The Art of LiveOps

Every Game Starts at Zero w/ Demetri Detsaridis: The Art of LiveOps S2E2

August 19, 2020 James Gwertzman and Crystin Cox Season 2 Episode 2
The Art of LiveOps
Every Game Starts at Zero w/ Demetri Detsaridis: The Art of LiveOps S2E2
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The Art of LiveOps
Every Game Starts at Zero w/ Demetri Detsaridis: The Art of LiveOps S2E2
Aug 19, 2020 Season 2 Episode 2
James Gwertzman and Crystin Cox

We’ve all heard the dire news of the death of PC Gaming. And Mobile Gaming. And even Gaming itself. Happily, though, reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated. In this, our second episode of season two, LiveOps veteran and eSports innovator Demetri Detsaridis explains why there will always be a market for a wide range of game types, why you should be innovating instead of following the crowd, and how to keep your eyes on the games industry meta-trends.

Support the show (http://microsoftgamestack.com)

Show Notes Transcript

We’ve all heard the dire news of the death of PC Gaming. And Mobile Gaming. And even Gaming itself. Happily, though, reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated. In this, our second episode of season two, LiveOps veteran and eSports innovator Demetri Detsaridis explains why there will always be a market for a wide range of game types, why you should be innovating instead of following the crowd, and how to keep your eyes on the games industry meta-trends.

Support the show (http://microsoftgamestack.com)

James Gwertzman (00:05):

Hello, I'm James Gwertzman.

Crystin Cox (00:06):

I'm Crystin Cox. Welcome to the Art of LiveOps Podcast.

James Gwertzman (00:14):

Hey Crystin.

Crystin Cox (00:15):

Hi James.

James Gwertzman (00:16):

So, we're here at 83.

Crystin Cox (00:18):

Yeah, it's pretty exciting.

James Gwertzman (00:19):

And today we have a good friend of mine, Demetri.

Crystin Cox (00:22):

Yes, it's Demetri Detsaridis.

James Gwertzman (00:24):

Can never pronounce his last name.

Crystin Cox (00:25):

Yeah. I've been working on it.

James Gwertzman (00:26):

Awesome.

Crystin Cox (00:27):

I've been practicing.

Demetri Detsaridis (00:27):

I've done a bunch of stuff in the LiveOps world. One of the fun things about working in games as a service is that they don't actually have great titles for you yet, so I've been called the producer, an EP, a general manager, a product manager, a director, all of that stuff, and for the last couple of years, I've been a consultant helping companies to figure out how to adjust to this brave new world of having games that don't just ship in a box and go away.

James Gwertzman (01:01):

So, he has had a really long experience doing game design, works a lot of studios, he's a consultant now working actually for Madison Square Garden. That's pretty cool.

Crystin Cox (01:10):

That is really neat, I think. He's been transitioning into more interested in e-sports and things like that, which I think is a really interesting angle and really feeds into the idea about LiveOps and community.

James Gwertzman (01:21):

Yeah. I know he's been thinking a lot about broader trends in where LiveOps is going. So, I think today's interview's probably a little philosophical. I think we're going to get pretty deep into some pretty cool concepts.

Crystin Cox (01:30):

Well, I'm excited for that.

James Gwertzman (01:31):

All right. Let's go philosophal. Philosophal? Let's go philosophical. Well, that's a perfect, I mean, I couldn't imagine a better segue to this podcast interview, because that's exactly why we're doing these interviews, is I think we've realized that there's this whole new world out there called LiveOps, and frankly, most people don't know how to do it yet. Because what we've been finding as we've done these interviews is that it is more than just a playbook. I's a whole culture shift and a process shift that studios have to go through and it often takes years to get there.

Demetri Detsaridis (02:09):

Oh, yeah.

James Gwertzman (02:09):

So, why don't we start by, I mean, let's start with, you were at Zynga.

Demetri Detsaridis (02:12):

Yep. Back in the day.

James Gwertzman (02:12):

Zynga is, I would say, back in the day, and one of those had one of the first US companies to really go into the live game space, and so maybe talk a little bit about how did Zynga evolve this role, this space within itself of LiveOps.

Demetri Detsaridis (02:30):

Yeah. So, Zynga kind of backed into it in an interesting way because when Zynga first started going and I was a general manager at a small company called Area/Code, the way I wound up at Zynga was that they bought Area/Code, and so we were doing this junior version of LiveOps, right? We had a little homemade analytics suite and then we were using a rolled together a combination the monitoring system from Rackspace and whatever Google Analytics looked like at the time, which was probably like a submarine switchboard with dials and knobs on it, and then when we were acquired by Zynga, they had a heritage from a lot of people who had come from e-commerce and from Web 1.5, and so they had a much more robust set of software, set of tools, they had this gargantuan array of Vertica servers, which were crazy fast, and their analytics set up was literally entrancing to me. I looked at this and I was like, "Oh my God, this tool set is incredible."

