Fantastic Contraption is a Flash-based browser game. Colin Northway is the man who made it. He is now a full time game developer for it. It's as simple a story as the game itself.
The Independent Games Summit of GDC Austin 09 gave Colin and his game tester/community manager, Andy Moore, half an hour to present the postmortem. The duo are a very colorful pair that had a lot of strange and entertaining things to say and show about the game, how it was made, and how it became a successful business venture.
Hit the jump for a summary of the talk, although I can't possibly do it justice.
Colin opened up his talk by showing the audience his presentation. Instead of the normal slides, up on the projector was a platformer starring him. As he spoke, Andy played the game up on the projector. As items of discussion came up, they would also appear in-game in an often humorous way. This must be explained first in order to make later parts of the talk make some sense.
He then showed off the first four builds of Fantastic Contraption, each step up showing some margin of improvement. These beta versions were played by Andy as Colin described the evolution. During all stages of development, he gave the game to friends and family to try out and collect information from. "I like to give people a toy and see how they play with it," Colin said of beta testing. The things that they did (and the things they didn't) with the early versions of the game ended up shaping it in big ways.
The inspiration behind the final build's tutorial levels is Colin's belief that nongamers are scared of exploration, coupled with his other belief that the average person tends to just drop a Flash game if they can't figure something out. He explained that with other games, there is usually some incentive to stick with it, such as justifying the money spent or its physical presence in one's home. But there is such a tiny barrier to get through to play a Flash game, it makes it just as easy to quit. This is why you have to "spoonfeed" new players through a Flash game as quickly as possible, which is what his tutorial levels try to achieve.
People like games that reward them for what they want to do individually. People also like to share what they do with others. Colin called his use of these truths "pride-based marketing". He first discovered the value of this while the game was still in beta; everyone who played the game really enjoyed showing him how they solved each puzzle. Giving people the ability to create their own machines and share them with others through a database has helped to make the game even more popular. Someone can put the URL to their contraption in a blog or social networking service and draw hundreds of new people to it.
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