This week on Think Like A Game Designer Podcast I interview Wright Bagwell:

Wright Bagwell started his career by designing mods for Quake. He is the CEO and co-founder of Outpost Games. He was the design director of the Farmville franchise at Zynga. Prior to that, he worked on Dead Space as a creative director at Visceral Games and was the lead designer at Electronic Arts. In case that wasn’t awesome enough, he also has a Ph.D. in neuroscience. So… Yeah, this guy is pretty amazing and has a lot to offer. Enjoy!

Check out this episode and the previous ones here:

“I’m very comfortable looking at Game Design, or design in general, as an applied science rather than art.” (4:30)

Wright discusses his perspective on game design as applied science. He discusses the different kinds of people that work in the industry, designers who want to build a game as art, and people who want to develop a game as a traditional product designer. Wright talks about his process for how and why he’ll decide to design a game. He reiterates the point that we’ve made several times: in game design, you have to test your assumptions as cheaply and quickly as possible to see if your game is viable.

“The more time I’ve spent in this business, the more I’ve been focused on being entrepreneurial and trying to build businesses that lead you to a place where you’re thinking more about needs as opposed to wants.” (15:00)

Here, Wright and I explore the development games from an emotional standpoint. He uses several games as examples, including Dead Space and Farmville, and how these games focused on a particular aspect of human psychology. Tapping into a universal, but specific, part of the human experience can help you focus your design path to create an incredible game.

“For anyone who’s out building games right now, if you think your game is the kind of game that people are going to stream, I would think really really hard about trying to get as many people to stream it as possible.” (23:48)

Wright has been working on a platform that allows viewers of a stream to participate in a game, which has been a growing trend in the game industry. Here, we discuss Wright’s mindset when it comes to developing this revolutionary new type of game. Wright goes on to speak about the psychological effect on the designer, the streamer, and the viewers.

“Sometimes as designers, we’re torn between as to whether we should be the star of the show or if the player should be the star of the show.” (32:10)

We continue our discussion about streamed games, and about the shift, he and his colleagues had about a new way to think about designing games that would encourage performance for games with an audience. In this section, we get into his decision to leave Zynga and begin his Entrepreneurial path. We discuss what led to that decision and how he knew it was the right time to move on to his own company. We dig into what it’s like to get 6+ million dollars in funding, and how to navigate that amount of money for a new project.

“Culture comes from, not only how you manage and direct the company, but of course who you hire and bring into the company.” (53:00)

Wright discusses becoming CEO and what it means to have to switch your mindset to handle new problems, both in development and company culture. He goes into some of the big issues he ran into during the launch of a game where everyone is mic’d, namely… Internet trolls. 

“One of the things I would tell anyone who’s doing a startup is that you’re not going to have a lot of resources, so you’re going to have to pick one thing that you’re really good at.” (1:09:40)

Finally, the two of us discuss what happens when a game or business you’ve put a lot of time into doesn’t work out as planned. We go into the details of whether to put more time into it, where to focus and what to leave behind. It’s an important lesson that both myself and Wright learned the hard way. We talk about what those lessons are and how to avoid common early-stage entrepreneurial problems.