Demetri Detsaridis (03:57):

The interesting thing about Zynga at that time was that there was this question about, "Okay. Well, great. This thing is terrific, and we know that we can do a lot of stuff with it, but what does that mean for the actual games?" There were there people who would go into interviews like this and be like, "Yeah. It's data driven game design." And like nobody like that, and then there was this both an internal and an external kind of culture clash about trying to figure out, "Okay. Well, how do we incorporate this technology into our practice of making games?" And it honestly took, between Zynga and the Zynga diaspora of companies that sprung up from people that left, and then the next couple of places that I went, it took me like three or four years to figure out what all of the differences were between guessing what your player was going to want and finding out what they wanted based on how many copies they sold, like this completely rudimentary feedback, right?

Demetri Detsaridis (05:09):

Which is like, "Is anyone playing my game at all?" "Yes. Game good." Versus stepping into a world where you could ask, if you wrote SQL, you could ask questions of a database that would tell you almost anything that you could think to instrument, and that really, that was a destabilizing notion for me as a game developer, as a designer and producer, and at Zynga, they call them PMs, but that next shop, they called them something else and et cetera, et cetera. So, it was a real paradigm shift, and we were, at that time, just coming to terms with it, and that's just the data analytics part of it, right? That's not even the like, "Oh, well that means we have to keep designing new stuff." What does that feedback loop look like between, "I design a feature." Or, "I introduce new content."

Demetri Detsaridis (06:13):

And then we learn how the players react to that content, and then we can actually take that and then go back and design new stuff based on that, and that in the early years of GAS, that LiveOps development, LiveOps focused game development, you wound up with this very crusty game design that came out of that, right? People were like, "Oh man, okay. Looks like these guys are doing this now." So, then you design something that only makes sense if you know how to do thing B that they just started doing, and then you go back and you're like, "Oh, you know what they like out of the thing B that I just made, they like this other thing, so I'm going to do thing C." And then by a year into that, like if you went back and looked at FarmVille, like the FarmVille on ramp in 2009 or in 2010, like a year or two after FarmVille started gaining steam, you would start playing the game, you'd be like, "Hey, welcome. Here's your dude. This is a farm. Click the X button on the next 90 popups." Because they're just going to describe every mechanic that we've introduced for 52 weeks since this game went live.

Crystin Cox (07:29):

Well, so fast forward 10 years, do you think that we've gotten a lot better at having both data, and data be part of our design process and holistic design? Because I think you're totally right. There was a tension between this idea of holistic top-down design and then a very bottoms up approach, which really is like, put the basic features in, see what people do, put another one in, put another one in, put another one in, put another one in. Do you think we've gotten a lot better at that?

Demetri Detsaridis (07:59):

Yeah. I actually really do, and it's happened across a bunch of different game types, and I've subsequently went and worked in AAA console, and then I've consulted for everything from free to play PC to free to play mobile, to doing bubble shooters, to working on games that everybody in the world has played. So, it's the way that that manifests itself has been very different, right? Like in console, it's still a kind of an exciting new thing to designers and especially to people further up the... right? The further up the ladder you go at a AAA company now, to my experience, the earlier in this evolution people started that are now at the top, right?

Demetri Detsaridis (09:04):

So, to explain to the person who's the chief high over king or queen of the... but usually king, unfortunately, of the AAA games company, okay, here's what your players are interested in doing, and this is the kind of thing that they're doing with the playground that you put in front of them, and the smarter companies will learn to engage without just being like, "Okay. Yeah, let's just chase that." And then there's a million different ways that you can go wrong in that too, right? Like, "Okay, no. I'm going to teach the player how my game is supposed to be played. We're going to put instances everywhere. None of this roaming around in their free world stuff." So, it's a staggered evolution, like William Gibson said, right? "The future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed."

Crystin Cox (10:15):

Right. And I think that's something that I've seen very strongly as well, this idea, there's a big mentality switch that's happening around games as product, which we're really developer focused, right? Games as product are really all about, what is the story the developer wants to tell? What does the developer want to have happen? How has the developer going to teach me to have fun? And then now we're in this new world of LiveOps where LiveOps really says, "We want to be totally player centric."

Demetri Detsaridis (10:43):

Yep.

Crystin Cox (10:43):

How are you seeing that tension play out? And what do you think it means for the industry longterm? I think there are people who are worried. It's like the death of single player games.

Demetri Detsaridis (10:53):

Right.

Crystin Cox (10:53):

Or like, you know?

Demetri Detsaridis (10:54):

Which has been greatly exaggerated, right?

