The Art of LiveOps

Making Games on Roblox w/Chris Campbell: The Art of LiveOps S3E3

May 09, 2022 James Gwertzman and Crystin Cox Season 3 Episode 3
The Art of LiveOps
Making Games on Roblox w/Chris Campbell: The Art of LiveOps S3E3
Show Notes Transcript

Chris Campbell is a principal designer at Supersocial Games and focuses on making games for the Roblox platform.

Chris will enlighten us on a range of topics including his first job fielding player questions at Nintendo; the switch from premium to free-to-play; his experience with creating content on the Roblox Platform; his perspective on what the metaverse is; and his advice to all game developers when they need inspiration.

Brought to you by Azure PlayFab: https://www.playfab.com

Support the show

00;00;05;00 - 00;00;06;14
James Gwertzman
Hello. I'm James. Gwertzman.

00;00;06;14 - 00;00;09;23
Crystin Cox
I'm Crystin Cox. Welcome to The Art of LiveOps Podcast.

00;00;14;20 - 00;00;15;08
James Gwertzman
Hey, Crystin.

00;00;15;09 - 00;00;15;28
Crystin Cox
Hi, James.

00;00;15;28 - 00;00;17;07
James Gwertzman
So we're talking to Chris today.

00;00;17;07 - 00;00;17;23
Crystin Cox
Yes.

00;00;17;24 - 00;00;21;09
Chris Campbell
Hi, I'm Chris Campbell. I'm the principal designer at Supersocial Games.

00;00;21;11 - 00;00;39;13
Crystin Cox
He's got a long career as a designer working in mobile social triple-A, all sort of all across the board. But now he's working at a place called Supersocial that is focused on making games on the "Roblox" platform.

00;00;39;14 - 00;00;53;17
James Gwertzman
Which is fascinating. We, you and I have talked about how "Roblox" is becoming this new console and it sort of quietly crept up. Now everyone's talking about it, but it is a sort of stealth console and the idea that you now have companies making games just for "Roblox" is, I think, long overdue.

00;00;54;01 - 00;01;00;28
Crystin Cox
Yeah, I think it's gonna be really interesting getting Chris's perspective because he's really coming from a design point of view. And I think we're going to get to talk about the metaverse.

00;01;00;28 - 00;01;04;19
James Gwertzman
All right, let's check off another box on our buzzword bingo of the season.

00;01;05;03 - 00;01;05;23
Crystin Cox
Let's get into it.

00;01;10;04 - 00;01;18;19
Crystin Cox
So let's start by hearing you talk a little bit about your journey in the industry and sort of like where you've been, where you're going, you know, to sort of like your personal history.

00;01;19;14 - 00;01;37;27
Chris Campbell
So ironically enough, where we're sitting probably 200 yards away from where my career started, I was having a little bit of a flashback on the way out here from West Seattle. First of all, the drive reminded me of why I don't commute from West side to Seattle anymore. But then so Nintendo, we moved here in 97. My dream was to get into games.

00;01;38;09 - 00;01;53;18
Chris Campbell
That was all I ever wanted to do. I was one of the few people who wanted to make games for a living. So we moved to Seattle. I called the one 800 number from a payphone. Yes, before cell phones. And the only job they had at Nintendo at the time was horticulture. And I didn't know what that was.

00;01;53;18 - 00;02;08;14
Chris Campbell
So I said, Well, maybe next time. I got a job waiting tables, believe it or not. And then became a This is going to be a long story, but I'm going to make it really short. I ended up walking across the street to a temp agency, and they I needed money we didn't. We were living on a on Highway 99 up north

00;02;08;14 - 00;02;24;24
Chris Campbell
before we got our apartment. And they said, "Do you like video games"? And I was like, "Do I like video games? Yes." And they said, "Great, we need temporary employees for Nintendo of America starting Monday". So sign on the dotted line. Went home and I told Joanie, I said, "I have great news". This is my girlfriend at the time now my wife of 20 something years.

00;02;25;22 - 00;02;38;04
Chris Campbell
I said, "I have great news. I'm going to start at Nintendo on Monday," and in my mind's eye I was like, there's going to be like six of us. We're going to be standing around, we're going to ship some games, we're going to play some games of my go bowling, have a cocktail. I'm going to make these new friends because we're from Tennessee.

00;02;38;29 - 00;02;59;08
Chris Campbell
I showed up Monday morning at 5 a.m., and there were probably 300 people standing in the lobby. I was given a pallet of "Donkey Kong Country", Super Nintendo cartridges and a hairdryer and told to remove the stickers. So I did. I was going to be the best sticker remover ever. So I went through my pallet walked across the parking lot to the 48 20 building, put my application in.

00;02;59;26 - 00;03;03;05
Chris Campbell
I was wearing cutoff blue jeans shorts and an Alabama T-shirt. That was very very...

00;03;03;05 - 00;03;03;27
Crystin Cox
I love it.

00;03;04;02 - 00;03;04;24
James Gwertzman
Very cool.

00;03;04;24 - 00;03;17;11
Crystin Cox
It's such a classic story, though, right? The cattle call game testing CS which was a staple of the late nineties in the video game industry.

00;03;18;03 - 00;03;36;24
Chris Campbell
And I think, you know, when you looked across the warehouse, every single person there was there because it was Nintendo. We traveled from all over the country to be there because it was games. And that's what that's what we lived and breathed. I moved from there into gameplay counseling and who doesn't want to answer a 900 line and help people that are stuck.

00;03;36;24 - 00;03;51;26
Chris Campbell
And the two questions, the number, the number, the top two questions that we would get. First one, I'm playing "Lufia 2", and there's red blocks and yellow blocks and I don't know how to do that. And now we know that's like the first match three ever, right? Right. Well, when you put the blocks together why do they disappear? Well, it's just because they do.

