Recently, I moved to Portland, OR. As a recent graduate, I am still working on getting enough experience to be taken seriously for full time jobs. So when a position as an intern in my field became available, I went. However, this position is only a summer posting, so I’m living in some more…temporary accommodations. This short time frame also limited the amount of my personal possessions I wanted to ship across the country. So I did my best to pack everything I might need for a summer into 3 bags – a backpack, a larger checked bag, and a smaller carry on bag. This left little room for nonessential belongings, so I was really negotiating with myself about what items to bring. “Maybe…no socks…and then I can stash an HD monitor in here!” Alas, I couldn’t get away with everything, so most of the suitcase was actually filled with important stuff. Luckily for me, the place I’m staying, known as a ‘guesthouse’, comes fully furnished, so I really only needed to bring personal items anyway.
One interesting thing that I was not aware of was the inclusion of a television in the package deal. Now, this is by no means a great TV. Maybe 27 inches diagonally, with a glass tube screen, and (amazingly!) s-video support. Has access to cable and also includes a small DVD player hooked in. Even comes sitting on an old school swivel mount to fight glare from the windows. All in all, a great piece of 90s TV tech, but a little outdated for 2014. However, it has one extremely important feature – a series of auxiliary jacks for attaching various devices through the good old RGB we all know so well. Now, this is certainly not new technology, but it opens a very important door – this TV can support having my PS3 (carefully stashed in my carry on bag) jacked into it for playing games. Huzzah, I can now game on a console!
I’ve been trying out some different games lately on my new found gaming setup, namely Assassins Creed 4, Wolfenstein: The New Order, and the Destiny beta. And one interesting thing has become clear – modern games do not support all technologies equally. Now, I’m sure your thinking, ‘Well of course they don’t!’. And I agree with you – this doesn’t seem like much of a revelation. However, as a game developer, it reminded me of something I often forget – the MVP.
One of the first things I learned at my new job was that there are a ton of acronyms that every industry uses for things, and I don’t know a lot of them. One of the first that I became familiar with was the concept of the MVP – the Minimum Viable Product. Now, I know all the sports fans (do I have any of those who read my blog? No idea.) probably said MVP was Most Valuable Player, but we’re talking product development, so the acronyms switch. The MVP refers to the absolute minimum a system must be to be considered a usable product in the marketplace. It sets the watermark for what must be included in the product for it to be a success. There can be plenty of additions beyond the MVP requirements, but without meeting them, the product cannot be considered done.
Now, how does this concept relate to my antiquated TV and PS3 hookup? Well, as a bit of a technophile and self admitted graphics snob, I have not used a CRT display in probably 10 years. I had the first HDTV in my house, the best PC monitors in my apartment, and demand 1080 phone screens in each cell I buy. So, naturally, I began to consider the graphical fidelity and game quality I was getting to be the MVP for the game. Whatever I was getting was what everyone saw, right? Dead wrong. As game developers, we want as MANY people as possible to experience the cool stuff we make. This means supporting a variety of technologies, physical abilities, and (especially) internet speeds. So having the forethought to consider use cases beyond the obvious power user on the fastest everything is extremely important to good game development.
So why bring all this up? So you’re not the MVP for once and had an epiphany, woohoo. Well, I have a bone to pick with game design because of this experience. Text is really important to game design these days. In fact, reading text is one of the most important part of a lot of games, especially from a lore perspective. From notes on the wall, to clues in a journal, to the words a German officer is speaking, we read a lot in games. Anyone want to take a guess what CRT displays showing modern games on them have a hard time displaying? Text. So in each game I pop in, I miss a staggering amount of context, because the text is illegible.
So all game developers should take time and energy to make CRT specific graphic settings, right? That’s your demand, isn’t it, Mr. Blog-Writer? Well, no. I actually think it’s fine the way it is. The market for CRT users is falling, and the text is sort of readable, as long as you squint a little. However, I do think that remembering that not all users are you, and don’t all have the ideal setting for playing your game is an important lesson to remember. Knowing your MVP-the minimum context a player will need to enjoy (or even just use) your game- is an important part of game design. The more your game does to make it easy for the whole world to play, the more that everyone can enjoy it as you intended.Because at the end of the day, your MVP Minimum Viable Product) will determine who your MVPs (Most Valuable Players) can be.