Crystin Cox (10:57):

Yeah. Yes.

Demetri Detsaridis (10:57):

Like everything in the video game world, and I've been doing this for 19 years in chains, and there are people that have been doing it way longer than me, James, you've been at it for a long time too.

James Gwertzman (11:09):

That was longer than you.

Demetri Detsaridis (11:10):

Okay, but in the same general area, one year, you'll hear, you remember the death of PC?

Crystin Cox (11:19):

Yeah.

Demetri Detsaridis (11:19):

That was a thing. And then, "Social games change... Oh no, wait. Social games are not the thing after all. It's all about smartphone mobile premium. No, no, no, no. Nobody likes premium." So, I think the meta shifts, like the shift between box product into LiveOps has actually snuck up on people because there's a lot of paying attention to the trees of, "Okay. Is the ascendant platform right now, and what does this mean, is dead and is never coming... Oh, wait, forget that." That shift has gotten the headlines.

James Gwertzman (12:03):

That's right. I love the way you put that, because that's exactly what I've seen, which is there's so much attention on devices that people miss the fact that these broader shifts are now going cross device, and that what we're seeing with games like Fortnite, which are proudly cross platform, cross play, cross device are the logical conclusion we've been going to, which is now suddenly we had these games, Fortnite is a great example of a LiveOps driven live game that everyone's playing, this on every device that is also AAA in its aspirations and production quality, built by Epic, one of the top AAA companies, and yet that is very much a free to play LiveOps game.

James Gwertzman (12:34):

And so I think we will look back, I think, and say Fortnite was really one of these turning points, in the same way that FarmVille was a turning point in free to play coming to Western shores, I think Fortnite will be a turning point with those mindsets coming to AAA, and everyone in the world now is building their Battle Royale game, and that's a little bit of a cargo cult mentality because I think ultimately it's not about the Battle Royale mechanic, it's about a broader community driven game design, but we'll figure that out.

Demetri Detsaridis (13:01):

That is a great way to put that, actually, the cargo cult. I love that, right? Like, "Oh God, Battle Royale. Let's worship the crate."

James Gwertzman (13:09):

Well, no. And I can't tell how many, as soon as I met with this, "Oh yeah. We're re-shifting this game to become a Battle Royale because we have to." I'm like, "No, that's not the right lesson to take from this. The lesson to take from this is consumers crave new experiences, and if you give your player something new that's really focusing on them and building a community around that, they will love you for it. Not go build another Battle Royale game."

Demetri Detsaridis (13:29):

Right.

James Gwertzman (13:29):

But okay. We learn slowly.

Demetri Detsaridis (13:32):

Yeah. I've discovered what the elephant is like, and it's like a tree, yeah-

James Gwertzman (13:38):

Right. Exactly. Exactly.

Demetri Detsaridis (13:39):

That problem.

James Gwertzman (13:40):

But I think you're right. I think we are starting to figure out these mechanics now, and I think you talked about the evolution of tools you saw Zynga, and I think we're continuing to get better at those and we're starting to now apply them in more ways, and I think I love what you said about how publishers are starting get smarter, or at least faster to learn about the importance of driving this earlier in design cycles.

Demetri Detsaridis (14:00):

Yeah.

James Gwertzman (14:01):

So, maybe you can share some examples of some of the projects you've consulted on recently. What are some examples where you've shifted, either a direction, or you've made some changes to reflect this, and how's that born this out?

Demetri Detsaridis (14:15):

Yeah. So, trying to figure out great ways to anonymize this, that I will come up with it, but yeah. So, one thoroughly anonymized example is a type of conversation that, I've been having a lot, and I've been working with this consulting group, Hit Detection, which is the best kept secret in games, and that Hit Detection has a lot, which is that along with this new way of making games, and you see it a lot in fortnight, right? Fortnite is both a reaction to, and an advancement of a different type of game.

Demetri Detsaridis (15:07):

Their content creation pipeline is the stuff of legend, and speaking of legends, there's other games out there that are trying to figure out how to live in that world, like in the world where it's not that you are developing, you can't think of it as necessarily developing a title, it's like developing an entertainment platform that has a new to game play modes and new features, and Fortnite is like a theater as much as it is a game, and so there's a new type of player that came up, that has been coming up through PUBG, through fortnight that is less interested in playing the types of a hardcore experiences that are like...

Demetri Detsaridis (16:15):

DA takes four and a half hours to master this control set, and it's about grinding your way to a feeling of competence and then a feeling of excellence, and then a feeling of mastery, like that arc is something that we're very used to, and that people at publishers, to circle back at your question, are very used to, and are having an interesting time trying to accommodate both that type of player who is often the type of player who is willing to spend a lot of money and willing to spend 8000% of their time on Reddit with pitchforks and torches is talking about how the game ought to be, and a different type of player, which is maybe more voluminous.

