Get to Know a GameDev: Eric Gulve
Collectible card games require a surprising amount of development and share similar challenges with digital gamedev. Having come from a background in behavioural science and game modification, Eric Gulve has first-hand experience in transferring these skills into the collectible card medium. As lead game designer at Claimony in Sweden, Eric’s currently working on Allians, a card game that aims to highlight niche community content creators by making them both the players, and the game itself.
We first found Eric thanks to his support of diversity in games on social media; which is also a huge influence in the creation, development and community growth of Allians. So, we sat down to ask Eric about his experience as a game dev and what led him to his latest project.
What’s your title, if you were describing your role in gaming?
I think Lead Game Designer describes what I do best. I communicate UX goals between our team members and designed many of the core gameplay loops in Allians.
Since we are developing a very audience centric game, I spend some of my extra time in community management as well.
What did you do before you worked in the game industry?
I used to do a lot of community meta analysis back when I was studying behavioural science. Crunching player patterns and rebalancing games that I thought could be improved upon.
That’s unique! Did you discover anything weird about player behaviours?
The most interesting dualities that I found were usually related to the perception of fairness, game balance and economics. It is a well documented psychological field as well, but games rarely take notes from academia in the way that we might expect them to in this day and age.
I started with the perspective of social media and what makes people tick when it comes to gamified interactions. This can be especially useful now that social media outreach has become much more oriented towards native advertising and authentic profiles. Sharing a game should match your branded personality and your own audience, and many games still have a long way to go before they totally fit in.
So how did you make the leap to games?
Games are a fascinating form of entertainment that transcend many social barriers, so it became the next step after I was finished with social media and interaction theory.
I started doing feature improvement surveys in the Battlefield 4 community to get into the Stockholm gamedev scene, which got me into the Battlefield 4 MP trailer as one of the choreographed soldiers (from 1:10 onwards, when my jetski is blown up by a C4).
Awesome claim to fame!
After that I started modding games, released 2 two Skyrim mods mods and a ROM hack that rebalanced Pokemon Emerald for its endgame. My motivations for doing so mostly came from playing competitive VGC, which also rekindled my interest in the Pokemon Trading Card Game. Both have a thriving competitive scene which engages a lot of fans. The only thing missing was a high level competitive dialogue with Nintendo and their support for fan made content. I have seen so much joy coming from those kinds of players so I want to make new games around that.
Was there a singular moment when you realized, ‘I want to make games’?
It was probably when I got to visit the DICE offices in Stockholm and met with a lot of people who already worked in the industry. It just seemed so fulfilling to work with, while also offering a niche where my background could improve the user experience and retention for several million dollar projects. I always liked technical creativity like legos, tabletop games and to challenge rules that stand in the way of teamwork. So I guess the helpful communities of many games just inspire me to want to work with that audience through this interactive medium. It is way more interesting that just doing web design for non-interactive products.
Which leads into your current project! What’s it all about?
I am currently working exclusively on our digital card game Allians, which will be a fresh breeze in a competitive and somewhat matured industry. Basically it takes the best of competitive and collectible card games, and focuses on the suspense of skill based 1v1 battles between real gamers and their peers as their self imagined characters.
We bring a lot of innovative technology to the genre as well, merging the concept of achievement scores and gamercards together in an ever-evolving race for victory.
Instead of crawling through months of devtime to make new cards and characters, we use players’ existing activities and networks as a socially competitive content engine. This will let us focus on new gameplay modes and effects that can be more responsive towards what the community is requesting at the moment.
We’ve seen this succeed with Blizzard and their Brawl events, as well as in Path of Exile and the Battlefield 4 Community Test Environment. We are hoping to bring that kind of interaction to the Card Game genre, inviting both aspiring eSports stars and charismatic content creators to share the arena spotlight with their fans. We will fund the game’s development polish through Kickstarter and hope to build a great community of mutually supportive relations through our backers.
That sounds interesting! What motivated you to make a card game about real people?