00;03;52;06 - 00;03;57;29
Chris Campbell
And the second question was, I'm playing "Link to the Past" and I'm a bunny rabbit standing on top of a hill. What am I supposed to do here?

00;03;58;03 - 00;04;03;18
Crystin Cox
Oh, yeah. It's still a classic. I bet there's probably people asking that question right now.

00;04;03;18 - 00;04;04;05
James Gwertzman
Right now,

00;04;04;05 - 00;04;07;20
Crystin Cox
Yeah, exactly. On a twitch stream, who's going, what do I do now?

00;04;07;23 - 00;04;11;12
Chris Campbell
Because games were harder then, right? It was. Yeah.

00;04;11;12 - 00;04;13;20
James Gwertzman
No pop up tips after 2 minutes to tell you what to do.

00;04;13;20 - 00;04;25;04
Chris Campbell
Or. Exactly. No flashing arrow like, oh, use a magic mirror here. It was like, okay, use some thinking and just try to do it. But I think now I'm going to go back just a little bit further. "King's Quest" are the games that I grew up.

00;04;25;04 - 00;04;25;17
James Gwertzman
Yeah.

00;04;25;18 - 00;04;45;21
Chris Campbell
And so. Drop drop ball in pool. I do not understand that drop ball in pond. I do not understand that drop gold ball in water. You drop the ball in water and a mermaid comes out. And so I think that's I introduced that to someone at Big Fish when I first started there in 04. I think she's like, you had to type the game as a yeah. It was awesome.

00;04;45;21 - 00;04;47;14
Crystin Cox
And it was wonderful and we loved. It

00;04;47;14 - 00;04;48;05
Crystin Cox
Absolutely

00;04;48;05 - 00;04;56;08
James Gwertzman
Although to come back make my one of my kids is to introduced a game into the interactive fiction IFAC The interactive fiction competition?

00;04;56;08 - 00;04;56;20
Crystin Cox
Yeah.

00;04;56;21 - 00;04;57;09
Chris Campbell
Oh, nice

00;04;57;09 - 00;05;01;02
James Gwertzman
and it's still still up there. Yeah. The whole community, people making text games.

00;05;01;07 - 00;05;12;08
Crystin Cox
Oh yeah. I mean the whole Failbetter Games with "Fallen London" has just produced like some they've even liveops it if there's even liveops

00;05;12;08 - 00;05;13;05
Chris Campbell
that's interesting.

00;05;13;20 - 00;05;35;20
Chris Campbell
Well, I can see it. Yeah. So I'm going to flash forward now that I'm taking you on my, my sporadic timeline. I'm a time traveler. I'm just kind of dropping into different places from I was at Nintendo for a long time. I went from game play counseling into the treehouse, and the easiest way to kind of bracket my time there is the first game I got to capture footage of from an N64 to a Betamax machine was "Donkey Kong 64".

00;05;35;20 - 00;05;53;11
Chris Campbell
Became a member of Team Nintendo and made some of my best friends, the friends that I still am super close to. I wave to them as I drove by today that that was really kind of formative for me because I got to travel around the world and kind of talk about games and be part of that. Went from there to a startup before mobile games were cool.

00;05;53;11 - 00;06;05;07
Chris Campbell
We were still trying to make them on the Razr, you know, J2, a May brew for 1300 devices and then joined Big Fish. I think 07 was when I was at Big Fish that was kind of the heyday of casual games I know you PopCap

00;06;05;07 - 00;06;05;14
James Gwertzman
Yeah.

00;06;05;14 - 00;06;12;19
Chris Campbell
So you know I think 75% of the world's casual games were made on Fourth Avenue in Seattle for a long time.

00;06;13;07 - 00;06;29;11
Chris Campbell
That was super awesome. Got to see the transition from premium games to free to play, which was not maybe as awesome and I think I've been kind of recovering ever since. But now atSupersocial, I'm super excited because I'm getting to work with the next generation of game makers and they're teaching me as much as I'm teaching them.

00;06;29;11 - 00;06;37;12
James Gwertzman
So okay, I've got to ask, what characterizes the next generation of game creators? What are you learning? What is the what's the next change?

00;06;37;17 - 00;06;58;23
Chris Campbell
Yeah, Crystin and I were just talking about this. I think I've done some reflecting because I was listening to your Pop Cap podcast on the last week, and you talked about the transition between studios to free to play studios. And there was a human toll there that I think we all saw because we all of a sudden those days of we've launched a game and now let's go high five and have a beer.

00;06;58;23 - 00;07;15;18
Chris Campbell
And then tomorrow we'll start the next game. So we lost that. I'm going to say my generation of game makers. That is something that has been really hard to overcome. And then the idea that the game is always going to be something there that's with us, it's really rewarding in one way as a storyteller because you're like, I don't have to make version two and three.

00;07;15;18 - 00;07;16;17
Chris Campbell
I can just update these.

00;07;16;18 - 00;07;17;11
James Gwertzman
Yeah, keep updating.

00;07;18;00 - 00;07;42;03
Chris Campbell
But I think for these younger developers, they have grown up understanding this is just the way it is. They've had access to platforms where things have been free forever. Whereas I grew up saying it cost a quarter to play, and if you don't have a quarter, you don't get to play. Now, that being said, one of the things that that we're I think we're all experiencing is LiveOps on a platform like "Roblox" is a relatively new thing.

00;07;42;11 - 00;07;44;04
Chris Campbell
And so kind of working through that a little bit.

00;07;45;04 - 00;08;08;26
Crystin Cox
Yeah. No, I think that love you talk a little bit more about "Roblox" and just to, you know,Supersocials, you know, where you're working now, which is focused on "Roblox" as a platform and new developers making new experiences for "Roblox". And we've talked about "Roblox". It's to come up on this podcast before, but I don't know if we've ever really done a deep dive on it.

