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Amor sets out social agenda

If sales for Buzz! had only been generated by the core gaming media, the Relentless success story might have ended quite differently. Four weeks after release Sony were ready to pull the plug on the project even though work on the follow-up was underway.

But then sales of the original game rocketed that Christmas, the franchise was saved and the sequel spent a year in the UK chart top 20. This dramatic change in fortune is most likely down to word of mouth, and a more receptive mainstream press, according to David Amor in his Develop Conference session, 'Making Games for Miyamoto's Wife."

The success of games such as Buzz!, SingStar, Brain Training and other 'social games' is, Amor concluded, because "the other 90 per cent of people are ready to play games". That, at least, is what Relentless has learned from its experience with Buzz!, and Amor identified several common themes in these popular titles which seem to be breaking through to new audiences.

Primarily, it's about making games that follow simple rules, and call on ideas that will already be familiar to people. "People know what you have to do without you telling them," said Amor, before comparing the typical quiz show elements in Buzz! to mainstream entertainment products such as Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?

The ability for people to use a game as a way to have fun "off-screen" is another driver for social games. In Amor's words, "setting up instances where people can make fun of each other, make their own entertainment" isn't something that can be programmed into a game, but one which reinforces the positive game experience nonetheless.

Game controllers are also an important aspect, and one especially pertinent to Buzz! While the Sixaxis with its multitude of buttons can be intimidating, controllers such as the Wii remote and the DS touch screen enable gameplay that is far more intuitive.

Crucially, although a quiz game could have worked with the Dual Shock pad on a technical level, "I think we'd have been on our arse if we hadn't released Buzz! without the buzzers."

Amor concluded the session with his thoughts on how different media outlets have represented his game. "It's disappointing that there seems to be a stigma about these games, that in the specialist press they're second-rate," he said.

"People were really snobbish about [Buzz!] in the specialist press, but not the mainstream. Shooting and driving games will continue to be a big part of the market, but I also think that the rest of the world is ready to play games - we just aren't making games that really pull in Miyamoto's wife, or your girlfriend, or sister, wife, young brother, or mum."

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