Demetri Detsaridis (17:06):

There are more of them out there now, and there are going to be more of them out there now, because this is how they grew up playing, who are less interested in that, who are totally happy to play a game where you start at nothing, by the end of a half hour, you're a roving God, and then 20 minutes later, you're nothing again. Those activities that are... And I think e-sports actually, we backed into a great definition of that word, e-sports, because it is more like a sport activity where every single game, like a baseball game starts 0-0, and this kind of player is used to League of Legends starting 0-0.

Demetri Detsaridis (17:52):

It's like, yeah. There's definitely a huge skill component in it, but there's less of this super longterm power fantasy experience. It's just a different cadence, and what it means to play a game like that day after day, week after week, encourages the type of design and development that keeps that fresh by doing things that open up the world, things that change the world, things that, this idea of seasons, where you reset to nothing, that is yeah. It has more of a sports like feeling.

Crystin Cox (18:39):

So, you hinted at this a little bit, and I think it's an interesting point, because I would say you were talking about players coming up through like PUBG and League of Legends. I spent a lot of the early part of my career working in free to play MMOs, and MMOs aimed at kids. I would say there's a whole generation of game players who came up mostly playing free to play PC games.

Demetri Detsaridis (18:59):

Right.

Crystin Cox (19:02):

They're much too young to have started with the Nintendo, right?

Demetri Detsaridis (19:05):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Crystin Cox (19:05):

So, instead they started here. How do you think that has, I think that has changed the expectation, how do you think that has changed expectations for what games are, and the struggle that I see a lot working with game developers today, which is an understandable struggle, a lot of game development looks very much like us, like it's 40 years old-

Demetri Detsaridis (19:26):

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Thank you.

Crystin Cox (19:27):

... or more like, what? 30. No. Oh, well, whatever, some-

Demetri Detsaridis (19:32):

Well, I mean, what we look like versus what it says on our driver's license, that's a whole different thing.

Crystin Cox (19:37):

Completely different, but in general, right? There's a generation that started with like Atari and Nintendo, a lot of those people are the people who are driving game development today, but this generation that's making up the bulk of our play, both might be... their games are very good. Games are very diverse.

Demetri Detsaridis (19:54):

And in increasingly large percentage.

Crystin Cox (19:56):

Yeah. Games is very diverse, but there is this whole generation of players that came out a very different way. How do you see that manifesting itself when you work with developers?

Demetri Detsaridis (20:05):

A great example is, any developer's lunch table conversation about difficulty. So, that is like, if you followed any of that stuff on Twitter, this conversation, it extends to Twitter and it extends to let's hire a consultant to tell us what to do, and that conversation often has aged grognards on one side being like, "I want to be physically harmed by this game, if possible."

Demetri Detsaridis (20:44):

Although the to people who grew playing the kind of game, and excited about, they're not like, "Oh my God, I hate free to play." this is how games are to a lot of people who are like, "Why would you do that?" And if it is hard, sure, it should be hard for 25 minutes and then I should be able to get better at it, and why would... Yeah. No, this is an antagonistic experience.

James Gwertzman (21:14):

I just got to say this fast, because I was at PopCap Games for a long time and PopCap was the epitome of casual game companies, and if you couldn't in our games in 30 seconds, we were making mistakes somewhere.

Demetri Detsaridis (21:22):

Yeah.

James Gwertzman (21:23):

And I remember, and I deal with like one button click, and I remember contrasting that to then going back after a couple of years of PopCap to trying to play modern console games with the joystick with like 20 different buttons and pull this left thing down here and pushed this thing into this thing. I'm like, "What the heck is this?"

James Gwertzman (21:37):

And then you go a little bit like games like Elite Dangerous, and my son has this entire flight control in the basement with 30 buttons and his VR headset, and this is like, okay, there is a market for that still, but then I tried to show my six year old the old Super Mario Brothers game, and how quickly you die and the difficulty curve of that game, I remember that fondly, but to her, this is like, "Dad, I don't want to play this game. This is no fun at all."

Demetri Detsaridis (22:01):

Yeah.

James Gwertzman (22:01):

So, I think you're exactly right. There has been a real shift, and I think that opens up opportunities. I want to come back to something, you said just now, that notion of, when every game starts at zero, I'd never really thought of it that way, and I love that because you're right.

James Gwertzman (22:15):

Just the sheer amount of flexibility it gives you as a game designer where if every game starts at zero, you can play with so many more levers and reshape experiences at will than when you've got 1000 hours invested in a very particular path, and now the slightest change either invalidates all of that, and/or you're feeling bitter because this other player came along and got there in 955 hours, and now you're unhappy about that.

