Staff Writer: Roxanne Hepburn
On Tuesday, November 9th, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth held a unique virtual event on zoom titled “Future Game State”: A Conversation About Massachusetts’ Game Economy and the Gametech Ecosystem. The lecture featured three local game economy experts: Krysten Callina, Ryan Canuel, and Alan Ritacco. Callina is the Founder of Mastermind Adventures LLC; she is a talent management agency for professional game masters of tabletop role-playing games (like Dungeons & Dragons). Canuel currently serves as the CEO of Petricore, Inc., which develops digital games and software applications for worldwide clients in the digital games, augmented reality, and advertising spaces. Ritacco is the Associate VP for External Relations and Senior Fellow for Electronic Arts, Computer Science, and Esports at Clark University.
After joining the zoom call, the panelists greeted audience members with friendly faces while chitchatting, waiting to begin the event. The panel began by discussing how fresh, innovative ideas in the gaming industry are community-driven. By community-driven, the panelists meant that innovations in the gaming community could only reach their true potential and become successful if there are collaborative efforts with the community to create and alter projects based on feedback. Callina reminded the audience of one of her company’s catchphrases, “making memories together.” Table-top games can only exist and thrive through the existence of tight-knit communities that work together to create magical memories that will stay with you for life. Canuel emphasized that for online gaming (mobile gaming in his case), community engagement through user testing is vital for a successful release. The panelists concurred that the best possible product would be created with a smooth release by engaging with the community, observing how they play, and listening to their feedback.
The MC then transitioned the panelists into discussing the importance and statistics of player retention for both table-top and online gaming. Canuel jumped in immediately to break down how mobile games make money through analytics. For mobile games to be successful, 48% of players need to be playing after download on release day. After 30 days, of the 48%, 4.5% of those players still need to be coming back to play regularly. If mobile games do not line up with these analytics after release day, it is expected to be an unsuccessful project. Callina then interjected to specify the difference in online and table-top gaming retention. For table-top games, retention is a lifetime: “once they are hooked, kids are playing for a life-time.”
The panel then progressed into discussing the movement of table-top games to online mediums. Callina asserted that the rise of technology was already pushing tabletop games to create online alternatives; however, the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic skyrocketed the need for online mediums for tabletop games to survive. Groups have begun to use platforms such as Discord to host online table-top events and possibly even stream their gameplay to platforms such as Twitch. Critical Role is a tv show (originally Twitch stream) featuring famous voice actors playing Dungeons and Dragons. This show is the most significant example of the transition to online platforms for tabletop gaming.
The MC then introduced diversity and demographics for the discussion of the panelists. Canuel introduced the concept that companies need to target the whole world rather than one specific demographic when producing games. He clarified this concept through the unexpected success of one of his mobile games in China. When online games such as mobile games are released on the international level, it opens up for a wide array of potential players when there is no specific target demographic. Allow the players to tell you who they are and tailor your content to fit that demographic better once they have outlined who they identify. Callina then highlighted the importance of diversifying the national gaming industry. The panelists proposed starting girls in gaming at younger ages. The panelists asserted that the most efficient way to attract more women and girls to gaming is to create safe spaces where they feel comfortable existing and learning in/about the community. Another variable that aids in diversifying gaming is making games accessible. Adding various difficulty levels, subtitles to voiceovers, and other accessibility options for disabled people prevent alienating a range of demographics who cannot engage without them. The panelists concluded that production teams must diversify their staff to provide proper and appropriate representation for minorities to diversify the gaming community. Adequate representation can only occur if producers themselves have specific backgrounds that line up with the identities of those minorities.
The MC then brought up the rise in gamification for discussion. Gamification is the application of gaming mechanics in non-gaming environments to increase user participation. Canuel provided an example of gamification through the application of gaming tech adjacent work. Petricore is currently working with Xerox to build an AR (augmented reality) system for printer detection. He mentioned that it just so happened that the AR tech required by Xerox was the same technology they were already developing for a mobile game. Callina then provided her own example of gamification in the tabletop industry. Her company, Mastermind Adventures, has worked to create educational and therapeutic tabletop experiences for both children and adults to work through mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. She also mentioned the gamification of corporate team-building exercises to increase employee engagement. The panel was then brought to an end by featuring gateways into Massachusetts and the greater New England area gaming community. These gateways are both companies and public locations where the local gaming community flourishes. The video game development companies Harmonix, Warners Bros, and Rockstar Games all have locations in the Boston area. The audience was encouraged to find their FLGS (friendly local game store) and contact local dungeon masters and other community leaders to find local ways to interact with the community. Different ways to get involved in local gaming events mentioned were participating in library clubs and conventions. My favorite friendly local game stores in the area around Umass Dartmouth are Medieval Starship in Somerset, Massachusetts, and The Game Reserve in Middleboro, Massachusetts.