GDC Update

The first was an Xbox Live session.

This really has taken off in a big way.

There was much description of how to improve "conversion", which is where you persuade someone to take their trial version of the game and pay money to convert it into the full game.

As the presenter said, most of this is common sense, but it was nice to see it backed up by statistics and set down in one place.

The key things are:

  1. Make sure that the trial gives a good impression of the best bits. If the game takes a while to get going, don't just give the player the first level. Make something special for the trial game that gives the whole experience.
  2. Make sure that you don't give the farm away with your trial. People playing the trial version for 5 hours is a problem, they should have bought the game a long time ago. This is hard to do without conflicting with rule 1 of course. Time limited play is a good plan.
  3. Make the game really, really, easy to pick up. Someone who has paid good money for a game will be motivated to invest their own time in learning the controls and gameplay. If they have paid nothing to get started they are much more inclined to ditch your game if they find it hard to understand at the start.
  4. Have a natural end point for the trial that leads nicely into the full game.

Another thing that came out of the discussion was that Xbox Live are very amenable to highly original ideas, much more so than "proper" game developers. I

f you have an idea this is a good place to take it. And with XNA games now appearing on Live, and a means for getting a following using the community stuff that is coming soon, things can only get more interesting.

The final presentation I went to was from Nintendo.

Takao Sawano had come over from Japan to explain how the Wii Fit platform came about.

This is the latest in the sequence of "disruptive technologies" that the Wii and the DS have brought to gaming. The presentation was simultaneously translated from Mr Sawano's Japanese text, but none the worse for this, with the translator keeping up admirably.

The Wii Fit game took as its' starting point a pair of bathroom scales. Mr. Miyamoto, the legendary Nintendo producer reckoned that people might like the idea of tracking their weight using the Wii. The presentation showed how they developed prototype hardware using rotary encoders to measure the weight before finally fixing on the use of four strain gauges fitted at each corner of the platform.

I know a lot about strain gauges. I used them to weigh fish in a motion compensated weighing machine that I helped build a few years back.

They are very accurate and highly sensitive. Using them means that the platform can measure changes in weight in the tens of grams, even being able to detect when you raise and lower your hand. They are also fast, so the game can get fresh readings 60 times a second.

This has led to all kinds of games based on weight shifting and aerobics. In the exhibition they have some set up with a skiing game that looks ace. In Japan they've sold well over a million so far and the game comes to Europe in late April. Of course I'm going to get one.

It might even help me get a bit fitter...