00;08;09;14 - 00;08;19;17
Crystin Cox
It's a fascinating, it's a fascinating platform. But as you said, LiveOps is a bit new on it. So I'd love to hear you talk a little bit more about your experience with "Roblox" and where it is now and where you guys are trying to take it.

00;08;20;17 - 00;08;40;05
Chris Campbell
Yeah, I love this question, so I'm going to be brutally honest about myself. In January of this year, someone would say, Do you know of "Roblox"? And I would say, I haven't played it. You know, I would have just because I would think there's this game. It's like "Minecraft", except it's called "Roblox". Yeah. And then, you know, obviously they were in the news you know, market and stock and all sorts of stuff.

00;08;40;05 - 00;08;56;20
Chris Campbell
And then you kind of start listening to a little bit more and then you look at it like, Oh, it's a platform. It's like YouTube for games. And anybody can create the content. It wasn't until right before I started at Supersocial, Peter Yap, who I have been with a long time, we've shipped seven games together. He was one of my coworkers at Big Fish.

00;08;57;01 - 00;09;14;10
Chris Campbell
He called me and said, We're on to something really special here at Supersocial and we're really kind of focusing on "Roblox". And I said, Well, kind of what is "Roblox" in a nutshell? He goes, All of the great ideas that we've always had that have been limited by the technology and our ability to stand up online infrastructure or moderated chat, they do all of that stuff for you.

00;09;14;15 - 00;09;26;22
Chris Campbell
And this is a platform where a kid can go online, have their own land with a house, and have their friends over for a floss dance party within 5 minutes of downloading, you know, or actually not even downloading is hitting the browser

00;09;26;22 - 00;09;27;13
James Gwertzman
His own the studio.

00;09;27;13 - 00;09;37;09
Chris Campbell
And so I think for me as a game maker, the hardest part about LiveOps for me was always like, I want to tell these incredibly engaging stories.

00;09;37;18 - 00;10;05;10
Chris Campbell
I want to. And there was always some type of technical hurdle. Well, to do that, we need asynch or we need synchronous multiplayer. And to do that, we know we're going to instrument this, that and the other. We need moderated chat. How are we going to protect 13 year olds, so on and so forth. And all of a sudden I'm looking at a platform that all of that stuff is given to you and we're back to the point of just let's pick up the hammer and build something incredibly creative and push the envelope, which I think brings me to the next point, which is where how are we going to move the platform forward?

00;10;05;16 - 00;10;31;08
Chris Campbell
I think the beautiful thing about Supersocial is, Yon, our CEO, he has combined creators from the platform and these creators have been on the platform since like 2008 2009. So they have grown up living and breathing "Roblox" as a platform. And then people like me, I'm going to say the seasoned, you know, blows dust off my shoulder are people like me who are partnered in saying, okay, the lessons that we learned from Nintendo, which is every button press should be satisfying.

00;10;31;14 - 00;10;47;14
Chris Campbell
There's a certain level of polish that we should always attempt and then the lessons they've learned, which is okay from our world in the mobile world FTUEs. Right. First of all, I hate the word FTUE. So first time user experience, I'll break it out. Well, I have to have we just talk about this the bouncing arrow and now do this and now do this.

00;10;47;14 - 00;11;02;21
Chris Campbell
And I've taught you 17 different things and hopefully you'll come back tomorrow and remember four of them. The first game we did in "Roblox" in Supersocial. Their really talented insights team said, "Have you ever tried to tell a nine year old what to do"? I was like, that's, that's you're blowing my mind right now what you do.

00;11;02;21 - 00;11;20;11
Chris Campbell
They said, Put them in a space and let them do things together and watch them help each other. And so we're trying to combine that in just incredible community and sense of self social, social right out of the gate and the lessons that we've learned from building games for, you know, three decades and putting them together. It's an it's a lot of fun.

00;11;20;11 - 00;11;22;10
Chris Campbell
I'm having more fun than I've had in a long time.

00;11;22;11 - 00;11;27;26
James Gwertzman
Well, "Roblox" is fascinating. I mean, I think and I'm going to get the name wrong, "Incredulous". Is that the game that. Yeah.

00;11;28;13 - 00;11;29;06
Chris Campbell
That sounds right.

00;11;29;06 - 00;11;49;12
James Gwertzman
Yeah. There's a there's a Israeli company that also is making games exclusively for "Roblox". And I met them about a year and a half ago, and they did a high profile branded license in "Roblox" for a cartoon series of my kid loves. And so I've been in there with my eight year old playing this game and I've been fascinated by what you described as a platform, watching it evolve over the years.

00;11;49;17 - 00;12;17;12
James Gwertzman
One thing you may not know is it is it here at Microsoft our PlayFab technology is being used to power some of the analytics in "Roblox" for some of the creators. And that to me was one of my insights, which is, wow, there is an opportunity here to take the same triple-A level LiveOps tools that we would build for, you know, a "Minecraft" or for a, you know, "Sea of Thieves" or something and put those exact same tools in the hands of the nine year, you know, the 12 year olds making the games or in your case, the, you know, 40 something year olds making games..

00;12;17;28 - 00;12;19;22
Chris Campbell
the 19 to 48 year olds

00;12;20;12 - 00;12;21;14
Crystin Cox
29 year olds right?

00;12;21;14 - 00;12;31;10
James Gwertzman
in there making games in "Roblox" for with more of a professional polish and they think that there's a real aha moment there. This is the next console it's a console that is a virtual console

00;12;31;10 - 00;12;31;19
Chris Campbell
yes.

00;12;31;19 - 00;12;37;25
James Gwertzman
That is just as powerful as what you see on and arguably more powerful because it has more primitives that are ready to go for you.