One of my pet projects within Allians is to highlight and legitimize gaming diversity on our players’ terms. We want to show that over 9,000 diverse game characters can exist in a mobile game, each with their own explorable real life backstory, and individual play styles and team relation preferences.
There are huge discussions going on about whether or not all kinds of characters should be included in games of today, or if it is at the expense of other priorities and audiences. I find it a bit disheartening that most game studios and mobile developers try to target a very generic and blurry audience, which will rarely reveal themselves to stick around for the most fulfilling lifecycle of their games.
Instead I’d like to welcome each player on a personal note and let them claim a bit of our stage to share with their friends. Even something as simple as the teams in Pokemon Go can capture the imagination of millions of people, so why not back that up with solid game mechanics that work in the players’ favour? For every new character we invite, we get many more who can identify with our platform and organize their group image in the game.
My biggest wish is to see a bunch of different Youtuber communities team up and try to best each other with art themed decks online. We hope to see small armies of passionate subcultures surface, along with dramatic rivalries and hidden tactics trickle down from the eSports scene. All this coming together as a way for all players to express their culture to the industry as a whole.
Do you see any other game devs as role models?
I do have a soft spot for Gearbox and Grinding Gear Games! Their mix of humour, impactful gameplay and multifaceted progression schemes have always fascinated me; like when I ‘grinded’ through Borderlands with every character for its first year. Seeing fan appreciation events like Gearbox Community Day has also inspired me a lot. I have the utmost respect for Grinding Gear Games’ work ethic and how they became one of the most respected free-to-play games out there, even putting Diablo 3 to shame with their league ladders, endgame and customizable effects.
Another inspiration for me is actually the creators of the Golden Sun series, and how they managed to package such a fantastic world and explorable character depth into a Gameboy Advance cartridge. I hope to meet Lord Gaben one day, especially since Allians is starting out with the building blocks of Valve‘s game community.
I was [also] quite sad when I heard that Saturo Iwata passed, especially after I learned how hard he worked to bring Pokemon Gold and Silver to its max potential. I have played over 1000 hours of those games and would like to thank him for that if I would get the chance. He was truly a brilliant heartbeat in Nintendo’s success, and I can only hope that the Japanese games industry will return to that kind of frequency again and add a blooming exchange with the west.
Which game has had the greatest emotional impact on you?
Games are usually a source of challenge for me, a way to put myself in a new immersive situation while trying to master it. In terms of emotion I mostly get that from games that awe me or make me focus so hard that I duck and weave with my entire body! Or when a gameplay moment comes down to a hard judgement call and you are just waiting in suspense to see if you predicted the outcome correctly.
But the game I think hit me the hardest was the first game I was able to beat, Zelda – Link’s Awakening. It had a massive island filled with tricky quests and characters, along with a masterful soundtrack and a melancholic finish to its story. Beating that game as a kid kept me up all night and I still return to that soundtrack to this day. It is probably one of the best precursors to the metaphysical theme of Majora’s Mask that I’ve seen and will keep it in my heart forever.
Do you have any advice for aspiring game developers?
Education in game design is not a must, but you need the implementation skills of whatever you decide to pursue. Get involved and do something unique.
First… make lots of things, that work. No matter how small. It may be a portfolio of how you made a concept art for a character skin, or telling a short blog post story about the problems you ran into during implementation. Be able to test quick gameplay ideas that you can prototype over a weekend and move on. Keep a library of them and come back once a bigger dream requires a new gameplay loop. No matter your career, that documentation can become useful later on. The dev diary summary of my Pokemon Hack still drives traffic today, and the comments I get on the gameplay make me realize new things about my game design process every week.
But in terms of networking, don’t just be a solo dev and push content on social media. You have to meet people too and try to be communicative and energizing to create with. Development is tough and [different] wills are struggling to be acknowledged. Make sure that you have a good way to recover from failure and become good at iterating quickly. If you can make an event or workspace exciting for others, they will probably want to work with you too; or at least become interested in what you are creating in your free time.
Solid advice at any stage of experience. Good luck on the Allians Kickstarter!
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- On September 13, 2016