Feedback loop

Emerging platforms aren't just new ways to make money - they're also changing the way games are developed.

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz's widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial, is a weekly dissection of an issue weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.

For better or worse, platforms such as the iPhone and Facebook are changing the way we develop, publish and even think about videogames. Despite heavy skepticism only a handful of years ago, most industry executives' eyes now light up when you mention these emerging platforms and new business models.

Not all of them, of course, actually know how to leverage this new potential, and some of the businesses they helm will be dragged under in the coming years by a failure to adapt to the new realities of the market. Capitalism, like evolution, isn't always simply a matter of survival of the fittest; the ability to adapt rapidly to changing circumstances is the true key to long-term success.

In all of the talk about how new platforms are changing the business of games, however, we often lose sight of what may be an even more important issue - the way in which these platforms are actually changing games themselves.

Any gamer can tell you that Facebook games are very different beasts from their console counterparts, or that iPhone games are slowly evolving a rule-book of their own which is quite distinct from those of previous titles.

What's less immediately apparent is how some of that thinking is feeding back into more traditional gaming platforms, and introducing sweeping changes to how games are developed.

Perhaps the most interesting change is the introduction of a feedback loop to game development, something which has been attempted in the past in various genres but which has finally found its feet on services like Facebook.

The old development model contained relatively little feedback - you created a game, put it on shelves, and with the exception of a handful of reviews in the press, pretty much the only feedback you got was your sales figures.

Publishers and developers attempt to compensate for working in the dark in this manner by introducing a variety of feedback loops into the development process itself. Closed beta tests, focus groups and even demos, in some cases, provide a modicum of public feedback.

Companies like Bungie have created powerful, elaborate test suites which can provide in-depth analysis of the behaviour and reactions of players in their games ahead of launch. Journalists with some insight into the development process have found a lucrative sideline in consulting on games in development, being paid to clearly articulate problems in private in order to avoid public bashing from their peers a few months down the line.

All of these things, however, are mere stopgaps compared to the way in which feedback is built into the working processes of Facebook game specialists such as Playfish and Zynga. For these companies, the feedback loop isn't simply an added extra - it's the very core of how they do business.

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