Demetri Detsaridis (22:39):

Yeah, exactly. And I think that that speaks to what you were just saying, Crystin too, is that there is an accessibility inherent in the notion of, "If I practice, I can wind up playing pro, and any normal human might be in their next game with Ninja because this is how it works now, and that chafes a little against design instincts that for olds like us where you're thinking, "No, no. You shouldn't actually be able to do that until hour 35 when we unlock the fourth version of the ring so you can press left, right, up, and down to access to your five powers."

Demetri Detsaridis (23:40):

So, that idea of you come into this with your physical capabilities, you come into this with your understanding of the game, but it's not even like these days, if you tried to make unreal tournament where it was like, "Oh yeah. No, there's a new map. I have to study it for five hours before I grok that." No, there's one of those every four months, not one of those every 10 seconds.

Demetri Detsaridis (24:16):

So, yes. Knowing the map is important, but the compulsion to give people so much content that they feel like they've spent their $60 wisely is something that has changed because of the business model, because of what we're talking about, because you're no longer looking at necessarily people paying $60, and even when they do pay $60 to get in through the door with a game like, with again, like RDR 2, there is an online world that is separate from what the RDR 2 experience is.

Demetri Detsaridis (24:58):

You're not necessarily thinking, "Oh, I'm going to go in and play multiplayer and it's going to be the same flavor of game." No, the RDR Online has its own has its own economy. It has its own gameplay modes. It has its own difficulty curve that's separate from that, and there are obviously still games where the multiplayer feels like an extension of the single player and so on, but those are not the default anymore, I think.

Crystin Cox (25:32):

We talk a lot about the evolution that we've been on, basically from games as product, through games as service, and then we like to say that we're in a world of games as community, and a lot of that comes from this idea that you're hitting on here, which is that we came up in a world where games were consumed media.

Crystin Cox (25:51):

You made a thing and now I'm going to consume it, and then I will have consumed it, and we're transitioning into this space where we don't want to think about games as consumed media, we want to think about them as basically a community activity that I do over time. I hate to say hobby, because I think that word has been a little bit, it's got a lot of baggage.

Demetri Detsaridis (26:10):

Yeah.

Crystin Cox (26:13):

But I do think it's true. We want to engage with these things in the community. I'm curious. We talk about this generation coming up, this is a generation that grew up online.

Demetri Detsaridis (26:24):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Crystin Cox (26:25):

How do you think that's influenced this? Because I definitely see the space of, I think there is less community space in the real world, and a lot of that, and I certainly saw this when I was working on kids' MMOs, these spaces are incredibly important to them because these are the social spaces where they develop their personalities.

Demetri Detsaridis (26:44):

Yeah. Yeah, exactly, and this is part of, we could go super meta on this, right? And start talking about how... Actually, I was having a really good conversation about this recently where the notion of geography as a determining factor in identity has been decreasing over time, and went over the cliff like seven or eight years ago, and when we were kids, if you were the only nerd at your school, you had to make up what that meant from the whole cloth, and your decisions might look like what other nerds decisions look like in other places, and they might not. So, like in my town, goths wore Renaissance style, not like Ren faire, but like puffy shirts. That was the thing for goths to do in my town. Look like 17th century French vampires.

Crystin Cox (27:50):

Right.

Demetri Detsaridis (27:50):

But then when I would go to New York City and to take a bus down to the city for the weekend, and there, goths looked like a whole different thing, but now you know exactly what flavor of goth you can be, and there's a forum for that, and there's a war between that flavor and some other flavor, and then there's internecine wars between all of those.

Demetri Detsaridis (28:18):

So, the idea of identity manufacture through engagement in community has just exploded into, like there's PhD feces coming out of the clouds now about this, and in games, it challenges how we think about who our players are, we spent such a big part of the evolution of live services into the design process, and the game development process was learning who your player was and even if you are different from who your player is, you do not get to feel better than your player.

Demetri Detsaridis (29:16):

That does not result in a good video game, and one of the things that you used to see a lot more often in early live games companies was this weird thing where it was like, "Yeah. No, I make games for kids and I'm not a kid, and so I'm going to teach. I'm going to show the kids what game is." And this all goes to what we were talking about, and again, in some cases it's a generational thing, but it's also a generational thing just because of how old the people happen to be at the time that this shift happened.

Demetri Detsaridis (29:54):

I think it doesn't matter if you were 20 or 50 when live services allowed us to pull back the curtain from the backstage point of view and look out into the audience and they put the house lights on and we're like, "Oh, okay. There's a lot of women playing these games and we're not women." What does that mean about how we design games? That, in a lot of cases, meant we need to get some women in here. And sometimes, that was fraught in the culture of game development.

