How player feedback influences a Studio Director at a gaming company
What is this episode about?
1. Minute 06:41 - Mafalda shared with us how she entered the games industry and what she likes most about it: the community.
2. Minute 12:41 - Indie Studios can have difficulty gathering player feedback, but Mafalda shared with us a story on how Nerd Monkeys asked the public which character they connect with the most, and because of the players, they changed the way their main character looked in their game.
3. Minute 17:20 - Mafalda discusses how at Indie Studios you need to be more creative to gather feedback and sometimes it is a matter of going with your gut because you don't have enough data from the communities.
4. Minute 22:06 - we asked Mafalda what insight brings the most impact to her and her team and she shared how engagement is critical for her to understand how much players enjoy the game.
00:05 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
We know how much you love talking about player feedback and we do too. What's up everybody? This is Let's Talk Customer Feedback and I'm your host, Natalie. Thanks for listening and thanks for telling your player insights preference about us. This is season three so let's get right into it. The gaming industry expects another booming year in both excitement and sales. But with the launch of many new games comes the realization that the market becomes even more crowded, and the bar is raised yet again in all aspects, including games complexity levels, design, story and character features. So, can leveraging player feedback help with this? Let's find out with today's special guests. How player feedback influences the studio director at a gaming company? Hello, and welcome to Affogata's podcast, Let's Talk Customer Feedback. Today we have the pleasure of hosting Mafalda Duarte, studio director at Nerd Monkeys. First let's say hi to Mafalda. How are you doing today?
01:12 Mafalda Duarte | Studio Director at Nerd Monkeys
Hi, everyone. I'm doing great and I'm super excited to be here talking about what players want. So, yeah, let's go.
01:20 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
I'm so happy to have you here and before we dive into player insights, we would love to hear more about you. So, who are you? What three words would you use to describe yourself?
01:32 Mafalda Duarte | Studio Director at Nerd Monkeys
Okay, so there's this Portuguese word that is like [Speaking in other language], that doesn't translate well. But it's like someone that cannot stay still. I promise is just the word and I would say I'm creative and very active.
01:56 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
That as someone that doesn't like to spend steal, also, I totally understand that and I know this may be a hard question. But what is your favorite video game of all time?
02:09 Mafalda Duarte | Studio Director at Nerd Monkeys
Yeah, that's very hard because it's not like, oh, there's like this one thing. It's a collection of all types of video games. I fought very hard of what to say and I'm going to reply, the one that I played the most. It's League of Legends. So, it's like this fight. I love all my Ed darlings and those are the ones that are more creative with. I would say that is the one that I just spend more time with.
02:45 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
Makes total sense and another hard question. If you'd have a time machine, would you travel to the past or you are the future and to when?
02:56 Mafalda Duarte | Studio Director at Nerd Monkeys
I will travel to the future because technically I could live longer while in like because that would just like keep years of development of the humanity and yeah, it looks like I lived longer because I was still have the same age.
03:14 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
That sounds fun. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. It's actually really nice to start getting to know a bit more of the person that we're interviewing before we start with the serious questions and before we dive more into today's subject, let's listen to a short story from our tales from the feedback crypt.
EA came up with a great idea to drum up interest for the game mercenaries to in fusidic cities such as Los Angeles and London. It troops people dressed as the game's character stage the takeover for random gas station to give out free gas. After the success of the event in LA all things on the other side of the Atlantic went well, right? Wrong. People lined up for miles and ground traffic to a halt. With since harkening back to fuel rationing in the 1970s. Someone said creating fewer riots in the streets of London is completely responsible and downright dangerous. What do you think? Thank you for joining me and see you next week on tales from the feedback group.
04:35 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
And with that story in mind, we can wait to hear what Mafalda had to say about today. So, let's start. So, Mafalda we saw that you have a lot of experience in the games industry where you work as a studio director now at Nerds Monkeys but you were also an ambassador coordinator, a woman in games and a founder of Game Dev leads on so can tell us how you got into the industry?
04:59 Mafalda Duarte | Studio Director at Nerd Monkeys
Yeah, so I got into the industry little bit by accident. I studied art intermediating fine arts. I only wanted to be an artist and a director of short movies very deep. But eventually, like a friend of mine, that wasn't in the same course, at Europe. It was like, Oh, I love games. I mean to games, I want to be a game designer, and you look like great producers. Do you want to join me in my team? And back then I wasn't a great producer. I remind you. I learned everything of what not to do. But he was like, my first step and my first experience around games and making them and yeah, what that brought me was community because he then introduces me to the groups around Portugal, Game Dev and in game dev camp, and a lot of events that now I'm working and I helped to make. So, that was exciting and also just my first connections to games outside of what was available to the public, right, because suddenly, I didn't have this team before. I didn't know what that was and that opened up doors to find things that weren't on the shelves that I couldn't get other way because I wasn't that tech savvy back then.
