Kim Daniel Arthur is vice president of global studios for Playfish. He heads new product development for the Playfish studios and manages the “Arctic” studio in Tromso, Norway, which is located 200 miles inside the polar circle.
We recently chatted with Kim about his role, what it takes to create a Playfish game and why they’re so popular around the world. Enjoy!
What do you do at Playfish?
Playfish has three fantastic and talented studio teams located around the world – Tromsø, Norway, where I am; Beijing, China; and London, England. Each studio has teams of artists, programmers and designers doing what they do best: creating Playfish games!
My role at Playfish is to help our studios focus on doing their magic by making sure we share ideas and learnings, and that we have a good development process and set of core values to assist us in creating great games. We always say that in order to make fun games, we need to have fun while creating them. A big part of my job is to ensure just that: make sure we have fun!
Where do game ideas come from at Playfish?
We have a very open culture when it comes to game ideas and game concepts, so the ideas can come from many sources. It’s always surprising to see creativity in places where you wouldn’t typically go looking for it – such as from Playfish’s Finance Director, for example. No offense, Tareq!
It’s refreshing to see people’s personalities shine through in their game ideas. Product managers originate ideas inspired by business models. Artists are inspired by a creative vision, and coders from a nice mechanic or algorithm they’ve been dreaming of. Most gratifying of all is that each game gets its own identify from all the people working on it, and it really shows in the end product!
Once an idea for a game comes to life, we incubate it across the entire company and everyone has an opportunity to comment and spin into a more concrete concept.
How does a game get approved for development at Playfish?
As the game idea is hatched into a high concept we evaluate it from as many angles as we can, both from a creative and business mindset. We make sure to integrate what we’ve learned from previous games while staying focused on the core Playfish values: a game should be, first and foremost, fun and bring value to people playing it with their friends.
While there are many elements that go into making a good social game, the concept and prototyping phase are crucial to identifying if we are working on a new hit or not.
What makes a good social game?
Across the studios we have a very diverse set of experience and expertise, from hardcore console games and MMOs to casual online and mobile games. Creating a good social game has meant learning to work together in new ways and drawing on each other’s expertise in defining this new type of gaming experience.
At Playfish we put social emotions at the core of what makes a good social game. Friends are interacting online in social networks and our games should help friends communicate, express and enjoy themselves while playing.
If we can make games that help friends share emotions, and even create new emotions, then we are happy with what we’ve achieved. Above all, we aspire to create a high quality and engaging game experience that is instantly accessible and rewarding.
What are most important elements in a successful social game?
We try to create games that people love.
From a creative standpoint success means bringing friends together in a high quality and memorable experience. Access should be instant, the learning curve manageable and there should be ways for players to be engaged with the game over a longer period of time. Most importantly, people should be smiling and having fun with their friends through a social game.
From a business perspective a successful game should drive its own distribution while achieving some target level of monetization through a combination of advertising and transactions.
What are the three biggest challenges to creating a social game?
Designing gameplay which entices friends to play together, express themselves and share emotions through the game. It is very different from typical game design on other platforms in that what we’re really creating is a toy for our players where the most important interactions are the interactions between the players and their friends rather than the player and the screen.
Playing together and alone is another challenge. Designing a social game takes a lot of careful thought in order to build something that can be enjoyed by as many friends together as possible, while at the same time being something you can spend time on alone. People have a need to express themselves and communicate, but they also want to enjoy the challenge and fun of a nice game mechanic. Finding the right balance is key!
Another is working on games as a service. Building our teams and organizations to work with games as a continually evolving service, rather than just a product that is completed and shipped, takes clever people working with streamlined processes and technology. Allowing our organization to grow and develop support for this rapidly growing business is a fun challenge.
Has Playfish ever started a game that ended not being finished?
Yes, we are very feedback-driven throughout the development of our games. Both internal and external feedback is used to decide whether a game has what it takes. We have put a few games to rest, some permanently and others to be revived when the time is right.
What do you see in the future for social games?
It really feels like we are at the start of a new era of gaming. It is truly the first time gaming experiences online are originated from friends who are already connected and communicating together. It brings with it some strong emotions that give birth to a new kind of game.
People are enjoying these new games together without the need for large upfront investments in hardware or software. It puts pressure on the whole industry to think in new ways with a fresh mindset.
It’s going to be fun to take part in shaping the future of social games together with our peers!
What do you like best about Playfish?
The people who work at Playfish and Playfish’s fans are what I enjoy the most. It’s great to wake up in the morning and look forward to going to work and meeting your friends. We are all connected throughout our four locations around the world and we have a great time together. It’s important that we work hard and deliver, it makes it even more fun to celebrate and enjoy when things go well!
Working as hard as we do, it really does build great confidence and team spirit from all the positive feedback and ideas we get from our players. We can’t thank everyone enough!
What’s your favorite Playfish game and why?
It’s one of the games we are working on right now. We are trying some bold new ideas and everyone is excited to see if players will enjoy it. I really wish I could say more about it, but this is one you will just have to wait and see for yourself!
How do you spend your spare time? What are your hobbies?
I have a baby girl who is one-and-a-half years old, and another baby coming in September, so there is enough fun to be shared around. I love photography – it’s my creative outlet and is a great way to remember all the fun things we do!
Is it true what they say about Norwegians?
Yes, come to Tromsø and we will show you!