Demetri Detsaridis (30:34):

And you see this in Twitter warfare even now, right? Regrettably, you wind up with these scenarios where there's a lot of gate keeping. "Oh, you are not hardcore enough to to do X, Y, and Z, and so in a way, I don't want to sound deterministic, like live services came down and handed us the golden opportunity to understand each other, but it is a part of how the internet and networked understanding of other humans has made us reassess what it is to create things for other people.

Crystin Cox (31:26):

Absolutely. I mean, I don't want to go too far down this road, but you're really talking about empathy and respect, and I think that does actually play into something you said earlier too, about this idea of like, "I want this game to physically harm me. I want it to be really hard." I think we are going through, from a creative standpoint, this huge transition from a place where I think making games was, itself, a power fantasy, was itself like a way of saying, "I haven't had a lot of control in my life, or I haven't really been on top of a social structure, but now I'm the dungeon master."

Demetri Detsaridis (32:01):

Right.

Crystin Cox (32:01):

Right? Like, "Now, I get to decide the experience that you have." This huge shift over to this very service oriented way of thinking of things like, "I am now here to understand you, and I'm here give you something for you." And it's more like, "I'm giving you a present of something that you're going to enjoy."

Crystin Cox (32:20):

It's a huge mind shift, and I think it's really fascinating, and to pull back a little bit to more mechanical LiveOps talk, how much data has unlocked that for us when there was an incredible amount of tension when it first came on the scene between designers and the idea of data analysis, how have you seen the relationship between designers and data really change as we make that shift?

Demetri Detsaridis (32:49):

Oh, yeah. Well, so when we first started getting live, and so I came up both as a designer and as a producer, and then I was a designer, and then I was a producer in the next job, and, "Oh, you want to call me this? That's fine." And so there was, certainly in the early days of 'social games', there was a lot of like, "We don't need the data, we know how to design things." And then, "Oh no, the data is king, and we were the ones who bring you the money, so we'll show you how this is done." And there was a lot of dug in heels on both sides, but over the course of the last decade, that relationship has become more symbiotic, sometimes by people forcing it like, "Don't be a jerk."

Demetri Detsaridis (33:51):

And at other times, because games have come out and risen to the top of the charts and of critical consensus that do a much better job, that are clearly not made by a creative team that's at war, and so those, they create models for people to emulate. One of the things that I used to take into those conversations was like, "Look. You can think of it however you want, but I like thinking of this as data enabled design." Right? It's not data driven design because it's not design driven data either, right? Where what we're doing is giving ourselves a tool kit that allows us to understand what people are doing, to ask questions of their behavior rather than to ask questions of people.

Demetri Detsaridis (35:04):

Because if you've ever been in a client services job like consulting, you know that the thing that you deliver is not what the client asked for, it's what the client needs, and having, you just hit on this, which is absolutely right, having to have a whole industry understand a client service mindset was an enormous shift, but why not both Dot GIF, right? There's room for games that are murderously difficult. There's rooms out there for games where it takes one finger to play, and you play it while you're waiting for the bus to turn up, and it's great, and I could play Hole Down all the time, and I'm enraptured by it, and I also love as Assassins Creed Odyssey, and yet, I'm the same human being, right?

Demetri Detsaridis (36:03):

And there are people who like both of those things, there are people who like one of those things or the other of those things, and we should be thinking of this more like the mythical Netflix taste cluster than what audience segmentation used to be like, and this is something that actually I think our live services tools can improve on, is showing us, okay, more like a, "Recommend this if you like that."

Demetri Detsaridis (36:35):

Rather than a, "This is the type of gamer. You are a raging jerk. You crave destruction." And you know how they... You'll get one of these segmentation reports from the department that does segmentation wherever you work, and it's like, "This is the orange gamer. She is a jerk." But yeah. We're moving away from that, and the tools can, and will be getting more sophisticated in showing us, just because you are also a jerk doesn't mean that you don't like Hole Down.

Crystin Cox (37:15):

Right. Yeah, absolutely. So, I know we're running out of time, do you want to ask a few more?

James Gwertzman (37:22):

Yeah. I mean, couple of things I want to jump in at.

Demetri Detsaridis (37:24):

Yeah.

James Gwertzman (37:24):

Which is, just now, you were talking about tools, and you were talking about segmentation tools and how that affects you. Let's talk about pipeline. You mentioned pipeline in the case of Epic and the case of fortnight, and you were saying they have a fantastic pipeline creation. Let's talk about that for a second, because it does seem like your content creation pipeline is an integral part now of your ability to run a live game.

Demetri Detsaridis (37:45):

Oh, yes.