06:28 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
It's such a nice story and now that you work at, like kind of like these three different roles all in the games industry. But how do these three roles intertwine and what do you do in each of them?
06:41 Mafalda Duarte | Studio Director at Nerd Monkeys
Yeah, so I think the thing that connects them all, it's community definitely, that is something that's rising very much from a young age, I like to bring people together to build things for others and yet, Nerd Monkeys was a world that come from that, because come from my involvement in the community. By the way, for me participating in game jams and to be active and starting to be part of a Logitech and everything else, I got the opportunity to travel to games gone to saw me there, it was like, oh, this person knows their way around this Dev and things like that and so he invited me to the studio, and I was very lucky to have that type of, I think, well, I'm saying lucky. But at the same time, it's like something you built, right? So, I spent, I went to college to study a mastering game design and development, and I was involved in community, and I was doing the game jams and appearing everywhere and yet, people might say, oh, but yeah, but you got invited to be in the studio. Yes, I did an interview like someone put me on. But that's because of all that work that came before and that's exactly the way that then everything else going started to fall into place because we're women in games was the first time Duke from Nerd Monkeys took me to an international conference to be to be working there as someone that has a studio and has a game. We were presenting out of wine, Pocket Gamer London, and David Smith, the founder of women in games was there and I scheduled a meeting with him because I was like, oh, this sounds so interesting. I really want to know more about there and so I joined as an ambassador and then I started to advocate for winning games and start to do all the things and then whenever these roles come up, I was there applying and being available. Say I want to work with you. I want to be more involved and that's how that one came and found the game that was one just came from same pattern of I already organized things around Lisbon was part of a little tech, another group of volunteers trying to do things and when that group fall apart, because well everyone got outside of the country. Two very big studios outside. We're like, okay, let's start over with different objectives and perspectives and build a new foundations for how the community is now and the reason why we did that is because the Portuguese landscape right now it's very different from what it was. I don't know, like three years ago, right? Because especially during the pandemic, then there's a lot more international people around. There's more like one Portuguese natives and so we needed the space where we only speak English and that we are open to new people and open to new profiles, because the game dev industry is not just the developers, or it's also the marketeers and people like yourself on like the podcasters people that are involved in putting this out there.
09:53 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
That is awesome and I can totally see that you cannot stand still. You can do a lot at the same time. I can already see that. So, that's amazing and I think it's super interesting that you're also attending all of these events. We've also done these amazing events. We're also in Gamescom. We're gonna be in PGC London and as you mentioned, a great way to connect. Yeah, it's a great way to connect and network and it's an amazing industry as well to do that everybody's super friendly and super willing to help each other. So, that's awesome.
10:24 Mafalda Duarte | Studio Director at Nerd Monkeys
I would just say that if someone wants to take away from the gaming industry, that is definitely one that people are very available to help you in the right direction, and you're not entitled to their time. So, be careful when you ask for that. But someone will say, oh, I'm available, or here's like an event, you can go to use a group or something. There's like so much resources and I think as an industry, we're very open people, and very open to share, because we just gets stronger with sharing that knowledge around.
10:58 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
Totally and now changing a bit more towards the player feedback part. We would love to know as a studio creator, as a studio director, sorry, how does player feedback influence your day-to-day job?
11:12 Mafalda Duarte | Studio Director at Nerd Monkeys
I would say like it's hard to pinpoint the day-to-day experience because that definitely influences the studio culture, for example, Nerd Monkeys is very open. Right now, we are fully remote studio, and the home base is our Discord server that has the working side, together with the open to public player side. So, for example, whenever we start today, and we say, good morning, and welcome interiorly, sometimes we just jump into a player server and say like how I was everyone just to that room and to engage. Another thing that having that closeness with our players influence was, whenever we started, for example, our first and only multiplayer game monkeys played, we did the internal play tests in our server, but open to the public. So, we go to public room and if everyone was around there, they could join in and so for us, since we're in the studio, there's like a lot of that closeness that was important to us and that impacts the way we communicate with each other and with our audience.
12:30 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
That is very interesting and by any chance do you have like an example you can share with us where you utilize player feedback to make changes to the games?
12:41 Mafalda Duarte | Studio Director at Nerd Monkeys
That wasn't directly connected to this discord example but before we had one, so before, even before COVID, and before we went full remote, for example, when we started production on offline, and we were negotiating with a publisher, one of the issues we were having is, if we liked the way our character looks, if he wouldn't like to childish or if he was conveying emotion enough, and a way that we decided that was just okay, let's have like a public test, like a little quiz, showing like three different characters and three examples and put it out there and have people comment on why they like one more than the other, and how that impacted their experience and any of them was an example that definitely no one was right. So, well, our publisher was right in for us to change and we like different characters, and then the audience like that other and we went with the one that public was enjoying and interacting with.
