Bleszinski: Marry gamers, don't date them (or: design long-term engagement for fans)

In a candid talk during the Game Developers Conference on Thursday, Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinksi advised attendees to "have an educated gut," and to be cognizant of the value of marketing and long-term relationships with customers. He encapsulated his talk in the "power creative," a project member who is unique, valuable and visibly tied to the game's identity. "This could be anyone," Bleszinski said.

With consumers constantly immersed in an information feed -- via social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook -- it's important for game designers to be "surgical" and "devious" in creating IPs that thrive in an always-on, heavily branded world. According to Bleszinski, the market only tolerates games that land on the far ends of the spectrum between freemium or "snack" games and big-budget productions like Gears of War. "I believe the middle class game is dead."

The power creative understands how to engage fans over a long period of time -- "make gamers marry your game, not just date it" -- and how to capitalize on viral phenomena, such as Red Dead Redemption's donkey lady video. Bleszinski noted that Gears of War 3 had been crammed with enough easter eggs to remain a talking point among fans and press for weeks. "If they don't find it, we'll leak it," he said.

Bleszinski's talk urged designers and future power creatives to consider all marketable aspects of their properties, even giving thought to in-game quotes people could cite easily, or logos that make for good tattoos (the iconic "crimson omen" from Gears of War, for instance, regularly finds success on skin). And while this process of ensnaring players via the game's fiction and online play may seem manipulative, Bleszinski believes that players are capable of detecting disingenuous and impersonal efforts immediately.

Ideally, he said, an intellectual property should act as a delivery mechanism for a good gameplay idea, that also reinforces the fiction and shows off new technology. In the case of Gears of War 3, the physically warped "lambent" creatures provide an interesting shooting challenge, push the plot forward and demonstrate Epic's latest modeling and animation techniques. This best represents Bleszinki's proposed intersection between design and sales.

Though the power creative should be integral in both the design and promotion of the game, Bleszinski ascribed great value to maintaining ownership of intellectual property -- the loss of an IP in a publisher-driven deal shouldn't be underestimated. Or, to put it more bluntly: "Are you fucking high? That's the most valuable thing imaginable."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.