James Gwertzman (37:45):

I'd love to hear a little bit more on your thoughts on what you've seen, especially in terms of what capabilities there are, especially important to have if you're going to be successful.

Demetri Detsaridis (37:53):

Oh, absolutely. So, one of the things that I'm consistently surprised by when I get a call from a company that's like, "Hey, we have this successful LiveOps driven game. Please do a tear down of our virtual economy and help us figure out how we ought to be positioning this stuff that we're selling, and who is buying what in this game, and why?" And a lot of the time, still now in 2019, successful games will have a rudimentary analytics and they will not have established the feedback loop, like that pipeline of okay, the data is collected, and then is surfaced through a tool that that is created, maintained and curated by someone that works at your company, and it's not a magic box that you turn the key and the elves at Microsoft surface exactly what you need to know, and you don't need to do anything further after that point.

Demetri Detsaridis (39:27):

You have to use this tool because this is called a tool, and then from there, that tells you, "Oh, okay. These are the ways in which... My players are buying this kind of thing and not that kind of thing." Or, "Boy, are they spending during these types of events." And so like for example, doing multivariate testing is something that Zynga was doing 10 years ago, and they had this early tool there called Experiment Manager that was clunky, but awesome, and even now people don't utilize stuff like that when they could, and it's like, you think of, okay, when I'm doing multivariate testing like, "Oh, should the button be blue, or should it be red?"

Demetri Detsaridis (40:30):

That's the super lowest hanging fruit in the kind of power that you can engage with by using that in your pipeline, right? Allowing players to experience the different segments of players, like or example, this thing that we were just talking about, where we're talking about user segments. So, being able to create dynamic segmentation that isn't just locked in forever, but reacts to what the players are doing through your analytics system, and then offering different player types, not just different things to buy, but different experiences entirely that are curated out of a giant, either manually by your folks or by machine learning out of a giant bucket of stuff that exists in your game world.

Demetri Detsaridis (41:33):

That's tremendously powerful. Yeah, maybe I'm the kind of person who totally would be at that marshmallow concert. And so I should see billboards for it in the game world, and I should get an email, and I should be notified in the mobile client by a pop up. You know that that's not me, but I do follow this one streamer and I want to know when she's playing and I want to know who she's playing with, and, "Oh my God, here's a video of her managing to cap four people before they even hit the ground." The capacity to do that exists within the backend if we connect all of the systems together.

James Gwertzman (42:27):

You just tapped on something I want to hit on, which is, you just mentioned, in the concept of a game, following a streamer, watching a concert, getting to new content. I mean, one thing we've seen is how games have grown to be so much bigger than just a game anymore. Now this ecosystem that games exist in includes Discord and Twitch and e-gaming and tournaments, and maybe touch a little bit on that, as a game designer, as a producer, how do the companies you work with need to think about that broader ecosystem today?

Demetri Detsaridis (42:54):

Yeah. It's something that you just talked about a minute ago, Crystin too, right? This word hobby is fraud. One of the things that I've heard it referred to is a lifestyle games, right? That's a little bit less problematic. I don't know. Maybe it's more problematic. Anyway, this idea that gaming, that playing Fortnite specifically to somebody, not me because I'm horrible, but playing Fortnite, to a lot of my friends and a lot of their friends' kids is like knitting for my wife.

Demetri Detsaridis (43:36):

She wants to do it and she wants to listen to podcasts about it, and the reason I mention knitting is because it's a way to talk to the people that we were talking about before, the people like publishers like, "Oh, I see. Yes, my wife, my husband also likes knitting." Or, "Also likes pottery." Or, Yeah. Oh, right." Because when you're not doing it, you like thinking about it because it is pleasurable, it makes you happy. I mean, I was a huge D&D player, I still am. I like to wear a dandy t-shirt. That's cool.

Demetri Detsaridis (44:24):

It's a good way for me to, "Oh yeah. The little ant symbol. I see you there, bro." That recognition as being part of a non-geographically determined subculture is really meaningful, and so explaining that to people that I've consulted with, you have to explain it in a way that, it's somewhere between fandom and hobby and passion. It's like a sport activity, right? It's like I play basketball, and you know I do not, I suck, but if I did, right?

Demetri Detsaridis (45:12):

That means that, A, I will go down to the playground, down the end of my block on Saturday mornings, and I will hang out with other crappy 40 year old dudes and play basketball for three hours, but that also probably means that I want to watch basketball and that I have that awesome Brooklyn Nets t-shirt with the sneakers hanging off of the logo and stuff, and that there are cool ways that basketball comes into, and goes out of different parts of my life, and people feel the same way about... It used to be, and this is the thing that people in the AAA world and all over games understand, that like gamer was that, right?

