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April 22, 2011

Bruce Shelley talks about the evolution of social gaming. Plus more AOE-O animations and Robot swag!

Recently the legendary Bruce Shelley has been in talks with Gamasutra along with Brian Reynolds another industry veteran about their roles at Zynga in the social gaming space. Brian Reynolds before joining Zynga worked at Big Huge Games which collaborated with Ensemble Studios on the Age of Empires 3 Asian Dynasties expansion. Bruce and Brian had also worked closely with each other in the past on Sid Meier’s civilisation games. Now they are both re-united again at Zynga where is has become clear that the company is hiring industry veterans to push their gaming business forward.

When talking to Gamasutra Bruce detailed how he was recommended to join after the company was looking for designers from the “Sid Meier School of Design” era.

Can you explain how you interact with Zynga and how you ended up with the consultancy gig?

Bruce Shelley: Well, Brian talked to me about how [Zynga] would like to have more people from the “Sid Meier School of Design” to help with the gameplay of the games, and not worry about any aspect except how the games play. So I’ve been working with a couple of Zynga’s external studios.

Basically I’m assigned to work with the external studios, the ones that are not in San Francisco; they have something like five or six studios around the country, and I work with a couple of those. I’m probably going to be plugging into one of those for most of my work for maybe the next year — I’m not sure — and try to make one really good game, to make something really good.

So I’m another design voice. In this case, the studio there, they see me as a person with experience, who can help with young designers. Also they want to assign parts of the game to me to be in charge of, at least for awhile. Most studios have a creative director and a lead designer, and maybe a product manager, and sometimes they all have different ideas about something. So in this case, they see me as another voice, and a voice of experience, that can help them arbitrate their decision making.

No doubt Zynga recognised the talent of designers like Bruce and Brian after they have both helped formed highly respected game studios in the past. However moving from traditional types of games into the social arena brings about a whole bunch of change in dynamics:

And Bruce, how has it been? You’re aiding them and they’re learning from you. What are you learning from them, as someone that’s a long time veteran of the industry?

BS: I’m learning about the social networking space, the way the “social” works. I mean, we never concern ourselves much with social interaction other than multiplayer, you know? Like how do you matchmake, can you get into a game, can you chat? And that was the extent of it. But the idea of connecting, and helping each other out in the play of the game, and also reaching an audience we never got to before, I think, [is what I’m learning].

This is a big space of people who are playing games and not paying. … The idea of giving them really interesting games — to the point that they’re actually willing to pay something — that’s kind of interesting to me.

I think I’m learning about this whole new area of gaming. This rapid iteration is pretty amazing, and to have the data come back — we never had that… You had to finish your project and work on it for years before you started getting some meaningful data.

One of the big challenges for social games on platforms like Facebook and mobile games is getting people hooked and willing to keep playing after their first impressions with the game. In the past at Ensemble one of the most important aspects of good game design talked about by Bruce was making the first 15 minutes as fun an possible. This 15 minute window is probably still true today for traditional PC and Console games, but much less so about social games. The first impression window for a social game in Facebook might be as small as just a few minutes, mostly because it is so easily to back out of a game if the first impression doesnt draw a user in.

BS: With Age, we thought that the game had to have a great first 15 minutes to get the people engaged and hold ’em. And in social network it’s called the “first time user experience.” And it’s critical.

BR: And now it’s like the first 15 seconds and the first minute — it’s the golden minute. You don’t have 15 minutes! [laughs]

Its going to be interesting to see what these industry luminaries can achieve with social gaming at Zynga. Can Sid Mierers iterative design approach be applied in the same way to create engaging user experiences? Only time will tell and I look forward to seeing some of the games that Bruce and Brian work on at Zynga in the future.

For the full article check out this link at Gamasutra:

More Age of Empires Online animations with Chazbot

Over at Chazamation the third blog in the AOE-O animation series by Charles Tinney is now online. This time looking at Hopolites and Axemen – two units from each of the current civilisations the Greeks and the Egyptians. The blog takes us through all animations from idle to death! Check that out here:

Robot Entertainment-ware for your wardrobe!

Robot Entertainment have launched an online merchandise and T-shirt store for all things Robot over at Store Envy. Now you can kit yourself out with all the latest Robot Entertainment inspired wares such as T-Shirts, buttons and cup holders. Show your support for Robot and the need for the death of all Orcs by wearing this T-shirt available for just $17 excluding shipping on the store:

Spread the word.. the Orcs Must Die!

Robot merch can be shipped pretty much anywhere in the world so head over to and pick up some swag!




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