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Puzzle Clubhouse Interview – Jesse Schell on Crowd-Sourced Game Development

Finding crowd-funding success with it’s Kickstarter campaign earlier this year, Schell Games’ Puzzle Clubhouse recently began it’s mission of turning the traditional game building model on its head. Puzzle Clubhouse is a game that allows players/subscribers/creators to be part of the creative and collaborative process of making games. This crowd-sourced game development process allows the developers to offer players a way to dictate the game’s art direction, materials, and story.

I recently sat with Jesse Schell, the CEO of Schell Games and Professor of Entertainment Technology at Carnegie Mellon University about Crowd-sourcing game development, Puzzle Clubhouse’s collaborative development process, and its active community.

Check out the our full interview with Professor Jesse Schell after the break.

JTM Games: Hi Jesse, could you tell us about Puzzle Clubhouse?

Jesse Schell: We recently launched Puzzle Clubhouse; it’s something we Kickstarted back in January and it got funded which is really exciting. We did that before Double Fine so we’re very proud of that; I think they were inspired by our success. We’ve been working with the Kickstarter community for the past six months to get this thing launched and the whole idea is we’re doing community-based game development; we put out a game a month and we get the community to contribute as much content as possible. The community comes up with the ideas, they submit artwork, they vote on the different ideas and prototypes, and we put it all together and we get a game out.

JTM Games: What inspired you to create a game that relies on a crowd-sourced community?

Jesse Schell: Well it’s a couple of things, first of all we saw there was real interest in people wanting to be part of the indie game community and they can’t quite find the way in, they can’t quite find an on-ramp to it. And we were interested in the idea of episodic gaming, and we’re thinking “how can we make episodic gaming work?”  The notion of episodic gaming plus crowd-sourced game development? We were really excited about it; it feels like something different and new.

JTM Games: Why do you think crowd-sourced development for games like Minecraft, LittleBigPlanet, and now Puzzle Clubhouse are starting to catch on with the gaming community?

Jesse Schell: That’s because people love making stuff, and people love sharing stuff. The technology has made it possible to do that now because when you’re into something you want to be able to make it too. We’re just trying to find ways to make it easy as possible to do that. I think Minecraft was a good step because it took it from having to code up a whole game by yourself to be able to build the world a little bit. And we feel like we’re sort of taking it a little bit of a step further, making it even easier because if you just want to submit part of it, if you just have an idea or you just wanted to do a little art work, you can participate as much or as little as you want to and still be part of the credits in the game.

JTM Games: In your speech “Future is Beautiful” you mentioned the words Beautiful, Customized, Shared, and Real; was that the mantra when Schell Games created Puzzle Clubhouse?

Jesse Schell: Yeah definitely. All four of those things are part of Puzzle Clubhouse; we’re trying to make the game as beautiful as possible in terms of things being real, it’s like you get to see how games are really made, you get to see the behind-the-scenes, that you wouldn’t before and it’s all about sharing and customization as well. We really believe in those things and we thought we’d jump on it.

(Jan: Check out Jesse’s Future is Beautiful TED speech here)

JTM Games: Speaking of customization, other than the crowd-sourced community development, what other customization options are available for players and subscribers?

Jesse Schell: What’s going to happen as we go on is there’s going to be a level editors for each of the games created. Since the games come out on the first of every month, we gotta get them out pretty quick, but the plan is that we’re gonna have the level editors put up so if you want to add more custom levels after, you’re able to do that and we’ll include them as kind of add-ons. As well, you’ll also have customized profiles on the site which talks about your status in the community.

JTM Games: The community, would that include social networking capabilties? What is integrated into the site that will allow the community to connect with each other.

Jesse Schell: What’s integrated into the site is a system of forums for every piece of content. For example, there’s the voting interface where there will be contests to come up with descriptions of items, characters and other things in-game. Anybody can put comments about what they think of this idea, so everybody can share their ideas and opinions.

