, it’s going to play an animation of the whip going out of your hand, right? Like you have to wait for that to be done and so you are playing with these types of times, but it’s like, but so with the way we ended up fixing the roller skater character is we made it so that if ever the player let go of their stick, the character canceled out of the move and they instantly fixed it like night and day. But it had to do with like that taking control and it’s okay to take control away from the player, if what they’re doing is what the character wanted to do. If you’ve ever played a game where like the game has a cover mechanic, so like Gears of War, or whatever, and they try to do like this an auto thing where it’s like, oh, if you get near something you can crash behind will automatically make you crouch.
So, many times, I’m like, I want to go run and then I’m like, No, I didn’t want to crouch and like the game is taking and so you should never be wrestling with your, the player should never be wrestling with the game to make it do what they want. So, that was a really big piece of feedback. I think another really big problem that we ran into is every player wants things to be faster and more responsive. Like they push a button, they want the thing to happen. Well, when you’re making a character, say you’re making like the Hulk, or something really, really giant. If you talk to an animator, and the way you sell that something is big and has weight is it takes more time, right? And so how do you make a character that’s really big and heavy, feel responsive and there’s two tricks that we did. One, it doesn’t mean that when the player presses the button, it doesn’t mean that the punch has to be out instantly. What it means is the game gives you feedback that you push the button instantly. So, if let’s say your character had their big fists up, and you push the heavy punch on a big character, so long as the moment you test that button, like the fist is kind of way back or you see a sparkle like on the frame they hit so then they’re like, oh, okay, but then what you also do shifted. Yep, something’s happening. The game understood I pushed the button so I feel like I’m listening to me and then the other trick you can do is put the weight on the recovery instead of on the attack, right? So, if with the Hulk like he’s gonna smash the ground and make a crater, have frame three have his fist on the ground, but then have it be like three seconds for him to pull his fist up out of the ground and kind of resettle and then it still feels like he’s responsive, but then he’s recovering sluggishly.
So, those are two tricks that helped when it comes to like, they want to be responsive, but you still want slower characters and I think that segues because that was because as a with a history of animation, you’re trained. Everything has anticipation. Everything is squash and stretch and so if I were to tell you hey jump, the first thing you would do is crouch down and then jump. Well, if you’re playing a video game, if you push jump that character better be in the air. There’s no waiting for to crouch and then jump and if you do that, you kind of have to make every single thing in your game account for it. So, like all your projectiles need to be slower moving. All the crumbling platforms need to crumble slower because you need to give the player time to be like the player push the button. We don’t have to wait a second for the thing to happen and the player will learn but like it affects everything in the game.
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 54:58
Maybe, yeah. Well, I mean, there’s so much more here that we could reel more in. I mean, there’s a lot of the subtleties and how you create that experience, right? But yeah, I know I don’t want to take too much of your time. So, kind of answer final question. We’d love to hear if you ever had kind of a dream inside those, because you may, you know, you mentioned how hard it is sometimes to get the right insight from players, so have you ever had like a feeling of like, Oh, if I could only figure out this thing, it would be super useful to me kind of a dream insight that you would like to have?
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 55:36
So, the trickiest thing is, is when you give someone a playtest, right? Like, they know they’re being tested, and most humans are fairly polite about it. Even if what comments they write about your game is not the playtest and so a genuine like, okay, I am done playing this game and why? We are like we used to call it the shelf moment, like, at what point does a player say, yep, you know what, I’m putting this on the shelf. Because in today’s world, you don’t play a game once and you’re done, right? Like, most games now are a service, you want to keep playing them and a lot of times, people will, you know, stop playing for a little bit, but they then want to come back to it and you could kind of always want them leaving on a high note and things like that. But there are these moments where people like, yep, I’m done and to know, truly, when they hit that mark, and why it was like that would kind of be the keys to the kingdom of like getting people to always be engaged, like, is it that they need new content? Do things get stale? Because we’ve seen people do the same action 9 million times, and it never gets boring for them. Whereas other things are like, I did this 10 times. I’m sick of it. Like, is it different for every person? So, I think that would be it.
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 56:49
I mean, that is a great point. I think that’s a good thing, too because in this day, you know, everyone tries to create these forever games. It would be like a superpower basically.
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 56:59
Yeah, it would be, right?
Itamar Rogel, Affogata’s CPO & Co-founder 57:00
So, yeah, it’s an amazing question. Well, really, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us and share some of your insights. So, much interesting stuff in you know, if you’d like us, we’d love to have you again in the future kind of double click on some of these things. Yeah, thank you for taking the time. Thank you also for creating these beautiful games. I think, your games that many of our listeners are played and these play games play an important role for us. So, thank you so much and we looking forward to seeing you with us again, and have a great rest today.
Rob Gallerani, Senior Principal Game Designer at Activision Blizzard 57:36
Excellent. You too. Thanks for having me and I would love to talk again.