Creating game demos to show how Microsoft can help developers build their own worlds
Microsoft has made and is a huge influence on gaming industry. However, game developers were not associating really any of their brands with development other than devices (Xbox, HoloLens, Mixed Reality headsets, PC). Bringing awareness and relevancy to the tools and services developers could use to make their games real was a big issue.
Showing how services and tools like Azure and Mixer could work in an actual game was paramount. Everything that was made had to posted to GitHub so developers could download the source, play with the code, and make it their own easily. Microsoft was also going to GDC for the first time and needed an event hook to draw people into have conversations about these services.
Microsoft had never made a formal effort to talk to this audience. Early on we split the game developer audience into different segments (AAA, AA, and indie) and focused on developing our solution with indie studios in mind. Formal use cases and meaningful solutions had also not been identified with this audience when the project began.
We created a cloud native Mixed reality extensible demo game on Unity that leveraged Azure, Azure PlayFab, Mixer, and a Windows Mixed Reality headset to make a huge splash at the Azure GDC booth. We created the game concept, gameplay, and complete cloud-orchestrated backend from scratch. The source lives on GitHub so developers can download and tinker with the code. A game manual was also created as a companion piece to highlight concepts and give the code context.
My role:Creative director
Team size: 15+
Creative thinking applied: game development, mixed reality UX, UI/UX, content marketing, print, environmental
Creating an authentically mixed reality game from the ground up.
We focused the game design around four guiding principles. It needed to be fun, honest, epic, and had to get players and viewers laughing.
Mixed reality and Azure-driven gameplay
Mixed reality gives you a unique gameplay mechanics that turn your body into the controller. Using natural movements like grabbing, punching, and yelling allowed for little needed player onboarding. An amazing insight we gained through user testing was that no one user played the same way. From that we focused on creating environment for play and choice of how to beat the level.
Making it easy for developers to start building
Showing developers how they could easily make a LiveOps game
The success of Microsoft at GDC and similar events revealed just how big an opportunity it was to tap into the game development industry. Lack of Windows Mixed Reality headset adoption and the advanced “premium” services used in the first Pinball Lizard led to limited developer adoption. Microsoft also saw an opportunity for telling a bigger, more holistic game development brand story than just cloud services and devices.
Lowering the entry point was a key to success of this new demo. While still using cutting edge features, the demo had to gracefully degrade so lower performing devices could still run the game. Ensuring that all services were also free to the developer was necessary for better adoption and brand perception. With their recent purchase of PlayFab (now Azure PlayFab), they wanted to educate and highlight how indie developers could create an always on game with a LiveOps platform out of the box.
The Microsoft brand was in parallel developing branding, messaging, and use cases while we were creating this new demo. This meant extended stakeholders from Azure, Azure PlayFab, and Microsoft brand were involved to make sure everything made a consistent launch at their second GDC appearance. In some cases, significant parts had to be reworked to gain alignment.
We created an entire customer journey’s worth of material to drive developers to download the AR enabled mobile demo from GitHub. The Pinball Lizard world was refactored into a AR and conventional 3D mobile phone context that took advantage of the device’s sensors. Game systems like a store front were built to highlight LiveOps scenarios. We also partnered with the Azure spatial team to create a beaconing “spectator mode” where people could watch what a player was doing in real time.
From their we created a vision video, landing page, and game manual to show indie developers the value of LiveOps and direct them to relevant materials and resources to learn more.
Building user stories to hightlight the LiveOps in PlayFab
Creating a game loop with augmented reality on a mobile device
We had to rethink the entire premise of Pinball Lizard to make sense on a mobile device. We boiled down the gameplay into three distinct phases that each take advantage of AR. Users can also play in a conventional 3D mode to allow developers with older or low specs devices to still use the demo to learn about LiveOps.
Powerups were introduced for players to collect through either in-app purchases or winning from achievements.