13:49 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
That's awesome that you are putting the voice of the players in the middle of like the creation of the game. I think that is really, really cool. I feel that the industry is gravitating towards that sigh where the industry really wants to listen to what the players want. So, I think that's really cool.
14:08 Mafalda Duarte | Studio Director at Nerd Monkeys
Yeah, I think of course, there's a balance that you must have on especially whenever you are doing some games there are more static. I wouldn't say static, I want to say like they have like an authorship to them. You know, whenever you have that vision. Of course, you want to be true to that. But I think there's the power of games, right? The power of games is that connectivity to the other experience and so it's like okay, is the other person feeling the same that I do whenever I play this? And there is very important to keep in mind and I think like today there's software's and like websites and ways to connect to players there are like there are sometimes with no cost attached to them, like doing like these scores and finding your top influencers people that connect with you, or do things like a game, I forgot the name of the website that we use back then it was gamer something I don't remember I was but I'll tell you to put in the description so people can use because like, it's not sponsored, but they were super great into having, you know, if you are very specific, it's like I just wanted, I don't know, 20 people to play this and give me feedback on these features. It's very low cost to the value that you get and days very important whenever you don't have more feedback within yourself if the team is already too much into it. If we are too trapped in our own vision, it is very important to test it out and another thing is just like desperate people around you, right? It's just like, give someone that haven't played it before the thing for the first time and see because I would say like I'm a terrible gamer. Their struggles that I keep forgetting the solution to like I was the one that helped our designer, pick the places for like the secret things that you catch him out of line and have them remember where they are no. I need to get tutorials online to find that out. Yeah, of course, you might have those people in your team that you can always like to assist you with. But at some point, you're just like too into it and games are not experienced the are stank in just like a way to see them. They have like so many ways.
16:45 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
And I think it's super interesting what you're mentioning, because I think that's actually a great difference between like indie studios and bigger studios because what you mentioned as Nerd Monkeys as an indie studio, it's super interesting to hear how you can get these feedback without having these huge communities. Whereas, for instance, the companies that we work with that Affogata have these huge communities that it's super simple for them to gain feedback constantly. So, I think that's amazing to hear, like the differences between the two types of companies, and how you can actually listen to your players.
17:20 Mafalda Duarte | Studio Director at Nerd Monkeys
Yeah, because I think, like, I would love to have access to those because then I could be a little bit more data driven, right? That now could be okay. This is the amount of people that are saying that and so that is a little bit. Well, a little bit more technical, right, like you can prove that that is a good decision and I think whenever you're working with I didn't experience that you don't have enough data that approach makes sense, then you need to be a little bit going with your gut and going with the experience. So, one thing, for example, our game designer for our design, but also in monkey split, we did the same and also with like some client projects we tried to do that is to see people play and I'll take notes just like just watching them and not having that. Again, you couldn't do that for you like bigger company that has like billion players.
18:18 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
You need to be more creative in indie studio to get this feedback. Definitely and what is the type of data you search for when doing player research? What are the metrics you look to optimize the games performance?
18:35 Mafalda Duarte | Studio Director at Nerd Monkeys
I would say something that might look stupid, but it's just like, the fun factor. So, it's just like if is it someone just like, enjoying playing? Are they getting frustrated? Again, it's just understanding, are they leaving earlier? Are they struggling with controls, for example, and that is the observable part that you look to, right? And another thing is just like, how many times is something commented on? So, again, with that company that we used to get feedback, especially on like, some specific puzzles there were more difficult than others. One thing that we do is just like those keywords stand out type of thing that is like, Okay, this word is popping a lot of times, let's see, if there's a problem here but then again, it enters that part, and it's very, you and very personal or figuring out that is this a word that we like or we don't, right, because if it's about people getting frustrated, or whatever, then that's not good. But if it's someone for example, there was something that happening out of line that was like this is the creative difference. There was like a lot of players, like some of them were in the sense of a complaint and others were in the sense that they liked it was like commenting on the story being not confusing, but just there wasn't a story. We made it on purpose that there was like puzzles or like pieces of puzzles of a story and then you should play together in a way that makes sense to you. So, we made a point internally, like whenever we're talking about the game that we never disclosed, because what exactly was the game about because it could be that people say it was about aliens. It was about clones. It was about time travelling. It was about the nature versus machine. So, there was like a lot of the finishings of that and we liked that part. That was part of the design show. So, we needed to really tread carefully in are the words appearing about this completely negative? Or is there like a positive way that people are saying, oh, I like that I made my own story around this and whatever and so, for example, that is one that you cannot just go through the metric, all right, people aren't talking about this. Yeah, you need to then treat that data in what makes sense for you and your game.
