Jed Merrill, Producer/Game Designer

Summer Highlights and Fun!

Memorial Day, Monday, May 26, 2014

1925037_10152497125781807_5128958177962089999_nIt’s been a great weekend.  I spend three days in Park City, and stop by the Summit County Library annual Memorial Day book sale, where I pick up 177 lightly used books for $48. Some have to do with business and investing.  Some are research for games I plan to produce.  A few have to do with leadership and people, essential to being a good Producer.  I even find three starter decks (two unopened!) from Magic: The Gathering, 2007 edition, included at no extra cost!  Jose would be pleased.

It’s now Memorial Day, and when not remembering my past fellow soldiers or spending time with family and friends, I plug in my Xbox One and watch Microsoft’s mini documentary, “Atari Dig Reveals E.T.”  Also, “Designing the Game – The Making of Max: The Curse of Brotherhood.” Max is free in June for Xbox Live Gold members.

Last Wednesday, my team met as a thesis project group for a design meeting.  SuperFail is out, and we are now looking at a more serious, IGF worthy theme, possibly Net Neutrality or Big Brother.

I suggest we make a game called 1984: The Commercial: The Game.  Who wouldn’t want to interact with one of the most famous commercials of all time?  It’s a perfect mix of commercial and indie, and would probably get us on the front page of Kotaku and IGN, almost guaranteed, assuming we make it right, and we’d most likely get to work with Apple and maybe Ridley Scott, the one minute commercial’s original Director.  (I believe she’s working on Prometheus 2 right now.)

The team does not seem excited to give up the Premonition mechanic we’ve worked so hard on, so it may be difficult to convince them to choose this direction…but the full length commercial does begin with a sky bridge!

I also think some people on the team, knowing they will spend most of their careers making games other people want them to make, just want to make the game they want to make, regardless of fame, fortune, industry interest, future career opportunities or return on investment.  Is that selfish?  Reckless?  Or the true indie spirit?

For a thesis project, I most want to make a game that gets published, preferably one good enough that people will pay for it, with a theme that appeals to the media, since we may not have any marketing budget at all as a student project.  My undergrad was in Communications and Marketing, so I am very aware of media and news values…and the cost of taking a message to market.  Even a game as viral as Angry Birds needed a marketing budget of $10,000 or more to get started.

I’ve thought a lot about teams over the course of my two semesters at EAE.

I came into the program thinking my job as a Producer was to develop a vision and execute it, making use of the art and engineering assets of the team.  (Collaborating on design, by the way, not just top down.)

Today, I think my job is primarily to develop and maintain a creative and united team.

Together, we are responsible for developing a vision and executing it, for creating a game that people want to play enough to pay for it in time and commonly money.

Sometimes a team may not even want to be united.

While this is less common in the real world, it may happen in a place where everyone pays to produce, design, and/or engineer a game that appeals to them, a game that furthers their individual goals instead of necessarily a company’s.  In that case, as a Producer, it may be most important to just be a friend and a professional, to help others reach their goals before my own, and when an opportunity arises, in the program or long after, lead the team in a new, creative, and hopefully profitable direction.  But one doesn’t don’t get buy-in at all in a pseudo-Democracy at all without first investing in real friends. Meritorious ideas and persuasive communication are just not enough in this type of environment.  Big lesson.

One can become disillusioned, as a few of our Cohort have been at one time or another, or one can learn to play the game, the game of making games, as a team, from design to marketing to virtual shelf space and hopefully a game loving home.

More to come!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Some games are more addictive than others…  My big two mobile games of this summer are Star Wars Force Collection and Clash of Clans for iOS.  Both highlight the value of community integration in a game, both official and fan made.

Jango PadmeIMG_1707As of early Wednesday morning, I now have four 5* Evo Max cards to date in SWFC, and feel a compelling need to buy many more 1500 Crystal “Chosen One Card Packs” (about $15 each) to stay a relevant part of the 5* trading community… (So much for tuition!)  I’m also part of a top 200 (#124) Level 22 Legion, FORCE UNLEASHED.  Our final battle last night culminated in a quick victory over what appears to be the Starship Enterprise, team NCC 1701. 🙂

IMG_1719In Clash of Clans, we are collectively going through a merger of two clans, deciding whether to change the name of “Clan Campbell” to make it easier to distinguish us, and celebrating our first crossbow, first Witch in progress, and first PEKKA level 2 in progress.  (Did you know PEKKA is a girl?)  The recent addition of Clan Wars has made communication and commitment an even bigger part of the game, and also makes me want to invest more to be a bigger contributor to the team.

I’m spending money, but its also a great education in motivating micro-transactions, some of which are not so small.

In other news, I was invited this week to be a consultant to a social media company that is looking to gamify their product.  I’ve had lunch with them and they say they will pay me for ongoing consultations, which means I get to put my Level 2 Gamification certification to paid use. 🙂

I was also put in touch with a company that may hire me as an executive for their game related technology company, though I am hoping for equity with the level of responsibility involved. I’ve made a list of twenty things they could do to better match their product to the market and begin the distribution process.