00;12;38;03 - 00;12;52;04
Chris Campbell
And I think to your PlayFab so yes, very familiar PlayFab from the old world and the new world because the you can see the light come on in their eyes and we can say not only do we want you to make whatever design decision that you want. The only thing that I'm there to do is inspire.

00;12;52;05 - 00;13;10;20
Chris Campbell
I'm not there. I mean, I'm there to inspire, not instruct. Don't go around that corner because I've gone around that corner before and it hurt. But if you choose to let me go over there and try to clear the path a little bit, and then when you say the design decision that you were making and the intention that behind that decision, we're going to actually understand if it worked because we're going to be able to see that result.

00;13;11;00 - 00;13;23;17
Chris Campbell
It's it's a huge change. I mean, I remember the first moment that that happened to me. Someone said data and I was like, Data, what do you mean data? Okay. This is a side story I was getting. I'm full of side stories

00;13;23;17 - 00;13;24;06
Crystin Cox
No please.

00;13;24;07 - 00;13;25;29
James Gwertzman
No, please. We love side stories.

00;13;25;29 - 00;13;40;03
James Gwertzman
I was up north at Poulsbo RV getting a break controller put on a truck. I know, but I'm in the waiting room and these two guys are like, So what do you do? And I said, I made games. And they said, Well, what is that like? And I said, Well, we were actually this is the switch from kind of premium to free to play.

00;13;40;05 - 00;13;52;29
Chris Campbell
I said, Well, if you'd asked me two years ago, I would have said, I'm going to sell you a truck, and then I'm going to go online and see the forums and see what you think about the truck. And you're going to say, I wish it had a bigger V8 I wish it had these doors that opened a little bit wider and need longer bed.

00;13;52;29 - 00;14;06;27
Chris Campbell
And I would write that down and send those to the to the truck design department. And then next year we'd release a new truck. And if you'd complain about something else and we'd make another truck, I said, Now I sell you the truck and I sit the backseat as you're driving at home. And you're like "Martha, sure would be nice to have a sunroof."

00;14;06;27 - 00;14;26;12
Chris Campbell
And I go "Poof, there's a sunroof" and you're like, "Well, I don't really want a sunroof that bad". I'm like, "Poof. There's no more sunroof". And so I said it. But okay, here's the problem. And this is the swing that happened for us. I'm like, Data I can verify every single thing I've ever thought. Let's instrument everything. Yeah, yeah. I'm sure you've heard that from anybody sitting this chair.

00;14;26;19 - 00;14;36;13
Chris Campbell
And then the IT department always runs down and like, "what are you people doing? Like, things are on fire up stairs. Why are you, why are you putting out 10,000 calls per second"? It's like, well, I want to know if.

00;14;36;13 - 00;14;41;15
Crystin Cox
Just in case. I want to find out what if what if somebody one day says they want a sunroof?

00;14;41;16 - 00;15;12;09
Chris Campbell
Exactly. You know, you need to have that in your pocket. So to bring it all the way back, a long way around, I think they're having that same aha moment that I had. And I think that helped soften the okay. When you launch it, you're just kind of getting going. But that's okay because we have pushed... that's the thing about that I love about the relationship that we're developing, but it's Supersocial between the creators and the kind of industry veterans is we're all bringing our different experiences and we're saying Okay, we want to end up down there 18 months from now or two years from now, whatever that is.

00;15;12;09 - 00;15;21;02
Chris Campbell
We have so many more stories to tell, but let's simplify, simplify, simplify down to what the core of what makes your kids like. "Roblox", right? It's just it's fun like that.

00;15;21;16 - 00;15;46;27
Crystin Cox
And the community that's there. I think that something that is really fascinating about the "Roblox" development community is they are sort of community driven platform natives. Like they really expect that if I, if I make a game, if I experience a game, there should be other people around who are either going to experience it with me or who've also had the same experience in that game that I can talk to immediately.

00;15;47;06 - 00;16;08;24
Crystin Cox
And we can actually discuss this right away. And there's always going to be the social layer that exists inside of the game. It's, it's not quite like it was I think when we were coming up. I remember so clearly talking to triple-A developers and I had been in MMOs for pretty much my whole career. So it's always in virtual worlds.

00;16;09;09 - 00;16;29;09
Crystin Cox
But in talking to triple-A developers, they would be like, we, we don't hear anything from players like we don't know what they want. Like they're like, I don't know, sometimes we get letters, they're like email like or physical letters. At the beginning when I was at Disney and people would say this physical letters, right? But they felt very removed.

00;16;29;09 - 00;16;50;25
Crystin Cox
They were like, I don't know, like we make something. And then it's kind of feels like we just sort of throw it into a hole like and it just sort of goes into a void. And then sometimes journalists or critics will tell us what they think, but that doesn't feel the same. And now I think these game creators are coming up and going, Of course I'm going to have access to an entire community of people who have opinions.

00;16;51;19 - 00;17;11;29
Chris Campbell
And I think that's the, you know, on the reflection in the in the traffic from West Seattle on the way out here, that's one of the things I was thinking about. So we used to we would use PR tours, right. Okay. We have this beautiful thing. Please write something great about this beautiful game. And then we're going to go to the forums and hopefully we find that that person with that voice that agrees with what we have done and the person disagrees, well, they're just wrong.

00;17;12;04 - 00;17;28;12
Chris Campbell
You know, that was kind of our attitude. I think that when I mentioned earlier that I am learning so much from these creators is because, yes, social has always been a thing for them for, for my generation of game maker, social was relatively new I remember the first time I ever played "Counter-Strike", and I'm like, What is this?