21:20 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
Well, that's very interesting and first of all, at the beginning, you said they could be stupid, but not at all because when you create a game, at the end of the day, you're looking for people to have fun. So, is extremely important to make sure that they are having fun and they're not frustrated about a level or something because of course at the end, if not, they will turn, right?
21:40 Mafalda Duarte | Studio Director at Nerd Monkeys
Yeah, so I would say, well, maybe stupid is just like, fun is not. It's not a tangible thing, right? You cannot control what fun is. But there's like symptoms of fun and you're looking for those symptoms.
21:57 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
Yeah and what are the top three player insights that bring your team the biggest impact?
22:06 Mafalda Duarte | Studio Director at Nerd Monkeys
I would say like definitely like engagement if people are interacting with whatever you're putting out there and that engagement, I will say is like in two different things. So, engagement is just talking about it and playing around it and engagement in trying to make it better. I think that's a very good insight whenever players want to make your product better, because I think it's not an indicative that you're not doing a good job is indicative they're putting love and everything into it and I think the third thing would be...What is it? That's hard for me because like, I would say that the part that brings us more impact for players is just because those two are already so much things encapsulated. Yeah, I was just because like, these are my go-to, right? It's just like, I read the people trying to make this product better and are they trying to engage with us, because sometimes, I think it's so important whenever we put a new game out there, and people are just like making the effort to go to or Instagram messages or to whatever, because it's like, it's not about shares, just liking it or not. It's trying to connect with us directly and I know, again, it's not going to be the same to every game. If we were going to be mobile, I would put like download retention and things like that. But it's just like, for us, it's very difficult for example to go to that and one thing that it's because the type of player I am, I think a lot of players have those, like indie author like games, they would buy the game and not definitely, you know, like, play it through and through or not play everything, but they're very loyally through buying them because they want to keep the piece of art. It's like people like that just bought tonnes of books that probably haven't read. So, yeah, I would say like, those are my two, go to player insights. It's very important for us.
24:24 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
Of course, it makes total sense and my last question that can be super hard to answer as well is that if you would have a dream insight that you can get from your players, why would it be?
24:38 Mafalda Duarte | Studio Director at Nerd Monkeys
Oh, dream insights! Oh, that's a very good question. I would say like, how is the game impacting them in term like emotionally, because it's a very hard one to get, right? So, we talk a lot about like, emotional game design and game feel and I think that's so important. Like, I love what a game company does with their games and like journeys, a very big inspiration and so I think, understanding what moves us as players, and what takes people through waltz, a gameplay session and experience, I think that will be my, like dream insight to understand that a little bit.
25:27 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
I really like that answer because it also extends to the fact like, why do I keep playing? Why do I stay in the game for more time? So, I like that answer.
25:37 Mafalda Duarte | Studio Director at Nerd Monkeys
Yeah, and also not just about mechanics, right? Because there's like, I think before our industry was a little bit more focused on like, time played and like mechanic experiences, like, okay, now we are like in a game time, and then now it's like break time whenever we put a cinematic into, and now it's whatever. But I think more and more whenever we're putting those like cinematic moments, we intertwine with gameplay and the experience that is just like a single movement, that type of thing is not a separate, then it will be very interested to understand like, well, are you getting bored here or are you not connecting to the character? Why do you need it more gameplay time? Do you need more story time? Like, what is happening here? Yeah, so to understand a little bit more of like that emotional closeness because I think a lot of times if we go through those, like story rules of cinema, for example, that is not going to work because then you as a player might be, I'm waiting for discussing to go over just want to jump into game, but then you can jump into game and not have emotional connection enough to then say, Oh, I don't care, just kill this character that meant need to be important because like, I don't care. I was just exploring the world around or whatever. So, yeah, there's a lot of games that I've made that is just very hard to test it out without making the thing.
27:12 Natalie Markovits | Affogata’s Host
I totally agree and actually, that was an amazing way to end the podcast and Mafalda, I really want to thank you so much for taking the time to participate in today's episode and it was super interesting to learn more about you, and your role as the studio director and how player feedback influences your position and the indie sphere as well. So, thank you.
27:34 Mafalda Duarte | Studio Director at Nerd Monkeys
Thank you so much, Natalie. This was an amazing podcast to participate in because I think it's very interesting to explore, like things that sometimes you get for granted, right? It's just like the things that are used in your day-to-day so thank you for inviting me and let's be in touch.