Finally, I’ve emailed Bob, Jose, and Roger about my future in the program and in the industry.  I came to EAE to develop as a leader in the entertainment industry, which is a little broader than the Line Producer type role the track I’ve signed up for is designed for.  (Line Producer is a film term, not a game industry term, but is more precise than Producer.)  I don’t expect the faculty to accommodate my unique vision, but I want to make the most of them as unofficial members of my Mastermind team.  When better to do that than the summer, when grades are not on the line?

By the way, I’ve created a section called EAE Jobs and Internships on this blog to help my fellow team and Cohort 4 members find jobs.  Most of what is listed comes from Bob, Roger, Jose or Corrinne anyway, but they are less likely to get lost here than in an inbox.  I’ll refine and update the page over time.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 – E3!

Just finished watching the last of five E3 press conferences!

All five conferences had highlights.  My personal favorites were Nintendo’s and Microsoft’s, though I wish Nintendo’s were live.  There’s just more energy in a live event, though Robot Chicken was a good digital alternative that left fans laughing.

Highlights:

1. Microsoft – The Master Chief Collection, Forza Horizon 2, Sunset Overdrive, indie games Inside and Ori and the Blind Forest, trailers for multi-console Rise of the Tomb Raider and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Platinum’s Scalebound, Evolve, Fable Legends, and more.

2. EA – Star Wars Battlefront.  Dragon Age Inquisition.  A Mass Effect 4 announcement.  A Battlefield: Hardline beta.  Mirror’s Edge 2.  EA Sports updates.  Sims 4…  A good showing.

3. Ubisoft – Assassin’s Creed: Unity and The Division show off what next gen can do.  Just Dance 2015 goes massively multiplayer mobile.  The Crew differentiates itself.  Rainbow Six: Siege shows off work by a few of our EAE grads.  Shape Up looks funny and ambitious (pushups with tanks and elephants?), but the game itself seems a little too close to Guitar Hero to differentiate itself.  I hope it does.

4. Sony – An Uncharted 4 trailer.  The Order: 1886 werewolf sequence.  The WB’s Batman: Arkham Knight looks good, but is on every console.  No Man’s Sky, though I’m getting that on Steam.  Giant Squid’s indie game Abzu. GTA 5 and The Last of Us remakes.  PlayStation TV.  Not a bad conference, though Microsoft’s 90 minutes of nothing but games made the 30 minutes in the middle about Powers and a Ratchet and Clank movie look really unfocused.  Little Big Planet 3 adds three new characters.  Some Destiny exclusives.  Bloodbourne from the makers of Dark Souls.

5. Nintendo – The new Zelda looks amazing.  Mario Maker.  A new Starfox.  More Smash Bros. updates, including Palutena and using your Mii.  Xenoblade Chronicles X.  What surprised me was there were no announcements about Nintendo’s new health direction, though it was probably a good move in the context of E3.  Two new Pokemon games for 3DS.  Devil’s Third. The most exclusive content of any console.

Monday, July 21, 2014

It’s been a busy few weeks.  When not working on game designs and business joint ventures:

At the Steam summer sale, I picked up about 50 new games, including The Banner Saga, Broken Sword 5, FORCED, JazzPunk, Risk of Rain, and Call of Cthulhu.

I also picked up Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 on PS3 and am finally playing through Bioshock Infinite’s Episode 2 DLC.

I watched the game related documentary films Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters and MineCraft: The Story of Mojang.

I’ve also almost daily read and watched Kotaku and IGN and once a week study the life and decision making processes of one of video gaming’s most famous executives and executive producers.

My most played games of the summer continue to be Star Wars Force Collection and Clash of Clans, in part because they are mobile.

IMG_3186I recently collected my 150th star in Clash of Clans single player (out of 150) and have a pretty good record in clan wars.  I’ve built Level 2 Inferno Towers, Level 6 Archers (maxed), Level 3 Pekkas, and Level 1 Witches.  My Barbarian King and Archer Queen are both Level 5, and I’ve unlocked the Freeze spell.  Not bad for five months of playing!  (If you don’t “clash”, this may not mean much to you.)

In Star Wars Force Collection, I’m Level 108 as of this morning and have six Evo Maxed five star cards (Jango, Padme, Old Maul, Jabba, and the two May 4th Special Editions, Luke and Vader.  Vader is made from eight cards, ie is 8/15 proper EM.  Luke arrived that way as a gift from Konami.)  I’m shooting for top 500 in the latest event, The Battle of Mygeeto, and was picked to manage Boarding strategy and execution in my Legion, which just structured itself after K.O.T.R. and Empire, who regularly take most of the top ten rankings.

Both games are chances to practice being a strong team player while collecting, battling, and/or contributing.  I’m also enjoying studying Konami’s and SuperCell’s monetization strategies.  Both SWFC and Clash of Clans are among the top 40 most profitable apps on iOS.

Finally, my schedule is close to finalized for this Fall semester!  I’m especially looking forward to Art for Producers and Game Entrepreneurship classes, aka Business Practices for Indie Developers.

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