JTM Games: Puzzle Clubhouse is a collaborative design process and requires iteration; do you see it being the same idea as Zynga’s quantitative design process?

Jesse Schell: That’s an interesting question in terms of quantitative design. It’s a little different than that I think because it’s about everybody voting together, its a much more democratic system. Their quantitative design is about honing things to get a dollar out of your pocket as much as possible and we’re not about that; we’re about games out quickly, fun, and letting the community vote so the quantitative part is like “whatever that gets the most votes is what goes into the game,” as opposed to all the A-B testing that they do. There’s a similarity in that we’re both looking at quantities in numbers but I think there’s a lot more ways that it’s different.

JTM Games: Given that you’ve created well-placed constraints like the backdrop as well as characters, how and where do you see the Puzzle Clubhouse community taking these ideas? Any theories?

Jesse Schell: Well so far, we’ve been so impressed with the creativity that people have come up with and we don’t quite know where they’re going to take it. Episodes zero is out and some crazy things happen in it. There’s these laser frogs and no one knows where they came from and the whole clubhouse blows up and how are they going to recover from that, we have no idea but it’s like the community gonna have to figure it out. Figure out where the story goes and where they take it but so far everybody’s been up for the challenge.

JTM Games: Could you elaborate on Puzzle Clubhouse’s community aspect? What does a membership allow players-creators to do?

Jesse Schell: The way it works is all the games are free-to-play, anybody can play them. If you’d like to vote, that’s also free but you do need to make a free account so we can register your votes. But if you’d like to submit content or you’d like super-powered voting privileges, you need to be a paid member and paid membership is $19.95 per year.

JTM Games: You mentioned super-powered voting; could you elaborate more on that?

Jesse Schell: Sure, the way voting works is you wander through Puzzle Clubhouse from room to room, there are different things you can vote on and you have a voting currency which is puzzle pieces. When you see something you like, you can drop some puzzle pieces on it. If you like it a little, you drop in one or two, if you like it a lot, you drop a whole bunch.

Free players get 10 puzzle pieces everyday they log in. Paid members get 25 puzzle pieces a day whether they log in or not. So they get more of an ability to vote, and on top of that, we’re experimenting on a microtransaction system, if you’d like to buy more bundles of votes, we’re gonna try and support that too.

JTM Games: How many episodes do you plan on creating? Do you see an end to the project?

Jesse Schell: We hope there’s no end. The plan is to do one a month; if the thing is very successful, depending on what the community’s interested in, we may be able to speed it up, do one every two weeks or who knows what. But I’ve worked on some things, like I was the lead designer on ToonTown Online, and it’s about to have its 10th birthday! And I would love for Puzzle Clubhouse to still be cranking out episodes 10 years from now. It’s all going to be about “are enough people interested to let this thing support itself.”

*END INTERVIEW*

Since our conversation, Puzzle Clubhouse has seen the release of Episodes Zero and One. As well, there’s been a number of art, games, characters, and stories that have been voted on by the Puzzle Clubhouse community. It’s truly a game that allows its community to direct each episode’s creative direction. If you’re one of those gamers who’s interested in becoming part of the game design process, seeing the behind-the-scenes, and collaborating with game developers, then Puzzle Clubhouse is for you.

Check out Puzzle Clubhouse at http://puzzleclubhouse.com/

We’ll also be giving away five free, 6-month Puzzle Clubhouse paid memberships in the next few days. To enter to win one of these, just tell us why you’re interested in joining crowd-sourced game developed games in the comment section below.

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About janhutchings

Canadian Game Industry Blogger / Contributor for @Sonyrumors & @ShogunGamer / Communications and PR Professional. Voice of Canadian and Indie Gaming. http://jtmgames.com/

Posted on October 15, 2012, in Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Another great read. Lots of depth covered and kept me interested. I did a little piece on my views and some depth into the upcoming Halo 4 title: http://lostinpurgatory.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/infinity-reclaimer-requiem-halo-4-is-on-the-horizon/

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