00;17;28;19 - 00;17;45;09
Chris Campbell
And I love the fact that I talked to a 19 year old creator last night who was like, I love "Counter-Strike". I was like, Hey, yeah, me too. It stands the test of time. But you remember the first time I played "Counter-Strike", and this is a very clear memory for me, everybody. As soon as it starts, everybody jumping, you know, everybody jumping and running, I'm like, Okay, I don't know what this is, but I'm going to jump.

00;17;45;17 - 00;18;00;13
Chris Campbell
I'm going to have a great time jumping. This is fun. We're jumping. We're having a great time. And when "Roblox", the very first time I played Disaster, the very first experience I played was a "Disaster Survival Simulator". And I started in this tower looking down on this chaos that was happening. I had no idea it was going on.

00;18;00;13 - 00;18;14;19
Chris Campbell
And then I spawned in this world and everybody ran and jumped. And so it's like the same thing, just different generation and to your point. We don't have to try to get their heads around. No, no, no. You're going to have other people in your experience because "Zelda" was never about other people. "Mario" was never about other people.

00;18;14;19 - 00;18;17;17
Chris Campbell
"Mario Party" was. But that was still like, okay, it's still just a handfull...

00;18;17;17 - 00;18;19;16
Crystin Cox
You're still in the room a lot together as well.

00;18;19;28 - 00;18;33;18
Chris Campbell
And to talk to them. And I love the fact that everybody talking about the metaverse right now and to talk to them, they've been living and V1 of the metaverse since they were kids because they're like, of course when I there I have friends, I have an avatar. They they do customized art.

00;18;33;18 - 00;18;47;19
James Gwertzman
I was just in conversation about exactly this half an hour ago saying, look, what's the metaverse? You know, I'm in a jeep driving up on a volcano. And these other players, I mean, I've got positional audio and I'm able to have identity. I just bought an item and item appeared and I've got on my hands and like that's the metaverse.

00;18;47;20 - 00;18;53;01
James Gwertzman
Yeah. But to be a metaverse around the multiplayer game. But it's the metaverse. Yeah. And I couldn't agree more. [ad break music]

00;18;58;21 - 00;19;20;28
Crystin Cox
[ad break] The Art of LiveOps is presented by Azure PlayFab. PlayFab is a full featured back end solution that powers LiveOp games of all sizes, whether you need multiplayer services, analytics, LiveOps tools, PlayFab can help you reach all of your retention, engagement and monetization goals. Learn more and you can get started for free at

00;19;20;28 - 00;19;29;27
Crystin Cox
PlayFab.com That's PlayFab.com, P-L-A-Y-F-A-B dot com. PlayFab.com. And you can get started for free. [ad break music]

00;19;34;26 - 00;19;49;06
James Gwertzman
Alright, welcome back to the Art of the LiveOps. Today we're talking to Chris Campbell and we're talking about all sorts of things, including the metaverse and "Roblox" and the future of game creation and what young people today need to learn from old codgers like ourselves. Let's get back into it.

00;19;53;00 - 00;19;59;07
James Gwertzman
That's the metaverse. Yeah. It happens to be a metaverse around a multiplayer game, but it's the metaverse. Yeah. And I couldn't agree more.

00;19;59;12 - 00;20;17;17
Crystin Cox
Yeah. It is fascinating. Like, metaverse feels like in some ways a validation for if there are any other like old virtual world hacks out there. It feels like a validation of something. So because I think a lot of us who are making virtual worlds are like, yes, back in the early 2000.

00;20;17;17 - 00;20;19;26
James Gwertzman
Yeah, because all those people talking about making the Metaverse are going to trip over the exact same problems we solved ten years ago...

00;20;19;26 - 00;20;19;27
Crystin Cox
Absolutely

00;20;19;27 - 00;20;24;14
James Gwertzman
...they're going to trip over harrassment and toxicity and they're gonna trip over the trolling and the hacking and the...

00;20;24;21 - 00;20;29;05
Crystin Cox
100 per... and like, you know, identity politics and like all of the things that come with it,

00;20;29;05 - 00;20;31;20
James Gwertzman
just go read Randall Farmer's habitat paper, you know.

00;20;31;20 - 00;20;33;02
Crystin Cox
Yeah. It's all there.

00;20;33;20 - 00;20;44;12
Chris Campbell
Or you could flash back into my past when "Call of Duty 4" ruined online gaming for me because all of a sudden everybody on the server was talking about my mom and I'm like, well, you like what happened here? Aren't we on a team?

00;20;44;12 - 00;20;45;16
Crystin Cox
Thanks Xbox.

00;20;45;27 - 00;20;56;23
Chris Campbell
No thanks 360. Hey 360's responsible for one of the greatest innovations in gaming, which is the achievement system? So I go on record saying that player motivation was better.

00;20;57;10 - 00;20;58;15
James Gwertzman
Metagame achievements.

00;20;58;15 - 00;20;59;08
Crystin Cox
Oh absolutely.

00;20;59;08 - 00;21;05;16
Chris Campbell
I can't. And the people would come in and were like, Okay, okay, you can rent King Kong from Gamefly and get an easy 1000 points.

00;21;06;05 - 00;21;29;19
Crystin Cox
To some extent, that's the Metaverse too, right? I'm not to overload the term, but I think that it's really fascinating watching so people ask what's the metaverse? It's like in a lot of ways it feels a little bit like when people used to say like, what's web 2.0? And there's a sense it's like we're going to have to get through it a little bit before we can look back and really answer that question because we're kind of living through it.

00;21;29;19 - 00;21;41;22
Crystin Cox
But it's an evolution. It's not. I don't think there's going to be. I'm curious your thoughts on this, too. I don't know that there is going to be a thing that comes out and we can all go, That's the metaverse. I think it's it really is a conglomerate of things.

00;21;43;13 - 00;21;51;20
James Gwertzman
And you've got people like that. You know, some of our folks out there saying it's going to be THE metaverse and we're at least out there saying it's A metaverse. And I think that's much more accurate.