Demetri Detsaridis (46:03):

Like, "Oh, yes. I am a gamer, I identify as a gamer, and this means X, Y, and Z." That is way too broad now, right? There are as many gamer subclasses as there are games, and they all mean something different and there's a website for each of them, and there's Discord channels about all of them, and there's wars between them, and so the idea of community being part of not just how you think about how people are going to play your game once it's out in the world, but your game is never not going to be part of a community, and whether it's a game where people create a Wiki to work together to solve the problems, it's a single player game, but people are working through the clever puzzles you designed on a Wiki out there someplace, that community you can, and with increasingly the right tools that exist and will be developing more in the future. Bring that right inside the game.

Demetri Detsaridis (47:32):

And of course, as a developer, you want people to be inside the game. You want to enable that to happen, not just on your turf, because then you can advertise through them and monetize, right? But of course, we all have to make a living, so that's not a bad thing, but to give people a streamlined experience so that they can find that community. Don't make it so that it's like, "Oh yeah..." I mean, I guess if you are one of those people who's super into the dark souls lifestyle straight up, you want everything to be impossible, well, you could be like, "Oh yeah, and I want it to be that hard to find my forums too. I'm not even going to register a URL. It's just going to be an IP address."

Crystin Cox (48:12):

I love it. So, this has been a super fascinating conversation, and thank you so much.

Demetri Detsaridis (48:18):

Thank you.

Crystin Cox (48:18):

We like to ask everybody if they could share a LiveOps disaster [crosstalk 00:48:25] that you've experienced, everyone likes to hear. I think it also helps everyone who's learning LiveOps. We've all experienced it, we're all human. So, do you have a LiveOps disaster that you've lived through, and what you learned from it?

Demetri Detsaridis (48:39):

Oh, yeah. Yeah. So, I was working on a really large console game, and there's always cheating in games. You have to expect it, and in a game with a virtual economy, like 2, 3% of the economy is cheat money. Okay. That's not wonderful, but yeah, trying to stamp out counterfeits is just as hard as it is in real life. During this one game, a specific type of cheating started to happen in which players with modified game consoles could spray money into game lobbies.

Demetri Detsaridis (49:34):

So, you could be, as a totally normal law abiding citizen hanging out in a lobby waiting to start a session, and suddenly have 19 million gold show up in your account, and there'd be a guy there who would type a whole bunch of lead speak, and you'd be like, "What the hell just happened?" Right? So, the economy went, in the span of a couple of weeks, from having like 3% cheat money to having 19% cheat.

Demetri Detsaridis (50:08):

One gold out of every five was manufactured by a person with a modded console, and as you can imagine, think about what that would be like in real life. It's like, okay, yeah. You go to Burger King, you hand them a $20 bill to pay for your burger and you get back a five in five singles and one of those singles is red. That's what it was like, right? So, there was just so much, we actually had to look up how to say the number of cheat things, right?

Demetri Detsaridis (50:51):

It turns out that after a quadrillion, a quintillion, it could have been pentilion, but no, it's a quintillion dollars of cheat currency was out there, and so yeah. That resulted in working on Christmas Eve and working from home a little bit on Christmas day and shutting things down for three hours in the middle of the night and lots of fun, and that was down to a hardware mod that Sony was very helpful trying to fix, but it's not like you can live patch the hardware.

Crystin Cox (51:35):

No.

Demetri Detsaridis (51:35):

Just send up, "Dear customer, please open your PlayStation 3 and replace this chip."

Crystin Cox (51:42):

Right. That's rough.

Demetri Detsaridis (51:44):

Yeah. So, that was party time.

Crystin Cox (51:46):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

James Gwertzman (51:47):

Yeah.

Crystin Cox (51:47):

That's a good one. That's very good, and yeah. That's too long to roll back. You can't... That's a fascinating one.

Demetri Detsaridis (51:55):

Yeah.

Crystin Cox (51:55):

Well, yeah. Thank you so much.

Demetri Detsaridis (51:57):

Thank you.

Crystin Cox (51:58):

This has been an awesome conversation.

James Gwertzman (51:59):

Yeah. So many questions we maybe will have you come back some time, because I've got a whole list here of things I'd love to continue talking about-

Demetri Detsaridis (52:05):

Yeah, awesome. I'd be glad to.

James Gwertzman (52:07):

[inaudible 00:52:07]. Thanks so much, Demetri.

Demetri Detsaridis (52:08):

Thank you.

Crystin Cox (52:15):

Thanks for listening to the Art of LiveOps Podcast.

James Gwertzman (52:17):

If you liked what you heard, remember to rate, review and subscribe so others can find us.

Crystin Cox (52:22):

And visit playfab.com for more information on solutions for all your LiveOps needs.

James Gwertzman (52:27):

Thanks for tuning in.