Monday, April 18, 2011


Great TED Talk about motivation and how carrots & sticks as a means to motivate has been proven ineffective and in some cases even motivationally destructive. Why do I post this? Partly because I love this kind of psychology but mostly because it talks about a subject I've been fighting with for a long time: Motivation

For years, I've been trying to figure out exactly what makes me motivated. What makes me want to work and not go home from office. I've had different theories which seemed so-so, such as interface design, game design, and lately I thought it might even be game editing tool design. For some reason, what I usually finish when it comes to private projects are either level editors or menu systems or things like that. Tools, not an end product.

Quite recently, I think I found what the common denominator was in all this. I love improving things. When I'm faced with a task I usually start thinking of how to make that task easier, how to improve the workflow, to get past that boring part of the work as quickly and as effectively as possible. One good example is when I worked at Lockpick Entertainment. We had these huge excel-documents with miles and miles of items and abilities and units for this huge MMO real-time strategy game. One day, I was given the task to transfer these from the excel documents to the actual game database. The way this was done at the company before was to go to a certain website with your browser, click "add item" and then, field by field (usually around 30 or so fields), copy and paste all the stats cell by cell into the site. Then you pressed done, and you were done with one of the often hundreds of items... of one excel document.

No, I thought. There had to be another way to do this, so I did some digging and came up with the solution: I'll make a visual basic script for each excel document which goes through the list and parses it to an XML-file. At the other end, one of our programmers took a few hours to make an importer for it. The exporter took a week or two to make, the importer a day or so, and in the end each excel-document had a large button "Export to XML". You clicked it, all data was exported into XML, and with a single copy-paste into the importer website and a "Ok", weeks of work could be done in 10 seconds.

This was during a beta of the game which meant that these lists would be updated at least once every day. Using the old way, this would simply be impossible, or soul-destroying for the one who had to do it. Regardless of how impossible it would have been however, that's how my brain works. It loves solving problems, but it hates droning. When I started working at Lockpick I had tons of fun, and I was praised for the work I did. Interface design, the exporters, story writing, forum management.

However, my last time at Lockpick was the complete opposite. I had to sit with an (inferior and oh my gods so improvable) mission editor and make as many strategy game "grind" missions as I could as fast as I could. We are talking creating missions using a website, where your only view of the map was - and I'm not kidding - a 128x128 thumbnail of the height map. The units were red dots. It was an area smaller than your photo on your Facebook page.

That was the most boring and soul crunching job I've ever done, I think. Partly, it was so clear to not just me but the rest of the team that the editor had to be replaced with something... functional. And also, I was producing something that I simply didn't believe in. My boss did, and that was that. I was spending days to create a mission (in which there couldn't be much variety due to our restrictions) that a player would go through in 2-3 tries. Oh there were so many things wrong with the whole concept, but I was a grunt, and I was put to do a grunt's work in the end.

(Speaking of which; we had a "manual" for that editor which I took the liberty to improve. We went from a whopping worthless 4 pages to 22 pages and those were 99% explaining every single control in the editor window from top to bottom. I liked doing it because it felt like it actually made a difference. Players and other workers would some day use that tool and would need a pedagogical manual to understand it.)

Back to the subject... I'm a problem identifier and a problem solver, I guess you could say. I'm not just a game designer, I'm not a hardcore programmer. I'm not a great artist. I'm not super good at any one thing. I'm rather all-round. Not in a way that I don't like doing anything so let me bring you coffee; no, but in a way that I like doing a little bit of everything and see everything come together. I love systems, how something on one end affects something on the other end. I like to "tie the bag together" as someone once put it.

And I love not just game design, but I'm fascinated by the business side of it too. I strongly believe in experimenting with concepts of free/pay which doesn't involve the selling of a billion hats. (And I strongly oppose the concept of being able to buy yourself past progress where progression is the meat of the game. I believe in paying for the opportunity to progress. In a way, think an expansion to World of Warcraft as opposed to being able to buy yourself to top level and the best gear. Yet, some developers and publishers really think it's a good idea. Maybe it is in some cases if you want to kill off your own games and sell new ones instead, but not from a game developer's point of view - you put love into creating a game that players get to pay to not play.)

This was kind of a rant.

Uhm. I think I'm going to go play some...thing.

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