00;21;51;20 - 00;21;55;00
Chris Campbell
And that's in that's it, right? I mean, I read Snow Crash.

00;21;55;00 - 00;21;55;12
James Gwertzman
Oh, yeah.

00;21;55;20 - 00;22;00;25
Chris Campbell
In college. And so I love the fact that he was so future minded.

00;22;00;25 - 00;22;02;03
James Gwertzman
Neil Stephenson was right there so early.

00;22;02;03 - 00;22;20;16
Chris Campbell
Right. It's it's just crazy in and I think so I'm with you. It's A metaverse because I think there are certain companies are like, okay well if I put enough money at the problem, I'm going to create it. Which in my mind is exactly what IOI did in "Ready Player One" and I'm fairly I'm convinced that I wrote that book 30 years from now.

00;22;20;18 - 00;22;26;24
Chris Campbell
I sent it back in the past so I could read it for the first time like oh God is great the book read I know that's a a lot

00;22;26;24 - 00;22;28;00
James Gwertzman
You're dating yourself.

00;22;28;00 - 00;22;43;14
Chris Campbell
Yeah. Oh, I will, I will own it and I love it. But I think when we when you talk to the the creators and so the people that I am fortunate to get to work with and I have these conversations and we start talking about the metaverse and they'll say, Oh, that's somewhere that I've been hanging out since I was a kid.

00;22;44;05 - 00;23;10;13
Chris Campbell
I have my avatar. My avatar has been wearing the same gear. People know me not as my name, but as my avatar name. I have friends all over the planet. I've been making games remotely forever and ever and ever. And this is and so I think it's up to somebody like me. Here's the thing that I really like about the metaverse, a metaverse, whatever we want to say in games for the last four decades, we've been rearranging English words in a different sentences and calling it creativity.

00;23;10;18 - 00;23;27;07
Chris Campbell
All right. And saying, no, no, no. The boy flies to the moon in a paper airplane. No, no, no. The boy flies on a paper airplane to the moon. And it's like two different games and what what I think right now what we're seeing and I'm going to promise I'm going to get to your point I'm mentally tracking this.

00;23;27;27 - 00;23;53;02
Chris Campbell
What we're seeing is we're trying to create a brand new alphabet that the next generation of game makers will use to create the thing that we're talking about. So if we're trying to conceptualize the oasis, we're at .0001 of that. I think it's going to be just like CD-ROM and just like any of the other kind of great technical, you know, technology that we've seen, it's going to be, oh, it's been a decade of people talking about it and oops, it turns out I've been kind of existing in it for the last six months.

00;23;53;02 - 00;24;28;05
Crystin Cox
Right. And then we'll move right through it. And I think to me is I've always struggle with this because I feel of two minds about it. Like, I feel like, oh, my gosh, we're right at the precipice of all this technology. It's really coming together and then I also think, gosh, I remember the experience I had playing a MUD back in 1994 and it had all of that you know, like I, that was a metaverse and it's, it's almost been there with us as soon as we could connect, you know, digitally across, you know, that we could sort of eliminate the idea of space and connect digitally.

00;24;28;16 - 00;24;44;10
Crystin Cox
And I think it's both though like I think it is both a world where we can say yeah, all, that's all the promise that was there when we were playing MUDs back in the day are now finally we have the technology that's going to let us do a lot of that stuff in a more realized way with more presence.

00;24;44;24 - 00;25;13;21
Chris Campbell
And I think it's that presence. How do we interact with each other? Because the world that I don't want to see is I have to wear goggles to hang out with my wife in our living room and watch TV. Right. I don't want to have goggles on in this conversation because I enjoy this communication. And so if there's one thing that I'm trying to instill in anybody that I can talk to is that the player there needs to be that emotional connection, not just with the game but now with other players.

00;25;13;21 - 00;25;34;02
Chris Campbell
And how do you do that? Well, you make it super, super easy for them to connect that way. And I also think it's super important for all game developers, all game developers to go outside some time, play croquet, hang out with your friends, go do whatever it is, because some of the most brilliant ideas that I've ever seen kind of come to life in a game came from an experience outside of a studio.

00;25;34;10 - 00;25;40;19
Chris Campbell
And I think that's another the message that I'm really trying to impart to all of the young people that I get a...am fortunate enough to work with.

00;25;40;22 - 00;26;02;04
Crystin Cox
Yeah, I think there's something really great there too. Game developers, I think, you know, I had this there's this great sort of metaphor that that that I've heard the last couple of years is like there are two types of designers. One sort of wants to be a film director and the other wants to be a nightclub manager.

00;26;03;07 - 00;26;03;26
Chris Campbell
So perfect.

00;26;03;26 - 00;26;08;22
Crystin Cox
And in LiveOps, you mostly are a nightclub manager. You're very rarely.

00;26;08;26 - 00;26;09;18
James Gwertzman
Empresario.

00;26;09;27 - 00;26;29;10
Crystin Cox
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Right. And there's a different kind of relationship that exists there. And so I'm really curious to hear your experience that you're having with this next generation of developers. Do do they want to be directors, movie directors, or do they want to be nightclub managers?

00;26;30;05 - 00;26;57;27
Chris Campbell
You know, I think it's a that's a great question. I love that description, by the way. I have struggled with how to define that in my own career. And now I'm definitely the film director. Right. I think I'm going to go back to a conversation I had this morning with someone who is insanely talented, almost a unicorn, can do everything, can compose music, do his own art, incredible systems programmer, but also an incredible designer because he's looking at the problem in his game right now.

00;26;57;27 - 00;27;23;14
Chris Campbell
And he's saying, if I only have this one currency then here's how this currency is spent. But if I introduce another currency, it becomes much more interesting for the gamer. He's approaching that both as a nightclub manager. If I only serve beer everyone will get bored. If I serve beer and cocktails, that's cool. But he's also approaching it from the person on the dance floor saying it sure would be nice if both of these things were kind of motivators and I think I've seen that across all of the teams that I'm working with.

00;27;24;20 - 00;27;47;04
Chris Campbell
To reiterate for probably the 1100th time in this conversation, these developers are insanely talented, they have grown up understanding things it took me a very long time to try to get my head around. They are powerful designers and they are powerful programmers. In their own right. And I think that's fantastic because I think at one point the last ten years, the world of design kind of got splintered into this weird thing.

00;27;47;04 - 00;28;05;25
Chris Campbell
Oh, you're a systems designer. Oh, you must be an economy designer. Oh, you're the creative designer, whatever they call the person who stands at the intersection of all of those things. So I think that's the thing is I was expecting to maybe teach a little bit more and learn a little bit less. And I think that my career at Supersocial has flipped that. I'm learning a ton and I'm teaching a little bit less.

00;28;06;05 - 00;28;31;01
Crystin Cox
Yeah. And I think that you're pointing to an interesting thing that technology has started to unlock. And I know you saw this James at PlayFab those tools allowing teams to be smaller. We're in a place that is an industry where both teams are massively gigantic and they just keep getting bigger. And the cost of producing art assets is just keeps going up.

00;28;31;17 - 00;28;50;08
Crystin Cox
But there's also so much happening like what you're experiencing at Supersocial where actually because the technology exists to support it, a very small team of people can come together and just sort of have a creative collaboration and make something that's just, you know, just made between them.

00;28;50;11 - 00;29;06;13
James Gwertzman
And going all that back to your point, I mean, the expectations of the players is different. Again I watched my eight year old playing, you know, like a high school academy in "Roblox" and the graphics quality is, you know, way down here. She doesn't notice she's having a blast because she's having a costume party. She's having a costume contest.

00;29;06;13 - 00;29;21;06
James Gwertzman
I mean, all the activities, the social activities she's doing are not in any way affected by the quality, the graphics. And that's one of the big takeaways is to your point, you know, we still have this Triple-A expectation of, oh, if it doesn't have a gajillion polygons you know, in this massive open world thing, then it's not worth playing.

00;29;21;14 - 00;29;26;07
James Gwertzman
And then you've got if you're focusing on social experience, who cares? As long as you're having that engagement.

00;29;26;23 - 00;29;45;15
Chris Campbell
I okay, I love this topic. So first of all, "Rogue" is one of the greatest games ever made. Yeah. I played that in college on my Tandy, to really date myself and just ASCII art, right? But every time the V killed me or the I put the little blue minuses at me, I shuddered. Yeah. Here's the beautiful thing about the currently the situation I'm in.

00;29;45;15 - 00;30;03;28
Chris Campbell
I can, I can't speak for everybody on the platform. I will just speak for Supersocial. Our teams are two people. Yeah. Two creators who come together. They have a great idea. And then they will literally and we I come from the now it's different than the Triple-A, you all are dealing with I can't even fathom the team sizes that you're dealing with right now.

00;30;04;05 - 00;30;16;19
Chris Campbell
I know at Big fish, the last time I was on was over 30 people, which is bonkers for casual slash mobile. And then if I wanted to set something in the build, I needed to wait for the build machine to spit something out. It's going to take 4 hours and then I need to go to hockey app.

00;30;16;19 - 00;30;33;08
Chris Campbell
I need to download something, whatever that is. And now someone will say, I have a great idea and they make the change in real time and then hit play here in studio. You're standing there looking at it and then you can say, Well, let's do something completely different. How about a new game? Fine. A week later you're playing a prototype because to your point, fidelity.

00;30;33;08 - 00;30;40;20
Chris Campbell
I think at some point in the past we maybe lost our way on Fidelity. We used it to...as kind of a varnish to cover up design issues.

00;30;40;20 - 00;30;41;18
James Gwertzman
Or a barrier to entry.

00;30;41;19 - 00;31;02;27
Chris Campbell
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I was telling Crystin a little bit earlier at RDC, I this is my first chance to attend the "Roblox" Developers Conference and the keynote. They talked about these great things are going to come online, layered clothing and proximity sound. And in my first thought was, wait a minute, in the past, I would say, oh, no, now the team's going to be twice as big.

00;31;02;27 - 00;31;17;23
Chris Campbell
It's going to cost five times more to make but I'm looking at the teams that few people getting excited, like, great, we're going to put that in tomorrow. And it's just it's such a. All of those barriers to building that creative village because for all my career, I've only wanted to work with creative people and build really awesome experiences.

00;31;17;23 - 00;31;24;24
Chris Campbell
Yeah. And all of a sudden I'm looking at those walls have kind of crumbled and we're all standing around with hammers going, okay, how fast can we build stuff?

00;31;24;29 - 00;31;25;18
James Gwertzman
Let's have a show.

00;31;25;18 - 00;31;27;26
Chris Campbell
Yeah, it's awesome. It's exciting.

00;31;28;00 - 00;31;44;10
Crystin Cox
Yeah, it's really cool. I know we're almost out of time. We're running out. We could probably talk all day. Yeah, but there's one question we ask everybody, so we want to make sure we have time for it, which is, can you share a LiveOps disaster with us? We always try to ask this. It's you know, I think it's an.

00;31;44;15 - 00;31;45;10
James Gwertzman
Everyone has one.

00;31;45;10 - 00;31;55;28
James Gwertzman
Everyone's got one. And I think it's important to share that, especially for people who are starting out in the space to hear everyone who experiences it, that there's a disaster around the corner in everyone's back pocket.

00;31;56;09 - 00;32;26;04
Chris Campbell
I'm probably I'm going to come at this from a couple of different angles. So I think the first thing is, as I mentioned, you know, don't over instrument everything because that moment when you're launching and you're watching the number go up, up, up and that's that golden cohort or at least that used to be the golden cohort, then you watch it just stop and you realize that all of the UA and all of the work that you've put towards that moment in time, well, it's completely worthless because it's going to take two days to kind of stand everything back up because you got overeager or I think that's probably something that we've all experienced.

00;32;26;04 - 00;32;48;26
Chris Campbell
The thing that I'm going to call out, that's probably the most important for me as I as I go through this next phase of my career. The idea that your game, it needs to be super, super simple and it needs to be super, super engaging second to second. And I think I have been guilty in the past of maybe overlooking that part in the interest of that cool LiveOps thing that's going to happen six months from now.

00;32;48;27 - 00;33;00;02
Chris Campbell
I'm like, no, no, no. If we can just make it to that LiveOps thing, this is all going to be, this is all going to make sense. No, no, no. If we can just make it to the when we're going to turn the narrative on and it's going to be the thing that blows people minds that's going to change the world.

00;33;00;08 - 00;33;25;05
Chris Campbell
And so I think it's easy for designers, at least designers of a certain I'm going to call a film director designers to take their eye off of the current problem, which is will your player come back tomorrow? And instead try to say, will they come back, you know, seven days, 30 days, two months from now? I know that they're I'm trying to think the way that I can phrase that in a very real example at Big Fish, we were presented a huge challenge.

00;33;26;01 - 00;33;43;11
Chris Campbell
Can you make a social match three? Well, the answer I mean, you know, just saying that loud social match three it's like peanut butter rollercoaster. You can say peanut butter, you can say rollercoaster. But sometimes you just don't put two words together. Well, the answer to that question is, yes, we can. And we did. And we had something that was very, very simple.

00;33;43;21 - 00;33;58;01
Chris Campbell
And then, you know, I remember your conversation about PopCap. There's a point in time where by like, hey, what if we do this and there's certain people in the room, like, I don't know about that. Maybe that's a different game. It's like, No, no, let's just bolt some of these things on it, and I'm sure it'll be fine.

00;33;58;26 - 00;34;12;18
Chris Campbell
And so I ignored a lot of the bolting because I was enamored with the LiveOps vision that was always in my head. And as a result, the rocket blew up on launch because you had bolts sticking out of the engine.

00;34;12;20 - 00;34;36;15
Crystin Cox
So. Yeah, yeah, that's I think that's so easy for people to do. I, you know, it can be really tough to that perspective of you have in your mind the way it's going to be, right? Because you have the whole path you've decided on set out in front of you. It's really hard to get that perspective of. But for the player who shows up on day one, they know none of that.

00;34;36;22 - 00;34;43;18
Crystin Cox
All they have is what's right in front of them. It's one of the reasons like that play testing is just so, so, so important.

00;34;44;16 - 00;34;44;25
James Gwertzman
Yeah.

00;34;45;04 - 00;35;03;25
Chris Campbell
It's and that's the thing is it's the book, right? Oh, no. It's got to be great in 700 pages in there's going to be this twist, that's going to be like "what?" Well, yeah we did this were "Drawn 2" This is just another this is not a LiveOps as much as it's just a really bad decision in game making "Drawn 1", we, it was a, it was a great project.

00;35;03;25 - 00;35;19;09
Chris Campbell
We built a team that shipped many many games together and at the end of "Drawn 1" we dropped a bell through the tower and it broke through the, the floor and we're like, oh, the bells in the in the bottom. And so we knew at the beginning of the next game we're going start people in the basement next to the bell because of course they played the end of "Drawn 1".

00;35;20;05 - 00;35;36;20
Chris Campbell
We watched the game and we were like, Where am I? Why the hell am I standing in a basement? And what is this thing? What is this shadow? And I think we oftentimes do that. And I think the great thing about this platform and these small teams is it's a little bit easier to say, no, no, no, let's bring it back to the second to second.

00;35;36;22 - 00;35;43;20
Chris Campbell
Is that fun? Is that fun when the sword connects to the body? Is that a visceral feeling? Do you have the right screen shake? Does it feel right?

00;35;43;21 - 00;36;02;13
James Gwertzman
Well, it's funny because we were this an earlier conversation. We were doing an earlier interview today and we were talking about the connection between game design and human relationships. And hearing you just now, I'm thinking about being present and the idea of being present in your moment to moment versus being so goal focused and thinking down the line that you lose sight of that moment to moment interaction and making that fun.

00;36;02;19 - 00;36;19;03
Chris Campbell
I bracket all of my conversations in those ways. I'm like, Let's talk about what we need to solve today. Tomorrow and by Friday, but then let's get excited and make sure we're throwing those things are called the red balloons, where the studio is full of red balloons. And then occasionally, if we have time, we're going to grab one and we're going to float somewhere interesting,

00;36;19;03 - 00;36;19;16
James Gwertzman
I love that.

00;36;20;18 - 00;36;22;29
Crystin Cox
Well, thank you so much. This has been a wonderful conversation,

00;36;22;29 - 00;36;24;05
Crystin Cox
Yeah it's a fun, engaging conversation.

00;36;24;05 - 00;36;25;13
Chris Campbell
Yeah. Thank you all for having me in.

00;36;29;04 - 00;36;31;11
Crystin Cox
Thanks for listening to The Art of LiveOps podcast.

00;36;31;18 - 00;36;36;17
James Gwertzman
If you liked what you heard, remember to rate, review and subscribe so others can find us.

00;36;36;25 - 00;36;41;13
Crystin Cox
And visit PlayFab.com for more information on solutions for all your LiveOps needs.

00;36;41;22 - 00;36;42;17
James Gwertzman
Thanks for tuning in.